Sunday, 28 February 2010

Texas board urges pardon in wrongful conviction

Texas board urges pardon in wrongful conviction

The Associated Press
Saturday, February 27, 2010; 5:30 PM

LUBBOCK, Texas -- The Texas pardons and parole board has recommended clemency in the case of a man who died in prison after he was wrongly convicted of rape.

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported Saturday the recommendation in Tim Cole's case was forwarded to Gov. Rick Perry's office Friday.

Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle tells The Associated Press that he looks forward to pardoning Cole.

Cole's family has expressed relief over the recommendation.

Cole died in 1999 at age 39. He was convicted of the 1985 rape of a Texas Tech University student in Lubbock.

A 2008 DNA test cleared Cole and implicated convicted rapist Jerry Wayne Johnson, who confessed in several letters to court officials dating back to 1995.

Cole would be the state's first posthumous pardon.

New Hampshire doesn't need the death penalty

February 13, 2010 2:00 AM
Feb. 10 — To the Editor:

A system run by human beings can never be perfect. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that.

I was moved by Juan Melendez's words when he said he was not saved by the system but in spite of the system. New Hampshire can live without the death penalty. In reality, we have done so for the last 70 years despite having it on the books.

Let's get rid of it for good. Lock the murderers up and spend the appeal money on helping the victims' families deal with their losses.

Brad Greeley

New Castle

Freed from death row

Juan Ramos Picks Up the Pieces

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 4, 1999

Twelve years after he left Florida's death row, Juan Florencio Ramos still paces like a prisoner locked in a tiny cell.

From the porch of his mother's house near Miami, he gazes at strange cars. He puffs on Marlboros. And when he climbs into his red Trans Am, he hits the gas and races down the street as if the guards are coming to drag him back to prison.

Ramos, a 41-year-old truck driver, is a member of a small but growing club that prosecutors don't like to talk about. From his wallet, he pulls out a pre-prison photograph of a fresh-faced young man with a hard body and smiling eyes. Now that body is scarred from prison fights, those eyes sometimes glazed in anger.

"That person," he says, choking back tears, "is not me."

Experts say wrongful death sentences are built on similar circumstances: police who use coerced confessions or questionable eyewitness identifications; prosecutors who exploit false testimony or inaccurate scientific evidence; jurors who are tainted by prejudice; judges who are out for headlines; and suspects who are easy marks -- because of their race, criminal background or inability to afford a good lawyer.

Only five of Florida's wrongly condemned have received compensation from the state, and they say the money can't replace what they lost.

There's an irony in the stories of death row survivors: It took a death sentence to free them. If they had received a life sentence, they probably never would have gotten out.

Michael L. Radelet, a University of Florida sociology professor who documents wrongful executions, says death row survivors are the lucky ones because only through good fortune and careful scrutiny of their cases were they vindicated before a fatal error. "As long as we have the death penalty," Radelet says, "innocent people will be executed."

With more capital punishment cases and shrinking legal resources, the danger of wrongful convictions and wrongful executions is "getting worse," says Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.

Most prosecutors, judges and Florida officials won't admit an innocent person has ever been executed here or convicted in error.

But Gerald Kogan, who recently retired after 11 years on the Florida Supreme Court, told the Associated Press in December that he wasn't convinced of guilt in "two or three" of the 25 state executions while he was on the court.

"There are several cases where I had grave doubts as to the guilt of a particular person, (and) other cases where I just felt they were treated unfairly in the system," Kogan said.

Kogan, a former prosecutor, refuses to elaborate on which cases he had in mind. "I've said what I'm going to say on that. I don't want to talk about that any more."

Gov. Jeb Bush, who has signed death warrants to send two convicted killers to the electric chair this week, declined to comment for this story. In meetings, Bush has voiced concern about people on death row who may be innocent, according to Carol Licko, his general counsel.

She says the governor signed the warrants only after a careful review of the cases to eliminate any possibility of a wrongful execution.

