Truth in Justice Newsletter - October - November, 2006

RECENT CASES

Of note:  All four of these exonerated men were misidentified by victims and cleared by DNA.

Marlon Pendleton of Chicago, Illinois says, "I always knew I was innocent," although the woman who picked him out of a line up was certain he was her assailant.  His repeated requests for DNA testing went unheeded while he served the first 10 years of his 100 year sentence for rape.  U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow heard his plea and ordered DNA testing.  The results absolutely exclude Marlon as the rapist.  The victim, however, remains convinced that she picked the right man.

In April 1981, a Dallas woman was attacked and raped in her bedroom. When police showed her photographs of potential suspects two days later, she did not identify Fuller.  Several days later, police showed her a second group of photos. The photograph of Fuller was the only one that appeared in both arrays. Although the victim said her attacker did not have facial hair, and Fuller was pictured with a full beard, she identified him and he was arrested.  Twenty-five years later, Fuller has been exonerated by DNA.

Nine years after he was convicted of rape and burglary and 11 years after his arrest, DNA tests have cleared Allen Coco's name and record.  The 38-year-old Louisiana man had insisted since his arrest in 1995 that he was innocent. The 28-year-old victim had chosen his picture from a photo lineup.

If not for a chance inventory of DNA samples gathering dust in a Connecticut warehouse, Scott Fappiano might still be lifting weights in prison.  But after the samples were discovered by his lawyers, Mr. Fappiano finally had the evidence he had sought for half of his life. A New York State Supreme Court judge has vacated his conviction for the 1983 rape of a Brooklyn woman, after the tests showed he had not committed the crime for which he spent more than two decades in prison.  “It’s the easiest thing in the world to get into jail,” Mr. Fappiano said, “and the hardest thing in the world to get out.”



INNOCENT IMPRISONED

In Chicago in 1997, June Siler mistakenly identified Robert Wilson as the man who slashed her with a razor blade, after viewing a suggestive photo line up and being told he had confessed.  This is a chilling reminder of how easy it is for police and prosecutors to manipulate a witness' testimony.  Now, June wants to make things right for Robert.


Christopher Porco
When police were summoned to the Bethlehem, NY home of Joan and Peter Porco in the early hours of November 14, 2004, they found Peter hacked to death and Joan terribly wounded.  Det. Chris Bowdish felt he knew as soon as he walked into the house that one of the two Porco sons, Jonathan or Christopher, had to have been responsible.  He asked Joan if Jonathan had done it, and she shook her head "no."  Then he asked if Christopher did it, and he says she nodded "yes."  There was never any turning back after that; no other suspects were ever considered, and the state built a single-minded case to convict Christopher -- despite Joan's strong support of Christopher's innocence and the irrelevance of a "head nod" as evidence of anything at all.

Joshua Rivera
On the morning of Sept. 19, 1992, a man named Leonard Aquino stood with another man in front of a building in Woodside, NY. He was approached by a couple of men who spoke briefly, then opened fire. Mr. Aquino was killed; another man, Paul Peralta, was shot, but survived.  Mr. Rivera's picture was picked out of an array of photos by Mr. Peralta and another witness, and in February 1993, five months after the shooting, Mr. Rivera was charged with killing Mr. Aquino and shooting Mr. Peralta. He was convicted in December 1995.  The eyewitness now says he did not see the killer long enough to identify him, and new witnesses have come forward to assert that Mr. Rivera was not even present at the scene of the crime.

Norfolk Four
Police were convinced that Michelle Moore-Bosko, a young Navy wife, was raped and murdered by eight men in her small Norfolk apartment in 1997 while her husband was away at sea. And five of them confessed.  But Bosko's apartment showed no signs of mass attack, and the DNA left behind matched only one man: Omar A. Ballard, a convicted sex offender, who gave details of the killing and said he acted alone.  The four others who confessed -- Danial J. Williams, Joseph J. Dick Jr., Derek E. Tice and Eric C. Wilson -- all Navy sailors, later recanted but were convicted anyway, and three of them are serving life sentences. 

UPDATE:  Derek Tice wins state habeas
Because of one mistake by his lawyers, one of the men convicted in the 1997 rape and murder of a young Navy wife could be set free, a judge has found.  The state, of course, says it will appeal and wants Tice kept in prison while it does so.  Click HERE to read the judge's decision.


DEATH PENALTY ISSUES

Wilbert Coffin was hanged on February 10, 1956 in Quebec, Canada, for the murders of three American hunters.  Now the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted has taken up the battle for Wilbert Coffin's exoneration, a battle that gained momentum this year. In September, the federal justice department's Criminal Conviction Review Group began poring over trial records to determine if there are grounds for setting aside Coffin's conviction or referring the case to an appeal court for review. The review is expected to last about another year. 

It's believed to be the first time the government has considered reopening a murder case posthumously.



HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

Western Australia  In Western Australia, Andrew Mallard spent 12 years in prison for the murder of a woman he had never met.  His exoneration was historic, but Director of Public Prosecutions Robert Cock QC tagged him "the prime suspect'' despite dropping the wilful murder charge.  Thanks to Cock's "last tag," Mallard is locked out of shops, and mothers steer their children away from him.  No Different Down Under.

Illinois  The lawyer for Bill Conradt, a Chicago, IL man whose illegal arrest led to more than eight years behind bars pleaded with the Supreme Court to allow his client to sue the police who arrested him.   To do otherwise, lawyer Kenneth Flaxman said, the justice system would be saying, "It's just tough. You're seized for 8 1/2 years, and you can't go to state court, and you can't go to federal court."  But it all depends on whether the clock starts running on the statute of limitations when the illegal arrest happens, or after you have been exonerated.  Don't Count on Lawsuit.




