Wednesday, April 30, 2008

All-Day Hearing Set for Man fighting Rape Conviction

April 30, 2008

Lou Grieco- Dayton Daily News Dayton, OH

A Montgomery County Common Pleas judge has scheduled an all-day hearing July 11 to deal with convicted rapist Roger Dean Gillispie's petition for post-conviction relief.

Gillispie, who is represented by former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro and attorneys with the Ohio Innocence Project, maintains his innocence and is trying to get a new trial.

Gillispie, now 42, was convicted of rape and kidnapping charges in February 1991 but won a new trial when crime scene hairs that had not been tested surfaced at the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab. He was convicted a second time that year and is serving a 16- to 50-year sentence.

The Ohio Innocence Project invited Petro to join the case after Gillispie was denied parole last year.

No physical evidence tied Gillispie to the crimes. The case hinged on testimony from the victims, who picked Gillispie out of a photo lineup nearly two years after the crimes. The case was investigated by the Miami Twp. Police Department.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Man set to be 17th exonerated by DNA in Dallas County

April 29, 2008

By Jennifer Emily-The Dallas Morning News Dallas, TX

Illegally withheld evidence probably caused a man who will be exonerated today to spend more time behind bars than anyone in the country cleared by DNA, the Dallas County district attorney's office and the Innocence Project of Texas said Monday.

James Lee Woodard is expected to be released today by state District Judge Mark Stoltz and become the 17th man exonerated by DNA in Dallas County, which has more DNA exonerations than any other county in the nation.

Mr. Woodard, 55, was sentenced to life in prison in 1981 for the strangulation and rape of his 21-year-old girlfriend, Beverly Ann Jones.

But information that Ms. Jones was with three men – including two later convicted of unrelated sexual assaults – around the time of her death was not disclosed to the defense nor was it thoroughly investigated, said prosecutor Mike Ware, who oversees the Dallas County district attorney's office conviction integrity unit.

Evidence that could benefit a defendant is required by law to be turned over to a defendant, though there is no criminal punishment for not doing so.

Mr. Ware said Mr. Woodard received a "fundamentally unfair" trial. He said he believes the evidence is something that prosecutors at the time should have investigated, "or at least turn it over so the defense could investigate."

Before the district attorney's office agreed that the DNA that exonerated Mr. Woodard of the rape also exonerated him of the murder – in itself an unusual step – a forensic pathologist examined the file and concluded that Ms. Jones was killed about the same time she was raped.

Her body was found New Year's Eve 1980 near the Trinity River in a wooded area near South Loop 12. The night Ms. Jones was killed, she was with Theodore Blaylock, who was convicted of an aggravated rape committed three weeks after Ms. Jones' death, according to Mr. Ware and testimony from a 1981 post-conviction hearing.

Mr. Blaylock testified at the hearing that he was drinking with Ms. Jones, Edward Mosley and Eddie Woodard, who is not related to James Lee Woodard, one morning in late December 1980.

Mr. Blaylock said he and Mr. Mosley went with Ms. Jones to a South Dallas convenience store where Ms. Jones left and got in another car with three other men. Mr. Blaylock could not provide descriptions.

In 1982, Mr. Blaylock was shot and killed when he tried to rape another woman in her car. She pulled a gun from under the seat and shot him several times, Mr. Ware said.

Eddie Woodard is now a registered sex offender involved in a brutal sexual assault, who the district attorney's office said has absconded from probation. Mr. Mosley's whereabouts were unclear late Monday.

Prosecutors want to compare DNA from the men to the genetic evidence from the rape to find the true culprit.

James Lee Woodard was seeking a new trial at the 1981 hearing, alleging that prosecutors did not fully disclose information about Ms. Jones' whereabouts the night she was killed. The judge, John Ovard, who was also the trial judge, denied the new trial and formally sentenced him.

The judge and the district attorney's office could have righted Mr. Woodard's wrongful conviction in 1981, just months later, said Natalie Roetzel, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

"It's one of the most disturbing things about this case," she said. "Essentially, that was ignored because the investigators had the suspect they wanted."

Also, a prosecution witness changed his testimony since the Innocence Project of Texas, a nonprofit independent legal clinic, began investigating Mr. Woodard's conviction. Ms. Jones' stepfather testified that on the night she was killed, Mr. Woodard came to the apartment in the middle of the night looking for her.

Oscar Edwards now says he believes Mr. Woodard was not the person who came to his door and did not kill his daughter, Mr. Ware said.

Mr. Woodard, who has a record for nonviolent crimes, is the second man cleared by DNA during a review of 350 defendants' requests for DNA tests that were denied under previous District Attorney Bill Hill.

Like many in Dallas County exonerated by DNA, Mr. Woodard was convicted during the era of District Attorney Henry Wade. Current District Attorney Craig Watkins has repeatedly said he believes that during this time, prosecutors were more focused on convictions than justice.

In several handwritten letters, Mr. Woodard begged Mr. Wade to reinvestigate his case and always maintained his innocence. He said that his letters were always answered by a prosecutor saying nothing could be done because a jury convicted him.

In a March 1985 letter, Mr. Woodard wrote to Mr. Wade: "If you found out for yourself that I was innocent, would you let me go?"

Monday, April 28, 2008

Man Serving Life Sentence Wants DNA Test

Chronicle-Telegram- Elyria, OH

An Elyria man serving a life sentence for the May 1999 murder of Angela Galloway is asking a county judge to allow him to have his DNA tested in the hopes it will clear him.

But county Prosecutor Dennis Will, who worked the case while still an Elyria police officer, said there’s no real evidence that could be tested that would clear 47-year-old Ray Smith Jr., who is no relation to the Ray Smith whose sentence was just reduced to life in prison.

Smith’s attorneys, who work for the Ohio Innocence Project, which seeks to use DNA evidence to clear innocent people serving prison time, contend that the testing could lead to Smith’s release from prison.

Will said Smith and Galloway worked together at Friendly’s Restaurant on Broad Street and the pair was working together the night of the murder.

Police determined that Smith killed Galloway and then stuffed her body in the trunk of her car and parked it in an EMH Regional Medical Center parking lot to cover up the fact that he had robbed the restaurant.

Police recovered money stolen from the restaurant at Smith’s apartment, Will said.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Grisham Focuses on Falsely Condemned

April 25, 2008

Lisa Crutchfield Lynchburg News and Advance-Lynchburg, VA

An obituary in The New York Times changed the way attorney-turned-best-selling author John Grisham looked at the law.

On Dec. 9, 2004, he was skimming the Times and came across the headline, “Ronald Williamson, Freed from Death Row, Dies at 51.” After reading the story, he knew it would be his next book and his first foray into nonfiction. It also was the beginning of his work with innocence projects attempting to correct flaws in America’s legal system.

“There are thousands of innocent people in prison in this country,” Grisham said yesterday at University of Richmond’s T.C. Williams School of Law.

“I had never really thought about wrongful conviction. I didn’t really think about it until ‘The Innocent Man’ was researched and written,” said the author of “The Firm” and other legal thrillers.

Grisham spoke to dozens of students and faculty associated with UR’s newly established Institute for Actual Innocence. The program, which involves students, faculty and practicing lawyers, works to identify and exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals in Virginia. It is part of a national group of similar innocence projects.

Mary Kelly Tate, the institute’s director, said overturning convictions in Virginia can be difficult. “We have some of the most challenging procedural hurdles and underfunding,” she said. At her request, Grisham came to UR from his home in Charlottesville to speak to participants in the project.

“The Innocent Man,” published in 2006, examines Ron Williamson’s wrongful conviction stemming from a brutal murder in Oklahoma in 1982.

“Based on hair analysis, snitches and a couple of bogus confessions, Ron was given the death penalty,” Grisham said. Williamson stayed on death row for years until a team of appellate lawyers sought a writ of habeas corpus and he was granted a stay five days before he was to be executed.

DNA tests ultimately cleared Williamson and a co-defendant.

“Life after exoneration is not pleasant,” Grisham said. “He was set free without an apology. No one has the courage to say they were wrong. The state wants you to go away and not make any noise.”

Grisham cited a number or reasons for wrongful convictions, including sloppy police work, courthouse snitches, junk science, false confessions and bad lawyering. Of the 130 death-row cases that have been overturned in the U.S., he said, two-thirds of them involved willful, malicious misconduct by authorities.

