Friday, 26 January 2007

The story of one man, the face of 200,000


The story of one man, the face of 200,000

Wrongly convicted in 1973, Maurice Carter spent decades confined to a prison cell before the Wisconsin Innocence Project helped set him free, nearly 29 years later

By Clarissa Driban

In the modest living space of a rundown Gary, Indiana home, they gathered: Doug Tjapkes, Reverend Al Hoksberger and Elizabeth "Mama" Fowler. A Mother’s Day tradition, they piled in the crowded room, bearing gifts, and hoping to bring happiness to an aging woman whose health was failing. Meant to be quality time with Fowler, for Doug, it was a constant reminder of someone’s absence. He forced a smile, masking his thoughts to cover his pain. It was to be a joyous ceremony. It’s for Maurice, he reminded himself. “Maurice sent this pretty flower to you,” Doug said, offering the plant to a delighted Elizabeth Fowler.

“He did? That Maurice, he never forget his mama. He was always a good boy!”

They chatted and ate. The phone rang. Maurice. “Hi Shorty,” he said lovingly, teasing his mother as she put her ear to the receiver. “Is that my baby?”

As the visit neared an end, the three stood together and held hands in prayer. From across the circle, Fowler stared into Doug’s eyes and asked the question he dreaded, bringing forth emotions he had fought to keep hidden.

“When is my baby coming home? He didn’t do nothing wrong!”

The truth was, her baby wasn’t coming home. Despite unwavering claims of innocence, Maurice Carter remained Michigan prison inmate number 145902, convicted for the 1973 shooting and attempted murder of off-duty Benton Harbor police officer Thomas Schadler. Had it not been for the tireless efforts of Keith Findley, co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, and Doug Tjapkes, Carter’s closet friend and ally, Carter may have never been granted medical commutation and released. He may have never walked into the arms of his 90-year-old mother, finally a free man at the age of 60. Freed from bondage, but not fully liberated from his tarnished name, Carter died of liver failure three months to the day after his release. The Michigan courts never proclaimed his innocence. He never returned home to Mama.

To some, Carter is one man, lost, forgotten. One tragic tale told for nearly 29 years from a prison cell, easily disregarded. To Findley, however, this gentle giant is the face of the more than two million Americans who remain behind bars, declaring their innocence and in need of legal services. He is one voice for the estimated 200,000 wrongfully convicted U.S. inmates whose pleas for exoneration fall on deaf ears. For Findley, Tjapkes and a strong community network committed to proving his wrongful conviction, Carter stands for an unjust system, where flimsy evidence kept a man locked away, and the strength of a community to set him free.

In March 1999, Carter’s world collided with Findley’s when the Wisconsin Innocence Project, co-founded in 1998 by Findley and colleague John Pray, agreed to represent his case. The program is a collaboration of the University of Wisconsin Frank Remington Center and the New York based Innocence Project, established in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld. Providing reliable legal services to wrongfully convicted individuals, the Wisconsin Innocence Project also gives law students valuable experience through immersion and exposure to such cases. As one of the first cases the team agreed to take on, Carter’s case proved to be a great challenge, due, in part, to the lack of DNA evidence often used to reverse wrongful convictions. Consequently, Findley and his helpers relied on unconventional methods of investigation. They hit the streets to collect new evidence and called upon the Benton Harbor community to bolster their case, igniting a political movement on behalf of Carter.

“We put together what everyone thought was a really powerful motion for a new trial,” says Findley. “This is a case where the only evidence was horrible eyewitness identification and sadly, we were rebuffed in the Michigan courts.” A determined Findley, backed by Tjapkes and the Citizens Committee for the Release of Maurice Carter, continued to push forward, convinced of his client’s innocence and disturbed by what he deemed one of the worst cases of injustice he had ever seen.

--- --- ---

On a January day in 2000, Findley, accompanied by two attorneys, five law students and Tjapkes, stand before a couple dozen Benton Harbor community members in the dim basement of a black Baptist Church. The meeting, called by the Innocence Project to discuss the lack of sufficient evidence used to convict Carter, was met with little response at first. Finally, a black pastor stood to speak, interrupting Findley. “Who says this man is innocent?” he asked.

At first, silence. Then, a stately black woman’s voice: “I say he’s innocent and I ought to know! I was the only witness to the crime.” Gwen Baird, the clerk in the store where the shooting occurred, got to her feet. “What you white people don’t understand is black people look at people in shades," Baird said. "They see complexion.” Having looked at the gunman for a good 15 minutes, Baird described a dark-skinned man, a contrary image to that of the light-skinned Carter.

“Had there been any black person on that jury, they would have realized this,” the former sales clerk concluded.

--- --- ---

The fact was an all-white jury convicted Carter. The only African American in the jury pool was removed prior to selection by her employer. In addition, of the 13 eyewitnesses who testified at the trial, none provided matching testimonies and only five identified Carter as the possible gunman. The three African American witnesses were all certain Carter was not the shooter.

“It is amazing they charged him, let alone convicted him,” remarks Pat Shellenbarger, a journalist at The Grand Rapids Press, whose close coverage of Carter's story exposed the racial undertones of the Michigan judicial system. “But, this was a case of a black man shooting a white cop and someone had to pay. Maurice was that someone."

Findley notes that mistaken eyewitness identification is a common cause of false convictions. These identifications, however, are often the primary determinant in trials, resulting in the conviction of an estimated 4,500 innocent people in the United States each year. In a study of eyewitnesses conducted by Pray, the professor concluded that “only about 30 percent of eyewitnesses can accurately identify a suspect within 20 minutes of an event.” In Carter’s case, witnesses testified two years after the shooting occurred.

Armed with Pray's study, Carter’s case and the cases of other wrongfully convicted individuals, the Wisconsin Innocence Project recently helped to pass legislation producing model policies and procedural guidelines for effective eyewitness identifications. Several other key legislative reforms, specifically in relation to the preservation of DNA evidence and the use of electronic devices in interrogation processes, were also passed due to the efforts of Findley and Pray.

--- --- ---

In October of 2003, Carter’s legal team entered the Berrien County Circuit Court, armed with a request to expedite the hearing on the motion for a new trial. Findley stressed the urgency of moving forward with Carter’s case due to his rapidly diminishing health. “Our concern is [that] he could take a turn and die tomorrow,” says Findley.

Judge Hammond calmly replied, “Most of us could die tomorrow."

Disheartened, Findley felt the lasting sting of the Berrien County justice system, a system that seemed to be constructing obstacles for his legal team every step of the way. Keith snapped. "Not of liver disease."

--- --- ---

“I don’t know if it was insensitivity, law and order attitudes, or if it was racism at work,” says Findley, “but there was a complete unwillingness to listen, to reevaluate the case.” An ant moving a molehill, Findley never backed down from trying to prove Carter’s innocence. His dedication to assisting the wrongfully convicted is apparent, not only in his commitment to the Carter case, but in his devotion to the Innocence Project as well.

“The things that keep you going are the small victories, though few and far between,” remarks Tjapkes. “Keith and his team worked relentlessly, giving their time and their tears, to create these successes. To some, Maurice’s name may not be cleared, but this does not reflect by any means a lack of pure determination by the Wisconsin Innocence Project.”

