top of page

Innocence In The News

After 15 years, Ex-lawyer Branded as Child Molester Wins a Reversal

December 06, 2017

By Aimee Green

The Oregonian/OregonLive

The Oregon Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed the conviction of a former lawyer who was found guilty in 2002 of sexually touching a 10-year-old girl in the kitchen of a McMinnville home, in a case riddled with questionable evidence.

Although Bradley Christopher Holbrook has already served a 6 ¼-year prison sentence, the reversal means he will no longer be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and carry that stigma. It also means that he won’t be a convicted felon anymore and could reinstate his law license.

That’s if the state of Oregon decides against appealing Wednesday's ruling to the Oregon Supreme Court. And if the Yamhill County District Attorney’s Office -- which originally prosecuted him -- doesn’t decide to pursue a conviction again in a new trial.

Holbrook said he is elated by the Appeals Court’s decision.

“I’m just trying to grasp it all, process it all,” said Holbrook, 50. “It’s been a long battle. … I wish this on no one. It destroys every aspect of a person’s life.”

Holbrook has been appealing his first-degree sexual abuse conviction for 15 years.

In 1999, Holbrook was 32 when police arrested him after the 10-year-old girl told her mom and later child-abuse investigators that Holbrook had brushed up against her vaginal area and buttocks while she was clothed. There were no witnesses -- and it was the girl's account versus his.

A Dubious Arrest, a Compromised Prosecutor, a Tainted Plea:  How One Murder Case Exposes a Broken System

December 04, 2017

One innocent man’s odyssey through the justice system shows the cascading, and enduring, effects of a bad conviction.

ProPublica Illinois
by Megan Rose

The case of Demetrius Smith reads like a preposterous legal thriller: dubious arrests, two lying prostitutes, prosecutorial fouls and a judge who backpedaled out of a deal.

It also delivers a primer on why defendants often agree to virtually inescapable plea deals for crimes they didn’t commit.

ProPublica has spent the past year exploring wrongful convictions and the tools prosecutors use to avoid admitting mistakes, including an arcane deal known as an Alford plea that allows defendants to maintain their innocence while still pleading guilty. Earlier this year, we examined a dozen such cases in Baltimore.

Smith’s troubling ordeal, Alford plea included, is a road map of nearly every way the justice system breaks down — and how easily a cascade of bad outcomes can be triggered by one small miscarriage of justice. For Smith, a young black man in Baltimore, it started with a questionable collar. Nine years later he’s still struggling to clear his name.


The Arrest

Smith’s saga began in the summer of 2008 in the low-income, high-crime neighborhood in southwest Baltimore where he lived. A man named Robert Long had been shot twice in the head execution-style that March. Long was a cooperating witness in a police investigation, and the killing had all the makings of a hit.

A man and a female prostitute both claimed to have seen the murder and fingered Smith. At the time, Smith was 25 and had a record of minor drug and assault offenses. When he was arrested about three months after the murder, Smith was adamant that he had nothing to do with it.

Man in Jail for 50 Years to Walk Free After Rape Case Tossed

November 14, 2017

New York Post
By Associated Press 

BATON ROUGE, La. — A Louisiana man who has spent nearly 50 years in prison is expected to be released Wednesday, about two weeks after a judge overturned his conviction in the kidnapping and rape of a nurse.

Wilbert Jones didn’t show any visible reaction when state District Judge Richard Anderson set his bail Tuesday at a mere $2,000. The judge previously said the case against Jones was “weak, at best” and that authorities withheld evidence that could have exonerated Jones decades ago.

Jones’ family members embraced one another and fought back tears outside the courtroom. Jones’ niece Wajeedah Jones said she already knew what her uncle’s first request would be.

What Does an Innocent Man Have to Do to Go Free? Plead Guilty.

September 07, 2017

A case in Baltimore — in which two men were convicted of the same murder and cleared by DNA 20 years later — shows how far prosecutors will go to preserve a conviction.

This story was co-published with The Atlantic.

On Oct. 15, 2008, James Owens shuffled, head high despite his shackles, into a Baltimore courtroom, eager for his new trial to begin. Two decades into a life sentence, he would finally have his chance to prove what he’d been saying all along: The state had the wrong man.

Owens had been convicted of murdering a 24-year-old college student, who was found raped and stabbed in her home. Then he’d been shunted off to state prison until DNA testing — the scientific marvel that he’d watched for years free other men — finally caught up with his case in 2006. The semen that had been found inside the victim wasn’t his. A Maryland court tossed his conviction and granted Owens a rare do-over trial.

State prosecutors balked, insisting they still had enough evidence to keep Owens locked away and vowed to retry him. But they had also offered him an unusual deal. He could guarantee his immediate release from prison with no retrial and no danger of a new conviction — if he’d agree to plead guilty. The deal, known as an Alford plea, came with what seemed like an additional carrot: Despite pleading guilty, the Alford plea would allow Owens to say on the record that he was innocent. The Alford plea was an enticing chance for Owens, by then 43, to move on as a free man. But he’d give up a chance at exoneration. To the world, and legally, he’d still be a killer.

Owens refused the deal. He told his lawyer he wanted to clear his name, and he was willing to take his chances in court and wait in prison however long it took for a new trial to begin. It was a startling choice for an incarcerated defendant — even those with persuasive stories of innocence typically don’t trust the system enough to roll the dice again with 12 jurors or an appellate court. Most defendants, lawyers say, instinctively and rationally, grab any deal they can to win their freedom back.

The decision cost Owens 16 more months behind bars. Then, on that fall day in 2008, when the trial was set to begin, the prosecutor stood and, without a glance at Owens, told the judge, “The state declines to prosecute.”

In a legal gamble in which the prosecution typically holds the winning cards, Owens had called the state’s bluff. He walked out that day exonerated — and with the right to sue the state for the 21 years he spent wrongly imprisoned.

A History of US Citizens Wrongfully Convicted by The Judicial System

September 06, 2017

Juris Office


The number of US citizens that have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit is staggering.

There are currently 2,086 exonerated convictions, totaling over 18,060 lost years and an unknowable number of innocent people ripped apart from loved ones. Lives have been destroyed and in some cases people have died behind bars, all the while knowing that they are innocent.

We take a look at a number of exonerated cases, the length of sentence given and the length of time served. In some cases, innocent people served longer than they were sentenced. A number of these cases spent years on death row, never truly knowing when they would die. These were innocent people let down by the judicial system built to protect them.

We explore a number of these incredible stories beneath our infographic in more detail.
Follow Read Story HERE link to see statistics presented in this story.

Why Do Prosecutors Go After Innocent People?

August 24, 2017

The Washington Post
By John Pfaff
Original Publication Date 1/21/16

John Pfaff is a professor of law at the Fordham University School of Law in New York City. His research focuses on explaining the causes of mass incarceration, especially the central role prosecutors have played in the process.  

When people think about how our criminal justice system tries to avoid convicting innocent people, they probably think of the second half-hour of a “Law & Order” episode: defense attorneys making motions to thwart the prosecutor, jurors furrowing their brows as they wonder whether the state really has met the high standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

But that’s not reality. In real life, once a prosecutor decides to file felony charges against a defendant, that defendant will almost certainly be convicted — and local prosecutors have a strong incentive to file, likely thanks in no small part to electoral pressures.

study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics looking at urban defendants in state courts found that in 2009, 66 percent of those charged with felonies were convicted, while only one percent were acquitted. The vast majority of those convicted plead guilty instead of going to trial. This means that the last real chance to avoid a wrongful conviction actually occurs at the screening stage, when the prosecutor decides whether to file charges in the first place. And screening is an important part of the process. That same BJS report found that over a third of all cases were dismissed, diverted, or deferred, with almost all of those being dismissed.

We’d like to think that the high conviction rate reflects really good screening, that prosecutors file charges only against those they know are guilty. But nearly 160 death row inmates have been exonerated since the 1970s, and the National Registry of Exonerations — which surely captures only a small fraction of wrongful convictions — runs to more than 1,600 at this point. A study in 1997 (sadly, the most recent of its kind) found that more than 65,000 inmates in state prisons that year had taken “Alford pleas,” which involve pleading guilty while maintaining innocence on the grounds that it is simply too risky to go to trial. Of course, not every Alford defendant is innocent — but then, not every innocent defendant takes an Alford plea.

