Wednesday, 30 September 2009

DNA Testing and Unresolved Questions in Tommy Arthur's Case

By Special to The Birmingham News
September 27, 2009, 5:33AM

Once again, Tommy Arthur is about to receive an execution date. And once again, state Attorney General Troy King is standing in the way of DNA testing that could prove Arthur’s guilt or innocence.

It is a familiar — and troubling — series of events. Four times, Arthur has been scheduled to die, only to have a court step in and stop his execution. The state then spends weeks or months fighting efforts for DNA testing, and courts eventually set another execution date.

This time, the state attorney general wants everyone to believe that DNA testing has been conducted and that it somehow confirms Arthur’s guilt. That’s not true.

What is true is that not a single piece of physical evidence ties Arthur to the 1982 murder of Troy Wicker. The evidence against him boils down to the testimony of Wicker’s wife, who was sentenced to life in prison for killing her husband — but pointed the finger at Arthur in exchange for a reduced sentence.

It’s true that some DNA testing was finally conducted this summer. But the test results neither implicate nor exonerate Arthur. Testing on Judy Wicker’s clothing revealed only her husband’s semen; the hair was not tested. On one other piece of evidence, a wig apparently worn by whoever killed Troy Wicker, DNA testing could not yield a profile.

Ordinarily, when initial testing does not yield a profile, scientists conduct other, more sophisticated types of DNA testing. We have done this time and again at the Innocence Project, and the more sophisticated testing often yields a profile that can confirm guilt or prove innocence. In Arthur’s case, the state is blocking any further DNA testing.

Unfortunately, a rape kit from the case was destroyed years ago — a fact the state only revealed a few months ago. It is gone and cannot be subjected to DNA testing. This underscores the need to conduct all possible testing on the remaining evidence.

The state and courts have agreed that DNA testing could shed light on the case, but then stopped well short of conducting the very testing that could actually yield a profile.

To be sure, Arthur’s case is a complicated one. In July, a prison inmate came forward and claimed he killed Troy Wicker. Against the state’s objections, a court ordered DNA testing to show whether the inmate’s story was true. Arthur’s attorneys pursued the DNA testing, unsure whether the inmate’s story was true — but certain that full DNA testing has the potential to shed light on the case.

The attorney general wants everyone to think Arthur’s requests for DNA testing are a new, last-minute effort to avoid execution. In fact, Arthur has been asking for DNA testing since 2002.

DNA testing could show whether Judy Wicker’s initial story (that a man broke into the Wicker home, raped her and killed her husband) was true; it is entirely possible that she was telling the truth at first but lied after she was convicted. Testing could also show that someone else, hired by Judy Wicker or not, committed the crime. Full DNA testing could yield a profile that can be compared to evidence from other, similar crimes and apprehend a serial rapist or murderer.

It is also, of course, possible that full DNA testing could implicate Arthur. If that happened, serious questions about this case would be resolved, and the public would not be left wondering how a man can be executed without a trace of physical evidence connecting him to the crime.

Until then, there is every reason to wonder — to wonder whether Arthur is guilty, and why the state is so determined to block full DNA testing that could resolve this once and for all.

Jason Kreag is a staff attorney at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law. For more information, go to

Perry replaces head of commission probing arson case

By ALLAN TURNER Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Sept. 30, 2009, 2:06PM

In a surprise move, Gov. Rick Perry today appointed two new members to a state commission investigating case of a Corsicana man who some believe was wrongly executed for murdering his children — forcing the cancellation of a meeting on the case scheduled for Friday.

Named to head the Texas Forensic Science Commission was John Bradley, district attorney in Williamson County. Bradley cancelled Friday's meeting at which the panel was to accept fire expert Craig Beyler's analysis of arson investigators' work in the deadly December 1991 house fire.

Three children perished in the blaze. Their father, Cameron Todd Willingham, was convicted of capital murder and executed.

Bradley, who has been his county's chief prosecutor since December 2001, said he called off Friday's meeting because he didn't have adequate time to study the arson case.

Beyler's report was extremely critical of the investigations by Corsicana and state arson investigators, concluding they based their arson ruling on outdated and sloppy procedures.

Beyler's was the third review to fault the arson investigators.

Outgoing commission chairman, Sam Bassett, an Austin defense lawyer, expressed “disappointment” at Perry's timing in the naming of new commissioners, but noted, “I understand that I serve at the pleasure of Gov. Perry.”