Findley and the Wisconsin Innocence Project continue to make great strides in affecting the state judicial system, furthering educational endeavors and providing aid to the wrongfully convicted still behind bars. A driving force even after his death, Carter's photograph hangs in Findley’s office, overshadowing the images of his own family. The photo, a grinning Carter embracing his mother, is the face of a free man; a man who represents the strength of a community and who remains a symbol of the work that still lies ahead.

AFTER INNOCENCE


About the Film

AFTER INNOCENCE tells the dramatic and compelling story of the exonerated - innocent men wrongfully imprisoned for decades and then released after DNA evidence proved their innocence. The film focuses on the gripping story of seven men and their emotional journey back into society and efforts to rebuild their lives. Included are a police officer, an army sergeant and a young father sent to prison and even death row for decades for crimes they did not commit.

The men are thrust back into society with little or no support from the system that put them behind bars. While the public views exonerations as success stories - wrongs that have been righted - AFTER INNOCENCE shows that the human toll of wrongful imprisonment can last far longer than the sentences served.

The film raises basic questions about human rights and society's moral obligation to the innocent and places a spotlight on the flaws in our criminal justice system that lead to wrongful conviction of the innocent. The film features exonerees Dennis Maher of Lowell, MA; Calvin Willis of Shreveport, LA; Scott Hornoff of Providence, RI; Wilton Dedge of Cocoa Beach, FL.; Vincent Moto of Philadelphia, PA; Nick Yarris of Philadelphia, PA; and Herman Atkins of Los Angeles, CA.

It also features Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, founders of the Innocent Project which has helped to exonerate the more than l50 people freed through the use of DNA testing in the last decade; and highlights the work of human rights activist Dr. Lola Vollen, co-founder of the Life After Exoneration Program.

AFTER INNOCENCE is directed by Jessica Sanders, an Academy-Award nominated filmmaker (“Sing!”), and is produced and written by Jessica Sanders and Marc Simon in association with The American Film Foundation, an Academy® and Emmy®-award winning production company. Simon attended the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and was a student at the Innocence Project, an experience that inspired the idea for this film.

AFTER INNOCENCE is a Showtime Independent Films Presentation in association with American Film Foundation.

Filmmakers

Jessica Sanders
Director, Producer, Writer
Jessica Sanders is an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker who works in fiction and non-fiction productions. She produced the film Sing! which received Oscar and Emmy nominations in 2002 and aired nationally on PBS. Her previous film, Los Angels, a narrative film that she wrote, produced, and directed, played at numerous festivals and received the Gold Plaque Award at the Chicago International Festival, the Lagniappe Best Short Film at the New Orleans Festival, among other awards. Sanders was an Associate Producer on the 2003 Oscar Winning Documentary Short Film Twin Towers and Series Associate Producer and Camera Operator on Dick Wolf’s NBC documentary series Crime & Punishment. Sanders is an alumna of the Independent Feature Project’s Project Involve and the filmmaker Producer’s Lab, where she is among a select group of filmmakers chosen to develop Independent film projects. Sanders is currently developing documentary and narrative feature film projects.

Marc Simon
Producer, Writer
Marc H. Simon is an attorney and filmmaker, and has experience working in front of the camera as an actor and on-air correspondent. Simon is a graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and is an alumnus of its Innocence Project, an experience which inspired the making of After Innocence . He is also an associate at the law firm of Dreier LLP in New York City. In addition he currently works as a legal correspondent and producer for Fox Television's A Current Affair. Marc has worked in film development and film production, and as an actor he appeared in the Spike Lee directed feature 25th Hour . He is currently developing a reality-based television series and two non-fiction films.

Charles Bernstein
Composer
Charles Bernstein has written numerous scores for feature films and television specials, including for the Oscar winning films Czechoslovakia 1968 and Maya Lin. He is a Governor representing the Composers Branch on the Academy of Motion Picture Board of Governors.

Brian Johnson
Editor
Brian Johnson is an accomplished editor who was nominated for an ACE Award for Best Editing in a Documentary for the 1999 Academy Award-nominated feature Buena Vista Social Club.

Cinematographers

Shana Hagan
Hagan has photographed over 40 documentary and narrative films, including the Oscar winning Breathing Lessons about poet and journalist Mark O Brian.

Buddy Squires
Squires has photographed six Academy Award nominated films, one Oscar winning film and 9 Emmy Award winning films. His cinematography is featured in nearly all of Ken Burns' films.

Bestor Cram
Cram is an award winning director, producer and cinematographer.

Bob Richmond
Richmond photographed the Academy Award nominated My Architect and the award winning Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, among dozens of feature documentaries.

Production Company
American Film Foundation
Based out of Santa Monica, California, American Film Foundation is an Academy® and Emmy® award-winning film production company that produces theatrical documentary features, series and specials on the arts, social and human rights issues, the environment and humanities.

Exoneree Bio: Vincent Moto

Exoneree Bio: Vincent Moto


Then: Vincent Moto was pushing his baby son in a stroller down a Philadelphia street in 1985, when a woman passed him on the street and accused him of being one of two assailants who had raped her five months earlier. Vincent was put on trial and convicted on the basis of the victim’s identification. After ten and a half years in prison, DNA testing excluded Vincent as the source of the biological evidence that led to his conviction. He was released from prison with no apology from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, nor compensation for the time he lost in prison. His conviction remains on the books.

Now: Vincent returned to his hometown of Philadelphia in 1996, moving in with his parents who owned a home there. His three children were by then 16, 15 and 11, and were joined by a daughter born in 1997. Now, with his three eldest grown, Vincent has sole custody of his daughter and is raising her in the house in which he was raised.

Vincent’s passion is music. He composed, arranged, produced and performed the closing song in the critically acclaimed documentary film “After Innocence.” The piece, also entitled “After Innocence” tells his story of wrongful conviction and painful imprisonment in a pop beat style with rap lyrics. Its intoxicating rhythm and painful message has captivated audiences, resulting in brisk sales of his CD at those performances that Vincent can personally attend.

Vincent plays bass guitar, keyboard, drums, and percussion. He has his own studio and has produced, written, and arranged worked for other artists.

To support himself and his daughter, Vincent has held positions at Sears and National In-Store Services with a wide range of responsibilities including sales, team leader, display installment, and manager. He also has worked doing skilled labor, constructing fencing, applying siding, and hanging sheet rock.

While music is his passion, the primary preoccupation for Vincent since leaving prison has been earning an income to support his daughter. He is presently unemployed and seeking work of any kind that uses his multifaceted skills.

With the theatrical release of “After Innocence,” Vincent hopes to increase sales of the song he produced for the film. To do so, he needs to establish and manage a website, as well as produce the CDs for sale.

Until then, Vincent’s CD can be purchased by sending a check for $20 to:

Vincent Moto
1643 S.23rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19145



Convicted of: Rape
State: Pennsylvania
Served: 10.5 years
Released: 1996
Compensated by State: NO
Current Status: Unemployed
Health Insurance: No

Thursday, 25 January 2007

You just can't give up'


You just can't give up'

AUBURN - Roy Brown said he left prison to fellow inmates chanting “innocent man walking.”

Brown - now a free man - hopes his exit from the maximum-security Elmira Correctional Facility Tuesday is the last time he's ever behind bars.

Plump snowflakes worthy of a snow globe fell on Genesee Street as Brown made his way to his first act as a free man: a press conference.

“I don't think there's any worst part of prison,” Brown said. “Prison's hell.”

Brown, 46, is no longer convicted of the May, 23, 1991 murder of Cayuga County social worker Sabina Kulakowski, who was found with bite, strangulation and stab wounds marring her body. The farmhouse she lived in was burning when her body was found.