“The challenge now is to convince a lot of comfortable white people that there are a lot of innocent people in prison.

“This system, if we think it’s so great — how can this system send 130 men to death row and later have them exonerated?”

Grisham urged law students to consider some reforms to current judicial procedure, including increasing video interrogations, clamping down on informants, and changing perceptions that police and prosecutors are infallible.

“We should be able to design a system that guarantees everyone basic constitutional rights,” he said.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Baltovich Acquitted of Murder

April 22, 2008

Peter Small Toronto Star Ontario, Canada

Eighteen years after the disappearance of university student Elizabeth Bain, her boyfriend Robert Baltovich was acquitted this morning after Crown prosecutors declined to offer evidence at his second trial on a charge of second-degree murder.

Before the jury was brought in to hear the opening arguments this morning, Crown attorney Philip Kotanen said the prosecution could not proceed due to a lack of evidence.

"There is no longer any reasonable prospect of conviction," he told Superior Court.

Justice David McCombs then directed the jury to acquit, saying the only verdict that could "be supported in this case" is not guilty. Minutes later, the jury complied.

Today’s hearing marked the end of Baltovich’s second trial in the disappearance and presumed death of his girlfriend, whose body was never found.

Baltovich, now 42, spent eight years in jail before Ontario’s highest court quashed the conviction in his first trial and ordered a second one.

“It’s an 18-year nightmare for me. It’s a never-ending nightmare for the Bains,” Baltovich said outside court this morning. “I just hope that one day they can come to accept the fact that I didn’t kill their daughter.

“I loved her. I miss her. I know they do and maybe one of these days we can get together and grieve together.”

Bain, a 22-year-old student at the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus, was last seen on the afternoon of June 19, 1990, after telling her mother she was going to the campus tennis courts.

Baltovich, who always maintained his innocence, was charged with her murder in November 1990.

Three days later, her bloodstained car was found two blocks from the campus.

At the Bain family home in Scarborough this morning, Elizabeth Bain’s parents, Ricardo and Julita, asked to be left alone as they grieved.

“Please leave us alone for today,” Ricardo Bain told reporters from the front yard before retreating inside the house. “This is not a good moment.”

Julita Bain said that despite the court’s decision, the family still believes Baltovich is guilty.

“We believe that he did it. That doesn’t change.”

“We’re not vengeful people - all we wanted to have is justice for Elizabeth,” Julita said. “I’m sure she’ll get that sometime, if not here, then up there,” she added, gesturing to the heavens.

Asked what would come next for the family, Julita Bain replied: “Life’s got to go on, I guess - just like the past 18 years.”

During the appeal that overturned his conviction, Baltovich’s lawyers argued that convicted sex killer Paul Bernardo – who admitted to a series of sexual assaults in Scarborough around the time when Bain vanished - may have been her killer.

Today, Baltovich’s lawyer said he believes today’s decision puts a rest to the case against his client once and for all.

“I am absolutely certain they have no intention to appeal,” said James Lockyer. “They would look utterly ridiculous if they did so and they know it.

“If you look at any of the wrongful convictions that have happened in Canada, it always starts with something small and it gets bigger and bigger,” added Lockyer, who is known for his work with the Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted. “Ultimately, all of these cases seem to die the same way.”

Another supporter said Baltovich had waited too long for exoneration.

“When the original trial was held, we were told that it would be about two years for his appeal to be heard,” said Brian King, a private investigator hired by the defense team.

“I believe that was in 1992. It's now 2008 and he finally got his day in court today."

At Queen’s Park, Attorney General Chris Bentley said prosecutors did the right thing in the Baltovich case.

“The crown took the appropriate course, which was to quickly reassess the strength of the case, the prospects for it ... and reached the determination that resulted today in a finding of not guilty,” Bentley told reporters.

“Mr. Baltovich needed and deserved the verdict of not guilty in light of the assessment, in light of the facts, the law and the evidence,” Bentley added.

“I hope that he will now be able to get on with the rest of his life with this matter behind him.”

Bentley said any compensation for Baltovich would have to be a matter of future discussion.

“I will leave that issue to Mr. Baltovich, his counsel and others for another day.”

Bentley sent his sympathies to Bain’s relatives, who have no closure in the case.

“This is a tragedy for the Bain family ... it does not end today for them.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Death Row Inmates deserve DNA Testing

Tuscaloosa News- Tuscaloosa, AL

Putting science and conscience on the shelf, Alabama is getting back into the execution business with a vengeance.

Vengeance can be the only explanation for the state's eagerness to resume executions as soon as possible after last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that lethal injections do not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. We have had almost two centuries of legal executions in Alabama. In all of that time, no one has shown that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime.

That leaves only retribution - an eye for an eye - as a reason for state-sanctioned execution. That, and the politicians' perception that most voters support capital punishment.

Polls tend to bear out that perception. Yet many who support the death penalty in principle would have second thoughts about applying it to a person whose guilt has not been proven conclusively.

That's the case with Tommy Arthur, now 65, who was convicted of the 1982 murder-for-hire killing of Troy Wyker Jr. of Muscle Shoals.

Arthur was scheduled to die last September. Just hours before the execution, however, Gov. Bob Riley issued a stay so the state could add a step to its lethal injection procedure.

In early December, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Arthur's execution again, just a day before it was scheduled, to allow it to hear arguments in a Kentucky case challenging lethal injection.

Arthur's attorneys also appealed to the high court, arguing that lethal injection is cruel and unusual.

In the interim, Riley said he was considering whether to order DNA testing for Arthur.

Arthur has consistently maintained that DNA tests would exonerate him. The technology was not available when he was convicted. But Alabama is one of only eight states that do not have mandatory DNA testing in capital cases.

The Innocence Project, which champions the use of DNA tests nationwide, said it has no position on Arthur's guilt or innocence but said the tests could at least shed light on a dodgy case. Witnesses, claiming they were bribed or pressured, have changed their stories about Arthur's involvement and direct evidence was scant.

Riley, however, decided ultimately that he has no authority to order DNA testing. And when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Arthur's appeal on Monday, Attorney Gen. Troy King wasted little time in asking the state Supreme Court to set an execution date. All indications are that the state will go ahead and kill him.

We had hoped, naively perhaps, that Alabama's leaders would use the national hiatus on the death penalty as a time to launch a re-examination of the state's flawed capital punishment procedure. That won't happen.

For now, at least, vengeance and political expedience have trumped science and conscience.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

23 Years After Improper Photo Lineup Led to Wrongful Conviction, DNA Proves Thomas McGowan's Innocence in Dallas County Rape

April 22, 2008

Eric Ferrero for Axis of Logic

Thomas McGowan, who has spent 23 years in prison for a Dallas County rape and burglary that DNA testing now proves he did not commit, is expected to be released from prison tomorrow, according to the Innocence Project, which represents him.

In two separate trials in 1985 and 1986, McGowan was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and burglary and sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison. DNA testing on a rape kit collected from the victim proves that he was not the man who broke into her home in May 1985, stole several items and raped her.

A hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday (April 16) before Judge Susan Hawk in 291st District Court, on the 7th floor of the Frank Crowley Courts Building (133 N. Industrial Blvd. in Texas). McGowan and his relatives – with Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Staff Attorney Jason Kreag – will speak to reporters outside the courthouse after the hearing.

McGowan will be the 25th person in Texas – and the 13th person in Dallas County – proven innocent through DNA testing after eyewitness misidentification led to a wrongful conviction. Overall, 31 people have been exonerated through DNA testing in Texas, 14 of them in Dallas County.

“Thomas McGowan was in his mid-20s when he was arrested, and he’ll turn 50 later this year. He has lost nearly his entire adult life to a wrongful conviction that could have – and should have – been prevented,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “This is the 25th case in Texas where DNA proved that eyewitness identification was incorrect. How many more people need to lose years or decades of their lives before the state implements simple reforms that are proven to make eyewitness identification more accurate?”

