Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Exonerated Ex-Inmates Struggle to Shed Stigma

Tabitha Pollock, with fiance Abe Hershberger, was exonerated of her daughter's murder but needs the governor's pardon to clear her record. (By Kari Lydersen -- The Washington Post)

By Peter Slevin and Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writers

Monday, April 28, 2008

CHICAGO -- Tabitha Pollock was asleep when her boyfriend killed her 3-year-old daughter. Charged with first-degree murder because prosecutors believed she should have known of the danger, Pollock spent more than six years in prison before the Illinois Supreme Court threw out the conviction.

"Should have known," the high court ruled, was not nearly enough to keep Pollock behind bars.

Five years later, Pollock remains in limbo, freed from prison but not free from the snags of a wrongful conviction that upended her life. With a felony record, she cannot become a teacher, as she wants. She cannot collect damages from the Illinois government. On a trip to Australia, where customs officials questioned her when she arrived, she learned that the murder conviction always follows her.

To fully clear her name, Pollock -- as well as a dozen or so other former Illinois inmates who have been exonerated -- needs an official pardon, which only the governor can give. She applied in 2002 but has received no word.

"I was raised to believe America is a wonderful country, but I have serious doubts about Illinois now," said Pollock, 37. "This whole experience has taught me not to have any hopes or dreams."

A spokesman for Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) said last month that the governor is flooded with petitions and has not had time to focus on Pollock's case.

Pollock's predicament is becoming more common across the country as more people are exonerated. The New York-based Innocence Project has tallied 215 wrongful convictions in the United States that have been reversed on the basis of DNA evidence.

Many of those former prisoners are seeking redress from the governments that mistakenly jailed them -- but they are kept waiting, whether because of the slow pace of bureaucracy or a lack of procedures or political will to handle their cases.

When the authorities do not certify innocence, "in effect, the sentence just goes on," said Stephen Saloom, policy director of the Innocence Project. Noting that legislators are recognizing "the lingering problems" of the exonerated after their release, he said 22 states and the District provide official compensation in one form or another.

"A recent trend is not only to compensate at a monetary value per year incarcerated, but also to provide immediate services upon release," said Saloom, who said the project's clients spent an average of 11 years in prison. Advocates say the exonerated need help making the transition back into society, especially finding a job.

"It's not enough to let the person out of prison," Saloom said.

Alabama pays exonerated ex-prisoners $50,000 for each year they were incarcerated. New Jersey pays $40,000 or twice the inmate's previous annual income. Louisiana offers $15,000 a year plus counseling, medical care and job training, according to Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions.

In Illinois, to regain a certifiably clean record and collect compensation -- a lump payment of $60,150 for five years or less in prison, or $120,300 for six to 14 years -- an exonerated inmate must obtain a "pardon based on innocence" from the governor. A 15-member state review board interviews the petitioners and makes a recommendation, but the governor is not obligated to make a decision.

"The governor is not acting on them," said Karen Daniel, senior staff lawyer with the Center on Wrongful Convictions, which is pressing Blagojevich to decide on Pollock's case and others. "In most of these cases, it's really not a hard decision. Sometimes there's still some controversy left after the conviction is thrown out, but in most of these cases there is no disagreement."

Illinois law gives exonerated former prisoners fewer services than paroled convicts. A bill recently passed by the Illinois House and now under consideration by the Senate would change that, while allowing cleared inmates to receive a "certificate of innocence," which would have the same power as a pardon, without going to the governor.

Robert Wilson's experience with the Chicago courts was a case of mistaken identity. He spent nine years behind bars for another man's crime, and it haunts him still.

On Feb. 28, 1997, someone slashed June Siler, 24, with a box cutter as she waited for a bus on Chicago's South Side. The next day, at the same bus stop, police arrested Wilson. Interrogated for nearly 30 hours, he signed a written confession and was charged with attempted murder.

Wilson pleaded not guilty, but Siler pointed him out in court as the man who cut her face and throat. What the jury did not know was that five other victims -- all white, as Siler was -- were attacked and slashed at Chicago bus stops in the two weeks after Wilson's arrest. The slasher was caught and confessed, but police never asked him about the Siler case.

