Truth in Justice Newsletter
Wrongful Conviction News from October, November and December, 2008

Note:  Normally our online newsletter goes up on the server every other month.  This is a one-time edition covering three months so that we can avoid overlapping calendar years.

RECENT CASES

Arthur Johnson
UPDATE: 10/15/08 - After Arthur Johnson's attorney, Emily Maw of the Cardozo Innocence Project, prevailed upon Mississippi authorities to run the rape kit DNA through the state's DNA bank, a match was found and the real rapist was identified.  Sunflower County authorities could no longer maintain the charade that Arthur Johnson was anything but innocent.  All charges against him have been dropped.  No word on whether these authorities will apologize to the woman who was raped by the real criminal while Arthur was wrongly imprisoned. 

A New York state appellate panel has thrown out the convictions of Daivery Taylor, a Long Island personal injury attorney and his firm, Silverman & Taylor, finding that the state presented insufficient evidence that the defendants used "steerers" to sign up accident victims or that they coached clients to fabricate injuries.  The 2nd Department not only threw out the conviction but also dismissed the 32-count indictment.

Joe White, Thomas Winslow, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Kathy Gonzalez, Deb Sheldon and James Dean were convicted of murdering and raping 68-year-old Helen Wilson in 1985.  White and Winslow were convicted by juries; the other defendants were convinced by police investigators to plead guilty.  DNA tests obtained in White's and Winslow's bids for exoneration prove that none of the six defendants had anything to do with Mrs. Wilson's murder.  She was killed by Bruce Allen Smith, who acted alone.

After 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, William Dillon of Viera, Florida has been freed on bail after DNA excluded him as the killer.  His retrial is scheduled for January, 2009.  His lawyer, Melissa Montle of the Florida Innocence Project, says she doesn't see how he can be retried.  "All they have is a fraud, an admitted perjurer, a snitch, and a half-blind eyewitness." 

Steven Barnes of Utica, NY was convicted of rape and second-degree murder in the strangling death of Kimberly Simon, a high school student, in 1985. At his trial, a crime lab analyst testified that impressions on Barnes' truck matched Ms. Simon's jeans, a conclusion that simply cannot be supported by science.  Tests concluded in mid-November, 2008 showed that Barnes' DNA matched none of four samples found on Kimberly Simon's body and clothing.  After almost 20 years in prison, Steven Barnes is a free man.

In 2006, authorities in Sunnyvale, CA realized that Mashelle Bullington was not the gun-toting burglar they thought when they locked her away for more than three years in prison in 1995.  But it was not until November of 2008, during a brief hearing, that her name was finally cleared.

Miguel Roman has been in prison in Connecticut since 1988 for the rape and murder of his girlfriend, Carmen Lopez.  He was convicted despite trial testimony from an FBI investigator that tests, even back in 1988, excluded Miguel as the killer.  Now DNA has not only excluded him, but has identified the real killer and tied him to two other rape/murders.  We may be premature to list Miguel among the freed, because he is still in prison, but we hope the Connecticut authorities will do the right thing -- finally.  This case is proof, once again, that when an innocent person is wrongly convicted, the real criminal is free to commit more crimes.

UPDATE:  Miguel's conviction was set aside, a new trial was ordered, and he was freed on December 19, 2008.

It was bad enough when, in the mid-1990's, a shotgun blast tore away half of Ricardo's face.  He survived, badly disfigured.  But that ordeal was nothing compared with what happened in 2003 -- Ricardo was convicted of sexually assaulting an 8-year-old boy and sentenced to 40 years in prison.  While Ricardo was locked up, the assaults continued, but the authorities ignored his pleas of innocence.  Other inmates helped him obtain DNA testing that excluded Ricardo and identified the serial predator.

In 1998, when teacher Jimmy Ates of Crestview, Florida was convicted -- 7 years after the crime -- of murdering his wife, the only evidence prosecutors had against him was the FBI test that concluded the lead in the bullets that killed Norma Ates matched the lead in bullets Jimmy owned.  The bullet lead test was discredited in 2005.  Now Jimmy's conviction has been reversed and he has been given a new trial.

James S. Anderson of Los Angeles, CA has spent his last Christmas behind bars in the State of Washington. A state appeals court erased the 31-year-old's conviction for armed robbery, saying new evidence uncovered by a University of Washington Law School student corroborates what Anderson has always said: He was in California when a group of men hit a Tacoma grocery store in 2004.

A state appellate court has ordered a new trial for Chaunte Dean Ott, a Milwaukee, WI man accused of murdering a South Milwaukee runaway in 1995.  Tests showed DNA found on the victim matched DNA discovered on two other slaying victims, raising the specter that a serial killer is still at large.  Police and prosecutors continue to insist they believe Chaunte is guilty, since they do not want to admit they not only got the wrong guy, they also kept the real killer on the streets to rape and murder at least two more women.


