Truth in Justice Newsletter - September, 2004

RECENT CASES

August is usually the slowest month for exonerations.  Exonerations require action by lawyers, judges, political appointees, even governors, and more often than not, some or all of the requisite officials are on vacation.  But August 2004 has proven to be the exception.  In fact, we can't recall a single month in which so many wrongfully convicted were exonerated.

Once condemned to die by lethal injection for the 1997 murder of a Bridge City, LA grocer, Ryan walked out of court a free man.  Prosecutors dropped all charges after DNA cleared Ryan and implicated another man.
Lethal Injection Chamber
This Sharpes, FL case was a classic -- mistaken victim identification and perjured snitch testimony put Wilton in prison for a 1981 rape.  He has been exonerated by DNA, and freed after 22 years.

Robert Louis Armstrong
When a jailhouse snitch seeking a deal on charges against her accused Robert Louis Armstrong of a 1998 triple murder, Armstrong met willingly with Maricopa County investigators.  He knew he had been in Oregon when the murders occurred.  A cop put a clip on Armstrong's shirt that he said was a "sensitivity test" and declared Armstrong was lying.  Armstrong was charged with 3 counts of capital murder.  A determined Public Defender Investigator found Armstrong's bus ticket and the bogus case began to unravel.

Ken Marsh
Ken Marsh spent 21 years in California prisons for a crime that never happened.  He was convicted in 1984 of murdering 2-year-old Kenneth Buell based on testimony of treating physicians -- with no independent corroboration -- who were seeking to protect themselves from malpractice claims.  His conviction was reversed without an evidentiary hearing based on insufficiency of the medical expert evidence.

Robert Carroll Coney
Robert Carroll Coney was in prison when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He was in prison when the Beatles came to America, when men walked on the moon, when the war raged in Vietnam, when Communism fell, and when the Internet and cellphones were invented.  But after spending almost every day of the last 42 years behind bars, Mr. Coney, 76, walked out of the Angelina County jail in Lufkin.  A state district judge had found credence in Mr. Coney's longstanding claims that he had been beaten into pleading guilty, without a lawyer, to a $2,000 Safeway supermarket robbery that landed him a life sentence in 1962.  The judge further found a long-forgotten court order should have expunged those criminal charges as far back as 1973.

Harold Hall
At the age of 18, following a grueling 17-hour interrogation, Harold Hall of Los Angeles, CA confessed to murdering two people.  His conviction was sealed with the fabricated testimony of professional "snitches".  It took 19 years, but Hall has finally been exonerated and released.  The real killer remains unknown and, presumably, at large, thanks to the quick-and-dirty work of LAPD.

Arthur Lee Whitfield
Arthur Lee Whitfield spent part of his first hours of freedom standing up on the bus that carried him home. Whitfield was released from prison after DNA tests exonerated him of raping two women in Ghent, VA in August 1981.  He had served 22 years of a 63-year sentence.  Whitfield had little to say to the investigator who helped convict him, or to the two women who at trial said they were sure he was the man who had raped them.  “It would be nice for them to say they made a mistake,” he said. “It takes a big person to say they made a mistake.”

Clarence Harrison
Clarence Harrison of Decatur, GA, has spent 17 years in prison for rape, kidnapping and robbery.  The victim identified him from both a photo and live lineup.  He has become the 150th person proven innocent by DNA in the past ten years.

OTHER EXONERATIONS/RELEASES OF NOTE

Lawrence Lloyd - Northland, New Zealand
Ever wonder if it's different in other parts of the world with legal systems that share the same origins as that in the US?  It's not.  When Kathy Sheffield was murdered in 1994, Lawrence knew he didn't do it, but he couldn't remember what happened, so he confessed.  He served 7 years in prison.  Now it turns out he's innocent.

Kenneth MacAlister
In 1986, a masked man attempted to rape a young mother in Richmond, VA.  She was the first victim.  Kenneth McAlister looked a lot like the would-be rapist.  He was the second victim.  McAlister served 18 years in prison for a crime in which he had no part.  He was denied parole and pardon even though the detective who arrested him and the prosecutor who charged him went to bat for him, admitted their mistake and said they believe he is innocent.  He was released on mandatory parole.

Neil Miller
During the 10 years he spent in prison for a rape he did not commit, Neil Miller of Boston, MA often thought about the man who should have been behind bars.  DNA exonerated Miller in 2000.  The same DNA has identified the real rapist, Lawrence Taylor.

WRONGFULLY CONVICTED COP -- EXONERATED

Kenneth Conley
On Jan. 25, 1995, Kenneth Conley was a young patrol officer from South Boston, MA dispatched to a shooting and foot chase.  Pursuing one of the shooting suspects on foot, Conley was so focused on his prey that he didn't see other Boston police officers beating an undercover officer.  When he testified to what he saw -- and didn't see -- the U.S. Attorney charged Conley with perjury.  His conviction was overturned twice after it was learned Asst. U.S. Attorney Theodore Merritt withheld from the defense evidence that his star witness actually couldn't remember where Conley was in relation to the location where the undercover officer was beaten.




