Friday, 31 July 2009
A Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge dismissed rape and murder charges against Ralph Armstrong on Friday based on the misconduct of a Dane County prosecutor who concealed evidence of Armstrong’s innocence. Armstrong was convicted in 1981 of the rape and murder of fellow University of Wisconsin-Madison student Charise Kamps. He has always maintained his innocence.
Armstrong’s conviction was overturned by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2005 after DNA testing on hair and semen excluded Armstrong as the perpetrator. Prosecutors sought to retry Armstrong, and he has been in custody awaiting retrial for four years.
At a hearing in April, a woman testified that she called Assistant District Attorney John Norsetter in 1995 to report that Armstrong’s brother, Stephen, confessed to the crime. Stephen Armstrong was visiting his brother at the University when the crime occurred and was interviewed by police as a possible suspect immediately after the crime.
Even though Armstrong’s case was on appeal when Norsetter learned of the confession in 1995, he never told defense attorneys about the phone call and never pursued the lead. Stephen Armstrong has since died.
In 2006 – after initial DNA testing had led the state Supreme Court to order a new trial in the case, and 11 years after Norsetter learned about Stephen Armstrong’s confession – a court order was in place requiring prosecutors to notify the defense any time evidence in the case was moved or going to be analyzed. Norsetter violated that court order by subjecting evidence in the case to additional DNA testing.
Those tests, which were conducted illegally, used up the biological evidence and prevented it from being available for further testing. Moreover, the type of DNA testing Norsetter ordered would not have distinguished genetic material between male relatives, rendering it useless to the defense since the principal alternate suspect was Ralph Armstrong’s brother.
In his ruling on Friday dismissing the case against Armstrong, Judge Robert E. Kenney said that the prosecutor’s actions “stemmed from a series of conscious decisions that had very adverse consequences.” Read the entire decision.
“This is a particularly chilling case of prosecutorial misconduct,” said Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck. “Even after the state Supreme Court threw out Ralph Armstrong’s conviction based on evidence of his innocence, the prosecutor continued to withhold yet more evidence of his innocence.” The Innocence Project got involved in Armstrong’s case in 1993 and has worked on the case ever since with Wisconsin attorneys Jerome Buting and Keith Belzer.
Prosecutorial misconduct has played a role in scores of wrongful convictions that were later overturned with DNA testing – and, in many cases like Armstrong’s, prosecutorial misconduct has also prevented innocent people from being exonerated much sooner. Among the 241 people nationwide who were exonerated through DNA testing, fully 25% cited prosecutorial misconduct in their appeals or civil lawsuits. In 38% of those cases, prosecutors were accused of withholding evidence that could prove innocence.
The Innocence Project has worked on cases in which prosecutors withheld evidence implicating the true perpetrators, solicited false testimony from informants, deliberately mistreated or destroyed evidence, and more. Those prosecutors are rarely held accountable; some remain working as prosecutors, while others have gone on to become judges.
On Thursday, Mississippi Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter pled guilty to lying to FBI agents who were investigating him in a corruption case. In the 1990s, when DeLaughter was a local prosecutor, he handled a rape and murder case involving Cedric Willis. Willis was arrested for raping a woman and, four days later, killing a man. Police and prosecutors always knew the same man committed both crimes – and they were certain that man was Willis. When DNA testing proved Willis didn’t commit the rape, DeLaughter pressed ahead with the murder case against him and convinced a judge to withhold from the jury any information about the related rape for which Willis was proven innocent. Willis served 12 years in prison before he was exonerated. TalkLeft reports on the DeLaughter guilty plea, noting: “This might be seen as karma in action, except that DeLaughter probably won't serve 12 years, and he certainly won't serve it under the nightmarish conditions that Willis had to endure.”
Thursday, 30 July 2009
The Journal of History Summer 2008
TOO LATE TO DEBATE???
By Patrick Swiney - June 11, 1998
Copyright June 1998
I speak to you from the absolute pits of hell, an Alabama Prison. Historically, the State of Alabama has been notorious for its atrocities within its prisons. My fellow Americans and human beings, nothing has changed. I humbly convey to you an ancient scripture: "Let he who hath eyes - see and he who hath ears - hear."
I hear corrupt politicians promise you to lock them up and throw away the keys. I also hear your cheers! They - our only defender - knowingly overcrowd the prisons dangerously. The Federal Courts say nothing! I also hear your cries to pack them in like sardines - for who cares? News leaks out about the atrocities: the physical, mental, emotional - all types of Human Rights abuses. The courts turn their heads. Again, I hear your cheers, as though to say: Crucify them! Crucify them!
I've read these words all my life.
To put things into perspective, I'm a 53-year-old man in very poor health, a former police officer of 13 years. I have been held in this septic tank (Holman Prison in Alabama) for 10 years on a wrongful conviction. The major point I submit to you is that I can see both sides of the coin. Actually, I can see all sides of that coin, for much more than two sides exist.
Holman Prison in Atmore, Alabama, is known as the "Boddom" which is Southern for bottom. Either way, it's as low as you can possibly go in this country. In response to your cheers, may I say that you have been successful. We are packed in like sardines: the Innocent - The Guilty - the Sick - the Lame - the Lazy - the Cripple - the Crazy - but all God's children. "If you have done it to the least of these...."
At times, I absolutely hate 90 per cent of these people which I mostly refer to as sick-sorry-slime. But when I hear the masses cheering the deceptive lies of corrupt politicians, then these people in here start to look much better, for even the sick-sorry-slime extend to an old man far more compassion than the corrupt politicians of Alabama and their cheering section. The result? The blinded masses stubbornly follow the pied piper closer and closer to total destruction. So be it.
We have become a nation of individuals - "Self," with the general view that if adversity does not affect me, then I don't care. We have become a people completely self-centered, self-righteous, and isolated within "Self," even to the exclusion of children and grandchildren. This is in direct conflict with our natural instincts. Americans have lost their "natural" instincts. They have mutated.
