Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Dallas man one step closer to freedom after DNA clears him in 1981 rape

10:10 PM CDT on Monday, September 15, 2008

By TIARA M. ELLIS / The Dallas Morning News tellis@dallasnews.com

While a 28-year-old woman was being raped at White Rock Lake in August 1981, Johnnie Earl Lindsey was at work, pressing pants at a commercial laundry business, he has said.

But Mr. Lindsey, who is now 56, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. After nearly 26 years there, the Dallas man is one step closer to freedom this week after DNA test results showed that he was not the man who sexually assaulted the woman, said his attorney, Michelle Moore.

A court hearing is scheduled Friday at the Frank Crowley Courts Building.

"Hopefully he'll be released," said Ms. Moore, an assistant Dallas County public defender and a board member of the Innocence Project, a legal group that seeks to get wrongful convictions overturned.

Dallas County District Attorney spokeswoman Jamille Bradfield confirmed the hearing date but said she could not comment further until later this week. If released, Mr. Lindsey would be the 19th man cleared by DNA testing in Dallas County since 2001, when the state Legislature began allowing post-conviction DNA testing.

The rape victim, who is not being identified because of The Dallas Morning News' policy not to name victims of sexual assault, pointed out Mr. Lindsey's picture in a six-person photo lineup that Dallas police mailed to her one year after the attack. She was living in San Antonio at the time, according to court records.

The suspect had been described as a black man in his 20s wearing no shirt, according to court records. Only two men in the lineup photos were shirtless, Ms. Moore said. And Mr. Lindsey was one of them.

"Juries back in the day believed that when a woman was raped, she must be able to identify her attacker," Ms. Moore said. "We know so much more now. There have been so many studies about how bad eyewitness accounts can be."

On Aug. 25, 1981, the victim was riding her bike around White Rock Lake about 11 a.m. when she saw a shirtless man standing on the path in a wooded area, according to court records.

As she tried to ride past him, the man grabbed the handlebars of her bike and knocked her off, court records show. He said he had a knife and threatened to stab her if she didn't do as he said. After being sexually assaulted, the woman managed to get away and ran for help, covering herself with a paper bag she found, according to court records.

Mr. Lindsey has maintained his innocence through two trials and several parole board hearings, Ms. Moore said. His first conviction was overturned because he was indicted under a statute that was not in effect at the time of the incident. The Dallas County district attorney's office retried him and got the same conviction.

"The reasons they gave for not granting him parole were because of the nature of the crime and because he would not admit to the offense," Ms. Moore said. "It's been almost 26 years. I can't believe he didn't just admit to the assault so he could be released."

In 1977, Mr. Lindsey was convicted of aggravated robbery, for which he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Ms. Moore said that was a mistake he made when he was younger, and that he regrets his actions.

Before the 1981 rape case, Mr. Lindsey pleaded guilty to an unrelated attempted rape and was sentenced to eight years in prison. Ms. Moore said he did not commit that crime but pleaded guilty under the advice of his attorney and in exchange for a short sentence.

Dallas County DA wants to re-examine nearly all of pending death row cases

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins

06:37 AM CDT on Tuesday, September 16, 2008
By JENNIFER EMILY and STEVE McGONIGLE / The Dallas Morning News

Troubled that innocent people have been imprisoned by faulty prosecutions, District Attorney Craig Watkins said Monday that he would re-examine nearly 40 death penalty convictions and would seek to halt executions, if necessary, to give the reviews time to proceed.

Mr. Watkins told The Dallas Morning News that problems exposed by 19 DNA-based exonerations in Dallas County have convinced him he should ensure that no death row inmate is actually innocent.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins "It's not saying I'm putting a moratorium on the death penalty," said Mr. Watkins, whose reviews would be of all of the cases now on death row handled by his predecessors. "It's saying that maybe we should withdraw those dates and look at those cases from a new perspective to make sure that those individuals that are on death row need to be there and they need to be executed."

He cited the exonerations and stories by The News about problems with those prosecutions as the basis for his decision. The exonerations have routinely revealed faulty eyewitness testimony and, in a few cases, prosecutorial misconduct.

Fred Moss, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, said he had never heard of another prosecutor in the country who had conducted the type of review Mr. Watkins proposed.

"It's really quite extraordinary," Mr. Moss said.

Toby Shook, who sent several people to death row while he was a Dallas County prosecutor, said Mr. Watkins was imposing an unnecessary new level of review and a hardship on victims' families.

"Perhaps he hasn't thought this through, but essentially what he's saying is, 'There is one more court of appeal and that's me,' " said Mr. Shook, who was defeated by Mr. Watkins two years ago. "That's going to be devastating to a family."

