Sunday, 18 December 2011

DNA no match to inmate

By TONY HOLT | Hernando Today
Published: December 18, 2011

The wait has been excruciating for cancer patient Paul Hildwin and his attorney, Martin McClain.

Earlier this month, they got the break they had long been waiting for. There was no doubt it was coming, but it took longer than expected.

The DNA evidence found at a murder scene didn't come from Hildwin, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It came from William Haverty, who has been in prison since a 1998 rape conviction.

Hildwin has lived on death row for 25 years. He was convicted in the slaying of Vronzettie Cox, 42, whose body was found in the trunk of her car the morning of Sept. 13, 1985 in the area of Royal Highlands — a rural community north of Weeki Wachee.

During the course of the trial, prosecutor Tom Hogan referred more than once to the fluids found on the victim's underwear and a nearby washcloth, which was discovered in the backseat.

Tests showed the fluids were semen and saliva, according to court testimony.

The 1986 trial took place before the advent of DNA evidence, but Hogan argued the semen came from a nonsecretor — someone whose blood type can't be traced through bodily fluids. Nonsecretors make up 11 percent of the world's population, said Hogan.

Hildwin was a nonsecretor, Hogan said. Haverty, who was Cox's boyfriend at the time of her death, was not.

Hildwin's defense attorney, Daniel Lewan, tried connecting the killing to Haverty, but was unsuccessful.

Hildwin was caught cashing one of Cox's stolen checks. He also gave different stories to authorities when questioned. He also told an incredible story to jurors when the inexperienced Lewan allowed him to testify, said McClain, who has since handled most of the appellate work on behalf of Hildwin.

There were other issues glossed over by the state during the trial, according to defense motions.

The window of opportunity for the slaying was small – roughly 90 minutes. During that time, the state argued Hildwin walked to a store off U.S. 19, murdered Cox, stuffed her body into the trunk, parked the car in the woods, cashed the stolen check and then walked back to his own abandoned car along the highway.

It was the forensic evidence against Hildwin, which now has been proven false, that put the case over the top for the state, McClain said. It was presented to jurors through the testimony of an FBI lab technician.

"The FBI analyst testimony excluding Haverty as the contributor of the material was and has been the lynchpin of the state's case," said McClain.

McClain said Hogan was secretive about the presentation of the evidence. Lewan didn't know about it until the fourth day of trial. McClain, through interviews, arguments and court filings, has been a sharp critic of Hogan's prosecutorial techniques.

Hogan now runs a private practice out of Brooksville. Months ago, he told Hernando Today he was still convinced Hildwin was the killer no matter who the DNA belonged to.

McClain said the state had long "locked out" the DNA from being uploaded into the database. It did so because it was convinced it wasn't Haverty's DNA.

"It's their actions that have caused this delay," said McClain. "My client has struggled to stay alive."

In a motion filed last week, McClain called the tactics by the Florida Attorney General's Office "indefensible." He said the attitude from the state has been inappropriate.

"Mr. Hildwin has been seeking an order for more than eight years comparing this sample to Mr. Haverty over the State's objection," he stated in his motion.

No one from the Attorney General's Office has commented about the Hildwin case because the appeal remains open.

Hildwin's cancer has been in remission. McClain said his client is relying on prison staff for his medical care as he awaits additional surgeries.

McClain had three appellate motions tied to Hildwin, including the one asking the state to upload the DNA.

Following his latest victory, McClain hopes it will accelerate the other motions and eventually overturn the verdict.

McClain said when he told his client about the latest development in the case, Hildwin smiled at him.

"I told you so," McClain said, recalling Hildwin's words. "I knew it. I knew it."

Win for death row inmate

Win for death row inmate

There was seminal fluid wrapped up in the victim's underwear and saliva on a washcloth. They were lying in the backseat of the victim's car.
Vronzettie Cox's naked body was found in the trunk. It was the morning of Sept. 13, 1985.
One year later in a Hernando County courtroom, Paul Christopher Hildwin was convicted of first-degree murder. He has spent the rest of his life living on death row.
The seminal fluid and saliva have never been uploaded in the state's database. On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court ruled it should.
The Attorney General's Office has 15 days to file a motion for a rehearing.
Hildwin's prosecutor, Tom Hogan Jr., mentioned the forensic evidence to jurors. He said it further proved Hildwin murdered the 42-year-old Cox and stuffed her body into the trunk of her car in Royal Highlands.
Hildwin's court-appointed defense attorney said years later during an appellate hearing he was blindsided by Hogan's presentation of the evidence.
If he had seen it coming, he would have made time to prepare for it, the defense attorney argued.
The trial took place prior to the advancement of DNA evidence, but Hogan told jurors the seminal fluid came from a nonsecretor — someone whose blood type can't be traced through bodily fluids.
Nonsecretors make up 11 percent of the world's population. Hildwin was among the 11 percent, Hogan said.
In 2003, a private company compared both the seminal fluid and the saliva to Hildwin's DNA. The results came back negative. As a result, a circuit court judge recommended to the higher court that the evidence be compared to other convicted felons.
If the state doesn't file the motion or if the court denies it, the semen and saliva samples will be uploaded to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement database.
If there's a match, the case could be turned on its head, said Martin J. McClain, Hildwin's attorney.
In an interview earlier this year, McClain said the state had so little evidence it relied on unethical tactics to win a conviction.
Every attorney who represented Hildwin during the appellate portion of the case has stated the same in court documents.
McClain said during a phone interview Friday that if the DNA matches someone in the database, there will be an onslaught of questions centering on a new possible suspect, including where he was and what he was doing the day Cox was murdered.
"It's all speculative at this point," said McClain. "There are thousands and thousands of people in that database."
Detectives at the time suspected Cox's then-boyfriend, William Haverty, could have had something to do with the crime, according to reports from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
Haverty has been in prison since 1998. He was convicted of sexually battering a girl younger than 12 years old.
McClain has two other appeals related to the Hildwin case. He said the Florida Supreme Court gave no indication about the progress of those appeals or whether they hinge on the pending DNA findings. (352) 544-5283

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Execution Date Nears for Ohio Man, Despite Evidence of Innocence

Posted: August 10, 2010 2:58 pm

The Ohio Parole Board will hold a hearing tomorrow in the case of Kevin Keith, who is scheduled to be executed September 15 despite strong evidence of his innocence.

After the parole board makes its recommendation, Gov. Ted Strickland will have the final say on whether Keith is executed. Strickland said last week that the case “has circumstances that I find troubling.”

The Innocence Network is among a diverse coalition of organizations and individuals calling on Strickland to grant clemency in the case. In a letter last week to Strickland, Innocence Network President Keith Findley wrote:
“We believe the newly discovered evidence, which was withheld by the state at the time of (Keith’s) trial, provides compelling evidence of his innocence.”

Keith was convicted of shooting and killing three people in an Ohio apartment in 1994. He was convicted based in part on questionable eyewitness identification evidence, and key details were never shared with defense attorneys. The Innocence Network also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in April urging the U.S. Supreme Court to consider Keith’s case based on evidence that he was denied a fair trial. The court did not agree to hear the case.

In another recent letter to Gov. Strickland, former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro wrote: “I am gravely concerned that the State of Ohio may be on the verge of executing an innocent person.”

Nearly 10,000 people have signed a petition urging Strickland and the Parole Board to grant clemency in Keith’s case. Join them here.