Clearly, prosecutors do file charges against innocent defendants. The instances that receive media attention tend to be intentionally wrongful, those where the evidence of innocence is overwhelming but prosecutors storm ahead anyway, out of malice or blind ambition

Judge awards $2M to Wrongfully Convicted Men under New Law

August 16, 2017

Michigan News

By Emily Lawler

DETROIT, MI - Two men who served years in prison only to be later found innocent will receive the first-ever compensation for their experiences under a new Michigan law, a Court of Claims judge ruled Wednesday.  

Gov. Rick Snyder signed the law, which makes wrongfully imprisoned people eligible for compensation of $50,000 per year, in December of last year.  

The first cases under the new law came before the Court of Appeals on Wednesday. Judge Michael Talbot awarded close to $2 million in the first two people to successfully seek compensation under the new law, and dismissed a third case he ruled did not meet the statutory requirements.  

Edward George Carter won a settlement of $1.76 million after spending 35 years in prison for the robbery and sexual assault of a pregnant woman at Wayne State University in 1974.  

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, new evidence uncovered by an attorney at the University of Michigan Clinical Law program found that his original attorney had not requested an analysis of fingerprints at the scene, pointed out the semen collected was of a different blood type than Carter's or noted a record indicating Carter was actually in police custody at the time of the crime.  

Amanda Knox on Life After Wrongful Conviction

August 10, 2017

Rolling Stone

By Danielle Bacher

August 10, 2017

Amanda Knox's bright blue eyes widen in confusion. She takes a deep breath and drops her palms to her long, lemon-hued skirt. The 30-year-old glances about the conference room at the W Hollywood hotel, as cameras flash all about her. Moments like this take her back inside the packed courtroom, nearly overcoming her with anxiety. She gently squeezes the hand of her boyfriend, writer Christopher Robinson, whom she met in the summer of 2015 after her final acquittal in Italy's highest court. The two live together in Seattle and enjoy traveling to Europe, although Knox understandably hasn't returned to Italy. 

Attorneys stream into the building for Knox's seminar organized by the Westside Bar Association. The lights dim. A brief segment of last year's highly publicized Netflix documentary Amanda Knox plays for the audience. "I think people love monsters," she says in the clip. "And so when they get the chance, they want to see them." Looking away from the screen, Knox closes her eyes to block the tears.

In March 2015, Knox was exonerated of the 2007 murder of her housemate Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy. When she was arrested, at just 20 years old, she had never been so far away from home. She was studying Italian, reading poetry, picking fruit in the garden and sunbathing on the terrace in the fall. However, on November 1st, 2007, someone broke into the apartment that Knox shared with three other students, and raped and murdered Kercher. Acquaintance Rudy Guede was convicted of the crime and is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence, yet the Italian government and international media went at her with all the vitriol they could muster.

Knox was astonished that the prosecutors, investigators, newspapers and the public were focusing on her and Raffaele Sollecito, her then-boyfriend of five days, as suspects for the crime. In 2009, they were both convicted of sexual assault and murder. She was sentenced to 26 years in prison – and he to 25 – but both convictions were overturned in 2011. The prosecution appealed, and in 2013 they were retried for the same murder and found guilty again. The verdict overturned after another appeal, and the two were eventually acquitted in 2015. "I was the lucky one, because what happened to Meredith could have easily happened to me," she says.

High school bonds forged again, after years lost to wrongful conviction: Jeffrey Deskovic

July 23, 2017

Part of the USA Today Network

Recently the Peekskill High School Class of 1992 held a 25th reunion celebration. Misgivings and anticipation filled me. Should I go? I didn’t graduate with my class. Before the conclusion of my sophomore year, I had been falsely convicted of the rape and murder of our classmate. My public vilification was facilitated by the fact that at just 16, in fear of my life while also trusting the lies of the police that I was not going to be arrested, I falsely confessed. 

After 16 years of wrongful imprisonment, which included seven lost appeals and being turned down for parole, I was exonerated by DNA testing that identified the actual perpetrator.

Since then, my nonprofit has freed six people; my advocacy has contributed to changes in the law to require videotaping of interrogations and better identification procedures; and along with other advocates I am trying to get a bill passed that would create a Commission on Prosecutor Conduct. I obtained a master's degree, and I recently completed my first year of law school at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University.

Military appeals court drops sexual misconduct conviction of former Air Force drill sergeant

July 21, 2017

The Washington Times

By Rowan Scarborough 


A military appeals court has thrown out the conviction of a former Air Force drill sergeant in a case his supporters claimed illustrated the Pentagon’s zeal in prosecuting troops accused of sexual misconduct.

The ruling marks a defeat for the Air Force and its high-profile campaign to punish instructors in a sexual abuse scandal at basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio.

In the case of former Master Sgt. Michael SilvaAir Force investigations located two ex-wives and a recruit from over 20 years ago, but no accusers from the recent scandal.

The United States Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday reversed three rape convictions of Airman Silvaat a 2015 trial. He is now eligible for release from Fort Leavenworth where he is serving a 20-year prison sentence. He was reduced in rank to airman and given a dishonorable discharge.

He is one of the high-profile cases featured by a nonprofit group, the Save Our Heroes Project. Staffed by military veterans, the group argues that the military has wrongly convicted a number of troops in a Pentagon-directed campaign during the Obama administration to wipe out sexual misconduct.

In the Airman Silva case, the appeals court expressed doubt about two accusers whose testimony convicted him.

Frank Sterling's Tough Life After Wrongful Conviction

July 02, 2017

Democrat and Chronicle
Gary Craig

Those who knew Frank Sterling well believed him incapable of committing the horrific beating and murder of a Hilton woman — a crime that sent Sterling to prison for nearly two decades.

Those people were right.

In 2010, more than 18 years after Sterling was convicted of the murder of Viola Manville, he was exonerated and released from prison.

In late June, Sterling died in Seneca, South Carolina — a community in the mountains of the western part of the state where Sterling was living with a fiancée. He died of a heart attack; he was 53.

Sterling, whom I first met when I interviewed him in prison in 1996 about his 1992 conviction, was a gentle soul, an individual who did not allow his wrongful conviction to embitter him after his release. But the emotional wear and tear of his years behind bars were evident; he'd developed narcolepsy and had tremors in his hands that he often couldn't control.

Sterling's good friend, Jeffrey Deskovic, saw the physical changes in Sterling, the manifestation of the exhausting fight of trying to prove one's innocence while surviving in a maximum-security prison.

"There's moments of doubt that waver and morale ebbs and flows," Deskovic said of efforts to reverse a conviction. "It's up and it's down. The crash back down to earth can be fast and hard when you lose an appeal."

Deskovic knows firsthand: "I lost seven (appeals) of mine," he said.

New laws reduce wrongful convictions and address state compensation

June 27, 2017

Tallahassee Democrat

By: Annie Cheng

Eyewitness misidentification put innocent Florida man Wilton Dedge in prison for 22 years. It is the cause of wrongful conviction for nearly half of his fellow state exonerees. Starting Oct. 1, two new criminal justice reform laws will go into effect.

One of them, the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act, seeks to prevent conviction and imprisonment of innocent individuals. Nearly 40 percent of exonerated individuals in Florida were wrongfully convicted due to false eyewitness identification, according to the Innocence Project

Signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on June 14, the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act mandates those who administer photo lineups quiz eyewitnesses without knowledge of suspect identity.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stewart, seeks to ensure that those who conduct lineups are neutrality and prevent physical or verbal cues from tipping off victims. The Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission also will be required to provide educational materials for each lineup administrator. 
Under the new law, eyewitnesses also are to be informed that the suspect may not be in the lineup and that they aren’t required to identify anyone at all.

A year ago he was pressured to plead guilty to murder. This week he was acquitted of a murder charge

June 27, 2017

Pioneer Press

A St. Paul man had tears in his eyes Monday when he learned that a jury had found him not guilty of murder in the fatal shooting of a 25-year-old man outside a St. Paul bar in the fall of 2015, his attorney said.

A Ramsey County District Court jury announced its verdict to acquit Nyemah Rodney-Kigee Kiyee, 29, around 10:30 a.m. Monday morning following a roughly nine-day trial, according to his attorney, public defender Connie Sue Iverson.

Kiyee was charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Ahmed Ismail outside Arnellia’s bar in November of 2015. Kiyee had been in jail ever since.

“He was tearful, relieved, thankful,” Iverson said of her client’s reaction to the verdict. “This was obviously a very hard thing for him. … He finally got to go home.”