I think the Apostle Paul describes our nation of today perfectly. "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful-unholy, without natural affections, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those who are good. Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God. But they shall proceed no further, for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was." 2Tim.3
Holman Prison is made of open-filthy dorms - very crowded to say the least. The showers, commodes and lavatory are included within the open dorms. None are vented. The humidity from the showers pours throughout these dorms. Any gases from the toilets pour out in these dorms. Humidity is always extremely high. Mold and mildew grows on the walls and ceiling. The floors are always damp. The heat index remains ungodly high in summer - cold and damp in winter. The place is crawling with cockroaches the size of your hand.
We can only send out bed linens to the laundry once a week. That, after perspiring on them all week long - a daily wetting of these linens. 96 men live in a dorm approximately 35 feet by 108 feet. That's an average of 39 square feet for each man - less if you deduct corridor spaces for walking from one place to another. Less still, if you deduct shower, commode and lavatory spaces within the dorms. Here is where each man spends his entire life, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year after year after year...the Innocent - The Guilty - the Sick - the Lame - the Lazy - the Cripple - the Crazy - but all God's children.
Can you possibly think of any other condition that could breed diseases any better? It appears to be "the perfect" environment for breeding a culture for many deadly diseases that we know. Possibly many that are unknown to modern science. A perfect place for these deadly diseases to mutate and a wonderful place to share our joys with the rest of the world - transporting to "Your" world.
Here at Holman Prison, we have had a large breakout of TB. Some have died, others transferred never to be heard of again. Respiratory ailments are our "normal" or our most common. Medical care is almost a joke. Our Deputy Warden (Jerry Farrell) is charged with the responsibility of seeing we get proper medical care. Only thing is his wife is an Administrator with Correctional Medical Services (CMS). This is the company holding the contract for medical services (much like the company holding the contract for telephone services). Mrs. Farrell has a vested interest in saving costs for her company. Every dollar she does not spend on our medical care, is profit in her company's pocket. Thus, you have a direct conflict with medical care and the Deputy Warden. Does this project overtones of corruption?
Not only that, but Deputy Warden Jerry Farrell forces all inmates outside at 7 AM under the guise of cleaning the dorms. However, every single dorm cleaner will tell you that it was much easier cleaning when the people were NOT outside. In the past 15 days, they have been transmitting health alerts in our area due to 2,000 out-of-control fires in Mexico. The entire Southeast has been covered with insecticide-laced smoke. All TV stations have transmitted this health alert, warning people to stay indoors - especially the sick and older people. All this week, South Alabama has been under a heat alert! The heat index has been into the 120 degree F. (48.889 Celsius) range. Again, warning people to stay inside. And again, specifically warning the sick and elderly to stay indoors.
Yet, every day Warden Farrell has forced inmates outside for two hours. Many are older and sick. They have no place to sit, except on the concrete-covered ground. They have no shade to seek. They must stand or squat for those 2 hours in the blistering sun and extraordinary humidity, which is contaminated with smoke and pesticide. I myself have suffered 3 heart attacks, developed inflammatory spinal arthritis and have also developed emphysema. Yet Warden Farrell forces this old man outside with all the young punks and maladjusted people, posting no guards whatsoever.
And, yes, the State Capital in Montgomery, Alabama, backs Jerry Farrell completely. The Alabama Good Ol' Boy's Club is alive and well. Welcome to Alabama the Beautiful, and the Alabama Department of Corrections. Yes! I still can hear your cheers!
Even if myself and the rest survive all the airborne insecticide, the heat, the humidity, the filth, the abuses, it for certain weakens the immune system. And that welcomes diseases, many of which may be fatal. Fatal not only to me, but to you, the cheering masses.
They cannot isolate these possibly deadly germs to this hell hole. The guards come and go. Nurses, doctors, administrators, postal workers, and visitors carry these germs-bugs-viruses with them when they leave. Guess where they go? To you via schools, churches, mail, grocery stores, work places, and many other ways.
Since you are creating your very own nightmare, it's tempting to refer to this as "poetic justice," but in all truth I do not feel this way. I'm actually greatly concerned for all of you. "Forgive them Father for they know not what they do."
No! More tax dollars are not the answer. You'd just make officials of Alabama even richer. Then they'd cheer you - in silence of course.
I do not have the answers, but I felt I "must" let you know the truth. Yes! The sky is falling. Don't look up. Just take cover.
I am far from being eloquent with my words, my communicating skills are extremely limited. If I have offended anyone with my words, then Good! That's my intent. In closing, I shall add that I speak of the cheering I have heard. But where is the so-called silent majority? I so wonder if God is more disgusted with the ones who cheer the Human Rights Abuses - or more disgusted with the ones who sit and do absolutely nothing!
Although it means pain and suffering, I shall choose the cheering, torturous, sounds of the followers of their corrupt pied piper than to hear the silence of the spineless nothings. For it's better to light one candle, than to curse the darkness.
I am,Patrick Swiney 154406G79, 100 Warrior LaneBessemer, AL 35023
E-mail: email@example.com (Sherry Swiney)Editor's note: Sherry is Patrick's wife.
See what Chief Federal District Judge Charles R.. Butler, in Mobile, Alabama, did to Patrick after he read Patrick's article. barbed_wire.gif (1448 bytes) Patrick was freed from lockup after all of you called, faxed, and wrote demanding his torture end. This month July-August 1998, he writes a new article that has already received worldwide recognition.
Wednesday, 29 July 2009
The Illinois Moratorium
More than a decade has passed since an execution occurred in Illinois. Experts say it could be even longer before the state puts its next condemned inmate to death - if it happens at all.
On March 16, 1999, Andrew Kokoraleis was put to death by lethal injection after he was prosecuted for his role in the slaying of nearly 20 women in the 1980s in Cook and DuPage counties.
Then in 2000, former Gov. George Ryan, citing the wrongful prosecution of Rolando Cruz for Jeanine Nicarico's murder, declared a statewide moratorium on executions. He cleared out Illinois' death row three years later when he commuted 167 death sentences to life terms.
At the time, a commission Ryan formed recommended about 85 changes to the justice system it said needed to be completed before the state should consider reinstating the death penalty.
Only about 20 of those suggestions have been adopted, according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center.