Life on death row

Each of the cells is 6 feet wide, 9 feet long and 91/2 feet high, with concrete walls on three sides and steel bars in front that look out over a 3-foot-wide catwalk. Each cell has a steel toilet, a steel sink, a steel footlocker and a steel bunk with a mattress 4 inches thick. Each cell also is equipped with a 13-inch black-and-white television. Meals, mail and Bibles are passed to the condemned through a slot in the bars
Inmates can't see into other cells, but they can look down the corridor by angling a piece of a mirror. They communicate with one another by talking down the corridor -- called "getting on the bars" -- or yelling through a vent or the plumbing pipes. Or throwing a long stick with a note attached to the person in the next cell.

Twice a week, they are let out for a two-hour trip to an exercise yard. Three times a week, they are escorted to the shower stall, where the water runs for five minutes. Occasionally, guards jerk open a cell door to search an inmate's belongings or body for drugs or shanks (crude, homemade knives).

Death row survivors remember the numbing cold in winter, the hellish heat in summer and the non-stop din of hundreds of voices and noises, relieved only by an eerie quiet on execution days.

Alone with nothing but time, they did almost anything to keep their minds occupied.

They counted every dent in the walls, every crevice on the floor. They learned the heavy footsteps of their favorite nighttime guard. They prayed for life and sometimes hoped for death.

They slept and wrote poetry, usually at night when there was less noise. They read and argued about things such as whether to go to the execution chamber kicking and screaming or "like a man."

Anthony Peek, who survived a decade on the row, paced so much -- five steps back and forth -- that his knees are weak. Dave Keaton, released from death row 26 years ago, could catch a glimpse of the afternoon sun if he stood at the right angle. Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs, who for a time was the only woman in the country on death row, painted by dipping strands of her hair in beet juice.

One rule of survival: be buddies with everyone but close friends with no one. That's because it hurts too much when a friend is executed.

Anthony Brown, who watched and listened 12 times as guards prepared for executions, tears up when he remembers his final hours with Marvin Francois. Francois, 39, was executed in 1985 for killing six people during a robbery of a Miami drug house.

"We wanted to send him out on a high," says Brown, 43, recounting how they shared a cigarette and fantasized it was a joint. "It took a little out of me when they killed him. I'd grown real attached to him."

No matter how they passed the time, they had one thing in common: a date with death in Florida's electric chair.

Too painful to forget

"No matter how hard he screams," Ramos says, "no one hears him.
Ramos grew up in Cuba, served three years in the Cuban military and came to Florida in the 1980 Mariel boatlift. Within a year, he was married, living in Cocoa and making $11 an hour in a steel factory.

His new world collapsed in June 1982 when police arrested him for raping, beating, strangling and stabbing Sue Cobb, 27, an acquaintance who lived a block away. No physical evidence linked Ramos to the homicide, but there was seemingly damning evidence provided by a police dog named Harass II.

After sniffing an empty pack of Ramos' cigarettes, the dog was put in a room with five knives and five blouses. Harass stopped at blouse No. 5, the victim's bloody blouse, then licked knife No. 3, the bloodstained knife that had been embedded in her chest.

These were the only knife and blouse with blood on them -- which seemed to prove only that Harass was attracted to blood. But that was enough for a Seminole County jury to convict Ramos, who spoke little English, and for a judge to overrule its recommendation of life and sentence him to death.

Norman Wolfinger, who was Ramos' public defender and now is state attorney for Seminole and Brevard counties, cited another factor in what he called "the weakest murder case I've ever seen" -- racism. "Absolutely no attempt was made from Day One to pin the murder on anyone but the sap, the Cuban," Wolfinger said at the time.

Isolated from the world, Ramos remained defiant in his cell on death row. "I thought about my last meal," he says. "I was gonna tell them, "Just feed me the same s---. It's disgusting of you to offer me the best food when I'm gonna puke it back in your face.' "

Before he talked to the Times, Ramos, who learned English on death row, had never spoken about his ordeal to the media. His 61-year-old mother, Ena Garcia, tells him not to talk now. "You know it upsets you," she says in Spanish. "Why start trouble?"

