Signs of Innocence


David Protess, a Northwestern University journalism professor whose work has resulted in several overturned convictions, uses five criteria to gauge whether or not a person may be innocent. The following chart lists these criteria, and tells how they apply to three individual cases: The Ford Heights Four (convicted of a 1978 crime and exonerated after spending, collectively, 65 years in prison) Anthony Hicks (convicted in Dane County of rape in 1992 and freed five years later based on DNA evidence) and Penny Brummer (convicted in Dane County in 1994 of killing her female lover's friend).

Physical Evidence?

Ford Heights Four (including Willie Raines)
No physical evidence--hair, fingerprints, semen--tied the men to the crime.

Anthony Hicks
A crime analyst said three of four pubic hairs were "consistent" with Hicks', but DNA tests later positively excluded him as the source of one hair.

Penny Brummer
No physical evidence tied Brummer to the crime; the murder weapon was never found.

Credible eye witnesses?

Ford Heights Four
Key witnesses were coerced or offered incentives to testify.

Anthony Hicks
Rape victim said she was certain it was him, even after forensic evidence suggested otherwise.

Penny Brummer
Key witnesses included James Foseid, who changed his story several times.
 

Alibis?

Ford Heights Four
All had family members who stated they were home at the time.

Anthony Hicks
Said he was home at the time of the crime; a friend made contact with him there around the time of the crime, but couldn't say for sure.

Penny Brummer
Brummer was home in Spring Green in time to see a TV show that started at 1:37 a.m. The victim, forensic evidence suggests, may not have died until several hours later.
 

Any credible confession?

Ford Heights Four
The only confession was by Paula Gray, a friend of the four. She soon recanted, and only returned to her original story as part of a deal to get out of prison.

Anthony Hicks
Steadfastly maintained his innocence.

Penny Brummer
Maintains her innocence, although a police detective claimed she nodded slightly when he stated, "I think you were involved in Sarah's death."
 

Background of defendants?

Ford Heights Four
All four came from close-knit, religious families. Dennis Williams was convicted of a property crime as a teenager; the others had no records at all.

Anthony Hicks
Had previous drug-related charges, to which he pled guilty.

Penny Brummer
No prior criminal record.
 


 
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