Truth in Justice Newsletter
Wrongful Conviction News from December, 2007 - January, 2008


RECENT CASES


If you are not familiar with Kenny's case -- one of the most compelling cases of innocence we have seen -- please read the following:

Complete transcript of Frontline Scotland's Killing Time profile of Kenny Richey's case.

Truth in Justice has followed Marty Tankleff's case for years.  His exoneration came suddenly, after decades of struggle.  The following reports give perspective to a saga that, at last, has a happy ending.

Marty Tankleff
In 1988, Arlene Tankleff was slashed across the throat and bludgeoned to death, and her husband, Seymour, was mortally wounded in the middle of the night in their affluent Long Island home. Their son, Martin, 17, confessed, then recanted. But in 1990 he was convicted of their murders in a highly publicized trial that was featured on Court TV.  Ever since, he and the other surviving relatives have insisted that he did not kill his parents. Seymour Tankleff's brother, Norman, said that he never doubted the son's innocence. Mrs. Tankleff's sister, Marcella Falbee, said, "From the beginning, none of us ever believed he did this." Now Martin Tankleff's supporters claim to have new evidence, obtained by a former New York City homicide detective, that they say points to the real culprits.  Pushing to Clear His Name


Three times during his nearly 27 years in prison, Charles Chatman went before a parole board and refused to tell them what they wanted to hear: that he had raped a woman in his Dallas, TX neighborhood.  Chatman always maintained his innocence, and on January 3, 2008 a judge affirmed it. Chatman, 47, won his freedom after new DNA testing excluded him as the rapist, adding to Dallas County's nationally unmatched number of wrongfully convicted inmates.

Rickey Johnson of Leesville, LA spent 25 years in prison for a rape he did not commit.  His 2007 Christmas gift was being excluded by DNA, leading to his release.  How will he cope with a strange new world?  "I'll just take one day at a time. That's the way I learned it in prison; one day at a time. Wherever the Lord leads me, that's where I'll be."


We have followed the cases of Randy Steidl and Herb Whitlock for years, too.  First Randy was exonerated and freed.  Now Herb has been freed -- but the state continues to deny that he is innocent of the Rhoads' murders.

The Rhoads' Murders
In 1986, newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads were stabbed to death in their Paris, IL home.  Randy Steidl and Herb Whitlock were convicted of their muders on the strength of perjured testimony that contrradicted the physical  evidence.

Update:  Randy Steidl has been released

Herb Whitlock remains in prison, convicted by the same perjured testimony
Update:  Herb Whitlock granted new trial.
Update: No new trial for Herb Whitlock - Freedom granted, but not innocence


Tim Masters of Fort Collins, CO is yet another inmate who struggled for years to prove his innocence.  Cracks began to appear in the wall of psychobabble on which Masters' conviction was built in July of 2007.  The entire fabrication fell six months later.

Somewhere between the spot Peggy Hettrick was abducted and the Fort Collins, Colorado field where her partially clad body was dumped, her killer would have shed pieces of himself, mothlike. As he pulled her through the grass that dark morning on Feb. 11, 1987, his skin cells could have sloughed off onto her black coat. A strand of his hair could have hooked onto her shoes. A sneeze could have dampened her blouse. This is the law of forensic science: When two people come into contact, they leave cells on each other. But in the Hettrick murder case, authorities strayed from this law by losing some of these biological relics and destroying evidence linked to a prominent doctor they never investigated for the crime. In doing so, they may have covered the killer's genetic tracks.  This happened in Fort Collins, where a detective clung to his belief that a 15-year-old boy committed the crime, despite no physical evidence. In a county where prosecutors opposed saving DNA, let alone testing it. In a state where the law doesn't create a duty to preserve forensic evidence.  The result:  An innocent man, Tim Masters, goes to prison for life, and the real killer moves on.

UPDATE:  January 3, 2008:  Innocence Bid Gets Boost
Fort Collins, CO authorities violated evidence-discovery rules when they withheld expert opinions that conflicted with their theory that a 15-year-old Tim Masters murdered Peggy Hettrick in 1987, according to special prosecutors.

UPDATE:  January 22, 2008:  Tim Masters released and his conviction vacated.  DNA excludes Masters and points to another suspect.