"The governor (Ryan) took the position that if there aren't enough assurances passed by the legislature, he's going to continue the moratorium," Dieter said. "Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and (Gov. Pat) Quinn continued that because there hasn't been much more action. There is a sense that more needs to be done. It's sort of a stalemate."
Earlier this year, Quinn said he has no immediate plans to lift the moratorium on the death penalty. He said he wants adequate safeguards in place to ensure no innocent person is put to death.
Capital punishment is still state law in Illinois. The report notes that 15 men have been sentenced to death in the state since then-Governor Ryan issued his commutations.
Two lawsuits in Texas allege that dog scent evidence implicated innocent people for crimes they didn’t commit. Both men have been cleared, but their suits allege that a dog handler provided questionable evidence to implicate them.
Dog scent evidence has been involved in at least three wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing. A report on dog scent evidence and wrongful convictions is scheduled to appear on Anderson Cooper 360 tonight on CNN.
Lebrew Jones, who has served more than two decades in prison for a New York City murder he has always said he didn’t commit, learned last week that he’ll be released on parole in November. His parole follows mounting evidence of his innocence and comes as his legal team — including attorneys at the Innocence Project — seeks DNA testing in the case.
Jones (above, photo by Tom Bushey, Times Herald-Record) had no criminal record before he was convicted in 1989 of killing a 21-year-old woman in Manhattan. He has maintained his innocence for two decades and his case was the subject of an award-winning investigative series by the Times Herald-Record newspaper. Included in his parole application was a letter from Lois Hall, the mother of the murder victim, saying she believes he is innocent and should be paroled while his quest to clear his name continues.
"Oh my God, I'm so happy," Hall told a reporter upon hearing he will be released. "The only sad part about this is he had to do 22 years for something he never did."
Although biological evidence that could potentially prove Jones’ innocence was collected from the crime scene, it has been reported as lost or destroyed. The Innocence Project is consulting on DNA issues in Jones’ case with his lead attorneys at the law firm of Davis, Polk and Wardwell.
Jones’ case is not the only one affected by lost evidence in New York City, where the Innocence Project continues calling for improvements in evidence preservation and storage practices. Approximately half of all New York City cases closed by the Innocence Project in recent years were closed because of lost or destroyed evidence. In 2006, evidence in Alan Newton’s case was located after being falsely reported destroyed for eight years. The tests exonerated Newton and he was freed after 22 years in prison.
Read more about Jones’ case and explore the Times Herald-Record’s multimedia feature on the case, including video interviews with Jones in New York’s Otisville State Prison.
Forensic science was not developed by scientists. It was mostly created by cops, who were guided by little more than common sense. And as hundreds of criminal cases begin to unravel, many established forensic practices are coming under fire. PM takes an in-depth look at the shaky science that has put innocent people behind bars.
On Jan. 11, 1992, the jury in the murder trial of Roy Brown heard from a dentist named Edward Mofson. To establish his credentials, Dr. Mofson testified that he was certified in forensic odontology, belonged to six related professional organizations and did forensic consulting throughout New York state. He then explained that several months earlier he was called to the morgue in Cayuga County, New York, to analyze the body of 49-year-old Sabina Kulakowski.
Kulakowski’s corpse was found by a volunteer firefighter on a dirt road some 300 yards from the farmhouse where she lived, which had burned to the ground in the night. She was severely beaten and stabbed, and there were multiple bite marks on her body. Brown was a natural suspect in the grisly murder. The week before the crime, the hard-drinking 31-year-old had been released from jail on charges of threatening to “wipe everybody out” at the social services office where Kulakowski worked; the agency had put his daughter into foster care. In addition to the motive, the district attorney at trial produced other circumstantial evidence, including testimony from Brown’s two ex-wives that he had bitten them. But Mofson, now deceased, was the centerpiece of the prosecution.
Mofson testified that seven bite marks found on Kulakowski were “entirely consistent” with dental impressions taken from Brown. It was the only physical evidence tying Brown to the crime. Although a defense expert disputed Mofson’s findings, the jury convicted Brown of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
As the years ticked by, few listened as Brown proclaimed his innocence from his cell in the Elmira Correctional Facility. Then Brown got an unusual lucky break. His stepfather’s house burned down, taking with it all of his records from the trial. To replace his documents, Brown submitted an open records request to the county. The sheriff who processed Brown’s request mistakenly sent him the entire investigative file. It revealed another suspect: Barry Bench, the firefighter who discovered Kulakowski’s body. Bench’s brother had dated Kulakowski up until two months before the murder and Bench was reportedly upset that she continued to live in the family farmhouse. On the day before Christmas in 2003, Brown sent a letter to Bench letting him know he was seeking DNA
The faulty identification that sent Brown to prison for 15 years may seem like a rare glitch in the U.S. criminal justice system. It wasn’t. As DNA testing has made it possible to re-examine biological evidence from past trials, more than 200 people have had their convictions overturned. In approximately 50 percent of those cases, bad forensic analysis contributed to their imprisonment.
On television and in the movies, forensic examiners unravel difficult cases with a combination of scientific acumen, cutting-edge technology and dogged persistence. The gee-whiz wonder of it all has spawned its own media-age legal phenomenon known as the “CSI effect.” Jurors routinely afford confident scientific experts an almost mythic infallibility because they evoke the bold characters from crime dramas. The real world of forensic science, however, is far different. America’s forensic labs are overburdened, understaffed and under intense pressure from prosecutors to produce results. According to a 2005 study by the Department of Justice, the average lab has a backlog of 401 requests for services. Plus, several state and city forensic departments have been racked by scandals involving mishandled evidence and outright fraud.
But criminal forensics has a deeper problem of basic validity. Bite marks, blood-splatter patterns, ballistics, and hair, fiber and handwriting analysis sound compelling in the courtroom, but much of the “science” behind forensic science rests on surprisingly shaky foundations. Many well-established forms of evidence are the product of highly subjective analysis by people with minimal credentials—according to the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, no advanced degree is required for a career in forensics. And even the most experienced and respected professionals can come to inaccurate conclusions, because the body of research behind the majority of the forensic sciences is incomplete, and the established methodologies are often inexact. “There is no scientific foundation for it,” says Arizona State University law professor Michael Saks. “As you begin to unpack it you find it’s a lot of loosey-goosey stuff.”
