innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Innocence Links

ALABAMA

Innocence Commission
Birmingham News
Songs of innocence, songs of experience
Editorial - “Alabama, in particular, should look closely at the commission approved Wednesday by North Carolina legislators. If signed by Gov. Mike Easley, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission would be established to review cases where new evidence suggests a wrongful conviction occurred. …No matter what Attorney General Troy King says, Alabama is not immune from such mistakes. It has had inmates cleared by DNA testing, and it has others - even on Death Row - who make a compelling case of innocence even without the help of DNA evidence.”

CONNECTICUT

Eyewitness ID Reform
Journal Inquirer
Are some wrongful convictions inevitable? Experts don't see police errors in Tillman case
The Tillman mistaken ID is analyzed: “…To criticize mug-book identifications raises the difficult question of how police could solve crimes committed against strangers if they were deprived of this technique. Steven D. Penrod, a psychology professor at the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says Tillman's case provides ‘a lesson about the unreliability of eyewitness identification.’ But he adds, ‘There is not a lesson about police practices in this case.’ ‘I would not fault the police for doing what they did,’ agrees Robert W. Shomer, a psychologist in Encino, Calif., who has testified hundreds of times as an expert on eyewitness identification over 30 years. The chief moral of the story thus may be a particularly sobering one: Some erroneous criminal convictions may be unavoidable.”

FLORIDA

Eyewitness ID Reform
Associated Press
Researchers: Flaws in police lineups convict the innocent
"Florida has a lot of work to do," said Stephen Saloom, the Innocence Project's policy director. "The state would do well to learn from the massive body of peer-reviewed research that establishes a simple way to significantly decrease the likelihood of mistaken eyewitness identification." State Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, said the lineup issue did not come up in his Senate Criminal Justice Committee this year, even as it approved a bill eliminating DNA testing deadlines for prisoners seeking to prove their innocence. "I think it is something we really ought to look at or at least give it serious discussion," Wise said. "Our objective is to get the bad guys, not the innocent."

ILLINOIS

Wrongful Conviction
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Jury acquits mother in 1997 stabbing of son
“Harper had been imprisoned for the crime in 2002 but set free on a technicality two years later… Harper's defense was that an intruder committed the murder, and her lawyers spent much of the two-week trial showing how it could have been [serial killer Tommy Lynn] Sells. In failing to convict Harper, 37, jurors handed a stinging defeat to police and prosecutors, who have maintained for almost a decade that Harper stabbed her 10-year-old son 12 times as he slept in her Lawrenceville, Ill., home in the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 13, 1997, then concocted the story of a masked intruder. It was only later that Sells' name was attached to that theory, after he told police, journalists and others that he may have committed the murder during his national string of killings in the late 1990s.” The Downstate Innocence Project and the Center on Wrongful Convictions supported her case. You can read a full profile of Ms. Harper’s case on the Center’s web site, http://www.law.northwestern.edu/cwc/exonerations/IL_Harper.htm.

INDIANA

DNA Databanks
Indianapolis Star
Advocates say new law will crack down on repeat offenders, but critics call process intrusive
“Starting Monday, felons in Marion County must begin providing the samples. Felons in counties surrounding Indianapolis must begin the process in August, with the rest of the counties phased in after that. Previously, only those who committed the most violent crimes were routinely tested. But under a 2005 state law, all felons in the state must submit to the procedure… ‘I'm not sure simply being convicted of any felony ought to subject you to…that kind of intrusion,’ said Paula Sites, assistant executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council.”

Other Forensic Databanks
WTHR
Crime lab uses ballistics ID system to work on sniper evidence
“Indiana State Police will use a high-tech computer called the Integrated Ballistics Identification System to help them determine the type of weapon used. It is one of seven ballistics identification systems in Indiana…The IBIS computer system takes digital images of bullets and cartridge casings and compares unique markings against a database of more than 25,000 entries…He said the county IBIS computer successfully found 125 matches since 1997. In addition to sharing information with six other IBIS computers in Indiana, examiners can also look for matches across the country.”