Cayuga County Surrogate Judge Mark Fandrich agreed Tuesday with Brown's legal team and Cayuga County District Attorney James Vargason that enough new DNA evidence - identified with DNA testing not available in 1992 - has been obtained to vacate Brown's conviction and set him free from a 25-year-to-life sentence.

But Brown still stands indicted of her murder and will return to court in March for Fandrich's decision over whether the indictment should be dismissed.

“I'm sorry it's taken such a long time to come to this day,” Fandrich said. “I'm happy for you and your family.”

Brown's supporters sat in the rows behind the defense table as they had so many times before. This time, instead of leaving with pained faces, they applauded and cheered when Fandrich made his decision. Two of Brown's attorneys, Nina Morrison and Peter Neufeld of the nonprofit legal clinic Innocence Project, smiled irrepressibly.

Brown was freed because the DNA profile of Barry Bench, the brother of Kulakowski's estranged boyfriend, Ronald, was found on a red shirt reading “Bonjour y'all New Orleans.” The shirt was found 150 feet from Kulakowski's body and that she was believed to have worn the night of her killing.



Previous testing showed that there was a one in 18,000 chance that the DNA profile was not from Bench, according to Vargason. The most recent test comparing the DNA profile on the shirt to a sample from Bench's exhumed corpse resulted in one to 200 billion chance that the DNA is not from Bench, Vargason said.

Vargason also received a report Dr. Lowell Levine from the New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center in Albany late Monday afternoon saying that four of the bitemarks on Kulakowski's body appeared to have been made by the same person and could have been from Bench. That strengthened Vargason's resolve to join the motion to vacate Brown's conviction. Levine compared Bench's dental records, photographs of Bench and three jaw fragments with 10 teeth obtained when Bench's body was exhumed from a cemetery in Victory.

“It strengthens the accusatory finger at Barry Bench,” Vargason said. “It weakens the accusatory finger at Roy Brown.”

The biting evidence is crucial. It's a key component in the legal theory that Kulakowski's murderer was the person who bit her. The trial testimony saying Brown's bitemarks matched Kulakowski's wounds was cited as recently as last month by former Cayuga County Judge Peter Corning, who heard similar arguments that Brown's conviction should be vacated.

Brown's DNA was excluded from the shirt. No logical connection was found by the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office for an innocent connection between Barry Bench and Kulakowski's shirt; Kulakowski's sister traveled often to New Orleans and bought souvenirs for her family, while there is no evidence Bench ever traveled there. Ronald Bench's DNA also was tested and excluded.

Barry Bench is who Brown has accused of slaying Kulakowski, including sending him a letter in December 2003 saying that God knew the truth and that DNA evidence would set him free. Brown became convinced Bench was Kulakowski's real killer when he filed a Freedom of Information request in 2002 for all the copies of the documents in his case and found four affidavits previously unknown to him relating to Barry Bench.

Bench committed suicide shortly after the time frame in which Brown sent the letter. He laid down in front of an Amtrak passenger train.

Brown has maintained his innocence since he first became a suspect. He has appealed his case several times. His most recent appeals have involved the testing of items from the murder scene with more sophisticated techniques not available in the 1990s.

“This ain't a miscarriage of justice. It's an abortion,” Brown said 15 years to the day he was convicted of Kulakowski's murder. “That's what this is. It's an abortion of justice.

“I'm innocent. That's what kept me going. You just can't give up.”

Brown is still not eliminated as a suspect in Kulakowski's murder. Investigators say they have found no motivation for Bench to have killed Kulakowski.

“People can speculate Barry did this,” said Cayuga County Sheriff David Gould. “We as police officers have to gather that proof.”

Gould said his office has developed 60 leads since Brown's hearing in December where a correlation was presented between Bench and a John Doe profile on the shirt was established by private DNA testing organized by Brown's attorneys, of Bench's daughter Katherine Eckstadt.

Gould stood at the doorway of the county courtroom during Tuesday's hearing.

A 2004 revision to a state law formalized a legal procedure for convicts to have DNA testing completed that might exonerate them. Under this process, convicts must prove -- under a lower standard of evidence than guilty beyond a reasonable doubt -- that it is more probable than not that the new evidence would have led to a more favorable verdict.

Brown, dressed in civilian clothes, had to hold his arms over and behind his head for his corrections officer escorts to remove his handcuffs for the hearing. Later, the corrections officers joked as they left empty-handed that for some reason Brown didn't want the chains and the handcuffs anymore.

Brown was released on his own recognizance. But he cannot drive, enter the Cayuga County Office Building and have contact with county health and human services workers. Brown became a suspect in Kulakowski's murder, in part, because he had made threats to other social workers over the placement of his children.

Evidence introduced at Brown's trial included that the impression of Brown's bite marks allegedly matched the bite wounds on Kulakowski's body, that Brown had threatened the lives of county workers more than once over his children's custody, that he had violently bitten women he was involved with and that he was released from Cayuga County Jail May 17, 1991, days before Kulakowski was killed.

An affidavit obtained by Brown's lawyers from Tamara Heisner Eckstadt, Bench's common-law wife of 13 years, stated that Bench was alcoholic, abusive and bit her during one sexual assault. Bench's lawyers also say that Bench arrived home on the night of Kulakowski's murder intoxicated and had an unexplained gap in his whereabouts around the same time she was likely killed.

Brown is incredibly weak because of his Hepatitis C affliction and advanced cirrhosis of his liver. He can't stand for more than two minutes at a time. After his release, he had to be driven just a block between the Cayuga County Courthouse and the Sugarman law firm where the press conference was held.

When asked what he was looking forward to the most about being a free man, Brown said: “That's it. Free.”

Brown and his family planned to get something to eat after the press conference. Lasagna was Brown's planned dish.

“Changes have got to be made in the justice system,” Brown said. “The wheels are flat. They say they turn slow. They're flat. It's just one-sided. The court system is designed to send people to jail. There is no course to help innocent people get out of jail. There's more innocent people where I came from.”

Brown said he wanted to extend his wish for justice to Kulakowski. “I think that lady deserves justice more than anybody,” he said, closing out his public comments for the day.

Staff writer Amaris Elliott-Engel can be reached at 253-5311 ext. 282 or at amaris.elliot-engel@lee.net

Dallas Exonerations


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dallas Exonerations

"Why does Dallas County hold this dubious title," is the title of an OpEd essay in today's Dallas Morning News written by Sheron Patterson,the senior pastor of Highland Hills United Methodist Church in Dallas. It focuses on the wave of recent exonerations in the county.

I predict that more Dallas County exonerations will come. While I want to see the innocent freed, I don't want the guilty to consider the DNA exonerations as a get-out-of jail free card for everyone. DNA testing won't do you a bit of good if you are guilty. Reportedly, 32 Dallas County cases have undergone post-conviction DNA testing; nine affirmed the guilt, six are pending, five were inconclusive and 12 set men free.

Craig Watkins, the county's first African-American district attorney, is fresh on the job and has a lot of de-odorizing to do. He has made an impressive start by apologizing to two men freed this month

He can do even more impressive work if he also considers the victims of these crimes. They deserve to have the real culprit imprisoned.

In addition to the Watkins-led DA's office, I'm keeping my eye on the positive actions of two Texas legislators, Reps Senfronia Thompson and Rodney Ellis, both Democratic state lawmakers from Houston.