Ismail was shot in the face after he noticed a fight in front of the University Avenue bar, walked up, and asked what was going on. The man who shot him then fled, according to the criminal complaint.

RAPE 'LIAR' Woman ‘made up sex attack claims against 15 men and sent innocent man to jail for 7 years’

June 13, 2017

The Sun

By Chris Pollard

Jemma Beale, 25, at Southwark crown court charged with four counts of perjury and four counts of perverting the course of justice.

LYING Jemma Beale, 25, made false rape and sex assault claims against 15 different men — and sent an innocent man to jail for seven years, a court was told. Beale made allegations over three years but they were “grotesque inventions”, jurors heard.

She claimed she was attacked at a pub and outside her home, and gang raped in the street.

Beale said she was raped by nine men and sexually assaulted by six. All but one were strangers.

Beale’s first allegation was against Mahad Cassim, who had given her a lift home after a night out. He was charged with rape and jailed for seven years.

But prosecutor John Price QC said: “That was a wrongful conviction. Mahad Cassim was innocent.

The Man Who Spent 35 Years in Prison Without a Trial

June 12, 2017

The Marshall Project
By: Andrew Cohen


The Jerry Hartfield case is an extraordinary tale of justice delayed and denied.


When Jerry Hartfield walked out of the Hutchins State Jail in Dallas on Monday into the sunlight and the arms of his family, he became one of the most unlikely prisoners ever to be freed early in Texas. He wasn’t exonerated or released on parole. He wasn’t pardoned by the governor. No one else has confessed to the murder for which he was convicted in 1977. No DNA cleared him. No witness recanted. No celebrities pleaded his cause.

Hartfield was freed from prison because Texas finally gave up trying to find a valid reason to keep him there. He had waited 35 years between trials without a conviction, a prisoner simply forgotten for decades in the state’s massive justice system.

He was supposed to get a new trial in 1980 after an appeals court reversed his conviction and death sentence because of a flaw during jury selection. Instead, after a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications by lawyers, judges, and jailers — who all thought Hartfield was someone else’s problem — he never got that second day in court.


If it were not for a fellow prisoner and the public defenders who eventually discovered the mistake, the 61-year-old intellectually disabled man likely would have died alone in his cell, his story as lost as he was.

$100,000 To Snitch? Perks For Jailhouse Informants Come Under Scrutiny

June 10, 2017

Oregon Public Broadcasting

Nobody likes a snitch. But if you're in jail, informing on fellow inmates can pay.

Legislators in at least four states are now trying to make sure that rewarding jailhouse informants — with cash, perks or deals for freedom — isn't leading to wrongful convictions.

Bruce Lisker knows how convictions can go wrong. He was only 17 when he discovered his mother murdered in her suburban Los Angeles home.

"I lost my mom and nothing would ever be the same. And I had no idea how not the same it would ever be," Lisker says.

It took investigators less than an hour to zero in on him as a suspect. It took 26 years for a court to determine that they were mistaken.

A key piece of evidence used to convict Lisker was testimony from a savvy jailhouse informant, whom he met after being moved out of juvenile detention.

"Somebody put it in for me to be transferred to LA County Jail and suddenly I was," Lisker says. "Under 18, I was placed in what later came to be known as the snitch tank."

Kansas City Man Freed After 17 Years in Prison When His Doppelganger Is Found

June 11, 2017


By: Warner Todd Huston

A Kansas City man was released after serving 17 years in jail for a robbery he didn’t commit when a man, who looked so much like him they could be twins, was finally discovered and brought to the court’s attention.

Richard Anthony Jones was convicted of a Roeland Park robbery committed in 1999, but since the first day he was arrested, Jones claimed he was innocent of the crime. While serving time in prison, he began hearing from other prisoners that he bore a striking resemblance to another known criminal.

After years of pleading his case, Jones, who was convicted solely on eyewitness testimony, finally received help from the Innocence Project who believed him enough to begin looking into the claim of a doppelganger who may have been the real culprit, the Kansas City Starreported.

Jones’s lawyers investigated the prisoner’s story and believed they found the man everyone said looked so much like their client that they could pass as the same person.

“We were floored by how much they looked alike,” said Jones’s attorney Alice Craig of seeing the other man who some believe committed the crime instead of Jones.

The legal team then contacted the victim from the robbery to look at photos of the two men side-by-side. Photos of the two men show each with braided hair and a pencil-thin goatee. The two look so similar that they could easily be mistaken as two photos of the same man.

Innocent Prisoners: Decades of Life Lost

June 10, 2017

Huffington Post
Lorenzo Johnson, Contributor

Society views the role of a prosecutor as being a seeker of truth, not a gate-keeper of false convictions. Statistics from the volcano of recent exonerations show that the average exoneree spends between 13½ and 15 years in prison before finally being released.

Most of the time, our cries are not taken seriously or even heard until a crooked cop or prosecutor comes under fire. Society is not privy to our struggles until they’re all over and we are freed. In each of the past three years, record-breaking numbers of exonerations have taken place. The scary thing is that, in a third of these exonerations, prosecutorial misconduct was behind the exonerees’ wrongful convictions.

Why do we spend multiple decades in prison while innocent? Our innocence claims are met with extreme resistance by our prosecutors, even when our claims have merit. And let’s not leave out the withholding of evidence of our innocence by our prosecutors. That’s right, they knew we were innocent, but they have continue to fight to maintain our convictions. These actions are a disgrace to honorable prosecutors who come to work every day to seek justice.

Missouri parole board played word games during hearings with inmates

June 08, 2017

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

By Jesse Bogan

ST. LOUIS • The Missouri Board of Probation and Parole allegedly toyed with prisoners during hearings by trying to get them to say a chosen word or song title of the day, such as “platypus” and “Hound Dog.”

Don Ruzicka, a member of the seven-member board, along with an unnamed government employee were accused of keeping score during the hearings, according to a Department of Corrections inspector general report completed on Nov. 1, 2016.

Each time one of them used a predetermined keyword while interviewing an offender they earned a point. Two points were granted if the offender repeated the word. Occasionally, the duo spiced the game up by wearing matching clothing, like the time they dressed in black shirts, ties, pants and shoes.

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at St. Louis recently obtained the state report and released it Thursday after a news conference, asserting that public servants “played games with people’s lives and liberty.”

Murder Case Dropped for Man after 25 Years in Prison

June 01, 2017

Desmond Ricks heaved an audible sigh moments after Wayne County prosecutors agreed Thursday to drop murder charges against him.

“Well, that part’s over,” said Ricks, who spent 25 years in prison for a 1992 murder he didn’t commit.

Ricks and his attorneys from the Michigan Innocence Clinic say Detroit police intentionally switched bullets at his trial in an effort to convict him.

A Detroit Police internal affairs investigation into how officers handled the case is under way, Chief James Craig said Thursday.

Meanwhile, Ricks insists he isn’t bitter. “I’ve got no time to be bitter at anybody,” he said after Thursday’s hearing in Wayne Circuit Court. “There’s no excuse for what they did, but I have to move on. I just didn’t want to die in prison. Now, I’m just trying to get some semblance of my life back. I just want to pay my taxes and be a good citizen.”

Multimillion-dollar settlement with Ohio brings closure for pair wrongfully convicted in 1988 slaying

May 31, 2017



MANTUA TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Twenty-seven years ago, Robert Gondor and Randy Resh stood in the driveway of Gondor's father's house, both awaiting trial for the murder and attempted rape of a woman in 1988.

Both knew they were innocent, but they were offered plea deals that would result in shorter prison stints than the ones they risked if they went to trial. Taking stock of their situation, they shook hands and agreed to fight the charges.

In November 2016, after 16 1/2 years in prison, two criminal trials and a just-finished, decade-long battle to prove their innocence, they shook hands again. They knew their struggle was over.

Disgraced ex-detective Louis Scarcella accused of forcing Sundhe Moses to cop to 1995 murder maintains he did nothing wrong

May 26, 2017

New York Daily News
By: Christina Carrega 

Former detective Louis Scarcella’s memory may be selective when it comes to the dozens of cases he's worked on in his lengthy career — but he definitely recalls convictions that were later overturned.

“The DA’s office decided to use her (Teresa Gomez) as a witness,” said Scarcella as he was probed by defense attorney Ron Kuby on Friday.

Scarcella testified in an ongoing evidentiary hearing in front of Justice Dineen Riviezzo for Sundhe Moses, who says he was forced to confess to the 1995 murder of 4-year-old Shamone Johnson. Gomez was a drug-addicted prostitute Scarcella utilized to land five murder convictions.

