innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, December 30, 2005


Clarence Zacke, 68, manipulated the prison system by snitching on fellow inmates. Zacke did not discriminate--he implicated the guilty and the innocent.

Wilton Dedge was recently rewarded a $2 million dollar settlement by Florida Governor Jeb Bush because he had been wrongly convicted based largely on Zacke's testimony. Dedge spent 22 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Zacke, who was due to be released from prison for snitching to police about a murder-for-hire scheme, is now facing a trial on rape charges.

A middle-aged woman found out that Zacke was being released, and told investigators that he had raped her repeatedly between the ages of 7 and 11.

Zacke says that the new charges are "payback."

"The state knew where I was the whole time, and they purposely waited until I was ready to get out," Zack said.

Click here for the whole story from the Orlando Sentinal.

"There Are Other Innocent People In Prison"

In Virginia, cases that involved serology--a technique that determined blood groupings in criminal cases and tried to either eliminate or exclude suspects according to blood type--are being re-evaluated.

According to the Richmond-Times Dispatch, the 1.4 million dollar project taking place in Henrico County was established to re-evaluate past cases over the next year and a half and exonerate those who have been wrongly convicted.

So far, five men have been cleared of the crimes they have been convicted of, and there are at least 300 more cases that are yet to be re-evaluated.

The serologist, Mary Burton handled all five cases and two others in which men have been exonerated.

The fault may not lie in Burton's work, but with serology itself. The science is more primitive than current DNA testing, and can only pin down blood type. Burton's unique habit of preserving evidence after a case has been closed has enabled a re-evaluation of her work.

Click here for more on Mary Burton.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Wife's Faith Never Waivers--An Innocent Man Is Free

It took seven years of tireless work by his wife, Melinda Elkins, a private investigator and volunteers at the Ohio Innocence Project, but Clarence Elkins is finally free after being exonerated through DNA evidence.

Clarence Elkins was convicted of raping and murdering Melinda’s mother, as well as raping his six-year-old niece. Melinda never believed that her husband committed the horrific crimes. Her suspicions came to rest upon Earl Mann, a convicted rapist who lived near Melinda’s mother.

Mann was in the same prison as Elkins, who had been convicted of the rape and molestation of three little girls. At his wife’s urging, Elkins watched Mann closely and seized Mann’s discarded cigarette in a clean plastic bag. After being hidden in Elkin’s bible for ten days, he mailed the cigarette to Attorney General Jim Petro.

Petro sent the butt for D.N.A. testing, and the evidence implicated Mann in the murder and rapes of Melinda’s mother and Elkin’s niece.

Eventually, due to political pressure from Petro, this evidence caused prosecutors to investigate Mann.

“I knew from day one that justice would be served,” said Clarence Elkins, “I did not know when. My wife is a very courageous and strong person. She never gave up. I give her a lot of credit.”

“I really feel my mom is at rest,” said Melinda Elkins.

Click here for the whole story originally published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, written by Karen Farkas and Ted Wendling.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

John Kogut Exonerated by DNA Evidence

DNA evidence showed that John Kogut was not the man who raped a Lynbrook, New York teenager in 1984.

On Wednesday, December 21, 2005, Kogut was found innocent by Judge Victor Ort in a non-jury trial. He and his two co-defendants, John Restivo and Dennis Halstead were released two years ago when DNA evidence on the victim’s body was tested and did not match any of the three men.

“The next logical step is for District Attorney Denis Dillon to dismiss the indictments against John Restivo and Dennis Halstead,” said Barry Scheck, co-director of the New York Innocence Project. “The evidence against them is far weker than that which Judge Ort found was not enough to convict John Kogut.”

Kogut was questioned for 20 hours by police before giving a taped confession to the rape and murder of 16-year-old Theresa Fusco. Kogut’s attorney, Paul Casteliero stated that Kogut’s confession was coerced and his client had been railroaded at his first trial in 1986.

Click here to read the article written by Michael White about John Kogut.

Robert Clark, Home for Christmas

This article originally ran with the headline in the Hamilton Spectator in Hamilton Ontario:

Freedom sweet for wrongly convicted man

The Associated Press
ATLANTA (Dec 26, 2005)
Robert Clark's eyes widened at the piles of presents before him. The two television sets. The leather jacket. The CD player. The towels, linens, dishes, books, gift cards. The everything.

"That's all for you," someone said to Clark, who was freed from prison this month after being wrongly incarcerated for 24 years.
Clark, 45, beamed. "This," he said, "is going to be a wonderful Christmas."

This scene played out in the midtown Atlanta offices of the Georgia Innocence Project, a not-for-profit advocacy organization that helped Clark obtain DNA evidence to overturn his rape conviction.

Since his Dec. 8 release for a rape he didn't commit, the organization's staff and volunteers have helped him get health care, a driver's license and job interviews.

Clark was convicted after a rape victim identified him from photo and police lineups, even though she earlier had said the rapist was much shorter than the 6-foot-1 Clark.

In 1999, Clark read an article about the Innocence Project, a New York-based organization that works to overturn wrongful convictions. He wrote for help and Innocence Project lawyers took the case. The organization was a role model for the Georgia Innocence Project, which was created in 2002 and later joined Clark's appeal.

The appeal succeeded this year and Clark walked out of court a free man. Reporters have clamored for his time and well wishers have bought him meals. WVEE, a prominent radio station, gave him a $2,000 US shopping spree.

But he also spent parts of four days seeking health care and a prescription card at Grady Memorial Hospital. He went to get a driver's license, accompanied by his sister, who had flown in from Oklahoma and drove him to the test in a rental car. After hours of waiting, he was told he couldn't take the driver's test in a rental car, said Lisa George, the Georgia Innocence Project's communications director.

"The last thing I ever want to do is waste a second of this man's time, because 24 years have been wasted," George said.
Clark said that kind of stuff isn't bothering him. He's delighted to be out of prison and reunited with his two children and five grandchildren and with Janice Smith, the mother of his son Rocky, 28. He said he's not angry. He decided years ago to set aside the rage at being wrongly imprisoned, at the urging of his mother, Lula Clark, who died last year.

But when asked if he ever received an apology, his smile disappeared. "No," he said, adding he would like an apology from the prosecutors who put him away and from the rape victim who misidentified him. But Clark emphasized how happy he is.

"The best Christmas I've had in years," he said.