News from around the Network
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Criminal justice advocates are applauding passage of legislation allowing experts on eyewitness identification to testify in some Louisiana criminal cases.
The bill’s supporters include the Innocence Project New Orleans. The organization said in a news release Wednesday that the legislation was needed because eyewitness mistakes are a leading cause of wrongful convictions. Proponents said testimony from experts on memory and eyewitness reliability could prevent such convictions.
Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the bill Wednesday afternoon, a spokeswoman said in an email.
The bill won final passage in the House on Monday by a vote of 103-0. The Senate had approved it earlier by a vote of 37-0.
The bill states that experts on memory and eyewitness identification can testify in criminal trials when there is no physical or scientific evidence that corroborates an eyewitness’s identification of a defendant.
Among those praising the legislation was Wilbert Jones. He was exonerated last year after 46 years of imprisonment for a rape conviction based on identification from a single eyewitness. Innocence Project New Orleans, or IPNO, which took up Jones’ case in 2001, said the victim had told police she was not 100 percent certain when she picked Jones from a lineup months after the crime. Read more.
A federal judge in Raleigh vacated the murder conviction and ordered the release on May 23 of Wrongful Convictions Clinic client Charles Ray Finch, who served 43 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Finch, 81, was released from Greene Correctional Institution later that day.
John S. Bradway Professor of the Practice of Law James Coleman, Jr., the clinic’s co-director, served as Finch’s lead counsel at the hearing. Charles S. Rhyne Clinical Professor of Law Theresa Newman ’88, the clinic co-director, and Supervising Attorney Jamie Lau ’09 also were in the courtroom; both represented Finch during state court proceedings. Duke Law graduates who had worked on the case through the Wrongful Convictions Clinic attended as well.
Finch’s release was the culmination of a 15-year legal battle for Coleman, who took up his case before the clinic was established in 2007. “Ray was unwavering in maintaining his innocence and today proves that he was, and he’s been vindicated,” Coleman told reporters outside the courthouse after the ruling. Read more.
Today, two men who were wrongfully convicted of murder in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison were fully exonerated and formally declared “actually innocent” by Judge Raquel Jones, who granted a motion by Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot to dismiss all charges against both men. The decision was based on evidence that Stanley Mozee and Dennis Lee Allen were factually innocent based on new DNA testing which excluded them from key evidence at the crime scene, as well as findings that their joint convictions were rooted in unreliable jailhouse informant testimony, a false confession and substantial prosecutorial misconduct. Mozee and Allen had maintained their innocence for two decades.
Mozee and Allen were wrongfully convicted of murdering Rev. Jesse Borns, Jr., a store owner and lay minister, who was found stabbed to death in his place of business in April 1999. There was no physical evidence linking Mozee or Allen to the crime scene, yet they were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2000.
Both men had been incarcerated for 15 years for Borns’ murder until a Dallas County district court released them in 2014 based on new information uncovered through a joint re-investigation conducted by the Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Texas, and the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. The re-investigation continued for four years, and ultimately turned up substantial additional evidence proving the two men’s innocence. Much of that evidence was in the trial prosecutor’s own files, but was hidden from the defense until the district attorney’s office adopted an “open file” policy years after Mozee and Allen’s trials. Read more.
University of Baltimore IP Clinic Client Kenneth McPherson and his Brother, Mid-Atlantic IP Client Eric Simmons, Freed
After serving 25 years in prison following wrongful convictions for conspiracy to commit murder, brothers Kenneth “J.R.” McPherson, 45, and Eric Simmons, 48, were fully exonerated on May 3 and went home to their families. The exonerations were sought by the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) following investigations by the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic (UBIPC), which handled Mr. Simmons’ case, and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP), which represented Mr. McPherson.
Those recent investigations determined that two of the State’s witnesses in the 1995 trial had provided unreliable evidence: One witness, whose rent was being paid by police, said that she saw the shooting from a third-floor window 150 feet away — a location recently determined to have made such an observation impossible — and a 13-year-old boy who had been aggressively interrogated and threatened with homicide charges until he named Mr. McPherson and Mr. Simmons. That juvenile later recanted his statement, but the men were convicted anyway. Read more.