Prosecutors with the Conviction Review Unit denounced Gomez’s testimony, characterized it as problematic, and later exonerated Robert Hill, Darryl Austin and Alvenia Jeanette in May 2014.

Scarcella believed Gomez was a credible witness when she gave “good information” on two homicides — after she was busted with a john in a house on Park Pl. and Bedford Ave. in the early 1980s.

“There was an ADA (prosecutor) named Jon Besunder. I brought many cases to him and he’d determine if a witness should be polygraphed and she (Gomez) was polygraphed," said Scarcella regarding Hill's 1987 shooting.

Wrongfully Convicted Man Freed After 24 Years

May 26, 2017

The Philadelphia Tribune
John N. Mitchell Tribune Staff Reporter

As Shaurn Thomas tried to speak into the phone over raised voices in a cramped car making its way back to Philadelphia on Tuesday night, Thomas kept repeating the same thing, over and over again.

“I’m a free man, a free man,” Thomas, 43, said. “I get to spend my time with my family I love most. I’m not living in a cell anymore wondering if I’d ever get out. Now I’m coming home to the family I love.”

For the last 24 years, Thomas’ home had been a cramped cell in the Schuykill County correctional facility, where he was serving life without the possibility of parole.

But this past Tuesday Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Rosemarie DeFino-Nastasi vacated Thomas’ conviction and sentence in the Nov. 13, 1990 murder of Domingo Martinez after the District Attorney’s office said the evidence against him no longer supported his conviction.

Issue of innocence: Is Tennessee man wrongly imprisoned for murder?

May 22, 2017


Adam Braseel is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder in the death of Malcolm Burrows. His family insists a Grundy County, Tenn., jury convicted him wrongfully.He’s 34 now. He’ll be 76 if he lives long enough to appear at his first parole hearing.

The case has divided this small southeast Tennessee community on the Cumberland Plateau and raised questions about the accuracy of eyewitness testimony and what issues qualify as fair game under Tennessee’s appeals process.

“I never thought it would happen to me,” Braseel said in a phone call from prison. “I try to stay positive, but I’m realistic. I know I could be an innocent man in prison the rest of my life.”

A clean-cut case

No other suspect was ever charged in the case. Not a single piece of physical evidence linked Braseel to the crime scene — no fingerprints, no DNA, no blood, hair or clothing fibers.

Prosecutors say they didn’t need it.

“Two eyewitnesses clearly identified him,” said prosecutor Steve Strain. “He was tried like anybody else. He was represented by two established, very experienced attorneys, and the jury found him guilty.” More here

Ray Spencer Didn't Molest His Kids

May 22, 2017


On Christmas Eve in 2004, Katie Spencer Tetz, a twenty-five-year-old job recruiter living in Sacramento, California, was sitting on the floor near her Christmas tree, wrapping gifts, when the phone rang. It was her mother, DeAnne, with news: After 19 years, Katie's father, Ray, was going to be released from prison. The last time Katie saw Ray she was six years old.

She hung up, grabbed her keys, and lunged for the door with no destination in mind, just a primal urge to move. Her husband, Mike, ran over to hold her as she sobbed by the door, in the grip of fear and grief she rarely let herself feel.

Katie barely knew her father, but his life was the central mystery of her own. He was the reason she could never make sense of her earliest childhood memories, and why she wasn't sure she wanted to.

Man Reunited With Mother After Being Wrongly Convicted For 32 Years

May 12, 2017

Rachel Menitoff, KSDK

After 32 years of separation, a Florissant mother is reunited with her son, just in time for Mother’s Day.

Andrew Wilson was released from a Los Angeles jail in March. LA County prosecutors rules that his original trial on charges of robbery and murder, was not a fair one. Now, he says his mom has waited long enough. And that he’s here in St. Louis to stay.

“Oh you can only imagine,” said Margie Davis, Wilson’s mother, when asked how it feels to be reunited with her son.

Mother and son sat arm in arm after 3 long decades apart.

William Barnhouse Becomes 350th Person Exonerated Through DNA Evidence

May 10, 2017

Indianapolis, IN

A judge today granted a motion by the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office to dismiss the 1992 rape charges against William Barnhouse based on new DNA evidence proving Barnhouse’s innocence of the crime. With Delaware County Prosecuting Attorney Jeffrey Arnold’s consent, the Innocence Project and the Wrongful Conviction Clinic at Indiana University McKinney persuaded a Delaware County court to reverse Barnhouse’s conviction on March 8, 2017 based on this new evidence.


Further proceedings in the case were scheduled for May.  Arnold’s decision to dismiss the indictment against Barnhouse, who has dealt his entire life with serious mental health conditions, ends his 25 year struggle for justice.

Wrongfully Convicted and Imprisoned, Jimmie Gardner is Seeking More Justice

May 09, 2017

The Washington Post

By Courtland Milloy
May 9, 2017

As an inmate in West Virginia’s prison system, Jimmie C. Gardner had to fight to keep from being killed by other inmates, and at the same time work to prove his innocence. He succeeded, but only after spending 26 years of a 110-year sentence locked up before being released last year. Now he’s fighting another tough battle — trying to win compensation for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment.

You’d think that he’d be mad as hell.

I recently met Gardner, 51, at his lawyers’ office in Washington, curious about news reports that he was actually grateful that the judicial system had worked. “It’s unfortunate that it took so long, but it worked,” said Gardner, who lives in Woodbridge, Va.

How do people spend decades behind bars for crimes they did not commit and come out smiling, as if they’d been to Disney World?

What happened to Gardner was particularly egregious. The injustice did not occur as a result of some mistaken identity or even incompetence, as is sometimes the case. Rather, it was the result of false testimony by a state police forensic scientist, who was also found to have manipulated evidence to exclude a more likely culprit.

Millions for New York Man Wrongly Convicted of Murder

May 09, 2017

The award of $4.5 million by New York state is just part of a claim by a man who spent more than two decades in prison based on a dishonest prosecution.

by Joaquin Sapien
May 9, 2017, 3:34 p.m.


Ruddy Quezada, a 54-year-old man wrongfully convicted of a deadly drive-by shooting in 1993, has won a $4.5 million settlement from New York state, according to court papers.

Quezada spent 24 years in prison for murder before winning his freedom in 2015 when, after decades of failed appeals, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office conceded that prosecutors involved in his case had withheld critical evidence during his trial.

At issue was the testimony of the case’s single eyewitness, a man named Sixto Salcedo. Salcedo recanted his testimony after defense lawyers tracked him down in the Dominican Republic in 2001. In a sworn affidavit, Salcedo said he had been coerced into testifying falsely against Quezada when a New York Police Department detective threatened him with jail time if he didn’t.

ProPublica reported on Quezada’s then pending appeal in 2013 as part of a larger examination of prosecutorial misconduct in New York City.

Wrongfully Convicted Child’s Murder Confession Tests Compensation Law

May 11, 2017

13 Year Olds False Murder Confession Led To A Life Sentence 


MAY 11 2017, 9:18 AM ET


COLUMBUS, Mississippi ─ He obsessed over the police interrogation for years, tormenting himself with questions he could not answer.

“How could you be so stupid?” Tyler Edmonds asked himself. “Why would you do that?”

Edmonds was 13 when he told detectives he helped his half-sister shoot her husband in his sleep ─ a story he says she concocted to skirt blame. He spent four years behind bars before his murder conviction was overturned and a second jury acquitted him. He went to therapy, and studied why children admit to crimes they didn’t commit. He began to understand what he’d done.

“I think the answer is that you’re young and you don’t know any better,” Edmonds, now 27, said.

He has rebuilt his life in many ways. But he is still paying for that confession. After Mississippi passed a law allowing exonerees to seek compensation, Edmonds sought a payout that he hoped would help his mother, who went deep into debt to pay for his defense. The state refused to give it to him. A judge sided with the state.

Edmonds and his lawyers took the case to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which is due to rule by summer.

Edmonds stands to reap about $150,000 if he wins, but it’s not just money at stake. His case also explores the limits of efforts to bring justice to the wrongfully convicted.

Who’s to blame?

As the number of exonerations has accelerated since the early 1990s, more states have passed laws offering reparations to people imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. Thirty-two states, along with Washington D.C. and the federal government, have such statutes on the books.

