Wrongful Conviction News from October - December, 2009
For 16 years, Edwin
faithfully believed the day would
come when everyone would know he wasn't the man who shot Brenda
Whitfield in the head during a 1993 robbery at the Chevron station
where she worked. That day finally arrived on October 13, 2009,
when Jefferson Circuit (Kentucky) Judge Fred
Cowan vacated the manslaughter and robbery charges against Chandler
after prosecutors and police announced they had convicted the wrong man.
Claude Alvin Simmons Jr., 54, and
Christopher Shun Scott,
were each sentenced to life in prison for the April 7, 1997, shooting
death of Alfonso Aguilar during a home-invasion robbery in Dallas, TX.
convictions were based primarily on the eyewitness testimony of
Aguilar's wife, Celia Escobedo, who was present in their Love Field
area home when the killing occurred. That identification was
mistaken, said Mike Ware, head of the Dallas County District Attorney's
Conviction Integrity Unit. They are the latest DNA exonerees in
the Dallas DA's review of suspect cases.
Several times over the 26 years he spent in
prison for the
of a 92-year-old woman, Dewey Bozella of Poughkeepsie, NY was dealt a
get-out-of-jail card. In
offers during his trial in 1990 and in four
subsequent parole hearings, confessing and expressing remorse for the
crime could have given him a chance to go free. He did not bite. “I
could never admit to something I didn’t do,” said Mr. Bozella, 18 at
the time of the crime, 50 now. “I realized that if I was going to die
in prison because of saying I’m innocent, well that was what was going
to happen.” He said these things on October 28, 2009, outside the
County Courthouse, rain cascading down, finally a free man after a
judge threw out his conviction.
36-year-old Detroit, MI man, Dwayne Provience, jailed
for the past eight years for a
murder he says he did not commit, has been granted a new trial by a
Wayne Circuit Court judge.
Dwayne Provience has been in prison since 2001, despite his consistent
claims of innocence. Judge Timothy Kenny ordered a new trial, citing
the prosecution's use of a less-than-credible witness.
In overturning Rafael
Madrigal's conviction for a 2000
drive-by shooting in
East Los Angeles, CA, a federal judge highlighted evidence indicating
Madrigal was innocent of the crime, and faulted Madrigal's defense
attorney for failing to effectively assist him. He was reportedly
working at a Rancho Cucamonga factory at the time of
the shooting, but his attorney failed to call enough witnesses during
his trial to prove the alibi, the judge wrote. While he was in
prison, Rafael's father died and the family's home was
foreclosed. Donors in the Ontario, CA area have donated $4,500 so
the family can rent a home and pay moving expenses. The Los
Angeles DA is still deciding whether to re-try him.
Shomberg, 41, is serving a 12-year prison term for a sexual assault in
a crime for which he has always professed innocence. At the heart of
is the argument that the trial judge erred in disallowing testimony
expert witness knowledgeable in the area of eyewitness
victim agreed at trial with statements that she picked
Shomberg because he was "the best of the six," even though "he
very well could have not been the guy." His fate now rests in the
hands of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Shomberg's conviction.
11/13/09 -- Friday the 13th was the luckiest day Forest
Shomberg has had in a long time.
Judge Patrick Fiedler cited new DNA evidence and newly developed
scientific research on faulty eyewitness identification in overturning
his own judgment of conviction in the 2002 case. Shomberg left
the courthouse a Free
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.
UPDATE: 11/13/09 -- Friday the 13th was a
lucky day for Fernando
Bermudez. After 18 years in prison, he was found
innocent of a murder he always said he did not commit. “I
find no credible evidence connects Fernando Bermudez to the
homicide of Mr. Blount,” Justice John Cataldo of New
York State Supreme
Court wrote. “All of the people’s
trial evidence has been discredited: the false testimony of Efraim
Lopez and the recanted identifications of strangers. I find, by clear
and convincing evidence, that Fernando Bermudez has demonstrated he is
innocent of this crime.” Found Actually
The Utah state prison
gates opened for Harry Miller in
2007, but he continues to fight to clear his name of the aggravated
robbery conviction that put him in prison in the first place. It
was a crime he was accused of committing in Salt Lake
City less than two weeks after he had a stroke in Louisiana. A
recent decision by the Utah Court of Appeals may afford
Miller the justice he believes has long eluded him.
deeply apologetic judge officially has dropped all
charges against an innocent man he sent to prison for rape. "I
want to convey to you my personal regret in having participated,
though unknowingly, in the injustice committed to you," Manhattan
Criminal Court Judge Richard Carruthers told William McCaffrey, calling
the wrong conviction "a catastrophe both for [McCaffrey] and for the
criminal justice system." McCaffrey's accuser, Biurny Peguero,
27, took back her damning rape allegations in August, 2009 and
confessed to perjury.