Read more:
New York Times: Unusual Alliance Protests Execution

Columbus Dispatch: Timeout From Death?

Friday, 30 July 2010

More News Clippings on Derrick Williams

 From the Blog : Plain Error :

More News Clippings on Derrick Williams

Here are some straggler news articles on Derrick Williams:

Family Rallies to Proclaim Palmetto Convict’s Innocence (With Video) (Bradenton Herald)
Press Conference Photo Gallery (Bradenton Herald)
Inmate’s Case Puts Focus on Flawed System (Miami Herald)

Related posts:

  1. Press Conference Regarding Derrick Williams’ Innocence Once again, IPF attorneys Seth Miller and Melissa Montle are onto a wrongful conviction.  DNA test results proving the innocence...
  2. DNA Testing Demonstrates Derrick Williams is Innocent  DNA Testing Demonstrates Derrick Williams is Innocent: Williams has Served Over 17 Years for a Rape he Did Not...
  3. New Wrongful Conviction Press Conference in Bradenton, FL on July 27th  New Wrongful Conviction Press Conference in Bradenton, FL New DNA Test Results Prove Derrick Williams’ Innocence This Tuesday, July...
  4. Who said anything about an absence of DNA? Since we released the DNA results in the case of Derrick Williams earlier this week, there has been an outpouring...
  5. James Bain Round-up Well folks, we had a successful release of James Bain’s DNA test results which prove that he did not rape...
  6. NEWS REPORT: DNA Testing Granted in Pasco County Death Case On December 19, 2007, a Pasco County judge granted Samuel Jason Derrick post-conviction DNA testing on evidence in this case....

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Who said anything about an absence of DNA?


From the Blog : Plain Error

Who said anything about an absence of DNA?

Since we released the DNA results in the case of Derrick Williams earlier this week, there has been an outpouring of public support for Derrick, his family and for IPF.  People recognize that the DNA test results are powerful new evidence that prove Derrick’s innocence and, at minimum, entitle him to a new trial.  What doesn’t seem to make sense is the insistence by the prosecutor that we are relying on the absence of DNA to prove innocence in this case.  After calling IPF names, which is a bit unnecessary, a commenter in a previous post illustrates this confusion:
Wow I cannot believe how gullible the people at The Innocence Project of Florida have become. All a convict has to say is “I’m innocent” and that MUST be the truth so they will spend $$$$ trying to free the criminal. This man is 100% guilty and your DNA tests are a joke! How does this DNA evidence demonstrate innocence ? Absence of evidence is NOT evidence of absence! Do you understand that? Just because you DID NOT FIND DNA on a shirt does not mean the man WAS NOT THERE!!! Stop wasting your time and money! In fact I have an idea. the IPF should hire me as a consultant.
I am willing to work very cheap, I can save the IFP a BOAT LOAD OF $$$
Let’s dismantle this illogical argument.  We recognize better than most that most people in the prison system assert their innocence even if it is not true.  Indeed, we receive approximately 1,200 requests for new assistance each year and only accept about 12 new cases, meaning we deny roughly 99% of the people who contact us for help.   When we take a case, we take it because we believe we can meet the legal standards both to get DNA testing and to vacate the conviction should the results be favorable. The Derrick Williams case is no different.
We all agree that it is a single perpetrator, black on white, rape case where the perpetrator left his shirt in the victim’s car and it was later collected by law enforcement.  This shirt was a key piece of evidence and the case really only hinges on the victim’s inconsistent and tainted ID and the strong effort by the prosecution to attribute the shirt to Derrick.  Let’s not forget that when we petitioned for DNA testing, we argued that one possibility was to get the exact result we ended up getting, and with that knowledge, the prosecution recognized our entitlement to the testing.
We would not be where we are today if there was an “absence of DNA” on the inside of the collar of the perpetrator’s t-shirt.  If that were the case, we would have had no DNA profile to compare to and Derrick would have to remain wrongfully incarcerated.  No press conference, no news coverage, nothing left to do.
Of course, our result is much different.  We DID find DNA in the inside collar of the shirt, which is a wearer area of the shirt.  It is a place where, when people sweat normally when wearing a t-shirt, they leave their sweat and skin cells which contain their DNA.  This is especially so, as in this case, when the wearing is done on a hot August day and a violent struggle occurred causing greater shedding of skin cells than that which takes place during normal wear.  When we compared this wearer DNA found on the inside collar of the perpetrator’s t-shirt to the DNA profile Derrick Williams, he was excluded as a donor of the wearer DNA.  This means the DNA wearer DNA was not his, he did not wear the shirt and leave it in the victim’s car after the rape, and someone other than him committed the rape.
Every single DNA exoneration necessarily requires the perpetrator to leave his biological evidence at the crime scene, either in or on a victim, or on a piece of physical evidence that has a nexus to the crime and the perpetrator.  Thus, this case is no different than a perpetrator leaving semen on the victim’s underwear and it excluding the defendant.
It is the absence of the Defendant’s DNA and the presence of someone else’s DNA that makes this case just like the other 255 DNA exonerations before it.  This new DNA evidence proves Derrick did not rape the victim and that he is innocent.  We look forward to proving what most already understand: that these fanciful arguments by this commenter and the prosecution are really just non-science-based excuses for following their gut instinct instead of the evidence that is clear as day.

Related posts:

  1. DNA Testing Demonstrates Derrick Williams is Innocent  DNA Testing Demonstrates Derrick Williams is Innocent: Williams has Served Over 17 Years for a Rape he Did Not...
  2. More News Clippings on Derrick Williams Here are some straggler news articles on Derrick Williams: Family Rallies to Proclaim Palmetto Convict’s Innocence (With Video) (Bradenton Herald)...
  3. New Wrongful Conviction Press Conference in Bradenton, FL on July 27th  New Wrongful Conviction Press Conference in Bradenton, FL New DNA Test Results Prove Derrick Williams’ Innocence This Tuesday, July...
  4. Press Conference Regarding Derrick Williams’ Innocence Once again, IPF attorneys Seth Miller and Melissa Montle are onto a wrongful conviction.  DNA test results proving the innocence...
  5. Crime scene left unsealed Earlier this month, Yale graduate student Annie Le went missing after she entered the research building she worked in but...
  6. Eyewitness identification in the news Sam Sommers is a psychologist at Tufts University in Massachusetts. Today on his blog on Psychology Today, he relates an...