The Virginia Supreme Court on Thursday cleared an Indiana man of sexual assault convictions in Fairfax County from more than four decades ago.
The case may be the last exoneration stemming from a massive post-conviction DNA testing project in Virginia that was begun in 2005 and is about to wrap up. The effort now has cleared 13 innocent people of serious crimes.
The unanimous court issued a writ of actual innocence for Winston L. Scott, 62, vacating his convictions. He was 19 when a Reston woman was attacked on July 24, 1975. He was sentenced to 14 years on convictions of rape, sodomy and statutory burglary and served about five years before he was paroled.
“Upon reviewing the totality of the evidence, including records from the original case, the evidence presented at the original trial, the newly-discovered biological evidence, and the proffers made by the petitioner and the Commonwealth, the Court finds that Scott has proved, by clear and convincing evidence … that no rational trier of fact would have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” wrote Justice Bernard Goodwyn.
Scott was convicted largely on the strength of the victim’s identification of him in a photo spread and then again in court at his 1976 trial.
However, in 2010, DNA testing of sperm found on the victim’s jeans and from her vagina failed to identify Scott’s genetic profile or that of the victim’s only sex partner at the time. Scott was not excluded until 2017, after he was located out of state and asked if he wanted to submit a sample for testing.
“For 43 years, Winston Scott has been branded a rapist for a crime he didn’t commit,” said Frances Walters, one of Scott’s lawyers with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project. “Today’s decision erases that burden and will allow him to live the rest of his life without that stain.” Read more.
He paid a huge price for a crime he didn’t commit after being framed by a police detective.
After 18 years in prison, a Chicago man was cleared of a murder he didn’t commit. Now, he’s trying to recover some of what he lost.
“It’s like a burden being lifted off my shoulders. I been waiting for this for the last twenty-seven years. And I’m glad it finally happened,” said Gerardo Iglesias.
Iglesias spent 18 years in prison, but on Wednesday, he was number “19.” He’s the 19th defendant to be exonerated after being framed by former Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara. Iglesias went to prison for the 1993 murder of Monica Roman in Humboldt Park. He served his time and was released seven years ago.
Prosecutors on Wednesday dropped all of the charges against him, but his attorneys want more.
“There needs to accountability. Criminal accountability for Detective Guevara, criminal accountability for the men who were Detective Guevara’s partners and supervisors,” said Exoneration Project attorney Anand Swaminatham.
Guevara retired 14 years ago. The city has settled numerous lawsuits against him, for millions of dollars.
Wednesday’s exoneration comes following an admission from a jailhouse informant that he made up his story about Iglesias confessing in prison, after he had been threatened by Detective Guevara.
“That testimony was fabricated by Detective Guevara, and that informant has come forward, and admitted that his testimony was false, and that it was obtained by Detective Guevara based on pressure and threats,” Swaminatham said.
Iglesias has been working in construction, and was asked by reporters what’s ahead now that he’s been exonerated.
“I got a 27-year-old son. Spend more time with my son, and just live life,” he said. Read more.
After spending more than 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Horace Roberts was declared factually innocent today of the murder of his former lover Terry Cheek. It was announced that Cheek’s husband, Googie Harris, and his nephew Joaquin Leal, have been arrested and will be charged with the murder tomorrow.
The California Innocence Project took on Roberts’ case in 2003. “The Project initially became interested in the case because there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime,” said Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project and a Professor at California Western School of Law. “The body was found along Interstate 15 and Roberts’ truck was found nearby. That was used at trial to link him to the crime, but it made no sense that he would leave his fully operable truck along a highway and walk away from the crime scene.”
In 2007, the California Innocence Project conducted DNA testing on crime scene evidence that revealed two unknown male profiles that could not be distinguished and matched to the DNA databank. In 2017, the California Innocence Project conducted more sophisticated DNA testing that was not available at the time of trial or in 2007. DNA under Cheek’s left hand fingernails matched Joaquin Leal, a convicted sex offender. DNA under her right hand fingernails and on a bloodstain on her pants matched an unknown male. Read more.
