News from around the Network

Boston Man Released After 27 Years of Incarceration

Boston College Innocence Program

Boston College Innocence Program client Ronnie Qualls was released yesterday on bail after almost 27 years’ incarceration for a 1992 double murder that he did not commit. Ronnie’s murder convictions were vacated based on DNA evidence indicating that multiple small droplets of one of the victim’s blood was on the original suspect’s sweatshirt shortly after the shooting.  The victim unequivocally named that same suspect as the shooter to three different police officers moments before he died.  However, that suspect told police that Ronnie was the shooter and three eyewitnesses later identified Ronnie as the shooter.  The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office joined the BCIP in asking for Ronnie’s convictions to be vacated and they are currently awaiting the charges to be dismissed. 

Learn more

Florida Man Spent 29 Years on Death Row Before His Murder Conviction Was Overturned by New DNA Evidence

Innocence Project 

Paul Hildwin, 60, was released on from Hernando County jail on March 9 after spending 35 years in prison and over 29 of those years on death row. In 2014, while Hildwin was represented by Fort Lauderdale attorney Martin McClain and the Innocence Project, the Florida Supreme Court reversed Hildwin’s capital murder conviction and death sentence on the 1986 murder of a Hernando County woman. The Court’s ruling was based on DNA testing and a court-ordered search of the national DNA database which proved that critical evidence originally used to tie Hildwin to the crime actually belonged to the victim’s estranged boyfriend, whom Hildwin had always contended was the likely true killer.  

While in jail, Hildwin not only survived the State’s efforts to execute him, but also three separate bouts of cancer.  He suffered a fourth recurrence in March 2019, while awaiting retrial, but prosecutors still refused to drop the case. His cancer is now in remission. 

In 2003, DNA testing excluded Hildwin as the source of semen and saliva found on the two pieces of crime scene evidence. For the next seven years, the Innocence Project fought prosecutors to submit the DNA profile into the CODIS DNA database to determine the source of the DNA. In 2010,

the Florida Supreme Court finally ordered a DNA database search on the DNA profile, which was identified to the victim’s estranged boyfriend — an alternate suspect in the crime, who was convicted of 16 counts of sexual battery of a minor. 

Hildwin was represented at his 1986 trial by Daniel Lewan, a court-appointed lawyer with less than three years’ experience and who had never tried a murder case. As his retrial loomed, Goudie filed numerous motions arguing that Lewan’s ineffectiveness, along with the death of at least twelve witnesses, made it impossible for Hildwin to receive a fair trial 35 years later.

Read more

Georgia Man Freed After Almost 18 Years in Prison For A Rape He Did Not Commit

Georgia Innocence Project 

Kerry Robinson, 44, of Moultrie, Georgia, was exonerated and released today from Coffee Correctional Facility, into the arms of family, friends and a team of legal supporters, after being wrongly convicted of rape almost 18 years ago. Southern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Brad Shealy joined in Robinson’s motion to vacate his sentence. The move followed litigation initiated by Atlanta-based Georgia Innocence Project and co-counsel Rodney Zell based upon new, exonerating DNA results obtained by DNA scientist Dr. Greg Hampikian. 

At Robinson’s 2002 rape trial, the jury heard testimony from a state crime lab analyst that suggested that Robinson’s DNA was likely included in a DNA mixture from the sexual assault kit performed on the victim. But new DNA analysis proves just the opposite: the same evidence the GBI said was inclusionary at trial is now proven to be exclusionary. 

“We are thrilled to see this unjust conviction finally corrected,” said Georgia Innocence Project Executive Director Clare Gilbert. “The factors that led to Kerry Robinson’s conviction – flawed forensics and false testimony from an incentivized cooperator – are present in so many wrongful conviction cases. Our fight continues on behalf of the many innocent men and women who remain imprisoned in Georgia.” 

“Modern DNA technology has further confirmed what we’ve known for a long time: Kerry Robinson is an innocent man,” said Rodney Zell, co-counsel in Robinson’s case. “I am so grateful that new technology is finally able to meet the incredibly high thresholds for righting wrongful convictions in Georgia. It’s been a long fight and we wish Kerry’s mother were here to see this day. We are overjoyed to see Kerry coming home after all these years.” 

“Fifteen minutes of flawed DNA forensic testimony took almost 18 years to correct in this case. My hope is that labs and lawyers will take notice, and re-examine these complex DNA mixture cases that can mistakenly imprison the innocent,” said DNA scientist Dr. Greg Hampikian of Boise State University, who obtained the new DNA results. “I am so relieved that Kerry is finally coming home.”

Read More 

Demetrius Johnson Exonerated, Exoneration Project

Exoneration Project 

Demetrius Johnson smiled broadly as he walked out of the county’s main criminal courthouse Friday and headed home for a celebratory bubble bath.

It was a pivotal day for Johnson. The 44-year-old, who went to prison for 12 years as a teenager for murder, became the 20th person to be exonerated based on allegations he was framed by retired Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara.

