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The Innocence Project will host its seventh-annual benefit, "A Celebration of Freedom and Justice," at the Grand Hyatt New York on April 30. The program, which features more than a dozen exonerees, kicks off with special remarks by Whoopie Goldberg and includes a performance by Broadway star Norm Lewis.
The evening will feature tributes to this year's honorees: Tony Goldwyn, actor, director, and producer, who is currently starring in the ABC series Scandal and directed Conviction; Jack Taylor, Managing Director and Global Head of Prudential Real Estate Investors and founding member of the Innocence Project Board of Directors; and Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP, which has generously supported the organization's policy reform agenda.
For additional information on the event and to purchase tickets, please contact Kristin Pulkkinen at the Innocence Project at 212.364.5355 or email@example.com.
Please click here if you are unable to attend but would like to make an online donation.
An op-ed in Monday's Arizona Republic underscores the importance of recording custodial interrogations despite the lack of a state law mandating law enforcement to do so.
Using the troubled case of a woman on Arizona's death row as an example, author Laura H. Nirider describes how legislation mandating the recording of interrogations could have prevented Debra Milke's 1990 capital conviction of soliciting the murder of her four-year-old son. Milke's conviction was recently vacated because the only evidence against her was a detective's claim that she confessed during the interrogation.
For law enforcement agencies, recording interrogations can prevent disputes about how a suspect was treated, create a clear record of a suspect's statements and increase public confidence in the criminal justice system. Recording interrogations can also deter officers from using illegal tactics to secure a confession. The record will improve the credibility and reliability of authentic confessions, while protecting the rights of innocent suspects. Additionally, electronic recording of interrogations, from the reading of Miranda rights onward, is the single best reform available to prevent false confessions.
Nirider is the co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago.
Read the full article.
More on False Confessions & Mandatory Recording of Interrogations
Report: Police Experiences with Recording Custodial Interrogations (.pdf)
More than 100 exonerees were among the 500 innocence advocates gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina, this past weekend for the 2013 Innocence Network Conference. North Carolina Public Radio's (WUNC-91.5) The State of Things host Frank Stasio sat down with exonerees attending the conference, including Bennie Starks, Audrey Edmunds to hear about their struggle for exoneration and readjustment after their release.
Listen to Edmunds and Starks discuss their experiences, and hear Innocence Network President Keith Findley and Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin describe what it was like to work on their cases.
Photo Credit: Dan Gair/Blind Dog Photo, Inc.
In an op-ed in Sunday's Star-Ledger, New Jersey exoneree David Shephard discusses the need to increase compensation for the wrongly convicted in New Jersey.
Shephard was convicted in 1985 of raping and robbing a woman in a parking lot. Two men assaulted the victim, but only Shephard, who was misidentified, was charged with the crime. He served nearly 10 years in prison before DNA testing exonerated him.
Four years after his release, Shephard was compensated for his time behind bars.
Despite being forced to re-enter the workforce with a 10-year gap on his resume, Shephard has come a long way. He now lives with his wife and children in Newark, New Jersey and works for Essex County.
The bill, which is not retroactive, also proposes non-monetary compensation for eligible individuals, including tuition assistance, housing assistance, health insurance and more. About half of the states provide compensation to the wrongfully convicted, though these laws vary greatly.
Read the full op-ed.
If you live in New Jersey, send a message to Governor Chris Christie asking him to sign the bill, using our action center.
National View: 27 States Have Compensation Statutes: Is Yours One?
Today a Texas court has ruled that former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson will face criminal contempt and tampering charges for failing to turn over evidence pointing to the innocence of Michael Morton, who was later exonerated by DNA evidence after serving 25 years for his wife's murder.
The Judge ruled there was probable cause to believe Anderson violated three criminal laws by concealing evidence in the case and issued a warrant for his arrest. The decision to bring criminal charges against Anderson comes at the conclusion of a Court of Inquiry that was convened at the request of the Innocence Project, which uncovered evidence that Anderson failed to turn over evidence that could have prevented Morton's wrongful conviction during its decade long legal battle to prove Morton's innocence.
The court made specific findings that Anderson knew of evidence supporting Morton's innocence but intentionally failed to turn that evidence over to the defense.
Following today's hearing, Anderson was taken to Williamson County jail for processing. He is expected to be released on bond which was set at $2,500 for each felony count.