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Press Conference Regarding Derrick Williams’ Innocence

From the Blog Plain Error :

Press Conference Regarding Derrick Williams’ Innocence

Once again, IPF attorneys Seth Miller and Melissa Montle are onto a wrongful conviction.  DNA test results proving the innocence of Derrick Williams who had been convicted of an August 1993 kidnapping and rape in Palmetto, Manatee County, FL were released by a Fairfield, Ohio laboratory on Monday, July 26, 2010.  In addition to that, the IPF has unveiled other factors plaguing Williams’ case, including witness misidentification, the damaging and destruction of the evidence while it was under the care of Manatee County Sheriff’s Office (MSO), and the MSO’s denial of that neglection to the press (IPF Press Release).  The following is a round-up of the press conference held on July 27, 2010 in regards to this development:
DNA test on evidence could overturn 1993 rape conviction of Palmetto man (Herald Tribune)
DNA used to contest Palmetto man’s conviction in 1992 rape (The Tampa Tribune)
Attorneys:  DNA evidence exonerates inmate (MyFOX Tampa Bay)
Innocence Project demands release of Palmetto convict (Bradenton Herald)
Innocence Project says man convicted of rape should be freed (ABC Action News)
Innocence Project out to free Manatee man (BayNews 9)
Is convicted rapist innocent?  Attorneys say DNA proves it (WTSP 10 News)
Will new evidence set Manatee County man free? (ABC 7)
Group says DNA proves Palmetto man didn’t rape woman in 1992 (Tampa Bay Online)

Related posts:

  1. New Wrongful Conviction Press Conference in Bradenton, FL on July 27th  New Wrongful Conviction Press Conference in Bradenton, FL New DNA Test Results Prove Derrick Williams’ Innocence This Tuesday, July...
  2. DNA Testing Demonstrates Derrick Williams is Innocent  DNA Testing Demonstrates Derrick Williams is Innocent: Williams has Served Over 17 Years for a Rape he Did Not...
  3. Bain DNA Test Results Press Conference Today We are in Polk County Florida today to hold a press conference with the 10th Judicial Circuit Public Defender.  At...
  4. Press Release: James Bain to Be Released James Bain Set For Release Based on DNA Test Results Proving Innocence Bain has Served Over 35 Years for a...
  5. 2008 Innocence Network Conference – San Jose, CA Pictured: (from right to left) Florida Exonerees Alan Crotzer, Wilton Dedge, Larry Bostic, Chad Heins, IPF Executive Director Seth Miller,...
  6. The Florida Bar Foundation Supports the Innocence Commission Here is the press release from the Florida Bar Foundation who are also wonderful supporters of IPF’s work. FOR IMMEDIATE...

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

DNA used to contest Palmetto man's conviction in 1992 rape

DNA used to contest Palmetto man's conviction in 1992 rape

By RAY REYES The Tampa Tribune

Published: July 27, 2010

Updated: 9 min. ago

Related Links

Bain: How you stay hopeful
Bain: Home for Christmas
Innocence Project website

Derrick Williams

TAMPA - An organization that used DNA evidence to free a Tampa man after 35 years in prison is working to exonerate a Palmetto man they said was wrongfully convicted of rape.

The Innocence Project of Florida held a news conference this morning at the Manatee County Courthouse in Bradenton to announce that DNA test results prove Derrick Williams did not rape a woman in 1992.

"It makes me extremely happy that it's finally coming to an end," Williams said in a statement through Innocence Project lawyers. "The results prove what I have said all along – I am innocent."

Seth Miller, the executive director of the Tallahassee-based nonprofit organization, said he has filed a motion today to vacate Williams' conviction.

"Hopefully, we can get it done as soon as possible," Miller said.

According to authorities:

The woman was kidnapped when she arrived home from work. The attacker forced her back into her car and drove to an orange grove, where she was raped in the back seat.

The man had removed a T-shirt he was wearing and told the woman to cover her face with it. After the attack, the man got out of the car to open the trunk.

The woman got in the driver's seat and drove away. The man's shirt, which became a key piece of evidence in the case, was still in the car.

A court-ordered test this year shows that skin cells and sweat on the inside collar of a shirt worn by the attacker does not match Williams' DNA. The technology was not available during Williams' trial in 1993.

During the investigation, the victim's description of her attacker was inconsistent, as was her account of how well she could see him, attorneys for the Innocence Project said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said a strand of hair found on the shirt did not come from Williams.

During the trial, the jury was not convinced by the FDLE report or six defense witnesses who said Williams was at a family barbecue when the rape occurred.

"After 17 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, the state should do the right thing and release this innocent man immediately," said Melissa Montle, an attorney for the Innocence Project.

Prosecutors will fight efforts to free Williams, saying someone else's DNA on the shirt doesn't exonerate him. The victim had picked Williams out of a photo lineup as her attacker, prosecutors say.

Miller questioned the procedure of the lineup, saying investigators included two photos of Williams when the packet was presented to the victim.

"They put him in the photo pack twice," Miller said. "That is kind of suggestive."

Williams, 47, is serving a life sentence at Hardee Correctional Institution. Before convicted in the Manatee rape case, he was sentenced to a prison term of two years in 1989 on grand theft and burglary charges, state records show.

Innocence Project attorneys said Williams has been a model prisoner, earning a GED and working as a supervisor for a program that refurbished Florida Department of Corrections vehicles and fire trucks.

Jamie Bain, who was freed from prison after the Innocence Project took on his case, attended the news conference to show his support for Williams. More than 30 members of Williams' family were also there to ask for his release.

Bain, who lives in Tampa, was freed Dec. 17. Results showed his DNA did not match a sample found on the underwear of a 9-year-old rape victim.

Bain's wrongful imprisonment is the longest time served by any of the 255 people in the country exonerated by DNA evidence.

He was invited to Philadelphia this year to ring the Liberty Bell on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Bain was the guest of honor at a luncheon after the ceremony and received an award from city leaders.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. Reporter Ray Reyes can be reached at (813) 259-7920.

Williams has Served Over 17 Years for a Rape he Did Not Commit; Attorneys Call for Immediate Release

Williams has Served Over 17 Years for a Rape he Did Not Commit; Attorneys Call for Immediate Release

Innocence Project of Florida, Inc.

1100 East Park Avenue, Tallahassee, FL 32301

Telephone 850.561.6767 Fax 850.561.5077

For Immediate Release PRESS RELEASE

July 27, 2010


Seth Miller, Esq.: 202.341.2127

Melissa Montle, Esq.: 561.843.9304

DNA Testing Demonstrates Derrick Williams is Innocent:

Williams has Served Over 17 Years for a Rape he Did Not Commit; Attorneys Call for Immediate Release

Bradenton, Florida—On Monday, July 26, 2010, DNA Diagnostics Center, a nationally recognized forensic laboratory in Fairfield, Ohio, issued a report in the case of State of Florida v. Derrick Williams, which demonstrates Williams’ actual innocence of an August 1993 kidnapping and rape in Palmetto, Manatee County, Florida.

Upon an agreement by Williams’ attorneys at the Innocence Project of Florida and the State Attorney, the court ordered DNA testing on the t-shirt worn by the assailant before the rape and left in the victim’s car at the end of the crime. The testing excludes Derrick Williams as the donor of the DNA on the inside of the collar of the assailant’s t-shirt, confirming that someone other than Williams raped the victim and left the t-shirt in her car. “After over 17 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the State should do the right thing and release this innocent man immediately,” said Williams’ attorney, Melissa Montle, staff attorney for the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF).

At Williams’ trial, the State made the assailant’s t-shirt the central piece of physical evidence against Williams, even though there was an indication even before trial that the shirt may have belonged to someone else. Before trial, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement determined that a “Negroid” hair found on the t-shirt could not have come from Williams. Williams was convicted when the jury failed to believe that scientific evidence or his unrefuted alibi evidence given by six different witnesses (he was at a family barbeque); instead relying on the inconsistent and contradictory eyewitness identification by the victim. “Today’s DNA results demonstrate conclusively that the victim was mistaken about who raped her and that Derrick is innocent,” said Montle.

According to the Innocence Project of Florida, witness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions, contributing to 75% of the 255 wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing nationwide.