Nine years later, on an appeal filed by the Northwestern team, a court ruled that the jury should have been told about the other cases. Siler came forward and said she had fingered the wrong man.

Wilson, at long last, was free. Yet he left prison with few prospects and deeply in debt because he was assessed child support for his three boys while behind bars. These days, his boys are teenagers and he is "barely making it."

"I feel so bad, I figure I would be better off back in the penitentiary," said Wilson, 52. "Whenever I apply for a job, they see the criminal record and say no. I'm not asking for welfare or a handout; just give me what I deserve."

Marlon Pendleton is also bitter. In 1993, a rape and robbery victim picked him from a police lineup. His attorneys believe that the victim was influenced by seeing Pendleton in handcuffs before she viewed the entire group. Although he repeatedly asked for DNA testing, he was told it would be impossible.

In 2006, a DNA test established his innocence and Pendleton went free. But he has not been pardoned, has not received compensation and has not seen the conviction wiped off his record. Unable to meet the mortgage, his family lost his late mother's home in Gary, Ind. He says his children are suffering.

"I can't get a job," Pendleton said. "Every time I fill out an application, it comes up. What can you do with a prison record and a not very good education? Life has been a living hell."

Daniel, the Northwestern lawyer, said the number of exonerated inmates "probably seems small" in a nation with 2 million people behind bars. "But to me, it's important."

"It's just an enormous wrong we've inflicted on these people, not necessarily intentionally," Daniel said. "His possessions are gone, job is gone, family members are often gone. There's little worse a government can do to a person. We can't in good conscience have a so-called criminal justice system unless we make people whole when we screw up."

One of Daniel's clients is Marcus Lyons, a former Navy Reservist and aspiring computer programmer who spent three years in prison on an erroneous sexual assault conviction.

Lyons was so distraught that after his release in 1991, he tried to nail himself to a cross outside the DuPage County Courthouse.

DNA evidence cleared him last year. He is still waiting for the Illinois government to make amends.

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

12:00 AM CDT on Tuesday, April 29, 2008
By JENNIFER EMILY / The Dallas Morning News

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 3 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

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

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?"

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Marine widow criticizes prosecutors after judge dismisses murder charges in Calif.

Cynthia Sommer, left, looks on as her attorney Allen Bloom ,right, holds up her jail release order at a news conference held in downtown San Diego Friday, April, 18, 2008. Sommer, who was convicted of killing her Marine husband with arsenic to pay for breast implants, was cleared Thursday after new tests showed no traces of poison. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

By ALLISON HOFFMAN Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press - Friday, April 18, 2008


A woman who spent more than two years in jail before she was cleared of killing her Marine husband with arsenic questioned Friday how prosecutors could sleep at night, now knowing that new tests showed no traces of poison.

Cynthia Sommer, 34, said she barely slept herself on her first night of freedom after a San Diego Superior Court judge Thursday dismissed charges that she poisoned her husband in 2002.

She was convicted of first-degree murder in January 2007 after initial tests of Sgt. Todd Sommer's liver showed levels of arsenic 1,020 times above normal.

But prosecutors found no traces of poison in previously untested tissue as they prepared for a second trial. A judge had ordered a new trial in November after finding she had ineffective representation from her former attorney.

At her trial, prosecutors argued that Sommer used her husband's life insurance to pay for breast implants and pursue a more luxurious lifestyle.

With no proof that Sommer was the source of the arsenic detected in her husband's liver, the government relied heavily on circumstantial evidence of Sommer's financial debt and later spending sprees to show that she had a motive to kill her 23-year-old husband.

Sommer criticized prosecutors for questioning her behavior after her husband's death, saying, "I did what I did."

She was set free within hours of the judge's ruling and emerged from the Las Colinas Detention Facility in suburban Santee.

"The only question I have for (prosecutors) is how they sleep at night?" Sommer said.

Her attorney, Allen Bloom, said he felt the evidence was contaminated. "We've said that all along," he told reporters outside the courthouse.

Bloom accused the district attorney of "gross negligence."

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis defended her handling of the case Friday, saying that justice was served and that her office acted appropriately.