The victim in McGowan’s case initially viewed a live lineup with three men who police thought might be suspects in the crime and three “fillers.” She did not identify any of the men as her attacker. Later, she was shown a photo array with seven photos – but there were effectively only three photos in the array, since two of them were photocopies of photographs, one was a black-and-white photo (all the others were in color), and one was marked “Garland Police Department” (while the remaining three were marked “Richardson Police Department,” which is where the crime took place). The victim said she “thought” the man in one of the three photos was her assailant, and the police officer administering the lineup told her “You have to be sure, yes or no.” When she testified in court, the victim recounted the officer’s instructions: “He said if I was going to say it was somebody, if I was going to say it was that picture, I had to be sure. He said I couldn’t think it was him. He said I had to make a positive ID. I had to say yes or no.” After hearing the officer’s instructions, the victim said the man in the photo – Thomas McGowan – was “definitely” the man who attacked her. The victim’s identification of McGowan was the central evidence against him.

Decades of scientific research show that instructions or feedback from an officer administering a live or photo lineup can significantly impact whether a witness identifies the wrong person.

“Just a few simple words can change everything. In this case, a few words from the police officer administering the lineup cost Thomas McGowan 23 years of his life,” Scheck said. “The officer forced the victim into certainty when she wasn’t sure whether Mr. McGowan was the perpetrator. While we sometimes hear of outrageous lineup procedures, improperly pushing a witness into certainty is much more common.”

By pushing the witness into certainty, the officer administering the lineup also apparently confirmed that she was selecting the man police suspected was the perpetrator. “If she had chosen one of the filler photos and said she ‘thought’ he was the perpetrator, the officer almost certainly would have told her that she should move on if she isn’t sure. Instead, the officer’s statements induced her to identify Mr. McGowan,” Scheck said.

The officer administering the lineup should have asked the victim to describe in her own words how sure she was that the man in the photo was the perpetrator, and all of the photos in the array should have been similar (so that the victim didn’t rule out several of them immediately). These are among the practices that have been shown to reduce the chance of incorrect identifications, based on social science research and best practices developed by police departments nationwide. Witnesses should be told that they will be asked to describe, in their own words, how confident they are in selecting a suspect, and they should also be told that the perpetrator may not be in the lineup and the investigation will continue if they are unable to identify someone in a lineup. Live or photo lineups should also be administered by an officer who does not know who the suspect is and who the “fillers” are. When live or photo lineups are administered by an officer who doesn’t know which photo is the suspect, the officer is not able to lead the victim into identifying anyone.

Last year, the Texas Legislature considered a bill that would have improved eyewitness identification procedures statewide. The bill, which was approved by the Senate and the House Law Enforcement Committee but did not pass the full House before the session ended, would have required police departments to use procedures that improve the accuracy of eyewitness identification. The bill will be introduced again next year.

“Mr. McGowan has already told us that he wants to do whatever he can to help improve the laws and policies in Texas so that this doesn’t happen to other people,” Innocence Project Staff Attorney Jason Kreag said. “He has a long road ahead to rebuild his life, but he has an extremely supportive family that will help him every step of the way – and he has a strong resolve to make sure his case helps improve the criminal justice system.”

The Innocence Project took McGowan’s case in April 2007. The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office helped secure the evidence for DNA testing and moved quickly to resolve the case. Mike Ware, head of the Conviction Integrity Unit, and Assistant District Attorney Michael Moss handled the case promptly and efficiently, the Innocence Project said.

Before his arrest, McGowan graduated from Ryder High School in Wichita Falls, Texas. His photo was in the police system because of a minor traffic violation. While in prison, he took vocational courses and worked as a custodian. After his release, he plans to live in Dallas County with relatives.

In addition to Scheck and Kreag, Robert Hinton is co-counsel on the case. Cardozo School of Law clinic students Alisa Levien and Kristin McDermott worked on the case at the Innocence Project. DNA testing in the case was conducted by Orchid-Cellmark.

Innocence Project of Texas Executive Director Natalie Roetzel and Senior Counsel Jeff Blackburn will attend Wednesday’s hearing, along with several Dallas County men who have been exonerated through DNA testing in recent years.

Monday, April 21, 2008

DNA Review Morally Right

April 21, 2008

Charlottesville Daily Progress- Charlottesville, VA

Despite no easy “successes” in the past two-plus years, Virginia was right to start — and continue — a massive DNA project retesting old samples for new evidence in violent crimes.

The project began under Gov. Mark Warner, following a handful of exonerations based on review of DNA evidence.

The first was that of a Hanover County man who had spent 15 years in prison for a rape he insisted he did not commit. His case was pursued by the New York-based Innocence Project.

Sure enough, old evidence — given new review with more precise DNA testing procedures — confirmed his innocence.

That review also revealed that one of the state’s forensic analysts, Mary Jane Burton, had meticulously preserved thousands of samples in the cases she had worked on over the years. Common practice at the time was to throw away samples after an inmate’s appeal had run out.

Ms. Burton turned out to be an unintentional heroine. Review of two more cases in which she had preserved evidence proved that two other men were innocent of the crimes for which they had been convicted.

After that, Gov. Warner ordered a routine review of every case handled by the state crime lab during the roughly 15 years that Ms. Burton was on staff. Relatively quickly, two more exonerations were announced.

Since then, more than two years ago, no further findings of innocence have been discovered.

“This isn’t easy,” said state crime lab director Peter M. Marone. “This isn’t a TV show like ‘CSI.’ ”

Cases can’t be wrapped up in the 47 minutes allotted to a plot line on television. The task of review has been tougher than anticipated, due to size and complexity of the project. There are 534,000 files to go through. All victims and felons are required to be notified of the review, and prosecutors and defense attorneys are also involved.

Whether any more exonerations result from the review does not mean the project is not still a success.

For Virginia to continue to make the effort, painstakingly reviewing hundreds of thousands of cases, is simply the right thing to do. It would be unconscionable to give the effort short shrift, considering the stakes.

There may still be errors to uncover; the lives and liberty of wrongly convicted people may yet be at issue.

But even if no further exonerations are revealed, the effort still should be considered a success.

Such results would show that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, and to the best of its abilities, the justice system worked as intended. The lack of exonerations could be interpreted as evidence that other innocent people were not deprived of life and liberty by the less sophisticated DNA review procedures of 20 to 30 years ago.

The review of evidence is a complex process; the preservation of justice is a sacred responsibility. The first is the practical expression of the second. Virginia is right to utilize the best methods now available to ensure that justice is done.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Wis. Supreme Court lets 'shaken baby' ruling stand

By RYAN J. FOLEY – The Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A ruling that freed a woman from prison and cast doubt

on "shaken baby syndrome" prosecutions will stand, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has

decided.The decision is a victory for former daycare provider Audrey Edmunds, who

has long maintained her innocence against charges she shook a baby to death in 1995.

Edmunds spent more than 10 years in prison after a jury convicted her of first-

degree reckless homicide in 1996. But she was freed in February after an appeals

court said new research into "shaken baby syndrome" cast doubt on her guilt.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice appealed to the Supreme Court, saying the ruling

would make it virtually impossible for prosecutors to bring charges in shaken baby


The high court voted 5-1 on Monday not to take up the case and let the ruling stand.

The court did not publicly announce the decision but a spokesman confirmed the vote


Prosecutors in the Dane County District Attorney's office now must decide whether to

retry Edmunds.

Her appellate lawyer, Keith Findley of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, said he hoped

prosecutors would drop the charges.

"It's time to let Audrey Edmunds get on with her life," he said.

The appeals court said new research into shaken baby syndrome presents alternate

theories on how 7-month-old Natalie Beard might have suffered fatal injuries while

at Edmunds' in-home day care. It said a jury should hear competing theories and

again decide whether she is guilty.

Edmunds has testified the baby was dropped off at her home in good health but

quickly became fussy. She tried unsuccessfully to console the child and then left

her in a bedroom in a car seat with a propped bottle.

She said she called 911 after finding the baby limp with liquid coming out of her

nose and mouth. The child was pronounced dead hours later.

Prosecutors argue the baby died as a result of violent shaking by Edmunds or shaking

combined with impact that caused a fatal head injury.

Edmunds' lawyers said it is impossible to know how the baby died but it could have

been the result of a seizure, from choking on formula or an infection.

Hosted by Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Feds to Collect DNA from Every Person They Arrest

By Eileen Sullivan Associated Press

Monterey County Herald Monterey, CA

The government plans to begin collecting DNA samples from anyone arrested by a federal law enforcement agency—a move intended to prevent violent crime but which also is raising concerns about the privacy of innocent people.