Other important physical evidence, including the victim’s rape kit and the foreign “Negroid” hair from the assailant’s t-shirt, were improperly stored and unlawfully incinerated by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office (MSO) in late 2003. Internal MSO memos indicate that, as early as 1996, leadership at MSO was made aware of poor climate control and mold issues in one of its storage facilities. Yet it never made any effort to move the evidence, examine it, or determine whether any pieces of evidence were salvageable. Instead, the evidence in the case of Derrick Williams and nearly 4,000 other criminal cases was summarily destroyed by mass incineration.

MSO denied the evidence damage and destruction to the press. It never informed defendants or defense attorneys in these cases about the destruction. The mass destruction was only revealed through the vigorous eighteen-month investigation of the Williams case by the Innocence Project of Florida. “The State simply threw away important evidence in Derrick William’s case and in thousands of other cases, and then pretended like it never happened. We now know that Derrick is innocent. How many others will never get the chance to prove their innocence because of this debacle?” said Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida.

For his part, Derrick Williams has been a model citizen in the Florida prison system. During his wrongful incarceration, he earned a GED and was an inmate supervisor for Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises (PRIDE) refurbishing Department of Corrections vehicles and fire trucks for first responders nationwide. When informed of the results, Williams said, “It makes me extremely happy that it’s finally coming to an end. The results prove what I have said all along—I am innocent.”

The Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to finding and freeing innocent people in Florida prisons. IPF represents Derrick Williams for free, including all costs associated with DNA testing and litigation. IPF’s website is



Statement of Facts: State of Florida v. Derrick Williams

On March 19, 1993, Derrick Williams was convicted of kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, grand theft auto, and two counts of battery and was later sentenced to life in prison by the Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court in Manatee County, Florida. Exactly 17 years later, on March 19, 2010, that same Court granted DNA testing of biological material on the assailant’s t-shirt. On July 26, 2010, a report was issued revealing DNA results that demonstrate Williams’ actual innocence.

The DNA: New DNA results reveal that DNA from the assailant’s skin cells and sweat on the inside collar of the assailant’s t-shirt came from someone other than Williams, thus confirming that someone other than Williams committed the kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, grand theft auto, and batteries, and left his t-shirt in the victim’s car. Williams’ attorneys, the Innocence Project of Florida (“IPF”), requested this DNA testing in 2009 and the State Attorney for the Twelfth Circuit agreed to the testing. The testing was paid for by IPF and performed at DNA Diagnostics Center, a private lab in Fairfield, Ohio.

The Crime: After she arrived home from work on August 6, 1992, the victim was kidnapped in her own car by an unknown black male and taken to a nearby orange grove where she was raped in the back seat. Before the rape occurred, the assailant removed the t-shirt he was wearing and told the victim to cover her face with the shirt. When the assailant exited the car to open the trunk, she escaped and drove home with the assailant’s t-shirt still in the car. Law enforcement collected the t-shirt for processing.

Williams was known to law enforcement in the area for property crimes leading them to include him in the photo line-up shown to the victim. Contrary to sound police procedure, two photos of Williams were included in the same photo line-up. After viewing the lineup with the suggestive double photo inclusion, the victim identified Williams as her attacker. Although Williams had an alibi, never confessed to the crime, and always maintained his innocence, police arrested him.

The Trial: The State’s case was based largely on the victim’s identification of Williams as her assailant and on evidence linking the t-shirt left in the car to Williams. In addition to the State’s evidence, the Defense called 7 alibi witnesses, including Williams himself, who were all sure that Williams was at a family barbecue at the time of the offense.

(1) Victim’s Misidentification: The traumatized victim was inconsistent with her description of her assailant and her description of how well she was actually able to see him. In fact, her best opportunity to see her assailant was when she first drove up to her house with her window cracked and he was standing on her porch 20 feet away. After that glimpse, her view was completely obstructed for the remainder of the crime—he had her in a head lock in the car before the rape and his t-shirt was used to cover her face during the rape. The victim’s physical description of the assailant also did not match Williams’ appearance. She initially described her assailant as between 5’6” and 5’8” with a scar on his gut whereas Williams is 5’11” and has a scar on his back. At trial, the victim changed her testimony to eliminate this discrepancy by stating that she did see a scar on her assailant’s back, even though she had testified unambiguously at her earlier deposition that she never saw her assailant’s back.

Even more telling was law enforcement’s preparation of a photo line-up which included 2 photos of Williams. This type of double photo inclusion is improper and inherently suggestive. After viewing the photo line-up with 2 photos of Williams, the victim identified Williams as her attacker, but was admittedly only 80% sure it was him. After a subsequent live line-up, she stated she was positive Williams was the perpetrator. DNA results now prove that someone other than Williams left the t-shirt in the victim’s car during the rape and that the victim’s tainted identification of Williams as her rapist was a mistake.

(2) The Assailant’s T-Shirt: The State’s Key Piece of Physical Evidence: It is undisputed that the t-shirt on which DNA testing was performed belonged to the assailant. More specifically, it was the State’s theory at trial that the assailant who raped the victim was wearing the t-shirt when he first met her and kidnapped her, took the t-shirt off and covered her face with it to prevent her from identifying him during the rape, and inadvertently left the t-shirt in the victim’s car when she managed to surprise him and escape. The State then attributed the t-shirt to Williams in order to convince the jury that he was the assailant. The victim herself identified the t-shirt as the assailant’s and it was admitted into evidence as State’s Exhibit 9A. In addition, Williams’ girlfriend made a pretrial statement saying that Williams owned a similar shirt but repudiated that statement at trial. The State continued to contend that the t-shirt belonged to Williams even though a “Negroid” hair extracted from the shirt, according to FDLE, could not have originated from Williams. DNA results now prove that the State’s theory that Williams was the assailant and left the t-shirt in the car, along with the evidence used to prove this theory, was simply wrong.

(3) Williams’ Alibi: In his defense, 6 witnesses, including family, friends, and neighbors, provided unrefuted testimony that Williams was at a barbecue at his mother’s house when the crime occurred. In addition, Williams took the stand in his own defense and testified that he was at the barbecue, he did not commit this crime, and the assailant’s t-shirt did not belong to him. DNA results now prove Williams’ alibi to be credible and his claims of innocence to be true.

Unlawful Destruction of Evidence: In addition to the assailant’s t-shirt, an abundance of other evidence was collected by law enforcement after the crime. This other evidence also could have been DNA tested to reveal the rapist’s identity and included (1) the victim’s rape kit, which contained semen; (2) floor mats from the victim’s car, which indicated the presence of bodily fluids; (3) Negroid hairs extracted from the assailant’s t-shirt; (4) Negroid hairs extracted from the car’s vacuumings; (5) the assailant’s white cloth left in the car, which indicated the presence of bodily fluids; and (6) the victim’s clothing worn during the rape. Unfortunately, each of these items (along with evidence from thousands of other cases) was negligently stored by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office (“MSO”) in a storage unit that flooded. According to internal memos, the possibility of major water damage was known to MSO as early as 1996. MSO incinerated each and every single piece of evidence in this water damaged storage unit in 2003, without first performing a thorough review to determine the extent of the damage and whether evidence was suitable for future storage, and without notification to defendants or their counsel affected by the damage.

Conclusion: Unfortunately for Mr. Williams, who has spent 17 years in prison, this DNA evidence did not exist at the time of his trial. Now that the key piece of physical evidence has been analyzed using modern science, DNA testing proves that skin cells and sweat on the inside collar of the assailant’s t-shirt belong to someone other than Derrick Williams. Thus, the assailant’s t-shirt, which was once the lynchpin of the State’s case linking Williams to the crime, is now actually powerful, affirmative evidence of innocence.