"We did what we were supposed to do," Dumanis told KFMB-TV. "We're all looking backwards now and second-guessing everything."

A recently retained government expert speculated that the earlier samples were contaminated, prosecutors wrote in a motion filed in court. The expert said he found the initial results "very puzzling" and "physiologically improbable."

Todd Sommer was in top physical condition when he collapsed and died Feb. 18, 2002, at the couple's home on the Marine Corps' Miramar base in San Diego. His death was initially ruled a heart attack.

Dumanis said Thursday there was no proof of contamination but offered no other explanation. She said she didn't know how the tissue may have been contaminated.

"We had an expert who said it was arsenic and no reason to doubt that evidence," Dumanis said. "The bottom line was, 'Was there arsenic in Mr. Sommer causing his death?' Our results showed that there was."

Sommer said she wasn't sure what she would do now that she was out of jail. She was looking forward to seeing her four children, ages 8 to 16.

"It's already been an incredible day. I can't wait to finish it," she said.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Freed, he's adjusting, helping

Exonerated inmate Charles Chatman speaks to students

with the Innocence Project on Wednesday.

Posted on Fri, Apr. 04, 2008

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

FORT WORTH -- 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.

MAX B. BAKER, 817-390-7714

Sunday, 13 April 2008

How do you repay a man for a crime he didn't commit?

Michael Mayo News Columnist
9:52 PM EDT, April 2, 2008

Twenty-four years, six months, 13 days and four hours.

That's how much time Alan Crotzer spent locked up for a crime he didn't commit.

He recites the figure with practiced ease, not even a grimace crossing his face when he speaks. He told his story again on Tuesday, in a lecture hall packed with law students at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.

"Whatever life I have left, I want to enjoy it," said Crotzer, 47. "I can't afford to be bitter. I don't have time for that."

It's been a little more than two years since he walked free, exonerated in January 2006 after DNA testing proved he didn't take part in a 1981 home invasion, kidnapping and double rape in Tampa.

On Tuesday, the halls at NSU's Shepard Broad Law Center were plastered with fliers of others like Crotzer, wrongly convicted people freed by DNA testing. Crotzer wore a T-shirt that read: "214 ... and counting."

The shirt, promoting the Innocence Project legal group that helped Crotzer win freedom, was already outdated. The group's national exoneration tally has climbed to 215, including nine in Florida.

"I just want to let you know there are a lot of Alan Crotzers out there," he said.

Crotzer went away at 21. He got his life back at 45.

He now works a $9.50-an-hour job for a landscaping firm in Tallahassee. He got married last year, has two stepchildren, 14 and 12. He voted for the first time in January. He got his first passport two months ago.

"I just want to be an average person," he said.

Crotzer spoke of the challenges adjusting to a changed world. He was baffled the first-time he encountered an automated-sensor faucet. Before he went to prison, there were no such thing as cell phones or the Internet. He said many of his friends from his St. Petersburg neighborhood are dead or addicted to crack cocaine, which didn't exist before he left.

The day of his release, one of his attorneys asked if he wanted to go to Starbucks.

"Sure ... what's a Starbucks?" Crotzer replied.

Now he awaits some semblance of justice, in the form of a check from the state.

"There's no amount of money that can give me back my freedom," Crotzer said.

Crotzer might soon get $1.25 million from the Legislature, $50,000 for each year he was incarcerated. Last week the House unanimously approved a claims bill for Crotzer. The Senate is expected to take a first vote on the bill today and could finalize approval next week.

Florida is among 28 states that have no compensation system for the wrongfully imprisoned. "If you're a convicted felon, when you finish your sentence they give you $100 cash and a bus ticket when you leave prison," said Michael Olenick, one of Crotzer's attorneys. "But if you've been wrongly convicted and they let you out, you don't get $100 or the bus ticket."

It's up to wronged individuals to lobby the Legislature for compensation, an inconsistent and maddening process. Last year, the Senate didn't take up Crotzer's claims bill. So far, only one of Florida's nine DNA-exonerated inmates, Wilton Dedge, has gotten a claims bill passed ($2 million in 2005).

