Truth in Justice Newsletter
Wrongful Conviction News from October - November, 2007


RECENT CASES

The rapid 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.

In 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 Interview Questioned.

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?

UPDATE:  9/24/07 - The Michigan Court of Appeals has granted Claude McCollum a new trial.

UPDATE:  10/16/07 - Claude McCollum released on bail.  State says he poses no danger to public.  Translation:  He's innocent.

UPDATE:  10/24/07 - Charges against McCollum dismissed

UPDATE:  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.

The 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.

A 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.

Few 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.
 
A 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.

Two 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.



DEATH PENALTY

“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.”


INNOCENT IMPRISONED

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 Newsletter.

For 14 years, Lynn DeJac of Buffalo, NY has steadfastly denied that she killed her 13-year-old daughter, Crystallynn Girard.  All along, she 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 Girard.

UPDATE: 11/9/07 - New trial opposed by DA Clark.

UPDATE:  11/17/07 - Police investigators say DeJac could not have murdered her daughter.

UPDATE:  11/28/07 - DeJac's conviction reversed; DA Clark vows to re-try her.

Note:  In 1994, the prosecution gave Dennis Donohue complete immunity from prosecution for Crystallynn's murder in exchange for his testimony against Lynn DeJac.  If Donohue killed the child -- and DNA evidence 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.

Lee 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.

WRONGLY CONVICTED COPS

This is another case with an important update, so the entire series of articles is presented in chronological order.
James Kulbicki
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.

UPDATE:  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]

UPDATE
A 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.


Taking a Sledgehammer to the ConstitutionIn 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 2004.

Within 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?


POLICE/PROSECUTOR MISCONDUCT

CanadaThe 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 duties.  Ruling Applies Across Canada.

IllinoisNot 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.

A 1999 Classic - and Nothing has Changed



A Shocking Expose of Prosecutorial Misconduct

Wisconsin:  Award-winning 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.

A Prosecutor Accused
Homicide ... or Tragic Accident?
Ignoring Police, Humphrey Leaves Teen in Jail Charging Bankrupt Man was Wrong
Not told she had to appear, woman charged after she's tardy
Some of Humphrey's Questionable Cases
30% Longer to Handle Felonies
Justice Demands Higher Standards
Wisconsin State Journal Editorial

Related
Devastating Consequences
25 Prosecutors Disciplined since 1981


False Allegations of Child Abuse

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.  Charges Dismissed

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 charges.  Bout 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.


In 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.

UPDATE:  10/15/07 - Mullins-Johnson officially found innocent.



JUNK SCIENCE

Hundreds 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" has found.

Link:
Silent Injustice


LIFE AFTER EXONERATION


Working 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 After Exoneration.
Link:
A compelling report by the New York Times on life after exoneration
(You may need to register to view report, but registration is free.)

In 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 all.  It's still a matter of winning at all costs.

See, also, Truth in Justice Files editorial, Refusing to Admit Error.

Rocky Mountain Innocence Center President Jensie Anderson and Executive Director Katie Monroe have been 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


RECOMMENDED READING
Until Proven Innocent
Until Proven Innocent: Political 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.”
—John Grisham

“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


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 (except Alaska). 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.


Politicized, 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 Gatekeeper

SLIDE PRESENTATION

Click HERE for our slide presentation, "The Truth About Wrongful Convictions."

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 1,500 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!


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