Derrick Williams: Unlawful Destruction of Evidence

The Manatee County Sherriff’s office (“MSO”) destroyed evidence in thousands of Manatee County criminal cases, due to its improper storage and mishandling of the physical evidence.

During its routine investigation and review of Derrick Williams’ case, the Innocence Project of Florida (“IPF”) discovered that much of the evidence had been destroyed under mysterious circumstances. It appeared that MSO had not been open and honest about the circumstances which surrounded the destruction of evidence in Williams’ case. In addition, MSO would not produce the required contemporaneous documentation regarding the destruction.

Specifically, IPF sent its first formal public records request regarding evidence in Williams’ case on August 4, 2008 and received no response. On September 29, 2008, IPF called MSO in an attempt to follow up on the request and locate the evidence. At this time, IPF was told by the supervisor of the property room at MSO that MSO was not in possession of any evidence in the Williams case. MSO provided no documentation to prove this claim. On October 30, 2008, IPF was able to reach the supervisor of the MSO Crime Lab who stated that any and all evidence and destruction orders would be in the possession of the property room. So, on November 3, 2008, IPF followed up with the supervisor of the property room who on this date stated that the Williams evidence was either destroyed or in “the boxes” but that these “boxes” were in the process of being moved and it would be months before she could locate “the boxes” or the destruction orders for the Williams evidence. Unwilling to wait months, IPF sent a renewed public records request on November 25, 2008, laying out the conflicting information received up to that point from MSO.

On December 5, 2008, IPF received a written response from Major Keith Stewart at MSO stating that it was possible that the Williams evidence was destroyed when the entire contents of one MSO storage unit, the First Union Bank vault (“vault”), was lost due to water and mold, but this had not yet been determined. This was the first that IPF had heard about possible water damage. The Major also stated that if it was discovered that the evidence was indeed destroyed by the water damage, documentation would be provided to IPF. A second response from Major Stewart was received on the same date, December 5, 2008, stating that the Williams evidence was indeed in the vault that was damaged by water and mold and any and all evidence in that facility was completely destroyed. This destruction of an entire MSO storage facility occurred between the months of November and December 2003 by burning the evidence in an incinerator.

In response to Major Stewart’s second letter purportedly confirming the destruction of the Williams evidence, IPF sent another letter on December 19, 2008 requesting proof of destruction pursuant to Florida Statutes and requesting a complete list of all of the evidence that was destroyed in the Williams case. On December 23, 2008, still troubled by this purported mishandling and destruction of valuable evidence, IPF followed up with a written request to MSO specifically for contemporaneous destruction orders, an itemized list of evidence destroyed, written confirmation that a thorough search for the evidence was performed, and a complete list of all of the cases in which evidence was destroyed in November-December 2003.

On January 2, 2009, IPF received a response from MSO General Counsel acknowledging receipt of the recent requests and promising to continue to work to provide the requested documents and information. During a call with MSO General Counsel on January 21, 2009, IPF learned that all of the requested information was in existence and would be put together within a few weeks. On February 25, 2009, MSO General Counsel provided IPF with the Williams’ case file and documentation regarding the destruction of the Williams evidence. On this date, IPF was assured that it would receive a complete list of all cases in which evidence was destroyed due to water damage in the vault once it was compiled. MSO provided this list of thousands of cases on March 18, 2009. After over a year and a half of haggling, IPF received all of the information it requested from MSO. During this same timeframe, MSO was patently denying to the press that a flood or water damage occurred in any of its storage facilities and apparently failed for over five years to notify anyone outside of MSO that the mass destruction of evidence occurred.

Unfortunately, the information received by IPF proved that, indeed, the invaluable Williams evidence was destroyed by incineration due to improper storage and mishandling by MSO. This evidence included (1) the victim’s rape kit, which contained semen; (2) floor mats from the victim’s car, which indicated the presence of bodily fluids; (3) Negroid hairs extracted from the assailant’s t-shirt; (4) Negroid hairs extracted from the car’s vacuumings; (5) the assailant’s white cloth left in the car, which indicated the presence of bodily fluids; and (6) the victim’s clothing worn during the rape. IPF believed in Williams’ innocence and pursued DNA testing of the only 2 pieces of evidence still in existence—the assailant’s t-shirt and the victim’s pantyhose used as a ligature.

Not only was MSO’s avoidance of the truth and resistance to providing proper documentation a problem, but included in the documentation ultimately provided to IPF was proof that MSO knew of the possibility of water damage in the vault, yet did nothing to prevent it. In an internal MSO memorandum dated October 24, 1996, the supervisor of the property room noted the possibility of a major problem with water/sewage damage of evidence in certain areas. Yet, it appears that no action was taken to address this problem because in July 2001 the supervisor of the property room in two memorandums requested authorization to destroy evidence in hundreds of cases in the vault noting that “all of the cases” in the vault “have built up a lot of mold/mildew which is a hazard to your health.” It is disturbing to note that MSO requested destruction of this evidence without taking any steps to remediate the damage or move the evidence. On May 17, 2002, the property supervisor requested that photographs be taken of the damaged evidence in the vault in order to bolster the request for destruction. Again, the request was for photographs, not for retrieval or remediation of the evidence. On May 12, 2002, citing a non-functioning dehumidifier, an MSO memorandum stated that the evidence in the vault should be removed and disposed. Finally, an MSO memorandum dated October 16, 2002 noted that while “Operation Vault Clean-out” was to begin on July 23, 2002, a health problem required MSO to push the cleaning back to October 2002.

Never in any of these internal memoranda does anyone associated with MSO even consider that the evidence should be sorted through, that some of it may still be in good, usable condition, that some of it may be exculpatory, or that contemporaneous records should be made of its destruction. Nor do they consider notifying the criminal defendants or attorneys involved. Even after the public became aware of this improper and unlawful mass destruction of evidence, MSO downplayed the importance of the destroyed evidence and asserted that the destruction was harmless because all of the lost evidence was for cases that had already gone through the legal system. Derrick Williams’ case “had already gone through the legal system.” In fact, the State had knowledge of the existence of exculpatory evidence in the Williams case, namely a Negroid hair from the assailant’s t-shirt that FDLE determined before trial could not have originated from Derrick Williams, and still unlawfully disposed of this evidence as part of its mass destruction of evidence.

This improper storage and unlawful destruction affected thousands of Manatee County defendants. New DNA test results now demonstrate that one of them—Derrick Williams—is innocent. It is frightening to consider how many more are innocent but will be unable to prove their innocence due to this unlawful mass destruction of evidence in Manatee County.

T-shirt that was key evidence in prosecution could now exonerate him

DNA evidence may free man after 17 years
T-shirt that was key evidence in prosecution could now exonerate him
Derrick WIlliams

By Todd Ruger

Published: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 12:54 a.m.

MANATEE COUNTY - The same gray T-shirt that helped put Derrick Williams of Palmetto in prison for life on a rape conviction in 1993 has resurfaced as the piece of evidence that may exonerate him.

A woman escaped from the rape with her attacker's gray T-shirt, and she identified Williams in court as the man who took off his shirt to cover her face during the attack. Williams' girlfriend also told the jury that he left home that day wearing a gray shirt but returned with a red one.

