Truth in Justice Newsletter
Wrongful Conviction News from February and March, 2008


RECENT CASES

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.

The case that Rachel Jernigan robbed a Gilbert, AZ bank was based on eyewitness identification.  After she was arrested, the robberies continued. Before she was tried, FBI agents knew Rachel bore a striking resemblance to Juanita Rodriguez-Gallegos, who was arrested for a string of bank robberies in Gilbert and surrounding communities.  Did they notify either the prosecution or Rachel's defense attorneys?  Of course not.  Rachel served 7 years of a 14-year prison sentence for Rodriguez-Gallegos' crimes before the federal government admitted its error.

Kennedy Brewer of Macon, Mississippi, a mildly retarded, Black defendant, was convicted of raping and killing a 3-year-old girl and sentenced to death in 1992.  In 2002, he was cleared by DNA, but he wasn't released.  He has spent the past 5 years in the local jail, awaiting retrial.  Because you can bet, the local authorities plan to get another conviction and another death sentence.  The Sheriff says he can't look for a DNA match because Mississippi doesn't have a DNA database -- which is news to the state's crime lab director.  The prosecutor will bring back his star witness, dentist Dr. Michael West, whose bite mark testimony has been disproven by DNA in other cases, and who resigned from professional forensic dentistry groups to avoid expulsion.  Prosecutors are so sure they're right about Kennedy's guilt that they're willing to bet his life on it.

UPDATE:  2/9/08 - Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, both convicted of killing 3-year-old girls in Noxubee County, Mississippi, and both cleared by DNA, are slated to be released.  What did it take to reach this point?  Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood had to take the prosecutions of these murders away from the Noxubee County DA, something almost unheard of in the state's history.  The Attorney General has charged Albert Johnson with the murders of both children.

For 14 years, Lynn DeJac of Buffalo, NY has steadfastly denied that she killed her 13-year-old daughter, Crystallynn Girard.  All along, she has accused her estranged boyfriend, Dennis Donohue, of strangling her child when Lynn was out for the evening.  A jury didn't believe her.  A judge called her accusation against Donohue a "red herring."    Now -- finally -- Donohue has been charged with one murder and is under investigation for two others.  One of those uncharged murders is that of Crystallynn Girard.

UPDATE: 11/9/07 - New trial opposed by DA Clark.

UPDATE:  11/17/07 - Police investigators say DeJac could not have murdered her daughter.

UPDATE:  11/28/07 - DeJac's conviction reversed; DA Clark vows to re-try her.

Note:  In 1994, the prosecution gave Dennis Donohue complete immunity from prosecution for Crystallynn's murder in exchange for his testimony against Lynn DeJac.  If Donohue killed the child -- and DNA evidence strongly supports that he did -- thanks to the state, he will never be held accountable for what he did to Crystallynn.

UPDATE:  2/13/08 - Prosecution autopsy review claims Crystallynn died of cocaine overdose.   While this new finding means Lynn DeJac will not be retried, it raises troubling questions about the competence of the medical examiner and the state's motivation to "slip out the back door" regarding Dennis Donohue's immunity.

UPDATES:  2/29/08 -  Exonerated mother says killer is still free.  All charges against Lynn DeJac have been dropped. 
But on her first full day of freedom since being cleared by DNA evidence of the 1993 murder of her daughter, Lynn DeJac said that she can’t be at peace until the real killer is brought to justice and a new autopsy finding that the girl died of an overdose is reversed.

2/29/08 - Honored detective suspended without pay, charged with defying orders. 
Detective Dennis A. Delano, an outspoken member of the Buffalo Police Cold Case Squad, faces departmental charges and has been suspended without pay.  The 28-year department veteran has publicly asserted he does not believe DeJac killed her 13-year-old daughter, Crystallynn Girard, in 1993.  Delano also has criticized the Erie County District Attorney's Office for accepting new forensic findings that indicate Crystallynn died of a cocaine overdose and not strangulation.

A Los Angeles judge on March 10, 2008 overturned the conviction of a man who has spent the last quarter-century in prison for a murder he insists he did not commit, concluding that the prosecution's star witness lied.  The ruling comes after the witness recently recanted his testimony and could lead to freedom for Willie Earl Green, a former chauffeur who was sentenced to 33 years to life in a 1983 execution-style slaying at a South Los Angeles crack house.  Los Angeles County prosecutors must decide whether to appeal the decision, retry Green or free him. Considering the judge's conclusion that the star witness was unreliable, prosecutors would probably have a difficult task if they chose to retry the case.