DEATH PENALTY ISSUES
Death Penalty

Since he arrived on Texas’ Death Row in 1999, Michael Roy Toney, of Lake Worth, has proclaimed his innocence to anyone he thought might listen. Nine and a half years later, he has everyone’s attention.  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned Toney’s capital murder conviction because Tarrant County prosecutors withheld evidence favorable to his defense. Among the 14 documents were records that cast doubt on the testimony of two key witnesses against him.

INNOCENT IMPRISONED


Prosecutors in Elyria, Ohio don’t seem to be interested in whether convicted killer Clarence Weaver has been wrongly imprisoned for the 1991 murder of his wife.  That's why they're opposed to DNA testing of rape kit and other evidence, tests that could show semen or biological material that was missed and possibly identify another suspectOne possible suspect is the Weaver’s former neighbor, Gilbert Glass Jr., who is in prison after being convicted in a sexual assault with similarities to the attack on Helen Weaver.

Traveling salesmen Travis Rowley and Michael Lee are accused in the deaths of Tak and Pung Sil Yi, who were killed in their Albuquerque, NM home in December, 2007.  But Clifton Bloomfield has pled guilty to the crimes, confessing that he acted alone, and Bloomfield's is the only DNA at the scene.  Prosecutors soldier on, incapable of admitting error.

Fernando has been in New York's infamous Sing Sing Prison since 1992, convicted in the fatal shooting of a teenager following a dispute on Union Square in New York City.  There was no forensic evidence, no fingerprints, no motive, no blood or DNA evidence linking Fernando to the crime.  He had a solid alibi and didn't know any of the people involved in the dispute.  His conviction rests on his identification by six eyewitnesses, four of whom viewed mugshots together and picked out Fernando by consensus.

On Sept. 15, 1978, the night Muhammad Ali made boxing history by defeating Leon Spinks to win the heavyweight championship for a record third time, a security guard was robbed and killed while on duty at a Masonic temple in Harvey. Four days later, Harvey police detectives said Anthony McKinney, 18, had confessed to killing Donald Lundahl with a single shotgun blast to the head. No physical evidence linked McKinney to the crime -- the shotgun and Lundahl's wallet were never found.  Now, more than three decades since McKinney's arrest, Karen Daniel and Steven Drizin, lawyers at Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions, are seeking a new trial based on new evidence they say shows that McKinney is innocent. They cite evidence uncovered by journalism and law students at the university that includes a videotaped interview with another man who said he was there when Lundahl was killed and that McKinney wasn't involved.

New lab tests show that DNA recovered from the semen-stained underwear of a 12-year-old rape victim couldn't have come from the man who has served more than 27 years in prison for the crime.  Raymond Towler has maintained his innocence for nearly three decades, insisting he wasn't the man who abducted two young children from a Cleveland park on May 24, 1981.  His lawyers with the Ohio Innocence Project say the results prove Towler's innocence.

Dustin Turner is serving an 82-year sentence for the June 19, 1995 murder of Jennifer Evans in Virginia Beach, VA, even though co-defendant Billy Joe Brown now takes sole responsibliity for the crime.

It's a case of technicalities. It's a case of changed stories. Of questionable evidence.  For Joshua Kezer and the attorneys representing him, it's a case of unjustified imprisonment, an unfair trial and new evidence that proves Kezer was not the right man. Kezer's defense team has reason to be optimistic. Cole County Judge Richard Callahan has thrown out a conviction before in a similar trial.

HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

Never let scientific facts stand in the way of a conviction.  DNA evidence has been widely embraced over the last two decades as a powerful forensic tool to prove a defendant's guilt or innocence. But in Lake County, Illinois, authorities have sometimes pressed for convictions even when the DNA doesn't match a suspect.  When DNA evidence excluded a man convicted in the rape and battery of a 68-year-old woman, State's Attorney Michael Mermel suggested the victim had consensual sex with someone else.  When DNA evidence excluded a man in the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl, Mermel and another prosecutor suggested that the girl may have been sexually active. The DNA, he said, was a "red herring." And, just recently, when lawyers for the man charged in the killing of his 8-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old friend said in court that DNA evidence from semen excluded him as the perpetrator, the Lake prosecutor had another explanation.



Alabama convicts lack access to DNA testingImagine for a moment that you are an inmate, and you were wrongly convicted. You’ve been sentenced to 50 years in an Alabama prison and there’s one piece of DNA-testable material sitting in an evidence locker in some Alabama courthouse that could finally and definitively prove your innocence. All you have to do is have it tested, and you could be set free.  Good luck. You’re going to need it.


POLICE/PROSECUTOR MISCONDUCT

Maryland
In at least nine homicide, sex assault and burglary cases, Baltimore police detectives instructed crime lab technicians not to follow up on convicted criminals' DNA found on evidence at crime scenes because they determined it was not relevant to their investigations.  How tunnelvision works.

