Truth in Justice
Wrongful Conviction News from October - November, 2007
unraveling of the case against Claude McCollum began in early
September, 2007, and it has continued to reverberate throughout the
autumn months. We think it appropriate, then, to let our visitors
follow its course -- and the ramifications -- through the
chronologically ordered articles below.
2005, Claude McCollum was convicted of the rape and murder of Lansing
(Michigan) Community College Prof. Carolyn Kronenberg in her
classroom. The conviction was based on what police termed a
"confession" -- speculation whether McCollum could have committed the
crime while sleepwalking -- and despite his exclusion by DNA. Ingham
County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III has reopened the case; he has
been urged to test the same DNA that excluded McCollum against that of
serial killer Matthew Macon. Macon is linked to 5 recent murders
similar to Prof. Kronenberg's, and another that occurred in 2004.
Now that evidence
points to serial rapist/killer Matthew Macon as the man who brutally
raped and murdered Lansing
(Michigan) Community College Prof. Carolyn Kronenberg, experts are
taking a careful look at what police and prosecutors called Claude
McCollum's "confession" to that murder. "It's
shocking to me that this was enough to charge, and ultimately convict
somebody," said Prof. Steve Drizin, one of the false confession experts
who reviewed transcripts of the two-hour interview. Read it for
yourself. Keep in mind that McCollum was excluded by DNA, and the
state still called him a killer. McCollum Police
UPDATE: 9/22/07 - Ingham County DA Stuart Dunnings, III has
joined Claude McCollum's lawyer in asking the Michigan Court of Appeals
to grant Claude a new trial. According to the joint motion,
Lansing Community College Police turned over a videotape which
apparently showed that Claude was somewhere else on campus at the time
of Carolyn Kronenburg's murder. Dunnings said if he knew in 2005
what he knows now, he would still prosecute Claude. Why wasn't the
videotape turned over before trial?
9/24/07 - The Michigan Court of Appeals has granted Claude McCollum a
10/16/07 - Claude McCollum released on bail. State says he poses
no danger to public. Translation: He's innocent.
10/24/07 - Charges against
10/27/07 - Prosecutor writes op-ed piece published in the Lansing State Journal excusing his
own conduct. Link: AG's
investigation will show who owes McCollum apology.
See, also, Truth in Justice Files editorial, Refusing
to Admit Error.
Wisconsin Court of Appeals has overturned a 2001 solicitation for
prostitution conviction that sent a Lutheran minister, Richard
Kittilstad of Eau Claire, to jail after finding that key evidence - a
taped conversation - had been altered by the alleged victims, male
Panamanian students who wanted to stay in the United States. Two
different audio experts were able to see mechanical signs on the tape
-- which purportedly recorded one conversation -- that five different
tape recorders were used, and it had been dubbed, erased and spliced.
slight cold drizzle fell from a colorless sky in St. Paul, MN. But
after a decade behind bars, Sherman Townsend was ready to take any sky
as long as he was free to walk beneath it. "Oh,
man!" exclaimed Townsend, tears in his eyes as he walked out of the
Hennepin County jail a free man . Less than an hour before, a judge had
commuted his 20-year sentence on a burglary conviction to the 10 years
he'd already served. He
has maintained his innocence all along, and in a court hearing last
week, another man - who'd been a key prosecution witness against
Townsend - now said that he, not Townsend, committed the crime.
people listened when Ronald Gene Taylor declared himself innocent of a
rape charge 14 years ago. But the Harris County District Attorney's
Office finally agreed with him on October 3, 2007, acknowledging that
the scandal-plagued Houston Police Department crime lab was responsible
for sending yet another wrong person to prison. The crime lab
said there was no semen on a sheet taken from the rape scene. New
tests yielded the DNA profile of another man, a sex offender currently
in prison, who looks very much like Taylor.
Durham, NC judge on October 8, 2007 dismissed murder and robbery
charges first filed in 1993 against a mentally retarded defendant,
ordering his release from a state hospital after 14 years in custody
without a trial. Floyd Brown, a 43-year-old Anson County man with
an IQ of 50, was charged in the robbery and beating death of
80-year-old Katherine Lynch in 1993. He was found at the time to be
incompetent to stand trial, and has remained in state custody at
Dorothea Dix Hospital ever since as prosecutors refused to drop the
case against him.
weeks after his release from prison in March 1991, Marcus Lyons arrived
at the DuPage County Courthouse carrying a wooden cross. As
police tried to intervene, Lyons stepped onto a small platform attached
to the bottom of the 8- by 6-foot crucifix, lifted a hammer and drove a
nail into his foot. It was a cry for help. Lyons had just served
3 years in prison for a rape he said he didn't commit. "I needed
someone to listen," he said in a recent interview. A few years
ago, someone finally did. A new attorney took his case, and in
September, 2007, after DNA evidence from the 1987 crime proved his
innocence, Lyons' conviction was dismissed by DuPage County State's
Atty. Joseph Birkett -- the same prosecutor who tried the case.