DEATH PENALTY

The California Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for a man whose professed innocence was bolstered late in 2007 by the discovery of a gun buried in mud in a Modesto field. Though unanimously rejecting Dennis Lawley's constitutional challenge of his conviction and death sentence, the state high court said he could once again try to prove his innocence by presenting a new petition based on the discovery of the gun.

The long-awaited decision handed down in Mumia Abu-Jamal's federal appeal weighed in at 118 pages but changed nothing as the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's ruling that upheld Abu-Jamal's conviction but overturned his death sentence because of potentially confusing jury instructions.

INNOCENT IMPRISONED

Arthur Johnson of Sunflower, Mississippi is poised to become the first inmate freed by DNA exoneration in that state's history.  Johnson is serving a 55-year sentence for a 1992 rape conviction -- a rape that DNA tests show he did not commit.  His freedom, however, is no sure bet.  Mississippi has no legal procedures in place to deal with evidence preservation or post-conviction DNA testing.  One thing is certain, however: There are a lot more Arthur Johnsons in Mississippi's prisons.

UPDATE: 2/25/08 - Arthur Johnson was released on $25,000 bond and went home with his family for the first time in 15 years.  Although he has been excluded by DNA, the Sunflower County DA will re-try Johnson in July, 2008.

In 1990, when he was charged with the murder of Myron Hailey in Fayetteville, NC, Lamont McKoy turned down a plea deal that would have had him out of jail in 7 months.  He knew he was innocent, and he believed a jury would see that.  He was wrong.  With only speculation and innuendo as evidence, the state convinced a jury of Lamont's guilt.  He has been in prison ever since.  Now he's hoping the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence can help him clear his name and gain his freedom.

Don Siegelman, former Democratic Governor of Alabama, has a lot in common with Georgia Thompson.  Both were prosecuted for acts that were not crimes, by politically motivated U.S. Attorneys, at the behest of vengeful politicos highly placed in the Bush administration.  The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals tossed Thompson's conviction at the conclusion of oral argument, ordering her immediate release from prison.  It has taken longer, but the foundation of lies and corruption underlying Siegelman's conviction is starting to crumble.  Clearly, Bush and his cronies have turned the U.S. Department of Justice into a cadre of political operatives.

This is a story about an innocent man who has been in prison for 26 years while two attorneys who knew he was innocent stayed silent. They did so because they felt they had no choice.   Alton Logan was convicted of killing a security guard at a McDonald's in Chicago in 1982. Police arrested him after a tip and got three eyewitnesses to identify him. Logan, his mother and brother all testified he was at home asleep when the murder occurred. But a jury found him guilty of first degree murder.  New evidence reveals that Logan did not commit that murder.  What is worse, the attorneys for the real killer, Andrew Wilson, knew Logan was innocent, but could not violate lawyer-client confidentiality to expose him.

The Innocence Project at Cooley Law School in Lansing has secured a new hearing for Nathaniel Hatchett, who was convicted in 1998 in Macomb County Circuit Court on charges of kidnapping, criminal sexual conduct and carjacking.  One of the main issues raised by the project's law students was why the court and defense were never notified of additional DNA samples that were taken from the victim's husband as part of the investigation.  DNA samples taken from the victim did not match Hatchett, either, but the prosecutor led the judge to believe that the DNA samples were from the victim's husband.

In 2004, Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay were convicted in a Washington state court of the brutal bludgeoning of Atif's father, his mother and his autistic sister.They were also convicted in the court of public opinion. We believe that they are in prison for the remainder of their lives because the public and the jury were denied access to the truth.

HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

The Greatest Threat to Individual Liberty is National Security.  We must look to the UK for proof of this, since the US keeps its national security abuses hidden at Guantanamo Bay.  So it was in London that a panel of 3 appellate judges completely exonerated Lotfi Raissi of any involvement in the 9/11 attacks.  The judges  further
condemned the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service for abusing the court process, presenting false allegations and not disclosing evidence.

It was a stunning reversal of fortunes. After he was snared in a net of swirling controversies including an e-mail scandal and the high-profile indictment of a sitting Supreme Court justice followed by an immediate move to dismiss that case, Harris County (Houston), Texas, District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal resigned from office.


Erik and Sean Ibarra -- the power of common menIn a press release, Rosenthal said prescription drugs had impaired his judgment.  But it was what happened inside a southeast Houston home six years ago that led to events in a federal courtroom and to Rosenthal's resignation.

