News from around the Network
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.
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.