News from around the Network
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.
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.