They co-authored a bill to establish an "innocence commission" to review cases in Texas. The legislation failed to gain momentum in 2005, but perhaps it will gain more attention this time around.

DNA Clears Man Serving Life For Murder



DNA Clears Man Serving Life For Murder

Brown always maintained his innocence and a decade after he was convicted, began trying to solve the crime himself.

(AP) Fifteen years to the day after he was convicted of murder, a 46-year-old man was ordered released from state prison on Tuesday because DNA tests proved he did not commit the crime.

Cayuga County Court Judge Mark H. Fandrich vacated the murder conviction and ordered Roy Brown released on his own recognizance. A hearing on a motion to dismiss the case was scheduled for March 5.

Brown was convicted Jan. 23, 1992 of beating and strangling Sabina Kulakowski, a social worker who was bitten repeatedly by an attacker who dragged her several hundred feet from the farmhouse where she lived in the Finger Lakes town of Aurelius.

Prosecutors relied mostly on circumstantial evidence and the bite marks on the body to win the conviction. Brown had been released from county jail a week before the killing after serving eight months for threatening social workers assigned to his child custody case. He claimed he never knew Kulakowski.

Her nude body had bite marks that an expert prosecution witness linked to Brown, even though they showed indentations from six upper teeth while Brown has only four.

Brown was sentenced to from 25 years to life in state prison, where he has remained ever since. Brown always maintained his innocence and a decade after he was convicted, began trying to solve the crime himself.

© MMVII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Innocent ex-inmate from Peekskill resumes college as free man


Innocent ex-inmate from Peekskill resumes college as free man

By Jonathan Bandler
The Journal News
(Original Publication: January 24, 2007)

NEW YORK - Jeffrey Deskovic began classes today at Mercy College in Manhattan, resuming a college education that was cut short more than a decade ago while he was serving a prison sentence for a murder he did not commit.

"I'm moving forward with my life and today represents a major step in me doing that," Deskovic, 33, said before entering Prof. Martin Kelly's Classics course. "I want to fully immerse myself in the classes, get the best grades I can and use this education to make the most of my life."

This semester, he is taking two courses at the Manhattan campus and two online courses, and hopes to graduate from Mercy by next spring.

Deskovic went to prison in 1991 after he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for murder. He had falsely confessed under exhaustive interrogation by detectives to the November 1989 slaying of 15-year-old Angela Correa, a classmate at Peekskill High School.

He was freed four months ago after DNA evidence linked another New York inmate, Steven Cunningham, to the slaying.

Deskovic got an associate's degree in prison and completed 90 credits towards a bachelor's degree in psychology before state funding dried up for college courses for inmates. He urged legislators to resume funding for such classes, suggesting that ex-convicts were less likely to reoffend once they get out of prison if they have a college degree.

He said this morning that he hoped to go on to law school and that his dream job would be to work for The Innocence Project, the clinic at Benjamin Cardozo Law School that helped free him and has exonerated more than 185 prisoners across the United States. Deskovic is also hoping to become a professional speaker to share his experiences and combat wrongful convictions.

http://www.nyjournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070124/UPDATE/701240413

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Bill May Further Aid Wrongly Convicted


Bill May Further Aid Wrongly Convicted




That's the title of an article in today's Houston Chronicle reporting on legislation introduced by State Senator Rodney Ellis which would increase compensation for men and women wrongly convicted and incarcerated. LINK



Legislation to increase state payments to men and women wrongfully imprisoned and to impose a fee on immigrants who transfer money to their home countries were among bills filed in the Senate on Monday.


SB 262 by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, would double to $50,000 the amount of compensation the state pays someone for every year spent in prison because of a wrongful conviction.


It would provide a $100,000 payment for every year an innocent person spends on death row and would remove the current $500,000 cap on total payments.


"We need to do more to help these Texans rebuild their shattered lives," Ellis said. "Money obviously will not make up for the past, but Texas can help these people move forward by boosting compensation for those who have been wrongfully imprisoned."


He said the figures in his bill would match what federal law provides for inmates wrongfully convicted in federal courts.


Ellis sponsored the existing state compensation law, which provides for $25,000 for each year an innocent person spends in prison, with a payment limit of $500,000. It was enacted in 2001.


The text of Senate Bill 262, in Adobe .pdf format, is here.

Monday, 22 January 2007

Wrongly convicted man speaks out on time spent behind bars


uary 22, 2007

New Jersey

Wrongly convicted man speaks out on time spent behind bars

By Jonathan Vit, Gloucester County Times

CAMDEN Eight years, 11 months and 19 days, that is how long Kirk Bloodsworth
spent in prison, wrongly convicted twice for the brutal rape and murder of a
nine-year-old girl who was found half-naked, her skull crushed in a working
class area of Baltimore County.

That is one year and 12 days short of a decade that Bloodsworth spent in the
Maryland Penitentiary, carrying the stigma of a child-killer like a
bull's-eye until DNA evidence reversed the courts findings in 1993.

Now, 14 years later, Bloodsworth is speaking about his time behind bars,
making a stop at the United Methodist Church in Mantua Township Monday night
with the New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

During his speeches, Bloodsworth recalls his days in the Maryland
Penitentiary and explains how the criminal justice system failed him.

"If you can execute an innocent person than the system is broken," he
explained.

The moment Bloodsworth walked into the ominous black brick prison he felt
the weight of his conviction. In the prison hierarchy, convicts in for
killing or raping a child are at the bottom of the list.

"Anything that you see on television, it is a grain of salt, it does not do
it justice," Bloodsworth of his time behind bars. "I would see someone get
stabbed every other day, then everyone would calm down and get along. It is
not sinister, it is more like insidious because you don't hear anyone
scream, it happens out of earshot."

From his cell, the prison's air ducts carried the whispers of his fellow
inmates, each calling for his death.

Outside his cell the words became more than threats. In the shower one
inmate threw a hot, soapy wash cloth in his face before splitting the back
of his skull with a sock full of batteries. Another stabbed him in the calf
with a shank.

"You are the filth from the bottom of their shoe," he said pointing to his
sneaker's sole. "People throw feces on you, (they threw) a bottle filled
with urine and feces on me while I was reading my bible."

He was serving time on a life sentence, two years of his eight on death row
in a cell directly under the gas chamber. One day, the chamber was tested
with a live pig while Bloodsworth sat in his cell beneath, listening to the
gas take effect.

"I swear you could hear the squealing going on," he said. "It was bad."

Through it all Bloodsworth maintained his innocence, he appealed his
conviction only to be found guilty again.

He read like a madman, devouring some 3,000 books in his eight years until
he came upon Joseph Wambaugh's The Blooding, a book detailing the true-life
capture of Colin Pitchfork a man who raped and killed two girls in
Narborough, Leicestershire through DNA fingerprinting.

"I figured if it could convict someone it could set someone free," he
explained.

In 1992 the courts tested DNA evidence gathered from the crime scene,
determining that Bloodsworth could not have been the killer.

Finally, in June of 1993 became the first man in America ever to be released
from Death Row from DNA evidence, an experience that he described as the
happiest moment in his life.

"You check your lottery numbers and win the mega millions," he said. "It
couldn't compare (to that day)."

And the DNA evidence didn't only free Bloodsworth, it found the real killer,
a man named Kimberly Shay Ruffner, who was serving time in the same prison
as Bloodsworth for a series of similar crimes.

