innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Last minute plea for death row inmate

Steve Drizin, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, and an Ohio criminal investigator pleaded with the Ohio Parole Board yesterday, during an eight-hour hearing, to recommend clemency to death row inmate, John Spirko. Spirko is scheduled to die Sept. 20, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

During Spirko's trial the prosecution tried to prove that he and his best friend, Delaney Gibson, kidnapped and murdered a woman in Elgin, OH. They used an eyewitness, who identified Gibson as a strange man she saw in the neighborhood, to link Spirko to the crime.

But what they failed to tell Spirko's attorney was there was evidence Gibson was 500 miles away on the day of the crime. Spirko's sister claims that he was in Toledo with her that day.

Drizin claims the federal agent who developed the claim against Spirko did not provide detailed paperwork about the interrogations he conducted. For this reason Drizin says it is impossible to know whether or not Spirko was given incriminating information regarding the crime. If this did occur any statements he gave to the agent could be deemed unreliable.

Drizin has recently done a study on innocent people who confess to crimes. In his study he argues that all interrogations should be recorded in order to prevent suspects from refuting confessions and to uncover any misconduct by law officials.

In this case, had Spirko's confession been recorded the video or audio evidence would have been available to the jury to examine. If Spirko in fact did supply the federal agent with information only the person who committed the crime would know, it would be irrefutable.

Chairman of the Ohio Parole Board, Gary Croft, said the board would make a decision next Tuesday.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Georgia pardons an executed woman

In 1945 the state of Georgia executed 44-year old Lena Baker for the alleged slaying of her employer. Today the sate issued a pardon to Baker calling her execution a "grevious error," reports the Washington Post.

During her trial Baker, a black woman, claimed her employer, a white man, was holding her as a sex-slave, and that she shot him in self-defense as he attacked her with a crowbar. An all-white jury convicted Baker of capital murder during a one-hour deliberation in the segregated south.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Louisiana Chief Justice supports the innocent

Louisiana Court Chief Justice Pascal Calogero is convincing his counterparts in other states to become allies to the wrongfully convicted because of new evidence suggesting that more and more Americans are going to prison for crimes they did not commit, reports the Times-Picayune of Louisiana.

Because of Calogero's actions, the Conference of Chief Justices unanimously passed a resolution that supports the efforts of judicial and public agencies who lobby for criminal justice reform and finding better solutions to dealing with post-conviction claims of innocence.

The Aug. 3 resolution states, "Wrongful convictions erode confidence in the criminal justice system by punishing the innocent and letting the guilty go, and waste public resources retrying cases and paying restitution to those who spent time they shouldn't have behind bars."

According to a study by the Northwestern School of Law's Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 340 people were exonerated in the U.S. between 1989-2003, 17 of them took place in Louisiana.