Within days of one
another, two innocent men who served, between them, 63 years in prison
for crimes they did not commit, were exonerated by DNA and
Mistaken eyewitness identification led to Jimmy's
and conviction in Lake Wales, Florida for kidnapping and sexually
assaulting a young boy in 1974.
forensic science put Donald Gates in prison for the
1981 rape and murder of a Georgetown University co-ed in Washington,
DC: an FBI lab analyst testified that hairs on the victim were
Donald's. DNA says the hairs belong to someone else.
Reynold Moore, 62, one of six men
convicted in October 1995 of being party to the murder of Tom
Monfils in a Green Bay, WI paper mill,has enlisted the
aid of the Wisconsin Innocence Project in seeking a new trial. The
new evidence in Moore's appeal concerns testimony by James
Gilliam, a prison inmate who had testified at trial that Moore told him
in jail that he participated in a group beating of Monfils at a water
fountain in the mill. WIP
Lichstein claims Gilliam has since changed his story and now
says Moore actually told him that Moore stepped in to try to prevent
the beating, not to participate in it. Without Gilliam's
jailhouse snitch testimony, there is no evidence connecting Moore to
Debra Jean Milke has been sitting on Arizona’s death
nearly 20 years, largely because a police detective said she confessed
to plotting her 4-year-old son’s murder. Now Ms. Milke could get
a new trial, and even her freedom, because the
detective, who was alone with Ms. Milke when he said she confessed,
skipped one of the most basic steps when officers interview
suspects — getting them to sign a Miranda waiver, giving up their right
to remain silent.
“I don’t know any place in the civilized world in the last 30 years,”
said Judge Alex Kozinski of the United States Court of
Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, “where
a state has found a waiver of constitutional rights
without a signed waiver.”
After 20 years in prison for
the 1987 murder of a young
woman in Sauk County, WIsconsin, Terry Vollbrecht is hoping that new
DNA findings will prove what he has said from day one: He is
innocent. The Wisconsin Innocence Project has filed a motion for
a new trial based on the DNA evidence, as well as evidence withheld
from the defense 20 years ago.
The Ohio Innocence Project has
filed a motion on behalf of
Glen Tinney, asking a Richland County judge to allow Tinney to withdraw
his guilty plea in the 1988 death of 33-year-old Ted White. The
county prosecutor's office is opposed. But Mansfield police Lt.
John Wendling said he has believed for years
that another man committed the crime and convinced Tinney to plead
guilty after the two became friends while serving time in the same
facility. The Ohio Innocence Project has said
there are at least 65 factual errors in the case.
HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS
waivers. Attorney General Eric H.
has ordered a review of a
little-known Bush administration policy requiring some defendants to
waive their right to DNA testing even though that right is guaranteed
in a landmark federal law. The practice of using
DNA waivers began several years ago as a
response to the Innocence Protection Act of 2004, which allowed federal
inmates to seek post-conviction DNA tests to prove their
innocence. The waivers are filed only in guilty
pleas and bar defendants from ever requesting DNA testing, even if new
proposed new rules focus on discovery. Under
fire for its handling of the criminal case against former
Sen. Ted Stevens, the Justice Department last week outlined a plan to
ensure prosecutors play by the rules when dealing with evidence. But
some criminal defense lawyers and judges say the reforms don't go far
In Illinois, an innovative
approach to keeping journalists from investigating innocence claims.
students at Northwestern University say they have
uncovered new evidence that proves Anthony McKinney's innocence in a
murder case. McKinney has spent 31 years in prison for the
But as they prepare for
a crucial hearing, the Cook County state's attorney has subpoenaed the
students' grades, notes
and recordings of witness interviews, the class syllabus and even
e-mails they sent to each other and to professor David Protess of the
university's Medill School of Journalism.
William Dillon spent 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit
based on fraudulent "evidence" from dog handler John Preston
(discredited in 1984) and perjured "snitch" testimony from another jail
inmate. Now that the snitch testified at a legislative hearing
how Brevard County detectives got him to lie under oath, the
Brevard County Sheriff's Office reopened the homicide
it a bit late?