David Scott, 39, of Terre Haute, IN, had been serving a 50-year prison sentence for the 1984 murder of Loretta Keith, who was bludgeoned to death in her bed with a hydraulic jack. Authorities said that DNA testing not available in 1984 — including analysis of blood found on a nylon stocking at Keith’s home — cleared Scott.  Prosecutors said the DNA test results showed that Kevin Mark Weeks, 44, of LaGrange, Ky., was the person who killed Keith.

“This all happened so fast,” said Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt, who filed a joint petition with Scott for his release.  Not really.  Four months after Scott was convicted, Scott's public defender, Larry Wagner, presented evidence from Weeks' accomplice that Weeks killed Ms. Keith, and that Scott had nothing to do with it.  The Indiana courts, all the way up to and including the state supreme court, rejected the evidence, but the PD Investigator Always Knew Scott was Innocent.



DEATH PENALTY


In a 44 - 36 vote largely along party lines, the New Jersey State Assembly on December 13, 2007 took the final legislative step toward abolishing the death penalty in New Jersey and replacing it with life in prison without parole.  Gov. Jon Corzine has said he will sign the bill, S-171, which the Senate passed on December 10, 2007 without amendment by a vote of 21-16, also along strict party lines.

Link:
THOMAS ARTHUR FIGHT FOR LIFE
Thomas Arthur, Alabama death row inmate Z-427 has sat on death row for 20 years for a crime he did not commit.  The State of Alabama will execute another innocent person 09-27-2007 unless you reach out and act NOW to help fight for his life. Time is running out!! 

UPDATE:  On 9/27/07, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley issued a 45-day stay for Arthur's execution, solely to tinker with the death process.  Gov. Riley continues to refuse to allow DNA testing that could confirm Arthur's guilt or innocence.

UPDATE:  On 12/5/07, the United States Supreme Court granted a stay of execution pending his application for a write of certiorari.

Link:
What do you get when you take one ambitious prosecutor, four cold cases, a couple of cooperative snitches and four defendants with compelling innocence claims?  You get three death sentences and one life without parole.


INNOCENT IMPRISONED


David Flores was told not to testify. So he sat in silence in 1997 while prosecutors convinced a jury that he had murdered an innocent woman caught in a gang-related gunbattle during rush-hour traffic.  Now, Flores and his new attorney claim to have new evidence that he was not responsible for the shooting death of Phyllis Davis.  A national expert says the most powerful revelation uncovered by Flores' defense could set him free: A gang member told the FBI and Los Angeles police before Flores' trial that another man, Raphael Robinson, shot Davis.

When Flores was sentenced, jury foreman Samuel McCrorey said
he regretted the verdict: "I feel horrible that a young man is going to prison for life for a crime he didn't commit."  McCrorey was lambasted by the trial judge for his honesty.  Click HERE to read about the attack launched against Mr. McCrorey by Judge Richard Blane, II.

John Spirko is hard to like.  He's lived a life of crime that makes him virtually incredible.  But he says he's innocent of the murder of Betty Jane Mottinger, a crime that put him on Ohio's death row.  An investigation by the Cleveland Plain Dealer strongly supports Spirko's claim that he did not commit this crime.

Click HERE to read Bob Payne's full series about John Spirko at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

UPDATE:  Ohio governor commutes Spirko death sentence to life without parole.


Link:
Lebrew Jones: A Wrongful Conviction
Multimedia Investigative Report by Christine Young
New York Times-Herald Record

HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

How the System SHOULD Work.  When Craig Watkins took office as Dallas County (Texas) District Attorney in January, 2007,
prosecutors found mounted on the walls of their workrooms a large, black-framed blowup of Article 2.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, with only one sentence highlighted: "It shall be the duty of all prosecuting attorneys, including any special prosecutors, not to convict but to see that justice is done."  Watkins said he had the code provision framed and mounted to serve as a daily reminder to his 234 assistant DAs of their ethical obligations and as a message to criminal-defense attorneys that what he termed the "conviction-at-all-cost" era had ended.