Six states refuse to compensate applicants who “contributed to their own conviction,” “fabricated evidence” or “committed perjury” — all of which can be used against someone who falsely confessed, according to the Innocence Project. Another three states bar payouts to those who pleaded guilty. Eleven states don’t let prisoners who have pleaded guilty or confessed to seek DNA testing that could exonerate them.

Disgraced Cop Blames Ex-DA for Wrongful Convictions

May 08, 2017

By Gina Daidone and Emily Saul
May 8, 2017 | 9:40pm |Updated

Scandal-scarred NYPD Det. Louis Scarcella blamed his tarnished legacy on former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes Monday as the embattled retired cop was grilled for his role in putting a Brooklyn man behind bars for 18 years.

“Mr. Hynes was completely wrong,” Scarcella whined under questioning by defense attorney Ron Kuby during a hearing in the wrongful conviction case of Sundhe Moses.

Kuby had been grilling Scarcella over public allegations Hynes and others had made stating Scarcella was responsible for witness tampering and mishandling of evidence in another wrongful conviction case.

“[Hynes] was throwing me under the bus, he lied,” the fallen ex-cop said, responding to questions about his role in the conviction of David Ranta — who spent 23 years behind bars in the killing a rabbi before his conviction was tossed in 2013.

“There was no wrongdoing on my part in any of the cases,” the former detective asserted.

Moses, who was paroled in 2013, claims Scarcella choked him, blew cigar smoke in his face, forced him to strip naked and threw a chair at him to elicit his confession in the 1995 murder of a 4-year-old Brooklyn girl.

Hynes publicly blasted Scarcella in a 2013 in a 2013 note he wrote to the New York Times, pleading for their endorsement as he was seeking reelection.

“During the course of the [David] Ranta investigation, [we] uncovered some questionable conduct by former NYPD Detective Scarcella,” Hynes wrote in an unsuccessful attempt to win their endorsement.

“In announcing our decision to release Mr. Ranta, we made it clear that the decision was made in part because of the conduct of Det. Scarcella,” Hynes wrote in an email, released by the city Department of Investigation in 2014.

Hynes later opened investigations into all of the detective’s homicide cases.

Roughly 70 of Scarcella’s homicide cases are under investigation by the DA’s conviction-review unit. He continues to defend his work.


May 02, 2017

The Intercept

By: Jordan Smith

THE COURTHOUSE IN Corsicana, Texas, roughly 60 miles southeast of Dallas, has been meticulously restored to its original 1905 glory, a time when the county was awash in oil money. Its main courtroom has soaring, two-story pink walls and gold-flecked architectural details that frame the judge’s bench, witness stand, and jury box. For more than three decades, John Jackson worked this room (though during those years it was a far more utilitarian space), first as a prosecutor with the Navarro County district attorney’s office and later as an elected judge, until his retirement in 2012.

Last week he returned, this time as a defendant, facing charges brought by the State Bar of Texas, whose lawyers argue that Jackson violated basic legal ethics in connection with his conduct in prosecuting the county’s most notorious case, the death penalty trial of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted and ultimately executed for what the state insists was the December 1991 arson-murder of his three young children in the home they shared just over a mile away.

Specifically, the state’s lawyers contend that Jackson made a deal with a jailhouse snitch who agreed to testify against Willingham and then hid that deal from Willingham’s defense attorneys — a clear violation of both law and ethics. They say that Jackson took extraordinary measures over the next two decades to conceal his deceitful actions.

Man Wrongfully Convicted in 1957 Cold Case Murder Declared Innocent

April 12, 2017

By Ann O’Neill CNN
TM & © 2017 Cable News Network, Inc.,
All rights reserved.

(CNN) — Jack McCullough is innocent of the 1957 kidnapping and murder of a little girl and never should have been convicted, a judge ruled Wednesday.By granting the 77-year-old military veteran a certificate of innocence,

 Judge William Brady cleared McCullough’s name for good. The decision also returned the killing of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, Illinois — the coldest murder case ever tried — to the unsolved case files.

”I’m innocent and I didn’t want there to be any doubt,” McCullough said, explaining why he asked the court to declare him innocent. “What was done to me was criminal. They knew I was innocent and they put me in prison anyway.

”His status as a former police officer convicted of killing a child made him a target behind bars, he said. “When you put a policeman who is a convicted child killer in prison, you don’t have a life. Your life is in danger every second that you’re in prison. I’m lucky to have survived prison.”

When McCullough was found guilty in 2012, spectators who filled the courtroom raised a boisterous cheer. But just a year ago, Brady overturned the conviction and freed McCullough after new evidence surfaced supporting his alibi.

At the time, Brady left the door open for a new prosecutor to refile the charges. Wednesday’s ruling firmly shuts that door — and makes it easier for McCullough to seek compensation for his false conviction and five years behind bars.

“There is no way to take what happened to Jack McCullough and square it with any legitimate investigation,” said McCullough’s civil rights lawyer, Russell Ainsworth.“He was innocent. Everybody knew he was innocent and yet they pursued the investigation.”

Ainsworth has handled several cases for The Exoneration Project, a clinic at the University of Chicago’s law school. He described Illinois as “an epicenter for wrongful convictions” and called for reform, including stronger police oversight.

“It has to stop,” he said. “We want, through Jack McCullough’s struggle, for other people to learn that this can happen in our society. This is not part of bygone years and what happened in the ’70s and ’80. This is happening today. This is happening to people who are honest, law-abiding citizens.”

Wrongful-convictions database moves to UC Irvine

April 09, 2017

By Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil
Contributor to Times Community News
Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot

In 2011, after Francisco Carrillo Jr. had spent 20 years in prison for a fatal drive-by shooting in Los Angeles County that he didn’t commit, his conviction was overturned.

News reports pointed in large part to the reliability of the witnesses — all of whom eventually recanted their identification of Carrillo, who was 16 at the time of the killing and had consistently maintained his innocence, or were deemed to have been unable to properly see the shooter.

Carrillo’s experience is one of 2,000 such cases in the National Registry of Exonerations, an online database of wrongful convictions that have been overturned dating to 1989.

The registry is now being housed at UC Irvine, where it will become a resource for faculty and students studying the criminal justice system. UCI was selected because of its concentration of faculty in the area of wrongful convictions.

“This university can really provide muscle to what is a still-developing group of cases,” said Maurice Possley, senior researcher for the registry, which was created in 2012 as a joint project between the University of Michigan Law School and Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions.

“I tend to think this database can be one of the most influential factors for reform and change in the criminal justice system in many years.”

Are 88,000 Inmates in US Jails Innocent?

Greg Milam 
US Correspondent

I have reported on two monumental miscarriages of justice in the last fortnight.

One man, who a judge said should never have been convicted of murder, served 32 years. The other was declared factually innocent of attempted murder after serving 20 years.

Andrew Wilson and Marco Contreras were both remarkably sanguine about what had happened to them, preferring to focus more on the future than the past.

But, as they put shattered lives back together, their stories leave a huge nagging question – how many more are there?

The National Registry of Exonerations lists every known case since 1989 in which someone was wrongly convicted and later cleared of all charges. The current total is 2,006.

The registry’s editor, Samuel R. Gross, was part of a study in 2014 which found that 4% of those sentenced to death in the US turned out to be innocent – that’s one in every 25.

Death sentences do, as he points out, get much greater attention but let’s just assume this percentage of wrongful conviction applies across the board.

There are 2.2 million people in prison in the US – and 4% of this is 88,000.

But who listens to those in prison who claim to be innocent?

Chris Tapp To Be Released From Prison

March 20, 2017

By Staff Writer

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK/KXPI) – Monday in a press release on its Facebook page the Idaho Innocence Project says Chris Tapp will be freed from prison this Wednesday after more than 20 years behind bars.

Tapp’s public defender John Thomas has also confirmed this information to KIFI and KIDK Eyewitness News 3.

Below is the full press release posted to the Idaho Innocence Projects Facebook Page.

Idaho Innocence Project Client Chris Tapp will be freed on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 after more than 20 years in prison. Tapp was convicted in the rape and murder of 18-year-old Angie Dodge on June 13, 1996.

The Idaho Innocence Project has worked on Tapp’s case for more than 10 years, and over those years secured DNA testing of evidence in the crime, including a pubic hair recovered from the victim’s body, stains on her clothing, and foreign DNA from her fingers. All of it pointed to only one person–the mysterious man who left semen on her body.


New DNA results performed this month affirmed that Tapp is excluded from ALL the DNA evidence.