Not surprisingly, a movement to reform the way forensics is done in the U.S. is gaining momentum. The call for change has been fueled by some embarrassing failures, even at the highest levels of law enforcement. After the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, Spain, the FBI arrested Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield and kept him in jail for two weeks. His incarceration was based on a purported fingerprint match to a print found on a bag of detonators discovered near the scene of the crime. As a later investigation by the Justice Department revealed, the FBI’s fingerprint-analysis software never actually matched Mayfield to the suspect fingerprint, but produced him as an “unusually close nonmatch.” Lacking any statistical context for how rare such similarities are, investigators quickly convinced themselves that Mayfield was the prime suspect.
The next year, 2005, Congress commissioned the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to examine the state of forensics in U.S. law enforcement. The result was a blistering report that came out this February, noting “serious deficiencies” in the nation’s forensic science system and advocating extensive reforms. It specifically noted that apart from DNA, there is not a single forensic discipline that has been proven “with a high degree of certainty” to be able to match a piece of evidence to a suspect. The obvious implication is the sobering possibility that more Roy Browns are currently locked up based on shoddy science. Then there’s the flip side: A lot of bad guys who should be in prison still roam free. A study by the Innocence Project of the prisoners exonerated by DNA found that the real perpetrators were identified in 103 cases—roughly half. In all but one, the perpetrator committed at least one serious crime after the innocent person was jailed.
To: the President of the United States, Members of the U.S. Senate and Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, see more...your Governor, Members of your State Senate, the President of the United States, Members of the U.S. Senate and Members of the U.S. House of Representatives
Started by: ACTION COMMITTEE FOR WOMEN IN PRISON
Senator Jim Webb of Virginia has proposed a National Commission to study the American Criminal Justice System and correct its flaws. As originally proposed the Commission membership did not include prisoner advocates, former prisoners, the wrongfully convicted, or prison rights organizations. I have decided to try for an appointment to the Commission as it is critical that our voices be heard. Please support me by signing this petition. Thank you.
Eliminate Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, which has turned America into #1 Jailer in the world and threatened our own people within -- no longer "the land of the free" as 1 in 31 Adults are in Corrections, probation or parole. This does not count many other groups. Write your Congressmen/women. Write Sen. Jim Webb and participate on his Criminal Justice Commission -- citizens are needed, and those exonerated who have spent decades as innocent people trapped in America's jails and prisons - Hell-holes that rival Abu Ghraib in it's treatment of human beings.
We are nominating Gloria Killian, wrongfully convicted, wrongfully imprisoned for 17 1/2 years for a crime she did NOT commit, and exonerated for Sen. Jim Webb's Criminal Justice Reform Commission to overhaul a broken criminal justice and prison system. Only she has more real life experience as a result of the failed policies that no one on the commission has or anyone else nominates. The alarming rate of growth of women and girls being incarcerated is an issue since the history of prisons is they were built for men, not women who have special gender specific needs and issues. It's time to recognize this. The future of this nation depends on honestly facing this crisis.
Gloria Killian: Biography
Gloria Killian was released from prison on 8/8/02 after serving more than 16 years on a sentence of 32 years to life for a crime that she did not commit. Throughout her trial and incarceration she always maintained her innocence. In March 2002 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that her conviction was based solely on perjured testimony and overturned her conviction. In 2008, Christopher Cleland, the District Attorney who prosecuted her, was tried by the State Bar of California and found guilty of unethical conduct in her case.
As a former law student, Ms. Killian was assigned to the prison law library where she worked for 14 years, providing legal assistance to other inmates. She worked extensively with battered women, as well as others, and developed specialized legal services for many different areas of the prison. She was instrumental in the founding of the USC Law Project at the California Institution for Women.
During her time in prison, Ms. Killian published several articles including two that were featured in the USC Law Review, entitled Equal Justice for Some, and Justice: One Woman's Perspective. The second article was co-authored with Brenda Aris, the first battered woman to be granted clemency in the State of California. Ms. Killian also drafted the media and outreach campaign that led to the release of Ms. Aris.
Since her release, Ms. Killian has been tirelessly advocating for the humane treatment and release of the women that she left behind. She works as a consultant to agencies in the criminal justice and public policy fields, and has been the keynote speaker at several symposiums. She has testified for Select Committees of the California Legislature, and spoken extensively about the issues and concerns of incarcerated women. She has lectured at USC Law School, Loyola Law School, Southwestern Law School, Vanguard University, and Arizona State University, among many others.
MS Killian is now the Executive Director of her own non-profit organization, the Action Committee for Women in Prison (ACWIP). Along with public education and advocacy work, ACWIP provides Christmas gifts for the inmates at the California Institution for Women and in the Fire Camps, in conjunction with All Saints Episcopal Church. ACWIP also provides toys for the children of women in prison, when they come to visit their mothers. She is a member of the Girls Collaborative, which works with at risk teen-agers, AKA Angels and ALL of Us or None. She serves on the California Nursing Association, Correctional Medicine Taskforce, the National Commission on Crime and Delinquency Taskforce on Incarcerated Women, the Advisory Panel for the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, the steering committee of Free Battered Women and the Women in Criminal Justice Network. Ms Killian is the co-director of the Prison Ministry at All Saints Episcopal Church.
Ms. Killian's experiences with the criminal justice system and the advocacy work that she is doing were featured on 48 Hours which aired in September, 2003 on CBS. She is also profiled in a new book, Paths to Freedom by Alexis Powers, and she was featured on the Montel Williams Show twice. She has appeared on numerous radio shows and commentaries A movie is currently being developed about Ms. Killian's life and she is writing a book about her journey to justice.
Stinson was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a 62-year-old woman in Milwaukee. His conviction was based, in part, on the testimony of two forensic bite mark analysts, who said bite marks on the victim’s body matched Stinson’s teeth. One of the experts testified at his trial that the bite marks "had to have been made by teeth identical" to Stinson's and that there was "no margin for error in this." The other called the bite mark evidence "overwhelming" and said "there was no question there was a match."
