Truth in Justice Newsletter - August - September, 2005

RECENT CASES

In December, 1991, Troy Hopkins of Richmond, VA was convicted of killing Curtis Kearney in July, 1990.  In 1992, another man confessed to the murder, and in 1994 the Virginia Court of Appeals reversed Troy's conviction.  His vindication didn't last long; the Virginia Supreme Court reinstated his conviction, and he spent 10 years in prison -- until he was released on parole -- for another man's crime.  Now Virginia Governor Mark Warner has pardoned Troy, saying, "I am convinced that Mr. Hopkins is innocent of the charges for which he was convicted".

For 26 years, the people of Miami, Florida believed the Bird Road Rapist was Luis Diaz, and that he had been caught and locked up.  The rapist was named after the location in the Miami area where the rapes occurred. The rapist used the same method with all of his victims: He attacked young women driving in the Bird Road-U.S. 1 area of Coral Gables. He would signal the women to pull over by flashing his headlights, then force them to have sex at gunpoint.  Diaz was convicted based on identifications made by eight victims, even though some of them initially described their attacker as being 6-feet tall, 200 pounds, and fluent in English.  Diaz is 5-foot-3, about 130 pounds and speaks little to no English. He also constantly smelled of onions because he worked as a fry cook - although none of the victims described their attacker having that odor.  Now DNA as excluded Diaz as the Bird Road Rapist, and he has been set free.

Alejandro Dominguezwas 16 when he was charged with the September 1989 home invasion and rape in Waukegan. He was convicted in a 1990 trial, in large part because the victim identified him as her attacker. Dominguez insisted he was wrongly identified and was innocent. Sentenced to 9 years in state prison, he served more than 4 years, receiving time off for good behavior, before he was released in December 1993.  Even though he was free, Dominguez continued to try to prove his innocence. He persuaded lawyer Jed Stone to seek DNA testing on semen recovered from the victim.  The tests excluded Dominguez as a source of the semen, and they prompted Lake County prosecutors and Stone to ask a judge to vacate the convictions.

In a New Jersey case with striking similarities to those of Clarence Elkins of Ohio and Ralph Armstrong of Wisconsin, a Superior Court judge has thrown out Peterson's 1987 conviction for rape and murder and ordered a new trial.  Peterson has been excluded by DNA as the donor of hairs that the prosecution claimed "matched" his hairs and "proved" his guilt.

Ralph Armstrong [pdf format]
In the same week that a judge in Ohio decided that the DNA exclusion of Clarence Elkins as the source of sperm found in the murder victim's vagina and her granddaughter's underwear was not enough to overturn Elkins' rape and murder conviction, the Wisconsin Supreme Court stepped up to the plate and gave Ralph Armstrong his freedom in a strikingly similar case.  Armstrong gives all of us hope.

Michael O'Laughlin
"The judgments are reversed, the verdicts set aside, and judgments shall enter for the defendant."


INNOCENT IMPRISONED

The evidence seemed overwhelming more than 20 years ago when Bruce was convicted of killing his mother for grocery money.  But did sloppy forensics, a dishonest detective and a jailhouse snitch account for his conviction, instead of actual guilt?  Even the man who prosecuted Lisker has come to doubt Bruce's guilt.

UPDATE:  FBI Confirms Shoe Print at Scene Not Lisker's


Juneal Pratt
Thirty years ago Juneal Pratt was convicted of raping two sisters who were staying in a motel together in Omaha, Nebraska.  The conviction hinged on the women's identification of Pratt in a line up; his alibi witnesses were rejected by the jury.  New testing has excluded Pratt as the source of DNA found on the women's clothes.  He stands on the brink of becoming Nebraska's first DNA exoneration.

