News from around the Network
A mother and child who testified in a murder trial more than 20 years ago that led to a man’s life sentence may have received $1,000 in reward money, some trips to a theme park and basketball games for the son, according to court filings in the case.
A three-judge panel is set to open a hearing Monday for Robert Bragg as part of North Carolina’s unique innocence process. The 64-year-old inmate is serving a sentence of life in prison without parole in connection with the fatal beating of an elderly man in December 1994. Bragg has maintained innocence throughout his 21 years behind bars, even rejecting a plea deal that carried a 15-year sentence. Read more.
The B.C. Court of Appeal set the stage Friday for Phillip James Tallio, who has spent the last 34 years in prison for killing a child, to appeal his 1983 murder conviction. If Tallio’s appeal were to be successful, it would make Canadian legal history as the longest prison sentence served by someone found to be wrongly convicted.
Friday’s decision, which legal observers are already calling “historic,” allows the appeal to proceed. The ruling hinged on the issue of DNA evidence, with the judge saying new testing had the potential to either exonerate Tallio or conclusively re-affirm he was guilty. “The risk Mr. Tallio takes, if this testing is performed, is that it will not exculpate him, but conclusively include him,” B.C. Court of Appeal judge Elizabeth Bennett said in her ruling. “This is a risk he is willing to take.” Read more.
A man who has been in prison since 1981 for a murder that investigators now say he didn’t commit is free — for now. According to Innocence Project New Orleans, John Floyd, now 67 years old, has been released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola under supervision and will work on a farm in the Lafayette area while his case is on appeal.
Floyd was convicted of one of two murders that happened Thanksgiving week of 1980. Both victims were gay men who had sex with their killer before being stabbed to death, one at the Fairmont Hotel and one on Governor Nicholls Street in the French Quarter. Despite the similarities in both murders, Floyd was only convicted of one. Read more.
A judge this week dismissed a decades-old murder case and ordered the release of DeMarlo Berry, a Las Vegas man whose lengthy quest to prove his innocence culminated after prosecutors reviewed new evidence and identified a different suspect in the 1994 slaying of a Carl’s Jr. restaurant manager.
“We’re thrilled for DeMarlo and his family,” said Utah-based attorney Craig Coburn, one of the lawyers who fought for Berry’s release. “He’s a very good man.”
Berry, 42, is scheduled to be released from prison Friday after spending most of his adult life behind bars. He served 22 years of a life sentence for the murder and armed robbery that occurred nearly a quarter-century ago at the fast-food-chain restaurant’s downtown location. Read more.
A 61-year-old man who has been in prison since 1976 was freed Thursday after a Wayne County Circuit judge agreed to vacate his sentence because his first-degree murder conviction was based on a discredited scientific method. Thursday’s release of LeDura Watkins makes him the longest-serving inmate in the United States to have his sentence vacated, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
The previous record for the most time served in prison before being having a sentence vacated was Ricky Jackson, who was incarcerated 39 years, three months and nine days in Ohio for a murder conviction before being released in 2015. Read more.
A judge has ordered a new trial for a Wisconsin Rapids man serving a virtual life sentence for a 1987 sexual assault he has always denied. Richard Beranek, 58, raised new issues with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, and gained extra attention because one of his lawyers, Jarrett Adams, went to law school after he himself was freed from a wrongful conviction with help from the same program. Adams now works for the Innocence Project in New York.
Reserve Judge Daniel Moeser presided at Beranek’s original trial, and heard defense arguments earlier this year about why an FBI agent likely overstated the scientific probability that hair recovered from the scene matched Beranek’s. Furthermore, new DNA testing has shown that the hair “match” is conclusively not Beranek’s. Read more.
A Kansas City man who spent nearly 17 years in prison for purse snatching was released Wednesday after a judge overturned his conviction. The 10th Judicial District Court in Johnson County vacated Richard Jones’ 1999 aggravated robbery conviction. He had been sentenced to more than 19 years in prison. But according to officials with the Midwest Innocence Project, Jones was convicted based solely on eyewitness identification, despite presenting a verified alibi. The Innocence Project and the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence at the University of Kansas worked for Jones’ release. Alice Craig, Jones’ attorney and professor at KU’s Project for Innocence, said the case highlights the flaws in eyewitness identification. Read more.
US prosecutors have dropped all charges against a man who spent 25 years in prison for murder, amid allegations police had falsified evidence. Desmond Ricks’ lawyers say homicide detectives switched bullets in his mother’s gun to pin a shooting on him. He was convicted of gunning down a friend outside a restaurant in Detroit, Michigan, in March 1992, and sentenced to at least 32 years in prison. Mr Ricks, 51, was released from prison last Friday.