Felons Not Being Told of New Evidence.  Virginia felons convicted of crimes before DNA testing was widely in use are not being notified when biological evidence is found in their old forensic case files.  As a result, it is largely being left up to authorities to determine whether DNA testing is warranted in such cases and to interpret whether the results have any bearing on innocence. In a groundbreaking project far larger than first envisioned, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science has searched 530,079 paper files dating from 1973 to 1988, finding 2,215 that contain crime-scene biological material and include a suspect's name.  Five men wrongly convicted of rape have been cleared with evidence from the old files. Advocates and others are concerned that for the most part, only authorities are being told the evidence exists and not the felons who potentially have the most at stake.

Link:
Columbus Dispatch
Multimedia investigative report of a year-long review of Ohio's  system for testing DNA to uncover wrongful convictions.


POLICE/PROSECUTOR MISCONDUCT


New York
New York state investigators are probing how police and prosecutors handled the 1988 bludgeoning and stabbing deaths of Seymour and Arlene Tankleff, whose son, Marty Tankleff, served 17 years in prison for their murders before being released in December, 2007.  What Took So Long?

New YorkA teen shooting suspect's quick decision to record his interrogation with a hidden MP3 device has played out as a perjury case against a veteran detective.  Testifying at the trial of Erik Crespo in April, Detective Christopher Perino, 42, emphatically stated that he hadn't questioned the then-17-year-old about a Christmas Day 2005 shooting in The Bronx before the kid's mother and aunt showed up at the 44th Precinct station. But Crespo had secretly pressed record on his MP3 player - a small device used to download music from the Internet - hidden in his pocket and captured the bullying interrogation.  "Testilying" vs. Tape.

False Allegations of Child Abuse

Shaken Baby Syndrome

Petition Link:

Veronica Martinez Salcedo is a 38 year old nanny who has been held in the Placer County, CA jail since May, 2006 charged with the second degree murder of 16 month old Hannah Rose Juceam. Her first trial lasted six months and ended in a mistrial due to a hung jury. On 12/10/07, the Placer County District Attorney announced that she will be re-tried in April, 2008. Mrs. Salcedo has maintained her innocence and has rejected plea bargains. Meanwhile, the father of the deceased child has waged a widely advertised campaign in attempts to deny Mrs. Salcedo of her rights to due process and presumption of innocence through billboards and a purportedly educational website.

Audrey Edmunds
Audrey Edmunds, a former Waunakee, WI baby sitter imprisoned for nearly 10 years after being convicted in the shaken-baby death of a 7- month-old girl, is seeking a new trial, arguing that the scientific evidence used to convict her is no longer valid. "Since Audrey Edmunds' trial . . . a large body of new scientific evidence has emerged that supports her claim of innocence," according to a brief seeking a new trial for Edmunds filed by attorneys and law students for the Wisconsin Innocence Project.  "Classic" symptoms not accurate.

UPDATE: 1/26/07 - In a two-day hearing, six physicians challenged the medical validity of the evidence that convicted Audrey Edmunds in 1996.  Among them was the forensic pathologist who testified against her at trial.  No Confidence in SBS Diagnosis

UPDATE: 2/22/07 - Audrey Edmunds says life would have crushed her by now, if not for her faith in God -- and her belief that she will soon be reunited with her daughters.  The Human Toll of Flawed Science

UPDATE:  2/23/07 -
In tense, combative testimony, a medical witness for the state forcefully rejected recent studies that raise doubts about shaken baby syndrome.  The combative testimony of Dr. Betty Spivack reflects the divide among physicians in shaken-baby cases. One camp believes certain signs and symptoms are proof of abuse, while the other side argues that such indicators also can be seen in children who've been sick or had minor accidents.  Defending the Conviction

UPDATE: 2/24/07- One of the physicians who cared for Natalie Beard at University (now UW) Hospital in the final hours of her life testified Friday he's certain that the 7-month-old was shaken to death and that the injury occurred shortly before she came to the hospital. "She died from inflicted traumatic brain injury -- that is, she was shaken," said Dr. William Perloff, retired head of pediatric intensive care for the hospital. "In her case, there was evidence of her head hitting a surface."
But That's More Than Simply Shaking, Doctor ...