Wrong voice on the tape.  Start with a 20-year-old cold case, two missing teenagers, and call their disappearance murder.  Pick a suspect, a rapist serving a long prison term.  Use a state psychologist to "help" the suspect's sister come up with "recovered memories" of seeing the missing teens at her family's farm.  Recruit a seasoned snitch to get a confession on tape.  Voila!  You've got a conviction -- almost. 

POLICE/PROSECUTOR MISCONDUCT


CaliforniaA federal appeals court removed a controversial judge, U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real of Los Angeles, from another case, accusing him this time of "excessive and biased interventions" that denied two defendants a fair trial.  Biased Judge


California:  The Orange County case against James Ochoa for robbing three restaurant workers was tainted at every level: police misconduct in manipulating the victims' identification of James and misrepresenting the responses of a police tracking dog; efforts by the DA's office to bully crime lab scientists into lying about the DNA exclusion of James as the robber; and the inexcusable conduct of Judge Robert Fitzgerald in extorting a guilty plea from James by threatening him with life in prison.

In a rare series of real-time reports about the prosecution of James Ochoa, R. Scott Moxley told readers of the Orange County Weekly exactly which public servants were perverting justice and how they were doing it.  As you read these, keep in mind that for the police, prosecutors and judge, business goes on as usual.  Moreover, the DA is starting up his own crime lab, so he won't have to put up with scientists who refuse to lie about their findings.

The Case of the Dog Who Couldn't Sniff Straight
There Once was a Judge from Nantucket
Oops.  Quiet Admission They got the Wrong Guy
If Evidence Doesn't Fit, Alter It

Also see how the California Attorney General played games with James Ochoa's compensation:  Making a Chew Toy of Justice

False Allegations of Child Abuse

Shaken Baby Syndrome

On March 21, 2000, Christopher Fuller of Hamilton, Ohio told police his daughter Randi, almost 3 years old, choked on a glass of water and held her breath.  But after a grueling interrogation that was not recorded, police claimed Fuller confessed to killing Randi when she resisted his attempt to sexually assault her.  He was charged with capital murder, but the Hamilton authorities were apparently worried about getting the death penalty, so they brought in Dr. Death, Dr. Charles Smith of Ontario, Canada.  Smith was already under investigation for finding crimes where none existed in the deaths of children.  He came through for the Ohio boys.  The jury not only convicted Fuller, they recommended death.  Only Fuller's previously clean record saved him from execution, but he still languishes in prison, for the rest of his life.
Link:
THE CHARLES SMITH BLOG
Harold Levy, author of The Charles Smith Blog, tells us: I recently retired from the Toronto Star where I have been reporting on Dr. Charles Randal Smith - a former pediatric pathologist at the Hospital for Sick Children - for the past six years. I intend, through this blog, to periodically report developments relating to Dr. Smith in the context of the on-going public inquiry, the on-going independent probe of cases he worked on between 1981 and 1991, and cases which have been launched, or will be launched in the civil courts.  I am currently researching a book on Dr. Smith and would appreciate hearing from anyone who can provide me with useful information.

On the Thursday before Labor Day, 2007, while Julianna Caplan of Washington, DC was changing the diaper on one of her twins, she heard a dull thud. She turned around to see her other 8-month-old trying to push herself up from the floor, where she'd been playing, and knock her head.  There were no bumps or bruises, but over the next few hours, the little girl acted fussy, then altogether out of sorts. After she began throwing up and drifting off to sleep, her parents grew concerned, called the doctor and ended up at Children's Hospital.  The baby recovered fully within 24 hours, but  Caplan and her husband, Greg, remain trapped in the District's frightening child-abuse system.  Family Services Well Done, or Overdone?

In the UK,
new medical evidence could clear childminder (babysitter) Keran Henderson, who is serving a three-year prison sentence after being convicted of shaking an 11-month-old girl to death.  That new evidence comes from this side of the Atlantic.  Dr Chris Van Ee, professor of biomechanics at Wayne State University in Detroit, claims tests with crash dummies and corpses show that falling off a sofa -- as the Caplan twin accidentally did -- does far more damage than shaking.  Conclusion: the science behind shaken baby syndrome is flawed.

