Truth in Justice Newsletter - February - March, 2006

RECENT CASES

Cedric Willis, 29, of Jackson was freed after spending 12 years locked up for a crime he didn't commit, a judge ruled.  Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie T. Green dismissed murder and armed robbery charges against Willis after District Attorney Faye Peterson made the motion.  "No one wants an innocent person in prison," Green said.

George Pitt always said the only thing he was guilty of was having bad friends, and that the only thing prosecutors put on trial was his lifestyle.  Now, 12 years after the New Brunswick (Canada) man, an admitted alcoholic, was condemned to life in prison for the rape and murder of his six-year-old stepdaughter, authorities have finally tested key evidence from the crime scene and have found none of it matches his DNA.

After his amnesia cleared in prison, Christopher Bennett, of Stark County, Ohio, begged someone to test the blood on a van dashboard, sure it would prove he wasn't the driver in a fatal crash. The Ohio Innocence Project listened, and DNA tests, along with other evidence, convinced the Ohio Court of Appeals to unanimously reverse his conviction -- in spite of his guilty plea.

Alan Crotzer of Tampa, Florida stepped into the warm sunlight outside the courthouse and raised his arms to the sky, celebrating his freedom after more than 24 years behind bars for crimes he didn't commit.  A judge freed the 45-year-old Crotzer after DNA testing and other evidence convinced prosecutors he was not involved in the 1981 armed robbery and rapes that led to his 130-year prison sentence.


INNOCENT IMPRISONED

Shaun Rodrigues
Shaun Rodrigues claims he is innocent of a Manoa, Hawaii robbery that happened in July, 2000. Robert Rees of the Honolulu Advertiser described Rodrigues' conviction:  "What we have here is an injustice illustrative of the dangers inherent in eyewitness identifications without one iota of physical evidence. The Rodrigues verdict is illustrative also of the danger of combining overzealous prosecutors, uninhibited either by a dearth of evidence or by sloppy police work, with a judge who may have allowed her subjective feeling about the credibility of witnesses to become a factor in determination of guilt." But the Hawaii Supreme Court upheld his conviction, and he turned himself in on January 9, 2006.

Rodrigues Conviction Hardly Convincing State Supreme Court Affirms Conviction

Marty Tankleff
Fifteen years ago, 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

Update:  May 13, 2004
Prosecutors Won't Oppose Marty Tankleff's Hearing

Update:  August 4, 2005
Teen Says His Father Admitted to Role in Tankleff Slayings

Update:  March 17, 2006
Judge Rejects Tankleff Re-trial


HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

UK's Criminal Cases Review Commission   New Zealand is considering implementing a Criminal Cases Review Commission similar to that in the United Kingdom.  Reporter Donna Chisholm looked into how well the CCRC functions--or doesn't function.  The experiences of the innocent and the pitfalls in the legal system are strikingly similar On Both Sides of the Pond .

Florida
 
The cost of justice is too high for some Florida lawmakers, who'd rather let innocent persons rot in prison than allow DNA testing that would exonerate the m.  They would rather do that than eliminate deadlines for DNA testing of inmates. Measure the Cost in Shame



POLICE/PROSECUTOR/JUDICIAL MISCONDUCT

Illinois In 1994, Chicago cops used a "reverse lineup" (in which a suspect is asked to identify his victims), along with threats and physical abuse, to coerce 17-year-old Lafonso Rollins into confessing to the rape of an elderly woman.  He was convicted and sentenced to 75 years prison, but he was freed in 2004 when DNA proved his innocence.  He sued.  Discovery in his civil suit disclosed that the police crime lab had excluded him based on blood type before Rollins was ever tried.  Oops.  The great teamwork cost the city $9 million.  Cops & Crime Lab, Working Together

Florida With the help of testimony from convicted murderer Clarence Zacke, Brevard County prosecutors sent Wilton Dedge to prison for 22 years for a crime he did not commit. In December, 2005, Zacke was sentenced to life in prison for raping his adopted daughter 30 years earlier.  Now, Dedge's attorneys are calling for an investigation of the state attorney's office after learning during Zacke's rape trial that the child-rape allegations were the subject of a grand jury investigation before Dedge's trial in 1984. Hidden Dirt, Hidden Deals

New York
A former FBI agent helped set up the 1992 shotgun murder of a Brooklyn mobster, a federal civil suit filed by the gangster's widow charges.  The agent, Lindley DeVecchio, pulled a surveillance team shortly before the rubout of Nicholas Grancio as a favor to Mafia capo Gregory Scarpa Sr. - DeVecchio's secret informant, the suit contends.  It's Nothing Personal; It's Just Business


JUNK SCIENCE

The Search for Truth

Like alchemists cooking up recipes to turn lead into gold, men in lab coats look to technology to replace investigation.  Junk by any other name is still ... junk.


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. 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 1,200 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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