But on Monday, Williams' attorneys revealed that new DNA tests of sweat and skin cells on the inside of the shirt collar did not come from Williams. They say the results prove Williams is innocent, and that he has spent the past 17 years in prison on a wrongful conviction.

"The T-shirt has the DNA of the perpetrator, and it's not our guy," said Melissa Montle, staff attorney for the Innocence Project of Florida. "It's really, really good news."

Williams' attorneys will file motions today to vacate his kidnapping and rape convictions and life prison sentence. The new lab results sent to prosecutors Monday exclude Williams from being a contributor to a mixture of DNA found on the inside of the gray shirt's collar -- where skin and sweat from the wearer would collect.

Twelve people in Florida -- and 255 nationwide -- have been exonerated based on DNA evidence, which has advanced to allow testing on hair and even degraded substances since Williams went to prison, said Seth Miller, the Innocence Project executive director.

"We had another case just like this in Brevard County, and that gentleman was exonerated after 27 years in prison," Miller said. "We think we should have the same result here."

The Innocence Project called on prosecutors to immediately agree to release Williams. But a local prosecutor said the new evidence does not prove Williams' innocence, and said the state will ask for a hearing before a judge to discuss it.

Williams was informed of the results in prison and, according to the Innocence Project, said: "It makes me extremely happy that it's finally coming to an end. The results prove what I have said all along -- I am innocent."

Police accused Williams, now 47, of abducting the 25-year-old woman from her Palmetto home, forcing her into her car and driving her to an orange grove to rape her.

Williams testified on his own behalf at trial. Relatives told the jury he was eating chicken and drinking beer with them at a family barbecue at the time of the attack.

Labs create a profile from a suspect's DNA by using 13 locations on the DNA that are known to vary from person to person. It is then compared to a profile of DNA taken from evidence. Any difference in any one of the locations means there is no match and the suspect therefore could not have left the DNA.

At the time of his arrest, Williams offered to give blood and saliva samples. But there was no sperm found to compare the genetic material, and DNA techniques used to find samples on evidence were not known then.

That meant the case was largely based on the victim's identification of Williams, but her description of her assailant differed from Williams and her story had several inconsistencies. Misidentification is often the cause of wrongful convictions that are later overturned by DNA evidence, the Innocence Project said.

Law enforcement prepared a photo line-up that included two pictures of Williams -- which is inherently suggestive -- and the victim said she was 80 percent sure Williams was her attacker, the Innocence Project says.

The victim did a live line-up later and said she was sure it was Williams. Her best opportunity to see her attacker was with her car window cracked with the man on the porch 20 feet away -- she said he had her in a headlock or with the shirt on her head the rest of the time, the Innocence Project said.

The victim said her attacker was 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-8 with a scar on his gut, whereas Williams is 5-11 with a scar on his back. She changed her testimony at trial to say the scar was on her attacker's back, even though she had told investigators she never saw her attacker's back.

The state also contended the shirt belonged to Williams even though the Florida Department of Law Enforcement had used a microscope to determine a hair extracted from the shirt could not have been Williams', the Innocence Project says.

The Innocence Project sought to test that hair and other evidence in Williams' case, such as the car's floor mats, the rape kit and the victim's clothing during the rape.

But those items were destroyed by the Manatee County Sheriff's office after a 2003 water leak in an evidence storage facility, along with evidence in about 3,600 other criminal cases.

Miller said there was a good chance they would have been able to find DNA evidence to test on those other items to help further show Williams' innocence.

That is important because if the conviction and sentence are vacated, the next step procedurally is a retrial. Prosecutors would not have much of the evidence from the case since it was destroyed.

At the time of his conviction, Williams was already a felon, and had been accused and acquitted of a rape years earlier.

A woman said two men abducted her car from the parking lot of a north Manatee County convenience store in 1980, drove her to an orange grove and raped her.

In that case, the woman identified Williams and another man as her attackers; the other man was in jail at the time of the rape and Williams' relatives said he was home sleeping at the time.

Monday, 26 July 2010

New Wrongful Conviction Press Conference in Bradenton, FL

Innocence Project of Florida, Inc.

1100 East Park Avenue, Tallahassee, FL 32301

Telephone 850.561.6767 Fax 850.561.5077

For Immediate Release PRESS Advisory

July 26, 2010


Seth Miller, Esq.: 202.341.2127

Melissa Montle, Esq.: 561.843.9304

New Wrongful Conviction Press Conference in Bradenton, FL
New DNA Test Results Prove Derrick Williams’ Innocence

This Tuesday, July 27, 2010, Derrick Williams’ attorneys from the Innocence Project of Florida will hold a press conference to release new DNA test results that demonstrate Mr. Williams’ innocence of a 1993 Palmetto, Manatee County, Florida kidnapping and rape.

Attorneys from the Innocence Project of Florida will discuss the results and take press questions regarding the case at this press conference. Members of Mr. Williams’ family will also be available for comment at this time. Florida’s most recent DNA exonoree, James Bain, will be in attendance to show support for Mr. Williams and his family. Bain’s 35 years of wrongful incarceration is the longest time served by any of the 255 DNA exonorees nationwide.

The press conference will be held at 10:30 a.m. on the west side of the new Manatee County Courthouse (in the courtyard between the old and new courthouses), 1051 Manatee Avenue West, Bradenton, FL.

The Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to finding and freeing innocent people in Florida prisons. IPF represents Derrick Williams for free, including all costs associated with DNA testing and litigation. IPF’s website is

Friday, 9 July 2010

Former Florida Death Row Inmate Crosley Green Petitions for New Trial


14 Witnesses Step Forward to Bring New Light to Green's Innocence

WASHINGTON, July 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Former death row inmate Crosley Green has petitioned a Florida court for a new trial concerning the 1989 murder of Charles "Chip" Flynn in Mims, Florida. The petition sets forth sworn statements from four of the prosecution's witnesses who have recanted their testimony and new evidence that speaks to Green's innocence, including eight sworn affidavits from key alibi witnesses who say they saw Green far away from the scene of the crime at the time of the murder. The petition also presents two sworn affidavits from former Brevard County Sheriff's first responders to the murder scene who state that the evidence they witnessed the night of the murder pointed to someone else, and not Crosley Green, as the person who shot Chip Flynn. Pro Bono lawyers from the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Crowell & Moring LLP working with local counsel have filed the petition for Green in the 18th Judicial Circuit Court of Brevard County, FL.

"Crosley Green has spent 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and he deserves a new trial. Eight witnesses put him at a different place at the time of the crime, and the prosecution's star witnesses have since recanted their testimony that led the way to his false conviction. Crosley deserves his life back, and the Flynn family deserves to learn the truth about the tragic loss of their loved one," said Crowell & Moring LLP partner Keith J. Harrison, lead attorney for Green.

In 1990, Green was found guilty of first degree murder of Flynn and sentenced to Florida's death row. After a decades-long battle to appeal the sentence, Green was released from death row in 2009 and re-sentenced to concurrent terms of 17 years and to a consecutive term of life without eligibility for parole before 25 years on convictions related to the incident.

Green steadfastly maintains his innocence and hopes that a new trial will lead to his exoneration. The petition includes affidavits from four of the prosecution's witnesses, including a new affidavit from Laymen Layne, who state that their testimony at the time of trial and a post-trial hearing was untrue and that Green never confessed to the murder. All four state that they offered testimony against Green to help themselves in connection with unrelated cases.

