Truth in Justice
Newsletter - June - July, 2006
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
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
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
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
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.
26, 2006 - Verdict
was notified that the jury had reached a verdict at 4:10 PM.
proceedings started at 4:24.
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.
Foreman passed the Verdict to the Judge. The Judge read:
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.
Rands requested the jury be poled and one at a time they answered that
their verdict given freely was Not Guilty.
thanked the jury and they were dismissed. He thanked the Lawyers on
both sides, and complemented them on their professionalism.
Edwin Parkinson did not attend the Verdict reading.
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.
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.
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
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
interviews with the Charlotte Observer, John Lentini, a
investigator in Marietta, Ga., said a lit candle in the children's
bedroom started the fire. Lentini
-- a national advocate of using research-based
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
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
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
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
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
The DA denies bias.
On the day a state death penalty study
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
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.
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
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
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!
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.
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
Ken Hudson's bid for a new trial crashed and burned. No
new lawyer dropped all the substantive issues, and the judge wouldn't
let Hudson fire the attorney. New Trial Denied
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.
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."
to appeals court decisions, at least three men could
be on death row because Cleveland's former star prosecutor Carmen
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?
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
"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
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
credentials, methods and the reliability of his
findings are suspect or controversial.
Down Under. About
60 convicted criminals could have their cases reopened
amid claims the DNA evidence used to incriminate them was
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
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
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.
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
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)
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
Projects provide representation and/or investigative assistance
to prison inmates who claim to be innocent of the crimes for which they
convicted. There is now at least one innocence project serving each
Most of these innocence projects are new and overwhelmed with
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
The links pages at Truth in Justice are frequently updated. Be
to check them for resources, "must" reading, websites of inmates with
innocence claims and more. Start at
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Sheila and Doug Berry