Truth in Justice Newsletter
Wrongful Conviction News from June-July, 2007


RECENT CASES

Dan Lackey of Wampsville, NY spent 3 years in prison for a rape that may never have happened in the first place.  The strongest evidence against him was an unrecorded confession police claimed Lackey made.  But this was not a DNA exoneration.  Rather, Judge Biagio DiStefano vacated Lackey's conviction because his accuser's credibility came into question.  Just three months after Lackey was convicted, she filed a false claim of rape, was convicted of false reporting and did jail time herself.

In December 2000, Henry Miller was at his sister's rural Louisiana home recovering from a stroke that left him partially paralyzed, barely able to speak and unfit for long travel.  Until recently, Utah prosecutors were convinced that despite the stroke, Miller had journeyed to Salt Lake City, where he stole a woman's purse at knifepoint in a convenience store parking lot. Miller spent 4 1/2 years behind bars before he was freed because of newly gathered evidence that supported his alibi.

Jeffrey Dake of Deerbrook, WI, who served nearly 10 years in prison for raping a teenage girl before a judge freed him because he didn't get a fair trial will not be tried again.  Dake was convicted of the sexual assault in 1997, a year after a 14-year-old girl told investigators that Dake, a friend of her family who stayed in her home occasionally, came home intoxicated and twice had sexual intercourse with her over a two-week period.  What the jury didn't know was that the girl's father had been charged with assaulting her two months before Dake's trial.



DEATH PENALTY

The pending execution of Troy Anthony Davis, scheduled to take place on July 17, 2007, is raising serious questions about his guilt — and about the Newt Gingrich-era federal law that has limited his appeals options and prevented him, say his supporters, from getting a fair shake.

UPDATE:  On July 16, 2007, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles granted Troy Davis a 90-day reprieve.


INNOCENT IMPRISONED

The Dallas County district attorney's office is looking into whether Clay Chabot was unfairly convicted in the 1986 rape and murder of a Garland woman after a recent DNA test connected another man to the crime.  Gerald Pabst was arrested on a capital murder charge on July 31, 2007, two decades after he testified that Clay Chabot attacked Galua Crosby. Mr. Chabot was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.   DA Craig Watkins said Mr. Chabot, 48, could get a new trial. DNA does not link him to the crime.

Somewhere between the spot Peggy Hettrick was abducted and the Fort Collins, Colorado field where her partially clad body was dumped, her killer would have shed pieces of himself, mothlike. As he pulled her through the grass that dark morning on Feb. 11, 1987, his skin cells could have sloughed off onto her black coat. A strand of his hair could have hooked onto her shoes. A sneeze could have dampened her blouse. This is the law of forensic science: When two people come into contact, they leave cells on each other. But in the Hettrick murder case, authorities strayed from this law by losing some of these biological relics and destroying evidence linked to a prominent doctor they never investigated for the crime. In doing so, they may have covered the killer's genetic tracks.  This happened in Fort Collins, where a detective clung to his belief that a 15-year-old boy committed the crime, despite no physical evidence. In a county where prosecutors opposed saving DNA, let alone testing it. In a state where the law doesn't create a duty to preserve forensic evidence.  The result:  An innocent man, Tim Masters, goes to prison for life, and the real killer moves on.

"He" is from West Hartford, Connecticut, short, clumsy and mentally impaired, with thick glasses and hearing aids in both ears, given to telling the same stale jokes over and over. His nickname was Mr. Magoo. He once was a dishwasher. He’s now a convict serving a life term for rape and murder. "They" are people who befriended him without knowing him: advocates for the disabled, lawyers, writers, a detective, nurses, business people, psychologists, teachers, perhaps 100 in all at different times, a core group of perhaps 25. For years, many of them met every other Wednesday at the Burger King in Wethersfield, Connecticut to plot strategy.  At last, they are taking his innocence claims back to court.

UPDATE:  Judge calls LaPointe's petition a waste of time.

EYEWITNESS ID

Perhaps only Roger Dean Gillispie knows for sure whether he kidnapped and raped three Fairborn, Ohio area women in 1988.  No physical evidence tied him to the crime.  He was convicted on the basis of eyewitness identifications made two years after the crimes occurred.  His case illustrates the tough road for inmates who insist they are innocent but cannot use DNA to prove it.

HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

Making a Chew Toy of JusticeJames Ochoa of Los Angeles, CA was 20 years old when he was identified by two witnesses as the man who committed a carjacking and robbery. The DA put him on trial, despite of the fact that DNA from the carjacker's clothing had eliminated Ochoa.  After the first witness testified, the DA offered Ochoa 2 years prison for a plea to second-degree robbery, and Judge Robert Fitzgerald told Ochoa he would give him the max -- 16 years to life -- if he was convicted.  Ochoa took the plea deal, and served almost half before the DNA was matched to another man convicted in a similar carjacking/robbery.  Ochoa has submitted a claim for compensation, but the California Attorney General is opposing it, claiming his clearly coerced guilty plea was voluntary, so he doesn't "qualify."


Is Virginia's New Evidence Law Too Tough? 
Three years after felons were allowed to petition the Virginia Court of Appeals with non-DNA evidence of innocence, few have done so, and none has been found innocent.  "The criticism from the beginning was that the procedures were too complicated and the hurdles too high," said Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. "While in principal it was important to pass this bill, the practical effect was minimal."