Using authority granted by Congress, the government also plans to collect DNA samples from foreigners who are detained, whether they have been charged or not. The DNA would be collected through a cheek swab, Justice Department spokesman Erik Ablin said Wednesday. That would be a departure from current practice, which limits DNA collection to convicted felons.

Expanding the DNA database, known as CODIS, raises civil liberties questions about the potential for misuse of such personal information, such as family ties and genetic conditions.

Ablin said the DNA collection would be subject to the same privacy laws applied to current DNA sampling. That means none of it would be used for identifying genetic traits, diseases or disorders.

Congress gave the Justice Department the authority to expand DNA collection in two different laws passed in 2005 and 2006.

There are dozens of federal law enforcement agencies, ranging from the FBI to the Library of Congress Police. The federal government estimates it makes about 140,000 arrests each year.

Justice officials estimate the new collecting requirements would add DNA from an additional 1.2 million people to the database each year.

Those who support the expanded collection believe that DNA sampling could get violent criminals off the streets and prevent them from committing more crimes.

A Chicago study in 2005 found that 53 murders and rapes could have been prevented if a DNA sample had been collected upon arrest.

"Many innocent lives could have been saved had the government began this kind of DNA sampling in the 1990s when the technology to do so first became available," Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said. Kyl sponsored the 2005 law that gave the Justice Department this authority.

Thirteen states have similar laws: Alaska, Arizona, California, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

The new regulation would mean that the federal government could store DNA samples of people who are not guilty of any crime, said Jesselyn McCurdy, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Now innocent people's DNA will be put into this huge CODIS database, and it will be very difficult for them to get it out if they are not charged or convicted of a crime," McCurdy said.

If a person is arrested but not convicted, he or she can ask the Justice Department to destroy the sample.

The Homeland Security Department—the federal agency charged with policing immigration—supports the new rule.

"DNA is a proven law-enforcement tool," DHS spokesman Russ Knocke said.

The rule would not allow for DNA samples to be collected from immigrants who are legally in the United States or those being processed for admission, unless the person was arrested.

The proposed rule is being published in the Federal Register. That will be followed by a 30-day comment period.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dallas Man May Be Freed by DNA Testing After 23 Years

April 16, 2008

By Jeff Carlton Associated Press Writer Houston Chronicle

Eyewitness misidentification sent Thomas Clifford McGowan to prison for nearly 23 years. On Wednesday, DNA testing is expected to get him out.

McGowan, 49, will be released from prison Wednesday if, as expected, state District Judge Susan Hawk affirms the conclusions reached by the inmate's attorneys and the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. Both groups say a DNA test conducted April 7 shows McGowan could not have been the man who raped a Dallas-area woman in 1985.

McGowan was convicted in separate trials in 1985 and 1986 for burglary and aggravated sexual assault in connection with the same incident. He received life sentences in both cases.

The Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions, took on McGowan's case last year. He applied for DNA testing, the results of which showed that neither he nor the victim's boyfriend were the source of the male DNA collected as part of the rape kit.

"He has lost nearly his entire adult life to a wrongful conviction that could have — and should have — been prevented," Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said.

If McGowan's conviction is overturned as expected, he would become the 17th Dallas County man since 2001 to be freed or ordered to receive a new trial because of DNA testing. That's more than any county in the nation.

Overall, 31 people have been formally exonerated through DNA testing in Texas, also a national high.

Unlike many jurisdictions, the crime lab used by police and prosecutors in Dallas retains biological evidence, meaning DNA testing is a viable option for decades-old crimes. District Attorney Craig Watkins has started a program in which law students, supervised by the Innocence Project of Texas, are reviewing hundreds of cases in which convicts have requested DNA testing to prove their innocence.

Watkins' office received an inquiry from the Innocence Project regarding McGowan in August. Watkins agreed to test the DNA sample, which was located at the crime lab, said Jamille Bradfield, a spokeswoman for the DA's office.

McGowan's saga began in May 1985 when a woman identified in court papers as "Ms. C" came home to her Richardson apartment and stumbled upon a burglar. The man bound her hands with his belt, raped her at knifepoint and then loaded his car with several items stolen from her apartment, according to court documents.

Police eventually presented the woman with a live lineup that included three suspects and three fillers. She did not identify any of the men as her attacker.

She was later shown a photo array of seven men. She picked out McGowan's photo, saying she "thought" he was the attacker. But police told her she had to be certain, that she "couldn't just think it was him," she testified in court. It was then that she said McGowan was "definitely" the attacker, according to court documents.

Scheck said decades of studies have that just a few words from a police officer can significantly influence whether a witness identifies the wrong person.

"Just a few words can change everything," Scheck said. "While we sometimes hear of outrageous lineup procedures, improperly pushing a witness into certainty is much more common."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

DNA Clears Man Imprisoned 12 Years for Rape

April 15, 2008

Amber Hunt- Detroit Free Press Detroit, MI

A man who confessed to kidnapping and raping a Macomb County woman will be released after spending 12 years in prison because DNA evidence collected at the scene has exonerated him, the county prosecutor’s office announced today.

Nathaniel Hatchett spent nearly 12 years in prison – from age 17 – on three charges of first-degree criminal sexual assault, armed robbery and kidnapping in the rape and abduction of a woman. Hatchett was arrested driving the woman’s car three days after the attack.

He confessed to police, officials said, and during the trial, the victim positively identified Hatchett.

But Hatchett, through the Cooley Innocence Project, filed a motion for a new trial based on recent DNA testing.

The tests showed that samples found on the victim didn’t match Hatchett’s DNA.Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith dismissed the charges rather than agree to a retrial.

“We went back in and did a full investigation,” Smith said. “We could have fought for a new trial, but our job is to seek justice. It was served today.”

Smith took office in 2005. The case, filed under former Prosecutor Carl Marlinga, was handled by former Assistant Prosecutor Eric Kaiser, who quit in 2004.

Hatchett was convicted in a bench trial, not a jury trial, meaning only the judge made the decision he was guilty.

Circuit Judge James Biernat today agreed to dismiss the charges. Hatchett was present but did not speak.

The Innocence Project is run through the Thomas M. Cooley Law School and is credited with freeing 150 prisoners since 2001. The project takes on between 6-10 cases a term and focuses on DNA evidence to exonerate wrongfully convicted people.

In July 2003, Kenneth Wyniemko, another Macomb County man, was released from prison after wrongfully serving nine years in prison for a rape that DNA showed he didn’t commit.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Officials Spar over DNA Database

April 14, 2008

Rick Westhead- The Canadian Press

For three months, court employees across Canada have been knocking on doors and going into prisons to get DNA samples from thousands of violent criminals who initially slipped through the fingers of the country’s rapidly growing DNA database.

Already the unique genetic code of roughly one in 250 Canadians is in the data bank. But police say that’s not nearly enough.

Toronto police Chief Bill Blair hopes that, as soon as 2011, police will have the power to demand DNA samples from anyone charged — not just convicted — of serious crimes.

"DNA doesn’t discriminate," said Blair. "It’s a revolutionary crime-fighting tool."

Blair is championing a broadened genetic data bank even as police and privacy advocates throughout the Western world spar over who should be forced to surrender their DNA.

In a move that left civil libertarians aghast, the U.K. recently began collecting samples from suspects when they’re charged — even shoplifters. More than 10 U.S. states have followed suit.

Currently in Canada, only offenders convicted of serious crimes such as murder or sexual assault are forced to provide a blood sample for the DNA data bank in Ottawa.

Blair said taking samples when people are charged with serious crimes would allow police to immediately check for matches to DNA samples from unsolved crimes.

"There are cases where we have charged a guy with a primary (serious) offence and it takes three years to get to a conviction. What’s he doing on the street during that time? If we were taking DNA at the time of a charge and he was matched to a prior crime, he wouldn’t be in a position to go out for several years (and) commit more crimes."

There are now more than 40,000 DNA samples from crime scenes in the Canadian database — many from unsolved cases. But taking samples when people are charged inevitably means the DNA of innocent people will be catalogued.

"Where do you draw the line?" asked criminal defence lawyer James Lockyer, who regularly represents the wrongfully convicted.

"You could, on the basis of the public interest, justify rounding up the entire population and securing a DNA sample."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Evidence Preservation Should Be Priority

April 11, 2008

By Bill Oberly

Anchorage Daily News- Anchorage, AK

On Jan. 3. the prison doors swung open and Charles Chatman walked out. He had spent 26½ years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Luckily for Mr. Chatman, the Dallas County crime lab in Texas retains all biological evidence it receives. In Mr. Chatman's case, evidence from 1981. It was only through persistent lawyering and the testing of this DNA evidence that this terrible miscarriage of justice was revealed.