The filing also includes sworn affidavits from former officers of the Brevard County Sheriff's Office who, as first responders to the scene, state that another individual, not Crosley Green, was the initial prime suspect in the murder based on their crime scene observations. The petition also provides seven new affidavits (eight in all) of eyewitnesses who corroborate Green's alibi, and it sheds new light on DNA and other critical evidence.

Robin M. Maher, director of the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project, recruited the firm for the matter and has been closely following developments in the Green case. "The stellar team from Crowell & Moring has done absolutely Herculean work on the case and has given Mr. Green real hope for justice," she said. "His case deserves careful consideration by the courts going forward as he works to prove his innocence."

Lead counsel for Green are Crowell & Moring partners Keith J. Harrison and Robert T. Rhoad, and associate Stacie B. Lieberman. Local counsel for Green is D. Todd Doss of Lake City, FL.

Crowell & Moring LLP is an international law firm with more than 500 lawyers representing clients in litigation and arbitration, regulatory, and transactional matters. The firm is internationally recognized for its representation of Fortune 500 companies in high-stakes litigation, as well as its ongoing commitment to pro bono service and diversity. The firm has offices in Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange County, Anchorage, London, and Brussels. Visit Crowell & Moring online at

Contact:Nicole Quigley
(202) 624-2849

SOURCE Crowell & Moring LLP

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Supreme Court to decide on compensation for miscarriages of justice

2 June 2010

A man who was wrongly convicted of murder and released after 14 years in prison has won permission for his compensation claim to be heard by the Supreme Court.

Daniel Machover, partner at Hickman and Rose, said the Supreme Court would have to decide what exactly was meant by the phrase ‘miscarriage of justice’ for the purposes of statutory compensation.

Machover is acting for Andrew Adams, who was convicted and jailed for life in 1993 for the murder of former science teacher Alfred ‘Jack’ Royal. Royal was gunned down on his doorstep in Gateshead.

The Court of Appeal quashed Adams’ conviction in 2007, on the grounds that evidence had been missed by his original defence team. However, the same court decided last year that he should not be awarded compensation.

Delivering the leading judgment in R (on the application of Adams) v Secretary of State for Justice [2009] EWCA Civ 1291, Lord Justice Dyson held that it could not be said in the case of Adams that errors by counsel had caused something to go “seriously wrong” with the trial process.

“These errors were committed by experienced and apparently competent counsel acting conscientiously in good faith in the best interests of their client,” he said.

“It cannot fairly be said that the errors showed that the appellant was deprived of effective representation.”

As a result, Dyson LJ concluded that there was not a “miscarriage of justice” according to Lord Bingham’s definition in R v Home Secretary ex parte Mullen [2004] UKHL 18. Lord Justices Waller and Lloyd agreed.

Machover said that the Court of Appeal’s approach meant that compensation would be paid for miscarriages of justice by the state in only one or two cases a year, where a victim could show beyond reasonable doubt that he was innocent.

“You must have been exonerated by new forensic evidence, especially DNA evidence, delivering a knock-out blow to show it could not have been you,” he said.

“Or the true perpetrator must have confessed, or the complainant felt guilty and retracts their evidence.”

Machover said the key issue was the meaning of ‘miscarriage of justice’ and whether it included cases where something went badly wrong even if the victim could not show beyond reasonable doubt that he was innocent.

He said that in the case of Adams the Court of Appeal accepted that, under section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, there was “new or newly discovered” evidence.

At least three law firms are understood to have similar compensation claims to Adams, which have been stayed pending the Supreme Court judgment.

Machover added that since the ‘ex gratia’ scheme for miscarriages of justice had been abolished by the Labour government, the only other ways Adams could obtain compensation was by suing the police or the CPS for malicious prosecution or suing his original legal team for negligence.

The order granting permission to appeal to the Supreme Court was made by Lords Rodger, Brown and Clarke. The appeal will be heard early next year.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

DNA Database Search Could Free Man on Florida’s Death Row; Legal Papers Filed to Force State to Allow Search for Real Perpetrator in 1986 Murder Case

(TALLAHASSEE, FL; June 9, 2010) – The Innocence Project today announced that it has filed a petition asking the Florida Supreme Court to order a DNA database search that could prove beyond any doubt whether a Hernando County man on death row was wrongfully convicted. The order is necessary, attorneys said, because the state has gone to “enormous lengths” to block the search despite assuring the Court five years ago that it would actively pursue all available means to obtain the truth.

“This one-time database search is in everyone’s interest, because it could not only provide conclusive proof that Paul Hildwin is innocent, but at the same time, identify who actually committed the crime,” said Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison. “That’s why most prosecutors in Florida and around the country routinely work with us to conduct searches like these without delay. But in Mr. Hildwin’s case, the Attorney General’s office has spent more than five years opposing our request for a search, even though they have never denied that a database hit to another offender could both prove the innocence of a man on death row and permit the state to prosecute the real killer.”

In 2003, DNA test results proved that Paul C. Hildwin was not the man whose semen and saliva were found on key items of evidence in the vehicle of the woman he was convicted of murdering in 1986. The Innocence Project, affiliated with Cardozo Law School, is now seeking to have that same DNA sample searched in the federal DNA databank, known as CODIS, and in Florida’s state database system. In a matter of days, such a search could determine whether the DNA in Hildwin’s case comes from another offender — potentially someone with a history of similar murders — whose profile is contained among the millions now stored in the system.

In legal papers filed June 8th, the Innocence Project asked the Florida Supreme Court to invoke its “all-writs” jurisdiction under the state constitution to order the CODIS search. This little-used procedural step is an appropriate use of the court’s authority not only because of the state’s continued stonewalling, but also because of the court’s role as “the ultimate arbiter of fairness and equity in the administration of capital cases,” according to the Innocence Project petition. The petition further notes that recourse to the Florida Supreme Court under an all-writs petition is necessary because the state has taken the hard-line position that no court, state or federal, has the power to order the search under traditional legal routes if, as here, the state chooses not to conduct a search on its own.

Morrison is co-counsel in the case of Hildwin, who was convicted of murdering Vronzettie Cox, a 42-year-old woman whose body was found in the trunk of her car in Hernando County 25 years ago. Her death was due to strangulation. Because the victim’s corpse was nude, and unidentified semen stains were found on a pair of her underwear in the back of her vehicle, investigators also concluded that she had likely been sexually assaulted.

Hildwin became a suspect in the murder after stolen property from the vehicle was found in his possession. When questioned, he told investigators that he had hitched a ride with the victim and her boyfriend several days earlier, and admitted stealing property from the vehicle, including the victim’s checkbook. But he denied assaulting or murdering her, and insisted that he left the victim with her boyfriend by the roadside after the two got into an argument and pulled over the car. (The victim’s boyfriend, William Haverty, has since been convicted of multiple violent sexual offenses against children and is presently serving prison sentences for those crimes.)

At the time of Hildwin’s trial, the only forensic evidence connecting him to the crime was a serology test showing that stains from semen and saliva on a pair of panties and a washcloth found in the back seat of Cox’s car may have belonged to a “non-secretor”—that is, the 11 percent of the population whose blood type doesn’t show up in other bodily fluids. According to prosecutors, these results meant that Hildwin, a non-secretor, had likely sexually assaulted Cox before murdering her, making the crime even more serious (Cox’s boyfriend Haverty was a secretor, and prosecutors argued this eliminated him as a suspect). Because Cox’s body was badly decomposed, however, it was impossible to tell for sure whether she had been raped. Nonetheless, the prosecutor made every effort to use this evidence to convince the jury to convict Hildwin — including, according to one news report, waving Cox’s tattered bra at the jury in his closing argument.

