innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, January 13, 2006

Keith Coleman--Guilty as Charged

DNA evidence has proven that Keith Coleman, a man executed for raping and murdering his sister-in-law, was indeed guilty.

Coleman's case had drawn national attention, and death penalty foes had taken up his cause. He had been convicted in 1982 and put to death in 1992.

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.

To read more click here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Supreme Court faced with DNA Evidence for 1st time

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments tommorrow in the case of convicted Tennessee killer, Paul House, who claims to have exonerating DNA evidence. It will be the first time any death row inmate has brought DNA evidence before the high court, reports the Washington Post.
The outcome could determine whether prisoners have a constitutional right to use DNA to seek new trials.
Since 1989, DNA has been used to exonerate 172 convicted felons in 31 states, including 14 people who had initially been sentenced to death. Those cases all happened in lower courts.
Click here for more on this story.

Monday, January 09, 2006

New Jersey likely to halt death penalty

New Jersey governor, Richard Codey, has indicated he would sign legislation to stop executions in the state to study the fairness and cost of imposing the death penalty before leaving office on Jan. 17.

If signed the bill would make New Jersey the third state to suspend executions. Twelve states have appointed study commissions in light of the recent trend in wrongful convictions as well as to study whether minorities and the poor are more likely to be given the death penalty.

In light of new advances in identification by DNA, some lawmakers are favoring putting the death penalty on hiatus to ensure lives are not being taken unjustly.

The late Roger Keith Coleman of Virginia was executed by electric chair in 1992. Nearly 15 years later there may be DNA evidence that proves the wrongful death and conviction of Coleman. Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey-based innocence organization, asked for the retesting of DNA evidence in the case in 2002 and was denied.