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.
Wrongful Conviction News from October, November and December, 2008
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
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.
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
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.
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 suspect. One 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.
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.
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 testing. Imagine
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
luck. You’re going to need it.
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
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
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.
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
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
the government cheat to convict the Senator?
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.
Allegations of Child Abuse
Physical/Mental Abuse Allegations
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.
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
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
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
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.
news reports illustrate the reception society gives innocent people
when they are finally released, and underscore the need for
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.
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
state (except Oregon and Tennessee, whose programs are undergoing
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
detail real-life cases involving coerced false confessions and
fabricated snitch testimony, which account for 25% and 15%,
respectively, of wrongful convictions.
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.
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.
for contemporary news coverage of Marty's exoneration.)
|The Wrong Guys
by Tom Wells and Richard
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.
|Police Interrogation and
by Richard Leo
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.
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.
for our slide presentation, "The Truth About Wrongful
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
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.
And remember, YOU can make a difference!