Truth in Justice Newsletter
Wrongful Conviction News from April - May, 2007


RECENT CASES

We have followed their cases for years (see below).  Now both are finally free.

Bob Gondor and Randy Resh
Lawyers say the case against Bob and Randy could be titled The Insider's Guide to Prosecutorial Misconduct.


The trend of prosecuting non-criminal conduct has spread from New York, where former U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani initiated it, to the heartland.  In Wisconsin, Georgia Thompson was a civil service employee when she was convicted of fraud, after being accused of steering a state travel contract to a firm whose top officials were major campaign contributors to Gov. Doyle. Never mind that she knew nothing about the campaign contributions and was just trying to save the state money.  In a stunning and extremely rare move, a 3-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals acquitted Thompson at the conclusion of oral arguments on April 5, 2007, and ordered her immediate release from prison.

Not a politically motivated prosecution?  Not a thinly veiled attempt by U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic to wound a sitting (Democrat) governor in the heat of an election?  If not, then why was Thompson repeatedly offered deals, even after she was convicted, if she would "talk about higher-ups."  Of course it was.  And an innocent woman was Caught in a Political Squeeze Play.

In April 2005, an Indianapolis, Indiana judge exonerated Harold Buntin of robbery and rape charges based on DNA test results, but the rest of the justice system didn't find out about the decision for two more years. Court officials found that a bailiff or clerk failed to properly enter and distribute the order clearing Buntin.  Instead, the order was sent to storage.  He spent an extra two years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. 
In 1998, Gilbert Amezquita was convicted of severely beating a woman whose family owned the Houston, TX plumbing company where he worked.  But in November 2006, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals suggested that the true attacker was Gilbert Guerrero and ordered that Amezquita be retried or set free.  In February 2007, Amezquita learned he would not be retried.  And in May 2007 comes more good news: the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has recommended he be granted a pardon on the basis of actual innocence.

A judge in Oklahoma City has dismissed murder charges against Curtis McCarty, who was sentenced to death three times in the 1982 slaying of a teenager -- convictions that were based largely on testimony from a police department chemist who was fired for fraud and misconduct in 2001.  Curtis was prosecuted by Oklahoma County DA Robert H. Macy, who sent 73 people to death row, more than any other prosecutor in the U.S.  Macy has publicly said that he believes executing an innocent person is a sacrifice worth making in order to keep the death penalty in the United States.

After 22 years behind bars for horrific crimes he didn't commit, Byron Halsey of Plainfield, NJ walked out of jail on the fast track to freedom.  Halsey, 46, faced the death penalty after being convicted in 1988 of murdering Tyrone and Tina Urquhart, the children of his girlfriend, with whom he lived at a Plainfield rooming house.  The convictions were vacated after an advanced DNA test showed that a neighbor was responsible for the crimes.



DEATH PENALTY

Consider the pitiful case of Cesar Fierro, who has been on death row since 1980 for the murder and robbery of El Paso taxi driver Nicholas Castanon.  Fierro, who was not considered a suspect until months after the February 1979 murder, was convicted on the basis of two things: the shaky testimony of an alleged co-conspirator and his own confession, which many now conclude was coerced.  Fierro, whose landlord testified the accused was home on the night of the killing, confessed to the crime because he was told his mother and stepfather would be tortured by the police in a jail in Ciudad Juárez, where they lived. After his parents were released from the Juárez jail, Fierro recanted. Without that confession, Fierro would not be sitting on death row today.  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled no harm had been caused by the extorted confession.

EYEWITNESS ID

In 1981, Jerry Miller was pulled off the street in Chicago, IL and picked out of a line up by a rape victim.  At trial, Miller was convicted of rape, robbery, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated battery.  In 2007, he became the 200th person to be exonerated by DNA.  That same DNA matched the DNA of an offender in the FBI's Codis DNA database, which became operational in 1998.  That means the real criminal not only got away with the 1981 rape, but that he committed at least one more crime that put him into the Codis database.



Charles T. "Ted" Dubbs was convicted of sexually assaulting two women in Dauphin County, PA in 2000 and 2001.  Both women identified him as their attacker.  Wilbur Cyrus Brown, II has been convicted of a series of similar attacks, and has confessed to the two attacks Dubbs was convicted of committing.  Did the eyes deceive?

Charles Dubbs in 1999
Dubbs in 1999
composite sketch
Composite Sketch
Wilbur Cyrus Brown, II in 2001
Brown in 2001


JUNK SCIENCE

Are Innocent Imprisoned Because of Fingerprint Errors?  Florida
officials are reviewing hundreds of criminal cases because a fingerprint expert at the Seminole County Sheriff's Office botched at least two cases, including one involving a homicide.  They dropped a burglary case because the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded that the expert, Donna Birks, was wrong to say a fingerprint found on a stolen wallet belonged to the defendant.  The print was smudged and could not be adequately identified.  n the other case, FDLE said Birks misidentified a print found on a shell casing at the scene of a 2006 Altamonte Springs homicide.

California Panel Calls for Standards for Scientific Analysis, Evidence.
An influential California commission on May 3, 2007 said that forensic science errors are a major contributor to wrongful convictions and called for better training, more monitoring and stronger standards in the real world of "CSI."  The report cited the Innocence Project at New York's Cardozo Law School, which identified forensic science testing errors in 63% of a set of nationwide DNA exoneration cases analyzed.  The California commission also raised a red flag over the ability of the criminal justice system to expose mistakes in scientific evidence.


HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

'Oops -- Clerical ErrorIn April 2005, an Indianapolis, Indiana judge exonerated Harold Buntin of robbery and rape charges based on DNA test results, but the rest of the justice system didn't find out about the decision for two more years. Court officials found that a bailiff or clerk failed to properly enter and distribute the order clearing Buntin.  Instead, the order was sent to storage.  He spent an extra two years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.


False Allegations of Child Abuse

Victims of Faulty Diagnoses by Dr. Charles Smith
Toronto, Ontario (Canada)


In Toronto, Ontario (Canada), errors were found in 20 of 45 autopsies, dating back as far as 1991, performed by former provincial pathologist Dr. Charles Smith. Twelve of those cases resulted in criminal convictions and one in a finding of not criminally responsible. 

The first to be exonerated was William Mullins-Johnson, who spent 12 years in prison for the rape and murder of his niece.  A 2005 review of Dr. Charles Smith's autopsy and diagnosis found the the child had not been raped or strangled, but choked to death on her own vomit caused by a chronic stomach ailment.

Sherry Sherrett, one of the 12, convicted of killing her own infant son, is seeking a full public inquiry into Dr. Smith's work.  The 2006 review shows her son was not murdered.

Louise Reynolds spent 2 years in jail awaiting trial after Dr. Smith said she stabbed her 7-year-old daughter, Sharon, to death with scissors. Charges were dropped after it was demonstrated little Sharon was mauled by a pit bull.

In 1998, Dr. Smith accused Louise and Marco Trotta of suffocating their 4-month-old son, Paulo. Louise served 5 years in prison; Marco was sentenced to 15 years, and had served 9 years when the review indicated little Paulo suffocated on his bedding.

CBC In Depth takes a closer look at Dr. Charles Smith: The Man Behind the Public Inquiry

RECOMMENDED READING
The Dreams of Ada
by Robert Mayer

The true, bewildering case of Thomas Ward and Karl Fontenot, the story of a young woman’s disappearance, the nightmare of a small town obsessed with delivering justice, and the bizarre dream of a poor, uneducated man accused of murder—a case that chillingly parallels the one, occurring in the very same town, chronicled by John Grisham in The Innocent Man.  Stunningly, the prosecution used the same snitch witness to obtain the convictions of Thomas Ward and Karl Fontenot it used to convict Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz.

Click HERE to visit the website of Thomas Ward and Karl Fontenot.
Dreams of Ada

No Smoke No Smoke: The Shocking Truth About British Justice by Sandra Lean

A life-long fascination with the workings of the human mind, and especially the workings of the "criminal mind," led Sandra Lean, at the age of 32, through the doors of Napier University in Edinburgh. A single parent of two young children, she studied Psychology and Sociology to Honours Degree level. A Masters' Degree in Forensic Psychology seemed like the most obvious next step, until a local, high-profile murder hit the headlines. Behind the scenes, Sandra Lean began sifting through the facts, only to discover that all was not as it seemed. What she found led her to other, similar cases, and more patient, methodical sifting, in an investigation that was to last almost four years. The result was a shocking, but true, discovery. Innocent people are being locked up in our prisons, convicted of the most horrific crimes, on a regular basis. These are not one-off, tragic mistakes, but rather, a routine, everyday occurrence. For every high-profile miscarriage of justice that we hear about, there are dozens more that never make the news. No Smoke examines just some of these cases, highlighting the very human tragedy of wrongful conviction, and pointing out the unthinkable: this could happen to any one of us.
No Smoke is only available in the UK.  But click HERE to read about the case that led Sandra to write this book.

Last Words from Death Row
by Norma Herrera

"I am innocent, innocent, innocent. I am an innocent man, and something very wrong is taking place tonight."  -- Last words of Leonel Herrera before his execution.

When Herrera, convicted of killing two police officers, tried to present important and compelling evidence of his innocence, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that innocence is not a basis for federal habeas corpus relief.  Four months later, Herrera was put to death.  His sister, Norma, has kept her promise to him, detailing the court events and press coverage of the ultimately fruitless effort to save Leonel from the legal system itself.

Click HERE for more information about this book.
Last Words from Death Row


INNOCENCE PROJECTS

Innocence Projects provide representation and/or investigative assistance to prison inmates who claim to be innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. There is now at least one innocence project serving each state. Most of these innocence projects are new and overwhelmed with applications, so waiting time between application and acceptance is long. Wrongfully convicted persons should not be dissuaded from applying to Innocence Projects because of this, but should have realistic expectations regarding acceptance and time lags.  Check the list for the innocence project in your area; we update it regularly.


TRUTH IN JUSTICE RADIO
As part of its educational outreach, Truth in Justice Radio is broadcast every Sunday evening from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. Central/11 p.m. to midnight Eastern, on WTKM, 104.9 FM, 1540 AM and streaming live on the internet at http://wtkm.com/  Your hosts, Sheila Berry and Ira Robins, discuss issues that play significant roles in making, reversing and avoiding wrongful convictions.

SLIDE PRESENTATION

Click HERE for our slide presentation, "The Truth About Wrongful Convictions."

LINKS

The links pages at Truth in Justice are frequently updated.  Be sure to check them for resources, "must" reading, websites of inmates with compelling innocence claims and more.  Start at http://truthinjustice.org/links.htm

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There are now over 1,300 pages at Truth in Justice.  The site search engine on the main page can make it faster and easier to find what you seek.

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