innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Monday, September 25, 2006

This op-ed piece ran in the Patriot News on Sunday, Sempber 24, 2006.
Bill could help put an end to wrongful convictions

Sunday, September 24, 2006


In an important move toward improving the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania, the state Senate in April unanimously passed The Innocence Commission Act .

The legislation (Senate Bill 1069), introduced by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, with a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, would establish the commission to study the reasons why innocent people are convicted of crimes.

SB 1069 now awaits action in the House Judiciary Committee. Several representatives from south-central Pennsylvania are members of that committee, and I strongly urge them to ensure that the bill finds its way out of the committee and to the full House for a vote.

A wrongful conviction is a nightmare for the innocent person, the crime's victim, and for our society. I should know. I spent 10 years in an Arizona prison for a crime someone else committed. My incarceration included nearly three years on Arizona's death row.
I am a Pennsylvanian who was wrongly convicted in another state, but this problem is not unique to Arizona. Thomas Doswell, Vince Moto, Nicholas Yarris and Barry Laughman are all Pennsylvanians who were wrongly convicted.

Among them, these four men spent nearly 70 years in Pennsylvania prisons, and they were all locked up while they were in their 20s, in their prime, a time when they were trying to establish their personal and working lives.

The Innocence Commission would examine how these tragedies occur. My case included some of the typical problems with the justice system.

When Kim Ancona was killed in 1991, a friend of hers mentioned someone named Ray to investigators, and the police focused on me as their only suspect.

In fact, investigators were so focused on me that they ignored evidence exonerating me, including a footprint from the scene that did not match my size. In addition, I owned no shoes that matched the tread.

Because I trusted the justice system, I did not bother to hire a private attorney and accepted court-appointed counsel. My attorney's resources were woefully inadequate. A bite mark was the one piece of evidence that led to my conviction, but my lawyer could not afford to hire a bite mark expert. He relied on a family dentist as our expert.

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