In early 2003, DNA tests on those same samples proved that Hildwin was not the source of the semen or saliva after all. Based on this important new exculpatory evidence, Hildwin’s lawyers requested a new trial. The Florida Supreme Court denied the request in 2006 by a narrow 4-3 margin, saying that although the new evidence was “worthy of consideration” it would not “probably” produce an acquittal at retrial. Three members of the Court strongly disagreed, writing that “justice demands a new trial for Paul Hildwin” because the new evidence would have provided strong support for his innocence claim and likely caused a jury to have a reasonable doubt about his guilt.

The Court issued this close ruling only after the State explicitly assured the Justices at a 2005 hearing that it would allow a CODIS search once an eligible DNA profile was available from a state-approved laboratory. Such a profile has been available since 2008, the Innocence Project said in legal papers, yet the state continues to oppose the databank search, notwithstanding its earlier promise to the Court.

Hildwin’s attorneys believe that a DNA “hit” from the CODIS databank could produce precisely the additional evidence the Court requires to order a retrial — and could, in fact, avoid the need for a new trial altogether by providing clear proof of his innocence. Florida’s database system, according to government reports, produces “an approximate 50 percent match rate – that is, about half the time, a known sample is linked to a forensic (unknown) sample.”

The Innocence Project also noted in its filing that many of the 254 individuals exonerated through DNA evidence to date involved defendants who had appeared unquestionably guilty in light of the evidence offered against them at trial (including multiple eyewitness identifications, detailed confessions to the crimes, and various non-DNA forensics). In addition, the dozens of DNA exonerations facilitated by CODIS searches over the last decade include many cases in which – as with Hildwin – the defendant had previously failed to secure a retrial based on exclusionary DNA results alone.

Hildwin, now 50 years old and suffering from cancer, is represented in his death row appeal by attorney Martin J. McClain of the law firm McClain & McDermott in Wilton Manors. McClain today filed an appeal before the Florida Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of Hildwin’s death sentence on various grounds.

Read the full petition to the Florida Supreme Court here.

Media Contact: Emily Whitfield; 212-364-5346;

Congo renews death sentence on Norwegian mercenaries

Joshua French and Tjostolv Moland face death penalty for a second time after a similar verdict last year was overturned

Two Norwegian ex-soldiers have been sentenced to death for a second time in
Democratic Republic of the Congo by a military tribunal.

Joshua French, 28, who has dual citizenship with Britain and briefly served in the British army, and Tjostolv Moland, 29, were originally found guilty of murder and espionage by a Congolese court last year.

The men, who had been working as private military contractors in other countries and were operating in Congo under murky circumstances, denied shooting dead their driverAbedi Kasongo in May 2009. They claimed bandits killed him.

During the first trial the court also fined Norway $60m (£41m), alleging that the Norwegian men were spies.

The death sentences were upheld on appeal, but in April a military court in the capital Kinshasa overturned the convictions for technical reasons and ordered a retrial with fresh judges.

That took place in the north-eastern city of Kisangani, near where Kasongo was killed. Colonel Pierre Agabu, the prosecutor, said today that French and Moland had again been sentenced to death for murder, attempted murder, criminal association and spying.

The original fine, which was calculated to represent one dollar per Congolese citizen, was also upheld, with the Norwegian government jointly liable. A payment of $4.5m (£3m) was due to Kasongo's widow and his father, the court ruled, with a further $100,000 (£68,000) payable to the Kisangani drivers' association.

French and Moland, who had tried to establish a security company in Uganda early in 2009, crossed the border on motorcycles into eastern Congo, a highly unstable part of the country, in April that year.

Two weeks later Kasongo, who had been hired as their driver, was found dead beside a road. The Norwegians, who fled the scene – fearing for their lives, they said – were arrested separately several days later.

In the original trial, prosecutors claimed that French and Moland were carrying military ID cards at the time of their arrest. They produced a photograph allegedly taken by French that showed Moland grinning widely as he washed blood from Kasongo's Toyota Landcruiser on the day he was killed.

British legal charity Reprieve today described the court proceedings as a "show trial" and alleged the prosecution witnesses were bribed with large sums of money.

"This farce of a trial would be comical if the stakes weren't so tragically high," said Reprieve campaigner Tineke Harris. "Each time the military prosecution changes their theory, the witnesses all obligingly change their story. It is now clear why the DRC's own constitution forbids the military from administering justice."

The case has attracted huge media coverage in Norway and strong criticism of Congo from the Norwegian government. Norway says the men have had no ties to it since 2007 when they served in the elite Telemark battalion.

The Foreign Office said it was disappointed at the latest verdict and would work to ensure the execution was not carried out. In recent years most death sentences issued in Congo have been commuted to life imprisonment.

Reprieve said Moland had been extremely ill in jail after contracting celebral malaria and was delusional during the first trial and appeal. It said French, who had a British father and spent part of his childhood in Margate, was forced to sign a confession after being beaten.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Access to DNA Testing

Despite the widespread acceptance of DNA testing as a powerful and reliable form of forensic evidence that can conclusively reveal guilt or innocence, many prisoners do not have the legal means to secure testing on evidence in their case.

Barriers to the truth
Forty-eight states have some form of law permitting inmates access to DNA testing. The other two states have no law granting such access. Click here to learn if your state allows access to testing.

Even in many of the states that grant access to DNA testing, the laws are limited in scope and substance. Motions for testing are often denied, even when a DNA test would undoubtedly confirm guilt or prove innocence and an inmate offers to pay for testing.

Federal incentives for granting access to DNA testing
Federal law, the 2004 Justice For All Act, grants access to DNA testing for federal inmates claiming innocence and also allocates various justice-related funding to any state that grants DNA testing access to inmates claiming innocence. To meet the requirements of the federal law, states should pass or strengthen laws granting access to DNA testing.

Clear and comprehensive laws can ensure justice
Some states have passed statutes that include barriers to testing that are insurmountable for most prisoners. These include restrictions against inmates who pled guilty or whose lawyers failed to request DNA testing at trial. In many cases, the questionable evidence used to convict a defendant at trial – like eyewitness identification or snitch testimony – is used by judges as grounds to deny a DNA test. These barriers keep innocent people from securing DNA tests that could prove their innocence.

An effective post-conviction DNA access statute must:

  • Allow testing in cases where DNA testing can establish innocence – including cases where the inmate pled guilty

  • Not include a “sunset provision” or expiration date for post-conviction DNA access

  • Require states to preserve and account for biological evidence

  • Eliminate procedural bars to DNA testing (allow people to appeal orders denying DNA testing; explicitly exempt DNA-related motions from the restrictions that govern other post-conviction cases; mandate full, fair and prompt proceedings once a motion seeking testing is filed)

  • Avoid creating an unfunded mandate, and instead provide the money to back up the new statute
    Provide flexibility in where and how DNA testing is conducted

For the Innocence Project’s complete recommendations for post-conviction DNA access statutes, view our DNA access fact sheet or review model legislation on the issue.