But Ramos needs to talk, and for six hours, at times angry, at times tearful, he pours out details of his five years of wrongful imprisonment: beatings, a stabbing, paralytic asthma attacks and an attempted gang rape.

Once, he tried to commit suicide by making a noose with a bedsheet, tying it to the bars and sticking his head inside the loop. Another time, he fought with a guard and was sent to solitary, now known as "X-wing." The cell doors in "X-wing" are solid steel. To see out, Ramos scrunched his face against a half-inch crack between the steel door and the concrete wall.

And in his regular cell, he steeled himself for "Old Sparky," once shocking himself with the hot wire of his TV. "I wanted to know what it felt like to get cooked," he says.

While Ramos tried to keep a grip on his sanity, his lawyers fought for his life in the courts. In October 1985, they got a boost when the TV newsmagazine 20/20 exposed the unreliability of scent-tracking dogs, including Harass II, the German shepherd that put Ramos behind bars. The dogs and their trainer, 20/20 reported, had several times identified suspects who probably were innocent.

In August 1986, the Florida Supreme Court reversed Ramos' conviction, ruling that the dog-scent evidence was completely untested. At a retrial, Ramos was acquitted, and on April 24, 1987, he drove to his new home in Miami.

He enjoyed long showers and time with his wife, Danette, whom he leaned on to guide him. But he felt "like a time bomb." He had a hard time relating to people, especially women. "They talked only about superficial things," he says. "How can they really understand what it's like to be on death row?"

Ramos went into therapy, but four years ago his marriage fell apart. He moved in with his mother, claiming a mobile home on the property in south Miami-Dade County. He planted avocado, mango and sugar-cane trees, and now cares for four dogs, a cat and 20 roosters that wander around behind the locked front gate.

Every night, Ramos comes home to a hug from his mother and the smell of her cooking. Every morning, she delivers him cafe Cubano in a thimble cup.

Ramos says he feels less numb now, "much calmer." The only time the adrenaline really pumps is when he's tooling around in his red Trans Am or hauling steel in a semitrailer truck. As a truck driver, no one looks over his shoulder or watches what he's doing.

Still, he feels like a prisoner sometimes -- able to face up to death but worried he can't face up to life.

"I came here (to America) for a better life," he says. "In Cuba, I'd be dead. I was found innocent here, but it didn't wipe anything away. You're free, but free for what? The best, best years of my life are gone. . . . I carry this with me until the day I die."

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Innocence Commission is Cooking with Gas

From the blog Plain Error :

As you can see from our Press Release below, IPF’s efforts to create an Actual Innocence Commission in Florida have just been buoyed by one of, if not the most conservative members of the Florida Senate, Mike Haridopolos (R-Brevard). It is not insiginificant that he also happens to be the next President of the Florida Senate. He sent a letter this week to Chief Justice fo the Florida Supreme Court, Peggy Quince, supporting and offering legislative assistance in the creation of the Innocence Commission, the creation of which is being considered currently being considered by the court.

The Commission would not determine claims of innocence, which is the primary function of IPF, prosecutors and courts in innocence-based litigation. However, it would look at those cases where innocence has been determined and find out why those wrongful convictions occurred so it can make recommendations for policy reforms that will prevent wrongful convictions going forward.

Senator Haridopolos has cut his teeth on wrongful conviction issues by being the Senate sponsor on claims bills to compensate Florida DNA exoneress Wilton Dedge and, now, Bill Dillon. John Torres from Florida Today reports:

“Our goal should be justice,” Haridopolos said. “I’m known as being tough on crime, but let’s make sure the right guy is behind bars.” He said the letter is a result of his research on a special bill for William Dillon, a Satellite Beach man who spent 27 years in prison before DNA ultimately excluded him from key evidence.Haridopolos said the commission would save the state money by weeding out frivolous lawsuits and keeping guilty inmates from “abusing the system.” It also would eliminate the need for special compensation bills in the future because it would help limit wrongful incarcerations.

