Wrongful Conviction News from August and September, 2008
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in open court, saying he could no longer represent the government in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."
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
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.
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
Allegations of Child Abuse
|North Carolina. 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. The state cheated to
keep a rapist free.
Physical/Mental Abuse Allegations
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
English: Don't hold your breath.
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.
Projects provide representation and/or investigative assistance
to prison inmates who claim to be innocent of the crimes for which they
convicted. There is now at least one innocence project serving each
state (except Oregon and Tennessee, whose programs are undergoing
Most of these innocence projects are new and overwhelmed with
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
for our slide presentation, "The Truth About Wrongful
The links pages at Truth in Justice are frequently updated. Be
to check them for resources, "must" reading, websites of inmates with
innocence claims and more. Start at
SITE SEARCH ENGINE
There are now over 1,600 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!