Truth in Justice Newsletter - June - July, 2005

RECENT CASES

In October, 2004, Kevin Fox of Wilmington, Illinos was arrested following a 14-hour interrogation in which investigators said he confessed to molesting and murdering his 3-year-old daughter Riley in June of the same year.  The prosecutor, just days away from a hotly contested re-election bid that he ended up losing, vowed to seek the death penalty.  A sheriff's officer called the FBI Lab at Quantico, Virginia in November and told them to stop working on DNA evidence sent there for analysis.  Kevin's attorney convinced the new prosecutor to send the evidence to a private lab for testing, and the DNA test results "absolutely" exclude Kevin.  Charges that could have led to his execution have been dropped.  Riley's killer remains free.

Until May 19, 2005, Jack Chase was serving a sentence of 14 to 42 years for arson of his residence in Hampton, New York in 1993.  His state habeas was granted by Judge John Hall, and Jack is back with his family.


INNOCENT IMPRISONED

In 1997, Beth LaBatte was convicted of robbing and killing two elderly women in 1991 in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin.  Her conviction was based on an alleged "confession", in which police investigators claimed she conceded that an alter personality, "Bad Beth", may have committed the crimes, and the testimony of two acquaintances who said she stole from them in unrelated incidents offered to show an alleged "M.O.".  Now tests show the DNA found on evidence is not LaBatte's, but belongs to someone else who has not been identified.  Of course, the DA says she continues to believe in Beth's guilt.

Bruce Lisker
The evidence seemed overwhelming more than 20 years ago when Bruce was convicted of killing his mother for grocery money.  But did sloppy forensics, a dishonest detective and a jailhouse snitch account for his conviction, instead of actual guilt?  Even the man who prosecuted Lisker has come to doubt Bruce's guilt.

Nathaniel Harvey
Is New Jersey Poised to Execute an Innocent Man?
Maybe.  Nathaniel Harvey and his lawyer are fighting to clear Nathaniel as his case winds its way through the post-conviction process.  Prosecutors have been relying on a confession (which was tossed out of court and never used) to keep Harvey from getting new DNA testing and so far, the courts have been backing up the prosecution.  The confession was not recorded or put in writing.  In addition to a false or fabricated confession, the case involves prosecutorial misconduct, junk science, and many other sources of error common to false confessions.

Wayne Williams
Microscopic comparison of carpet fibers -- utterly junk science -- convicted Wayne Williams of two of the Atlanta child murders that terrorized the city in 1981, and police blamed Williams for 27 other uncharged killings.  The newly ensconced Dekalb County police chief who was never convinced of Wayne Williams' guilt has reopened five of the 1981 "Atlanta Child Murder" cases.  Families of many of the murdered children have been unconvinced all these years, too.  Williams says he is imprisoned with at least four relatives of his alleged victims, and that even they believe in his innocence.


FALSE ALLEGATIONS OF CHILD ABUSE

This is a very disturbing case that may give ammunition to those who fear that juvenile courts, where there is less advocacy, less investigation, less use of DNA testing, and great pressure to plea bargain, may be a breeding ground for wrongful convictions, particularly false confessions and false guilty pleas.

WRONGFULLY CONVICTED COPS

John Maloney Update

In an unprecedented move, State Supreme Court asks for further argument on whether Maloney's conviction should be reversed "in the interest of justice".




Link
South Jersey Justice
"A lie has speed, but truth has endurance."
- Edgar J. Mohn


POLICE/PROSECUTOR/JUDICIAL MISCONDUCT

CaliforniaKern County DA Ed Jagels put two dozen innocent people behind bars on charges that they molested their own kids -- while ignoring evidence that his friends were throwing orgies with teenage boys. So why is one of America's most reckless prosecutors still in power?  Mean Justice's Dirty Secrets

