News from around the Network
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.
A gunman approaches a car idling in an Omaha fast-food drive-thru on a summer afternoon and fires the bullets that end Raymond Webb’s life. Two eyewitnesses take the stand and identify the shooter as a former prep basketball standout who had gone on to play at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in the early 1990s. A jury convicts Antoine D. Young and a judge sends him away for life.
But Young has always insisted he wasn’t the daylight executioner nine years ago. Now the 42-year-old inmate has persuaded a judge to hear out his theory about what really happened on Aug. 25, 2007, at the Taco Bell near 62nd Street and Ames Avenue. Young believes he can show that while an innocent man rots in prison, the true killer of Raymond Webb is about to walk free. Read more.
A man who spent 11 years in prison for a murder he insists he didn’t commit was released this week thanks to the efforts of the Innocence Project of Minnesota. Terry Lynn Olson, 57, was convicted in 2007 of the murder of Jeffrey Hammill, who was found dead near the side of a Wright County road in 1979. The main witness in the case repeatedly changed their testimony.
Julie Jonas, legal director of the Innocence Project of Minnesota, said her assessment of the evidence in the case was that it was weak, which was partly why they took on the case. Those efforts came to fruition on Tuesday when Olson was released from the Correctional Facility in Faribault. Read more.
A judge has dismissed all charges against a Trout Creek man who spent 18 years in prison for the killing of his best friend in 1997. Richard Raugust said during a news conference on Thursday that he’s “finally back as a free member of society.”
Raugust was convicted of deliberate homicide and sentenced to life in prison for the shooting death of Joseph Tash in a camp trailer near Trout Creek. District Judge James Wheelis overturned the conviction last year after finding that prosecutors withheld evidence that might have led to a different verdict. Read more.
In 2013, after nearly 10 years behind bars, the court vacated Ryan Ferguson’s conviction in the 2001 killing of a Missouri journalist. His plight has pushed him to seek justice for others and build friendships with those whose lives were also turned upside down by wrongful convictions – including Amanda Knox.
Ferguson tells PEOPLE Now that connecting with Knox – whose conviction in the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher was overturned by Italy’s highest appeals court in 2015 – has “meant a lot.”
“There’s so many incredible people in the wrongful conviction community and the day I got out she held up that sign. It just meant so much,” Ferguson says, referencing a photo of Knox holding a “Welcome Home Ryan” sign after his release from prison. Read more.
Iconic folk singer Joan Baez has confirmed her latest United States tour, which will take place in October and November. The tour commences in the Northeast with an October 4 appearance in Portland, Maine and concludes a month later on the West Coast with a show at Oakland’s Fox Theatre. The concerts in Boston, MA and Philadelphia, PA will feature a guest appearance by Mary Chapin Carpenter.
The kick-off of the tour is specifically timed to coincide with Wrongful Conviction Day – in fact, Baez is partnering with The Innocence Project and Innocence Network during the entire tour in order to raise awareness of wrongful convictions. During each stop on the 20-city tour, volunteers will give information to concert-goers about the efforts being taken to exonerate individuals who are believed to be wrongly convicted. Keeping the narrative close to home, each city will point out specific local convicts who the Innocence Network believes have been unjustly incarcerated.
“We hope to provide a platform that will amplify the heartbreaking stories of men and women wrongfully convicted, who suffer so needlessly,” Baez declared in a press release. “The fight against their unlawful convictions shines a light on both a broken criminal justice system and the racial inequality of people serving time. I hope my audiences will be motivated to support their work.” Read more.
Johnny Small was 16 years old when he watched his life evaporate. What he must have felt in 1989 when the judge sentenced him to life and an additional 16 years in prison for the murder of 32-year-old Pam Dreher is unfathomable. Small maintains to this day that he was truly innocent.
For the past 28 years, Small sat in prison while the life he could have led slipped slowly away. He cries when he thinks of his mother, who died in February after years of being too ill to make the trek to the prison. He hadn’t seen her in six years. After being repeatedly denied parole, Small had lost hope of ever leading a normal life. So much so, he contemplated suicide. Read more.
A judge on Monday tossed out murder convictions for three men who spent 20 years in prison in a case that started unraveling when attorneys learned a top county prosecutor deliberately hid witness statements casting doubt on their guilt. The men, Laurese Glover, Derrick Wheatt and Eugene Johnson, were convicted as teenagers in January 1996 for the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Clifton Hudson in East Cleveland but denied killing him. Johnson and Wheatt received sentences of 18 year to life, and Glover was sentenced to 15 years to life.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Nancy Margaret Russo released the men from prison in March 2015 and, for a second time, ordered a new trial after attorneys for the Ohio Innocence Project found a letter written by first assistant county prosecutor Carmen Marino in 1998 telling East Cleveland police to withhold the investigative file from attorneys filing an appeal of the convictions. Read more.
The Midwest Innocence Project has taken the case of a Columbia man convicted of murder for the 2001 death of a sports editor at the Tribune. The man’s testimony, which he has claimed was a lie for several years, famously implicated Ryan Ferguson, who served nearly 10 years behind bars before he was released in 2013.
