Truth in Justice Newsletter
Wrongful Conviction News from August and September, 2008


RECENT CASES

Richard Diguglielmo
White Plains, NY

Erick Daniels of Durham, NC spent nearly a third of his 22 years behind bars for crimes a judge has now said he did not commit.  Daniels was 14 when he was charged with being one of two armed robbers who burst into the home of Ruth Brown, a police department employee, on Sept. 21, 2000, and stole her pocketbook containing $6,231 in cash.  Ms. Brown picked out his photo from a middle school year book.  Her identification was the only evidence against Erick.  Recently, another client of Erick's trial attorney confessed to the robbery and said Erick had no role in the crime.

While a 28-year-old woman was being raped at White Rock Lake in August 1981, Johnnie Earl Lindsey was at work, pressing pants at a commercial laundry business.  But Johnnie's rock-solid alibi, time clock punch cards that backed up his claim, were trumped when the victim picked him out of a photo lineup mailed to her by Dallas police.  Now DNA tests -- part of Dallas DA Craig Watkins' massive review of cases -- have made Johnnie the 19th Dallas defendant cleared in the program.

Darryl Burton of St. Louis, MO was convicted in 1985 of capital murder and armed criminal action -- although thre was no physical evidence connecting him to the crime -- and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years.  His conviction was overturned because the state's key witness lied about his own extensive criminal record.  The state will not retry Darryl, who has been released and returned to his family.


A man who spent nearly 20 years behind bars is walking free after new evidence showed that he was wrongfully convicted of murder in the 1988 shooting of a motorist in Southeast Washington, DC.  A judge ordered the release of Aaron Michael Howard this month after the prosecutor withdrew from the case in open court, saying he could no longer represent the government in trying to validate the jury's guilty verdict.


Charged with murder in Queens, NY in 1994, Kareem rejected a plea deal for 5 years in prison if he would plead guilty to manslaughter.  Kareem knew he was innocent, so he went to trial.  He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.  His conviction was thrown out after Kareem's lawyers produced the taped confession of another man, and other witnesses recanted.  Kareem, who wants a new trial, has been freed on bond, which was posted by his pro bono investigator, Joseph O'Brien, a former FBI agent and author of bestselling mob book "Boss of Bosses."
INNOCENT IMPRISONED

Temujin was convicted of murdering a man he had never met in Flint, Michigan on November 5, 1986, even though numerous witnesses placed him in Escanaba, Michigan at the same time, 460 miles away.  How did the prosecutor leap that huge alibi gap -- literally the size of Lake Michigan?  He told the jurors that Temujin "could have" chartered a plane, but never offered any proof of that.  One juror said his alibi was "too perfect."  They convicted him anyway, and he's been in prison since then.

When Melissa Koontz disappeared June 24, 1989 from the highway between Springfield and Waverly, Illinois, her story brought to life every young woman’s biggest fear and every parent’s worst nightmare. A week later, authorities discovered the body of the 18-year-old Culver-Stockton College honor student dumped in a cornfield west of town. Koontz had been stabbed to death. Though the body was fully clothed, Koontz’s bra was unfastened and her underwear torn.  Eventually, five people were sent to prison for the crime, which authorities said at the time began as a robbery. Two of the accused, Gary Edgington and Tom McMillen, are serving life sentences in prison.  Edgington confessed to helping murder Koontz, but McMillen has steadfastly denied he had anything to do with it.  Nearly 20 years after the crime, the Downstate Innocence Project at the University of Illinois at Springfield wants to see if McMillen is telling the truth.

An all-white jury in Concord, NC convicted Ronnie Long of the rape of a prominent white widow -- the wife of a Cannon Mills executive -- in 1976, a crime Ronnie has always denied committing.  His conviction was based on the victim's eyewitness identification of Ronnie.  Now staff and attorneys with the NC Center on Actual Innocence have uncovered laboratory evidence that clears Ronnie -- evidence the state had all along and hid from Ronnie's defense for 32 years. 

When Milwaukee, WI police told 17-year-old Alphonso that he could go home as soon as he signed and initialed a statement he hadn't written and couldn't read, he did as they told him to do.  He didn't go home.  He went to prison for a murder he knew nothing about.  Twenty-three years later, Alphonso is still trying to get home, and his supporters have formed Justice4James to help him get there.