On Thursday, Wayne County prosecutor’s office said Mr Ricks would not face a second trial. “I hope you enjoy your newfound freedom,” Judge Richard Skutt told the exonerated man, who heaved a sigh of relief. Mr Ricks’ case was championed by lawyers and students from the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan’s law school. Read more.
While he’s still not a free man, William Amor was as close to it Tuesday as he has been in more than two decades. Amor, 62, walked out of the DuPage County Jail late Tuesday after posting bond on a decades-old murder charge. It marked the first time since 1995 that Amor was not incarcerated in either the county jail or an Illinois prison.
“It’s overwhelming,” he told a small group of reporters. “I’m taking it hour by hour.” Amor is scheduled to be retried in September on charges that he set a fire that killed his mother-in-law, Marianne Miceli, 40, in 1995 in her Naperville condominium. Amor’s 1997 conviction was vacated this spring by Judge Liam Brennan, who ruled it was scientifically impossible for the fire to have started in the manner in which Amor confessed. Read more.
A 46-year-old Chicago man was released from prison on Tuesday after being acquitted of a murder charge from 1991. After spending 26 years behind bars, Patrick Prince was embraced by friends and family, including his daughter, outside of the Cook County prison. Prince was 19 years old when he was charged. “It’s going to take some getting used to again. But at the moment, I’m holding. I’m sleep-deprived. Just trying to get back re-acclimated to society,” Prince told Chicago TV station Fox32.
According to a court order, a man named Edward Porter was shot and killed on a sidewalk on August 28, 1991. Police received an anonymous tip just a few weeks later which pointed the finger at Prince. Read more.
“His family believes his claim of innocence. We believe that he has a meritorious claim of innocence. We’re hoping that the DNA test shows that as well,” said Eric Haught with the West Virginia Innocence Project. Haught is talking about a DNA test that could come any day for Charles “Manny” Kilmer and lead to his re-sentencing or release.
Kilmer has been serving a life sentence without mercy for first-degree murder at the Mount Oliver Correctional Complex since the early 1990s. Kilmer is a veteran, and his health is failing, making the results of the test all the more critical. “He’s extremely elderly,” Haught explained. “He suffers from a variety of medical conditions. He suffers from a neurological disease that was brought on by his exposure to Agent Orange while he was fighting in Vietnam. We’re really hoping that these test results do not point to him.” Read more.
About 24 years after he was arrested for a murder he always insisted he didn’t commit, 43-year-old Shaurn Thomas walked out of a state prison as a free man shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday. A beaming Thomas — jailed since he was 19 — stopped at the front entrance of the Schuylkill County correctional facility with his lawyers; his fiancee, Stephonia Long; and family members for an impromptu news conference that felt a lot more like a victory party.
Just eight hours earlier in a Center City courtroom, his conviction for taking part in the 1990 murder of a Puerto Rican businessman in North Philadelphia had been thrown out after the District Attorney’s Office agreed with his lawyers that the evidence against him did not support his conviction. Read more.
Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent Client Andrew Wilson Reunites With His Mother After 32 Years
After 32 years of separation, a Florissant mother is reunited with her son, just in time for Mother’s Day. Andrew Wilson was released from a Los Angeles jail in March. LA County prosecutors rules that his original trial on charges of robbery and murder, was not a fair one. Now, he says his mom has waited long enough. And that he’s here in St. Louis to stay.
“Oh you can only imagine,” said Margie Davis, Wilson’s mother, when asked how it feels to be reunited with her son. Mother and son sat arm in arm after 3 long decades apart. “It’s great to be home and she’s plenty of fun, she keeps me going,” said Andrew Wilson. Wilson arrived home on Wednesday and says he’s committed to making up for lost time. Read more.
While wrongful conviction cases seem dramatic in Hollywood movies, the day-to-day reality is far from glamorous. It is more about inventorying “boxes upon boxes” of police documents, mounting court challenges to see a psychiatrist’s letter, and shuffling through musty file folders, said Tamara Levy, who has spent most of the last decade focused on this work. “It can be really tedious.”
The case of Phillip James Tallio, reported this week by Postmedia, has brought attention to the UBC Innocence Project at the Allard School of Law, which Levy co-founded in 2007. Tallio has been in jail since 1983 for the murder of a child. But since the beginning of his sentence, he has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence, according to the lawyers trying to appeal his conviction. Next month, Tallio’s case will go before a judge on the preliminary question of whether the court should consider the case. Read more.