Mr. Watkins, who has struggled publicly with his feelings about capital punishment, said studying the small pool of death row cases could illustrate larger problems in the justice system and provide legislators with an incentive to enact reforms.

But he said it was the exoneration of Patrick Waller in July – not his personal qualms – that prompted him to pursue reviewing death penalty cases, although he said it's a topic that has been on his mind since an exoneration occurred in his first week in office.

Mr. Waller was cleared of a 1992 robbery-rape. The statute of limitations to prosecute the true perpetrators has expired even though they have admitted to the crimes. Had previous District Attorney Bill Hill not denied testing, the results could have prevented one of the men from being paroled.

"That's really what got me to thinking," Mr. Watkins said. "This is larger than just having innocent folks in jail. This is about having criminals out on the street with cover to go and commit their offenses."

Mr. Watkins has taken steps to halt an execution before.

Last September, he asked to withdraw the execution date for Joseph Roland Lave when the district attorney's office realized that evidence requested by his appellate attorneys was not released and possibly lied about.

Mr. Watkins said that he believes Mr. Lave is guilty but that he was not prosecuted fairly because evidence was withheld. Mr. Lave was sentenced to death for a 1992 robbery and double murder in Richardson.

To halt an execution, judges from the trial court where the conviction was obtained would have to sign the order to approve withdrawing the execution date, said Dallas County state District Judge Andy Chatham.

Judge Chatham, who signed the order to withdraw Mr. Lave's execution date, said Monday that any similar requests would need specific reasons for stopping the execution. Those reasons are DNA testing or a writ of habeas corpus that showed the need for additional court proceedings.

"What you're not going to have is 'Judge, we just want to look at it,' " said Judge Chatham, who is presiding over a death penalty case this week from Mr. Watkins' office. "There has to be some reason."

Mr. Watkins said he believes a judge will grant the request if both the state and defense attorneys agree. Mr. Watkins said he would request new execution dates if a review shows the inmates were prosecuted fairly and are guilty of the crime.

The DA's district attorney's office is this week seeking the death penalty against a man who was convicted Monday of killing his two children. Mr. Watkins also plans to question witnesses himself in another death penalty case slated for later this year.

"At the end of the day, I'm not saying these people shouldn't be executed," Mr. Watkins said.

But, he added, "I don't want someone to be executed on my watch for something they didn't do."

Mr. Watkins said the cases will be investigated by the office's conviction integrity unit, which was created last year and is reviewing DNA tests requests denied under Mr. Hill.

The district attorney's office will review the oldest cases first because those are the most likely to be set for execution.

Only two men from Dallas County, Gregory Edward Wright and Robert Jean Hudson, currently have scheduled execution dates. Both men were sent to death row in unrelated stabbing deaths of women.

Defense attorney Richard Franklin, who represented Mr. Lave as well as other capital murder defendants, said such a review is necessary because of potential prosecutorial misconduct and the problems with eyewitness testimony.

"If there are any death penalty cases that rely on eyewitness testimony alone, then they need to be reviewed," Mr. Franklin said. "All the science points to the fact that eyewitness testimony is no good."

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Wrongful Incarcerations - Punishment Beyond the Crime

September 11, 2008 at 7:45 pm

This post was contributed by Kelly Kilpatrick, who writes on the subject for Criminal Justice Schools. She invites your feedback at kellykilpatrick24@gmail.com

“You do the crime, you do the time”, it’s a saying you’ve heard more than once. But what if you had to do the time for a crime you didn’t commit? How would you feel if you were imprisoned for years when in your heart you knew that you were innocent? And if it’s death row that you’ve been assigned, how would you sleep at night knowing that there’s a high probability that you’ll meet your creator before justice is met?

Far too many American citizens are wrongfully incarcerated and facing the bleak prospects of life behind bars or a date with the wrong side of a lethal injection.Most convictions are based on circumstantial evidence and confessions which are produced because of stress, force, the fear of torture, the need to just end the ordeal, trickery, misunderstandings, the influence of narcotic substances or alcohol and mental illnesses. Exonerations are largely based on DNA evidence, thanks to the huge advances that science and technology have made in the years since these individuals were convicted and incarcerated.

But even when the ruling is overturned and the exonerations are upheld, the sad truth is that not even half the number of states in the USA have laws in place that allow compensation to be provided to people who have been wrongly accused, convicted and incarcerated of crimes they did not commit. Rather than take measures to right a wrong, the government is forcing these victims to file suits if they so desire some form of monetary damages to be awarded - they have to fight for both the right to have their dignity and pride publicly restored and for a reasonable amount that will help rebuild the life that was torn down by the courts and the prison walls.