Bloomington, IL gas station attendant Bill Little was killed in a robbery on March 31, 1991.  In 1999, Jamie Snow and Susan Claycomb were charged with his murder and robbery.  Susan was acquitted, but Jamie was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.  Now, a former police officer who was one of the first on the scene says the lone eyewitness could not have seen Jamie as he testified he did.

HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

The term "Fourth Estate" refers to the press.  Novelist Jeffrey Archer in his work The Fourth Estate made the observation: "In May 1789, Louis XVI summoned to Versailles a full meeting of the 'Estates General'. The First Estate consisted of three hundred clergy. The Second Estate, three hundred nobles. The Third Estate, six hundred commoners. Some years later, after the French Revolution, Edmund Burke, looking up at the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, said, 'Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important than them all.'"

We agree.  The press are our eyes and ears, our consciences, compassion and common sense.  And we agree with journalist Steve Weinberg that better journalism about crime and punishment is a simple prescription for reducing wrongful convictions. Innocent Until Reported Guilty. 



POLICE/PROSECUTOR MISCONDUCT

North CarolinaAn all-white jury in Concord, NC convicted Ronnie Long of the rape of a prominent white widow -- the wife of a Cannon Mills executive -- in 1976, a crime Ronnie has always denied committing.  His conviction was based on the victim's eyewitness identification of Ronnie.  Now staff and attorneys with the NC Center on Actual Innocence have uncovered laboratory evidence that clears Ronnie -- evidence the state had all along and hid from Ronnie's defense for 32 years.  The state cheated to keep a rapist free.

False Allegations of Child Abuse

Unfounded Physical/Mental Abuse Allegations
On Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008, exactly four years after officials with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services raided the primitive therapeutic camp in Smithville known as Woodside Trails and removed nearly 40 boys, camp administrator Betty Lou "Bebe" Gaines settled a federal lawsuit against nine DFPS employees. In her suit, Gaines charged the officials had deprived her of due process rights in branding her neglectful of her wards, closing the camp, and effectively ending her career.  Vindication.




JUNK SCIENCE


California.  In Bakersfield, the crime lab is part of the DA's office.  There is no "firewall" between the prosecution side and the science side of the office.  This creates a conflict that recently moved prosecutor Nick Lackie to tell a jury, "So what?"  This conflict issue has come to a head in a recent case in which a lawyer, Daniel Willsey, stands charged with causing the death of Joe Hudnall, a local deputy by driving under the influence of methamphetamine and causing Hudnall to crash.  Defense attorneys have learned that testing of the defendant's blood was conducted by a lab analyst who is a close friend of the dead deputy's family.  Cops in lab coats.

But wait -- there's more.  When Daniel Willsey's defense attorneys went back to court to argue motions related to mishandling evidence by the DA office's crime lab, everyone got a big surprise.  The crime lab had "inadvertently" destroyed the sample of Willsey's blood that the lab claimed tested positive for methamphetamines.  Gosh, it's not like the DA wanted to make sure Willsey's defense attorneys can't have a private lab test the sample.  Ooops -- Butterfingers.

Maryland
Baltimore crime analysts have been contaminating evidence with their own DNA -- a revelation that led to the dismissal of the city Police Department's crime lab director and prompted questions from defense attorneys and forensic experts about the professionalism of the state's biggest and busiest crime lab.  Baltimore police are talking out of both sides of their mouths, saying, 'Oh, it's not a problem at all,' and on the other hand they have fired the crime lab director.  How did this lab get accreditation?

Wisconsin.  Attorney Jerome Buting has filed a complaint about some of the big errors that have been uncovered at the Wisconsin Crime Lab.  For example, an employee at the Milwaukee bureau of the crime lab made up results. He "falsified the data" in a case by saying a finger print didn't match anyone in a database before he knew whether it did or not.  In March of 2006, an employee at the Madison bureau of the lab was suspended for being "intoxicated" on the job.  That happens to be around the time the lab was testing evidence in one of the most high profile cases in recent memory: the murder trial against Steven Avery.   The AG's office says it will review the complaint.  Plain English:  Don't hold your breath.

"Must" Reading: A new publication from The Justice Project
Improving the Practice and Use of Forensic Science: A Policy Review, (click title for report in pdf) provides an overview of the problems with certain forensic science policies and procedures, offers solutions to these problems, profiles cases of injustice, highlights states with good laws and procedures, and includes a model policy for the states.

KC Framed


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 (except Oregon and Tennessee, whose programs are undergoing reorganization). 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.



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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