Also replaced were commission members Alan Levy, head of the Tarrant County District Attorney's criminal division, and Aliece Watts, quality director at Euless-based Integrated Forensic Laboratories.

Perry named Norma Farley, chief forensic pathologist for Cameron and Hidalgo counties to the panel, and will name a third member in the near future.

A spokeswoman for the commission, which is headquartered at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, said the outgoing members' two-year terms technically expired on Sept. 1.

Spokesmen for Perry's office did not offer immediate comments on the timing of the appointments.

Levy, who, like Bassett, had served four years on the panel, called Perry's timing on the appointments “unfortunate.”

“It will raise suspicions whether they are justified or not,” he said. “This is a very important case. What this is going to do is raise the temperature, and that will not be a good thing.”

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Will Proof That Texas Executed an Innocent Man Change People's Minds On the Death Penalty?

Cameron Todd Willingham's last words were: "I have been persecuted 12 years for something I didn't do."

Cameron Todd Willingham's last words were: "I have been persecuted 12 years for something I didn't do." And now, five years after he was executed by the state of Texas, Willingham is probably as close to an exoneration as he’ll ever get. The blogs and news media have been filled with commentary about the revelation that Willingham was most likely innocent when he was executed, and it’s renewing calls for an examination of the death penalty in this country.

In The Hill blog, John Feehery writes:

Without getting into all of the facts in this particular case, it is clear that we live with an imperfect justice system. The system makes mistakes. Wrong people are accused and convicted. Witnesses sometimes misremember the facts, and sometimes they lie for their own self-interest. Sometimes cops make mistakes, and sometimes prosecutors reach the wrong conclusions.
But the death penalty, when carried out, is always perfect. It always kills the target, and kills the target permanently. And once you kill the accused, you can’t really turn back the clock. If the system turns out to be wrong, as it does on occasion, saying you are sorry doesn’t do much good.

The Los Angeles Times reports that a new study by University of California, Santa Cruz, professor Craig Haney finds that support for the death penalty among Californians is down:

A majority of Californians still favor the death penalty, but their support has waned from 79% to 66% over the last two decades as fears of executing the wrongly convicted escalate, a researcher reported Tuesday.
…Support for the death penalty plunged to 26% when respondents were offered the alternative of guaranteed life imprisonment and the requirement that the offender work to pay restitution to victims and their families, Haney said.

Jonah Lehrer offered this fascinating meditation on the injustice of Willingham’s execution in the Daily Dish:

These stories of a failed justice are important, and not just because they expose specific errors…Instead, I think these harrowing tales need to be told because they contradict a powerful moral intuition we all share, which can unfortunately lead us to turn a blind eye: Because we believe in justice, we ignore stories of injustice.

Finally, the Philadelphia Inquirer brought the argument back to present-day by comparing Willingham’s case to that of Troy Davis:

Davis’ and Willingham’s cases again raise strong questions about capital punishment and whether it can ever be fairly administered, especially when the defendant is poor or a minority, like Davis, and statistically more likely to get a death sentence.
…The risk of a wrongful execution is simply too great to continue with capital punishment.

Davis’s case was recently reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, and sent back to a lower court for the evidentiary hearing he’s been asking for all along. Hopefully Georgia will learn a lesson from Texas, and give Davis the chance at life that Willingham never had.


Innocent but Dead

There is a long and remarkable article in the current New Yorker about a man who was executed in Texas in 2004 for deliberately setting a fire that killed his three small children. Rigorous scientific analysis has since shown that there was no evidence that the fire in a one-story, wood frame house in Corsicana was the result of arson, as the authorities had alleged.

In other words, it was an accident. No crime had occurred.

Cameron Todd Willingham, who refused to accept a guilty plea that would have spared his life, and who insisted until his last painful breath that he was innocent, had in fact been telling the truth all along.

It was inevitable that some case in which a clearly innocent person had been put to death would come to light. It was far from inevitable that this case would be the one. “I was extremely skeptical in the beginning,” said the New Yorker reporter, David Grann, who began investigating the case last December.

The fire broke out on the morning of Dec. 23, 1991. Willingham was awakened by the cries of his 2-year-old daughter, Amber. Also in the house were his year-old twin girls, Karmon and Kameron. The family was poor, and Willingham’s wife, Stacy, had gone out to pick up a Christmas present for the children from the Salvation Army.