An Ohio man who served 17 years in prison for a rape he did not commit was exonerated and released Thursday with help from University of Cincinnati law students and their professors.
The Ohio Innocence Project, part of the UC College of Law’s Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice, took up the case of Christopher Miller, 41, who was convicted of the kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault and robbery of a woman in Cleveland Heights in 2001.
Students and faculty at UC’s College of Law took up the case in 2015. It marks the 27th defendant freed with help from the UC College of Law’s Ohio Innocence Project.
An ebullient Miller left the Cuyahoga County Courthouse to cheers from family and supporters.
“My baby’s home,” his mother said, hugging and kissing him.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Miller said.
Miller was sentenced to 40 years in state prison for an attack that left the victim so traumatized that she told the court she sleeps with the lights on and can’t go into her own home by herself at night.
Miller always maintained his innocence and offered an alibi — he was asleep with his girlfriend miles away when the assault occurred. But police investigating the assault tracked the victim’s cell phone to Miller, who said he bought it from a local drug dealer.
A second suspect, Richard Stadmire, also was arrested and convicted in 2002.
A third suspect in the case, Charles Boyd, testified that Miller was an accomplice in the crime. Miller maintained that Boyd was lying and that they had never met. Boyd later recanted his testimony.
Prosecutor Michael O’Malley on Thursday said a grand jury this week indicted Boyd on new charges of rape and perjury in the case.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Hollie Gallagher ordered that the convictions against Miller be vacated and that he be released immediately. Read more.
A Wisconsin man who spent two decades in prison based in part on flawed FBI forensic work has been cleared of rape, battery and burglary charges, the latest in a series of exonerations around the country based on the now-discredited technique of microscopic hair comparison.
Dane County Circuit Judge Nicholas McNamara approved a motion by the Dane County District Attorney’s Office on Thursday to dismiss all charges against Richard Beranek, 59. In the motion, the prosecution said while it still has a “strong belief” in Beranek’s guilt, it was dropping the charges to spare the victim of the 1987 home invasion and sexual assault from additional trauma.
On Friday, attorneys for Beranek said the dismissal came just days after DNA testing on crime scene evidence “revealed a distinct male DNA profile that was not Mr. Beranek’s.”
“I think that this DNA testing and the timing of the dismissal speaks volumes — that Richard Beranek could not be the assailant here,” said Bryce Benjet, staff attorney with the Innocence Project based at the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.
Beranek attorney Cristina Borde´ of the Wisconsin Innocence Project said the defense has been notified that the profile was compared to others in a local DNA database without success. Beranek’s attorneys say it is unclear whether the prosecution is comparing it to other suspects developed during the initial investigation. Read more.
Yesterday, two Exoneration Project clients—Anthony Jakes and Robert Bouto—had their convictions overturned. Jakes and Bouto are not co-defendants, but they were both wrongfully incarcerated as a result of police misconduct. Coincidentally, Jakes and Buoto were both exonerated yesterday in Chicago.
When Jakes was 15-years-old, two notoriously corrupt Chicago police detectives beat him until he falsely confessed to murder. After a special prosecutor conducted a three-month review of Jakes’ case, he determined that the evidence used to convict Jakes did not meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt and requested that his case be dismissed.
In a similar vein, Bouto was convicted after two other corrupt and notorious Chicago police detectives beat and bullied two witnesses into identifying Bouto as the gunman. Bouto’s attorney, Russell Ainsworth, said that both witnesses have since recanted their identification. After investigating the detectives involved in Bouto’s case, it was determined that Bouto was likely innocent, and a Cook County judge agreed to vacate his conviction.
Both men served all their time before they were exonerated—each over 20 years. Congratulations to Jakes, Bouto and their legal teams on their freedom. Read more.