LOUISIANA

False Confession; Wrongful Conviction; DNA at Trial
LA Times
One man goes free, another waits
An update on Travis Hayes, exoneree Ryan Matthews’ co-defendant: “Today, at the Jefferson Parish courthouse in Gretna, Hayes' lawyers will call witnesses in an attempt to persuade Judge Henry G. Sullivan Jr. to release Hayes, who is now 26. The lawyers maintain that the only thing that links Hayes to the crime is a coerced confession he gave to police after six hours of interrogation. Prosecutors are expected to present witnesses, including the detectives who interrogated Hayes, on Friday… David P. Wolff, the lead prosecutor, said the fact that neither Hayes' nor Matthews' DNA was on the ski mask did not ‘mean that these men never wore the mask. It is possible for them, for Ryan Matthews to have worn the mask, or Travis Hayes for that matter, and not left DNA’… ‘I reviewed Hayes' confession and a lot of the police reports. It is the most naked, uncorroborated confession I have ever read, devoid of relevant detail,’ said [Steven] Drizin, who is the director of the law school's Center on Wrongful Convictions."

DNA Databanks
New Orleans Times Picayune
One month after reinforcements arrive: N.O. murders fall and arrests climb
"It has been a month since the unprecedented union of the New Orleans Police Department, the National Guard and the State Police freed up entire squads of NOPD officers to attack crime in the city's most dangerous neighborhoods. Since then, arrests in some crime-plagued neighborhoods have almost doubled, and the number of murders has been sliced nearly in half, police said… Capt. Bob Bardy, commander of the 2nd District -- which includes part of Central City, New Orleans' bloodiest neighborhood with 18 of this year's 67 murders -- said before the task forces hit the streets, his officers averaged between 150 and 180 arrests per week. Between July 9 and July 15, Bardy's officers made 318 arrests, he said. Of that total, 232 arrests were made by a hand-picked task force working his district.” Louisiana takes DNA samples from all arrestees. That’s a lot of samples – one wonders about their database’s backlog.

MARYLAND

DNA Databanks
Baltimore Sun
Unintended consequences
Editorial – This is in response to the article “Evidence uncollected, crimes undeterred” that appeared in the Baltimore Sun on July 16th, about the backlog of offender samples that haven’t been uploaded into the Maryland database: “The Maryland State Police, the agency charged with collecting and processing inmate DNA, knew from a June 2004 legislative audit that it had fallen way behind in collecting prisoners' samples for its state databank. It did not have the staffing - despite a budget request for additional resources - to keep pace with state lawmakers' decision to expand the list of felons required to give their DNA. State police acknowledged the problem then and rallied local law enforcement to help collect samples… Requiring state agencies to do more without providing the funds to accomplish a mandate is a setup for failure.”

NATIONAL

Crime Labs: Funding
Law Enforcement Technology
Crime lab funding: How important is a good crime lab to an agency?
This article appears here on Officer.com, whose audience is, naturally, police: “Since science constantly changes, buying new equipment and training takes operating costs into the sky. It's a problem few politicians understand or want to confront. Meanwhile, back in the courtroom, defense attorneys and juries weaned on shows like the "CSI" series and "NCIS" want to know why the guy in the lab coat didn't do this test or that test. If the bottom line turns out to be "We don't have that capability," it's bound to affect the outcome of trials.”

Politics/Politicians
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Senate confirms Arkansan to federal appellate bench
Article reports that the Senate confirmed U.S. Magistrate Judge Bobby Shepherd for a seat on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Shepherd, who is from Arkansas, received a unanimous vote from the Senate Judiciary Committee, and there was no registered opposition during a voice vote in the full Senate. Both of Arkansas’ Democratic senators strongly supported Judge Shepherd’s nomination. Sen. Mark Pryor said that “[P]resident Bush made a rare find in nominating Judge Shepherd,” and Sen. Blanche Lincoln said that “[Judge Shepherd] has the judicial temperament and the good experience to perform well.” President Bush has now nominated seven of the 11 judges on the 8th Circuit, which is the only circuit in the nation with a majority of Bush appointees.