In 2005, Texas enacted a statute statewide which provides for preservation of evidence for all defendants until the defendant dies, completes the sentence or is released on parole. Texas also has a statute that allows any convicted person to apply for post-conviction DNA testing of evidence through the convicting court. Alaska has neither.

The Alaska Innocence Project is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals incarcerated by the State of Alaska and to work to prevent wrongful convictions in the future. As part of this work, the Alaska Innocence Project proposes legislation that mandates preservation of evidence collected during an investigation and used to convict a person.

In this emerging era of DNA evidence, the power and usefulness of such evidence increases daily. Not only can innocence claims like that of Charles Chatman be settled but cold cases with no suspects can be solved. To make any good of this work, however, the evidence must be preserved.

The federal government recognized the importance of preserving biological evidence in 2004 when Congress passed the Justice for All Act. That law requires federal prosecutors keep evidence used to convict a person until that person has completed his sentence. Congress has also made hundreds of millions of dollars available to states as an incentive to adopt proper evidence preservation practices.

The Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee, with the assistance of the Alaska Innocence Project, has proposed a law that meets the federal evidence preservation criteria. This Senate bill would help in crime fighting and provide certainty in convictions. It would also greatly increase efficiency in law enforcement throughout the state by creating a standardized system of evidence preservation and cataloging.

Determining questions of fact in our criminal justice system is an unavoidably imperfect venture. While the system surely gets it right in the vast majority of cases, in an important minority of cases credible questions of innocence linger. Where that is the case, post-conviction DNA testing of biological evidence can provide true finality by proving guilt or strong evidence of actual innocence. To be able to ensure justice, however, that biological evidence must be preserved and located when necessary.

Innocent people should not be in jail for crimes they did not commit, and guilty people should not be able to go free at the expense of those wrongfully convicted. The Alaska Innocence Project is working to bring Alaska forward to where 27 other states and the federal government have moved. For the sake of even one Alaskan like Charles Chatman, the Alaska Innocence Project urges the Legislature to pass an evidence preservation statute as soon as possible.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Innocence Project Wants State Pathologist's License Revoked

WAPT- Jackson, MS

Attorney's for the Innocence Project have asked that the medical license of a state pathologist be revoked.

Dr. Steven Hayne has come under scrutiny for his role in the murder convictions of two innocent men.

The group filed a formal complaint Tuesday with the Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure.

Peter Neufeld, Innocence Project co-founder, said the complaint outlines numerous alleged violations by Hayne, who uses the state Crime Lab to conduct autopsies in criminal cases on behalf of counties.

Dr. H. Vann Craig, executive director of the Board of Medical Licensure, wouldn't confirm that he had received a formal complaint because of a confidentiality policy.

In the early 1990s, Hayne testified in two separate trials that two children in Noxubee County had human bite marks on their bodies.

It was later determined the marks weren't caused by human teeth.

The men in those cases were cleared of charges earlier this year after another man allegedly confessed to the crimes.

The Innocence Project is a New York-based organization that takes on the cases of inmates who are believed to be wrongfully imprisoned.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Judge Ponders Conviction Appeal in Weigle Case

By Jim Runkle

April 8, 2008

Lock Haven Express-Lock Haven, PA

Judge J. Michael Williamson has some doubt about whether the testimony of an expert witness can be considered a “fact.”

He appeared skeptical at a hearing Monday, as defense attorney Paul Ryan argued expert testimony — when it conflicts with earlier expert testimony — can set the stage for a reversal of conviction and a new trial.

The issue was raised in Clinton County Court in the case of the Commonwealth vs. Matthew Weigle. Williamson said he would consider the arguments and issue a written decision.

Weigle and his former girlfriend, Alexandra McClellan, were arrested May 13, 1997 and charged with murder and conspiracy in the 1996 beating death of McClellan’s 11-month-old son, Devin.

Both were found guilty of third-degree murder and conspiracy by a Susquehanna County jury on April 10, 1999 following a six-week trial, and sentenced to 18 to 38 years in prison.

Weigle is now serving his 11th year in prison.

McClellan won the right to a new trial, which was held late last year and resulted in a guilty verdict on the lesser charge of manslaughter.

She has since been set free.

Before that trial, McClellan’s attorneys argued her former attorneys were ineffective. Weigle’s new attorneys wanted to make that same argument, but were unable to do so because legal documents were not filed in a timely manner.

Ryan filed a petition on behalf of Weigle, claiming evidence that came to light during McClellan’s second trial represented “newly discovered evidence” and could be used to allow a new trial for Weigle.

In this and earlier hearings on the question, District Attorney Mike Salisbury has characterized the situation as “not new evidence but opinion.”

Using expert testimony as after-discovered evidence sufficient enough for a new trial, Salisbury said, would lead to a never-ending series of trials as defense attorneys shopped for opinion after opinion to bolster their clients’ cases.

At the first joint trial for McClellan and Weigle, a forensic pathologist testified the child died within 15 to 20 minutes after he received injury. At McClellan’s second trial, another forensic expert testified the child could have received his injuries many hours prior to his death.

The point is important because the second opinion expands the window of that child’s death to include times Weigle was not present in the house.

Other forensic testimony suggested the injuries could have occurred 24 hours before Devin died.

Ryan said the court could rightly believe the newly presented opinion was not new evidence — but had to look at the difference between 15 minutes and 24 hours as a “fact” for the purpose of considering a new trial.

At the time of the trial, Weigle’s attorneys attempted to present the expert opinion of their own forensic pathologist, Dr. John Shane, but chose not to, according to Weigle’s attorney, John Felix.

An attempt to submit the expert testimony of another forensic specialist, Dr. Michael Baden, was thwarted when then District Attorney Ted McKnight argued he had not been given the doctor’s reports and written opinion prior to trial.

Several experts were presented as witnesses at the subsequent McClellan trial. McClellan was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter — but not guilty of third-degree murder and conspiracy — last November.

Ryan argued McClellan’s acquittal should also clear Weigle of those more serious crimes. Further, he said the testimony of Dr. Baden qualifies as new evidence for the purpose of overturning his conviction.

Judge Williamson appeared to disagree with Ryan over whether the acquittal could play a significant role in Weigle’s legal battle. Williamson said he could see a scenario where the first jury could have acquitted McClellan of everything, “and it would not be inconsistent with what happened to Mr. Weigle.”

Weigle has been incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Greensburg since 1999.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Is This America's Best Prosecutor?

Meet Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins

April 8, 2008

Radley Balko Reason Online Los Angeles, CA

In 2006, Craig Watkins became the first African-American elected district attorney of any county in Texas history. More interestingly, the 40-year-old Watkins was elected in Dallas County, where the DA’s office has long been known for its aggressive prosecution tactics. A former defense attorney, Watkins says the Dallas DA’s office has for too long adopted a damaging “convict at all costs” philosophy, an argument bolstered by a string of wrongful convictions uncovered by the Texas Innocence Project in the months before he was elected. Watkins ran on a reform platform, and pulled out a surprising victory against a more experienced Republican opponent.

After taking office, Watkins dismissed nine top-level prosecutors in the office. Nine others left voluntarily. He established a “Conviction Integrity Unit” to ensure proper prosecutorial procedures, and began working with the Texas Innocence Project to find other cases of possible wrongful conviction. reason Senior Editor Radley Balko recently interviewed Watkins by phone.

reason: What inspired you to not only not put up obstacles to a group like the Texas Innocence Project, but to actually work with them proactively to seek out wrongful convictions in Dallas?

Watkins: We had had several exonerations here in Dallas County before I was elected. So as a result of that, we felt it was something we needed to look into, to see if anyone else we may have prosecuted in this county was wrongfully convicted. We take seriously our charge by the code of criminal procedure to “seek justice.” That’s one our responsibilities, to make sure innocent folks aren’t convicted. And we find they are or have been, we have to do everything we can to rectify the problem.

reason: How should a prosecutor balance his time and resources between prosecuting present-day cases and looking for cases of wrongful conviction?