Willingham said he tried to rescue the kids but was driven back by smoke and flames. At one point his hair caught fire. As the heat intensified, the windows of the children’s room exploded and flames leapt out. Willingham, who was 23 at the time, had to be restrained and eventually handcuffed as he tried again to get into the room.

There was no reason to believe at first that the fire was anything other than a horrible accident. But fire investigators, moving slowly through the ruined house, began seeing things (not unlike someone viewing a Rorschach pattern) that they interpreted as evidence of arson.

They noticed deep charring at the base of some of the walls and patterns of soot that made them suspicious. They noticed what they felt were ominous fracture patterns in pieces of broken window glass. They had no motive, but they were convinced the fire had been set. And if it had been set, who else but Willingham would have set it?

With no real motive in sight, the local district attorney, Pat Batchelor, was quoted as saying, “The children were interfering with his beer drinking and dart throwing.”

Willingham was arrested and charged with capital murder.

When official suspicion fell on Willingham, eyewitness testimony began to change. Whereas initially he was described by neighbors as screaming and hysterical — “My babies are burning up!” — and desperate to have the children saved, he now was described as behaving oddly, and not having made enough of an effort to get to the girls.

And you could almost have guaranteed that a jailhouse snitch would emerge. They almost always do. This time his name was Johnny Webb, a jumpy individual with a lengthy arrest record who would later admit to being “mentally impaired” and on medication, and who had started taking illegal drugs at the age of 9.

The jury took barely an hour to return a guilty verdict, and Willingham was sentenced to death.

He remained on death row for 12 years, but it was only in the weeks leading up to his execution that convincing scientific evidence of his innocence began to emerge. A renowned scientist and arson investigator, Gerald Hurst, educated at Cambridge and widely recognized as a brilliant chemist, reviewed the evidence in the Willingham case and began systematically knocking down every indication of arson.

The authorities were unmoved. Willingham was executed by lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004.

Now comes a report on the case from another noted scientist, Craig Beyler, who was hired by a special commission, established by the state of Texas to investigate errors and misconduct in the handling of forensic evidence.

The report is devastating, the kind of disclosure that should send a tremor through one’s conscience. There was absolutely no scientific basis for determining that the fire was arson, said Beyler. No basis at all. He added that the state fire marshal who investigated the case and testified against Willingham “seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires.” He said the marshal’s approach seemed to lack “rational reasoning” and he likened it to the practices “of mystics or psychics.”

Grann told me on Monday that when he recently informed the jailhouse snitch, Johnny Webb, that new scientific evidence would show that the fire wasn’t arson and that an innocent man had been killed, Webb seemed taken aback. “Nothing can save me now,” he said.


Florida County Crime Labs Feeling the Heat

It has been a rough August for a few of Florida’s county-run crime labs. First, last week we found out that the Broward County Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab is having a bit of financial difficulty:

The crime lab has been in operation in Broward since 1969, but with the state of the economy, auditors and county commissioners are searching for funds to keep it going.

Evidently, they don’t have the money to pay for the lab’s $7 million budget, especially with the State of Florida only subsidizing 13% percent of that budget. One option was to charge local law enforcement agencies for use of the lab’s services. Another, is to turn the lab over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and let them run it. However, the local Sheriff wants none of that:

Lamberti said it’s essential that the crime lab stay in Broward, for the sake of solving crimes before it’s too late.

He points to the recent case of a Taco Bell manager found dead in an Oakland Park restaurant. About the only thing Lamvberti’s detectives had to go on were fingerprints on a cup left at the scene.

“The closest state lab to Broward County is Fort Meyers. The evidence would have had to been transported there, analyzed,” Lamberti said. “It would have been weeks before we got those finger prints back.”

The lab lifted the prints, and the BSO had a suspect nabbed in the same day, before he could run.

“Within 21 hours we had the evidence analyzed, mainly finger prints, and we had the suspect in custody, all within 21 hours,” Lamberti said.