WRONGLY CONVICTED COPS


BEMBENEK APPEALS MURDER CONVICTION

The attorney for Laurie Bembenek has asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to overturn her 1982 conviction, arguing "there remains no more evidence linking her to the murder." 
The appeal contends new DNA and ballistics tests show Bembenek is innocent in the 1981 slaying of her then- husband's ex-wife, Christine Schultz of Milwaukee.


False Allegations of Child Abuse
It took egregious misconduct by both police and prosecutors to hold together a case against teacher James Perry long enough for a jury to convict him of molesting 2 kindergarteners in suburban Detroit's Oakland County.  Well, it was either deliberate misconduct or these folks really believe that "Harry Potter" and "The Lion King" are "nonerotic pornography."  If you need your hair curled, read the following news reports:

Lawyer seeks new trial or dismissal of charges
Conviction in sex case doesn't pass the smell test
Judge reviews assault case


Three days before he was to go on trial for the shaking death of his infant son, Andy Houser of Manchester, Tennessee was summoned to his lawyer's office.  Andy Houser had been a murder defendant for nearly two years. The allegation had already cost him heavily: his marriage dissolved, a hoped-for career in law enforcement evaporated, numerous friends abandoned him and strangers accusingly stared at him. And his son was dead, a victim of shaken baby syndrome, police said.  Houser knew life could get worse. In three days, prosecutors planned to spell out their explanation of how Ethan died at the hands of the father. A forensic pathologist would testify that Ethan's small brain was bruised on both sides and that clotted blood was present, a sign of fresh injury. In addition, tiny blood vessels on the surface of the baby's right eye had ruptured. Both are telltale signs of a shaken baby.  Defense attorney Robert Carter handed his puzzled client a piece of paper, a fax from the state medical examiner's office.  Near the top, in capital letters, were three powerful words, whose force still reverberate strongly in Coffee County: "Amended Autopsy Report."  Suspicion adds horror to father's grief for his baby



HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

Hamid Hayat

Former FBI Agent James Wedick, a superstar at the agency, is the latest casualty in the war on terror. After viewing the interrogation tapes of Umer and Hamid Hayat, Wedick, the G-man though and through, was stunned. He immediately called the defense attorney and told him -- "it's the sorriest interrogation, the sorriest confession, I've ever seen." As hard as it was for him to criticize his former colleagues and his beloved former employer, he felt compelled to testify for the defense, the first such time he had ever opposed the agency. But, as Mark Araz writes in his excellent story reposted here from the LA Times, the judge refused to allow him to testify. Arax's story is not only a story of two wrongful convictions -- it is a powerful story of how the FBI has changed since 9/11. Desperate to sniff out Al Qaeda cells, millions of dollars in taxpayer money is being spent on investigations being led by rookie agents who lack the expertise to lead them. Caution is being thrown to the wind, procedures are being tossed out the window, civil liberties are being trampled, all in the name of catching terrorists.

UPDATE: 
Before any jury trial begins in the United States, prospective jurors are instructed that a defendant is presumed innocent. It’s up to prosecutors to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and the potential jurors are asked if they can abide by that rule. Hamid Hayat’s terrorism trial last year was no exception, and the 12 jurors who heard the Lodi man’s case raised no objections to jury rules. But the foreman who led them to a guilty verdict later said publicly that it was better to risk convicting an innocent man than to acquit a guilty man.  It's Okay to Make the Innocent Pay




In April 2002, a Rapides Parish, Louisian grand jury indicted Amanda Hypes on charges of arson and murder in relation to a house fire that took the lives of her three children.  The charges were based on a California fire expert's findings—an analysis conducted more than a year after the blaze was extinguished and the house was razed. Prosecutors said they would demand the death penalty.  Hypes remained in jail for more than four years awaiting trial until June, 2006, when a judge dismissed the indictment and ordered her released. He ruled that the initial arson finding by Louisiana authorities was based "merely on an old wives' tale" and that "every shred of evidence to prove or disprove a possible crime was destroyed and placed in a pile."


RECOMMENDED READING
The Innocent Man
by John Grisham

John Grisham tackles nonfiction for the first time with The Innocent Man, a true tale about murder and injustice in a small town. The Innocent Man chronicles the story of Ron Williamson, how he was arrested and charged with a crime he did not commit, how his case was (mis)handled and how an innocent man was sent to death row. Grisham's first work of nonfiction is shocking, disturbing, and enthralling--a must read for fiction and nonfiction fans.

Click HERE to read review by Steve Weinberg, author of Harmful Error.
The Innocent Man

Anything You Say Anything You Say
The True Story Of One Man's Ordeal With A Derailed Murder Investigation
by Christopher DiStefano

Studies suggest that approximately 10% of all people convicted of committing a crime are factually innocent.  And 90% of those wrongfully convicted people pled guilty or no contest.  Why did they plead to something they didn't do?  This book can help you understand.  It is the true story of a man imprisoned for 6-1/2 years for a brutal murder he did not commit on the basis of a false confession. The confession was ultimately thrown out as involuntary. The case ended with a nolo contendere plea to Involuntary Manslaughter and release on time served.

Click HERE to read the review by Steve Drizin, expert on false confessions and Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law.


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 1,300 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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