DNA testing conducted in the case at the request of the Wisconsin Innocence Project found a male DNA profile in areas of the victim’s sweater that had tested positive for saliva. The profile did not match Stinson, proving another person bit the victim.
After the charges were dismissed during a brief court hearing Monday, Assistant District Attorney Norman Gahn said it was the age of the case - which led to destroyed evidence, "faded memories" of witnesses and other problems - that led prosecutors not to retry Stinson.Stinson is the 241st person exonerated by DNA testing in the United States and the fifth in Wisconsin.
Read the full story here. (Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel, 07/27/09)
When Steven Avery was freed from prison in 2003, his lawyers and prosecutors all agreed that scientific evidence exonerated him of a sexual assault that had put him behind bars for 18 years.
There was no attempt to retry Avery, who would be convicted of murder four years later; and Avery was declared not only not guilty, but innocent of the sexual assault.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys are sharply at odds, however, over a decision Monday not to put Robert Lee Stinson on trial again for murder.
Like Avery, Stinson was freed from prison - after 23 years - through the efforts of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. The University of Wisconsin Law School program takes cases of defendants it believes may have been wrongly convicted.
But where DNA evidence persuaded Manitowoc County prosecutors of Avery's innocence in the sexual assault, bite-mark evidence has not swayed Milwaukee County prosecutors on Stinson's alleged role in a murder.
After a court hearing Monday where it was announced that Stinson would not be retried, Assistant District Attorney Norman Gahn indicated that prosecutors still believe Stinson was responsible for killing a 62-year-old neighbor in 1984.
A new bite-mark analysis produced by the Wisconsin Innocence Project "raised some questions, but it didn't have much of an impact on our decision," Gahn said.
Gahn asserted that no factual evidence pointed to Stinson's innocence, but that the age of the case made it impossible to retry, given that some evidence had been destroyed and the memories of some witnesses had faded.
The comments upset Keith Findley, one of the Wisconsin Innocence Project lawyers who represent Stinson.
"It's disheartening to see the unwillingness to acknowledge a mistake and to continue to drag an innocent man through the mud over this," Findley said.
The difference in reliability of bite-mark evidence, as compared with DNA evidence, appears to be a key reason for the rift between the prosecution and the defense.
Neighbor of victim
Stinson, now 44, was a neighbor of Ione Cychosz when her body was found in a vacant lot near her home.
Besides being bitten, she had been beaten and stabbed.
According to Findley, who assisted fellow University of Wisconsin law professor Byron Lichstein in representing Stinson, Stinson became a suspect after police began interviewing neighbors.
The officers had been told, based on an analysis of the bite marks on Cychosz's body, to look for a man missing a tooth - and Stinson was missing one.
A dental scientist, L. Thomas Johnson, testified that the bite marks were made by Stinson. A jury found Stinson, who had what his lawyers described as a complicated alibi, guilty, and a judge sentenced him to life in prison.
At the time, according to Findley, Stinson was a "mild-mannered, gentle" man whose only prior conviction was for shoplifting as a juvenile.
After taking Stinson's case several years ago, the Wisconsin Innocence Project had the evidence analyzed by four experts using improved technology.
All four, Findley said, agreed that the evidence specifically excluded Stinson as a possible source of the bite marks.
Johnson, who now works at Marquette University, said he re-analyzed the bite marks using modern techniques and again concluded that they were made by Stinson.
The difference in conclusions was in contrast to Avery's sexual assault case. In that case, DNA evidence not only excluded Avery but matched the DNA of a convicted sex offender, Gregory Allen, who was already in prison.
After reviewing the new findings in Stinson's case, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Patricia McMahon ordered Stinson's release in January and gave prosecutors six months to decide whether to retry him.
At the time, District Attorney John Chisholm said his office took issue with some of the arguments by Stinson's attorneys, but he agreed Stinson should at the very least receive a new trial.
Chisholm could not be reached Monday for comment.
Adjusting to being free
In an interview after the hearing, Stinson would not comment on Gahn's statement about his alleged role in the murder, but said he was "very excited" there would not be a second trial. He said he has a new fiancée and has been adjusting to life away from prison for the past six months.
"I've been having fun. I'm adjusting very well. I'm just happy that this is over with," Stinson said.
Stinson recalled Cychosz as a "very nice lady" who lived a few doors away.
"She minded her own business. She did a lot of work in her yard, and she collected a lot of cans (for recycling)," he said.
Stinson said he didn't worry about being interviewed a few times by police until they abruptly asked him to open his mouth one day and returned later with a subpoena to appear in court and provide a sample of his bite that experts could analyze.
"The technology they have today would have proved me innocent," Stinson said.
Bite marks questioned
In a statement issued Monday in the Robert Lee Stinson case, the Wisconsin Innocence Project, a program of the University of Wisconsin Law School, called bite-mark evidence a "flawed and highly unreliable form of evidence, with little scientific foundation. In recent years, erroneous bite-mark evidence has played a role in at least seven other wrongful convictions, which have later been overturned by DNA testing."
Monday, 27 July 2009
On June 18th, the United States Supreme Court ruled by a 5-to-4 decision that prisoners have no constitutional right to DNA testing that might prove their innocence if they have been wrongfully convicted. That decision is one that will hurt crime victims in the U.S.
The five-justice majority found that this was a state issue instead of a federal one. In essence, state legislatures were doing enough already to remedy the problem of wrongful convictions. The opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. for the majority, said that to vote in favor of giving such rights to inmates would “short circuit what looks to be a prompt and considered legislative response.” It’s hard to agree with Chief Justice Roberts when 240 prisoners to date in the U.S. have been exonerated because of the use of DNA testing. Often the exoneration of these inmates has been due to the hard work of organizations like the Innocence Project and other organizations across the country. Without the use of DNA testing it is hard to think how these innocent prisoners would ever have seen the light of day.
But what concerns me as well is the number of crime victims who have been shafted yet again by the criminal justice system in the U.S. They once thought their case was solved only to find years later, sometimes two decades later, that the wrong man was convicted and sentenced. What a blow! According to the Innocence Project, out of the 240 exoneration cases, some 103 of those cases also identified the actual perpetrator through that same testing. DNA testing frees the innocent and catches real perpetrators. As a restorative justice advocate my question is : What on earth are we waiting for?