Haridopolos said the commission idea had been “floating around” for a couple of years. He said Florida could use a similar project in North Carolina as a model. “Their hard work has provided an example of how other states should react when faced with a plethora of wrongful incarcerations,” he wrote.

Reached in Tallahassee Thursday, Haridopolos said the time is ripe for this to happen. “The criminal justice system is not perfect,” he said. “We need to have something established like this. It will make sure that when a person is sentenced to a life sentence, or even to the death penalty, that they are truly the guilty one.”

This is just more proof that the “Innocence” issue must not be an issue where lines are drawn by party affiliation or political persuasion. With the support of the legislature and the recent unanimous support of the Florida Bar Board of Governors, the chances of creating this Innocence Commission have dramatically improved.


Press Release: Innocent Man Accepts Compensation For Wrongful Incarceration

From the blog Plain Error :

Innocent Man Accepts Compensation For Wrongful Incarceration

Leroy McGee Holds Press Conference; Vows to Fight for Reform of State Compensation Law

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida—On Tuesday February 16, 2010, Leroy McGee will hold a press conference to accept $179,000 in compensation from the State of Florida for his wrongful conviction for a 1990 robbery after refusing to sign the acceptance paperwork over disagreements with unfair provisions in the compensation law. He spent three years and seven months wrongfully incarcerated until Judge Paul Backman ruled McGee had not committed the robbery and that his defense attorney at trial gave the “absolutely the worst performance in the courtroom I’ve ever seen.” Mr. McGee is Florida’s first innocent individual to be eligible and receive compensation under the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act.

Leroy McGee was convicted in 1991 for an armed robbery he did not commit. During his incarceration, he continuously proclaimed his innocence. He pleaded with authorities and wrote numerous letters to judges. Finally, a special attorney, Mark Wrubel, was appointed to review his case. After several court filings, Judge Paul Backman ordered his conviction vacated. Judge Backman determined that Mr. McGee had simply been railroaded by an incompetent defense attorney who overlooked, or just failed to introduce, clear evidence of Mr. McGee’s innocence—Mr. McGee did not match the initial descriptions of the robbery suspect, none of the fingerprints found at the scene matched his, his car was inoperable at the time of the crime, and his employee time card showed that he was, in fact, at work when the armed robbery took place.

As part of this claim process Mr. McGee had to establish also that he has never been guilty of committing any crime. And this has to be certified by the FBI.

“I delayed taking this compensation to let the public know that there are a number of ways to improve the wrongful incarceration compensation statute. With the economy like it is, it was time to accept the compensation and continue this fight,” said Mr. McGee.

Specifically, the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act does not allow someone who has been convicted of a felony prior to or during his wrongful incarceration to seek compensation. Thus, a very minor felony can trigger this “Clean Hands” provision to prevent someone from being compensated for a subsequent wrongful incarceration. Additionally, the law does not allow for attorneys fees for the legal work provided to obtain the compensation. Because the law will require in some instances a mini-trial where the innocent individual will again have to prove their innocence, it may shut out a financially poor exoneree from the compensation process.

“Mr. McGee has been absolutely courageous in foregoing this compensation for the last eight months so that he could shed light on some of the problems with the compensation statute,” said David Comras, McGee’s pro bono attorney.

After Mr. McGee, with the help of his attorney, had fulfilled all of the legal and evidentiary requirements imposed by Florida’s Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act, the Attorney Generals Office offered to pay Mr. McGee in the form of an annuity that is worth approximately $179,000, and which is to be paid to him over a ten year plus period. Apparently, there is no provision in the Act to allow for his substantial costs and legal fees incurred obtaining this compensation, despite the complex legal and heavy evidentiary burdens he had to overcome. “If you are out of prison, you are going to be struggling out there, trying to get a job,” McGee said. “Who has the money to pay lawyers up front? Any decision I make now (the State) will bring up to the rest of the guys (who apply).”