Where Were the Prosecutors?

March 18, 2017

Huffington Post
By Bennett L. Gershman
Professor of Law, Pace

Exonerations of wrongfully convicted persons continue to climb. A record number of false convictions were recorded in 2015 – 149 innocent people who spent much of their lives in prison were released, bringing the total number of exonerations since 1989 to 1,753. (New York has the second highest number of exonerations, topped only by Texas).


It used to be conventional wisdom that no innocent person ever got convicted. Now, it’s so common that the media gives the event a momentary headline, and then moves on. There is no post-mortem on how these human tragedies happened. The big questions are never asked, so never answered. How did it happen? Who is to blame? What can be done to prevent its recurrence?


The person who spent over 25 years – 8,000 days – in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the children who didn’t see their father for most of their lives, the parents who died while their child was in prison, surely deserve to know not merely that the system of criminal justice crashed, but how, why, and who is to blame?

Last week, another false conviction in New York City was reported, and not surprisingly, in a case from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. Andre Hatchett is the 19th person freed by D.A. Kenneth Thompson since Thompson took office in 2014. Hatchett spent 25 Years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit. In reviewing Mr. Hatchett’s case, and hundreds of other false convictions, there is a common theme that runs through virtually all of the cases, and produces the calamity.


For good or ill, the prosecutor is the official who alone determines whether justice will be done, whether a defendant who may be innocent will be brought to trial, and whether the proceeding will be a fair one. In states with capital punishment the prosecutor alone decides whether a defendant will live or die. More than anyone else, the prosecutor is responsible either for bringing about the conviction of an innocent man, or for failing to prevent it.

Ray Spencer: How one man went from wrongful prosecution to exoneration and on his way to total vindication.

March 15, 2017

US Observer –
By Kathy Marshak


In February 2014 a federal court awarded Ray Spencer $9million in a wrongful prosecution lawsuit (although he has yet to collect the money). It had taken him thirty years to get this verdict. In 2004 after serving 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit, Washington’s then Governor Gary Locke commuted his sentence to time served, when it was clear he had been framed. But the commutation was only the beginning of an incredible fight to win his life back. 


Over the next ten years after leaving prison, Ray engaged in one legal battle after another, starting with exoneration. Even though he was not guilty of the crimes, the Clark County Prosecutor’s office refused to cooperate and would not agree to exonerate him. Clark County lost this battle in the lower court; they lost at appeal; and they eventually insisted on taking the case to the state Supreme Court, where they lost again.

Why pursue Spencer with such a vengeance? Obviously they had something to hide, which will be explained later.

I first learned about Clyde Ray Spencer in July 2009 when I sat in the Appellate Courtroom, awaiting the oral arguments for my own appeal (a civil case involving a long history of my own wrongful prosecution by corrupt officials in Vancouver WA).


My case had been delayed thirty minutes for an emergency, which my attorney Dan Lorenz found surprising. Normally the Appellate Court schedule is very tight and arranged months in advance. I decided to sit in the courtroom and listen to the proceedings for the appeal regarding Clyde Ray Spencer, but I expected to find the arguments the usual dry stuff of legal pleadings and memos, etc. Instead I learned the incredible story of Spencer’s fight for his right to be a free man.

Unbelievably I listened as the Clark County attorney made the argument that Ray didn’t need to be exonerated because he was free from prison through the governor’s order of commutation. Ray had been convicted of several counts of child sexual abuse with his own children and a stepson. The acts were considered so violent and abhorrent that Judge Tom Lodge originally sentenced Spencer to two life terms, plus 14 years.


No doubt the severity of the sentence was also due to the fact that Ray was a police officer. But he was innocent of these crimes. Not only had Ray’s children, now grown, come to his defense, but it was proven that detectives had not only withheld evidence at trial that would have cleared him . . .but they actually fabricated evidence! Now Clark County wanted to withhold exoneration? They wanted to keep Spencer in limbo as a registered sex offender for the rest of his life, even though he was innocent? I was stunned.  More here

Kim Foxx Planning to Revamp Cook County Wrongful-Conviction Unit

March 14, 2017

Chicago Sun Times

Andy Grimm

@agrimm34 | email

Aiming to go beyond her predecessor in trying to end Cook County’s reputation as the “wrongful conviction capital of the U.S.,” State’s Attorney Kim Foxx tells the Chicago Sun-Times that revamping the way her office reviews such cases is among her top priorities.

Foxx, who ran on a reform platform in her bid to unseat two-term incumbent Anita Alvarez last year, said in a recent interview that reviewing cases is central to restoring public confidence in the criminal justice system.

“When we talk about people not having faith in convictions, it’s not just about the cases we do now,” Foxx said in a recent interview. “It’s (also) the historical perspective of people who have been locked up for crimes they did not commit.”

Cook County has made strides in tackling the problem since 2012, when the CBS television news magazine “60 Minutes” spotlighted wrongful convictions in a segment that embarrassed then-State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. Alvarez then set up a Conviction Integrity Unit to review questionable cases.

Last year, that unit helped exonerate 11 wrongfully convicted people — a county record and the second-highest exoneration total among counties nationwide, according to a report released this month by the National Registry of Exonerations.

Since 2012, the Cook County CIU has played a part in 41 of 45 exonerations, the second-highest tally among the growing number of similar units nationwide.   Read More

Number of Exonerations Hits Record for Third-Straight Year

March 07, 2017

NBC News


A pair of reports released Tuesday examining wrongful convictions in the United States found that there were a record number of exonerations in 2016 — the third such record-setting year in a row — and that innocent black people face a raft of racial disparities that make them more likely to wind up behind bars, and to remain there longer than whites.

Researchers at the National Registry of Exonerations, which is run by the University of California, the University of Michigan and Michigan State, published the data.

Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan and an author of the race study, attributed the growing number of exonerations to increased awareness and resources, and he said they were part of persistent pattern: the number of exonerations climbed to 166 last year, up from 149 the year before and more than double the number of cases in 2011.

The registry has collected data on nearly 2,000 cases since 1989.   More here

Op-Ed: Doing “God’s Work” from the “Dark Side”

February 03, 2017

A Criminal Defense Investigator Makes The Case For Her Important Role In The Justice System

April Higuera – Author
Pursuit Magazine

Prosecutors like to say they are “doing God’s work” by representing the interests of victims. An ex-prosecutor I interviewed for my book, Making a Case for Innocence, used those words when I asked her why some prosecutors are willing to lie or hide evidence to get a conviction, and why some prosecutors seem more focused on winning cases than getting to the truth.

“At the end of the day, we want justice,” she said.

A vague answer, at best.

Still, it might explain the tunnel vision I see infecting some prosecutors: Too many of them seem so driven in their mission to “put the bad guys away,” that they become overconfident in their rightness and are tempted to bend the rules—all to ensure a “mission accomplished.”

I admit, it rubs me the wrong way when a government employee suggests that justice is only served by a conviction. Putting “bad guys” away is all well and fine, but some prosecutors seem to forget that not everyone sitting at the defendant’s table is a “bad guy.”

To a degree, it’s a problem of philosophy: Many prosecutors are in the business of pursuing guilt, so they see it everywhere. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And many police departments view themselves more as law enforcers than as society’s protectors, or as crime preventers.

Meanwhile, many criminal defense attorneys and investigators feel as strongly as prosecutors do that they are doing “God’s work.” By protecting the rights of people charged with crimes, they counterbalance the power of prosecutors and police, and thus, make our system fairer for all.

We don’t know the exact number of innocent people currently incarcerated, but we can estimate based on exoneration rates:

“According to the Innocence Project’s estimates, between 2.3 percent and 5 percent of all U.S. prisoners are innocent.”  —by Justin Rohrlich, Vice News

The United States inmate population fluctuates around two million. Using these numbers, as many as 100,000 innocent people could currently be wrongly imprisoned. Other reports indicate that “in nearly 11% of the nation’s 349 DNA exoneration cases, innocent people entered guilty pleas.” (source: The Innocence Project)

So there’s little doubt that tens of thousands of convicted “criminals” are likely innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted (or incentivized to plead guilty). This is a staggering and shameful number. Even more disturbing is the idea that some of these prisoners are undoubtedly on death row.

Innocent Blacks More Likely Than Whites To Be Wrongfully Convicted

March 07, 2017

The Huffington Post
By Matt Ferner


The majority of the 2,000 people in the United States formally exonerated of crimes they never committed are black, according to a new report examining the relationship between race and wrongful convictions.