UPDATE: 3/29/07 -
Dane County Circuit Judge Daniel Moeser has denied Audrey Edmunds a new trial.  What it came down to, Moeser said, was whether there was a "reasonable probability" that a new jury, hearing the evidence presented earlier this year and in 1996, would've reached a different verdict. He determined it would not.  Edmunds supporter Michelle Urso of Waunakee said she believes one thing is true: "There is no doubt in my mind that there is an innocent woman sitting in jail. Not a single doubt."  And the Innocent Woman will Stay in Prison.

UPDATE: 1/24/08:  Twelve years after she was sent to prison on charges of shaking a baby to death, a former Waunakee day-care provider should get a new trial, a state appeals court has ruled.  New evidence in the case "shows that there has been a shift in mainstream medical opinion since Edmunds' trial as to the cause of the types of injuries Natalie (Beard) suffered," the three-judge panel unanimously ruled.  The Attorney General is mulling whether to appeal the ruling.

False Allegations of Sexual Abuse
It started with a phone call from CPS, telling North Texas home builder Douglas Buchar that his 12-year-old adopted daughter had accused him of sexually assaulting him.  Over the next two years, his wife was also charged, although the charges were dismissed, and the couple lost their business, their home and their two biological children.  A jury has found him not guilty of the sexual assault charge.  But getting his kids back is a separate, uphill battle.


RECOMMENDED READING


The Chaparral Murders: Dollar Store Justice
by Margaret Stoddart

The Chaparral Murders re-examines the 1982 deaths of Glenn Roberts and his son, Timmy, in Parsons, WV, and the subsequent conviction of Rusty Phillips in Timmy Roberts' death. 


Stoddart is the stepdaughter of Edith Roberts, the mother of Timmy and the widow of Glenn.  Given that relationship, the author reaches conclusions that might not be expected, questioning whether Rusty Phillips had any role in Timmy Roberts' death, and whether Timmy's death was a homicide in the first place.

Click HERE to read Norm Goldman's review in American Chronicle.
Chaparral

15543 and Counting
15,543 and Counting
By D. L. Carcara

On September 2, 1983, Jimmy Lee Gray died smashing his head into a metal pole located behind his head as a result of being strapped to a chair and forced to inhale a deadly mixture of sulfuric acid and hydrogen cyanide. On May 4, 1990, Jesse Tafero, at the time living and breathing, died after being set on fire while completely incapacitated being bound to a chair. These instances sound much like the works of a sadistic serial killer torturing his victims, but they are in reality the works of State Departments of Corrections here in America. These documented cases as well as many more wrongs involving the administration of capital punishment in the United States are found in 15,543 and Counting. Each and every step, from the very beginning of the guilt trial to the very end of the cooling of the corpse, is addressed and accounted for in 15,543 and Counting. Among the countless informative sources are testimonies of corrections officers assigned to the care and custody of death row inmates, as well as actual quotes from death row inmates themselves.

Snitch: Informants, Cooperators and the Corruption of Justice
by Ethan Brown

A chilling investigative look behind the scenes at a criminal justice system corrupted by its use of cooperators, and into the complex meaning of the "Stop Snitching" movement.
In Snitch, investigative reporter Ethan Brown shows through a compelling series of case profiles how the sentencing guidelines for drug-related offenses, along with the 5K1.1 section, have unintentionally created a "cottage industry of cooperators," and led to fabricated evidence. The result is wrongful convictions and appallingly gruesome crimes committed by the snitches who are turned loose for their "cooperation."

Click HERE for Steve Weinberg's review of this book.
Snitch

Police Interrogation
Police Interrogation and American Justice
by Richard Leo

Incriminating statements are necessary to solve crimes, but suspects almost never have reason to provide them. Therefore, crime units have developed sophisticated interrogation methods that rely on persuasion, manipulation, and deception to move a subject from denial to admission, serving to shore up the case against him. Ostensibly aimed at uncovering truth, the structure of interrogation requires that officers act as an arm of the prosecution.  Skillful and fair interrogation allows authorities to capture criminals and deter future crime. But Leo draws on extensive research to argue that confessions are inherently suspect and that coercive interrogation has led to false confession and wrongful conviction. He looks at police evidence in the court, the nature and disappearance of the brutal "third degree," the reforms of the mid-twentieth century, and how police can persuade suspects to waive their Miranda rights.


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 Alaska). 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

SITE SEARCH ENGINE

There are now over 1,500 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!


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