“Most exonerees come out of prison with limited resources or no resources at all. It is one of the reasons why they were convicted in the first place and were unable to effectively prove their innocence for so many years. Without providing a modest fee in the statute to allow them to hire a compensation attorney, it may prevent them from claiming compensation they deserve simply because they are poor and can’t afford an attorney,” said Seth Miller, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Florida.

“Even though Mr. McGee didn’t have to pay for my help to get his compensation, he is standing up for those exonerees who can’t afford an attorney or can’t find a free one in these tough economic times,” Comras continued. “Few, if any, of those wrongfully incarcerated would be willing or able to bear such costs, risks and complications on their own account. And even when successful, they would remain substantially out of pocket for a great number of years concerning these costs,” Comras wrote the State in a Sept. 15, 2009 letter.

While there is a bill filed (SB 654) in the Florida Senate to remove the clean hands provision from the compensation law, the bill does not include a modest attorney fees provision. The bill also does not have a sponsor in the Florida House of Representatives. Without a companion bill in the House, it is unlikely that any positive changes will be made to the law this year. Members of the House have until Tuesday March, 2, 2010, the first day of the legislative session, to file bills.

Please join Mr. McGee and his attorney David Comras for a press conference to announce the acceptance of his compensation for wrongful incarceration and explain Mr. McGee’s strong stance against the shortcomings in the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act. The event will be held at 2:00 PM at the Broward County Public Defender’s Office located at the main courthouse — 3rd Floor, North Wing, 201 SE 6th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301.


Sunday, 21 February 2010

Innocence panel could improve justice in Florida

People working in the criminal-justice system often become hardened to claims of innocence. It's a matter of survival: The claims are often bogus. And the prospect of putting an innocent person behind bars -- or on death row -- is too horrendous to contemplate on a daily basis.

But in recent years, a string of high-profile exonerations -- some sparked by DNA testing, others by dogged investigation -- have forced policymakers to confront the ugly reality. Innocent people are being sent to prison. Not many, but one is too many -- and Florida has seen 11 cases overturned by DNA evidence, with more in the pipeline. State leaders should ask why. Examining overturned cases reveals common elements. Other states have launched innocence commissions to systematically study wrongful convictions, and suggest changes to the criminal-justice system.

To their credit, key Florida officials are lining up behind the concept of an innocence commission. The most recent, Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, received a harsh education on the injustice of wrongful convictions when he sponsored legislation to compensate Wilton Dedge, one of the first people to be exonerated by DNA in Florida. Dedge spent 22 years behind bars for a rape he did not commit, fighting for the last eight of those years to have DNA evidence tested that would prove his innocence. Even after a private lab cleared him in 2001, the state fought to keep him in prison. He was finally released in 2004.

Dedge's case exposed many of the weak points that experts say spawn bad convictions. He was misidentified by the victim in the case during a photographic lineup, even though she had previously given a physical description of an assailant considerably taller than Dedge. His first trial featured highly dubious testimony from a dog handler who has been linked by a Florida Today investigation to a string of other questionable convictions.

After Dedge's first conviction was overturned, on the basis that his defense attorneys weren't allowed to effectively refute the dog-sniffing evidence, Dedge was tried again under circumstances even more suspicious. That trial featured testimony from a convicted murderer, who had been placed in a prison van with Dedge. Clarence Zacke testified that Dedge boasted about the rape and gave considerable detail. What the jury didn't hear was that Zacke had previously testified for the state in another case, and had his sentence reduced after the Dedge trial.

Faulty eyewitness identification, untrustworthy snitches and unreliable scientific testimony are implicated in many overturned convictions. Other problems include false confessions and the proper preservation of evidence.

Wrongful convictions are costly in many ways. The largest burden falls on the innocent people incarcerated for others' crimes -- but the victims of crime also suffer, because their real assailants aren't caught and punished. Society pays as well, through compensation for those falsely imprisoned.