Florida, which has the highest number of wrongful incarcerations, recently passed the Wrongful Incarceration Act which allows for a compensation of $50,000 for each year spent in prison through a miscarriage of justice. But it’s only when you dig deeper that the sordid facts behind this law come to light and you realize that the law is a travesty of justice.

For example, those with prior felony convictions, even non-violent offenders, are not eligible to claim this money, even though they’ve served time for a crime they did not commit. And to top this, the individual who’s been released must petition the original court that sentenced him or her to recognize that they were wrongfully sentenced. All in all, it’s another parody of a law that does not see justice, even deferred, served.

The fact that many exonerated individuals have spent a good portion of their lives on death row should speak volumes for the argument that capital punishment must be abolished; how do you provide restitution to a person who is no longer alive?

Some Prisoners Declared Innocent, but Not Free

Kerry Max Cook

by Maya Schenwar maya@truthout.org

Former Black Panther Albert Woodfox, convicted of murdering a prison guard with two other inmates, has spent the last 35 years in prison, most of it in solitary confinement. Last month, Woodfox's conviction was overturned by a federal judge. However, despite being cleared of charges, Woodfox remains incarcerated, as the Louisiana attorney general's office persists in challenging the judge's decision.

After repeated reexaminations of his case and an intervention by US House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, who called Woodfox's continued incarceration a "tragic miscarriage of justice," evidence against Woodfox is practically nonexistent. Nevertheless, he remains embroiled in litigation, and until the prosecutors have had their fill, he will stay behind bars.

Pam LaBorde, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Corrections, told Truthout that the attorney general would be appealing Woodfox's exoneration. She said that she does not know when a trial will take place, adding, "We're very early in the process."

"He has to remain in prison until the new trial takes place," LaBorde said.

Woodfox's case brings to light the startling reality that defendants who have been declared innocent may languish in prison indefinitely, due to endless litigation or conflicting legal technicalities. An overturned conviction is often countered by prosecutors with a "stay the mandate" motion, requiring prisoners to remain incarcerated until appeal. Due to poor lawyers, influential prosecutors and ever-changing legal statutes, the motion is often granted.

Woodfox's lawyers have called upon the state of Louisiana to drop its attempts at retrial, arguing that an immediate release is the only humane option.

"How can Louisiana continue to imprison a 61-year-old man after a federal judge has ruled that he shouldn't have been convicted in the first place?" Nick Trenticosta, one of Woodfox's attorneys, told the San Francisco Bay View in July. "The state needs to move forward. Albert must be released."

However, according to a spokeswoman for the Louisiana attorney general's office, a motion for reconsideration has been filed, and the state could even take the case to the Supreme Court, leaving Woodfox incarcerated for the foreseeable future.

"I don't think we have a timeline," the attorney general's spokeswoman told Truthout.

The situation is not atypical, according to Kerry Max Cook, who spent 22 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. He recently published the book "Chasing Justice," which details his battle to prove his innocence and gain his freedom. Cook, who was declared innocent in 1999, cites his own case as an example of post-exoneration incarceration.

"The mandate [for release] had been issued and I still remained on death row, though I had no more conviction," Cook told Truthout. "I myself had to petition the state district judge and demand the Constitution be followed and I be removed from death row. Some lawyers won't fight for their clients, and the client has to fight for themselves like I did."

For clients who do not or cannot "fight for themselves," an open-ended prison sentence may be inevitable, hinging on the whims of prosecutors and judges.

Another reason prisoners may stay incarcerated when they should be released: Legal statutes on sentencing change often and quickly, and sometimes a prisoner's release date is simply computed wrong, according to Rene Aucoin, a New England journalist who has followed the matter closely.

"Say you were arrested in 1993 and the statutes mandated that you serve 75 percent of your sentence. Say the statutes were changed and/or new statutes created so that the law mandates inmates serve 85 percent of their sentence. By the time your release/parole date is near, the statutes have been changed again, and since you were convicted so long ago and have been incarcerated through several changes in legal statutes, no one remembers how the original law worked," Aucoin told Truthout.

When prisoners are not properly represented and are not advised on sentencing policy, such breaches slip by unnoticed. Cook partially attributes illegal extended incarceration to "laziness and unconcern" on the part of judges and the prison system.

In the Woodfox case, judges and defendants alike cited another culprit: discrimination. Before they were charged with murder, Woodfox and his two co-defendants - now dubbed the Angola 3, after the Angola Penitentiary where they were incarcerated - were engaged in rallying other inmates to participate in nonviolent protests against the prison's segregated quarters and ingrained racial violence.