Politics/Politicians
Denver Post
Gorsuch confirmed for 10th Circuit
Article reports that the Senate confirmed associate U.S. attorney general Neil Gorsuch for a seat on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. A Colorado native, Mr. Gorsuch received support from both Sen. Wayne Allard (R., CO) and Sen. Ken Salazar (D., CO). The Senate confirmed him by voice vote because his nomination was uncontroversial. Mr. Gorsuch’s writing suggests that he is conservative. In an article in the National Review in 2005, Mr. Gorsuch wrote that “[A]merican liberals have become addicted to the courtroom, relying on judges and lawyers rather than elected leaders and the ballot box, as the primary means of effecting their social agenda.” During his time as associate U.S. attorney general Mr. Gorsuch helped manage the Justice Department’s civil litigation.

DNA Databanks
Stateline.org
States collecting DNA from arrestees
“Led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), critics say the state and federal laws reverse constitutional guarantees and render suspects guilty until proven innocent. Supporters say the aim is to develop a network of shared information to fight crime nationwide. DNA sampling of convicted felons has been used to aid thousands of investigations, according to a state-by-state clickable map maintained by the FBI. DNA evidence has also been used to exonerate those who have been wrongly convicted. Nationwide, more than 180 people have been freed with the help of DNA evidence since 1989, according to the Innocence Project, a legal clinic based in New York.” Kansas state Rep. Pat Colloton (R) believes this issue will go to the United States Supreme Court.

DNA Databanks
Grand Forks Herald
Senate OKs Dru's law
“After two years, two passes through the Senate and one abrupt halt at the House, North Dakota representatives are preparing for the passage of Dru's Law…The bill has now become part of larger legislation that cracks down on sex offenders…The Senate and the House will add Dru's Law to the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which would require sex offenders to register where they work, live and go to school and would increase the maximum penalty of not registering to 10 years in prison. The bill was passed by the Senate on Thursday evening and is expected to come up for a vote in the House sometime next week. President Bush is expected to sign it into law.” Among other things, the law will “establish a comprehensive federal DNA database of material collected from convicted molesters, and procedures for the routine DNA collection and comparison to the database when someone has been convicted of such an offense.” For info on the trial of the man accused of killing Dru Sjodin, see North Dakota.

NEW JERSEY

Other Forensic Databanks; Crime Labs: Backlogs
Herald-News
Cease-fire for Silk City's sake
"As the sound of gunfire increasingly becomes just one more syncopated note in [Paterson, NJ's] soundtrack, residents have clamored for an end to the shootings, which may be gang-related and have taken five lives so far this year…In Paterson, a state trooper, Detective J. Mandziuk, has been assigned since late May to help city police load evidence from criminal investigations into statewide intelligence databases. This is the first phase of CeaseFire, said state police Capt. Christopher J. Andreychak, project director of the statewide program. The aim is for the state police to provide extra resources to the Paterson police, whose officers are often tied up responding to local
calls and who do not have time to manage such databases. Mandziuk's priority is to help Paterson police log about 1,500 confiscated guns into the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, or NIBIN.... Paterson is not the only city with a backlog of guns waiting to be put into the NIBIN program. Atlantic City has about 500, Jersey City 1,600, and Camden 3,000… When these tasks are complete, Mandziuk will go through the Paterson Police evidence locker to see if there is anything that was recovered at a crime scene that should be logged into the statewide CODIS…”

NEW YORK

Preservation of Evidence; Life After Exoneration
Amsterdam News
The mis-adjudication of Alan Newton: Man freed after serving 21 years on wrongful conviction
An update on Alan Newton and the inquiry into preservation policies in NYC: “The Innocence Project told the AmNews it will formally ask the NYPD to aggressively search for evidence in more than a dozen cases the Innocence Project had closed in recent years, as well as six open cases in which evidence has not yet been located. The organization also plans to request a specific accounting of what went wrong in locating evidence in Newton’s case and what policies and procedures will be implemented to avoid future tragedies like this one.”