Dwight DuBose walked out of the Orient Road Jail on Tuesday night after trading an orange jumpsuit for a brand new polo shirt and slacks. It was about 9 p.m. He flashed a broad smile and hugged staff members of the Innocence Project of Florida who helped secure his release. Then, the 45-year-old former prison inmate headed over to his mom’s house for his first home-cooked meal in 17 years.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “I’m kind of nervous about going out there. We live in a fast society.” DuBose was released after DNA testing cast doubt on his guilt in a 2001 Tampa murder. Although he still maintains his innocence, he agreed Tuesday to plead guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree murder in exchange for a declaration of time served. Read more.
At the foot of Mount Powell, the clean smell of snow and the more evocative smell of manure commingled as wind swept into the parking lot in front of the Montana State Prison’s administration building Tuesday afternoon.
Then, for the first time in 23 years, 56-year-old Freddie Joe Lawrence emerged from the razor wire and chain link fences as a free man. Triumphantly holding his fists in the air, Lawrence was flanked by Toby Cook and Larry Mansch, two of the Montana Innocence Project lawyers who helped him regain his freedom.
On Friday, Helena District Judge Kathy Seeley vacated the convictions of Lawrence and 64-year-old Paul Jenkins in the 1994 murder of Donna Meagher. Meagher was kidnapped from a family-owned casino in Montana City and killed west of Helena, leading to the convictions of Jenkins and Lawrence in 1995. Read more.
CINCINNATI — Today, the only thing that stops Ru-El Sailor from walking free after serving 15 hard years in prison for a murder that he didn’t commit is the fate of a motion to vacate his conviction. That motion was filed by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley.
If a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge approves O’Malley’s motion, Sailor will join his family, friends, and community in a celebration of justice that we don’t often see in today’s news. Read more.
Richard Dan Phillips waited anxiously Wednesday in the hallway of Frank Murphy Hall of Justice. It was a day he had hoped would come for more than four decades.
Phillips, 71, politely answered numerous reporters’ questions while waiting to be asked into the courtroom of Judge Kevin J. Cox in Wayne County Circuit Court. There, all charges against Phillips stemming from a 1971 homicide were dismissed — after he spent 45 years in prison for a crime he insists he didn’t commit.
“Freedom is giving me the hope that no matter what happens in the future, this is a good beginning,” Phillips said. Read more.
Innocence Project, Exoneration Project, and Center on Wrongful Convictions Clients Corey Batchelor and Kevin Bailey Exonerated
CHICAGO — Prosecutors have dropped charges against two men who say Chicago police detectives beat them into confessing to a 1989 killing.
On Monday, after deliberating for less than half an hour, a Bronx jury vindicated Edward Garry’s twenty-three-year quest to clear his name, finding him not guilty of the 1995 murder of a retired police detective named Oswald Potter. In 2016, I wrote about Garry’s case for The New Yorker. Garry was twenty years old when he was charged with Potter’s murder. Next week, Garry will turn forty-three. He spent his twenties and all of his thirties in prison, and was only let out on bail last year after a judge ordered a new trial for him. One of Garry’s lawyers, Glenn Garber, told me that, when the jury foreman read the new verdict, one of the jurors was crying, and afterward “one of them ran up to him in the hallway and said, ‘I’m sorry this happened to you,’ and hugged him.”
Glenn Payne was convicted in 1991 of molesting a 2-year-old girl in San Jose and spent more than 13 years in prison. The crucial evidence against him was expert testimony by a county forensic analyst that hair found on Payne must have come from the victim — that there was only one chance in 129,600 that it had come from someone else.
The Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law has secured a conditional pardon for its client, Messiah Johnson, who the clinic argued was wrongly convicted of armed robbery.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed orders Friday for the release of Johnson and five others in separate cases. In doing so, he noted the sentences were “far outside what should have been adequate to keep Virginia safe.”
Johnson had been sentenced to 132 years in prison.
“Mr. Johnson has served over 20 years for this crime and yet there are serious questions about his guilt – he has always maintained his innocence and there is credible evidence that he was not guilty at all,” the governor’s office said in its afternoon statement. Read more.