Justin Scott, a spokesman for the Midwest Innocence Project, confirmed via email Monday the organization’s legal director, Tricia Bushnell, is now representing Charles Erickson. Bushnell declined to speak about the case.
The Kansas City-based organization was founded through the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2000 and works to exonerate wrongfully convicted people in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa and Nebraska. Read more.
The body of Donna Meagher was discovered on Colorado Gulch two decades ago. She had been beaten to death. On Tuesday, the two men convicted for her murder – Freddie Lawrence and Paul Jenkins – were back in court as part of an effort to challenge their convictions. The victim’s family took up two rows in the courtroom as defense and state attorneys presented evidence from the 1997 case.
Lawrence and Jenkins have requested that the state conduct tests on DNA evidence from the murder. Both men appeared at the hearing by video from prison. Attorneys from the Montana Innocence Project told Judge Kathy Seeley that swabs and hair samples from Meagher’s body could produce a male DNA profile that doesn’t match either of the two convicted men. Read more.
Twenty-one years after they were sentenced to life in prison for a murder that police and prosecutors claimed was Satanically inspired, the convictions of two men have been vacated. A Meade Circuit judge has found there was no “credible evidence” that the murder of Rhonda Sue Warford, a Louisville woman whose body was dumped in a field, was motivated by Satanic worship.
Circuit Judge Bruce T. Butler also said the newly available DNA testing shows that prosecutors and police got it wrong in the 1995 trial of Garr Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Dewayne Clark when they said a hair found on Warford’s sweatpants was a “microscopic match” with Hardin. Read more.
When Dean Gillispie walked free from prison in December 2011 — 20 years after his wrongful conviction for raping three women — he knew the emotional and mental scars of his incarceration might never go away. But he also bore a physical reminder of his time behind bars: over a decade earlier while on a ladder doing prison maintenance work, Gillispie fell and pinched a nerve in his back. By the time he was released three days before Christmas, he could barely walk.
In 2007, Davontae Sanford, a 14-year-old who was blind in one eye and had a habit of telling tall tales, told Detroit police officers after hours of questioning that he had killed four people in a shooting a few blocks from his house.
The teenager, who had quickly recanted, was sentenced to up to 90 years in prison and remained behind bars even after a notorious Detroit hit man admitted to having committed the killings with a second man.
But on Tuesday, after eight years of court battles and a reinvestigation of the case, Brian Sullivan, a Wayne County Court judge, vacated Mr. Sanford’s convictions and ordered him released. Read more.
William Richards was the obvious suspect in the murder of his wife: Pamela was planning to leave him for another man, her killer did not rape her or steal anything, and Richards had no airtight alibi.
After three trials — the first two juries hung — Richards was finally convicted of murdering Pamela. A prosecution expert at the third trial — but not at the first two — testified that a crescent-shaped mark on Pamela’s hand came from a bite that matched the unusual pattern of Richards’ bottom teeth.
The dental expert later said he had been wrong, but the California Supreme Court decided 4-3 in 2012 to uphold Richards’ conviction anyway. “The case against petitioner was strong,” retired Justice Joyce L. Kennard wrote for the majority back then. Read more.
Jerome Morgan, who spent nearly two decades behind bars for the slaying of a 16-year-old youth in a Gentilly motel ballroom before a judge threw out his conviction two years ago, won’t be retried in the 1993 killing. Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro grudgingly dropped the murder charge Friday.
Cannizzaro refused to proclaim Morgan innocent in the killing of Clarence Landry in a Howard Johnson motel ballroom. Instead, he cited a Louisiana Supreme Court ruling this month that denied prosecutors the chance to use transcripts from Morgan’s 1994 trial during a new trial that was slated to start June 13. Prosecutors had wanted to use the older testimony of two key witnesses who have since recanted their identifications of Morgan as the shooter, aiming to let a jury decide between their contradictory statements. Read more.
Lorinda Swain, a Calhoun County woman convicted in a sex-abuse case in 2002, will get a new trial, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. Swain was convicted in 2002 for sexually abusing her adopted son. She served seven years in prison. Her conviction was thrown out by a Battle Creek judge in 2009 after new witnesses raised doubts about her guilt.
Swain has maintained her innocence. The boy, Ronald Swain, has recanted his testimony, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer. In 2009 and again in 2012, now-retired Calhoun County Judge Conrad Sindt ordered a new trial for Swain, but the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned that ruling in 2015. Wednesday’s ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court reverses the Court of Appeals decision, saying it “erred in failing to give proper deference to the specific findings of the trial court that the defendant was entitled to a new trial.” Read more.
Jeremiah David Mongold could have gotten out of jail a year ago, one of his lawyers said Tuesday. “He became eligible for parole last year and actually forwent a parole hearing because he wanted to have his habeas hearing instead,” said Valena Beety, the director of the Innocence Project at West Virginia University’s College of Law, and one of Mongold’s lawyers. “‘I want to prove my innocence,’ he said.”