A less capricious system could soon arrive, with the Legislature considering a broader bill (HB1025) that would set an automatic process for the wrongfully convicted. It would cap payment at $50,000 per year of imprisonment or $2 million.

But the bill has an onerous "clean hands" provision that would exclude anybody with a prior felony conviction. Under this bill, Crotzer wouldn't qualify for compensation, because he robbed a convenience store of two cases of beer when he was 18. The other remaining Florida DNA exonerees would also be disqualified for previous felonies.

"It's not perfect, but it would be a start," Olenick said of the bill.

If Crotzer's individual claims bill passes, Gov. Charlie Crist has said he would sign it. Crotzer met Crist recently at his Capitol office.

"He looked me in the eye and apologized," Crotzer said. "That meant something."

Michael Mayo's column runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Read him online weekdays at Sun Reach him at or 954-356-4508.

more in /news/columnists

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Death penalty errors argued by panel at Tech

Saturday, April 05, 2008
Story last updated at 4/5/2008 - 2:18 am

Juan Melendez can still hear the hum of the electric chair as it burned the life out of his friends.

Melendez spent nearly 18 years on Florida's death row in a rat- and roach-infested, 6-by-9-foot cell for a crime he didn't commit.

"I consider myself the very luckiest man in the world," he said. "If I had been in Texas, I'd be dead."

He told his story on Friday as one of many speakers in the Texas Tech University School of Law symposium "Convicting the Innocent."

Since his exoneration in 2002, Melendez has traveled the world speaking out against the death penalty.

Capital punishment does not deter criminals and costs too much, Melendez, as well as many of the panelists, said.

Friday's criminal law symposium brought practitioners and professors of law and social science from around the country to discuss topics such as: Why do we convict as many innocent people as we do? and given that we sometimes convict innocent people, what, if anything, does that say about the death penalty?

The speakers presented heaps of statistics and studies supporting their call for change in the justice system.

Richard Roper, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said it was important to acknowledge real life concerns not done in the sterile confines of a law school courtroom.

He listed several people in his 25 years of experience as a prosecutor who committed heinous crimes and continued to kill in prison.

"I think the death penalty should still have a place in our society," he said.

Despite his disagreement on the future of capital punishment, Roper applauded the seminar and its speakers for asking the questions.

"It's really a good day for Texas Tech law school to have these people," said Arnold Loewy, the symposium organizer.

To comment on this story: 766-8704 766-8706

FJA Recognizes Individuals Who Exemplify the Continuing Fight for Justice in Florida

Alan Crotzer

... Also honored was Michael H. Olenick, of Carlton Fields P.A., who was presented with FJA's Pro Bono Award for his selfless pro bono service in seeking justice on behalf of Alan Crotzer, a man who was wrongfully incarcerated by the state of Florida for over 24 years. Michael’s determined commitment to not only seek just compensation for Alan, but to help him adjust to living in a world much changed during the 24 years spent living in an isolated prison cell, goes above and beyond the common call of justice.

In addition, FJA rightfully recognized Alan Crotzer for his continuing belief in prevailing justice. On January 23, 2006, Alan was released after being exonerated by DNA evidence after being sentenced to serve 130 years for a crime he did not commit. Despite losing so much of his life, Alan holds no resentment towards the justice system. Instead, he now seeks to help others by lobbying for the passage of a uniform system of compensating individuals who are wrongfully incarcerated.

"Alan always believed that justice would ultimately prevail," said Scott Carruthers. "Instead of holding bitterness towards a system that failed him, Alan now seeks to create a system which recognizes that wrongful incarcerations do occur and provide a mechanism to compensate all individuals who are exonerated."

During the 2007 Florida Legislative Session, House Bill 125 by Rep. Taylor, as originally drafted, would have provided for such a system. Although it passed several committees in both chambers and Governor Crist pledged his support during an impromptu meeting with Alan Crotzer and in the media, ultimately no wrongful incarceration compensation bill passed.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Justice Project official speaks at Cornell

John Terzano, president of The Justice Project, left, and Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, an exonerated death row inmate, chat Tuesday in the Cornell University Law School's student lounge. Bloodsworth went on to give a talk about his wrongful conviction to law school students in the atrium of Myron Taylor Hall on the Cornell University campus.