Jagels, renowned as one of California's toughest district attorneys,
built his career on the Kern County child molestation cases of the
1980s, putting more than two dozen men and women behind bars to serve
decades-long sentences for abusing children.
Appellate judges now say most of those crimes never happened. Since
the late 1980s, all but one of 26 convictions Jagels
secured have been reversed. Kern County has paid $9.56 million to
settle state and federal suits brought by former defendants and their
children. But he's retiring, leaving on his own terms, not held
accountable for his actions. Why not? Because Kern County voters
kept re-electing him.
Federal Court. A
federal judge on December 15, 2009 dismissed the entire criminal
stock-options backdating case against two former Broadcom Corp.
executives, concluding that the government's handling of the case
"distorted the truth-finding process" and made a "mockery" of the
defendants' due process rights. Before
a courtroom packed with observers and other parties in
the case, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney of Santa Ana, Calif.,
entered a judgment of acquittal for former Chief Financial Officer
William Ruehle, who has been in trial since Oct. 23. Carney's
decision was met at first with stunned silence.
prosecutors aren't used to losing or getting caught.
U.S. Federal Court. This time it's the federal court in
Columbus, GA, where U.S.
District Judge Clay D. Land issued a 19-page order harshly criticizing
the U.S. Attorneys Offices for the Middle and Southern Districts for
offering sweetheart deals to big-time drug dealers in order to
fabricate a case against defense attorney J. Mark Shelnutt -- who was
acquitted of all charges brought by the feds. Same song, east coast
Allegations of Child Abuse
Quentin Louis of Athens, WI and Tammy
Millerleile of Wausau, WI, both in Marathon County, were convicted of
fatally shaking babies in 2005 and 2002, respectively. But
in August of 2009, Marathon County Circuit Court Judge Vincent
Howard vacated Louis' conviction and granted him a new trial based on a
ruling that suggests medical evidence in shaken-baby cases is suspect.
Prosecutors are appealing the decision to retry the Louis case, but
in September, 2009, Howard also authorized payments for expert
review Millerleile's conviction. Re-opening shaken baby
cases to re-examine the science.
Allegations of Sexual Abuse
Parks" spent almost three years in prison for molesting his two
young daughters. He spent another 15 years living with the stigma of
being a registered sex offender.
All because of what they now say is a lie. In 2008, his
now-adult daughters changed their story and he was
exonerated. Such recantations are not unusual, but being declared
innocent by the courts is rare.
"I didn't want to die with a lie."
The inability of arson investigators to recognize the
difference could put YOU in prison - or worse.
"He is like the father of
the science-based fire investigation, along
with a couple others who were willing to take fire investigation from
what was basically an art to a science," Jim Mazerat, a 37-year fire investigator
from New Orleans, says.
"That met a lot
of resistance from your average fire investigator, so you have to have
real character to be able to stand up to that." Dozens of
innocent people literally owe their lives to him.
Life After Exoneration
Utah state prison gates opened for Harry Miller in 2007, but
he continues to fight to clear his name of the aggravated robbery
conviction that put him in prison in the first place. It was a
he was accused of committing in Salt
Lake City less than two weeks after he had a stroke in Louisiana.
A recent decision by
the Utah Court of Appeals may afford Miller the justice he believes has
long eluded him.
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
Felonies a Day
by Harvey Silvergate
Harvey Silverglate’s Three Felonies
A Day focuses on how federal prosecutors invent creative
interpretations of statutes, sometimes creating new felonies out of
vague language or thin air, felonies never legislated by Congress.
Federal criminal law is today so vast and so poorly worded that
Silverglate reports, truthfully, each of us, every American, commits
three felonies every day without knowing it. A respected Boston
civil liberties lawyer, Mr. Silverglate shows his readers why federal
prosecutors target innocent people (career enhancement) and how they do
it (dispensing with the need to show criminal intent in order to commit
a crime). The careers of Rudy Giuliani, William Weld and Michael
J. Sullivan were built on the backs of innocent defendants.
Click HERE for
L. Gordon Crovitz's review, published in the Wall Street Journal.
NOTE: Phillip Finch's landmark book, Fatal Flaw: A True
Story of Malice and Murder in a Small Southern Town,
is once again available. Fatal
Flaw can be purchased in printed copy or may be downloaded free
of charge from the website of the publisher, Libertary.com. Click
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