Truth in Justice Newsletter - April, 2003
A federal judge has thrown out a murder conviction against Timothy Brown, a retarded man, in the 1990 killing of a sheriff's deputy. The ruling eliminated a confession the judge called "the only meaningful evidence" against Brown, who was 15 at the time of the killing, and had a mental age of 7 or 8.
In a rare and unusual move, the US Supreme Court stayed Texas' execution of Delma Banks just 10 minutes before he was to be killed. Only 3 years ago his murder conviction was reversed after the state's witnesses admitted being paid by the prosecution to commit perjury identifying Banks as a killer, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated his death sentence. In Texas, somebody has to die, even if he's innocent.
MYTH OF INFALLIBILITY
Just before he was executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Roger Coleman read a statement: "An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight," he said. "When my innocence is proven, I hope Americans will realize the injustice of the death penalty as all other civilized countries have." Virginia has the opportunity to find out, once and for all, if an innocent man was murdered by the state while a murderer got away. But the state fears the truth, and instead fights to maintain the myth of infallibility.
When handled, analyzed and interpreted correctly, DNA evidence works to exclude the innocent and convict the guilty. But when the same evidence is handled and analyzed in shoddy lab conditions and by incompetent lab staff, the consequences can be dire. One consequence is that the innocent are convicted. But another consequence is that the real perpetrators go free and continue to commit crimes. Houston Crime Lab
WORST IN COUNTRY -- OR TYPICAL?
"There were two different problems in the crime lab — scientific incompetence and corruption," Law Professor David Dow of the University of Houston said. "That's a deadly combination. Once you have corruption, there is no reason to think that this is limited to DNA cases or cases where there is scientific evidence of any sort."
PERJURY IS PERJURY
The head of the DNA division of the Houston Police Department's crime lab has offered testimony in at least three cases that has later turned out to be wrong, according to court transcripts. "They intentionally mislead," said Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, the former head of the DNA lab at the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office who now often works as a consultant for criminal defense teams. "And in all the cases I've been involved in, they always mislead in favor of a conviction." Houston Democratic state Rep. Harold Dutton says, "We have a name for that in Texas, and that is perjury."
MEANWHILE, IN FLORIDA ...
In 1987, Broward County, Florida (Miami) Sheriff's detectives put Michael Rivera on death row for the abduction, rape and murder of 11-year-old Staci Jazvac. A crime lab technician testified 2 hairs found in Rivera's van "could be concluded as being" from Staci's head. A jailhouse snitch -- subsequently found to be a habitual liar -- sewed up the case. Similar murders in the same area continued -- Linda Kalitan, Terry Gilchrist, Ellen Stowe. And now it turns out the hairs did not come from the victim.
AND IN MARYLAND ...
Baltimore County, Maryland police are reviewing 480 cases worked by former police chemist Concepcion Bascanot in the wake of DNA tests that exonerated Bernard Webster in 2002. The DNA tests demonstrate Bascanot lied when she said the rapist and Webster both had type A blood. What is needed is an independent investigation.
JOHN MALONEY HABEAS PETITION
One step closer to freedom. John Maloney's habeas petition has been filed in Brown County (WI) Circuit Court. Read it here. (PDF format - read with Adobe Acrobat.)
Also available online:
THE MYTH OF MUNCHAUSEN BY PROXY
"Mama/M.A.M.A. " is a groundbreaking film that examines Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, a bizarre form of supposed child abuse in which a mother pretends her child is ill - or actually makes her child sick- in order to get the sympathy and praise of the medical community. The film scrutinizes the scientific research surrounding the allegation and, in so doing, questions the very diagnosis itself. Visit the companion website. See the film. Protect yourselves and your children.
WHY WOULD AN INNOCENT PERSON CONFESS?
Although it is difficult, if not impossible, to estimate the number of false confessions nationwide, a recent review of one decade's worth of murder cases in a single Illinois county found 247 instances in which the defendants' self-incriminating statements were thrown out by the court or found by a jury to be insufficiently convincing for conviction.
Thom Marshall of the Houston Chronicle proposes a website for collecting and dispensing information about the activities in our courtrooms and the people involved in them. Injustice thrives in secrecy. The closer we watch our justice system, the better we can make it.
FREEDOM NO CURE-ALL
The wrongly convicted long for exoneration and freedom, and when these are achieved, the backhand they get from society can be a bitter blow.
EXONERATED BUT NEVER SET FREE
Benjamin Harris is the only person ever exonerated from Washington's Death Row. Years after his conviction and sentence were overturned, after he was found competent and a jury ruled he should be released, Harris is still being held on a cooked-up civil commitment.
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 650 pages at Truth in Justice. The site search engine on the main page can make it faster and easier to find what you seek.
And remember, YOU can make a difference!
Sheila and Doug Berry
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