"He slept in the same prison for five years," Bloodsworth exclaimed. "I gave
him library books and saw him working out in the yard. All those years he
never said anything."

Less than 24 hours after he was released, Bloodsworth began talking about
his time inside, eventually becoming an activist who champions causes that
examine the criminal justice system.

In New Jersey he appeared before a bipartisan death penalty commission
appointed by former-governor Richard Codey. On Jan. 2, the commission
recommended that the state abandon the death penalty, calling for life in
prison without parole as a suitable alternative. Governor John Corzine
supported the commissions findings and the legislature is currently working
with their suggestions.

"We don't want to see the convicted murders released," explained Abraham J.
Bonowitz, field manager for New Jerseyan's for Alternatives to the Death
Penalty. "Even if you like the idea of a death penalty, the evidence shows
that it doesn't work in the current system."

New Jersey currently has 11 people on death row, including Sean Padraic
Kenney formerly Richard Feaster who sits on death row for the 1993 killing
of a Deptford gas station attendant. The state has executed 361 people
sentenced to death, but has not executed anyone since 1976.

Kirk Bloodsworth was featured in the book "Bloodsworth,

" by Tim Junkin and
will appear at the United Methodist Church in Mantua Township tonight at
7:30 p.m.

---

Source : Gloucester County Times

http://www.nj.com/news/gloucester/index.ssf?/base/news-1/1169442710290060.xml&coll=8

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Illinois Death Penalty Exonerations



About the Illinois Death Penalty

Executions of Possibly Innocent Prisoners

Clemency: The Illinois Experience


Illinois Death Penalty Exonerations

In the quarter century between restoration of the Illinois death penalty and Governor George Ryan's blanket clemency order, 289 men and women were sentenced to death in Illinois. Of those, 18 have been exonerated — a rate in excess of 6.2%. The Center on Wrongful Convictions or members of its staff have been instrumental in 12 of the 18 exonerations.

Read their stories:

Joseph Burrows
Perry Cobb
Rolando Cruz
Gary Gauger
Alejandro Hernandez
Madison Hobley
Stanley Howard
Verneal Jimerson
Ronald Jones
Carl Lawson
George Lettrich
Steven Manning
Leroy Orange
Aaron Patterson
Anthony Porter
Steven Smith
Gordon (Randy) Steidl (1987, 2004)
Darby Tillis
Dennis Williams


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Saturday, 20 January 2007

12th convict cleared by DNA


Lawmaker decries 'embarrassment'

By JEFF CARLTON
The Associated Press

Jan 20, 2007

In a case that has renewed questions about the quality of Texas justice, a man who spent 10 years behind bars for the rape of a boy has become the 12th person in Dallas County to be cleared by DNA evidence.

That is more DNA exonerations than in all of California, and more than in Florida, too. In fact, Dallas County alone has more such cases than all but three states - a situation one Texas lawmaker calls an "international embarrassment."

James Waller, 50, was exonerated by a judge this week and received an apology from the district attorney's office after a new type of DNA testing on hair and semen showed he was not the rapist who attacked a 12-year-old a boy living in Waller's apartment building in 1983. The boy had been the chief witness against him.

"It's been a long, horrible road," said Waller, who has been out on parole since 1993.

Only New York, Illinois and Texas have had more DNA exonerations than Dallas County, which has a population of 2.3 million, according to the Innocence Project, a legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions.

"These are appalling mistakes, and in the case of Dallas County, there have been so many," said Democratic state Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston, who is sponsoring a bill to create Texas Innocence Commission to scrutinize the state's criminal justice system.

A similar bill failed to reach the floor in the past. But "my colleagues in the Senate, in particular, are beginning to see these are human lives we are talking about," Ellis said. "There are times when we make mistakes, and when we do, we ought to be big enough to admit it."

Since the nation's first DNA exoneration in 1989, 26 defendants have been cleared in Illinois, including 11 in Chicago's Cook County, according to the Innocence Project. There have been 21 exonerations each in Texas and New York, nine in California and six in Florida, the organization said.

In Dallas County, about 400 prisoners who filed wrongful-conviction claims have received DNA testing, leading to the 12 exonerations, said Trista Allen, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. New District Attorney Craig Watkins is determined to look into the underlying causes, she said.

"DNA testing is to make sure innocent folks are not in jail," Allen said. "If you are not guilty, we want to get you out of jail. We're not going to be the DA that stands in the way."

Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, said the number of exonerations in Dallas County "demands a closer look and statewide action." He said there is no clear reason there have been so many wrongful convictions in Dallas, but "many of the cases have to do with eyewitness identification."

That was true with Waller. A day after the rape, the boy was at a convenience store when he heard Waller's voice and became convinced Waller was the man who attacked him in his apartment.

Earlier, the boy had told the police that he never saw the attacker face-to-face and that the man had worn a bandanna covering most of his face. Waller was also heavier and taller than the man described by the youngster.

Waller and his family were the only black residents of the apartment complex, according to the Innocence Project.

Renewed questions about the quality of Texas justice

By JEFF CARLTON, Associated Press Writer

DALLAS (AP) -- In a case that has renewed questions about the quality of Texas justice, a man who spent 10 years behind bars for the rape of a boy has become the 12th person in Dallas County to be cleared by DNA evidence.

That is more DNA exonerations than in all of California, and more than in Florida, too. In fact, Dallas County alone has more such cases than all but three states -- a situation one Texas lawmaker calls an "international embarrassment."

James Waller, 50, was exonerated by a judge earlier this week and received an apology from the district attorney's office after a new type of DNA testing on hair and semen showed he was not the rapist who attacked a 12-year-old a boy living in Waller's apartment building in 1983. The boy had been the chief witness against him.

"It's been a long, horrible road," said Waller, who has been out on parole since 1993.

Only New York, Illinois and Texas have had more DNA exonerations than Dallas County, which has a population of 2.3 million, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions.

"These are appalling mistakes, and in the case of Dallas County, there have been so many," said Democratic state Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston, who is sponsoring a bill to create Texas Innocence Commission to scrutinize the state's criminal justice system.

A similar bill failed to reach the floor in the past two legislative sessions. But "my colleagues in the Senate, in particular, are beginning to see these are human lives we are talking about," Ellis said. "There are times when we make mistakes, and when we do, we ought to be big enough to admit it."

Since the nation's first DNA exoneration in 1989, 26 defendants have been cleared in Illinois, including 11 in Chicago's Cook County, according to the Innocence Project. There have been 21 exonerations each in Texas and New York, nine in California and six in Florida, the organization said.

In Dallas County, about 400 prisoners who filed wrongful-conviction claims have received DNA testing, leading to the 12 exonerations, said Trista Allen, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. New District Attorney Craig Watkins, who took office two weeks ago, is determined to look into the underlying causes, she said.

"DNA testing is to make sure innocent folks are not in jail," Allen said. "If you are not guilty, we want to get you out of jail. We're not going to be the DA that stands in the way."

Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, said the number of exonerations in Dallas County "demands a closer look and statewide action." He said there is no clear reason there have been so many wrongful convictions in Dallas, but "many of the cases have to do with eyewitness identification."

That was true with Waller. A day after the rape, the boy was at a convenience store when he heard Waller's voice and became convinced Waller was the man who attacked him in his apartment.

Earlier, the boy had told police that he never saw the attacker face-to-face and that the man had worn a bandanna covering most of his face. Waller was also heavier and taller than the man described by the youngster.