After a hearing last month, Mongold’s conviction was thrown out. After serving 11 years of the 40-year prison sentence he was handed in 2005, a Hampshire County judge threw out Mongold’s conviction in connection with the death of his 2-year-old stepdaughter.
Hampshire Circuit Judge Charles Parsons ruled that Mongold, 32, should get a new trial. The judge found that Mongold’s lawyer was ineffective during his original trial. Mongold was released on $75,000 bond to await the new trial, which is tentatively set for Nov. 28, according to Beety. Read more.
A former Naperville resident, imprisoned almost two decades for the arson murder of his mother-in-law, has been granted a court hearing to dispute the fire investigation evidence that helped to secure his conviction.
William Amor will return in June to the DuPage County courthouse where he was convicted of murder and arson in the death of Marianne Miceli, who died in a Sept. 10, 1995, fire at the Naperville condominium she shared with her daughter and Amor.
Attorneys for Amor say he is innocent and advances in arson investigation techniques and science undermine the conclusions investigators reached in the mid-1990s, including that Amor started the fire using a cigarette and a vodka-soaked newspaper. Read more.
DNA evidence has exonerated a man convicted years ago in a teenager’s killing. Malcolm Jabbar Bryant, who was found guilty of the November 1998 murder of 16-year-old Toni Bullock, had charges dropped Wednesday because of DNA evidence. Bullock was stabbed repeatedly in the stomach as she and a friend walked along Harford Road in northeast Baltimore. Her friend was able to get away. Prosecutors said at the time that the motive was robbery.
Bryant was convicted in August 1999 and sentenced in September 1999 to life in prison. Bullock’s case is not closed and police said they are actively searching for her killer. Prosecutors said Bryant always maintained his innocence over the years and exhausted all his appeals. With the help of the , he got a court-appointed DNA test of fingernail clippings from the victim. Read more.
Office of the Ohio Public Defender, Wrongful Conviction Unit Client Angela Garcia’s Murder Conviction Vacated
Prosecutors dropped four aggravated murder charges Monday against a mother serving consecutive life sentences in a 1999 house fire that killed her two daughters. Angela Garcia pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of arson. In place of her consecutive life sentences, Judge Michael Astrab sentenced her to 22 years in prison, 17 of which she’s already served.
Prosecutors and attorneys from the Ohio Public Defender’s Wrongful Conviction Unit struck a deal before a hearing Monday where the judge was set to consider whether he would grant Garcia a new trial. In 2002, it took then-Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William D. Mason three trials to convict Garcia. Read more.
Two men traded their prison uniforms for suits and emerged from the Tulsa Jail as free men Monday evening, 20 years into their life sentences. Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter were released hours after a Tulsa County judge declared them innocent of a 1994 fatal drive-by shooting for which they were convicted at age 18.
“It’s been a long journey, but we’re here. We made it,” said Scott, who was released first. “I’m just thankful for a second chance at life.” “I waited a long time for this day,” Carpenter told reporters when he was released. “It’s just — it’s a wonderful day.” Scott and Carpenter, now 39, were each sentenced to life plus 170 years after they were convicted of first-degree murder and related charges in a shooting that killed 19-year-old Karen Summers. Read more.
Jeremiah Mongold’s conviction in the 2004 death of his step-daughter was vacated Thursday and Judge Charles Parsons ordered the Shanks man released from Denmar Prison to the Potomac Highlands Regional Jail, setting bail at $75,000. A May 17 hearing will determine where the case proceeds from here.
Eleven years after the conviction and 20 days after a habeas corpus hearing, Parsons ruled that Mongold received trial counsel so ineffective from Romney attorney Lawrence Sherman that it led to the defendant’s conviction. Sherman pointed out that Parsons noted in his order that Sherman had a good reputation as a trial attorney.
He spoke of the difficulty of trying shaken impact cases that one of Mongold’s expert witnesses alluded to on April 15. Read more.
DNA samples taken from the butcher knife used to kill Georgia Kemp in 1992 do not match those taken from Eddie Lee Howard, the man on death row for her murder, according to courtroom testimony Thursday. Barbara Leal, an analyst for Cellmark Forensics, offered expert testimony for the defense Thursday during a hearing on the 24-year-old capital murder case from Columbus.
Howard, 62, was convicted of capital murder in 2000 after being accused of the rape and murder of 84-year-old Kemp in her Columbus home. He’s been on death row since then. The Mississippi Innocence Project, which is housed at the University of Mississippi, is representing Howard in a post-conviction relief hearing taking place this week in Lowndes County Circuit Court. The Innocence Project is asking Circuit Court Judge Lee Howard to either overturn Eddie Lee Howard’s conviction without ordering a new trial or, failing that, order a new trial. Read more.
The Ohio Innocence Project is asking the supreme court to determine if police departments can refuse to release investigation files until all possibility of an appeal has passed, which would be with an acquittal, release from prison, or death of a suspect. “We had a series of rejections from the Columbus police,” said Donald Caster, an attorney with the Ohio Innocence Project.
The Ohio Innocence Project was founded at the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 2003 by then-city councilman John Cranley and Mark Godsey, who remains the project’s director. Read more.