innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, August 12, 2005

36 hours later, Kirkwood is released

The Kirkwood family reunites after two years
photograph taken by Cynthia Levy

The Kirkwood family had not seen their son in two years. The family had seen Justin Kirkwood once for an appeals hearing a few months ago because Kirkwood asked his family not to visit him during his two year stay at the State Correctional Institute at Laurel Highlands.

One hour prior to his release, Deborah Kirkwood brought news to veteran Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer, Bill Moushey, that the Lawrence County District Attorney Matthew Mangino hadn't signed a waiver to appeal, further delaying Kirkwood's release.

But, at approximately 12:38 p.m., 36 hours after Motto's order, Kirkwood walked out of the Laurel Highland facility.

Kirkwood, who thought the sheriff would accompany him back to freedom, was elated to be met at the front door of the prison by his father and mother, David and Deborah Kirkwood, as well as his sister and niece, Janiel and Janessa Kirkwood.

Although speechless, the joy of returning to freedom and the ones he loved could be seen in Kirkwood's tear-filled eyes.

Kirkwood's release was heavily based on investigative journalism done by Moushey and the graduate and undergraduate students who participate in the Innocence Institute. Through rigorous investigations students were able to uncover the mistake identification made by an alleged eyewitness, as well as misconduct by Lawrence County Assistant District Attorney, Birgitta Tolvanen.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Kirkwood gets new trial

Justin Kirkwood 1997

Yesterday a Lawrence County judge tossed out the robbery conviction and orderd a retrial of New Castle man, Justin Kirkwood, on the basis that Assistant District Attorney, Birgitta Tolvanen, misrepresented evidence to the jury, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The judge ordered Kirkwood's release yesterday from the State Correctional Institute at Laurel Highlands on $15,000 bail until his new trial begins. He was convicted of robbing the Family Craft Center in New Castle on August 14, 2002.

Tolvanen tried to discredit the testimony of Kirkwood's main alibi witness by waiving telephone records in the air that she alleged did not contain the phone call between the witness and Kirkwood that would have given Kirkwood's whereabouts at the time of the crime. However, she did not mention that because the call was local chances were it would not be listed on phone records, even if the call had been made.

The judge also noted the ineffectiveness of Kirkwood's attorney in his 24-page opinion. Kirkwood's attorney never objected to Tolvanen's actions nor did he ever examine the phone records.

The mistaken eyewitness identification and misconduct that occurred in Kirkwood's case was first brought to light by a series entitled "Sight Unseen" done by Bill Moushey who is the director of the Innocence Institute of Point Park University, as well a writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

A similar story was also written by the New Castle News.