Waller and his family were the only black residents of the apartment complex, according to the Innocence Project.

He began seeking DNA testing in 1989. Since his parole, he has had to register as a sex offender, but his lawyers are trying to get that requirement lifted.

http://www.woai.com/news/local/story.aspx?content_id=e4ea31c1-7adf-4b10-99b3-ee42c95cc7e9

__._,_.___

Dennis Fritz


Year of incident: 1982
Conviction: First degree murder
Sentence: Life
Year of conviction: 1988
Year of exoneration: 1999
Sentence served: 11 years

In 1982, high school science teacher Dennis Fritz was living near Ada, Okla., raising his 8-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, whose mother had been murdered by a deranged neighbor when Elizabeth was 2 years old. Fritz frequently visited Ada, where he befriended Ron Williamson, a tall, lanky local who suffered from mental disorders. The two would often play guitar together and then go out to local bars. One of the places they frequented was the Coachlight Club.

On Dec. 8, 1982, Debra Sue Carter, a waitress at the Coachlight Club, was found raped and murdered in her apartment. A witness, Glen Gore, came forward to say that Williamson was at the bar bothering Carter on the night of the murder. Fritz, due to his association with Williamson, also came under suspicion. Fritz and Williamson were both questioned by police and then released due to lack of evidence.

A few years later, with no one yet charged for the murder, a jailhouse snitch came forward and claimed that Williamson, while in jail on unrelated charges, had confessed to killing Carter. On May 8, 1987, Fritz was arrested along with Williamson for the rape and murder. The police claimed that hair evidence from the crime scene that had been microscopically analyzed matched both men. While Fritz was awaiting trial in county jail, other snitches claimed that they heard Fritz confess to the crime. The snitches' testimony, along with the hair samples, were the prosecution's main evidence during trial.

On April 12, 1988, Fritz was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Williamson, as the primary suspect, was sent to Death Row.

After several appeals of his conviction were denied, Fritz contacted The Innocence Project. At the time, Williamson's public defenders had successfully gained permission to perform DNA tests on the physical evidence, and Fritz had to file an injunction so that the evidence would not be totally consumed in the tests on Williamson's behalf. In 1999, DNA testing revealed that neither Fritz nor Williamson had raped the victim. Further testing also proved that none of the hairs belonged to either of the men.

Fritz and Williamson were exonerated and released on April 15, 1999. The profile obtained from the semen evidence matched Glen Gore, the state's main witness at trial. Gore had been serving three 40-year sentences for unrelated charges of first-degree burglary, kidnapping, and shooting with intent to injure. In April 2002, Gore was charged with the rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter; he pled not guilty. His trial is set to begin on May 12, 2003.

Fritz and Williamson subsequently filed a civil suit against several parties involved in their arrest and imprisonment and settled for an undisclosed sum of money.

Shortly after the crime, Fritz's daughter went to live with her grandparents in southwestern Oklahoma. She was 13 years old when she was first told of her father's arrest and sentence of life imprisonment. Fritz refused to allow her to see him in prison, though they did stay in touch by writing each other and talking on the phone. It wasn't until his release, nearly 12 years later, that Elizabeth finally saw her father.

"The harm that it did to me was that it took 12 years out of my life, away from my family members," Fritz told FRONTLINE. "I was cheated of watching my daughter grow and flower into a woman. No amount of money on the face of the earth could even begin to make an amend for what happened."

Elizabeth, who is now 29, lives in Oklahoma City. Fritz and his mother live in Kansas City, where they are trying to enjoy some of the comforts the settlement money can provide.

Journey Toward Justice by Dennis Fritz



Journey Toward Justice (Hardcover) by Dennis Fritz

Order here :
http://www.amazon.com/Journey-Toward-Justice-Dennis-Fritz/dp/1931643954/sr=1-1/qid=1169305434/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/002-5420045-4996030?ie=UTF8&s=books

Book Description

Dennis Fritz was an ordinary middle-aged man leading an ordinary life, when, on May 8, 1987, he was on his way to jail on charges of rape and murder.

An overzealous prosecutor bent on winning relied on flimsy circumstantial evidence and Dennis was convicted and sentenced to life in prison while his co-defendant, Ronnie Williamson was sentenced to death.

After twelve years of incarceration, with the help of Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, and DNA testing, Dennis and Ronnie were exonerated and the real killer is found guilty. On April 15, 1999, Dennis and Ronnie walk free from prison.

"The story of the unwarranted prosecution and wrongful conviction of Dennis Fritz is compelling and fascinating. After serving eleven years for a murder he did not commit, Dennis was exonerated and had the strength and courage to put his life back together." —John Grisham
"

As I write these words, there have been one hundred eighty-one post-conviction DNA exonerations in America.

The exonerated, many crime victims and their families (including the Carter family from the Fri and Williamson case) are the heart and soul of this movement. In this unique and brave community of survivors, there is no more decent and dignified a man, nor a more gentle soul, than Dennis Fritz.

For eight years he has unstintingly supported our work in every way possible, re-living what are often very painful memories in service to a just cause. And now he has had the fortitude to tell his whole story.

As always, I am in awe of his courage and humbled by his efforts." —Barry C. Scheck
Co-Director The Innocence Project

About the Author

Before his conviction, Dennis Fritz taught middle school science and coached football, basketball and track. Since his release, Dennis has been enjoying his freedom to the fullest He is a spokesman for the Innocence Project at fundraising events and works first hand with inmates. He serves as a board member of the Coalition to Demolish the Death Penalty.

The stories After Innocence were horrifying - case after case of wrong imprisonment


January 18, 2007

Last night's TV

Lucy Mangan, The Guardian (UK)

In 1981, in Philadelphia, Nick Yarris was convicted of the rape and murder
of Linda May Craig. He was exonerated by DNA testing in 2004. The 23 years
in between he spent in solitary confinement on death row, in a US prison
condemned by the UN for its use of torture. "Now I'm Ebenezer," he said to
the documentary crew of True Stories: After Innocence (More4), as he stared
at his childhood home after his release. "Walking around, a ghost in my own
life." He looked enough like one - lean, pale and drawn - and was amazed by
the noise and the smell of the outside world. Never mind the roar of
traffic, he could hear the tyres crawling on the road and at first it hurt
him even to breathe the non-recycled air. For the first two years of his
incarceration he was not allowed to speak. He is making up for it now,
spreading the word about his own innocence, and that of others he met on
death row, and working for an anti-death-penalty advocacy group. Oh, and
campaigning for the recovered DNA of the real killer to be added to the
national database - a procedure, the film's coda informed us, that has yet
to take place.

After Innocence won the Sundance Film Festival special jury prize in 2005
with the story of seven men exonerated by a combination of DNA evidence and
the hard work of the Innocence Project, a not-for-profit legal clinic set up
in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, with the aim of overturning
wrongful convictions by using the then-new science of DNA testing. It also
campaigns for reforms of the criminal justice system that will help to
reduce the ease with which they can occur in the first place.
Wilton Dedge received two life sentences for rape in 1982. Testing of two
hairs found at the scene of the crime exculpated him in 2001, and his
parents readied the spare room and its neat white bed in preparation for his
homecoming, but Florida's judiciary ruled the evidence inadmissible on a
technicality. Dedge proved his innocence for the second time in 2004. The
judge ordered an additional test and then, with the greatest possible
reluctance, let him go home to his waiting parents and the bed that had been
kept ready for three years.