NORTH DAKOTA

DNA at Trial
Grand Folks Herald
Attorney claims no samples remain for further testing
Defense attorneys for Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr, who is being tried for the kidnapping leading to the death of UND senior Dru Sjodin, are seeking to have certain DNA evidence thrown out because the law enforcement scientist that tested it didn't leave any remaining sample for the defense to test. Ann Marie Gross, a forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's lab in St. Paul, said proper procedure is for DNA samples to be divided before testing so that something remains for possible further testing, except when a sample of DNA is too small and is "consumed" in the testing. In the case of one DNA sample that was consumed in testing, the drop of blood was so small, "it was not possible to cut that blood stain in half," Gross said.

OHIO

DNA at Trial
Akron Beacon Journal
DNA expert startles court
“Eyes drooped and yawns were hardly stifled as a state expert gave lecture-like DNA testimony in Donald Lavell Craig's capital murder trial in Summit County Common Pleas Court. But near the end of DNA expert Lynda Eveleth's appearance Thursday, jurors and onlookers snapped to attention when she offered the odds that someone other than Craig left the semen found on the body of 13-year-old Malissa Thomas. The numbers prompted someone in the courtroom audience to gasp and one juror's eyes and mouth to pop open wide. One chance in 4,912,000,000,000,000,000. That's almost 5 quintillion.”

TEXAS

Crime Labs: Oversight
Houston Chronicle
City flinches at rising lab-probe cost
“Some City Council members joined Houston police Tuesday in balking at spending another $1.5 million on an independent crime lab investigation that already has cost almost $4 million… ‘The last time Mr. Bromwich asked for an additional amount above the original estimate, we asked for assurances that we budgeted enough for him to finish the job,’ the mayor said. ‘We need to understand how much of Mr. Bromwich's time is needed at $395 an hour.’"

Crime Labs: Oversight
Houston Chronicle
City Hall deja vu
Editorial - “The independent probe of botched handling and analysis of evidence at the Houston police crime lab is entering the home stretch, but quibbling over its cost has idled special investigator Michael Bromwich and his staff… It's far too late in the game to foolishly compromise the prodigious work that Bromwich's team has already accomplished.”

Compensation
Dallas Morning News
Exonerated prisoners often find difficulties with transition
“The daily struggles that Greg Wallis faces are typical of the hundreds of people nationwide who have been exonerated through DNA testing and released from prison. Almost all exhaust their finances in prison fighting to prove their innocence, and many suffer deep family fractures while locked away, according to a survey by the nonprofit Life After Exoneration Program. ‘They've got the normal problems of readjusting on the outside, and nobody wants to listen to their story,’ said [Jeff] Blackburn, who directs the Lubbock-based West Texas Innocence Project…Mr. Blackburn envisions having Mr. Wallis tell the story of his wrongful arrest and 18 years spent in prison to lawmakers in the next legislative session…He is asking [Wallis] to help lobby for changes in the way exonerees are compensated for the time they are locked away. Currently, compensation is taxed heavily. The exonerated also give up their right to sue over their convictions and false imprisonment by accepting restitution.”

WISCONSIN

Crime Labs: Backlogs
Associated Press
DNA backlogs, submissions grow in Wisconsin
“The number of criminal cases waiting for DNA tests in Wisconsin more than doubled from 2003 to 2005 as prosecutors submitted more and more evidence to the state crime labs, hunting for the surefire identifier that could seal a conviction, an Associated Press review found.”

Death Penalty; Innocence Network
Capital Times
Death penalty foes form group to fight referendum
“The committee is an umbrella group including the Wisconsin Coalition Against the Death Penalty, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Wisconsin Council of Churches and Amnesty International, according to Tom Cannon, who is coordinating the effort. The committee had collected $7,150 to use in fighting the death penalty by a July 20 reporting deadline. Contributors included the co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project as well as the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which contributed $5,000…’Chris Ochoa was exonerated by the Innocence Project and his conviction was supported by DNA evidence that included him as a possible source of the semen in a dead woman's body. Actually, 17 percent of the Hispanic population would have been included in that profile. Later more sophisticated DNA testing was able to match to the true killer. But his first conviction was supported by DNA evidence. [DNA] does not by any means solve the problem of convicting and executing innocent people,’ Keith Findlay said."

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