Wrongful Convictions StudiedA groundbreaking study of the first 200 people cleared by DNA testing in the U.S. identifies flaws that led to the wrongful convictions and to the failures of appeals courts to detect and remedy them.  The author, Brandon L. Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law,  said the DNA exonerations provide an unprecedented opportunity to conduct analyses on how things can go wrong despite the safeguards built into the legal system to prevent and then correct such errors.

Police/Prosecutor Misconduct

Massachusetts  Chief US District Judge Mark L. Wolf, in a rare rebuke to the US Justice Department, has asked the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers to launch disciplinary proceedings against a veteran federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Auerhahn, who withheld key evidence in a New England Mafia case from the early 1990s.  His Victim Wants Auerhahn Disbarred.

Manitoba, Canada  There has been intense scrutiny of cases handled by George Dangerfield, who until his retirement was considered the most formidable prosecutor toiling for Manitoba Justice.   Since his retirement, however, he has been dogged by allegations that some of his most famous cases were miscarriages of justice. He was at the helm of two confirmed wrongful convictions: James Driskell and Thomas Sophonow. In both cases, judicial inquiries determined that Dangerfield committed errors, and failed in his duty to disclose relevant evidence to the defence.  The Hon. Roger Salhany, former justice of the Ontario Court, has been retained to review the cases of former top Manitoba prosecutor George Dangerfield.  Prosecutorial Misconduct Knows No Borders

MassachusettsIn what appears to be the largest sum of money ever awarded to people who were wrongfully convicted, a judge today ordered the federal government to pay $101.8 million to make amends for framing four men for a murder they did not commit.  Two of the men died in prison after being falsely convicted in the 1965 gangland murder. Another, Peter Limone, spent 33 years in jail before he was exonerated in 2001. The fourth, Joseph Salvati, spent 29 years in prison.  Justice -- Better Late than Never.

WisconsinA judge on July 25, 2007 threw out an Oshkosh man 's 1995 conviction for threatening to kill disgraced former Winnebago County District Attorney Joseph Paulus after authorities agreed that a prosecutor withheld important evidence and solicited false testimony from a key witness.  The prosecution of the case by former Outagamie County District Attorney Vince Biskupic "is an example of really egregious conduct " by a prosecutor, said an attorney for the man, Mark Price.  Vindication.

Ohio.  Lee Lucas has had an extraordinary career as a DEA agent in Miami, in Bolivia, and now in his hometown of Cleveland.  He's gotten a lot of convictions, but with "issues" like evidence tampering, beating informants, suborning perjury and lying under oath himself.  Lucas dodged all the investigative bullets, until May of 2007.  That's when one of his informants, Jerrell Bray, told federal public defenders:  "I could fill a room with the innocent people I've helped Lucas put away."

Jerrell Bray said he wanted to come clean.  But would anyone believe him?

False Allegations of Child Abuse

The nightmare began for Rodger Jones of Orlando, Florida in August of 2004, when his youngest daughter accused him of molesting her, a charge Jones absolutely and unequivocally denies.  His first trial ended in a hung jury.  Jones was convicted at his second trial in 2005, a conviction that the Fifth District Court of Appeals concluded rested on claims that Jones committed more serious offenses in another jurisdiction -- claims that were never charged, much less proven.  When the Court of Appeals reversed Jones' conviction, the Orange County judge continued to refuse to allow Jones' release from prison.  The Court of Appeals had to order his release. 

Jones, who is awaiting his third trial on the same charges, tells us:  "I am 54 years old and must have been sleeping all those years not to realize that the trial courts and the prosecutors in this country are so corrupt only looking for the conviction and not the truth. The people of this country need to be told about the state of affairs in the judicial system in this country. Until this happened to me I thought that this country was a very good country to live in. The people of this country need to vote to change the system back to what our founding fathers wanted. Without the knowledge of the broken system though people will not know to make the changes.
"  Click HERE to read the Court of Appeals decision.


RECOMMENDED READING

A Good Conviction
A Good Conviction
by Lew Weinstein

Imagine yourself in Sing Sing prison, convicted of a murder you did not commit. How do you survive? How do you keep hope alive that your life will ever again be anything but terror and pain? Then it gets worse: you begin to suspect that the Manhattan prosecutor who tried your case knew you were actually innocent.

A Good Conviction is fiction, but it is drawn from real-life cases that, we are learning, are all too common.

Click HERE to read a message from the author, Lew Weinstein.


Mistakes were Made (But Not by Me)
Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Harmful Acts
by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Why was it so hard for our President to admit that there were no W.M.D.'s in Iraq or that Saddam had no links to Al Qaeda? Why is it so difficult for some prosecutors and police officers to accept the reality of a wrongful conviction? Answers to these and other questions can be found in a new book by eminent social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.  In Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, Tavris and Aronson explain that the reason why humans have so much difficulty in admitting error is our need for self-justification, an all too human tendency.

Click HERE to read Prof. Steve Drizin's entire review of this important book.
Mistakes were Made (But Not by Me)


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.


TRUTH IN JUSTICE RADIO
As part of its educational outreach, Truth in Justice Radio is broadcast every Sunday evening from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. Central/11 p.m. to midnight Eastern, on WTKM, 104.9 FM, 1540 AM and streaming live on the internet at http://wtkm.com/  Your hosts, Sheila Berry and Ira Robins, discuss issues that play significant roles in making, reversing and avoiding wrongful convictions.

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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There are now over 1,300 pages at Truth in Justice.  The site search engine on the main page can make it faster and easier to find what you seek.

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