Finding patches for these gaps in Florida's criminal code isn't a matter of liberal versus conservative, but of right versus wrong. Asking experts to study the issue and recommend changes is an important step to ensure that every case is handled with the ultimate goal of justice.


Thursday, 11 February 2010

Thwarting Justice by Denying DNA Testing

It is disheartening to hear of prosecutors opposing DNA tests which may prove the innocence of persons facing the death penalty. The objections usually center on the cost or maintaining closure and peace of mind for the victim's family. However, supporters of the defendant frequently offer to pay the cost, and one would think that the victim's family would prefer to have the actual perpetrator arrested and convicted rather than have an innocent person executed. It may also be that prosecutors wish to have their convictions maintained and avoid the embarrassment of having prosecuted and caused the conviction of an innocent man, an understandable consideration but hardly one consistent with the pursuit of justice.

A perfect example is the case of Henry Skinner who is scheduled for execution Feb 24th in Texas. Skinner has consistently maintained his innocence of the murder of his girlfriend and her two grown sons. The state has repeatedly refused to allow him to test evidence found on the victim that could point to another suspect. As a result of an investigation by the Medill Innocence Project (a highly respected group of student journalists from Northwestern University), they concluded that there were no eyewitnesses to the crime, no confession, but rather persistent denials, no apparent motive, nothing in Mr. Skinner's background to establish that he was capable of such a crime and most important, a viable alternative suspect with a motive and the means and opportunity to commit the crime. The state's star witness admitted to the students that she had lied in her testimony about incriminating statements Mr. Skinner had made. There is substantial other evidence to put the conviction in doubt.

The case also has a unique wrinkle which renders it somewhat bizarre. The lawyer appointed to represent Mr. Skinner had been the District Attorney and the case was prosecuted by his successor. In addition to the alleged conflict, Mr. Skinner's petition is replete with charges of the ineffective assistance of counsel, most of which have been rejected by the courts, including the failure to seek DNA testing. My own experience informs me that no judgment should be made regarding any of the court's rulings without much more information.

So I do not write as an advocate for Mr. Skinner, but rather as an advocate for our system of justice. If there are means available which will finally determine Mr. Skinner's guilt or innocence (and others like him), we should avail ourselves of them. Whatever the objections may be -- they cannot outweigh the potential calamity of executing an innocent person.

source :

Monday, 8 February 2010

Texas Inmate Facing Execution Denied DNA Testing

Henry Skinner is scheduled for execution in Texas on February 24 despite the lack of DNA testing of critical evidence from the crime scene that could lead to his exoneration. Skinner has always maintained his innocence of the 1993 murder of his girlfriend and her two grown sons in Tampa, Texas. At his trial, the prosecution presented the results of selective DNA testing on some of the crime evidence that tended to prove Skinner's presence at the scene, which was his place of residence, a fact he has never disputed. But the state has repeatedly refused his request to test other evidence, including material found on the victim, that could point to another suspect. In addition, an investigation by journalism students from Northwestern University in 1999 and 2000 revealed that a key witness from the trial had recanted her testimony linking Skinner to the crime. Texas has already executed a number of individuals who may have been innocent, leaving a cloud of doubt on the fairness of the criminal justice system. By conducting relatively routine DNA tests before his execution, the doubts surrounding Skinner's case could be resolved one way or the other.

Skinner's attorneys have filed motions for a stay of execution to allow for the DNA testing and are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the effectiveness of his trial counsel and other issues in the case.


Sunday, 7 February 2010

Stop TX From Executing Another Innocent Man

In less than three weeks, Hank Skinner is scheduled to be executed in Texas for three murders he says he didn't commit. Despite the existence of untested DNA evidence that could prove him innocent or confirm his guilt, the state is seeking to go forward with his lethal injection on Feb. 24.

Even by the standards of our most execution-happy state, it's unacceptable that officials would put a prisoner to death while ignoring scientific evidence that could prove him innocent.

