Truth in Justice Newsletter - June - July, 2006

RECENT CASES

A man imprisoned for more than 18 years for kidnapping and raping a woman was released after new forensic tests showed evidence from the crime did not match his DNA.  James Calvin Tillman, 44, told his family he wanted to take a quiet walk and watch the squirrels play for the first time since 1989, when he was convicted and sentenced to 45 years in prison.  Tillman was 26 when he was charged with abducting a woman as she got into her car near a Hartford restaurant, then beating and raping her at a nearby housing project.  The victim picked out Tillman from a series of photos and he was convicted.

Alan Newton, a former bank teller from the Bronx, has been released from prison after serving 22 years for a rape he did not commit -- a victim first of mistaken identification, then of a housekeeping problem of epic scope. For more than a decade, Mr. Newton, 44, pleaded in state and federal courts for DNA testing that was not available when he was tried, but Police Department officials said they could not find the physical evidence from the case. That evidence, a rape kit taken from a woman who was kidnapped and assaulted, was located only after a special request was made last year by a senior Bronx prosecutor to a police inspector.  The rape kit, it turned out, was in its original storage bin, ever since 1984.

Stuart Gair, of Glasgow, Scotland, was convicted of stabbing a man to death in 1989 and sentenced to life in prison.  Gair had a solid alibi that placed him on the other side of the city at the time of the crime, but the jury believed an eyewitness who said he "studied" the killer's face.  What neither the jury nor Gair's attorneys knew was that the eyewitness had already admitted to police that he had made up most of his identification story.  Seventeen years later, Gair's conviction has finally been vacated.

Johnny Briscoe of St. Louis, MO spent 23 years in prison for a rape and burglary he didn't commit, but he never gave up hope of proving his innocence.  Neither did investigators and attorneys retained by Centurion Ministries.  It took four searches to find the evidence that set him free: a cigarette butt from the scene with the real rapist's DNA on it.

Kewaunee County, WI prosecutors dismissed murder charges against Beth LaBatte, 39, the woman who was once convicted — and imprisoned for 10 years — for the 1991 deaths of sisters Ceil and Ann Cadigan.  LaBatte's case was championed by the University of Wisconsin Law School's Innocence Project. The Innocence Project won motions to have evidence from the case re-analyzed using current DNA technology and planned to use those findings at trial.  Kewaunee County District Attorney Andrew Naze announced the state's decision to drop the charges as the case was gearing up to go to trial a second time.

Julie Rea Harper - Verdict at Re-Trial -- NOT GUILTY

July 26, 2006 -  Verdict Reading

The Judge was notified that the jury had reached a verdict at 4:10 PM.

The proceedings started at 4:24.

Judge Vaughn requested that the court give the jury the respect it deserves and that no outburst of emotion will be tolerated. You would be removed from the courtroom.

The Jury Foreman passed the Verdict to the Judge. The Judge read:

NOT GUILTY!

Julie burst into tears and then fainted to the floor. Ron Safer half caught her and brought her to a sitting position. Mark Harper came to the front and comforted her, and eventually she was able to stand.

David Rands requested the jury be poled and one at a time they answered that their verdict given freely was Not Guilty.

The Judge thanked the jury and they were dismissed. He thanked the Lawyers on both sides, and complemented them on their professionalism.

Prosecutor Edwin Parkinson did not attend the Verdict reading.



INNOCENT IMPRISONED
For two years, police investigated the brutal 2001 Halloween night slaying of newspaper editor Kent Heitholt in Columbia, Mo. They had no viable suspects and the victim's family had come to terms this crime might never be solved.  But then police heard that a young man told a friend that he had dreamed he participated in the killing and also named an accomplice to the murder: his good friend, Ryan Ferguson.


Hamid Hayat
Former FBI Agent James Wedick, a superstar at the agency, is the latest casualty in the war on terror. After viewing the interrogation tapes of Umer and Hamid Hayat, Wedick, the G-man though and through, was stunned. He immediately called the defense attorney and told him -- "it's the sorriest interrogation, the sorriest confession, I've ever seen." As hard as it was for him to criticize his former colleagues and his beloved former employer, he felt compelled to testify for the defense, the first such time he had ever opposed the agency. But, as Mark Araz writes in his excellent story reposted here from the LA Times, the judge refused to allow him to testify. Arax's story is not only a story of two wrongful convictions -- it is a powerful story of how the FBI has changed since 9/11. Desperate to sniff out Al Qaeda cells, millions of dollars in taxpayer money is being spent on investigations being led by rookie agents who lack the expertise to lead them. Caution is being thrown to the wind, procedures are being tossed out the window, civil liberties are being trampled, all in the name of catching terrorists.