Watkins: Well, before we got here, there was no one working on innocence cases. So there was no balance, because no one was doing it. We just decided to start a whole new section of the office dedicated solely to innocence. And they’re not only looking for bad convictions, they’re also looking at what policies and procedures we can put in place to keep them from happening in the future. So we aren’t really taking time away from prosecutions. We’ve just added positions that didn’t exist before.

reason: What specific steps did you take after winning office to address this issue?

Watkins: The first thing we did was set up this “Conviction Integrity Unit” in the district attorneys office. We immediately staffed it with two attorneys and two investigators, and told them to look at 400-some-odd cases for which there was DNA available to test. So their responsibility right now is to look through those 400 cases to see if there’s reason to suspect a wrongful conviction. If they find cases, we’ll then collect the DNA and test it. If it shows the person in prison is innocent, we’ll start proceedings for an exoneration.

In addition to that, the unit has the responsibility of training the younger lawyers here in the office on the ethical side of a prosecutor’s job—things like the importance of properly dealing with exculpatory evidence. And we intend to have this section here in this office forever. This is not a pilot program. It’s something I’d like to see spread across the country—where DAs will actively seek out convictions that were obtained unfairly.

reason: What are some common stakes you’re seeing repeated in these innocence cases? Do they tend to be willful mistakes, or more due to negligence?

Watkins: It’s a combination of things. Negligence, prosecutorial misconduct, faulty witness identification. It’s just been a mindset of “conviction at all costs” around here. So we changed that philosophy. We aren’t here to rack up convictions. We’re here to seek justice. Once we can get over that win at all costs mentality, I think we’ll see fewer and fewer of these wrongful convictions.

reason: You talk about the mindset of winning convictions at all costs. The legendary law-and-order Dallas prosecutor Henry Wade, who held the job you now hold for many, many years, embodied that philosophy. He’s known to have actually boasted about convicting innocent people—that convincing a jury to put an innocent man in jail proved his prowess as a prosecutor.

Watkins: Oh yeah, it was a badge of honor at the time—to knowingly convict someone that wasn’t guilty. It’s widely known among defense attorneys and prosecutors from that era. We had to come in clean out all the remnants of that older way of thinking.

reason: It’s hard to imagine anyone opposing what you’re doing—seeking out and freeing the wrongfully convicted. Do you have critics?

Watkins: We’re encountering a lot of criticism right now. I think a lot of it is motivated by political party. The Republicans are losing power in Dallas County, and they’re trying to regain it. So they’re doing whatever they can, even making the political mistake of attacking the work we’re doing on wrongful convictions.

reason: What possible arguments could they make against freeing innocent people?

Watkins: Initially, their argument was that it’s not the role of a prosecutor to look for bad convictions—that that’s the role of a defense attorney. But that didn’t work very well for them. And it’s wrong. Both the criminal code of the state of Texas and the American Bar Association’s code clearly state that the job of a prosecutor is to seek justice. That means if a person is guilty, you try to convict him. If he’s not, you don’t. And if you have reason to believe someone has been wrongly convicted, you have a responsibility to fix that.

Their new argument is, “Is this cost effective?” Is this unit we’ve created a net benefit for Dallas County? I guess my response to that is that if we find even one more person who has been wrongly convicted, then yes, it is cost effective. So I think their arguments are off base. And they’re going to have a hard time convincing the public that what we’re doing isn’t necessary.

reason: Dallas County has the highest exoneration rate in the country. That’s in part because of a fluke. In the 1980s, the county started sending biological evidence to a private lab to be tested. That lab kept all of the evidence pretty well preserved, enabling it to be used in DNA testing today. So Dallas is one of the few places in the country where evidence from that era can still be tested. Do you think the system in Dallas was particularly corrupt or broken to cause all of these wrongful convictions, or would we be seeing the high numbers of exonerations we’re seeing in Dallas all over the country if similar efforts had been made to preserve evidence in other places?

Watkins: I think it’s mostly because evidence was preserved in Dallas. I don’t think there was anything unique about the way Dallas was prosecuting crimes. It’s unfortunate that other places didn’t preserve evidence, too. We’re just in a unique position where I can look at a case, test DNA evidence from that period, and say without a doubt that a person is innocent. They can’t do that in other places. But that doesn’t mean other places don’t have the same problems Dallas had.

reason: Your approach to your job is unique enough that it’s earned you some headlines. What do you think about the way we look at the role of a prosecutor today? Are the incentives too geared toward rolling up convictions?

Watkins: Well we’ve obviously had this political mantra over the last 30 years about “getting tough on crime.” And I think too often, buried in that mantra is the implication that there’s no room for fair justice. We’ve stripped away protections for the accused. And as a result, I think many prosecutors went into a case with blinders on—like everyone was guilty. The more convictions you won, the better your chances to get re-elected or to move on to higher office. We’re now seeing the fallout from that mentality. Hopefully, the problems we’re now encountering will help it to change.

reason: What reforms or checks should DA’s offices put in place to guard against wrongful convictions?

Watkins: Well you know police departments file cases with us. We need to guard against being a rubber stamp for every case the police department sends our way. We need to be more skeptical. We also need to train prosecutors to think about their jobs in a different way. We shouldn’t be judging young prosecutors by how many convictions they win, or by how many people they put in jail. I’d also like to see a change in the way appellate courts look at these cases. Appellate courts are often too reluctant to second-guess a jury. But if there’s evidence there that makes you question whether the jury got it right, I think they need to be more willing to open their minds and take that second look.

reason: But it’s established law in most places that appellate courts give considerable deference to the jury’s verdict. When they do intervene, it’s generally on procedural issues. They tend to pass on actually reviewing the evidence in a case. Seems like a tall order to change that.

Watkins: I think the mere fact that we’ve had so many exonerations ought to move them to take a closer look at the evidence in criminal cases. You’re right that cases are generally appealed on technical issues. But take eyewitness identification. It’s been proven time and time again in studies that eyewitness identification is extremely unreliable. Yet police, prosecutors, and juries still tend to put a lot of faith in them. And these same studies show there are some basic steps you can take make eyewitness identifications more reliable, but that also would result in fewer identifications, and fewer prosecutions. But if there are procedures available to increase the validity of a form of evidence, and police and prosecutors aren’t using it, then they’re deliberately increasing the chances of a wrongful conviction in order to get more convictions. And defendants aren’t getting a fair trial. And I think that’s something the appellate courts ought to look at.

You also have to look at changes in technology. We have new methods and procedures that are better and more reliable than the old way of doing things. But the law tends to be static. If we’re consciously not using the methods proven to be more effective and more reliable, we’re not giving defendants the fairest possible trial. Appellate courts should be looking at that, too.

reason: Given the novel approach you’ve taken to the job, what are your prospects for getting reelected?

Watkins: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think about it all that much. I go into my job looking to make sure we administer justice in a fair way. I hope my record will speak for itself. I hope people will see that we take a balanced approach, here. We convict the guilty, and we free the innocent. I’d hope that that’s what people would ask from a district attorney, and from a fair criminal justice system.

Monday, April 7, 2008

An Innocent Charged with Murder

April 7, 2008

Rob Reale- Baruch College The Ticker

Jeffrey Deskovic, a man wrongly convicted of rape and murder, gave a speech at Baruch last Wednesday, April 2. Deskovic's talk, lasting over an hour, was one of the most disturbing accounts of miscarriages of justice ever told. The organization that helped overturn Deskovic's conviction after 16 years, The Innocence Project, has another 215 convictions that it has helped overturn since its founding in 1992. Alpha Phi Delta, The Black Student Union and The Undergraduate Student Government sponsored the presentation.

In 1989, Jeffrey Deskovic was a 16-year-old high school senior living in Westchester, New York. When a female classmate had been murdered, there was an enormous public outcry since there had not been a murder in Peekskill in the last 25 years. Classmates noted that he was quiet and emotional at the funeral; they told this to the police who quickly decided that Deskovic must be the culprit.

Without an attorney and denied food, he was interrogated for seven and a half hours. Towards the end of that interrogation, the police threatened to assault him. He was told that he could go home after confessing, and that he would not go to jail, but instead receive psychiatric treatment. He gave a false confession, which essentially matched the officers' suggestions of how the murder took place.

