News from around the Network
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.
Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst announced Tuesday that she filed a motion to dismiss the case against Cody Marble, who was sent to prison for raping a 13-year-old boy while they were in custody at the Missoula County jail in 2002. In August, the Montana Supreme Court sent the case back to Missoula County District Court to re-examine Judge Douglas Harkin’s decision to deny Marble a new trial.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Pabst said during a news conference Tuesday. She said since Marble’s conviction, at least three of the witnesses including his victim had recanted their statements. In multiple interviews with law enforcement and jail staff, Pabst said the officers believed Marble had been set up by other inmates and “railroaded.” Read more.
A packet of evidence long thought to have been lost or destroyed could breathe new life into the case of a South Dakota inmate trying to prove his innocence. McCook County Sheriff Mark Norris said he was cleaning an evidence locker when he found an envelope related to Stacy Larson’s second-degree murder case.
“I was dumbfounded,” Norris said, explaining that he discovered the envelope while digging through a box for an unrelated case. Larson was convicted of a 1990 shooting death on Interstate 90 near Montrose. He’s spent the past 25 years serving life in prison without parole at the state penitentiary. Read more.
The Innocence Network conference kicked off Friday morning at the Hyatt Regency on the River Walk. The conference hosts criminal defense experts from across the U.S. and features more than 40 workshops for attorneys, innocence organization administrators and those who have been exonerated of crimes. One of the attendees, Barry Scheck, was a member of the defense team that help to acquit O.J. Simpson. Scheck is also the co-founder of the New York City-based Innocence Network.
“Over 58 organizations in the United States (are in attendance), and as many as maybe 10 internationally that specialize in getting people out of prisons who didn’t commit the crimes, and putting together reforms of the criminal justice system here in the United States and across the world to prevent wrongful convictions,” Scheck said. Read more.
Lorinda Swain of Burlington will finally get her day before the Michigan Supreme Court this Wednesday. She was convicted in 2002 of molesting an adopted boy and served seven years of a 25-to-50-year sentence before the boy recanted his story. Swain has been free on appeal since a Calhoun County judge ordered a new trial for her twice but both times the Michigan appellate court has ruled that her original conviction should stand.
Repeated appeals have finally landed the case before the State’s highest court. Justice Bridget McCormack has recused herself from the case. McCormack represented Swain as a lawyer at the University of Michigan’s Innocence Clinic before she joined the Michigan Supreme Court. The justices will hear the arguments Wednesday. A ruling on the Swain case may not come until summer. Read more.
Judge H. Lee Sarokin recently wrote an article entitled “The Guilty Have a Better Chance for Parole or Pardon Than the Innocent.” As an innocent prisoner, I’ve witnessed this myself for the last two decades (and counting). The only thing that has changed over time is that more and more corruption is being exposed. The internet and social media are bringing our stories to light at an alarming rate.
It takes a lot for a judge to speak out on behalf of the wrongfully convicted. Innocent prisoners, as a whole, commend these judges for their bravery and good faith. You might think that honesty is a requirement for being a government official — but that’s not always the case. Honesty is often suppressed, the truth gets covered up, and the victims are the innocent and our families. For each of the last two years,records were set in the number of exonerations nationwide: 127 in 2014 and 149 in 2015. People are starting to wonder whether our judicial system ever be fixed. Read more.
A Columbus man who has served more than 30 years behind bars for rape could be released from jail now that the judge has approved his request for bond. “Originally he was convicted 35 years ago of raping women at gunpoint, I mean I’m sorry at knife point,” said the State Prosecutor Jennifer Cooley. Cooley says Paul Tyner’s convictions were not overturned for a lack of evidence, but because he represented himself.
“I know this is not a popular case that people would like to support but my father has been in jail 35 years and has maintained his innocence,” says Shawn Raleigh, who was five when his father was incarcerated. After spending more than three decades in prison, Tyner’s conviction was overturned earlier this year when it was determined the judge in the original trial violated his sixth amendment-right to counsel. On Thursday, a judge set a $25,000 for each one of Tyner’s 15 charges. Read more.
Duke Center for Criminal Justice & Professional Responsibility Continues to Investigate Dontae Sharpe’s Case
It happened more than two decades ago. WNCT originally covered the murder case in 1994. “Police found Radcliff shot to death in his pickup truck in West Greenville in February,” reports WNCT original coverage. “At the time, they had no idea who did it or why but they say with help from witnesses they’re now able to piece together what happened that night.” On February 11, 1994, police say a then 19-year-old black man killed George Radcliff. “Mr. Ratcliff was killed by Dontae Sharpe,” reports an officer in file video.
Sharpe has maintained his innocence since the day he was arrested. He even denied a plea deal offered by the Pitt County District Attorney’s Office. “All this is a mistake,” said Dontae Sharpe during an interview when he was first arrested. “They got me for shooting him. I wasn’t nowhere around. I don’t even have a gun.” His family has fought to prove his freedom since his arrest but they have constantly been turned away. Read more.
Duke Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility’s Client Howard Dudley Freed After 23 Years in Prison
A judge has freed a man who spent 23 years in prison after he was convicted of sexually assaulting his then 9-year-old daughter, a crime she now says didn’t happen. The News & Observer of Raleigh reports Superior Court Judge Doug Parsons said Wednesday that he had no confidence in the 1992 trial where Howard Dudley was convicted.