In addition, the majority of more than 1,800 innocent defendants framed by law enforcement since 1989 in widespread police scandals are African American, says the report, “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States,” published Tuesday as a companion to the annual National Registry of Exonerations.

“Judging from the cases we know, a substantial majority of innocent people who are convicted of crimes in the United States are African Americans,” the report declares.

The report examines exonerations for defendants who had been wrongly convicted of murder, sexual assault and drug crimes since 1989.  More here

The Defendant Confessed. So Why Investigate?

August 02, 2016

Pursuit Magazine

Author: April Higuera
ADH Investigations

A criminal defense investigator sheds light on why people confess to crimes they didn’t commit, how our justice system is skewed toward the prosecution, and what we can do to fix it.


Sedley Alley: The Truth Died With Him

Convicted killer Sedley Alley of Millington, Tennessee, tells us from the grave why zealous defense advocacy and investigation are essential in every serious criminal case.

I met Mr. Alley on Riverbend Maximum Security’s death row in 2003, 18 years after the horrific rape-torture-murder of Suzanne Collins, a U.S. Marine lance corporal and student of avionics at Naval Air Station Memphis in West Tennessee. Sedley Alley confessed to the murder hours after the victim’s naked, bloody body was discovered by police lying face down next to a tree. A branch had been broken off, sharpened to a point, and forced between her legs deep enough to pierce her lung, repeatedly, until her last breath. This brutal act followed over 100 other injuries to the 19-year-old’s body in the last hour of her life.

Alley confessed to the murder the following day and led police to the scene of the murder. However, some of the details he offered were not consistent with the forensic evidence found at the scene.

Still, the evidence mounted against Alley, to include: blood on his car of the same blood type as Collins’, a hair in the blood on his car of the same color as Collins’, blood on Alley’s shorts of the same type as Collins’, an eyewitness who described Alley as the man who abducted Collins, and, of course, his full, signed confession following local police and FBI interrogation.  More here

Jordan Richardson: Once Again Virginia Fails To Fix ‘Trial By Ambush’

March 05, 2017

 Jordan Richardson
Senior policy analyst for criminal justice reform
Charles Koch Institute in Arlington

THE VIRGINIA HOUSE of Delegates, during the recent session, once again failed to consider the public’s growing support for criminal justice reform, effectively stopping any progress toward fixing the commonwealth’s criminal discovery problem.

These rules — the steps by which information such as police reports, witness lists, witness statements, and other items are exchanged before a trial starts — exist to provide criminal defendants with critical information. Unfortunately, the commonwealth remains one of 14 states that provides the least amount of this exchange of information that can mean the difference between guilt and innocence.

In 2013, David Boyce was exonerated after serving 23 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of capital murder and robbery, in part because a crucial piece of evidence in Boyce’s favor was withheld from his defense attorney.  More here

Conviction Review Is For All Prosecutors

March 03, 2017

Authored by: Richard A. Brown
Queens District Attorney


The Queens County District Attorney’s Office—under my leadership over these past almost 26 years—is committed to doing everything in its power to prevent wrongful convictions and to set them aside when they are, unfortunately, found to have occurred.

My views—and my commitment—are more fully set forth in the annexed article dated Oct. 5, 2010, which is based upon remarks I delivered at the New York State Judicial Institute in White Plains on Oct. 28, 2003.

I believe that it is the responsibility of everyone in my office to prevent wrongful convictions and that should a claim be raised that someone has been wrongfully convicted or is being wrongfully prosecuted to promptly and thoroughly investigate that claim to ensure that justice is done. It is my view that that responsibility must be shared by everyone in my office—”in particular, my senior staff”—and not delegated to one unit and/or a handful of assistants. The course that we have followed has both consistently prevented wrongful convictions in the first place and dealt with those situations where a wrongful conviction, regrettably, has occurred. More here

John Chipman’s Death In The Family A Book To Help Us Remember

March 03, 2017

Christopher Sherrin – Associate Professor
University of Western Ontario

Life can bring many different sorts of tragedies. It would be difficult to rank them, but surely being wrongfully convicted or accused of homicide must be high on the list. Even higher must be the same wrongful conviction or accusation when the victim is alleged to be your own infant child.

John Chipman’s book Death in the Family chronicles the stories of several parents who suffered precisely that tragedy. Connecting all of the cases is the contribution of disgraced former pathologist Charles Smith, the man whose many errors prompted a formal inquiry in 2007-08 into the state of pediatric forensic pathology in Ontario, led by Justice Stephen Goudge.

Chipman’s book recounts the impact of Smith’s errors on the lives of the parents affected: shattered individuals who were falsely vilified as child abusers. They were interrogated, accused and imprisoned. They were ostracized. Their lives were dissected. Their other children were taken from them.

Chipman’s book continues a fine tradition of storytelling in wrongful conviction literature. It is a tradition that offers us a glimpse of the depth of damage, and the extent of the wrong, suffered by those whom the criminal-justice system fails. The stories can be distressing yet, curiously, uplifting at the same time. Unimaginable wounds are inflicted but the truth comes out in the end. The ending is never truly a happy one. T


he victim of the miscarriage of justice is almost always injured in ways that are permanent and profound. The effects are felt by the wrongly accused and many others around them. But it is empowering to understand the injustice from the perspective of those most affected by it. It is only then that we can truly begin to appreciate the impact of mistakes and the imperative to avoid them.  More here

Victim From Case Featured In ‘Making of a Murderer’ to Speak at University of Utah

March 01, 2017

(KUTV) On March 1, S.J. Quinney College of Law at The University of Utah is holding an event titled, “From Harm to Healing: Addressing the Collateral Damages of Wrongful Convictions.”

According to a press release, a notable speaker at the event will be Penny Beerntsen who travels the country in hopes of bringing awareness and reform in eyewitness identification procedures.

Beernsten was sexually attacked and nearly killed in 1985 while jogging in Wisconsin and due to a “flawed identification process” she chose Steven Avery’s photo from a line-up. Avery went on to serve eighteen years of a 32 year sentence before he was exonerated and released by DNA evidence. In 2007, Avery was convicted of murdering Teresa Halbach and became the subject of the Netflix documentary, “Making of a Murderer.”

Beernsten “was devastated” after learning that Avery was innocent and her real attacker went free until 1995, according to the press release. Beernsten advocates for victim as well as offender rights and facilitates dialogue between the two.   More here

Homicide detective’s book describes ‘How the Police Generate False Confessions’

October 20, 2016

“If you plan on being arrested for a felony, you must read this book.”

Tom Jackman, The Washington Post

Also, if you have an interest in fairness, justice and preventing wrongful convictions, then the new book “How the Police Generate False Confessions,” by former Washington, D.C., homicide detective James Trainum is an important read. It takes you inside the interrogation room to see how investigators extract admissions from innocent people, and how the justice system can fix this persistent problem, seen in high profile cases such as the Central Park Fivethe Norfolk Four and the teenaged suspect from Wisconsin in the Netflix series “Making a Murderer.”

It’s a phenomenon that remains, understandably, incomprehensible to many. Someone “admits” to a crime they did not actually commit, to a police detective of all people, knowing they face a long prison sentence for doing so. Who would do such a thing? In all three of the cases above, young men admitted to committing rape, and in two of them to gruesome murders.

Trainum, 61, spent 17 years in homicide for the Metropolitan Police Department, retiring in 2010. He was the lead detective on the high-profile Starbucks triple murder in Georgetown in 1997, which he eventually helped solve in 1999. But in 1994, Trainum had an eye-opening experience when he obtained his own false confession. After a 16-hour interrogation, a woman told him she and two men had killed a man whose body was found, bound and beaten, near the Anacostia River. She was charged with first-degree murder. But she recanted weeks later, and Trainum found proof that she couldn’t have been where she originally claimed at the time of the slaying. The charges were dismissed.

“What did I do,” Trainum asked himself, “to convince this person to tell me something she didn’t do? How did she get all those details she shouldn’t have known?” He realized that implying that her cooperation would get her better treatment from the prosecutors, and minimizing her role in the case to obtain her testimony against co-defendants, as well as a mistaken handwriting analysis and a bogus “voice stress test,” got her to confess.