Link
The Cost of "Closure"
On November 29, 1988, six Kansas City, Missouri firefighters were killed in an explosion while fighting a series of set fires at a construction site.  As late as 1995, ATF agents said the fire was set by organized labor, to teach the general contractor a lesson for using non-union labor.  But the $50,000 reward motivated jailhouse snitches to finger 5 indigent Native Americans convicted in 1997 of arson and murder -- Frank Sheppard, Skip Sheppard, Darlene Edwards, Bryan Sheppard and Richard Brown. 

Unlike many arson cases featured here, this is not about junk science and incompetent fire investigators.  It's good, old fashioned expedient corruption.  Click the link to learn more.

KC Framed 5


FALSE ALLEGATIONS OF CHILD ABUSE


In Lorain, Ohio, in 1994, Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen were convicted of sexually molesting children Nancy transported on her bus to a Head Start program.  Nancy and Joseph didn't even know each other.  But once the fire was lit, the media and the prosecutor fanned it out of control.

WRONGFULLY CONVICTED COPS


DNA has allowed Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer David Hansen to dodge a deadly bullet.  When a woman was raped in February, 2005 by a man who offered her a ride home from her health club, she picked David out of more than 1,400 photos of club members.  Arrested, charged with first-degree sexual contact and kidnapping, placed on administrative leave, David was cleared by DNA.  The charges have been dropped, although the county attorney says there is no evidence that leads to another suspect.



Link
South Jersey Justice
"A lie has speed, but truth has endurance."
- Edgar J. Mohn


POLICE/PROSECUTOR/JUDICIAL MISCONDUCT

TennesseeTwo more former Campbell County sheriff's officers have beensentenced to prison for the beating and torture of a suspected drug dealer.  The officers claimed they went to Lester Siler's home to serve a probation violation warrant, but in fact they tortured him, demanding drugs and money.  And Siler's wife tape recorded it.  Taped Interrogation


HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

Wisconsin  The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed two lower court decisions and held that a confession to an armed robbery taken from a juvenile during a five hour interrogation outside the presence of his parents, was involuntary.  More importantly, the Court announced the broadest rule in the country, requiring that police record custodial interrogations of juveniles.  Relying on its supervisory powers over the administration of justice, the court held that "all custodial interrogations of juveniles must be electronically recorded where feasible and without exception when questioning occurs at a place of detention.  The failure to record such interrogations would render the "unrecorded interrogations and any resultant written confession inadmissible as evidence in court."  It is a remarkable opinion which is based both on the false confession literature and principles of adolescent development which make juveniles more susceptible to police pressure than adults.  The opinion should be a warning that if police and legislators do not act, they may face court decisions which impose much more sweeping policies than they are likely to face otherwise.  Read the decision:  In the Interest of Jerrell C. J.


Wisconsin (again)  Dionny Reynolds was found guilty of first degree murder in the death of an undercover state agent, but only after Judge David Hansher removed a holdout juror "for cause" when she refused to change her mind.  An alternate who had been sitting in the hall for two days was brought in to replace her, and in no time flat, they had a conviction.  They know how to get things done in Milwaukee: First they give 'em a fair trial, and then they convict 'em.


RECOMMENDED READING

Who Killed Sarah?
by Sheila Berry and Doug Berry


Sarah Gonstead disappeared in the early morning hours of March 15, 1994 in Madison, Wisconsin, after she and Penny Brummer had been out drinking together.  The path she took led her directly to outlaw bikers, engaged in a turf war and recruiting new members.  But when Sarah's body was found 40 days later, Brummer was the only suspect.  Witnesses with valuable information were criticized, even humiliated.  Leads that went anywhere else were ignored, as were the classic signs of innocence.  No physical evidence tied Brummer to the crime; the murder weapon was never found.  Brummer had an alibi -- she was at home 40 miles away when Sarah was killed.  She had no criminal record and no history of violence.  It was enough for the jury to convict Brummer and send her to prison for the rest of her life.  But did she do it? Or is Penny Brummer a victim of the legal system, just as Sarah Gonstead was a victim of a cold killer?

Click HERE for more information


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.


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

SITE SEARCH ENGINE

There are now over 1,000 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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