A little criminal fear mongering solves every problem. But this raises the question of which would be better, a better funded State lab that has more moving parts and may be less efficient or a locally controlled but cash strapped lab able to more timely respond to criminal investigative needs. Well, with this news from last week as evidence, maybe law enforcement-run labs, whether local or state, are really the problem:

Fourteen months after the DNA match, the rape suspect, Edward Mozie, would be arrested in a separate case for murdering Christine Myers in Sunrise.

Records show the DNA match sent by CODIS — the national DNA database — to MDPD on July 18, 2004 would have linked Edward Mozie to a rape on January 18, 2004 in Northwest Miami-Dade. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirms it received a copy of the notification on that date.

However, in a memo obtained by the CBS4 I-Team, MDPD says it has no record of the match being received by the department’s Crime Lab at that time. That means the information never got passed along to MDPD detectives who were looking for the rapist in the Northwest Miami-Dade attack.

Mozie was arrested on September 20, 2005 by the Sunrise Police Department for the murder of 18-year-old Christine Myers — 14 months after the DNA match that should have led to his arrest on a rape charge.

So did FDLE get the match and not pass it on to Miami Dade PD or did MDPD get it but not pass it onto investigators? Evidently, it is no one’s fault, or at least all agencies are covering their behinds to avoid obvious responsibility for a woman’s death. The FBI says they sent the match. FDLE says they got a copy of the match on the same day (even though they had the rapists DNA in the databse since 1997 and could have provided the match), and MDPD says they never received it.

Whatever way you cut it, this illuminates the problems with law enforcement-run labs. They are inefficient. And they are subjectively biased instead of scientifically objective because they work for the agency whose job it is to put people in prison.

The easiest way to solve this issue would be to make these government run labs independent from law enforcement agencies. While there is absolutely no chance of that happening in Florida, it should be the goal.


Tuesday, 8 September 2009

DNA Tests Prove Broward Man Innocent

Yesterday, DNA results were released in the case of Anthony Caravella, a mentally retarded man who was convicted at the young age of 15 of raping and murdering Ada Jankowski in Miramar, Broward County, Florida. Paula McMahon of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:

“This means Anthony is innocent, it exonerates him,” said Diane Cuddihy, the Broward chief assistant public defender who reopened Caravella’s case and has been working on it since 2001.

The test, performed by a private lab in Richmond, Calif., eliminated Caravella as a potential source for the sperm found inside the Miramar victim’s body 26 years ago.

The test yielded the DNA profile of an unidentified male that could be checked against genetic databases to see if there’s a match with anyone on file.

While the State will likely argue that this evidence got there through some innocent means, let’s be clear about what we have here. The State convicted Caravella of stabbing the victim to death and raping her in the meantime, despositing his semen inside of her during the crime. Their own lab, in 1983, identified sperm on a swab of material taken from the victim’s vagina. Now, 25 years later, Forensic Science Associates, one of the best private labs in the nation, found some sperm cells on a slide made from the same swab, extracted the DNA from those sperm cells and determined, conclusively, that the sperm could not have come from Anthony Caravella. So we tested the perps sperm and it doesn’t match the defendant, so it means the defendant is not the perp. It is as simple as that, no matter how much the State may try to confuse the issue.

From a scientific standpoint, what is interesting is that when the local crime lab had a crack at this evidence, they got no DNA result. In fact, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab, didn’t even detect semen, despite the fact that lab analysts did see sperm on the tested vaginal swab in 1983.

Everyone in the local law enforcement community is baffled, but should any of us really be surprised at this point? Another point about government-run crime labs that we didn’t mention in our post the other day is that, for unknown reasons, they just are not as good as independent private labs at getting DNA results in these challenging old cases. Maybe it is because the scientist is not as experienced. Or they did not painstakingly search on the slide for microscopically visible sperm cells. Or maybe they just don’t view the importance of the case in the same way as a private lab would. Who knows. All we know is that time and time again, private labs succeed where government-run crime labs have failed.

What we do know, is that when the prosecutor Carolyn McCann says that they need to review the methods of the private lab because the result doesn’t comport with what her lab found, while certainly necessary, she is really only trying to intimate that something is amiss in an attempt to delegitimize the perfectly legit results. The only thing that is amiss, is that we now know a guy has spent 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and no one, except his attorney, is trying to rip down the prison walls to free him.