Dudley’s daughter had given inconsistent and improbable versions of the alleged assault, among other issues, Parsons said, adding that he was convinced the 1992 testimony from Dudley’s daughter was false. On Tuesday, she recanted her testimony. Dudley testified Wednesday that he rejected a plea deal that would have freed him in 1992 because he refused to admit to any wrongdoing when he was innocent. Read more.
With the help of modern DNA testing, a group at the University of New Mexico is taking a fresh look at the case of Jacob Duran. He’s spent 30 years behind bars for a murder he swears he didn’t commit. On Dec. 20, 1986, detectives and shaken family members were outside the north valley home of 64-year-old Teofilia Gradi. She’d been shot in the head four times.
Detectives focused on Duran, who was 37 years old at the time. He had prior convictions for burglary and aggravated assault. Duran had done work for the victim and saw her the day before she was killed. Read more.
A man defended by the Montana Innocence Project is continuing to battle to clear his name from a 1995 conviction for molesting a child. In Dale Hanson v. State of Montana, though, the state portrays the plaintiff as an abusive man who instilled fear in his girlfriend and child – and showered with the child and washed his private parts. “A.G. had nightmares about Hanson, and wished that Hanson was a piece of paper so he could tear him up, or that Hanson was extinct, or a spider so that he could step on him,” according to the brief filed by the state with the Montana Supreme Court. Read more.
Jerome Morgan is a busy man. On most days, he can be found going from posting signs at his advertising job, to cutting hair at a barbershop, to tutoring students at McDonogh 35. But on some days, Morgan is pulled away from his jam-packed work schedule and dragged into court, where District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro maintains he is a killer. The DA’s office has charged Morgan with second-degree murder in a fatal shooting of a 16-year-old boy at a birthday party in 1993. For Morgan, 37, the case is like a recurring nightmare.
Cannizzaro is prosecuting Morgan even though his previous conviction in the case disintegrated in 2014 after the two key witnesses in the case recanted, saying they were coerced by police into falsely fingering Morgan. Read more.
A mother once branded a baby killer left Ontario’s top court Monday free of the manslaughter conviction that has haunted her for the past 25 years. Moments after the court acquitted her, Maria Shepherd said she forgave Dr. Charles Smith, the disgraced forensic pathologist whose evidence prompted her to plead guilty to killing her three-year-old stepdaughter in 1991.
“I’m not sure what was going on in Mr. Smith’s head. There must be something extremely troubling for somebody not to do it once or twice – we’re talking at least a dozen people that he has done this to,” Shepherd said as her husband and children looked on. “I forgive Charles Smith, because it’s going to be less of a weight, and my family and I can carry on.” Read more.
Four San Antonio women should have their convictions overturned for the alleged sexual assault of two young girls, but they should not be declared innocent, a judge ruled in a case long championed by advocates for criminal justice reform. Texas District Judge Pat Priest’s ruling Tuesday paves the way for the “San Antonio 4” to have their records cleared.
But while he said the women deserved new trials, Priest refused to declare their “actual innocence.” That could prevent them from having their records expunged or asking for potentially millions of dollars in compensation that Texas gives to the wrongfully imprisoned, according to their attorney, Mike Ware. “When you are innocent of a crime, a horrendous crime that you are accused of, you want the whole world to know that you didn’t do it,” Ware said Wednesday. “The best message for that is a judicial finding of actual innocence.” Read more.
OIP Exonerees Wiley Bridgeman and Kwame Ajamu Granted Additional $4.38 Million for Wrongful Imprisonment
The state has agreed to pay two Cleveland brothers wrongfully imprisoned for 37 and 25 years an additional $4.38 million for their time behind bars, the Ohio Court of Claims ruled Monday.
The court agreed to a settlement with Wiley Bridgeman and Kwame Ajamu (formerly Ronnie Bridgeman) for the time spent in prison for a murder they did not commit. Bridgeman, Ajamu, and Ricky Jackson had their death sentences commuted while in prison, and their convictions were overturned in late 2014 after the key witness in the case against them recanted his story. Read more.
A Virginia Beach judge on Monday agreed to allow new testing of evidence collected more than 25 years ago in the brutal rape and beating of a 10-year-old girl. Lawyers for the University of Virginia’s Innocence Project recently discovered that the evidence still existed after years of believing it had been destroyed.
Among the items to be analyzed are clothing and biological evidence collected from the girl, and from Darnell Phillips, the Virginia Beach man found guilty of the crime. The Virginian-Pilot does not identify victims of sexual assault. Read more.
The fight continues for a Shreveport man who spent 30 years on death row before his exoneration, only to die of cancer 15 months later. Glenn Ford was released from Angola after local prosecutors said they had information clearing him of a 1983 murder of a Shreveport jeweler.
After his release, Ford sued the State of Louisiana for more than $330,000 in compensation he claimed he was entitled to for spending 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. The state fended off the suit and denied the claim, but not before Ford died from lung cancer last June. On Monday, Glenn’s attorney Kristin Wenstrom from the Innocence Project New Orleans was appeared in Louisiana 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in downtown Shreveport to argue on Ford’s behalf. Read more.