innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Proving innocence, twice

Ken Marsh spent more than two decades in state prison, all the while insisting he should not have been there because he was an innocent man.Now, 15 months after he walked out of Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility on a starlit August night, Marsh will have to prove it.

In the latest turn in Marsh's long-running legal saga, he and his lawyers are in Sacramento today for an unusual hearing in which they will seek to show that Marsh was wrongly convicted of killing toddler Phillip Buell in April 1983.Much is at stake.

The hearing, which will feature testimony from Marsh, Phillip's mother Brenda -- who is now married to Marsh -- and medical experts, is being held under a little-known section of the Penal Code that awards those wrongly convicted $100 for each day they spend in prison. Marsh spent more than 7,500 days in custody.

At $100 per day, he stands to receive $756,000.That is the largest wrongful-conviction claim ever received by the state Victim Compensation Fund, said board spokeswoman Fran Clader. The fund makes recommendations on whether to grant a claim. The money comes from the state's general fund and must be approved by the Legislature.

Marsh's case has always been controversial. Police initially ruled the death an accident. But prosecutors, backed by doctors from Children's Hospital, where Phillip was taken and later died, contended that the child's injuries could not have come from a fall. They concluded it must have come from a beating.

At his trial Marsh insisted he did not harm the child. He said he was in another room when he heard a crash come from the living room where he had momentarily left Phillip and Phillip's sister. No one else was in the house.

Appeals of his conviction failed, but three years ago, new lawyers for Marsh assembled medical experts who reviewed the case and concluded that Phillip's death was caused by an undiagnosed bleeding disorder that turned the fall off a couch into a fatal accident.

With that finding, the judge would not oppose Marsh's release, and later concluded that there was insufficient evidence to retry Marsh.

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