Innocent man shares story

By Topher Sanders Journal Staff

ITHACA — The first person to be freed from death row by DNA testing shared his story Tuesday at Cornell Law School.
Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, 47, was wrongly convicted for the 1984 murder and rape of 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton outside Baltimore. The case against Bloodsworth relied heavily on eyewitness testimony.

After Bloodsworth spent eight years in jail, DNA testing proved he did not commit the crime.

“I told everybody and anyone from the day I was arrested to the moment of my release that I was an innocent man,” Bloodsworth said.
Bloodsworth signed all the mail he sent out while in prison, “A.I.M.: An Innocent Man.”

“I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy, what happened to me,” Bloodsworth said. “The problem is my story is not unique.”

Since Bloodsworth's release in 1993, 126 other people have been freed from death row by DNA testing, said Bloodsworth, who is a program officer for The Justice Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that works for criminal justice reform.

Law students and the community can learn from Bloodsworth, said John Blume, Cornell Law School professor and director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project. John Terzano, president of the Justice Project, also spoke on Tuesday at Cornell.

“The reason I wanted to bring Kirk and John to speak to the law school and larger community is for them to see someone whose life has been fundamentally changed by an error in the criminal justice system,” Blume said. “It's one thing for me to talk about it in my classes, but it's much more powerful and the message is much clearer if it comes from somebody who was clearly innocent and wrongfully sentenced to death for something they had nothing to do with.”

Being sentence to death for a crime he didn't commit was the worst experience of his life, Bloodsworth said.

“It's like you know you can speak, but you open your mouth and nothing comes out or nobody can hear you,” he said. “You're just yelling and nobody can hear you. It's almost like you're a non-person. It's the most horrible feeling that I have ever had to experience in my life.”

Citizens place too much faith in the justice system, Terzano said.

“Americans have the basic fundamental belief that we have a fair and just criminal justice system,” Terzano said. “And what these exonerations have shown is that it's not fair and it's not just and it is systemically flawed. The exonerations have opened the window on the criminal justice system.”

Reform of the criminal justice system is necessary, he said.

“The system is broken,” he said. “It's broken to the point where 78 percent of all wrongful convictions are based on witness identification.”

Former Death Row Inmates Address Students at GSC

Posted Wednesday, April 2, 2008 ; 06:45 PM

Updated Wednesday, April 2, 2008 ; 07:22 PM

Watch Story Video

The discussion was hosted by the school's criminal justice program.

GLENVILLE -- Two men who spent time on death row before being exonerated, spoke to students at Glenville State College Wednesday.

Greg Wilhoit and Ron Keine are traveling the country, visiting college campuses to share their feelings on the death penalty with students.

To hear what the men had to say and what students thought of the discussion, click on the video link.

Copyright 2008 West Virginia Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Another innocent inmate leaves death row

'It's been too long,' Glen Chapman says as he savors the first bite of his first meal as a free man: a bologna and cheese sandwich. Murder charges against him stemming from two deaths in 1992 were dropped Wednesday.

Published: Apr 03, 2008 12:30 AM
Modified: Apr 03, 2008 05:13 AM

Another innocent inmate leaves death row

Glen Chapman spent almost 14 years awaiting execution because an investigator lied and withheld evidence

Titan Barksdale, Staff Writer

RALEIGH - The bologna and cheese sandwich that Glen Chapman savored Wednesday could have been his last meal.
Instead, it was his first as a free man after almost 14 years on death row.

Chapman, 40, was released from Central Prison on Wednesday after Catawba County District Attorney James Gaither Jr. dismissed murder charges against him.

Last November, Superior Court Judge Robert C. Ervin found that an investigator withheld evidence and lied in court, and that Chapman was inadequately defended by his court-appointed attorneys.

Ervin sent the case back for another trial, but Gaither, in dismissing the charges, said there was not enough evidence for a retrial.

Chapman is the seventh innocent death row prisoner in North Carolina to be released, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.