Full details in today's press release.
View the judge's findings.
Read more about Morton's case.
Scene from the Conference
The 2013 Innocence Network Conference is being held over the next three days in Charlotte, North Carolina. With 500 attendees expected, including at least 100 exonerees, the conference is the largest annual gathering of innocence advocates in the world. The conference is a unique opportunity for attorneys, forensic scientists, exonerees, organizational advocates and other innocent movement activists to come together, comepare strategies and learn from each other.
For more information on the conference, visit the conference web page.
For updates from the weekend, follow our Twitter feed.
A Washington State crime lab manager resigns due to an investigation, a Texas lab looks to reduce its case backlog, and how forensics can help the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. Here is the roundup of news for the week:
A former manager of a Washington State Patrol Crime Lab resigned amidst an investigation into an allegation that he lied about performing tests. Internal investigations show that evidence had gone untested, mostly in arson cases.
To clear the backlog of cases in the Austin Police Department crime lab in Texas, Travis County officials and the Police Department agreed to split the costs of sending drug and blood alcohol tests to private labs for testing. Travis County has also hired three new chemists to help keep the backlog from rising again.
Forensic disciplines will play a central role in investigating the recent Boston Marathon bombings, as videos and photographs will be analyzed and the chemical composition of the explosives will be determined. Furthermore, investigators may be able to obtain DNA profiles from the bomb fragments or the packaging material around the bomb.
A California-based company has created an iPhone application that would transform mobile phones into biometric readers. This developing technology, which would only be useful for field investigations, could track the eyes, voice and fingerprints of suspected criminals.
Researchers in Scotland have developed a new technique that makes recovering fingerprints from food a potential reality. Foods are often ignored at crime scenes because their variability makes it extremely difficult to remove fingerprints without damaging the print.
The wrongful conviction of Northern California Innocence Project client George Souliotes was overturned Friday when a federal judge ruled he had received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial.
Now 72, Souliotes was convicted of setting fire to a rental property he owned that burned to the ground and killed five people in January 1997. He received a life sentence and has spent the past 16 years behind bars.
The conviction was based largely on two pieces of forensic science that have since been discredited as fire science has advanced. Indicators, like crazed glass, once believed to be evidence of arson have since been shown to appear in accidental fires as well. Also, the chemical compound known as a medium petroleum distillate (MPD) was found at the fire scene and on Souliotes' shoes and was once believed to only exist in ignitable liquids. It has since been proven to exist in many household products and consumer goods, including the solvents in glues and adhesives used in floor coverings and footwear.
After Souliotes' first trial resulted in a hung jury, his attorney at the second trial failed to present an adequate defense by never rebutting the prosecution's evidence or calling any of the witnesses who previously established a lack of motive at the first trial.
Friday's ruling also ordered Souliotes' release, and although a date hasn't been specified yet, his attorney expects it to be within 30 days. This is the NCIP's third exoneration of 2013 and its 17th victory since its creation in 2001.
Read more from the Los Angeles Times.
After serving a combined 63 years behind bars for crimes they didn't commit, three Texas exonerees continue the fight against injustice, this time helping others they believe were wrongfully convicted.
Christopher Scott, Johnnie Lindsey and Billy Smith are assisting the recently released and investigating claims of innocence through their new detective agency. The three intend to look into the most difficult cases, those for which DNA isn't available. NPR reports on their first case, Jimmy O'Steen. O'Steen, who served time with Scott, was convicted of armed robbery in 1997 and sentenced to 75 years in prison based almost exclusively on eyewitness misidentification, though he claims he didn't match the description of the perpetrator. The group convinced Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins to take another look at O'Steen's case.
Scott, Lindsey and Smith's wrongful convictions were also based on eyewitness misidentification, the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in nearly 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing. Scott, who leads the group, says:
A documentary about five young men of color who were wrongfully convicted in the infamous Central Park jogger case and later exonerated through DNA testing will air on PBS tonight. The documentary, by filmmakers Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, features footage from the defendants' false confessions as well as interviews with the exonerated men. The film follows a book by Sarah Burns of the same title, published in 2011. Visit PBS "The Central Park Five" site for local listings and more about the film.
Learn more about the cases.
