Truth in Justice Newsletter - October - November, 2005

RECENT CASES

Two Philadelphia, PA men who have served 18 years in prison for a 1987 homicide were granted unconditional freedom after the District Attorney's Office made a rare motion in court to nullify their convictions and drop charges against them.  The action was based on statements and polygraph examinations of a witness who exonerated the two men, and on related evidence.

It took a courtroom minute to end 15 months of limbo for Clyde A. Johnson 4th, a Philadelphia, PA social worker wrongly accused of a shooting that investigators now say could be linked to confessed serial killer Juan Covington.  Police arrested Johnson after he was picked out of a photo lineup by the victim. Unable to post $1 million bail, Johnson was detained at the city's Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.  When Covington confessed to three slayings, police took a second look at the case against Johnson. The Bryant shooting occurred around the corner from Covington's home. Bullets were tested and matched a gun owned by Covington.

Canadian William Mullins-Johnson, who spent more than a third of his life in prison for a rape and murder that may have never taken place, stepped into the sunshine on September 21, 2005, freed on bail from a 12-year "hell" while Ottawa decides whether he fell victim to another Canadian miscarriage of justice.  The 35-year-old Mullins-Johnson, of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., was convicted in 1994 of sodomizing and strangling his four-year-old niece Valin Johnson, who was found dead in her bed on the morning of June 27, 1993.  Two experts, including Ontario's chief pathologist, now say Valin was never sexually abused or strangled. They argue she in fact died of natural causes, possibly from choking on her own vomit caused by a chronic stomach ailment.

George Rodriguez's Long Saga
George Rodriguez was sentenced to 60 years in prison for aggravated rape and kidnapping, based primarily on Houston Police Department Crime Lab's serological [based on blood type only] identification of him.  A panel of six scientists has reviewed the evidence in Rodriguez's case and reported the crime lab's conclusions were "scientifically unsound".  Of course, he is still in prison, too.  George Rodriguez

UPDATE:  George Rodriguez, exonerated by DNA, wonders "Why am I Still in Prison?"

UPDATE [Link]George Rodriguez released.

UPDATE
[Link]George Rodriguez will not be retried.



INNOCENT IMPRISONED

There are basically four reasons Gregory Bruce Dunagan feels he is serving a life sentence for murder in the Texas penitentiary: 1) his criminal record from an incident when he was 18 years old, 2) a setup by a lying jailhouse informant, 3) sloppy police work and 4) an ineffective job by his defense attorney at trial.  Yet even if the state offered him time served and agreed to let him out of prison, Dunagan says, "I would tell them to go to hell, because I'm not guilty."


Clifton Spencer
In February 1990, someone visited the second-floor apartment of Stacey Stanton, a waitress in Manteo, and stabbed her 16 times in the neck.  Leaving her mutilated body on her living room floor, her sweat pants, panties and shoes strewn about, the killer went to the bathroom to clean up. As the killer fled into the street outside Stanton's apartment, a bloody mint-green washcloth was left behind.  Today, Clifton Eugene Spencer, who is serving a life sentence for Stanton's murder, hopes that washcloth will help set him free. Spencer says his lawyer, convinced that he would probably be convicted, pressured him into going to prison for a killing he did not commit.


EYEWITNESS IDENTIFICATION
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.

WRONGFULLY CONVICTED COPS

Ten years after his wife's murder, Lt. Jim Barton of the Springboro, Ohio Police Department was convicted of causing her death.  The evidence?  The claims of a jailhouse snitch who said his half-brother (who committed suicide) confessed he had killed Mrs. Barton, juiced up later to add Barton as a conspirator, and a grainy 911 tape in which prosecutors said Barton referred to the killer -- Phelps -- when Barton asked "for help." 

SCOTT HORNOFF FILES CIVIL RIGHTS SUIT: With Judge Rogers' reinstatement order still under appeal by the Warwick Police Department three years after his exoneration, Scott Hornoff has filed a civil rights suit naming, among others, the City of Warwick, Major Thomas Nye and retired Detective Sergeant Richard Santos.



POLICE/PROSECUTOR/JUDICIAL MISCONDUCT

New YorkA Long Island, N.Y., judge has been arrested and charged by federal prosecutors with participating in a money laundering and fencing scheme with a suspected organized crime associate.  According to a 71-page complaint unsealed Tuesday by the Eastern District of New York U.S. Attorney's Office, Nassau County District Court Judge David Gross helped an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agent posing as a stolen diamond trafficker unload merchandise as well as launder about $130,000 in illicit funds.  A Cut in the Action

FALSE ALLEGATIONS OF CHILD ABUSE

The U.S. government has agreed to pay a West Virginia couple $950,000 for failing to diagnose a baby with brittle bone disease and instead accusing her parents of abuse.  Alice and Miguel Velasquez reached the deal with the government after presenting their case at a bench trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The agreement brings to an end an almost six-year battle between the couple and military doctors at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, whose reports resulted in charges of felony child abuse against Mr. Velasquez and kept Liliana in foster care for 18 months. Velasquez Ordeal

JUNK SCIENCE


The Computer Voice Stress Analyzer, or CVSA, purportedly measures FM radio waves produced by muscles around the larynx.
Yet, independent experts have consistently found the instrument to be dubious, at best.  "It's complete nonsense," said Richard Leo, a professor of psychology and criminology at the University of California-Irvine who specializes in police interrogations. "It's junk science with a capital J. I think these CVSA machines are dangerous, and they are contributing to the process that elicits false confessions."





RECOMMENDED READING

Who Killed Sarah?
by Sheila Berry and Doug Berry


Sarah Gonstead disappeared in the early morning hours of March 15, 1994 in Madison, Wisconsin, after she and Penny Brummer had been out drinking together.  The path she took led her directly to outlaw bikers, engaged in a turf war and recruiting new members.  But when Sarah's body was found 40 days later, Brummer was the only suspect.  Witnesses with valuable information were criticized, even humiliated.  Leads that went anywhere else were ignored, as were the classic signs of innocence.  No physical evidence tied Brummer to the crime; the murder weapon was never found.  Brummer had an alibi -- she was at home 40 miles away when Sarah was killed.  She had no criminal record and no history of violence.  It was enough for the jury to convict Brummer and send her to prison for the rest of her life.  But did she do it? Or is Penny Brummer a victim of the legal system, just as Sarah Gonstead was a victim of a cold killer?

Click HERE for more information


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. 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.


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 1,200 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!

Sheila and Doug Berry



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