CaliforniaContending that a top local prosecutor repeatedly sought to subvert justice, the state bar is recommending that Ben Field be suspended from practicing law for three years — a punishment that would represent an unheard of public discipline against a Santa Clara County deputy district attorney.  Defense lawyer Jamie Harmon is facing trial in late October, 2008 on a 20-count state bar complaint, accusing her of neglecting the cases of some criminal defendants and misrepresenting what would happen to other clients if they pleaded guilty without going to trial.   And the 6th District Court of Appeals has overturned several convictions in recent months after finding errors by Santa Clara County judges in their conduct of cases — including four cases in the past six months that were presided over by Judge Paul Bernal.  Held accountable in Northern California.

Illinois.  At last, former Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge has been arrested.  Burge or police officers who were under his command systematically tortured suspects to get confessions.  The torture included suffocation, burns, electric shocks to the genitals, heads slammed with phone books and "games" of Russian roulette.   But it's too late to charge Burge with torturing people.  He's charged with lying about the torture.

Illinois Again.  Cook County Judge Dennis Dernbach is the last remaining defendant in the multi-million dollar lawsuits that four alleged torture victims brought against the city and county.   The lawsuits claim murder confessions were coerced by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his officers.   He is being sued by Leroy Orange, a Death Row inmate who was pardoned and freed from prison by Gov. George Ryan in 2003.  Orange accuses Dernbach, who was an assistant Cook County state’s attorney at the time, of coaching Orange’s confession. Orange also claims he told Dernbach he was tortured.   Last man standing.

Still Illinois.  It doesn't get much more ironic.  On the same day Jon Burge was arrested, former Cook County Judge Thomas Maloney died.  He
was the first—and remains the only—Cook County judge to be convicted of rigging murder cases for cash when he was found guilty in April 1993 of taking thousands of dollars to fix three separate murder trials and a fourth felony case.  Not so tough on crime.

District of Columbia/AlaskaA special agent with the FBI is accusing government prosecutors in the Ted Stevens case of intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence from Stevens' lawyers and scheming to conceal a witness from the defense team.  Did the government cheat to convict the Senator?


EYEWITNESS IDENTIFICATION
Dallas DNA Exonerations
A stunning 18 of the 19 Dallas, Texas convictions overturned by DNA were based on faulty eyewitness identification.  The faulty identifications were the predictable consequences of a criminal justice system that ignored safeguards meant to protect the innocent. The files reveal a law-and-order machine that focused on securing and bolstering eyewitness testimony, regardless of the victim's doubt or the lack of corroborating evidence.
Eyewitness ID

False Allegations of Child Abuse
Unfounded Physical/Mental Abuse Allegations
In 2005, Suzanne Holdsworth of Seacroft, Leeds, UK, was jailed for life for a little boy's murder. But a damning investigation by John Sweeney, a reporter with the London Daily Mail, found police had missed key evidence. Days after being found not guilty at re-trial and released, Suzanne told her haunting story to the man who helped clear her.  Justice Delayed.



JUNK SCIENCE


Wisconsin.  Attorney Jerome Buting has filed a complaint about some of the big errors that have been uncovered at the Wisconsin Crime Lab.  For example, an employee at the Milwaukee bureau of the crime lab made up results. He "falsified the data" in a case by saying a finger print didn't match anyone in a database before he knew whether it did or not.  In March of 2006, an employee at the Madison bureau of the lab was suspended for being "intoxicated" on the job.  That happens to be around the time the lab was testing evidence in one of the most high profile cases in recent memory: the murder trial against Steven Avery.   The AG's office says it will review the complaint.  Plain English:  Don't hold your breath.

UPDATE - 10/31/08:  As predicted, the Wisconsin AG's office has investigated itself -- the Wisconsin Crime Lab is part of the AG's office -- and has cleared itself.  Placating the public.


"Must" Reading: A new publication from The Justice Project
Improving the Practice and Use of Forensic Science: A Policy Review, (click title for report in pdf) provides an overview of the problems with certain forensic science policies and procedures, offers solutions to these problems, profiles cases of injustice, highlights states with good laws and procedures, and includes a model policy for the states.

LIFE AFTER EXONERATION

These news reports illustrate the reception society gives innocent people when they are finally released, and underscore the need for resettlement programs.

Wisconsin Law Journal takes a look at life after exoneration in that state:
Putting Broken Lives Back Together
After the Door Opens
After the Door Opens



INNOCENCE PROJECTS

Fortress Global Investigations, a leading nationally known private investigations firm, has announced through its CEO, former Manhattan prosecutor Robert Seiden, a partnership with well-known exoneree Martin Tankleff and renowned investigator Jay Salpeter to launch the Fortress Innocence Group ("FIG") -- the first high-quality national investigative company focused on working with lawyers to secure evidence to overturn wrongful conviction cases. 
Fortress Innocence.