Jonathan Peskin
Interrogated for 10 hours, Jonathan Peskin, a dazed diabetic from Vernon, CT confessed to child molestation. He has been in prison for 18 months awaiting trial. But he is the victim, author Donald Connery writes.



Arson
An arson expert hired by Lisa Greene's defense team says the Midland, NC mother did not set the Jan. 10, 2006 house fire that killed her two children.  In interviews with the Charlotte Observer, John Lentini, a private fire investigator in Marietta, Ga., said a lit candle in the children's bedroom started the fire.  Lentini -- a national advocate of using research-based scientific methods to investigate fires -- said local and state investigators are relying on outdated techniques to determine where the fire started and how it spread.

HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

Connecticut  Two weeks before Jonathan Peskin's ordeal began in early January 2005, another blameless citizen in another Connecticut community was subjected to a nine-hour confrontational "interview" by police pretending he was not a suspect and not in custody.  Bereaved, Blameless, But Bullied for Hours

California
 
An unusual wrinkle has developed in the case of a man who was exonerated by DNA testing after serving 12 years in prison for a rape and robbery he did not commit.  Although the Riverside County district attorney declared Herman Atkins innocent in 2000, the county wants to prevent the jury hearing his wrongful conviction lawsuit from learning about the evidence that cleared him. While keeping out the DNA results, the county's lawyers also want to introduce evidence that the rape victim and two witnesses identified Atkins during his trial.  The State is Never Wrong, and Never Liable.





DEATH PENALTY ISSUES


Ruben Cantu, 17 at the time of his crime, had no previous convictions, but a San Antonio prosecutor had branded him a violent thief, gang member and murderer who ruthlessly shot one victim nine times with a rifle before emptying at least nine more rounds into the only eyewitness — a man who barely survived to testify.  Four days after a Bexar County jury delivered its verdict, Cantu wrote this letter to the residents of San Antonio: "My name is Ruben M. Cantu and I am only 18 years old. I got to the 9th grade and I have been framed in a capital murder case."  A dozen years after his execution, a Houston Chronicle investigation suggests that Cantu, a former special-ed student who grew up in a tough neighborhood on the south side of San Antonio, was likely telling the truth.

UPDATE:  DA Investigators Mock Cantu's Innocence Claim
The Bexar County district attorney's investigation into a possibly wrongful execution had barely started early in 2006, but already DA investigators were scoffing at the three witnesses who contend Texas sent an innocent man named Ruben Cantu to his death.  The DA denies bias.

Report on wrongly imprisoned Jerseyans fuels death-penalty debate
On the day a state death penalty study panel considered the risks of executing innocent people, opponents of capital punishment released a report documenting the cases of 25 New Jerseyans who spent time in prison for serious crimes they did not commit.  The report, "Innocence Lost in New Jersey," could fuel already-impassioned arguments against execution. New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, which sponsored the report, is among the groups arguing that the risks of putting innocent people to death are too great to continue to impose the death sentence.


POLICE/PROSECUTOR/JUDICIAL MISCONDUCT

Illinois:  Edward Egan, a former judge from the Illinois Appellate Court and semiretired lawyer, was appointed special prosecutor in 2002 to investigate allegations of torture by former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge.  Two years and four months later, he's still not done.  Neither is Justice

UPDATE: 
Yes, Chicago Police tortured suspects, but it happened too long ago to charge the officers. And Mayor Daley, who was state's attorney at the time, did nothing "prosecutable" by handing off a request from then-Police Supt. Richard Brzeczek to investigate a murder suspect's torture allegations. Daley passed the request to top aide Dick Devine, who passed it to the office's No. 3 man William Kunkle, who handed it off to another prosecutor. It was never investigated. Report is $6.2 Million Whitewash

Wisconsin
July 19, 2006: Paulus gets state deal for 2 years, says he and Schierland were the only ones involved 

July 23, 2006:  Not everyone is buying the story that the Wisconsin Department of Justice is pitching.  The Appleton Post-Crescent urges: Uncover the Truth!

Wisconsin (again): 
It was one of the most terrifying crimes ever to hit Kaukauna, WI, a community of 13,000.  On June 25, 2000, Shanna Van Dyn Hoven, a 19-year-old UW-Madison student, was stabbed to death as she jogged by a quarry near her home about 6 p.m.  Prosecutors said Hudson stabbed Van Dyn Hoven, a stranger, in a fit of misplaced rage, and that they caught him red-handed, covered in her blood.  Newly uncovered evidence, however, appears to support Hudson's contentions -- and raises more questions about the conduct of the police and the prosecutor, Vince Biskupic.  Ken Hudson's bid for re-trial.