“Max Soffar has been on
Texas’s death row for almost three decades for a crime he did not
commit,” David Dow, Head of the Texas Innocence Network and one of
Soffar’s attorneys, told the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. “We urge
the court to do the right thing and strike down Mr. Soffar’s wrongful
conviction. Too many innocent people have been executed as a result of
mistakes in the system. The risk of executing an innocent man is
unacceptable in a just society.”
As did the
case against Claud McCollum, the conviction of Lynn DeJac for the
murder of her 13-year-old daughter began to unravel in September, 2007,
and has continued to do so throughout the autumn months. We are
therefore offering links to chronologically ordered reports, beginning
with the first one, which was included in the August-September Online
14 years, Lynn DeJac of Buffalo, NY has steadfastly denied that she
killed her 13-year-old daughter, Crystallynn Girard. All along,
has accused her estranged boyfriend, Dennis Donohue, of strangling her
child when Lynn was out for the evening. A jury didn't believe
her. A judge called her accusation against Donohue a "red
herring." Now -- finally
-- Donohue has been charged with one murder and is under investigation
for two others. One of those murders is that of Crystallynn
11/9/07 - New trial opposed by DA
11/17/07 - Police investigators say
DeJac could not have murdered her daughter.
11/28/07 - DeJac's conviction
reversed; DA Clark vows to re-try her.
In 1994, the prosecution gave Dennis Donohue complete
from prosecution for Crystallynn's murder in exchange for his testimony
against Lynn DeJac. If Donohue killed the child -- and DNA
strongly supports that he did -- thanks to the state, he will never be
held accountable for what he did to Crystallynn.
See, also, Truth
in Justice Files editorial, Refusing
to Admit Error.
Wayne Hunt of Smithfield, NC vividly remembers the day 21 years ago
when an FBI scientist walked into a North Carolina courthouse and told
jurors that he was able to match the lead content of bullets found at
the crime scene to that of bullets in a box connected to Hunt's
co-defendant. The testimony provided the sole forensic evidence to
corroborate the prosecution's circumstantial case. In
2005, the bureau ended its bullet-lead-matching technique after experts
concluded that the very type of testimony given in Hunt's case --
matching a crime-scene bullet to those in a suspect's box -- was
scientifically invalid. They threw out the science -- but haven't
lifted a finger to help the wrongly convicted put into prison by it.
Defense attorneys for James A. Kulbicki offered a
string of alibi witnesses, and he flat-out said he didn't do it. He
was, after all, a Baltimore police sergeant, and, he insisted, not a
killer. But a state police ballistics expert
named Joseph Kopera helped convict the officer by saying that bullet
fragments found in his truck and in his mistress' head could have come
from his gun - testimony that is now being questioned. Kopera
recently killed himself after being confronted with evidence that he
lied about his credentials. Kulbicki's attorneys
challenged Kopera's findings and assertions in court papers filed a
year earlier, arguing that the firearms examiner's testimony did not
match his notes. And that was before they discovered that Kopera
claimed to have degrees that he never earned.
This is another case
with an important update, so the entire series of articles is presented
in chronological order.
It's easy to understand why the Baltimore DA wanted to blindside James
Kulbicki and his attorneys. They have to be steaming mad after
Kulbicki's lawyers exposed the systematic forensic fraud committed by
police ballistics expert Joseph Kopera. But their reach exceeded
their grasp when they did DNA tests -- without court approval or notice
to Kulbicki's lawyers -- on bone fragments that were contaminated 14
years ago when they were collected. Will One-Upsmanship
Replace Law and Science? [Includes full texts
of state and defense motions]
joint project by the Washington Post and 60 Minutes reviews the
conviction of James Kulbicki, in which key testimony and the science
behind it has been discredited.
HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS
State lawmakers across the country are adopting broad changes to
criminal justice procedures as a response to the exoneration of more
than 200 convicts through the use of DNA evidence. All
but eight states now give inmates varying degrees of access to DNA
evidence that might not have been available at the time of their
convictions. Many states are also overhauling the way witnesses
identify suspects, crime labs handle evidence and informants are used.
Sledgehammer to the Constitution.
a breathtaking abuse of the United States Constitution, Sheriff Joe
Arpaio, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and special prosecutor
Dennis Wilenchik, used the grand jury to subpoena "all documents
related to articles and other content published by Phoenix New Times
newspaper in print and on the Phoenix New Times website, regarding
Sheriff Joe Arpaio from January 1, 2004 to the present." More
alarming still, Arpaio, Thomas, and Wilenchik subpoenaed detailed
information on anyone who has looked at the New Times Web site since
hours of the Phoenix New Times blowing the whistle on Sheriff Arpaio,
County Attorney Thomas and special prosecutor Wilenchik, the two top
executives of the newspaper were arrested. By the next day,
public outcry was such that the charges were dropped and Wilenchik was
fired. Which leads to our question: Why are Sheriff Arpaio
and County Attorney Thomas still in office?