Last year, a magistrate judge noted in her findings for Woodfox's case, "Punishment for crimes committed 35 years ago, for political beliefs, for religious beliefs, and for leadership qualities are not legitimate penological interests." Judges' opinions since have indicated that Woodfox's conviction may well have been prompted by political and racial discrimination.

In a column for The Guardian UK, Helen Kinsella notes that 36 years later, that same motivation may well be driving Woodfox's continued incarceration. She notes that some of the same players may even be involved.

"The attorney general's second-in-command, John Sinquefield, who is helping to preside over the decision to continue fighting the case, is implicated in some of the wrongdoings referred to in the magistrate's June report," Kinsella writes.

The attorney general's office did not return requests for comment on Sinquefield's connection to the case by press time.

According to Cook, who is gay, discrimination played a direct role in his own past-due incarceration.

"As a convicted homosexual I always struggled to get basic human rights in Texas," Cook said, noting that he was unable to use those civil rights violations to defend himself in court and in his petitions for release.

A host of other impetuses may result in prisoners staying in jail past their release dates. For example, in some states, if an inmate is eligible for parole but has nowhere to "parole to," he or she must remain in prison.

Illinois mother Carleen Cross is currently experiencing that phenomenon firsthand. Her son completed his sentence last October, but due to the nature of his crime and the effect it's had on their family, Cross and her relatives could not take him in during his parole period. Since there is no approved public facility in Cross's area that houses sex crime parolees, her son was denied release.

"We had 48 government-approved beds in the state for sex offenders and that's been cut to 28, so he won't ever get one of those," Cross told Truthout.

Therefore, her son is serving out his parole time in prison. He will not be released until October 2010 - two full years after his intended release date.

"There is no one to help him at all or even visit but me," Cross said. "He made the statement to me last week that he knows what it feels like to be dead."

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Wrongly Convicted Man Law Students Helped Free Gets $4.5 Million

Newswise — Seven years ago, with the help of IU School of Law-Indianapolis Professor Fran Hardy and four of her students, Larry Mayes of Gary, Indiana, was set free from prison based on DNA testing.

This month a federal court approved a $4.5 million settlement for Mayes - who before his release spent 21 years in prison for a rape conviction. The U.S. magistrate agreed on Sept. 2, 2008, that the 2006 federal jury award of $9 million to Mayes could be set aside, paving the way for the settlement between the man and Hammond, Indiana, city officials, according to an Associated Press report. Mayes originally had sought $19 million in damages and legal fees from the city, according to the AP story.

Mayes, who had been convicted in 1990 of several acts, including rape, was released on Dec. 21, 2001. After his exoneration, Mayes was represented by private counsel during the civil proceedings.

"I am certainly pleased that Larry Mayes will finally receive compensation for his unconstitutional, wrongful conviction," Professor Hardy said Friday (Sept. 5, 2008).

State Public Defender Susan Carpenter had appointed Hardy as pro bono counsel for Mayes. Hardy worked on the case with the help of four students in a criminal defense clinic course, Todd Ess, Edward Queen, Alicia Corder and Darlene Seymour. The team filed the petition for post-conviction relief that requested DNA testing in Mayes' case.

"The settlement for Mr. Mayes can only partly compensate him for everything he lost while he was in prison," says Queen, who now directs leadership education programs in the Center for Ethics at Emory University in Atlanta.

"While some may see Mayes' release and the payment as an indication that the legal system works, the fact that he was wrongfully convicted and jailed for such a long time is an indicator that the system indeed is broken," Queen said.

In their petition, the law students cited I.C. 35-38-7, the Indiana law that strengthened Indiana inmates' rights to DNA testing and analysis. After DNA testing exonerated Mayes, Judge Richard Maroc of Lake Superior Court signed the court papers ordering his release.

Hardy's class was part of a national program, The Innocence Network, an offshoot of The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law located in New York City. The project's mission is to assist prisoners who can be exonerated through DNA testing of crime scene evidence. Law faculty and students at Cardozo School of Law referred the Mayes case to the Indianapolis law school which participates in The Innocence Network.