However, DNA evidence had actually cleared Deskovic. Not only did the Westchester County District Attorney ignore this evidence, they fabricated a story to explain the evidence presented. The District Attorney fabricated a story where the victim had consensual sex before the rape - this alone did not raise any red flags. The lie became even more elaborate: the district attorney refused to test Deskovic to prove that the victim did indeed have consensual sex with him. At sentencing, the judge said, "Maybe you are innocent," and proceeded to sentence him to 15 years to life.

Deskovic spent 16 years in prison, mostly in the upstate Elmira prison which houses some of the state's most violent inmates. Deskovic states that there were three to four stabbings or cuttings per day. He discussed in detail, the horrible conditions, one of the most notable being when an inmate is assaulted. They were disciplined regardless of their role in the assault. Standard disciplinary action results in being restricted to a cell for 23 hours per day, two showers per week, no phone calls at all and being fed small quantities of food that was two to three days old.

Then, Deskovic told a story about his dying grandmother. His grandmother was his primary caretaker growing up and she became ill. Prison officials gave him the choice of visiting her on her deathbed or going to her funeral. They drove him four hours each way, wrists and ankles handcuffed, so he could spend exactly one hour with her.

In prison, Deskovic pursued an education, first getting his GED, then an associates degree. He started on a bachelor’s degree when former Governor Pataki cut funding for prison rehabilitation programs.

Deskovic detailed a 10-year-long appeals process in the span of an approximately 20 minutes. Then-District Attorney Jeannine Pirro (not the original prosecuting DA) twice argued against Deskovic's appeal. Once petitioning the court to deny a motion filed four days late, only because Deskovic's defence was late. The lateness was no fault of Deskovic or his lawyer; he had been given incorrect information by the court's own clerk.

In 2001, his final appeal, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear his case. After that, he spent years writing what he called "SOS letters" to beg for help. Every law firm he wrote to declined to offer pro bono services, but was happy to quote him exorbitant fees for their assistance; he received no replies from reporters or community groups.

From what he described as a "chance encounter" in 2005, Deskovic met a woman who encouraged him to contact The Innocence Project. He had contacted them in 1993, but DNA technology had gotten much more sophisticated, and so their policies for accepting cases had changed since that time. He applied to have his case heard, and six months later his case was accepted. The new Westchester District Attorney agreed to run the rape kit DNA against the state's database and there was a match for convicted murderer Steven Cunningham. Cunningham confessed to the crime and Deskovic was released from prison on Sept. 20, 2006.

Deskovic was released with nothing more than the clothes on his back. There is no policy or system in place to give the exonerated any financial support after leaving prison.

He continued his education and graduated with a bachelor's degree from Mercy College while on scholarship. He is currently awaiting the results of his LSAT test. He wants to become a lawyer and help other wrongfully convicted people.

According to the Department of Justice, over 2.5 million people convicted of crimes were incarcerated as of Dec. 31, 2006. A New York Times article from March 25, cites Professor Samuel R. Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan, as calculating the false conviction rate for inmates sentenced to death as about two to five percent.

The article goes on to cite his estimation that 185,000 innocent people have served hard time in the past 30 years. Even with factoring in the lowest variable of about two percent, there are roughly 52,0000 innocent people serving time in jails and prisons across America. While it is not statistically accurate to extrapolate the two percent to the entire prison population, it is not an unrealistic estimation.

Baruch College sophomore Vincent Pullara, Jr. organized this event. Pullara has volunteered at The Innocence Project since February 2007 and showed a real passion for the cause in his opening remarks.

Through The Innocence Project, he has met people including Barry Scheck, Janet Reno and John Grisham. He is interested in coordinating more events on this topic, including educating students on their rights when dealing with the criminal justice system.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Freed, He's Adjusting, Helping

By Max Baker

Fort Worth, TX- The Star Telegram

At 47, Charles Chatman feels like a new member of society.

Released from prison in January after serving about 27 years for a crime he didn't commit, Chatman is learning to use a debit card and a cellphone. When he celebrated his release with a judge, Chatman had to be taught how to use a knife to cut his food: Knives aren't allowed in prison.

"I try to base my life on the faith I had to get out. I don't dwell on the past," Chatman said Wednesday at the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, where he spoke to students involved with the Innocence Project. "I try to live my life from this day on."

Chatman is the 15th inmate from Dallas County to be freed through DNA testing. He was convicted of raping a woman in 1981 and was sentenced to life in prison.

The Innocence Project of Texas, which includes students from Texas Wesleyan and other schools, helped secure Chatman's release. The luncheon at which Chatman spoke is an annual event.

Alibi goes unchecked

Wearing a small cross on a chain around his neck, the soft-spoken Chatman told the students and faculty about his almost three decades behind bars without a trace of bitterness or anger in his voice.

Chatman, 20 at the time he was convicted, said police initially picked up him up because he had fallen behind on probation fees resulting from a burglary conviction.

Chatman said he paid the fines, but before he could be released from jail he found himself in front of a judge being charged with the aggravated rape of a neighbor, a white woman he barely knew. Chatman said he was picked out because he was black.

Chatman said his court-appointed attorney showed very little interest in his case. He said the attorney didn't check out his alibi or mention in court that Chatman was missing his front teeth at the time of the assault.

"One day I called him, and he said that he was glad I called because I was going on trial the next day," Chatman said. "He was just going through the motions."

In prison, Chatman continued to profess his innocence. On at least three occasions, the parole board denied his release because he refused to apologize or admit to a crime.

"They wanted to know my version of the crime and I told them I didn't have a version, I didn't do it," Chatman said. "They thought I was being disrespectful."

A risky test

In 2001, Chatman read about the new state law making it easier to seek DNA tests. But there was little genetic matter left from the crime, and previous tests had been inconclusive. So the next test, one Chatman couldn't afford, would destroy what little material remained.

But the Innocence Project, which has been working with Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins to review questionable convictions, agreed to pay for the test as part of its case review.

"I got down to the last of it and it would consume it and I would be stuck," Chatman said. "The results is that I'm standing here today."

Chatman counts himself as lucky because he had a family to help him. He didn't get the standard $200 that inmates get upon release or access to programs to help them reintegrate into society.

Now, he wants to work with the Innocence Project to help others who have been released but have no one to help them.

"I'm dealing with it, but it's slow," Chatman said.

Funding for review team

On Tuesday, Chatman went with Watkins to ask Dallas County commissioners to fund a DNA evidence review team for two more years. The county agreed to pay $823,392 for the salaries of two attorneys, an investigator and a paralegal, said Jamille Bradfield, a spokeswoman for Watkins.

The Justice, Equality, Human Dignity and Tolerance Foundation also said it would provide $453,900 for DNA testing, contingent on the commission's funding, she said.

The Innocence Project is kicking in $36,000. The project is a consortium of innocence projects at Texas Wesleyan, Texas Tech University, the University of St. Thomas, the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of North Texas.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Working for Exoneration

April 3, 2008

By: Megan Stephenson - The Daily Iowan

Wilton Dedge was a young 20-something man living in Florida when he was accused of rape and burglary.

The victim identified Dedge as her attacker from a photo lineup. Dedge was charged, convicted, and sentenced to two life sentences. More than 20 years later, Florida exonerated Dedge based on DNA evidence - he wasn't the perpetrator. Dedge can thank the Innocence Project, which spent eight years fighting for his freedom, for his eventual exoneration.

The UI College of Law's public-service department and the Innocence Project of Iowa hosted the award-winning documentary After Innocence on Wednesday. The film described Dedge's, as well as six others' trials and tribulations, to fix the system that wrongfully convicted them.

This event was "a good way to let the law community know what we're doing," said Jude Pannell, a first-year law student at the UI working with the Innocence Project.

The Innocence Project in Iowa is just the tip of the ideological iceberg. The national movement of public policy works to exonerate wrongly convicted people, often through DNA testing, and to reform the criminal-justice system. Since its inception in 1992, the Innocence Project has gained 215 post-conviction exonerations - 16 on death row.

Iowa was associated with Nebraska until last year, when lawyers around the state wanted to focus on Iowa cases. The Iowa Lakes Community College's paralegal program takes the cases and does initial screening. After a case is accepted, the Drake University and UI law schools support any testing and litigation with volunteer law students and attorneys. Because the Iowa chapter is so new, it has not yet started any cases, Pannell said.

He also said while the project would take more than just DNA-affiliated cases, it certainly makes it easier. The national Innocence Project found 75 percent of convictions overturned were because of DNA testing.