Another important point about this case, which I suspect will be the focus of ongoing conversations about this case, is Mr. Caravella’s mental retardation (IQ of 67) and how that, combined with coercive and suggestive interrogation methods by law enforcement, led to what DNA results show was a false confession. As we have documented in our policy section of our website, false confessions contributed to a wrongful conviction in about 25% of the DNA exoneration cases nationwide. One of those cases, that of Jerry Frank Townsend, makes this case more troubling because both are Broward cases, both involve law enforcement suggestively interrogating a mentally retarded person until they confess and using that false confession to close cases, and both cases may even involve at least one of the same law enforcement officers.

Congratulations to Mr. Caravella and Diane Cuddihy, his long time attorney for this result. IPF has been in touch with Ms. Cuddihy for a while and will let you know about new developments in this case when they happen. When Caravella is exonerated, he will be the 243rd DNA exoneree nationwide, the 11th in Florida, and the 4th in Broward County alone. Hopefully, the State will do the right thing and right this wrong before too long.


DNA Testing Once Again Clears Wrongly Imprisoned Man

Mentally retarded suspect was coerced into confession, defense says

After serving 26 years in prison, it appears that Anthony Caravella did not rape and murder a 58-year-old woman in 1983.

A recent DNA test determined that the 41-year-old mentally retarded man with an IQ of 67 did not ejaculate his sperm into the victim.

So now Broward prosecutors are planning to ask a judge to release him under some form of supervision, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Defense attorneys were not surprised by the findings, claiming the then-15-year-old boy was coerced into a confession. In fact, he gave five contradictory confessions before police were satisfied with their evidence.

Prosecutors were so confident he was guilty they demanded the death penalty. But the jury voted against it.

The DNA found on Ada Cox Jankowski belongs to a still unidentified man. Investigators plan to run it through local and national databases to see if they find a match.

This is not the first time DNA has cleared a mentally disabled man who served time in prison after questionable confessions for rapes and murders committed in South Florida.

In 1993, schizophrenic John Purvis, 52, was released from prison after serving nine years in prison after DNA cleared him of murdering a mother and her baby.

In 1998, Jerry Frank Townsend, who has the mental capacity of an 8-year-old, was released from prison after serving 22 years when DNA testing proved he did not commit six murders and one rape.

And in 2000, a DNA test exonerated Frank Lee Smith, who had been sentenced to death for raping and killing an 8-year-old girl. However, he had already died of cancer in 1999 after serving 14 years on death row.

In fact, there have been many men throughout the country cleared of heinous crimes after DNA testing exonerated them, including the man who served 25 years in prison as Miami’s Bird Road Rapist.


Sunday, 6 September 2009

Not Innocent Enough

The elusive search for the sufficiently innocent death-row victim.

For years, death-penalty opponents and supporters have been on what now looks to be an ethical snipe hunt. Everyone was looking for a moment at which everything would change: a case in which a clearly innocent defendant was wrongly put to death.

In a 2005 Supreme Court case that actually had nothing to do with the execution of innocents, Justices David Souter and Antonin Scalia locked horns over the possibility that such a creature could even exist. Souter fretted that "the period starting in 1989 has seen repeated exonerations of convicts under death sentences, in numbers never imagined before the development of DNA tests." To which Scalia retorted: "[T]he dissent makes much of the new-found capacity of DNA testing to establish innocence. But in every case of an executed defendant of which I am aware, that technology has confirmed guilt." Scalia went on to blast "sanctimonious" death-penalty opponents, a 1987 study on innocent exonerations whose "obsolescence began at the moment of publication," and then concluded that there was not "a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit."

This language suggested that if anyone ever found such a case, the Scalias of the world might rethink matters. As of today, the Innocence Project, a national organization dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing, claims there have been 241 post-conviction DNA exonerations, of which 17 were former death-row inmates who now have been spared the death penalty. The gap between their data and Justice Scalia's widens every year. And for those who insist that not even one of those alleged innocents is indeed innocent, we now have a name: Cameron Todd Willingham, executed by the state of Texas in 2004 for allegedly setting a 1991 house fire that killed his three young daughters.


Texas DNA exonerees find prosperity after prison

By JEFF CARLTON, Associated Press Writer

DALLAS – Thomas McGowan's journey from prison to prosperity is about to culminate in $1.8 million, and he knows just how to spend it: on a house with three bedrooms, stainless steel kitchen appliances and a washer and dryer.