He was sentenced to death in 1994 in the slayings of Betty Jean Ramseur and Tenene Yvette Conley in Hickory. Their bodies were found in abandoned houses in August 1992. Chapman has always denied killing them.

Ervin's 186-page order said a lead investigator, Dennis Rhoney, withheld information that a key witness in the Ramseur case identified someone other than Chapman in a photo lineup. Rhoney, who worked for the Hickory Police Department, also lied during his trial testimony against Chapman, Ervin wrote.

Ervin added that a report by a forensic scientist showed that one of the victims likely died of a drug overdose, rather than by foul play.

"Everything that you can possibly imagine going wrong in a capital case went wrong," said Jessica Leaven, a lawyer who handled Chapman's case. "It's a prime example why the death penalty should be abolished."

Efforts to reach Rhoney, now a deputy in the Burke County Sheriff's Office, were unsuccessful.

The truth of testimony by Rhoney in previous trials also must be questioned, said Frank Goldsmith, another lawyer who worked on the case. Both lawyers called for an investigation into his conduct.

"I don't think it gets much worse than perjury by an officer of the law," Goldsmith said.

Chapman's appeals attorneys also argued that his trial attorneys, Thomas Portwood and Robert Adams, failed to interview several critical witnesses and were "excessive users of alcohol."

Portwood, who admitted he drank more than a pint of 80-proof rum every evening during several death penalty trials, has been challenged in court for his representation of at least two other men, one of whom was executed in 2001.

Adams told the N.C. State Bar that he drank three scotches a night but that it did not affect his trial performance, according to The Charlotte Observer. A 1998 psychiatrist's evaluation of Adams, ordered by the bar, concluded that Adams "had a drinking problem" and referred him to Alcoholics Anonymous, according to a bar discipline order.

Portwood died in 2003, and Adams could not be reached.

Chapman said he harbors no resentment toward Rhoney or the criminal justice system.

"I have no bitterness," Chapman said. "I feel better without it."

But he missed much of the growth of his two sons during his years on death row. Chapman talked with them Wednesday on a cell phone he could barely figure out how to use.

When prison officials told Chapman he was going home Wednesday, he didn't get his hopes up.

'Still shocked'

"I'm still shocked," Chapman said. "I didn't believe it until I was actually outside."

The prison jumpsuit Chapman wore was replaced by a crisp white dress shirt and black slacks. He was looking forward to relaxing Wednesday night and having steak for dinner -- a step up from the double-decker bologna and cheese sandwich he requested.

Chapman wants to reconnect with his family. Most of his relatives live in Hickory, but he said he doubts he will stay in the Western North Carolina town where his trouble began.
"I think it's time for me to move on," Chapman said.

In neighboring Newton, Charles Ramseur, Betty Ramseur's brother, struggled to make sense of the situation.

"It's a terrible situation for everyone involved," Ramseur said. "If he didn't do it, there are people who are still going to believe that he did it, and I'm sure he's going to have problems with that. But you can't get closure when this happens."

Ramseur said his sister was a drug addict who associated with criminals. Before her death, he said, he warned her about going to abandoned houses to use drugs.

If Rhoney lied, Ramseur said, he should be fired.

"We don't need any liars for investigators," Ramseur said.

Crucial omission

Ervin, the judge, found that investigators never told prosecutors a witness identified someone other than Chapman as the person he saw before a June 1992 fire at the house where Ramseur's body was found. His ruling also said detectives never reported that witnesses said Conley was seen alive with someone who had a history of violence against her in the days after prosecutors said she died.

Defense lawyers said the only physical evidence that tied Chapman to the deaths was the result of consensual sex with Conley.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the nearly 14 years Chapman spent on death row was the longest stint of any North Carolina death row inmate released because of innocence.

Gov. Mike Easley would have to sign a pardon for the state to pay Chapman. Though Chapman said he hasn't thought about trying to get state money, his attorneys said they would consider applying for a pardon.

"We'll do what we can," Goldsmith said. "Pardons are difficult. ... He was deeply wronged."

On Wednesday, it was enough for Chapman to savor his sandwich.

(Charlotte Observer writers Marcie Young and David Ingram contributed to this report.) or (919) 829-4802