Supreme Court of Canada, in a 6-3 decision, has broken new legal ground
by ruling suspects can sue police investigators for negligence in cases
of shoddy detective work. In
a judgment that said police officers are not immune from civil
liability, the court set its eyes squarely on combating wrongful
convictions and institutional racism, requiring police to face the same
legal consequences as other professionals who fail in their public
Applies Across Canada.
since club-swinging cops in baby-blue helmets chased demonstrators
through clouds of pepper gas at the 1968 Democratic National Convention
have Chicago police been so awash in trouble. Federal
prosecutors have charged special operations officer Jerome Finnigan
with planning the murder of another member of the unit to keep him from
talking to the government. U.S.
Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald has announced the federal government was
stepping into the torture case, saying it would seek evidence of
"perjury, false statements and obstruction of justice by members of the
Chicago police department." It's
political, it's cultural, it's systemic.
Allegations of Child Abuse
A 1999 Classic - and
Nothing has Changed
Expose of Prosecutorial Misconduct
journalist Dee Hall of Madison, WI's Wisconsin
State Journal has filed a stunning series on the prosecutorial
misconduct of Dane County Asst. DA Paul Humphrey, as well as the
response -- or lack of response -- of Wisconsin's Office of Lawyer
Regulation to Humphrey's conduct in particular and prosecutorial
misconduct in general.
After nearly two years of hell following the
tragic death of their 14-year-old daughter, the criminal cases against
Lynnette and Roman Finnegan of Franceville, IN have been dropped.
Lynnette and Roman Finnegan thought
the worst was over when they buried their little girl. But at a time
when the family tried to pull together, it was torn apart by criminal
with legal system breaks family's hearts.
But how much damage can be caused when a teenager dies because of
medical malpractice, an incompetent forensic pathologist can't tell the
difference between pre-mortem injuries and artifacts of autopsy, and a
"child protection" system marches on in its destruction of the family,
in blind disregard of the findings that the death was caused by medical
malpractice? Roman and Lynette Finnegan know, and they tell us, In Their Own Words.
Toronto, Ontario (Canada), errors were found in 20 of 45 autopsies,
dating back as far as 1991, performed by former provincial pathologist
Dr. Charles Smith. Twelve
of those cases resulted in criminal convictions and one in a finding of
not criminally responsible.
The first to be exonerated was William
Mullins-Johnson, who spent 12 years in prison for the rape and
murder of his niece. A 2005 review of Dr. Charles Smith's autopsy
and diagnosis found the the child had not been raped or strangled, but
choked to death on her own vomit caused by a chronic stomach ailment.
10/15/07 - Mullins-Johnson
officially found innocent.
of defendants sitting in prisons nationwide have been convicted with
the help of an FBI forensic tool that was discarded more than two years
ago. But the FBI lab has yet to take steps to alert the affected
defendants or courts, even as the window for appealing convictions is
closing, a joint investigation by The Washington Post and "60 Minutes"
LIFE AFTER EXONERATION
from a list of DNA-exonerated prisoners provided by the Cardozo
Innocence Project, the New York Times
conducted the most extensive review to date on what happened to them
after they were released. A Long Road Back
A compelling report
by the New York Times on life
(You may need to
register to view report, but registration is free.)
2002, Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath admitted the
state had imprisoned an innocent man, Jimmy Bromgard, who was cleared
by DNA of the rape of an 8-year-old girl in her Billings, MT
home. Now that Jimmy has sued the state and Yellowstone County
for his wrongful conviction, the state AG and the local prosecutor are
desperately trying to find some way to show he might be guilty after
still a matter of winning at all costs.
See, also, Truth
in Justice Files editorial, Refusing
to Admit Error.
Mountain Innocence Center President Jensie Anderson and Executive
Director Katie Monroe have
working Capitol Hill to push legislation that would compensate
exonerated convicts for their time spent behind bars and provide an
avenue for an inmate to be declared innocent without DNA evidence.
A big selling point for lawmakers: a chart showing how much money
states without similar legislation had to pay to exonerated convicts
who then filed lawsuits - amounts ranging from $300,000 to $15 million.
The center argues its proposal to provide $40,000 for each year spent
behind bars with an extra $30,000 a year for death-row inmates could
save the state money. Exoneration
and Assistance Bill
|Until Proven Innocent:
Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case
by Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson
“Brutally honest, unflinching, exhaustively researched, and
compulsively readable, Until Proven Innocent excoriates those who led
the stampede—the prosecutor, the cops, the media—but it also exposes
the cowardice of Duke’s administration and faculty. Until Proven
Innocent smothers any lingering doubts that in this country the
presumption of innocence is dead, dead, dead.”
“In what surely is this year’s most revealing, scalding and disturbing
book on America’s civic culture, the authors demonstrate that the Duke
case was symptomatic of the dangerous decay of important
institutions—legal, academic, and journalistic. . . . With this
meticulous report, the guilty have at last been indicted and convicted.”
—George F. Will
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 Alaska).
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
angered by societal injustice, and fresh out of Cornell University in
1997 with a degree in English, Huy Dao figured that if he was
going to work for peanuts, he didn't want to be getting someone's
coffee. So he took a job as case director for the Cardozo Innocence
Project, delivering freedom. Innocence Project
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
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