Chicago officials have agreed to pay $9.3 million to a man wrongfully convicted of setting a 1984 fire that killed a mother and her five children, a crime he confessed to only after he was allegedly beaten by detectives working under disgraced Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge.
The proposed settlement in the federal lawsuit brought by James Kluppelberg marks the latest in a string of massive payouts by the city involving cases of alleged police misconduct.
It also adds to the ever-mounting costs of the torture scandal involving Burge and his “midnight crew” of detectives, which has stained the city’s reputation and so far cost taxpayers at least $115 million in lawsuit settlements, judgments and other compensation to victims. Read more.
Thomas Sierra has become used to waiting.
The 41-year-old Chicago native spent more than half his life in prison, convicted of a murder he has claimed from the beginning he didn’t commit. His attorneys say he was framed by a retired Chicago Police detective who has since kept quiet about his alleged misconduct in multiple cases.
On Tuesday, a couple months after his release, Sierra found himself inside the George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse, waiting the better part of two hours for a hearing that was scheduled for 10 a.m.
It was getting close to noon.
Sporting a close-cropped hairstyle and black shoes, dark grey pants and a grey shirt, Sierra spent most of that time seated in the front row of the gallery. He was hunched over, either with his hands clenched as if in prayer or rubbing his restless legs, chatting with his brother and waiting for his name to be called inside a sixth-floor courtroom. Read more.
A man who claims he was wrongly convicted of an alleged racially-motivated murder in 1987 was released from prison Tuesday after spending 30 years behind bars.
Nearly 20 family and friends waited to embrace Dean McKee, now 46, as he walked out of the Orient Road Jail after posting bond.
“It’s been a long road and I’m so overwhelmed and some wonderful people kept me strong and kept me focused,” said McKee, who made a brief statement before heading home. “When you open your heart some amazing things happen. I’m grateful and I’m blessed.”
McKee was 16 years old when he and his then-18-year-old brother Scott were arrested and accused of attacking Isaiah Walker, a homeless black man who was found stabbed to death outside the Tampa Museum of Art. Read more.
A Great Falls judge exonerated a man who has spent 15 years behind bars for a murder he said he didn’t commit.
The murder charge against Richard Burkhart, represented by the Montana Innocence Project, was dismissed last week. Burkhart was accused of killing Wiliam D. Ledeau, who was reportedly bludgeoned with a hammer on Nov. 13, 2001, on 12th Street North, between Central and First Avenue North.
The order dismissing the case allows prosecutors to refile the charge against Burkhart in the future if new evidence supports it.
A 12-person jury had found Burkhart, now 38, guilty at trial in 2002. In light of new evidence uncovered in 2015, Judge John Kutzman overturned Burkhart’s original conviction and ordered he receive a second trial.
Attorneys with the Montana Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works to exonerating the wrongfully convicted, filed a motion in December to dismiss the case for violation of Burkhart’s right to a speedy trial. On Dec. 28, district prosecutors filed their own motion to dismiss the case, citing a lack of evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Read more.
As Cory L. Epps was led away 19 years ago after being sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for a murder he swore he did not commit, he told his family: “The Lord’s going to take care of it. Don’t worry about it, you all.”
Epps’ assurances came through Friday morning in an Erie County courtroom packed with his family and friends.
Now 46, Epps, a married father of three now with four grandchildren, was ordered freed in a courtroom packed with relatives, exonerated in the road rage shooting death of Tameka Means of Cheektowaga early on the morning of May 26, 1997.
“The judgment of conviction of Mr. Cory Epps is hereby vacated … in the interest of justice,” said Erie County Court Judge James Barnesi.
Applause broke out and one man yelled: “Thank you, judge.” Read more.
Joseph Lavigne, a client of the West Virginia Innocence Project at the WVU College of Law, has been granted parole. He was released from Huttonsville Correctional Center on Nov. 15, after serving 20 years in prison.
In 1997, Lavigne was convicted of one count each of sexual abuse in the first degree, child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury, and incest. The victim was his 5-year-old daughter. For 20 years, she and her mother have maintained Lavigne’s innocence.