"I'll let my girlfriend pick out the rest," said McGowan, who was exonerated last year based on DNA evidence after spending nearly 23 years in prison for rape and robbery.

He and other exonerees in Texas, which leads the nation in freeing the wrongly convicted, soon will become instant millionaires under a new state law that took effect this week.

Exonerees will get $80,000 for each year they spent behind bars. The compensation also includes lifetime annuity payments that for most of the wrongly convicted are worth between $40,000 and $50,000 a year — making it by far the nation's most generous package.

"I'm nervous and excited," said McGowan, 50. "It's something I never had, this amount of money. I didn't have any money — period."

His payday for his imprisonment — a time he described as "a nightmare," "hell" and "slavery" — should come by mid-November after the state's 45-day processing period.

Exonerees also receive an array of social services, including job training, tuition credits and access to medical and dental treatment. Though 27 other states have some form of compensation law for the wrongly convicted, none comes close to offering the social services and money Texas provides.

The annuity payments are especially popular among exonerees, who acknowledge their lack of experience in managing personal finances. A social worker who meets with the exonerees is setting them up with financial advisers and has led discussions alerting them to swindlers.

The annuities are "a way to guarantee these guys ... payments for life as long as they follow the law," said Kevin Glasheen, a Lubbock attorney representing a dozen exonerees.

Two who served about 26 years in prison for rape will receive lump sums of about $2 million apiece. Another, Steven Phillips, who spent about 24 years in prison for sexual assault and burglary, will get about $1.9 million.

The biggest compensation package will likely go to James Woodard, who spent more than 27 years in prison for a 1980 murder that DNA testing later showed he did not commit. He eventually could receive nearly $2.2 million but first needs a writ from the state's Court of Criminal Appeals or a pardon from the governor.

McGowan and the others are among 38 DNA exonerees in Texas, according to the Innocence Project, a New York legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions. Dallas County alone has 21 cases in which a judge overturned guilty verdicts based on DNA evidence, though prosecutors plan to retry one of those.

Charles Chatman, who was wrongly convicted of rape, said the money will allow him some peace of mind after more than 26 years in prison.

"It will bring me some independence," he said. "Other people have had a lot of control over my life."

Chatman and other exonerees already have begun rebuilding their lives. Several plan to start businesses, saying they don't mind working but want to be their own bosses. Others, such as McGowan, don't intend to work and hope to make their money last a lifetime.

Some exonerees have gotten married and another is about to. Phillips is taking college courses. Chatman became a first-time father at 49.

"That's something I never thought I'd be able to do," he said. "No amount of money can replace the time we've lost."

The drumbeat of DNA exonerations caused lawmakers this year to increase the compensation for the wrongly convicted, which had been $50,000 for each year of prison. Glasheen, the attorney, advised his clients to drop their federal civil rights lawsuits and then led the lobbying efforts for the bill.

Besides the lump sum and the monthly annuity payments, the bill includes 120 hours of paid tuition at a public college. It also gives exonerees an additional $25,000 for each year they spent on parole or as registered sex offenders.

No other state has such a provision, according to the Innocence Project.

Exonerees who collected lump sum payments under the old compensation law are ineligible for the new lump sums but will receive the annuities. Whether the money will be subject to taxes remains unsettled, Glasheen said.

The monthly payments are expected to be a lifeline for exonerees such as Wiley Fountain, 53, who received nearly $390,000 in compensation — minus federal taxes — but squandered it by, as he said, "living large." He ended up homeless, spending his nights in a tattered sleeping bag behind a liquor store.

But after getting help from fellow exonerees and social workers, Fountain now lives in an apartment and soon will have a steady income.

Fountain's story is a cautionary tale for the other exonerees, who meet monthly and lately have been discussing the baggage that comes with the money.

Chatman said he's been approached by "family, friends and strangers, too."

"It takes two or three seconds before they ask me how much money, or when do I get the money," he said. "Everyone has the perfect business venture for you."

Though appropriately wary, the exonerees say they are excited about having money in the bank.

"You're locked up so long and then you get out with nothing," McGowan said. "With this, you might be able to live a normal life, knowing you don't have to worry about being out on the streets."


Saturday, 5 September 2009

Innocent Miramar man spent 25 years in prison?