Most of the exonerated have to go home to their parents (if the parents are
still alive) because they have nowhere else to go. They are not entitled to
compensation or help with finding work. As Yarris pointed out: "If I was
guilty and out on parole, I would be entitled to healthcare, job training,
housing, placement in society . . . I got five dollars and 37 cents and let
loose." Vincent Moto would like to repay his parents the $150,000 (£76,000),
their retirement savings, that they spent on lawyers' fees because they knew
he was innocent - he was having dinner with them at the time of his supposed
crime. Not, of course, that any amount of money can compensate for some
kinds of suffering. "I miss my mom," said policeman Scott Hornoff
(reinstated and awarded backpay time in prison, but the city is appealing
against that decision). "I miss the woman she was. I have an edge to me, but
what this has done to her breaks my heart."

Nor do they automatically get their criminal records expunged, which
naturally creates difficulties when job seeking. Dennis Maher got lucky
(relatively speaking) with his boss. "I told him I didn't care what happened
to him as long as he could fix trucks, because that's what we do here," he
said. "[Dennis] is a good worker, he's from the old school." Possibly, of
course, because Maher's skills and work ethic had been preserved in aspic
for 19 years, since 1984 when he began a life sentence for a rape he did not
commit. He was the only one of the seven to get any kind of apology from
anyone involved in his wrongful conviction. It came from the prosecuting
district attorney. "It was a heartfelt apology," said Maher, "A real
apology. That felt good."

At times it felt to me that the film, while certainly moving, horrifying and
inspiring by turns, spread itself too thinly. I understand that you need
multiple examples to establish the endemic nature of the criminal justice
maladministration, but seven was possibly too many. A sharper focus on three
or four of the main stories and a closer look at the chain of events that
led to each faulty conviction would have made it an infinitely more
rewarding and powerful film. As it was, the cases and backgrounds were never
explained or examined fully enough, and you occasionally felt required to
take a little too much on faith. This is not to question the men's innocence
in any way, or to deny that the system failed them and doubtless thousands
of others who have yet to be identified, but just to acknowledge the danger
that an over-simplistic approach can sometimes raise unnecessary doubts and
questions in a viewer's mind, and ultimately weaken a case.

---

Source : The Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv_and_radio/story/0,,1993082,00.html

Friday, 19 January 2007

Kerry Max Cook


Kerry Max Cook


Kerry Max Cook was born in Stuttgart, Germany, and spent much of his youth on army bases in Europe. In 1972, he and his family returned to the United States to live in Texas. Since gaining his freedom, Cook has been an outspoken advocate for legal reform.


He has made numerous national and international media appearances and has lectured at Princeton, Yale, and the University of Chicago. His story was incorporated into the acclaimed play The Exonerated, of which he is often a cast member. He was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship to write Chasing Justice.

Chasing Justice




That's the title of Kerry Max Cook's book, which will be published by Harper Collins at the end of February. More info is here.


A brilliant and unprecedented work, Chasing Justice is the riveting chronicle of how a smalltown murder became one of the worst cases of prosecutorial misconduct in American history—and sent the author, an innocent man, to hell for twenty-two harrowing years.


Kerry Max Cook is one of the longest-tenured death-row prisoners to be freed: This is his unbelievable story and the only firsthand account of its kind.


Wrongfully convicted of killing a young woman in Texas, Cook was sentenced to death in 1978 and served two decades on death row, in a prison system so notoriously brutal and violent that in 1980 a federal court ruled that serving time in Texas's jails was "cruel and unusual punishment."


As scores of men around him were executed, Cook relentlessly battled a legal system that wanted him dead; meanwhile he fought daily to survive amid unspeakable conditions and routine assaults. When an advocate and a crusading lawyer joined his struggle in the 1990s, a series of retrials was forced. At last, in November 1996, Texas's highest appeals court threw out Cook's conviction, citing overwhelming evidence of police and prosecutorial misconduct.


And finally in the spring of 1999 long-overlooked DNA evidence was tested and it linked another man to the rape and murder for which Cook had been convicted. Today, Cook is a free man and the proud father of a young son.


A shocking look inside death row, a legal thriller, and an inspirational story of one man's ultimately triumphant fight against extreme adversity, Chasing Justice is a landmark work, written with the powerful authenticity of Cook's own hand. It will forever unsettle our view of the American justice system.


Kerry's case was featured in the play The Exonerated. You can preorder the book directly from Harper Collins. You can also pre-order from Amazon.com, and I'm adding it to the Books category in the right-hand column.


Book tour information with scheduled media appearances is here.

Man cleared by DNA test fights for full exoneration



Man cleared by DNA test fights for full exoneration


Dallas County: Innocence in boy's 1982 rape still not reflected in records
12:00 AM CST on Thursday, January 18, 2007


By ROBERT THARP / The Dallas Morning News


Twenty-four years after he was sent to prison for a crime he did not commit, 50-year-old James Waller returned to court Wednesday to hear prosecutors and a Dallas judge apologize and pledge to help him clear his name.
A DNA analysis of the 1982 crime evidence ruled conclusively last month that Mr. Waller is not the man who broke into an Old East Dallas apartment and raped a 12-year-old boy. But the scientific victory is just part of the battle, and Mr. Waller's quest for complete exoneration is far from over.
Until a higher state appeals court grants paperwork showing that he is "actually innocent," Mr. Waller remains under parole supervision and must continue to register as a convicted sex offender. His current status in legal limbo also prevents him from receiving financial restitution for the years he spent in prison.
"To call his struggle for justice a long one would be the understatement of the year," said Nina Morrison, staff attorney for the Innocence Project, a nonprofit resource center devoted to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing.
Mr. Waller is the 12th Dallas County man to be exonerated of felony charges through DNA tests in the last five years. District Attorney Craig Watkins and national leaders of the exoneration movement said Mr. Waller's case is further cause to re-examine previous prosecution practices in Dallas County.
"No one knows why we have 12 and counting in Dallas," said Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck, who noted that one of the most difficult hurdles in such cases is finding microscopic evidence to perform a DNA test decades after a conviction.
Mr. Watkins, who took office Jan. 1, said he is reviewing the 12 exonerations, most of which date to cases from the 1980s, to determine whether there is a pattern that warrants an investigation. He also pledged to act quickly when DNA tests raise questions about a person's guilt.
"By standing up and doing the right thing, we improve our credibility with the citizens of Dallas County," he said.
Mr. Waller never stopped protesting his innocence, even after he was paroled in 1993. He said he's not angry about what he has been through but still doesn't understand why he was implicated in the crime and wrongly convicted.
"I just wish and pray that the kid would know that he made a mistake," he said. "Not that he lied, but he might have been led into it."
The victim in the case, now 37, could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Waller's family stood beside him through the years.
"From day one, I never doubted his innocence in any way because I knew my brother," said his sister, Patsy Waller. "I'm glad he was able to keep fighting. We knew he wasn't guilty of anything, but it was a struggle. It was devastating to have him locked up all those years."
He first requested DNA testing in 1999 before a state law was enacted requiring that convicts be given such opportunities. In 2001, District Judge John Creuzot granted his request, but a DNA analysis performed at that time by the state Department of Public Safety crime lab was not sensitive enough to test the small amount of DNA evidence recovered in his case, and the results were inconclusive.
Although he almost gave up his quest after his pregnant wife was killed in a car crash in 2001, Mr. Waller pressed on. Attorneys for the Innocence Project examined his case and felt he would be a good candidate for a relatively new and more sensitive DNA test through a private lab in Dallas. That test concluded that someone other than Mr. Waller is responsible for raping the boy.
Mr. Scheck said Mr. Waller's case shows that new DNA testing procedures can produce results that were not possible just a few years ago. For that reason, authorities should review cases like Mr. Waller's that previously had DNA tests that were ruled inconclusive, he said.
Like many of the 190 exonerations nationwide made possible by DNA tests, Mr. Waller's wrongful conviction was based on mistaken identification.
Although the 12-year-old victim said he never got a good look at his attacker because the man was wearing a bandana over his face, he later identified Mr. Waller based solely on his eyes and voice.
Mr. Waller is now planning to regain a sense of normalcy, possibly get married and have children.
"I thank God I'm still here," he said, prompting Judge Creuzot to respond: "Me, too."
E-mail rtharp@dallasnews.com