After spending nearly 42 years in prison, 15,236 days, Juneal Pratt was granted parole. He assured members of the Nebraska Parole Board it was his intent to never give the state a reason to put him back in custody. In 1975 Pratt was convicted of rape and an unrelated purse snatching in Omaha. While in jail, he earned additional time for two escape attempts.
At an April 27 meeting, the Parole Board voted 3-1 to grant Pratt parole. From the day he was arrested, and in multiple unsuccessful court appeals, Pratt claimed he had been wrongly accused of the sexual assault. He had been eligible for parole since 2001, but his requests were denied, in part, because Pratt was unwilling to admit to the original crime. In recent years, the Nebraska Innocence Project spearheaded new efforts to clear Pratt’s name. Read more.
Partially buried within a package of bills signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback last week was a compromise between innocence groups and a law enforcement lobbyist that will require that police interrogations be recorded in the most serious of cases. Last year, passage of a bill requiring recorded interrogations for murder and felony sex cases looked impossible. This year, it looked inevitable, passing the Senate unanimously and passing the House by a vote of 115 to 9.
The difference between passage and defeat was Ed Klumpp, who represents several law enforcement groups. He and prosecutors opposed the idea last year as a costly legislative mandate on small Kansas law enforcement agencies. Read more.
A convict in one of Hawaii’s most notorious murders is proclaiming his innocence in a new court filing. The Hawaii Innocence Project filed a motion this week to take another look at the Dana Ireland murder case. It was a crime that sent shockwaves through the state.
On Christmas Eve 1991, the 23-year-old was riding her bicycle to her sister’s house along a secluded road in Puna. That night, she was found hit by a vehicle, brutally raped, and left to die on the side of the road. Now, more than 25 years later, a man convicted of her murder wants to be released, and has a team of some of Hawaii’s most prominent defense attorneys supporting him. Read more.
The Georgia Innocence Project has filed a request for a new trial for a Rome man convicted of murder, alleging the state withheld evidence and a juror acted inappropriately. The group filed the petition this week in Walker County on behalf of Joey Watkins, who was convicted in Floyd County of the murder of Isaac Dawkins in 2001.
The habeas corpus petition was filed with the warden of Walker State Prison because that’s where Watkins is serving his sentence. The Watkins case has been subject of the Undisclosed audio podcast series. In Undisclosed, attorneys Rabia Chaudry and Susan Simpson along with college professor Colin Miller attempt to find new witnesses and evidence to help people they believe have been wrongly convicted. Read more.
A Vancouver man who served 8 1/2 years in prison before his case was sent back for retrial was released from custody Thursday after pleading guilty to less severe charges. Lester Juan Griffin Jr. was originally serving a 24-year prison term for first-degree burglary and first-degree assault in a 2008 shooting. However, the Washington Court of Appeals in September found that his rights to a fair trial were potentially violated and vacated his convictions.
His case returned to Clark County Superior Court, where he pleaded guilty Thursday to residential burglary and third-degree assault, as part of a plea agreement, and was granted credit for time served. “I deserve to be home right now,” Griffin, 34, said during the hearing. “The time I did was more than enough.” Read more.
William Virgil walked away from the Campbell County Courthouse a free man. “It’s like what I told you all from the very beginning,” a tearful Virgil said of his innocence. It was a dramatic but oddly quiet scene at the courthouse a block away from where someone beat and stabbed Retha Welch 30 years ago.
Dressed in a gray suit, blue tie and felt fedora, Virgil hugged his attorneys and people with the Kentucky Innocence Project that helped set him free on Friday. Almost three decades before in October 1988, Virgil proclaimed his innocence while he was escorted from the courthouse. He began serving a 70-year sentence for rape and murder of Welch, a 54-year-old psychiatric nurse from Newport. Read more.
It is a packed hall at the College of Western Idaho in Nampa, where I am speaking about DNA exonerations. My hosts did an excellent job advertising, and the room is filled with extra chairs — people siting in the aisles and standing in the back.
As the executive director of the Idaho Innocence Project, I was invited by a criminal justice professor to speak about innocent people in prison. On the way to the lecture, I called Charles Fain, who spent 19 years on Idaho’s death row. He was just getting off work at the box company. He sounded tired but said he would see what he could do. Fain is an innocent man who spent two decades waiting to be executed for the kidnapping, rape and killing of a 9-year-old girl in Nampa. Read more.
