Truth in Justice Newsletter
Wrongful Conviction News from October - December, 2009


For 16 years, Edwin Chandler 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, 39, 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. Their 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 1977 murder of a 92-year-old woman, Dewey Bozella of Poughkeepsie, NY was dealt a potential get-out-of-jail card.  In multiple plea-bargain 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 Dutchess County Courthouse, rain cascading down, finally a free man after a judge threw out his conviction.

A 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.

Link:  A John Maki youtube Documentary: 
No DNA to Test: The Wrongful Conviction of Dwayne Provience

In overturning Rafael Madrigal's conviction for a 2000 drive-by shooting in East Los Angeles, CA, a federal judge highlighted evidence indicating that 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.

Forest Shomberg, 41, is serving a 12-year prison term for a sexual assault in Madison, WI, a crime for which he has always professed innocence. At the heart of his appeal is the argument that the trial judge erred in disallowing testimony from an expert witness knowledgeable in the area of eyewitness identifications.  The 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.

UPDATE:  The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Shomberg's conviction.

UPDATE:  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 Man.

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 Innocent.

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.

A 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 released. 

Mistaken eyewitness identification led to Jimmy's arrest and conviction in Lake Wales, Florida for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a young boy in 1974. 

Junk 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.


Death Penalty
Debra Jean Milke has been sitting on Arizona’s death row for 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.”


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 attorney Byron 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 Monfils' death.

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 47-year-old 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.


Revisiting DNA waivers.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. 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 evidence emerges.

USDOJ's proposed new rules focus on discoveryUnder 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 enough.

In Illinois, an innovative approach to keeping journalists from investigating innocence claims.   Journalism 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 slaying.  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.


Florida.  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 about how Brevard County detectives got him to lie under oath, the Brevard County Sheriff's Office reopened the homicide investigation.  Isn't it a bit late?

CaliforniaEd 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.

U.S. 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.  These prosecutors aren't used to losing or getting caught.

More 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 verse.

False Allegations of Child Abuse

Shaken Baby Syndrome

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 witnesses to review Millerleile's conviction.  Re-opening shaken baby cases to re-examine the science.

False Allegations of Sexual Abuse
"Paul 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."

Arson or Accident?
The inability of arson investigators to recognize the difference could put YOU in prison - or worse.
Gerald Hurst, Ph.D.
A one-man arson innocence project
"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

Life After Exoneration

Harry MillerThe 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.

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


Three Felonies a Day
Three 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.

OF 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,  Click HERE for more information.


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