Truth in Justice Newsletter - February, 2004

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In 1997 an assailant dropped his hat when he shot Boston police officer Gregory Gallagher in the buttocks.  Then the shooter burst into a nearby home, drank a glass of water and dropped his sweatshirt before fleeing.  Later Officer Gallagher identified Stephan Cowans as the assailant (although the woman whose home was invaded disagreed) and a crime lab technician said a fingerprint on the water glass was Stephan's.  Now DNA has trumped both.  DNA on the hat, the sweatshirt and the water glass are from the same person -- but not from Stephan.

Two days after vowing to retry Stephan Cowans -- calling the fingerprint identification "compelling evidence" -- the Suffolk County District Attorney has admitted the print is not Stephan Cowans.  (Why are these "mistakes" always in favor of the prosecution??) Conviction Vacated

In a decision that sharply criticizes the actions of Pennsylvania parole officials, a federal appeals court has ordered the release of Louis Mickens-Thomas -- a 75-year-old Philadelphia man imprisoned since 1964 who for 40 years has insisted he is innocent of the murder of which he was convicted -- after finding that the board's latest explanations for denying his parole was a "thinly veiled excuse" that "leaves us with no doubt of its bad faith."
INNOCENCE AND THE DEATH PENALTY

HOW ERNEST SIMMONS GOT THE DEATH PENALTY
When 80-year-old Anna Knaze was robbed and beaten to death in 1992 in Johnstown, PA, Det. Richard Rok decided Ernest Simmons had done it.  Problem was, he had no evidence.  Rok recruited Simmons' girlfriend to secretly tape record conversations with him, but instead of confessing, Simmons denied committing the crime 19 times.  Finally, Rok was able to convince another elderly robbery victim to identify Simmons as her attacker and claim he threatened to give her "the same thing Anna Knaze got".  She lied -- she never saw her assailant's face.  But Rok got the conviction he wanted. 
Lethal Injection Chamber

And what about Det. Rok?  Over the years he was accused of
assaulting suspects, conducting searches without warrants and pushing a witness to make false identifications.  He's in Federal Prison Now


A LIFE HANGS IN THE BALANCE
In May, 1988 Jason Derrick was convicted of murdering grocer Rama Sharma in Pasco County, Florida and sentenced to death.  There were no eyewitnesses, no weapon, no physical evidence whatsoever connecting Derrick to the crime -- just the testimony of the original suspect and a jailhouse snitch.  Now another man has made statements implicating himself, and Derrick will get a hearing in March, 2004.



POLICE/PROSECUTOR MISCONDUCT

Minnesota:  In White Bear Lake, a 13-year-old girl was abducted at gunpoint and molested, then dropped off behind a movie theater in neigboring Oakdale.  But police closed the case one day later after the investigating officer missed crucial evidence, then subjected the child to a brutal interrogation in which he repeatedly accused her of lying.  She Was Telling the Truth

North Carolina:  After 12-year-old Amanda Cope of Rock Hill was found raped and beaten to death in her own bed in 2001, her father Billy was subjected to 4 days of unrecorded, non-stop interrogation, until he confessed on videotape.  In 2003, DNA matched the semen found in Amanda to James Sanders, a sex offender who moved to the Copes' neighborhood shortly before Amanda's murder.  So the state has amended the charges against Billy to conspiracy, because You Can't Waste a Coerced False Confession.

California On Dec. 4, 2003 a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the State of California to release Thomas Lee Goldstein without bail after finding that 24 years ago prosecutors had denied him a fair trial. But California ignored the Court and has kept Goldstein in custody.  On January 30, 2004, the judgesrepeated their original order, putting in capital letters their directive for Goldstein's "IMMEDIATE RELEASE FROM CUSTODY."

FALSE CHILD ABUSE ALLEGATIONS

UK: The cases of more than 250 parents convicted of killing their babies are to be reviewed urgently after a landmark Court of Appeal ruling on January 19, 2004 changed the rules on baby death prosecutions.  The Court ruled that in future no parent who had lost two or more babies should be prosecuted if the case relied solely on expert evidence that was disputed by other professionals who believed that the death could have been caused by natural, if unexplained, causes.  US Needs Similar Review



JUNK SCIENCE

The Saga of Christy Kim, DNA "Expert"

Christy Kim is the Houston Police Department Crime Lab DNA analyst whose faulty work sent Josiah Sutton to prison for rape.  On December 31, 2003 she was fired, 9 months after new tests exonerated Josiah and led to his release.  Faulty Work Cited in Firing

Never mind.  A city panel 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

When Henrico Co., VA authorities charged Charles with torching the Poplar Springs Baptist Church in Varina, the media was told, "Some individuals reported that he made some statements about the church or religion in general."  But Charles' alibi was ironclad, and his accuser had previously been convicted of filing false police reports.


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, North Dakota and South Dakota. 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 800 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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