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 Oregon and Tennessee, whose programs are undergoing reorganization). 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.

Innocence Projects Contact List


Bernard L. Madoff's alleged Ponzi scheme is proving disastrous to charities across the country, which have begun announcing funding shortfalls and unexpected shutdowns.  Programs for bone-marrow transplants, death-row inmates and human rights campaigns are threatened as dozens of philanthropies take stock of their exposure to Mr. Madoff's failed investment firm.  Innocence projects that depend, in varying degrees, on funding from charities invested with Mr. Madoff are taking a hard financial hit.  Included among these is the Innocence Project at Cardozo School of Law in New York City, the highest profile innocence project in the country, founded by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld.  The Cardozo Innocence Project has provided direct assistance to other innocence projects around the country, so the ripples of this financial disaster extend across all 50 states. 

It comes back to all of us to keep these innocence projects going.  If you doubt their value, just take a look at the exonerations reported in the "Recent Cases" section of Truth in Justice.  Give what you can, and give it to the innocence project that helps people in your state, in your town, in your neighborhood.  Find them on the Innocence Projects Contact List, and forward your donation to them at the address listed.  Wrongful conviction can happen to anyone.  It can happen to you, and there is no better reason than that to make sure help is there for all who need it.


RECOMMENDED READING
These books detail real-life cases involving coerced false confessions and fabricated snitch testimony, which account for 25% and 15%, respectively, of wrongful convictions.

Criminal Injustice
A Criminal Injustice
by Richard Firstman and Jay Salpeter

In 1988, Arlene Tankleff was slashed across the throat and bludgeoned to death, and her husband, Seymour, was mortally wounded in the middle of the night in their affluent Long Island home. Their son, Martin, 17, confessed, then recanted. But Marty insisted the confession was fabricated by the police, and that the man who arranged the murders of his parents was Jerry Steuerman, his father’s business partner. Steuerman owed Seymour Tankleff over half a million dollars. A week later, Steuerman faked his own death and fled to California under an alias. Yet the police and prosecutors remained fixated on Marty,and two years later, he was convicted on murder charges n a highly publicized trial that was featured on Court TV and sentenced to fifty years in prison. Marty’s conviction, based on ignored leads, conflicts of interest swept under the rug and a shocking betrayal of public trust by Suffolk County law enforcement, was finally overturned in 2007.  (Click HERE for contemporary news coverage of Marty's exoneration.)

The Wrong Guys
by Tom Wells and Richard Leo

Innocent people do not confess. Especially to rape and murder.

That is the belief of most people, including jurors, judges, attorneys, and even the very police detectives who induce false confessions. The Norfolk Four case is the perfect vehicle to challenge our misguided faith. And Tom Wells and Richard Leo are the ideal storytellers: Wells followed the case for seven years; Leo is a leading expert on the social psychology of police interrogation. The book is meticulously researched, through primary source documents and dozens of interviews. The Wrong Guys: Murder, False Confessions, and the Norfolk Four reads like a Stephen King novel but provides a step-by-step deconstruction of the bizarre case of the Norfolk Four, explaining the individual, situational, and systemic factors that converge in a typical false confession case.
Wrong Guys

Police Interrogations
Police Interrogation and American Justice
by Richard Leo

Incriminating statements are necessary to solve crimes, but suspects almost never have reason to provide them. Therefore, crime units have developed sophisticated interrogation methods that rely on persuasion, manipulation, and deception to move a subject from denial to admission, serving to shore up the case against him. Ostensibly aimed at uncovering truth, the structure of interrogation requires that officers act as an arm of the prosecution.  Skillful and fair interrogation allows authorities to capture criminals and deter future crime. But Leo draws on extensive research to argue that confessions are inherently suspect and that coercive interrogation has led to false confession and wrongful conviction. He looks at police evidence in the court, the nature and disappearance of the brutal "third degree," the reforms of the mid-twentieth century, and how police can persuade suspects to waive their Miranda rights.

Snitch: Informants, Cooperators and the Corruption of Justice
by Ethan Brown

A chilling investigative look behind the scenes at a criminal justice system corrupted by its use of cooperators, and into the complex meaning of the "Stop Snitching" movement.
In Snitch, investigative reporter Ethan Brown shows through a compelling series of case profiles how the sentencing guidelines for drug-related offenses, along with the 5K1.1 section, have unintentionally created a "cottage industry of cooperators," and led to fabricated evidence. The result is wrongful convictions and appallingly gruesome crimes committed by the snitches who are turned loose for their "cooperation."

Click HERE for Steve Weinberg's review of this book.
Snitch

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

SITE SEARCH ENGINE

There are now over 1,600 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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