Innocent Miramar man spent 25 years in prison? DNA test casts doubt on 1983 rape and murder conviction

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Laboratory testing has shown that a Broward man locked up since he was 15 for the rape and murder of a Miramar woman in 1983 is not the source of the DNA found on the victim's body.

Anthony Caravella, now 41, has spent 25 years, or more than half his life, in prison.
"This means Anthony is innocent, it exonerates him," said Diane Cuddihy, the Broward chief assistant public defender who reopened Caravella's case and has been working on it since 2001.
Carolyn McCann, the Broward prosecutor now in charge of the case, said the test results, which both sides received Wednesday, raise questions and that it is too early to say whether prosecutors will support or oppose Caravella's release.

McCann said she needs to know more about how the private forensic lab that did the testing came up with results so at odds with findings from the Broward Sheriff's Office crime lab eight years ago.
"This is a scientific inquiry at this point," the prosecutor said.
The test, performed by a private lab in Richmond, Calif., eliminated Caravella as a potential source for the sperm found inside the Miramar victim's body 26 years ago.
The test yielded the DNA profile of an unidentified male that could be checked against genetic databases to see if there's a match with anyone on file.
In 2001, the sheriff's crime lab reported that testing of the evidence produced nothing that would either implicate or exonerate Caravella. Further, the technicians said, there was no semen found.
Broward Sheriff's Office spokesman Jim Leljedal said Wednesday that the agency's crime technicians will ask Forensic Science Associates, the California lab, to share their methods and results "so we can take another look at this."
Miramar police, who investigated the 1983 murder with help from the Sheriff's Office, also will review the case in light of the new information, spokeswoman Tania Rues said.
Caravella was arrested when he was 15 and charged with the rape and murder of Ada Cox Jankowski, 58. The victim, who had moved here from England after World War II, was stabbed 29 times and strangled as she walked home from a local bar. Her body was found on the grounds of Miramar Elementary School.
Police soon started to focus on Caravella, who came from a troubled family of 11 children and who frequently stayed with a family that lived near the murder scene.
He has an I.Q. of 67, which experts say is mild mental retardation. He was arrested on an unrelated theft charge, and made progressively more incriminating statements, eventually confessing that he alone killed Jankowski. The defense says that was the sole evidence against him; prosecutors say there is other information that supports the conviction.
The Sun Sentinel started looking into the case in 2001 when Caravella's younger brother, Larry Dunlap, contacted the newspaper after reading about the DNA exonerations of two other men wrongfully convicted in Broward County.
Dunlap, now 30, was 4 at the time of the murder. He said his family never believed Caravella was guilty.
A reporter put Dunlap in touch with the Broward Public Defender's Office. Cuddihy worked diligently on the case, and this year, at the defense's expense, the evidence was sent for testing to California. The prosecution and defense agreed to the step, but not on whether the results could legally prove Caravella's innocence.
Caravella could not be contacted for an interview Wednesday because he is behind bars at Everglades Correctional Institution in western Miami-Dade County. Cuddihy said Caravella reacted calmly when she told him of the test results at about 3 p.m. Wednesday.
He teared up and quietly said, "I told you I didn't do it, Diane" and "When am I going home now?" the lawyer said.
"I'm just shaking inside at the fact that he's been in [prison] all this time," Cuddihy said. She said she will be filing documents in the next few days to try to get the prisoner released.
McCann also noted that the private lab found female DNA on the sample which did not match the victim's. The lab suggested that DNA could have been introduced to the swabs when they were handled at the Sheriff's Office lab.
Edward Blake, one of the scientists who did the recent testing, said he used methods that were also available to the sheriff's lab in 2001. He said the evidence was poorly preserved but usable, and noted that he found sperm, as did the Broward Medical Examiner's Office in the 1983 autopsy.
Asked why the sheriff's lab didn't find it, Blake said: "To be quite candid with you, I don't know."
DNA testing was not available in 1983 and contamination of evidence in old cases is an issue, Leljedal said: "Evidence gathering and preservation procedures were all different when DNA wasn't a factor."
To date, DNA testing has exonerated 241 convicted people nationwide, including two high-profile Broward cases. Frank Lee Smith, 52, died of cancer on Death Row months before DNA tests proved he was innocent in December 2000. Jerry Frank Townsend, now 57, was vindicated in several murders after serving more than 21 years in prison. He was released in 2001.
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The 10th Annual March to abolish the Death Penalty