Photo: Jeramie Davis with his Innocence Project Northwest Attorneys Anna Tolin (left) and Laura Fox.
Innocence Project Northwest client Jeramie Davis was cleared of a 2007 bludgeoning death of John Allen, and freed Thursday in Spokane County, Washington. Despite his claims of innocence, Davis was convicted of killing the man with a baseball bat. DNA testing conducted at trial excluded Davis, yet he was still sentenced to 40 years in prison.
In 2011, a police-ordered DNA test on evidence from the crime scene was uploaded into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and revealed another man's profile on the baseball bat. The Spokane County Prosecutor then brought charges against Julio Davila, who was convicted of the same murder while Davis remained behind bars. After the Innocence Project Northwest took the case, the court granted Davis a new trial, and ultimately the murder charge was dropped.
Davis, now 42, is looking forward to bonding with his five-year-old son, who was born shortly after his arrest in 2007. Davis spent nearly six years in prison.
The state is currently considering legislation that would compensate Davis and other wrongfully convicted individuals for each year spent behind bars, pay all child support owed while the individual was in custody and reimburse all court and attorneys' fees up to $75,000.
Read the full article.
More about Washington's compensation bill.
If you live in Washington: Ask your Senator to vote YES on the compensation bill, via our action center.
Wednesday night's episode of Comedy Central's The Daily Show featured an interview with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns about his latest film, "The Central Park Five." Burns talks about the infamous case in which five young men of color were wrongfully convicted of a 1989 rape in New York's Central Park and the city's reluctance to acknowledge the mistake and provide compensation.
Watch the segment.
Read profiles of the exonerees from the Central Park Jogger case.
In two recent editorials, the Buffalo News called on the New York State Senate to pass wrongful conviction reforms. The reforms, which would implement double-blind line-ups and recording of interrogations, were included in Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State speech as top priorities for this legislative session.
The News writes:
Eyewitness misidentification has been a factor in nearly 75% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence and false confessions have contributed to 25%. In a second editorial, which focuses mainly on the lack of resolution to the wrongful conviction lawsuit in the Central Park Five case, the News again takes the opportunity to call for reform in these two areas:
With Governor Cuomo in favor and the New York Assembly on board, this is the year for the New York Senate to pass a bill to make wrongful conviction reform a reality in New York State. If you live in New York, join us in calling on your Senator to pass a reform bill this year.
Read the full editorials here and here.
Read more about eyewitness identification reform and recording of interrogations.
See what reforms have passed in your state.
A Bronx judge vacated David Bryant's conviction on Thursday and ordered his release after ruling that Bryant's lawyer provided inadequate defense, reports The New York Times. Bryant was convicted of the 1975 rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl.
Bryant, who had two prior arrests for sexual misconduct, was picked up by police within a day of the crime and confessed to the murder. He maintains that his confession was coerced after a lengthy interrogation where he was physically assaulted.
Thursday's ruling by Justice Seth L. Marvin of State Supreme Court did not reach any conclusion about Bryant's guilt, but instead focused on whether the failure of his attorney to consult with an expert on blood and semen testing was a critical mistake.
Bryant's original defense attorney testified that he did not remember details of the case because he was working 75 criminal cases at the time. His new attorney, Paul Casteleiro, sought DNA evidence that could help clear Bryant but most of it could not be located. Casteleiro did find an autopsy report that outlined the evidence related to blood testing. Bryant has type-B blood and according to the report, the blood recovered from the scene was not type B. Castelerio argued there is no physical evidence connecting Bryant to the crime.
The district attorney must now decide whether to appeal, retry him or dismiss the case.
Read the full article.
More about bad lawyering.
A crime lab in Arizona discovers potential problems with its blood alcohol testing equipment, researchers in Switzerland test "breath-prints", Maine will use death investigators to overcome a lack of doctors, and more. Here is this week's roundup of science news:
A crime lab in Arizona uncovered potential problems with its blood alcohol content (BAC) testing equipment. The lab has processed hundreds of drunken driving cases during the past four years, many of which could have been affected. The BAC equipment is using a software patch that violates lab protocol, resulting in repeatedly irregular data.
Researchers from Switzerland have found that individuals might have specific combinations of chemical reactions that affect their breath. Measuring and detecting these chemicals, could help identify a person by their "breathprint."
