Truth in Justice Newsletter - December, 2004

RECENT CASES

Since 1989, at least 200 inmates have been released from California prisons after courts found that they were unjustly convicted.  San Francisco Magazine did a detailed analysis of 30 cases from around the state to find out what went wrong, and what can be done to prevent future injustices.

Saying the autopsy report was wrong, Winchester, TN District Attorney Mike Taylor dismissed a murder charge against Margaret Mignano, accused of killing her severely disabled daughter with an overdose of medication.  The murder charge was based on the autopsy report of Dr. Charles Harlan of Nashville, a forensic pathologist who is defending his medical license against state charges of misdiagnosing causes of death in other cases and destroying evidence in criminal investigations.

In 1984, the body of Bruce's girlfriend, Sherry Fales Williams, was found next to an interstate exit in Utah.  Bruce was convicted of raping and murdering her, even though two defense witnesses testified he was with them in Stockton, CA.  After 19 years, DNA has shown what Bruce has insisted all along -- he is innocent.

Louis Greco died behind bars in 1995 from cancer and heart disease.  He suffered horribly, losing a leg to amputation because he was denied proper care for his diabetes.  Along with co-defendants Peter Limone and Joseph Salvati, Louis was framed for murder by the Boston FBI to protect their informant, mob hit man Steve "The Rifleman" Flemmi.  Nine years after Louis' death, the prosecutor has acknowledged he was an innocent man.

Sylvester's case is yet another example of how pressuring children to make false allegations leads to wrongful convictions.  In 1984, two young girls were molested by their cousin who was also a juvenile.  Their grandmother, thinking the cousin would be sent to prison, convinced the girls to accuse Sylvester Smith instead.  Now grown, the victims have recanted and are supported by the trial testimony of one of them -- she told the defense attorney her grandmother said to accuse Smith.


INNOCENT IMPRISONED

Dennis Dechaine has been in a Maine prison for 16 years, convicted of the abduction, sexual torture and murder of a 12-year-old girl.  In a striking move for a state that has steadfastly defended its handling of the case, Maine Attorney General G. Steven Rowe has appointed a three-member panel to review the 1988 killing of Sarah Cherry for any evidence of misconduct by police or prosecutors. 

Link:  A special interactive report brought to you by journalnow.com

A Special Report

The Attack at the Silk Plant Forest

JournalNow Edition * Winston-Salem, N.C. * November 21-25, 2004
On Dec. 9, 1995 Jill Marker was brutally beaten in the back of The Silk Plant Forest, then located in the Silas Creek Shopping Center. Two years later, Kalvin Michael Smith was arrested for the crime. This six month re-examination of the case is based on hundreds of pages of police reports and interviews with Marker, her family and others.

DEATH PENALTY ISSUES


A Superior Court judge has stayed the December 3, 2004 execution of a Greensboro man who was convicted of murder based largely on the testimony of his co-defendants, with no physical evidence to link him to the crime.  In fact, there isn't even a body.


Bobby Lee Tankersley
Thelma Younkin used an oxygen tube to help her breathe. Her killer used it as a murder weapon.  n November 1991, the frail, 65-year-old Younkin was strangled with the tube, bitten and raped in her room at the Post Park Motel along a grim stretch of Yuma, Arizona.  A fellow resident of the low-budget motel, Bobby Lee Tankersley, was convicted and sent to Arizona's Death Row for the attack, based largely on the testimony of a forensic dentist who said he had matched Tankersley's teeth to bite marks on Younkin's body.  But on December 6, 2004, the same judge who sentenced Tankersley to death will hold a hearing that promises to showcase the problems of forensic science in America's courts, from the legacy of discredited experts to new DNA tests exposing the questionable science behind many other disciplines, including bite-mark comparison.

POLICE/PROSECUTOR MISCONDUCT

GeorgiaU.S. District Court Judge Hugh Lawson has sentenced Robert B. Ellis Jr., formerly district attorney of the Alapaha Judicial Circuit, to 18 months in prison and levied a $5,000 fine against him for making a false statement to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  What did he lie about?  Having sex with a suspect who was acting as a confidential informant.  Illegal Liaisons

MichiganA special prosecutor is being appointed to probe the conduct of police and the prosecutor in the case of a man wrongfully convicted of rape, a spokesman with the Michigan Attorney General's Office has confirmed.  The probe is the latest development stemming from Ken Wyniemko's year-old federal lawsuit, which lays out evidence that suggests witnesses were coached, evidence was buried, conflicting leads were ignored and justice was forsaken for a conviction.  Winning at Any Cost

Pennsylvania
PA State Police have a unique track record for charging accidental fires as arson.  They have taken this to a new low, using pizza and candy to get a 7-year-old boy to confess to setting a fatal fire at a neighbor's home that occurred when the child was miles away.  The child is too young to be prosecuted, even as a juvenile.  Instead, the authorities want to put him in a treatment facility for mentally disturbed kids -- Go in Normal, Come Out Twisted.

JUNK SCIENCE

Los Angeles County officials scrambled to review at least 27 -- and possibly dozens -- of pending criminal cases to determine whether critical evidence was tainted or falsified during analysis by the nation's largest private DNA lab.  Cellmark found the problems through its own audits, and said the testing protocols were not followed and that the analyst substituted results and changed computer records.  All It Takes is One Bad Apple

Computer Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA) is promoted by police who use it as a reliable lie detector.  Even the manufacturer the National Institute for Truth Verification, "acknowledges that the CVSA is not capable of lie detection and specifically cautions its users regarding the proper use of the device." But it works well for getting gullible suspects to confess -- especially when they are innocent.  More Junk


Saying the autopsy report was wrong, Winchester, TN District Attorney Mike Taylor dismissed a murder charge against Margaret Mignano, accused of killing her severely disabled daughter with an overdose of medication.  The murder charge was based on the autopsy report of Dr. Charles Harlan of Nashville, a forensic pathologist who is defending his medical license against state charges of misdiagnosing causes of death in other cases and destroying evidence in criminal investigations.  No Overdose

Post Mortem Drug Test Errors  A technique for inferring how much of a drug a patient has taken may be putting innocent people behind bars.  The problem seems to be that doctors are incorrectly applying the method to corpses, in a bid to establish how much of a drug a deceased person took, or was given, before their death. That error can result in vastly inflated readings.

Independent Crime Labs  The risk of deceptive forensic practices is heightened by the strong institutional kinship between the technicians who analyze forensic evidence and the law enforcement agencies that investigate and prosecute criminals. Virtually all crime laboratories have direct affiliations with law enforcement agencies.  Locke Bowman and Rob Warden make a strong case for independent crime labs in Illinois.  Actually, we need independent crime labs throughout the country.

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 Hawaii. 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 900 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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