UPDATE:  Ken Hudson's bid for a new trial crashed and burned.  No surprise.  His new lawyer dropped all the substantive issues, and the judge wouldn't let Hudson fire the attorney.  New Trial Denied

Wisconsin (yet again): 
Corruption Complaint Filed Against Wis. Dept. of Justice Arson Investigator
Complaint charges forensic fraud, perjury in John Maloney case.  Small wonder WDOJ credibility in the Paulus investigation is under scrutiny.

Wisconsin (one more time): Key Evidence Withheld in Bembenek Case.
Information from sworn statements by state crime lab officials shows that Laurie Bembenek did not kill Christine Schultz, who was murdered in 1981, Bembenek's lawyer said.  The lawyer, Mary Woehrer, contends that Bembenek's conviction should be overturned because, "Put together, there's no evidence left to convict this woman. The whole case was based on fabrication."

OhioAccording to appeals court decisions, at least three men could be on death row because Cleveland's former star prosecutor Carmen Marino hid evidence.  Three others had murder convictions set aside, one because of what an appeals court called Marino's "highly improper and highly prejudicial" conduct. The others, because he hid key evidence or lied about secret deals with jailed witnesses.  Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Daniel Gaul said Marino should be criminally prosecuted for the abuses.  How Many Other Marinos are out there?


JUNK SCIENCE


Sloppy Work at NYPD Lab The NYPD is reviewing some 1,400 cases where a lab technician may have bungled fingerprint evidence. Officials pulled all cases handled by the lab tech after a sample review of 132 of them revealed she botched the evidence-collection process 20% of the time, police sources said.  "The common perception is that technology is always right, whether it is fingerprints or DNA, but this shows technology is only as good as the person who does the work," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.


Low Standards in Lowcountry.  The Charleston, SC Family Court relies on Robert Bennett's findings to decide crucial issues of custody and divorce. His words can ruin reputations, wrest children from their parents and cost people their jobs.  But a Post & Courier investigation shows Bennett's credentials, methods and the reliability of his findings are suspect or controversial.

Unreliable DNA Down Under
About 60 convicted criminals could have their cases reopened amid claims the DNA evidence used to incriminate them was unreliable.  Ron Grice, a former Queensland Health Scientific Services scientist, said he was haunted by memories of submitting potentially unreliable DNA evidence to the courts. He believed about 5 per cent of the 1200 cases he had handled relied on samples too small to be retested.

Why Experts Make Errors.  [Note: You need Adobe Acrobat to read this.]  An article by Itiel E. Dror and David Charlton of the School of Psychology, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK, published in the Journal of Forensic Identification, 2006. 

Abstract: Expert latent fingerprint examiners were presented with fingerprints taken from real criminal cases. Half of the prints had been previously judged as individualizations and the other half as exclusions. We re-presented the same prints to the same experts who had judged them previously, but provided biasing contextual information in both the individualizations and exclusions. A control set of individualizations and exclusions was also re-presented as part of the study. The control set had no biasing contextual information associated with it. Each expert examined a total of eight past decisions. Two-thirds of the experts made inconsistent decisions. The findings are discussed in terms of psychological and cognitive vulnerabilities.

Impact of Report in Scotland
Fresh doubts over the accuracy of fingerprint evidence in courts has been raised by new research showing experts can be easily swayed in their judgements by "background" information. 

RECOMMENDED READING
Indefensible Indefensible: One Lawyer's Journey into the Inferno of American Justice
by David Feige

Indefensible is David Feige's darkly funny and thrilling account of an ordinary day in the complicated life of a public defender in the South Bronx. In the span of a single day we meet murderers and misdemeanants, loutish lawyers, and vindictive judges. We race from courtroom to courtroom, judge to judge, and defendant to defendant, in a shocking behind-the-scenes look at big city justice as it really happens. This is a book full of black comedy and outrage, of unforgettable characters and situations. Written with the verve and insider know-how of a John Grisham thriller, but with the social conscience of a Barbara Ehrenreich, Indefensible has real crossover potential--and should ignite a profound debate about law and order in America. It puts a human face on the terrifying systemic failures that make American criminal justice the dirty little secret of our time.

Death Row Defender
by Ray Dix (a writer who happens to be a lawyer)

It has been five years since Jon Clayton was convicted of the rape and execution style murder of Donella Nash. It is springtime in an election year and, as part of the Governor's war on crime, Jon Clayton is scheduled to be excuted in October. Clayton stills swears he is innocent, but had a record of violence and the bullet found in Nash's head came from his pistol. Woody Thomas, an ex-Public Defender, is appointed by the court to pursue Clayton's final appeal. Woody relives the trial through the transcripts, then locates and questions the witnesses. The case looks solid, but federal agents begin to follow him, local police try to frame him, and someone is trying to kill him. As Woody troubles mount, the murder case begins to fall apart and the Governor signs Clayton's death warrant - five months early.

For more information, visit www.raydixbooks.com
Death Row Defender


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

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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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