Earlier this year, it came to light that an eyewitness account implicating another person in the fatal 1991 Wicker Park shooting had been concealed from prosecutors and defense attorneys.

A Cook County judge vacated Johnson’s conviction in November, leaving it up to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office to retry the case — although Johnson had served his sentence and couldn’t be sent back to prison — or drop the case altogether.

A prosecutor with the state’s attorney’s office Friday informed Judge Dennis J. Porter that the state’s attorney’s office had decided to drop all charges.

“It’s an out-of-body experience,” Johnson said after the hearing. “I felt like I had a gorilla on my back.” 

Read More 

 

 

Commonwealth Drops Case Against Gary Cifzzari

New England Innocence Project 

Worcester, MA [December 10, 2019] – The Worcester County District Attorney dropped its case against Gary Cifizzari of Taunton, Mass., who was wrongfully convicted of a 1979 murder and spent 35 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

“Exonerations are always bittersweet,” said Radha Natarajan, co-counsel for Cifizzari and Executive Director of the New England Innocence Project.  “During 35 years of wrongful imprisonment, Gary Cifizzari endured so much and lost so much.  But today, he finally receives the justice he deserves and can celebrate the freedom he has again.  Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices.”

“We are thrilled that Mr Cifizzari was rightly exonerated today. No one should spend decades behind bars for a crime they did not commit,” said Ropes & Gray litigation and enforcement partner Kirsten Mayer. “We commend the Worcester District Attorney for assenting to our motion for a new trial and concluding that the charges against Mr. Cifizzari should be dropped in the interest of justice.”

On May 31, 2019, the New England Innocence Project and a pro bono Ropes & Gray litigation team filed a motion for a new trial in Worcester Superior Court on behalf of Mr. Cifizzari. Along with his brother, Mr. Cifizzari was wrongfully convicted of the 1979 murder of his great aunt, 75-year-old Concetta Schiappa. The May 31 motion exposed newly discovered and tested DNA evidence developed from the semen and saliva on the victim’s nightgown that exonerated Mr. Cifizzari and identified Michael Giroux as the true perpetrator of the crime through a CODIS DNA match. Mr. Giroux, now deceased, was originally a suspect in the case and questioned by police, but was never charged and later went on to commit other crimes. 

Read More 

Wrongfully Convicted Oregonian Freed With Help From the Oregon Innocence Project

Oregon Innocence Project 

Statement to be attributed to Steve Wax, Legal Director, Oregon Innocence Project.

“We are delighted that Nick McGuffin is being freed now that his conviction for manslaughter
has been overturned and that there will be no appeal from the State or retrial. Staff and
volunteers of the Oregon Innocence Project worked for five years on Nick’s case, including
Janis Puracal prior to her creating the Forensic Justice Project. Nick is also represented by
Ryan O’Connor of O’Connor Weber. Nick’s case was one of the first brought to us when we
opened our doors in 2014. In particular, our researcher John Comery has shown outstanding
commitment to helping Nick and has worked on the case since we took it on. Nick’s release
follows thousands of hours of labor by our staff and volunteers. As in so many innocence cases,
it is only with dedication and tremendous effort by many people that justice will eventually be
done. We wish Nick every future happiness as he is reunited with his family and friends.”

Read More 

Innocence Project Client Felipe Rodriguez Exonerated of All Charges in 1987 Murder Case

Innocence Project 

(New York – December 30, 2019) Today, the Hon. Joseph Zayas of Queens County Supreme Court granted a motion to vacate the 1990 conviction of Innocence Project client Felipe Rodriguez and entered an order dismissing all charges against him. Rodriguez served 27 years in prison before today’s exoneration.

Rodriguez is represented by the Innocence Project and the Law Offices of Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma. The Innocence Project first took on Rodriguez’s case in 2007, and has worked to clear him of his wrongful conviction for nearly 13 years.

Notably, today’s exoneration was the result of a reinvestigation into Rodriguez’s claim of innocence and the evidence that led to his conviction by the Queens County District Attorney’s Office (QCDA), which it began at the Innocence Project’s request three years ago. That investigation revealed newly discovered exculpatory evidence in the police file that was unlawfully withheld from Rodriguez’ defense attorney. This evidence directly contradicts key portions of the state’s already weak case against him presented at the 1990 trial.

Rodriguez was granted a commutation of sentence by Governor Andrew Cuomo exactly three years ago today, on December 30, 2016. He was released from prison on January 2, 2017. Since his release, Rodriguez has gotten married and worked steadily at the Row Hotel as a member of the Hotel Trades Council Union (HTC). HTC leadership, moved by Rodriguez’s story and his record of achievements in prison, gave him the opportunity to rebuild his life with a living wage after release despite the fact that he still had a murder conviction on his record until today.

Read more 

IP New Orleans Client Royal Clark Jr. Freed

Innocence Project New Orleans

Royal Clark, Jr. was exonerated after spending 17 years, four months and 14 days in prison for an armed robbery that evidence has now proven what he’s said all along – that he is innocent.