Maine's chief medical examiner supports a new bill that makes it possible to hire death investigators, rather than doctors, to collect evidence from the scene of death. The death investigators - emergency medical technicians, physician assistants, and the like - will allow the few doctors in the medical examiner system to perform autopsies and determine the cause and manner of death rather than collecting evidence in the field.
The Texas Forensic Science Commission filed their final report on a state crime lab scientist, revealing that there was a history of questionable work, almost one-third of which had to be corrected. Already a dozen convictions related to the scientist's work have been overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Momentum is slowly building among legislators for a new Kansas Bureau of Investigations (KBI) forensics laboratory that will be built on the Washburn University campus. With a DNA backlog that keeps growing, various university and KBI officials have garnered support for the new lab.
An editorial in Tuesday's Tulsa World heralded the DNA testing access bill and called it one of the most reasonable pieces of legislation advanced this session. The bill would allow an individual who is convicted of a crime access to DNA testing that could prove their innocence.
If passed, House Bill 1068 would also allow previously tested evidence to be subjected to newer testing techniques and would require the court to hold a hearing if the DNA testing results are favorable to the defendant.
Tulsa World writes:
Oklahoma is the only state in the nation that doesn't have a DNA testing law. The bill was approved unanimously by the Oklahoma House of Representatives in February and is now awaiting a full Senate vote.
Read the full editorial.
More about access to DNA testing.
Learn about your state's law granting access to testing.
Federal spending cuts have left public defenders' offices in worse straits than ever. Notoriously underfunded and understaffed, public defenders are now further stymied in their constitutional obligation to provide legal assistance to indigent defendants. NPR reports:
According to attorneys interviewed by NPR, some have laid themselves off in order to spare new hires from losing their jobs, while others are considering taking unpaid time off so that they can afford to pay for expert witnesses.
The lack of federal funding seriously compromises attorney's abilities to provide adequate defense and could ultimately contribute to wrongful convictions, especially among the poor.
Read the full article.
Read more about inadequate defense.
More than 80 years after nine black teens were wrongfully convicted of raping two white women in 1931, the Alabama House of Representatives voted 103-0 in favor of legislation setting up a procedure to posthumously pardon them. The Senate already passed the bill, 29-0 and Gov. Robert Bentley has indicated he will sign it.
Known as the Scottsboro Boys, the group was traveling on a freight train through Scottsboro, Alabama, when a fight broke out between them and a group of white boys. After being arrested by police, two white women said they were gang raped on the train. Despite claims of innocence, the Scottsboro boys were convicted by all-white juries. All but one of them served time on death row.
The next two decades were full of appeals and one retrial where one victim said the rape never happened. Still, the boys remained bars. Eventually, the convictions were reduced or dropped entirely. The last of the men died in 1989. The Associated Press reports:
Read the full article.
Read more about the Scottsboro Boys and other historical African American wrongful convictions.
Washington exoneree Alan Northrop has testified in favor of statewide legislation to compensate the wrongfully convicted for the past three years. Hopefully this will be the last year he'll have to do so.
Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines has been alongside Northrop the whole way sponsoring various incarnations of a bill to compensate exonerees who were wrongly convicted.
House Bill 1341 would compensate exonerees $50,000 for each year spent behind bars, an additional $50,000 for each year spent on death row and $25,000 for each year spent on parole or as a registered sex offender. It would also pay all child support owed while the wrongly convicted was in custody and reimburse all court and attorneys' fees up to $75,000.
The bill, which would be retroactive, would allow for Nothrop, who spent 17 years in prison for a rape he did not commit before being cleared by DNA evidence, to be compensated. When he was released in April 2010, Northrop owned more than $100,000 in child support for his three children. At present, there are only three other individuals known to qualify for compensation, reported The Seattle Times.
When Orwall read about Northrop's case and his exoneration, she was surprised to learn there wasn't already a compensation statute in place. They first met in the months following his release, and she introduced her first bill in 2011.
The measure has already passed the House and a policy committee in the Senate and now awaits action before a Senate fiscal committee. If the bill is passed, Washington would join 27 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government with similar laws.
Read the full article.
More about House Bill 1341.
Read more about Northrop's case.
If you live in Washington, ask Senate Ways and Means Chairman Andy Hill to pass the bill to the full Senate.