Associated Press

Overturned conviction frees Wis. man
By DINESH RAMDE and TODD RICHMOND | Associated Press Writers

January 30, 2009

MILWAUKEE - A man sentenced to life in prison for killing a woman in 1984 had his conviction overturned and was released Friday after spending 23 years behind bars.

Robert Lee Stinson, 44, of Milwaukee, still faces a charge of first-degree homicide, said Byron Lichstein an attorney with the Wisconsin Innocence Project, a group of University of Wisconsin-Madison law students and professors who work to right wrongful convictions.

A judge vacated the sentence after the Project argued that bite-mark analysis and DNA evidence that didn't match evidence from the crime scene, Lichstein said.

Stinson smiled as he walked through the gates Friday of the New Lisbon Correctional Institution in street clothes, pushing a cart with four boxes. He hugged his 39-year-old sister for about a minute, then hugged members of the Innocence Project.

He and his sister departed with the lawyers for Applebee's restaurant in Wisconsin Dells. He told the lawyers he wanted shrimp.
Stinson is released from prison
Robert Lee Stinson (facing camera) hugs a family friend as his sister Charlene Stinson, right, wipes her tears Friday, Jan. 30, 2009, in New Lisbon, Wis. Stinson, 44, walked out of the New Lisbon Correctional Institution in street clothes and hugged his sister and members of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. A judge vacated the sentence after the Project argued that bite-mark analysis and DNA evidence that didn't match evidence from the crime scene, defense attorney Byron Lichstein said. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

The group filed into the restaurant about 2 p.m. Stinson told reporters waiting outside the restaurant, "I'm hungry right now," and walked inside. Within 15 minutes waitresses had brought Stinson strawberry iced tea and two plates of shrimp. With the group watching him eat, he nodded as he chewed and said, "Kind of spicy."

After he finished, the soft-spoken Stinson called the Wisconsin Innocence Project his "guardian angels." He said he couldn't explain what he'd been through. He maintained he's innocent and plans to work on a book about his experiences.

"A long ride for me. I'm finally out and I'm going to enjoy my life," Stinson said.

Stinson isn't out of trouble yet. He was released from prison on a personal recognizance bond and a status hearing is set for July 27, according to online court records.

Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Norman Gahn didn't oppose his release, although he said Friday he has six months to decide whether to retry him. Gahn wouldn't elaborate. District Attorney John Chisholm said in a statement that Stinson's conviction was not wrongful, and that he was convicted based on "state-of-the-art scientific evidence available at the time of his trial."

"The question today is whether there is newly discovered evidence in this case to warrant a new trial, and we agree that such evidence exists," Chisholm said. The statement did not describe the nature of the evidence.

Stinson was convicted in 1985 in the murder of a 63-year-old Milwaukee woman the previous year. Ione F. Cyshosz was last seen by a friend who dropped her at her home after playing bingo. Her near-naked body was found the next morning, her head bloody and beaten and a number of bite marks on her torso.

A police officer arrested Stinson in the area after saying the teeth of the then-21-year-old matched the bite marks.

At the trial, two forensic odontologists testified that Stinson's teeth were a match, even though Stinson was apparently missing a tooth in a place where the bite marks indicated a tooth, Lichstein, said.

He said he didn't know why that didn't cast doubt on the case against Stinson at the beginning, but newer technology indicated there was no match.

"Every piece of evidence in the case points away from him," Lichstein said. "He has a very powerful claim of innocence."

Steven Kohn, Stinson's trial attorney, didn't remember the details of the prosecution. He recalled that the two state experts had previously discussed the case at a conference for forensic odontologists, leaving them ethically unable to serve as defense witnesses. He said he was forced to rely on an expert whose expertise was in dental records, not forensic odontology.

For a decade, attorneys and even some forensic experts have ridiculed bite-mark identification as sham science and glorified guesswork.

Critics say human skin changes and distorts imprints until they are nearly unrecognizable. As a result, courtroom experts end up offering competing opinions.

Since 2000, at least eight people in five states who were convicted largely on bite-mark identification have been exonerated, according to the Innocence Project.

Stinson is the 12th Wisconsin person whose sentence was overturned after the Wisconsin Innocence Project intervened, group lawyer Keith Findley said.

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