A Michigan judge ruled today that two false confession experts couldn’t testify at the trial of a man accused of killing two people.
Jerome Kowalski is charged with shooting his brother and sister-in-law in 2008, and police videotaped him admitting guilt at the end of an interrogation. Kowalski’s attorney is seeking to present evidence regarding false confessions and the possibility that Kowalski gave a false confession under duress. At a pre-trial hearing the judge heard testimony from University of San Francisco law professor Richard Leo, a false confession expert, and psychologist Jeffrey Wendt.
District Court Judge Theresa Brennan called the testimony of two expert witnesses — a California law professor and a clinical psychiatrist — "unreliable and irrelevant."About 25% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing involved a false confession or admission. Read about how false confessions happen – and the reforms that can help prevent them.
Defense attorney Walter Piszczatowski said he plans to appeal the ruling because his client's Sixth Amendment rights to present a proper defense were denied.
…Although Jerome Kowalski is videotaped as to saying, "I did it," attorneys claimed that there are some discrepancies in his statements and evidence at the crime scene.
Read the full story here. (Detroit News, 07/27/09)
A documentary film about his conviction and release - "Juan Melendez - 6446" will be featured next week as part of the New York Latino Film Festival. Sister Helen Prejean saw the film and wrote yesterday that watching it with Juan and his mother was "was heartbreaking and maddening and it stirred the soul."
Friday, 24 July 2009
BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) - A judge ordered a new trial for Lorinda Swain, who has steadfastly maintained her innocence since being accused of a sex crime with her son.
Judge Conrad Sindt ordered the new trial after hearing two days of testimony that included new witnesses and her son, who recanted his original statement.
No new trial date has been set.
In 2002, Swain was convicted of performing oral sex on her then 13-year-old son, Ronnie. She always has maintained her innocence, and Ronnie almost immediately recanted his story.
He said he lied to protect himself after he inappropriately touched his niece.
"I don't think he had any idea the consequences of his lie," said George Johnson, Swain's father and Ronnie's grandfather.
On June 30, new witnesses presented new information in the first day of her motion for a new trial, including the school bus driver for both Ronnie, now 21, and his brother Cody. Both boys also testified.
The University of Michigan law school's Innocence Clinic took up the case, bringing new testimony that wasn't revealed initially.
"We read (Swain's) application to the clinic, we did our own thorough investigation, and at the end of the investigation, we had to decide two things in her favor," said Bridget McCormack, of the Innocence Clinic. "We had to decide that she was actually innocent, meaning she didn't do anything related to this crime. And we believe there was something we could do about it legally."
Swain's appeal was based on her initial attorney's failure to call two witnesses at her trial, both of whom had evidence suggesting Swain's innocence.
One of those witnesses - Tanya Winterburn - drove the school bus that picked up Ronald Swain and his little brother, Cody. She testified in a recent hearing that Ronald and Cody always waited for the school bus together. This is significant because Ronald told the jury at trial that Lorinda Swain molested him every morning in their home after sending his brother outside to wait for the school bus alone.
Swain's initial attorney also failed to call a second potentially significant defense witness. William Risk was a friend and neighbor of the Swains. Risk, 10 or 11 years old at the time of the alleged incidents, confirms Winterburn's account that the Swain boys always waited at the bus stop together.
In his ruling released Thursday morning, Judge Sindt wrote: "The only evidence against the Defendant at her trial was the testimony of her son, the complainant Ronald Swain. He was not entirely cooperative with the prosecution in testifying against his mother at the trial.... There was no physical evidence or cirumstantial evidence offered and no other witness was offered who testified to any knowledge of the crime...
"The tesitimony of Ms. Winterburn and Mr. Risk would clearly have been important to the jury's consideration of Ronald Swain's credibility. These witnesses' would have been the only testimony by independent witnesses which the jury could have utilized to test Ronald Swain's testimony about events at the very moment he said that these crimes were being committed," wrote Circuit Court Judge Conrad Sindt in his ruling ordering a new trial. "And there testimony would have completely contradicted his testimony about the alleged sexual assaults...
"This court finds, considering the testimony of Ms. Winterburn and Mr. Risk, that there is a 'significant possibility'... that the Defendant is innocent of all the offenses with which she was charged."
Swain has served eight years in prison.
Source(24 Hour News 8)
Thursday, 16 July 2009
As More States Weigh Improving Lineups, New Innocence Project Report Shows Extent of the Problem and Effectiveness of Reform
75% of wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing involve eyewitness misidentification; 17 states in last two years have considered reforms
(New York, NY; July 16, 2009) —A report released today by the Innocence Project shows that while eyewitness identification is among the most prevalent and persuasive evidence used in courtrooms, it is not error-proof and is the leading cause of wrongful convictions that have been overturned with DNA testing.
The report comes as 17 states have considered legislation in the last two years to improve lineups. So far, nine states have taken action to prevent eyewitness misidentification, and the Innocence Project said it will focus on implementing reforms over the next year in 10 states, including New York, Texas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Ohio, Michigan and Rhode Island.
Titled “Reevaluating Lineups: Why Witnesses Make Mistakes and How to Reduce the Chance of a Misidentification,” the report lays out the overview of eyewitness misidentification and problems with traditional eyewitness identification procedures. It explains how to minimize the possibility of misidentification and outlines criminal justice reforms that are proven to reduce inaccurate eyewitness identifications.
“There is a growing understanding nationwide that eyewitness identification is often unreliable, and that simple reforms can reduce misidentifications,” said Stephen Saloom, Policy Director at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “This reports shows the extent of the problem, explains why eyewitnesses sometimes identify the wrong person, and outlines how police practices can be improved to result in more reliable evidence. The consequences of not improving lineups are stark: Investigations get derailed early in the process, and true perpetrators of crime remain free to commit additional violent crimes while innocent people are incarcerated.”