After Innocence addressed a significant problem associated with the exonerations: what the innocent convicts do after they are released. Many were still fighting the system years after their release. Among those people featured in the film is Nick Yarris, who spent 21 years on death row for a rape and murder he did not commit. He now protests the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

Compensation was another considerable issue to face. Many states have adopted or are debating financial compensation for wrongly convicted persons; Iowa has a reform compensation act. If the injured party pleaded not guilty, and her or his conviction is overturned, he or she is eligible up to $50 per day of incarceration, plus lost wages and lawyer fees.

"If someone knows they are innocent, they will look for opportunities to help themselves," Pannell said.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Dallas County Commissioners

Approval of team salaries means DA can continue project for two more years

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

By Kevin Krause -The Dallas Morning News

Dallas County commissioners voted Tuesday to continue funding District Attorney Craig Watkins' DNA evidence review team for two additional years, with the help of a foundation grant.

Dallas County will pay $832,392 over the next two years for the salaries of the two attorneys, an investigator and a paralegal on Mr. Watkins' conviction integrity team that was formed last year.

Commissioners voted 3-1 to continue the funding, with Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield casting the lone dissenting vote. County Judge Jim Foster was absent.

A grant from the Justice, Equality, Human Dignity and Tolerance Foundation will contribute $457,600 toward post-conviction DNA testing.

The foundation had stipulated that the grant money would be available only if the county continued funding the four conviction integrity unit positions.

The Innocence Project of Texas is contributing $36,000.

James Giles, James Waller and Charles Chatman – three of the 15 men exonerated after being wrongly convicted in Dallas County and sentenced to prison – stood while Mr. Watkins addressed the commissioners.

"We're not using this as a political football," Mr. Watkins told commissioners. "We are blazing a trail here in Dallas County."

Mr. Mayfield opposed the DNA unit last year and reiterated his opposition Tuesday, saying defense lawyers can handle the task, working with the Innocence Project.

"This is overkill," he said. "We have a process in place and that process is working fine.

" Mr. Watkins, who has repeatedly clashed with Mr. Mayfield, said he's playing politics with the issue.

"Hopefully, he'll see the light some day," he said.

Alcohol hearings

Also on Tuesday, commissioners voted to make the county judge once again responsible for hearing alcohol permit and license applications.

That role had been delegated to the county clerk since 1989, after former County Judge Lee Jackson sought a change in state law.

But County Clerk John Warren said he didn't want to do it anymore, because the laws don't give citizens any recourse to fight alcohol license applications. He said it appears as if alcohol lobbyists wrote the laws.

"It's a waste of time for anyone to file a protest," Mr. Warren said. "It gives them false hope. There's nothing they can do."

Hearings are held about two or three times a year, he said. Judge Foster will now hear the applications.

Take-home car

Also on Tuesday, commissioners signed a letter to Precinct 5 Constable Jaime Cortes, notifying him that one of his employees, Sgt. Howard Watson, will lose his take-home county vehicle due to an accident while he was off-duty.

The district attorney's civil division will demand reimbursement from Sgt. Watson for repairs in the September 2007 crash, according to the letter. The district attorney's office will also decide whether Sgt. Watson committed any crimes, specifically misusing government property with the intent to obtain a benefit.

Last week, the commissioners voted against sending a letter to Mr. Watkins about two accidents he was involved in while driving a county vehicle.

Dallas County Commissioners

Approval of team salaries means DA can continue project for two more years

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

By Kevin Krause -The Dallas Morning News

Dallas County commissioners voted Tuesday to continue funding District Attorney Craig Watkins' DNA evidence review team for two additional years, with the help of a foundation grant.

Dallas County will pay $832,392 over the next two years for the salaries of the two attorneys, an investigator and a paralegal on Mr. Watkins' conviction integrity team that was formed last year.

Commissioners voted 3-1 to continue the funding, with Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield casting the lone dissenting vote. County Judge Jim Foster was absent.

A grant from the Justice, Equality, Human Dignity and Tolerance Foundation will contribute $457,600 toward post-conviction DNA testing.

The foundation had stipulated that the grant money would be available only if the county continued funding the four conviction integrity unit positions.

The Innocence Project of Texas is contributing $36,000.

James Giles, James Waller and Charles Chatman – three of the 15 men exonerated after being wrongly convicted in Dallas County and sentenced to prison – stood while Mr. Watkins addressed the commissioners.

"We're not using this as a political football," Mr. Watkins told commissioners. "We are blazing a trail here in Dallas County."

Mr. Mayfield opposed the DNA unit last year and reiterated his opposition Tuesday, saying defense lawyers can handle the task, working with the Innocence Project.

"This is overkill," he said. "We have a process in place and that process is working fine.

" Mr. Watkins, who has repeatedly clashed with Mr. Mayfield, said he's playing politics with the issue.

"Hopefully, he'll see the light some day," he said.

Alcohol hearings

Also on Tuesday, commissioners voted to make the county judge once again responsible for hearing alcohol permit and license applications.

That role had been delegated to the county clerk since 1989, after former County Judge Lee Jackson sought a change in state law.

But County Clerk John Warren said he didn't want to do it anymore, because the laws don't give citizens any recourse to fight alcohol license applications. He said it appears as if alcohol lobbyists wrote the laws.

"It's a waste of time for anyone to file a protest," Mr. Warren said. "It gives them false hope. There's nothing they can do."

Hearings are held about two or three times a year, he said. Judge Foster will now hear the applications.

Take-home car

Also on Tuesday, commissioners signed a letter to Precinct 5 Constable Jaime Cortes, notifying him that one of his employees, Sgt. Howard Watson, will lose his take-home county vehicle due to an accident while he was off-duty.

The district attorney's civil division will demand reimbursement from Sgt. Watson for repairs in the September 2007 crash, according to the letter. The district attorney's office will also decide whether Sgt. Watson committed any crimes, specifically misusing government property with the intent to obtain a benefit.

Last week, the commissioners voted against sending a letter to Mr. Watkins about two accidents he was involved in while driving a county vehicle.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

DNA Law is Needed

April 1, 2008

Rock Hill Herald- Rock Hill, SC

If a DNA test can free an innocent person from prison, the state should provide a path for inmates to request a test.

South Carolina now is one of only six states that has no state law allowing inmates to seek exoneration through DNA testing. Recently, state Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, introduced a bill known as the Post-Conviction DNA Procedures Act that would give an inmate the right to apply for DNA testing of evidence in the county in which he or she was convicted.

Approval of the test would not be automatic; the court could dismiss the application. But if the test were approved, victims would be notified and the solicitor would be required to secure all evidence that might subjected to testing.

Some critics worry that crime victims would be burdened with reliving the crime, especially after many of them already have endured that discomfort during a trial. Lawmakers also must wrestle with the difficulty of preserving evidence that might be tested. And there is the question of who will pay the estimated millions of dollars required to run the program.

But the bill's supporters, including many prosecutors, support allowing convicts the right to seek DNA testing. The cost and inconvenience are insignificant, they argue, if the tests keep innocent people from serving time in prison.

With 44 other states already allowing prisoners the right to request DNA tests, we see no reason why South Carolina should hold out against the tests.

DNA testing has proven its value in exonerating the innocent. While the results of the tests are not always definitive, they do have the capability of eliminating people as suspects or pointing a finger at the real culprit.

In a number of recent cases, prisoners have been freed after spending years in jail, only because of DNA testing. Part of the reasons they had to wait that long was because DNA testing wasn't widely used until the 1990s. Now, with procedures that are easily administered and accurate, the tests are becoming more widespread.

As a result, innocent people may spend less time behind bars before being exonerated. Also, the evidence is likely to be fresher.

A national organization known as The Innocence Project lobbies for the use of DNA technology to help wrongly convicted inmates. Barry Scheck, a member of the O.J. Simpson defense team and a co-founder of The Innocence Project, spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee recently in support of Malloy's bill.

"Simply put, nobody wins when an innocent person is convicted," Scheck said. "Not the victims, the police, the prosecutors, the courts or the public."

That sentiment seems unassailable. We hope that DNA testing becomes commonplace in any case where evidence could provide an answer as to the guilt or innocence of a prisoner.

And we hope that as this testing does become more common, South Carolina has a law in place that gives inmates a right to request it.

State should pass law allowing inmates to request DNA testing to prove innocence.