Royal was convicted of a 2001 armed robbery of a Burger King restaurant in Terrytown, Louisiana. Royal’s exoneration was based on new evidence of his innocence –fingerprints left at the crime scene were recently linked to another man, Jessie Perry.

Royal’s case, the second exoneration in Louisiana in three months from fingerprint evidence, underscores the importance of prisoners having access to evidence that could prove their innocence, even in cases that don’t involve DNA.

Royal was convicted on his 26th birthday on June 26, 2003. He walked out of the jail in June 2019 and into the arms of his loving family, including his 17-year-old son, Royal Clark, III.

Currently, there is no clear legal right for prisoners to access non-DNA forensic databases so that truth can prevail. IPNO will continue to advocate for the creation and recognition of this important legal right before the Louisiana Supreme Court and the Louisiana Legislature.

Read more.

IP New Orleans Succeeds in Passing Eyewitness Expert Bill

Innocence Project New Orleans

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.

Duke’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic Client Charles Ray Finch Freed

Wrongful Convictions Clinic

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.

IP Client Stanley Mozee and IP of Texas Client Dennis Allen Declared “Actually Innocent”

Innocence Project

Innocence Project of Texas

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

University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic

Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

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.

Eric Simmons, center, thanks Brianna Ford, to his left, for her efforts in securing his exoneration at a May 3 news conference following his release from custody.

Mid-Atlantic IP Client Winston Scott Exonerated

Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

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.

Exoneration Project Client Gerardo Iglesias Freed

The Exoneration Project

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.

California IP Client Horace Roberts Freed

California Innocence Project

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.

Ohio IP Client Christopher Miller Freed

Ohio Innocence Project

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.

Wisconsin IP Client Richard Beranek Freed

Wisconsin Innocence Project

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.

Exoneration Project Clients Anthony Jakes and Robert Bouto Freed

The Exoneration Project

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.

IP of Florida Client Dwight DuBose Freed

Innocence Project of Florida

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.

Montana IP Client Freddie Joe Lawrence and Co-Defendant Paul Jenkins Freed

Montana Innocence Project

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.

Mark Godsey of the Ohio IP Publishes Op-Ed on Cleveland.com

Ohio Innocence Project

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. 

Michigan Innocence Clinic Client Richard Phillips Exonerated

Michigan Innocence Clinic

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. 

Illinois IP & Exoneration Project Client William Amor Exonerated

Illinois Innocence Project and Exoneration Project

A former Naperville man who spent 22 years in prison for the 1995 death of his mother-in-law was found not guilty in a retrial Wednesday.

Following a seven-day bench trial, DuPage County Judge Liam C. Brennan found 61-year-old William Amor not guilty of murder and aggravated arson in connection with the death of Marianne Miceli, according to a statement from the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office.

“This is the end of a nightmare for me,” Amor said in a statement released by the Illinois Innocence Project, which represented him. Read more.

Innocence Project, Exoneration Project, and Center on Wrongful Convictions Clients Corey Batchelor and Kevin Bailey Exonerated

Innocence Project, Exoneration Project and Center for Wrongful Convictions

CHICAGO — Prosecutors have dropped charges against two men who say Chicago police detectives beat them into confessing to a 1989 killing.

Cook County Judge Alfredo Maldonado on Tuesday formally tossed convictions against Corey Batchelor and Kevin Bailey, both age 48. Batchelor was released on parole in 2004 but says he’s glad a judge vacated the convictions. Bailey was still serving an 80-year prison term for the murder, but was released Tuesday.

“28 years, seven months and two long days, I sat up in the penitentiary area, and for what? Nothing!” Bailey said after he was released. Read more.

The Exoneration Initiative Client Edward Garry Exonerated

Exoneration Initiative

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.”

“It still feels like a dream,” Garry said, when I talked to him Monday night. “It didn’t register yet.”

The Bronx district attorney’s office chose to retry Garry despite serious flaws in its case and the fact that the campaign to clear his name had come to include one of the cops who originally helped arrest him. When Darcel D. Clark, the Bronx D.A., took office, in 2016, she started a conviction-integrity unit to review questionable cases. The unit had examined Garry’s case and had not come to a public conclusion, but prosecutors still decided not to back down. (A spokeswoman for Clark said this week that the D.A.’s office does not comment on acquittals.) Read more.

 

Northern California IP Client Glenn Payne Exonerated

Northern California Innocence Project

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.

 

UVA Innocence Project Clinic Client Messiah Johnson Freed

Innocence at UVA School of Law

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.

Exoneree James Kluppelberg Wins $9.3 Million Settlement for Wrongful Conviction

Exoneration Project

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.

Exoneration Project Client Thomas Sierra Exonerated

Exoneration Project

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.

Innocence Project of Florida Client Dean McKee Freed

Innocence Project of Florida

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.