No physical DNA evidence was submitted at Lavigne’s trial but witnesses testified that his daughter said she was assaulted by her father. Lavigne argued that his daughter said she was assaulted by a man who looked like her father. Read more.
Wilbert Jones walked through the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison gate around noon Wednesday and into the arms of his brother, sister-in-law and niece — free for the first time in almost 46 years after his 1974 rape conviction was overturned.
“I just want to be free,” the 64-year-old said, with a smile on his face and family embracing him. “I thank God for my family, I thank God for my legal team and I thank God for God.”
His brother Plem Jones gave him a long hug, later wiping tears from his eyes.
“I never gave up on him, I knew that he didn’t do it,” Plem Jones said Wednesday. “It was nothing but a matter of time, I knew he was going to be free one day.”
In the almost 46 years his brother was incarcerated, Plem Jones said he can remember missing only two opportunities to visit him. Jones traveled from his Baton Rouge home two weekends a month to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, and additionally on a month’s rare fifth weekend, to talk, to cry with his brother, he said. In his earlier years, he brought his daughter with him, and more recently, he brought his grandchildren. Read more.
Darrell Jones, who has been in prison for 32 years for a murder he has always denied committing, was released on bail Thursday evening.
Two days after another judge ruled Jones would receive a new trial, Plymouth County Superior Court Associate Judge Robert Cosgrove freed the Boston man on $5,000 bail.
In a 39-page ruling Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Thomas McGuire said Jones did not get a fair trial when he was convicted in 1986 of killing a Brockton drug dealer.
McGuire cited new evidence that the lead detective gave false testimony and purposefully altered video of an alleged eyewitness that McGuire said “could have affected the jury’s judgment.”
“I stayed in prison a long time, not just the fact it’s something I didn’t do, but it was hard to get people to hear you,” Jones said at the courthouse Thursday. “So, I’m trying to get everybody here to understand one point: There’s somebody else back at that jail that nobody’s listening to, that’s probably innocent, and trying to fight like I’ve been trying to fight.” Read more.
More than a decade after Jodi Parrack was murdered in her hometown, Ray McCann II has finally cleared his name. St. Joseph County Circuit Judge Paul Stutesman on Thursday set aside his conviction of perjury. McCann already had served 20 months behind bars after pleading no contest to that charge. The Michigan Innocence Clinic said that St. Joseph County Prosecutor John McDonough agreed that the charges should be dropped.
“It is ironic that after serving time in the county jail and being threatened with a potential life sentence, Ray McCann pleaded no contest to a charge of perjury when, in fact, he had told the truth and the charge itself was based on police fabrications,” said Michigan Innocence Clinic Director David Moran. “I am grateful that Mr. McDonough chose to do the right thing and exonerate him.” Read more.
Charges were dropped today against a Rockford man who was freed from prison after more than two decades behind bars for a killing he didn’t commit. Outside of a Winnebago County courtroom, John W. Horton Jr., 41, hugged family members and a cadre of supporters who spent years trying to clear his name.
“I’m blessed. I’m truly blessed. I’m grateful,” said Horton, the father of two daughters. He said he feels “a lot of hurt starting to go away.” Horton was convicted of the Sept. 19, 1993, murder and armed robbery of Arthur Castaneda in Rockford. Horton was 17 years old at the time Castaneda was fatally shot during a robbery at a McDonald’s restaurant, located at that time at 2715 Charles St. He was sentenced in 1995 to natural life in prison without parole. Read more.
After 13 years in prison for first-degree murder, a Baltimore man walked free Tuesday afternoon as the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office joined his defense team in asking for his exoneration. State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby formally apologized at a news conference to Lamar Johnson and his family for what her office now believes was his wrongful conviction.
The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which investigates suspected wrongful convictions, began looking into Johnson’s case in 2010. Last year, the project presenting its findings to the state’s attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit — the first of its kind in Maryland — which, after its own investigation, agreed that Johnson was innocent. Read more.