Trainum began researching the concept of false confessions, not widely discussed in the 1990s. At that time, five New York teenagers were in prison for allegedly raping a woman in Central Park in 1989. Though DNA later proved an unrelated man had committed the crime, some people still believe the Central Park Five are guilty, including presidential candidate Donald Trump. “It just shows you what the power of a confession is,” Trainum said. “In spite of the overwhelming evidence, physical and otherwise, people still believe a confession trumps everything. No pun intended.”

False confessions are now understood to be a significant contribution to wrongful convictions. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, of 1,900 wrongful convictions in their data base, 234 were caused by false confessions, or about 12 percent.  More here

Mancos Woman Works To Free Innocent Prisoners Across The Country

February 19, 2017

By Jonathan Romeo
Herald Staff Writer

Bernard Young was behind bars for nearly 30 years for a crime he claimed he didn’t commit when his family, in a last ditch effort, called Mancos resident Claudia Whitman.

Whitman, who runs the Colorado-based nonprofit National Capital Crime Assistance Network, spent the next six years working on Young’s case, trying to prove the innocence the Detroit man has maintained since the 1980s.

And on Feb. 8, the effort seemingly paid off: Young, 58, had his first taste of freedom when a judge released him on bond, months after Whitman was able to secure a recant of testimony from the two victims Young was accused of molesting in the 1980s, when the now-adult males were ages 5 and 6.

“Everyone I had approached, they just didn’t want to touch it,” said Young’s sister, Joyce Holman. “It was such a web that no one wanted to untangle.”

“But I just couldn’t let my brother sit there in jail and be sentenced for something he did not do,” she continued. “Claudia took an interest. And now, she’s become almost a family member. We just love her for her commitment to my brother, and to this family. She just believed in us.”  More here

Dean Strang Highlights Our Troubling Rate of Wrongful Convictions—and Suggests a Solution

July 12, 2016

Huffington Post
Michael Shammas

No system is perfect. Our criminal justice apparatus is a system. Therefore, our criminal justice system is imperfect. 

A small syllogism—but it has big consequences: The murder, caging, and shaming of untold innocents. 

How can we reduce our rate of wrongful convictions without making convictions impossible? The question’s tough because we will never have a flawless conviction-to-guilt ratio; changes that help defendants risk helping guilty suspects as much as innocent ones. 

Still: Wrongful convictions are unacceptable. Tragic. And so—in a democracy championing due process—we must act. 

The first step in solving a problem is identifying its cause. Luckily, one cause is simple—so simple another syllogism can describe it: Prosecutors are human. Humans suffer cognitive biases and draw imperfect conclusions from even perfect information. Therefore, prosecutors suffer cognitive biases.

Speaking at Harvard Law in April, Making a Murderer attorney Dean Strang took this further: Since errors on guilt can be so tragic, he argued, prosecutors and police should exercise humility. Not humility concerning one’s ego (though that helps), but humility concerning the evidence—and one’s ability to draw correct conclusions from even complete information. 

Now, it’s no secret that we humans grant far too much confidence to our opinions. But when powerful people do this, the dangers compound. Zealotry replaces fair-mindedness. The worst excesses happen when prosecutors forget they’re flawed humans, like anyone else, and that as a result they’re subject to cognitive flaws like tunnel vision, racial bias, and the desire to reduce cognitive dissonance through “cognitive consistency” even at the expense of complicated, nuanced, self-contradictory, paradoxical truth.

Coerced to Confess: The Psychology of False Confessions

October 21, 2014


Society /by Evan Nesterak


On a spring night in 1989, a 28 year-old white woman was brutally raped and nearly murdered while jogging through Central Park. Early in their investigation, police brought in five black and hispanic teenage boys between the ages of 14 and 16 for questioning. During interrogations lasting up to 30 hours, all five confessed to taking part in the crime.Within 72 hours of the attack, the jogger still in a coma, the NYPD believed they had solved the crime.

The case quickly gained national attention and set off a media storm about crime, race, and the justice system in America. Then New York City Mayor Ed Koch called it the “crime of the century.” Twelve days after the arrest of the five boys, Donald Trump took out full page ads in The New York Times, The Daily News, The New York Post and New York Newsday calling for New York to “Bring Back the Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!”

But those five teenage boys — Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., and Kharey Wise, who became known as the Central Park Five — didn’t commit the crime. They had falsely confessed. Fast-forward to 2002, when convicted rapist and murder, Mathias Reyes, admitted to the rape of the jogger. An analysis of the DNA evidence confirmed that he was the rapist, and the convictions of the Central Park Five were vacated.

Yet, in 1989, despite quickly recanting their confessions, despite the lack of physical evidence linking them to the crime, and despite the only DNA evidence taken from the victim belonging to a man (Reyes) not one of the five, the New York City District Attorney prosecuted and juries convicted the five boys. Collectively they spent about 41 years in prison for a crime they did not commit.

It was only just last month that the case of the Central Park Five finally came to a close. A Federal judge in New York approved a $41 million dollar settlement between New York City and The Central Park Five in a civil case the five men brought against the city in 2003, after their convictions were overturned. Despite the settlement, New York City still denies any wrongdoing in the case.

The recent settlement of the Central Park Five case got us thinking about the psychology behind false confessions. Why did they confess to crimes they did not commit? Why did these confessions trump all other evidence in the case? Why did the judge, jury, and DA place so much emphasis on the confessions, despite conflicting DNA and non-existent physical evidence? And, most importantly, is it possible to prevent false confessions that can lead to such serious breakdowns of justice?

We spoke with Saul Kassin, Psychology Professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Williams College, who has researched false confessions for over thirty years, to find out more about the Central Park Five case, why people confess to crimes they did not commit, and how certain interrogation techniques can promote or limit the incidence of false confessions. (Full disclosure: Saul Kassin serves on the Advisory Board of this publication.)
More here

Orange Is the New Black’ Keeps Missing How Wrongful Convictions Affect Women

June 24, 2016

Huffington Post

By Alison Flowers

The ladies of Litchfield are back with Orange is the New Black Season 4, and Netflix binge-watchers are still recovering from their weekend fix. The acclaimed show has brought complex criminal justice issues to the mainstream, with viewers in more than 190 countries. But one critical area that remains untouched by OITNB is how wrongful convictions affect women.

Wrongly convicted women who have been exonerated and freed are few — only 172 known U.S. female exonerations since 1989 — but many more women continue to languish behind bars, fighting to appeal their cases.

Often victims of situational prosecutions, wrongly convicted women can find themselves accused of serious crimes in their role as caregivers. According to the Women’s Project at the Center on Wrongful Convictions, 43 percent of women exonerees were wrongly convicted of harming or killing a child or loved one in their care. In about two-thirds of female exonerations, there was no real crime, but rather an accident, medical problem or false accusation was at fault. 

While women exonerees are few, there is no dearth of dramatic stories that could inspire a new OITNB character and help highlight flaws in the criminal justice system. Here are five fascinating women exonerees:

The Kings Of The Courtroom

October 04, 2014

The Economist


CAMERON TODD WILLINGHAM was accused of murdering his daughters in 1991 by setting fire to the family house. The main evidence against him was a forensic report on the fire, later shown to be bunk, and the testimony of a jailhouse informant who claimed to have heard him confess. He was executed in 2004.

The snitch who sent him to his death had been told that robbery charges pending against him would be reduced to a lesser offence if he co-operated. After the trial the prosecutor denied that any such deal had been struck, but a handwritten note discovered last year by the Innocence Project, a pressure group, suggests otherwise. In taped interviews, extracts of which were published by the Washington Post, the informant said he lied in court in return for efforts by the prosecutor to secure a reduced sentence and—amazingly—financial support from a local rancher.


A study by Northwestern University Law School’s Centre on Wrongful Convictions found that 46% of documented wrongful capital convictions between 1973 and 2004 could be traced to false testimony by snitches—making them the leading cause of wrongful convictions in death-penalty cases. The Innocence Project keeps a database of Americans convicted of serious crimes but then exonerated by DNA evidence. Of the 318 it lists, 57 involved informants—and 30 of the convicted had entered a guilty plea.

“The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty and reputation than any other person in America,” said Robert Jackson, the attorney-general, in 1940. As the current attorney-general, Eric Holder, prepares to stand down (see article), American prosecutors are more powerful than ever before.

Several legal changes have empowered them. The first is the explosion of plea bargaining, where a suspect agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge if the more serious charges against him are dropped. Plea bargains were unobtainable in the early years of American justice. But today more than 95% of cases end in such deals and thus are never brought to trial.  More here

Please reload

bottom of page