DNA exonerations raise questions about the quality of Texas justice


DNA exonerations raise questions about the quality of Texas justice


The Associated Press


Published: January 19, 2007


DALLAS: In a case that has renewed questions about the quality of Texas justice, a man who spent 10 years behind bars for the rape of a boy has become the 12th person in Dallas County to be cleared by DNA evidence.
That is more DNA exonerations than in all of California, and more than in Florida, too. In fact, Dallas County alone has more such cases than all but three states — a situation one Texas lawmaker calls an "international embarrassment."


James Waller, 50, was exonerated by a judge earlier this week and received an apology from the district attorney's office after a new type of DNA testing on hair and semen showed he was not the rapist who attacked a 12-year-old a boy living in Waller's apartment building in 1983. The boy had been the chief witness against him.


"It's been a long, horrible road," said Waller, who has been out of prison on parole since 1993.


Only New York, Illinois and Texas have had more DNA exonerations than Dallas County, which has a population of 2.3 million, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions.


"These are appalling mistakes, and in the case of Dallas County, there have been so many," said Democratic state Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston, who is sponsoring a bill to create Texas Innocence Commission to scrutinize the state's criminal justice system. Ellis serves as chairman of the board of directors for the Innocence Project.


A similar bill failed to reach the floor in the past two legislative sessions. But "my colleagues in the Senate, in particular, are beginning to see these are human lives we are talking about," Ellis said. "There are times when we make mistakes, and when we do, we ought to be big enough to admit it."


Since the nation's first DNA exoneration in 1989, 26 defendants have been cleared in Illinois, including 11 in Chicago's Cook County, according to the Innocence Project. There have been 21 exonerations each in Texas and New York, nine in California and six in Florida, the organization said.


In Dallas County, about 400 prisoners who filed wrongful-conviction claims have received DNA testing, leading to the 12 exonerations, said Trista Allen, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. New District Attorney Craig Watkins, who took office two weeks ago, is determined to look into the underlying causes, she said.


"DNA testing is to make sure innocent folks are not in jail," Allen said. "If you are not guilty, we want to get you out of jail. We're not going to be the DA (District Attorney) that stands in the way."


Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, said the number of exonerations in Dallas County "demands a closer look and statewide action." He said there is no clear reason there have been so many wrongful convictions in Dallas, but "many of the cases have to do with eyewitness identification."


That was true with Waller. A day after the rape, the boy was at a convenience store when he heard Waller's voice and became convinced Waller was the man who attacked him in his apartment.
Earlier, the boy had told police that he never saw the attacker face-to-face and that the man had worn a bandanna covering most of his face. Waller was also heavier and taller than the man described by the youngster.


Waller and his family were the only black residents of the apartment complex, according to the Innocence Project.


He began seeking DNA testing in 1989. Since his parole, he has had to register as a sex offender, but his lawyers are trying to get that requirement lifted.

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/01/19/america/NA-GEN-US-Texas-DNA-Exoneration.php

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Wrongful conviction amounts to $450,000


Nov. 10, 2006

Wrongful conviction amounts to $450,000

Man cleared by DNA after 18 years is mum on what he'll do with cash

By RENÉE C. LEE, Houston Chronicle

RESOURCES

COMPENSATION

- State law: A person pardoned based on innocence is eligible for up to
$25,000 for each year in prison. The state caps it at $500,000.

Arthur Mumphrey, who spent 18 years in prison on a wrongful conviction, is
keeping his day job as steel foreman even though he will soon be nearly a
half-million dollars richer.

Mumphrey, released from prison Jan. 26 after new DNA test results cleared
his name, has been awarded $452,082 before taxes in restitution from the
state.

He recently got his first lump sum of $226,041 and will get another lump sum
in the same amount in August 2007, according to the Texas Comptroller's
Office.

He will have to report the compensation to the Internal Revenue Service, and
tax officials will decide if and how much he will pay in taxes, said a
comptroller official.

Mumphrey, who did not respond to a request for an interview, has been mum
about his compensation. Not even his wife, Angela, or his attorney, Eric
Davis, know what he plans to do with his money.

''That's his business," said Angela Mumphrey, who described her husband as a
quiet ''homebody" since his release nine months ago.

A jury convicted Mumphrey of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl in a
wooded area of Conroe on Feb. 28, 1986, partly based on blood tests that
could not rule him out as one of the two attackers.

A Montgomery County judge later ordered Mumphrey released from prison based
on new test results using technology not available in the 1980s. The tests
proved he was not responsible for the attack.

Gov. Rick Perry signed a pardon based on innocence for Mumphrey on March 17,
expunging the conviction from his record and making him eligible for
compensation.

Busy on the job

Mumphrey received his first payment in August, but the windfall hasn't
changed his priorities.

The Conroe native still spends most of his time working. His first job after
his release was at a Houston glass company. The past seven months he has
worked at a Houston steel company, where he was promoted to foreman last
month, his wife said.

When he's not working 14 to 16 hours, six days a week, Mumphrey relaxes at
his Houston home, watching football and basketball.

"On Sundays, he plays dominoes with my dad, and he talks on the phone with
his sisters every weekend," Angela Mumphrey said.

Davis, who reopened the case in 2005, described Mumphrey as ''hardworking
and industrious."

"He's a good success story in making the transition" from prison to the real
world, Davis said.

Mumphrey gained his freedom thanks to the persistence of Davis, who spent
months tracking down the original DNA in the case.

Davis found the evidence at the Texas Department of Public Safety's Houston
crime lab, but when prosecutors inquired about the DNA, lab officials said
they did not have it.

Stunned by the reversal, Davis kept digging until he reached a lab
supervisor who found the samples stored in a refrigerator.

Prosecutors now think Mumphrey's younger brother, Charles, might be one of
the attackers in the case.

Statute of limitations is up

Just days before Arthur Mumphrey was released, Charles Mumphrey, 35,
confessed to an investigator for the Montgomery County District Attorney's
Office during a jail interview, said Assistant District Attorney Marc
Brumburger, who handles post-conviction and appeal cases.

No criminal charges will be filed against Charles Mumphrey because the
statute of limitations has expired.

But his DNA has been submitted to the state crime lab to be compared with
evidence from the case.

Brumburger said he has not received any information about the evidence since
submitting it about nine months ago.

Charles Mumphrey, like his brother, is now free. He completed his one-year
sentence for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and was released April 21,
according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice records.

He could not be reached for comment.

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Source : Houston Chronicle

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/4324803.html