A series of reforms that are proven to reduce misidentifications have been developed by leading social scientists, endorsed by criminal justice organizations and successfully implemented in the field. The reforms include: double-blind presentation (photos or lineup members are presented by an administrator who does not know who the suspect is); lineup composition (the non-suspects included in a lineup resemble the eyewitness’s description of the perpetrator and the suspect should not stand out); witness instructions (the person viewing a lineup is told that the perpetrator may not be in the lineup but the investigation will continue regardless); confidence statements (at the time of identification, the eyewitness provides a statement in her own words indicating a level of confidence in the identification); recording of identification procedures (the identification is videotaped entirely); and sequential presentation (lineup members are presented one-by-one instead of side-by-side; because research is ongoing on this reform, the Innocence Project recommends it as an optional addition to the reforms above).
“Several states, cities and towns have already adopted the reforms and found them to be cost-effective and easily implemented,” the report found. “The benefits are extensive and include reinforcing the integrity of reliable identifications as well as reducing the rate of misidentifications.”
States that have taken steps to improve eyewitness identification through legislation include: New Jersey and North Carolina, which mandate blind-sequential policies; Georgia, which has statewide training; West Virginia, which mandates the use of certain reforms proven to increase the accuracy of eyewitness identifications; Vermont, which established a task force to explore and recommend enhanced eyewitness identification protocols; Maryland and Wisconsin, which require all jurisdictions statewide to enact written policies regarding the use of eyewitness identification procedures; Connecticut, which directed its Advisory Commission on Wrongful Convictions to monitor and evaluate implementation of double-blind administration of lineup procedures; and Virginia, where the Crime Commission studied misidentification cases and recommended improvements to eyewitness identification procedures including training and sequential presentation.
Disappointingly, there are no consistent standards for identification procedures from state to state or even from one police department to the next. Many police departments don’t even have a written policy, which often leads to inconsistency within a single station.
“We know from social science research and real-world experience that these reforms work. We’re looking forward to working with police and policymakers in several key states over the next year to help them understand the need to improve lineups and the benefits of these reforms,” Saloom said. “Victims are denied justice, innocent defendants are sent to prison and the public’s safety is at risk when real perpetrators go undetected.”
The findings in “Reevaluating Lineups: Why Witnesses Make Mistakes and How to Reduce the Chance of a Misidentification,” released today, include:
• 240 people, serving an average of 12 years in prison, have been exonerated through DNA testing in the United States, and 75% of those wrongful convictions (179 individual cases as of this report) involved eyewitness misidentification.
• In 38% of the misidentification cases, multiple eyewitnesses misidentified the same innocent person.
• Over 250 witnesses misidentified innocent suspects.
• 53% percent of the misidentification cases (among those where race is known) involved cross-racial misidentifications.
• In 50% of the misidentifications cases, eyewitness testimony was the central evidence used against the defendant (without other corroborating evidence like confessions, forensic science or informant testimony).
• In 36% of the misidentification cases, the real perpetrator was identified through DNA evidence.• In at least 48% of the misidentification cases where a real perpetrator was later identified though DNA testing, that perpetrator went on to commit (and was convicted of) additional violent crimes (rape, murder, attempted murder, etc.) after an innocent person was serving time in prison for his previous crime.
Source (Innocent Project)
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Request for opinion on the governor's authority to grant a pardon to a deceased person and other related matters
Senator asks AG to rule on Cole issue
By Elliott Blackburn | AVALANCHE-JOURNAL
*Wednesday, July 15, 2009*
Story last updated at 7/15/2009 - 2:12 am
PDF: Request for opinion on the governor's authority to grant a pardon
to a deceased person and other related matters
A Houston senator has asked the state to take another look at a
40-year-old legal opinion blocking the pardon of an innocent man who
died in prison.
If Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott reverses the previous opinion, the
governor could pardon Timothy Brian Cole, a Fort Worth man who died in
prison after a Lubbock jury wrongfully convicted him.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, on Tuesday asked the Texas attorney
general's office whether existing Texas law and the state constitution
allows the governor to pardon someone who cannot accept the reprieve.
"We want a pardon for Tim Cole and we want it as soon as possible,"
Ellis said in a statement. "We're very optimistic that the Attorney
General will say that Governor Perry, just like the president, governors
of nine other states, and the Queen of England, can legally grant
The attorney general's office confirmed they received the opinion
request Tuesday afternoon.
Cole's mother, Ruby Session, kept her hopes up Tuesday.
"Cautiously optimistic as always," Session said. "I'm happy that it has
gotten to his office."
A Lubbock jury sentenced Cole to 25 years for the 1985 rape of a fellow
Texas Tech student. He maintained his innocence throughout his 13-year
Cole died of complications from asthma in December 1999.
The confession of another inmate and tests run in 2008 of DNA material
from the case confirmed Cole's innocence.
An Austin court legally exonerated Cole in April, making him the first
Texan to be cleared by DNA after death. Legislators recognized Cole's
innocence in bills passed during the past session. But a pardon from the
governor remains a priority for Cole's surviving family members.
Perry's office has relied on a 1965 attorney general's opinion that
ruled the governor could not pardon him.
The finding fit with once-common English and American standards of law.
Courts treated pardons like property - without someone living to accept
the pardon, Attorney General Waggoner Carr cited a 19th century case to
opine that a Texas governor could not grant one.
But U.S. courts and many states began abandoning that practice in 1927.
The Constitution, not property law, provided an executive's power to
pardon, one U.S. Supreme Court ruling found. A pardon took effect even
if the recipient did not want one.
Ellis last week released a finding by the Texas Legislative Council, a
research group that helps both chambers draft legislation, that said
that the more modern interpretation of the law made it possible for a
governor to pardon the deceased.
The senator criticized Perry's decision not to include the
constitutional amendment the governor said he needs to pardon Cole in a
short special session earlier this month.
"We can't wait another two years for the constitution to be changed so
Tim can be pardoned," Ellis said in the statement. "Hopefully the
attorney general will tell Gov. Perry he can grant the pardon so it can
be done ASAP."
Perry spokesman Katherine Cesinger noted last week that only the
attorney general's office may give legal advise to state officers.