VirginiaCisco A. Olavarria was almost 1,000 miles away when 14-year-old LaBrian Harris was shot dead in South Richmond in the fall of 2004. Eleven days after the Oct. 16 shooting, Richmond police publicly named Olavarria, then 19, as a suspected accomplice in the killing and distributed his driver's license photo to the news media.  Early the next month, a special grand jury began meeting over an intensive investigation by Virginia State Police into the killing of Olavarria's older brother, Santanna, by two Richmond police officers the preceding spring.  It's Time to Set the Record Straight


JUNK SCIENCE


Justice Under the Microscope DNA is only as reliable as the humans testing it. Virginia's once highly touted crime lab has starkly demonstrated this in an error-ridden death-row case that was propped up repeatedly by botched DNA studies from the state's supposed experts.

CSI Effect?  The argument that "C.S.I." and similar shows are actually raising the number of acquittals is a staggering claim, and the remarkable thing is that, speaking forensically, there is not a shred of evidence to back it up. There is a robust field of research on jury decision-making but no study finding any "C.S.I. effect."



RECOMMENDED READING

Who Killed Sarah?
by Sheila Berry and Doug Berry


Sarah Gonstead disappeared in the early morning hours of March 15, 1994 in Madison, Wisconsin, after she and Penny Brummer had been out drinking together.  The path she took led her directly to outlaw bikers, engaged in a turf war and recruiting new members.  But when Sarah's body was found 40 days later, Brummer was the only suspect.  Witnesses with valuable information were criticized, even humiliated.  Leads that went anywhere else were ignored, as were the classic signs of innocence.  No physical evidence tied Brummer to the crime; the murder weapon was never found.  Brummer had an alibi -- she was at home 40 miles away when Sarah was killed.  She had no criminal record and no history of violence.  It was enough for the jury to convict Brummer and send her to prison for the rest of her life.  But did she do it? Or is Penny Brummer a victim of the legal system, just as Sarah Gonstead was a victim of a cold killer?

Click HERE for more information

Courtroom 302: A year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse
by Steve Bogira

Chicago-based journalist Bogira's first book is an outstanding journey inside the American criminal justice system that nicely complements last year's Blue Blood, Edward Conlon's inside look at the life of a big-city cop. Like that instant classic, this book—centered on the Cook County Criminal Courthouse, "the biggest and busiest felony courthouse in the nation"—punctures the popular myths engendered by TV shows like Law and Order to provide a balanced view of the realities of the day-to-day, assembly-line grind that marks so much of the process from arrest to final disposition. The author's ability to gain the trust of so many different participants in the grim drama—judges, public defenders, prosecutors, court officers, prison guards and many defendants—is remarkable, and he often comes close to presenting a more complete picture of the truth of a particular crime than emerge in court in the or in the few cases that actually go to trial. Despite this access, Bogira does not gild the people he describes; even Judge Daniel Locallo, the book's central figure—whose courtroom witnesses racial violence, pathetic thievery, the abused and the mentally incompetent, and who, on balance emerges positively—is portrayed warts and all. The brilliance of Bogira's insights will lead many to hope that he will follow this debut with proposals to cure the many ills he has diagnosed. - Publishers Weekly
Courtroom 302

Constituional Chaos
Constitutional Chaos:
What Happens When the Government Breaks Its Own Laws
by Andrew P. Napolitano

In this alarming book, Judge Napolitano makes the solid case that there is a pernicious and ever-expanding pattern of government abuse in America's criminal justice system, leading him to establish his general creed: "The government is not your friend." As an attorney, a law professor, a commentator, a judge, and now a successful television personality, Judge Napolitano has studied the system inside and out, and his unique voice has resonance and relevance. Whether in the big, headliner criminal cases or in the thousands of small-town trials no one ever hears about (but should), the police, the prosecutors, the politicians, the judges, and the machinery of government are inexorably grinding away at the individual liberties guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution. But in this sensational new book, Napolitano sets the record straight, speaking frankly from his own experiences and careful, thorough investigation and revealing how government agencies will often arrest without warrant, spy without legal authority, imprison without charge, and kill without cause.


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 1,000 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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