False Allegations of Sexual Abuse

Just when you think you've seen it all ... Ted White of Lee's Summit, MO served 5 years of a 50-year sentence after he was falsely convicted of sexually molesting his step-daughter.  His conviction was overturned in 2005, and he was acquitted at re-trial.  Lee's Summit police detective Richard McKinley, who was having an affair with White's then-wife, Tina, framed White on false charges to get rid of him.  Tina subsequently married McKinley, and Ted White is suing them both.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has ruled that White has a right to sue.

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.





JUNK SCIENCE

Canada - but relevant in US
As part of a probe into autopsy errors by pediatric pathologist Charles Smith that precipitated wrongful charges and convictions, the Goudge Commission  is focusing on the role of experts in the court system.  The inquiry has been told that judges allow experts too much latitude.

Texas:
  On January 24, 2008, the Houston Police Crime lab DNA Section was shut down for the second time due to incompetence, cheating and mismanagement.  A 73-page report details just how bad the "reformed" lab was.

Lest anyone forget how bad the lab was before the fictional rehabilitation took place, we have gathered the links to earlier reports to this section, so you don't have to search for them.

Houston Police Crime Lab
The HPD Crime Lab is back in the news, not because it cleaned up its act, but because it continues its tradition of sloppy testing and perjured testimony.


Few people listened when Ronald Gene Taylor declared himself innocent of a rape charge 14 years ago. But the Harris County District Attorney's Office finally agreed with him on October 3, 2007, acknowledging that the scandal-plagued Houston Police Department crime lab was responsible for sending yet another wrong person to prison.  The crime lab said there was no semen on a sheet taken from the rape scene.  New tests yielded the DNA profile of another man, a sex offender currently in prison, who looks very much like Taylor.  Another Blow to Lab.

In 1998, a rape victim identified Josiah Sutton as one of her assailants when she saw him on the street, and the Houston, Texas crime lab claimed DNA tests implicated him.  The crime lab has been shut down because of the poor quality of its work, and new DNA tests have excluded Josiah.  4 1/2 Years in Prison -- for Nothing

Christy Kim, the Houston Police Department Crime Lab DNA analyst whose faulty work sent Josiah Sutton to prison for rape, has been fired, 9 months after new tests exonerated Josiah and led to his release.  It's About Time

Never mind.  A city panel has reinstated Christy Kim, adopting the theory that individual lab analysts who testify as expert witnesses have no personal responsibility for their work.  Meanwhile, Josiah Sutton is still waiting for a pardon.  Another Free Pass

Small wonder the DNA analysts at the Houston Police Crime Lab did such a poor job.  None of them were qualified by education and training to do their jobs.  The founder of the DNA lab, James Bolding, retired rather than be fired.  Among other things, he failed both algebra and geometry in college, though he later passed both, and he never took statistics.   Interim update on Houston Police Crime Lab.

New DNA tests on evidence from four cases originally processed by the Houston Police Department's troubled crime lab have found significantly weaker links between the evidence and the defendants than the first results.  Crime Lab 'Just Way Off' in Calvin Jermany Case

No indictments were returned, but a Harris County grand jury completing its investigation of the Houston Police Department crime lab Friday criticized how officials dealt with the problem that shook public confidence in the criminal justice system.  Plato was Right - Science without Virtue is Immoral Science

Two grand juries investigating problems in Houston's police crime laboratory have widened their inquiry to include local prosecutors, asking about their potential culpability for winning convictions with Tainted Evidence .

The head of the DNA division of the Houston Police Department's crime lab has offered testimony in at least three cases that has later turned out to be wrong, according to court transcripts.  "They intentionally mislead," said Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, the former head of the DNA lab at the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office who now often works as a consultant for criminal defense teams. "And in all the cases I've been involved in, they always mislead in favor of a conviction."  Houston Democratic state Rep. Harold Dutton says, "We have a name for that in Texas, and that is Perjury ."

When handled, analyzed and interpreted correctly, DNA evidence works to exclude the innocent and convict the guilty. But when the same evidence is handled and analyzed in shoddy lab conditions and by incompetent lab staff, the consequences can be dire. One consequence is that the innocent are convicted. But another consequence is that the real perpetrators go free and continue to commit crimes. Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld tell the Houston Police crime lab: End This DNA Debacle

"There were two different problems in the crime lab — scientific incompetence and corruption," Law Professor David Dow of the University of Houston said. "That's a deadly combination. Once you have corruption, there is no reason to think that this is limited to DNA cases or cases where there is scientific evidence of any sort."  The Houston Police Crime Lab

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

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