At the time, Mayes was the third Indiana man to be released as a result of post-conviction DNA testing. Presently, according to records compiled by The Innocence Project, six Indiana men have been exonerated by DNA testing.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

DNA Clears Another Wrongfully Convicted Inmate

Dallas Weekly, News Report, Staff, Posted: Sep 03, 2008

DALLAS -- Post-conviction DNA test results exonerated James Woodard, who was convicted by a jury of the 1981 murder of Beverly Jones and has spent the past 27 years in prison and was serving a life sentence. Woodard, who is represented by the Innocence Project of Texas, is the seventeenth person in Dallas County cleared of a crime by DNA evidence since the statute was passed in 2001 allowing convicted inmates to request post-conviction DNA testing.

“After a careful review of the files in this case by our Conviction Integrity Unit, it is apparent that James Woodard did not have a fair trial back in 1981, and the results of his post-conviction DNA test exclude him as the perpetrator of any sexual assault that may have occurred, making him eligible for bond while we finalize our investigation on this case,” said Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.

James Woodard was convicted on circumstantial evidence of a murder that occurred at the end of 1980. Woodard who had been involved in a relationship with the victim, Beverly Jones who was 18-years-old at the time, was convicted, primarily, on the testimony of two witnesses, both of whom testified that they knew both Woodard and Jones. Woodard has adamantly maintained his innocence from the first time he was interviewed by the police.

Jones was strangled and her body was found near the banks of the Trinity River on December 31, 1980. Evidence collected in a rape kit revealed the presence of sperm and anal trauma, possibly the result of a sexual assault. DNA evidence excludes Woodard as the donor of the sperm found on the victim’s body.

Previous requests by Woodard for DNA testing were denied prior to Mr. Watkins’ administration. Additionally, the defense’s motion for a new trial based on undisclosed Brady information was denied. The defense learned after the trial that there were three men, Eddie Woodard (no relation to James Woodard), Theodore Blaylock and Ed Mosley, who had been seen with the victim just hours before she was murdered. Two of those men, Eddie Woodard now a registered sex offender who has absconded from probation and Blaylock later were involved in separate brutal sexual assaults. This information was never turned over to the defense during Woodard’s 1981 trial.

Prior to his conviction, James Woodard had two prior felonies, however, neither previous offense was violent or a sex offense.

The Conviction Integrity Unit at the DA’s Office will continue its investigation to make a final determination of James Woodard’s innocence of all crimes committed in this case before he can be fully considered for exoneration.

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Friday, 5 September 2008

Sizing up wrongful execution risk

State panel on capital punishment listens to man who was freed from death row

By Julie Bykowicz julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com
8:26 PM EDT, September 5, 2008

In the last of its four public hearings, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment explored Friday the risk of innocent people being executed - calling upon of one its members to tell the story of his own wrongful conviction.Former Maryland death row inmate Kirk Bloodsworth, part of the 23-member commission appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, told members about the post-conviction DNA tests that exonerated him in 1993 and eventually pointed to the real killer.

He had served more than eight years in prison for the rape and murder of an Eastern Shore girl. Two juries convicted him, the first sentencing him to death and the second, after he won a new trial on appeal, sentencing him to life in prison."I'm living proof that Maryland gets it wrong," Bloodsworth said. Another half-dozen exonerated men, including Michael Austin, who spent 27 years in prison for murder before a re-examination of the evidence led to his freedom in 2001 and then a governor's pardon and a $1.4 million award from the state.

Also testifying Friday was Barry Scheck, director of an Innocence Project in New York. Similar advocacy organizations exist in Maryland and elsewhere. Considered the father of post-conviction DNA testing, Scheck said DNA has helped win freedom for 220 wrongfully convicted people. Death penalty opponents say 129 of them had been sentenced to death.

"More innocent people are being convicted than anyone ever thought," Scheck said.

He told the commission that while reasonable people may disagree on the morality of the death penalty, no one wants innocent people to be executed.

After their testimony, two prosecutors on the panel, Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger and Matthew Campbell, a former deputy state's attorney for Montgomery and Howard counties, pressed Scheck on whether advances in DNA testing in recent years significantly diminish the chance of wrongful conviction, particularly in capital cases.

Campbell relayed to the commission testimony of another prosecutor who said that, with today's forensic science, it is unlikely that an innocent man could be executed.

"I couldn't disagree more," Scheck said. He warned that post-conviction DNA testing is "not a panacea" that can right all wrongful convictions.

Other witnesses Friday included Jennifer Thompson, a North Carolina woman who said her description of the man who raped her led to the wrong man's conviction; Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, who told commission members about costs associated with capital cases; and five others. More than a dozen members of the public also signed up to testify.

The commission, led by Benjamin R. Civiletti, a former U.S. attorney general who served under President Jimmy Carter, must submit its final report to the governor in December. O'Malley opposes capital punishment, but his efforts to outlaw it have failed in the General Assembly.

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