The case for Skinner's innocence is by no means certain. On the other hand, the case for DNA testing is clear.

Skinner admits he was in his house when his girlfriend and her two sons were killed, and he was found hours later by police at an ex-girlfriend's house with the victims' blood on his clothes and a gash in his hand. But there's an alternate suspect that exists, as well as evidence that hasn't yet been tested. A reasonable observer could raise doubt over his case, and scientific evidence can offer finality. Texas should conduct these tests before it carries out a punishment it can't reverse.

Send a letter right now to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles supporting Skinner's clemency petition so he can continue to seek DNA testing in the case.

Send a letter right now to Gov. Rick Perry, urging him to stay Skinner's execution so DNA testing can be conducted.


Man Convicted 33 Years Ago Exonerated Through DNA

Rochester, N.Y. – Thirty-three years after his wrongful conviction and 28 years after he was released on parole, Freddie Peacock, 60, has been exonerated with DNA testing at a Thursday hearing in Rochester.

It’s all part of something called the “Innocence Project,” which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld and Peacock’s other attorneys were in court with Peacock.

Peacock, who is mentally ill, was convicted of raping a Rochester woman in December 1976. At that time he told the officers about recent hospitalizations, but they continued to interrogate him until he allegedly confessed to the crime.

He was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. He was later released on parole in 1982.

A state judge in Rochester dismissed Peacock's conviction Thursday afternoon.

Peacock’s family is simply relieved, they say this was a long time coming and are very happy with the result. Peacock was advised by his attornies him not to speak.

A spokesman for the New York City-based Innocence Project says it took on the case in 2002 after being contacted by Peacock, who always maintained his innocence. He says the organization has handled other cases involving individuals cleared after their release from prison, but none after as long a time as Peacock's.

The group says police badgered the mentally challenged Peacock until he said “I did it,” despite the fact he had no details about how, when or where.

“The alleged confession had all the hallmarks of a false confession,” said Olga Akselrod of the Innocence Project.

Freddie's sister Edith says she's thrilled for her brother and is thankful for DNA evidence which the Innocence Project used to clear her brother's name. To other families facing similar situations, wrongful convictions, she says stay strong.

“Never give up. Keep fighting. DNA really is a good thing,” she said.

The Monroe County District Attorney’s Office consented to DNA testing and joined the Innocence Project in a motion to vacate Peacock’s conviction and dismiss the indictment against him, which fully exonerates him.

“Frankly, I’m glad for Mr. Peacock,” said District Attorney Mike Green. “If this case happened again today with the DNA technology that’s available to us, I’m very confident we wouldn’t be in this position and that that test would have been done before trial.”

The case is considered by the Project to be a national milestone, because it marks the 250th DNA exoneration in the United States.

Among the 250 DNA exonerations:
· 25 were in New York (the only states with more DNA exonerations overall are Texas with 40 and Illinois with 29)
· 76% of the wrongful convictions involved eyewitness misidentification.
· 50% involved unvalidated or improper forensic science.
· 27% relied on a false confession, admission or guilty plea.
· 70% are people of color (60% of the exonerated are black; nearly 9% are Latino; 29% are white).


Juan Melendez, Death Row Exoneree, Speaking In Colorado

On January 3, 2002, Juan Roberto Melendez, an innocent man, was released from Florida's death row after 17 years, eight months and one day.

During February 2010, Juan will be speaking in Colorado. Please join us to hear Juan speak about his experience on Florida's death row. Then you decide if the death penalty is worth executing even one innocent person.

Event Schedule

Juan Melendez will be speaking at these events:

Lunch or snacks may be provided at the events. Check the event PDFs for details.

Following the Wednesday, February 10, 6 p.m. event, there will be a screening of the documentary film, "Juan Melendez - 6466," followed by a reception with Juan.

Event Sponsors

The events with Juan Melendez are sponsored by Coloradans for Alternatives Against the Death Penalty, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, and the DU Law School's Chapters of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, NLG, and NBLSA.