Cole's pardon remained "an important issue" for Perry, Cesinger said
Tuesday in an e-mailed response to questions.
"We look forward to the attorney general's opinion," Cesinger said.
To comment on this story:
TEXAS/Abbott could reverse previous opinion to clear way for governor to
Source (Innocent project of Texas)
Sunday, 12 July 2009
July 8, 2009
IN A long overdue victory, Ronald Kitchen and Marvin Reeves were freed from an Illinois prison on July 7 after nearly two decades behind bars.
Ronnie and Marvin were convicted of the 1988 murder of two women and three children. Prosecutors alleged that the murders were sparked by a debt one of the women allegedly owed Ronnie.
But the case against the men rested mainly on a "confession" obtained from Kitchen under the watch of former Chicago police Commander Jon Burge. As commander, Burge oversaw the beatings and torture of dozens of suspects, all of them Black men, at Area 2 and 3 police headquarters during the 1970s and '80s.
Burge and his subordinates used electroshock, suffocation and severe beatings in order to extract confessions. Ronnie testified that he was beaten with a blackjack and a telephone book, and was told by one of the officers during his interrogation, "We have ways of making niggers talk."
In addition, prosecutors used testimony from a jailhouse snitch, Willie Williams, who claimed Ronnie had confessed to him. Williams later admitted this was a lie.
Most of Burge's victims were railroaded into prison, and some, like Ronnie, found themselves on death row as a result of the confessions extracted through torture. In all, Ronnie spent 13 years on death row--until his death sentence was commuted to life without parole by former Illinois Gov. George Ryan in 2003.
Kitchen's coerced confession implicated Marvin Reeves, who was convicted on the basis of this "evidence" and sentenced to five life terms in prison without parole.
While on death row, Ronnie joined with other prisoners like Stanley Howard to become political activists. From behind prison bars, Ronnie and Stanley organized the Death Row 10--a group of prisoners who had ended up with the death penalty because of confessions tortured out of them.
When Ryan cleared death row by commuting every death sentence, he issued pardons for four members of the Death Row 10--Stanley, Madison Hobley, Leroy Orange and Aaron Patterson. As Ronnie noted in an interview with Socialist Worker after Ryan's action :
We've been asking for somebody to listen to us, and George Ryan has given us that. To me, it's another chance to keep fighting.
We can celebrate...But at the same time, we have to remember that those four guys aren't the only guys who are innocent, or who were tortured by Jon Burge. There's quite a few other guys back here with the same issues that we have to continue to fight for. We might be left behind, but we aren't forgotten.
I've always said that it wasn't about me or even the Death Row 10, but all the individuals. I can't simply say that I'm innocent, but leave another innocent man behind. To me, the fight was always bigger than Ronald Kitchen.
So it's going to continue to be a fight for justice for the Death Row 10, and a fight for those who don't have that issue, but were under the same duress as we were. The fight is bigger--and it's going to continue to get bigger.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
ON JULY 7, with the "confessions" discredited and defense attorneys alleging that the state had withheld evidence, Cook County Circuit Judge Stanley Sacks ruled that Ronnie and Marvin should be granted a new trial. The attorney general's office announced later that morning that it couldn't meet its burden of proof in presenting a case against them--clearing the way, after so many years, for Ronnie and Marvin's release.
As Ronnie told reporters as he was released, "Does the system work? For me, maybe you could say yes, but I waited 20 years. And what about those who are still in prison? Does it work for them? This proves the system doesn't work."
Ronnie's and Marvin's families, activists from the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP), members of the legal team and supporters packed the courtroom to celebrate their freedom. Despite pleas from the bailiffs, shouts, tears, cheers and hugs burst out when Ronnie and Marvin entered the seating area after the judge released them.
Ronnie met one of his sons, who was born after Ronnie was imprisoned, and his granddaughter for the first time. Many generations of Marvin's family were there to greet him. Members of both families have been involved in the CEDP for years, and in the pursuit of justice for their loved ones.
As the two were released, Ronnie took many opportunities with reporters to point out the flaws in the justice system, and call for justice in cases of police torture. Ronnie held up a flyer of Jon Burge that read, "Jail Jon Burge," and said, "This should say, 'Wanted!'"
Incredibly, the attorney general's office--which has continued to ignore pleas for new trials in almost all police torture cases--gave itself a pat on the back for finally allowing Ronnie and Marvin their freedom. "In this case, it became extraordinarily clear that justice required the release of these two men,'' Cara Smith, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, told the Chicago Tribune.
Justice, however, should have come a long time ago--not only for Ronnie and Marvin, but all the other men who were tortured by Burge's officers, but continue to languish behind bars. In fact, Lisa Madigan is personally responsible for considering the cases of more torture victims still behind bars.
As CEDP National Director Marlene Martin said in a statement:
Ronnie and Marvin's case shows why the death penalty in Illinois should be abolished. We now have 20 people, a number of whom were brutally tortured, who languished for years on death row waiting to die before they were found innocent...Lisa Madigan looked at the evidence in these cases and realized that she had nothing. But why haven't all of the other police torture victims gotten new trials? The attorney general's office needs to do the right thing.
As he was released, Ronnie Kitchen called for justice for the other victims of Burge's torture--and for Burge to be brought to justice. "As long as Jon Burge and his cronies remain free," he said, "the struggle continues."
Friday, 3 July 2009
There were hopes that yesterday would finally have been the day when his pardon was granted. Cole’s family and supporters gathered at the Texas capitol for a press conference where they asked the Governor Rick Perry to sign the pardon or to add this issue to their special session. Unfortunately, the governor maintained that he has no plans of addressing the issue during the session.
An article on Star-Telegram.com states that Governor Perry claims a constitutional amendment would have to be passed in order for him to make the decision. Meanwhile, Senator Rodney Ellis said he and his staff researched the issue and that he didn’t believe an amendment was necessary.
According to another article by Grits for Breakfast, Timothy Cole’s brother was one of the family member to attend the conference.
Noting that the press conference had been moved indoors because of rain, he said the raindrops were teardrops from heaven shed because his brother’s case could still not be finally resolved.
Yesterday would have marked Tim Cole’s 49th birthday.