A retired district court judge has overturned a man’s conviction for a 2002 rape at the juvenile detention center in Missoula. In an order issued Tuesday, District Judge Ed McLean wrote that testimony given during a December hearing undermined his confidence in the conviction against Cody Marble, who was 17 when he was charged with raping a 13-year-old boy.
“I have been waiting for this moment for many, many years,” Marble, 32, said in a statement released by the Montana Innocence Project. “I am grateful for the support and dedicated work of the Montana Innocence Project, and all of the lawyers and volunteers who worked on my case.” Read more.
Kansas City police commissioner Alvin Brooks wants someone to free an ‘innocent’ man who’s serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole for a 1996 double murder. “There’s something called a conscience, there’s something called right and wrong,” Brooks told 41 Action News.
Commissioner Brooks just sent a letter asking Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to release Ricky Kidd from the maximum security penitentiary in Cameron, Missouri. “Ricky Kidd is innocent,” Brooks said. “I would not be going to bat for someone if I didn’t know – not think, not feel – but know they’re innocent.” Read more.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday announced it will hear arguments in a 1984 high-profile Washington murder case that resulted in eight D.C. men being sentenced to prison for the brutal sexual assault and murder of a Northeast Washington woman.
The men were convicted in 1985 in the beating death of Catherine Fuller, a mother of six, whose body was found in an alley. In 1985, a jury found the neighborhood friends, then between the ages of 16 and 21, guilty of first-degree murder. Read more.
More than two decades after John Dwayne Bunn was found guilty of murdering an off-duty New York City correction officer in Brooklyn, a judge on Tuesday threw out his conviction, citing a history of wrongdoing by a former detective who worked on the case.
In her decision, Justice ShawnDya L. Simpson of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn ordered a new trial for Mr. Bunn, saying that “malfeasance” by the former detective, Louis Scarcella, had undermined the evidence that led to Mr. Bunn’s conviction and eventual term in prison. Read more.
District Court Judge John Kutzman last week vacated the homicide conviction of Richard Earl Burkhart and ordered a new trial. In September 2002, Burkhart was convicted of deliberate homicide for the November 2001 death in Great Falls of William Ledeau, and sentenced to 100 years in the Montana State Prison.
In 2015 the Montana Innocence Project discovered evidence of Burkhart’s innocence, including the fact that the confession of another suspect in the crime had not been disclosed to the defense attorneys. The Montana Innocence Project moved to vacate the conviction, and Judge Kutzman agreed. Read more.
A Decatur man who spent 18 years in prison for murder was released Wednesday after DNA evidence got him a new trial and prosecutors declined to try him again. Charles Palmer, 62, was convicted in the 1998 killing of William Helmbacher, who was found dead in his Decatur apartment and investigators said had been beaten with a hammer. But fingernail scrapings and hair on Helmbacher’s hand did not match Palmer’s DNA, according to the Illinois Innocence Project.
Jurors convicted Palmer of first-degree murder in 2000. Last week, after considering the new DNA evidence, a Macon County judge overturned Palmer’s conviction and ordered a new trial. But the Macon County state’s attorney said Wednesday they would not prosecute Palmer again. The investigation into Helmbacher’s death has been reopened, said John Hanlon, executive director of the Illinois Innocence Project, which represented Palmer. Read more.
Texas’ highest court has exonerated the four San Antonio women who were in prison for almost 15 years for being convicted of sexually assaulting four girls. The “San Antonio 4” — Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez — were found innocent Wednesday in a ruling.
The four women, all out lesbians at the time, were convicted in 1998. Ramirez received a 37-year prison sentence, and Mayhugh, Vasquez and Rivera had 15-year sentences. Vasquez was paroled in 2012, and the rest were released in 2013. Two of Ramirez’s nieces, ages 7 and 9, accused them of sexually assaulting and threatening to kill them in 1994. One niece later recanted, saying another family member coached her to make the allegations. Also, the evidence of sexual abuse used at the time is no longer accepted in courts. Read more.
For Clare Gilbert, Interim Director of the Decatur-based nonprofit Georgia Innocence Project, being a part of a podcast with more than one million downloads each week isn’t about entertainment – it’s about justice.
“As a lawyer, it’s scary to think about opening your client up to the media and public scrutiny,” said Gilbert. “But we knew it was the only way Joey Watkins could get back in to court and we could find compelling new evidence.”
Watkins was sentenced to life in prison in July 2001 for aggravated assault, a weapons violation, misdemeanor stalking, and the felony murder of Isaac Dawkins in Rome, Georgia in January 2000. However, Gilbert and the team of attorneys behind the “Undisclosed” podcast believe Watkins was wrongfully convicted. Read more.