INNOCENT IMPRISONED

The only evidence that tied Lawrence Napper to the 2001 kidnapping and molestation of a 6-year-old boy was DNA.  Turns out it wasn't his DNA.  Just another mistake by Houston Police Department's crime lab.  Of course, Lawrence is still in prison. 

George Rodriguez
George Rodriguez was sentenced to 60 years in prison for aggravated rape and kidnapping, based primarily on HPD 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.

Angel Toro
Suffolk County (Boston), MA prosecutors have announced they will seek to vacate Angel Toro's conviction for the 1981 murder of a motel desk clerk because a police report that could have cleared him was withheld from the defense, and two key witnesses have admitted they lied under police pressure.  He's not free yet, but if Toro walks out of prison, he can thank his real Angel -- his wife, Debra.

DEATH PENALTY ISSUES

Wilton Dedge of Port St. John, Florida has been freed after 22 years in prison for a rape he did not commit.  His conviction rested on the word of notorious snitch Clarence Zacke, who got a sweetheart deal from prosecutors in exchange for lying under oath.  When DNA excluded Dedge, a Florida Assistant Attorney General told the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that even if she knew Dedge to be innocent, it would not matter.  Zacke provided the only evidence in Gerald Stano's murder case, and subsequently recanted it.  Stano was executed in 1998 anyway, still insisting he was innocent.  But in the words of the Florida Assistant Attorney General, "That is not the issue".


Criminal Science: The Paul House Case
[pdf format - use Acrobat Reader]
Can we rely on forensic science as the arbiter of truth in the courtroom?  In his latest investigation for Seed Magazine, writer Simon Cooper exposes a case of corrupted science at the heart of our justice system -- and the forensic failures that put a man on Tennessee's death row. 



POLICE/PROSECUTOR MISCONDUCT


TexasThe Houston Police Department has discovered evidence from thousands of cases that was improperly tagged and lost in its property room, Chief Harold Hurtt said Thursday, suggesting that problems with handling evidence may go back 25 years.  Time for Probe?

Massachusetts:  Ever wonder about the reliability of unrecorded confessions -- the ones with no audio or video tape -- or the ones where ten minutes of confession is recorded but not the ten hours of interrogation that preceded it?  In Massachusetts, jurors will now be instructed to be skeptical when "'interrogating officers have chosen not to preserve an accurate and complete recording of the interrogation".  New MA Jury Instructions

Pennsylvania: The "sheer heft of the truly damaging and irrelevant conduct" of Asst. U.S. Attorney James D. Clancy led to Darrick Moore's conviction for arson in federal court in Pennsylvania.  Now the 3rd Circuit has ruled that Clancy's closing speech was not only unfairly prejudicial, but that it capped a trial studded from beginning to end with unfairly prejudicial evidence relating to alleged prior bad acts by Moore.  Inflammatory Closing

Wisconsin:  Former Winnebago County District Attorney Joe Paulus will spend nearly five years in federal prison for taking bribes to fix cases and tax evasion.  Paulus Gets 58 Months

RECOMMENDED READING
Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification
by Simon Cole

In Suspect Identities, Simon Cole reveals that the history of criminal identification is far murkier than we have been led to believe. Cole traces the modern system of fingerprint identification to the nineteenth-century bureaucratic state, and its desire to track and control increasingly mobile, diverse populations whose race or ethnicity made them suspect in the eyes of authorities. In an intriguing history that traverses the globe, taking us to India, Argentina, France, England, and the United States, Cole excavates the forgotten history of criminal identification--from photography to exotic anthropometric systems based on measuring body parts, from fingerprinting to DNA typing. He reveals how fingerprinting ultimately won the trust of the public and the law only after a long battle against rival identification systems.

Click HERE for Amazon.com review and excerpts
Suspect Identities

Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People
by John Conroy

Torture is a commonplace evil, and it is infectious.  Governments, their agents, and their citizens have done little to halt the resurgence and spread of this barbaric practice; in fact, they have proved more than ready to institutionalize it and protect the perpetrators from scrutiny. If confronting torture is possible, the task must surely center on raising awareness and generating widespread indignation.  Conroy draws on three case studies of torture -- in Northern Ireland, Israeli-occupied Gaza and Chicago, Illinois -- to make plain that the phenomenon is not limited to "them" rather than "us," but that each of us might, under the wrong circumstances, be drawn as perpetrators into the web of torture and atrocity.

Click HERE for St. Petersburg [Florida] Times coverage of Chicago police torturer Jon Burge.

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 Hawaii. 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 900 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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