innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, February 03, 2006

Not Guilty, But Not Off the Hook

This article is republished here in its entirety.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
By John Agar
The Grand Rapids Press
GRAND RAPIDS -- After 13 years in prison, Larry Souter found out freedom isn't free: He owes $38,000 in back child support.
Never mind that the debt accumulated while he was locked up, wrongly convicted of murder.
Souter, 53, was ordered to court Wednesday to explain why he shouldn't be held in contempt. If the hearing had not been postponed, his answer was simple: He was in prison before his second-degree murder conviction was overturned late last year. Prison wages barely covered necessities.
Souter didn't want to talk, but the courthouse certainly was on his list of least favorite places to visit.
He was convicted in 1992 for the 1979 death of Kristi Ringler, 19, near White Cloud. Attorneys later found evidence that could have helped him at trial, reports suggesting the victim was hit by a motor home's mirror. Medical examiners also backed off conclusions that Ringler was killed by a whiskey bottle.
A Newaygo County judge vacated Souter's guilty verdict.
In 1987, Souter was ordered to pay $100 a week in his divorce with Christine Souter. He stopped paying when he went to prison in 1992, but didn't ask to have payments suspended until 1995.
Court documents show that in 1997, he owed $23,000 in back support. As of last month, interest and penalties had pushed it to $38,082.25.
Federal law prohibits judges from retroactively wiping out such debts, Souter's attorney, John Smietanka, said.
He hoped they could reach an agreement with his ex-wife.
"He can't even find a job, let alone find this kind of payment," Smietanka said. "Larry wants to (pay), he definitely wants to deal with this in a fair way."
His ex-wife's attorney, David Sarnacki, wrote in court records that she "has endured the substantial burden of raising her two children without defendant's contribution of child support."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

"The Truth is Whatever It Is"

Senator Alex Villalobos, a Republican senator from Miami is pushing for a bill that will remove limits on DNA testing for inmates who request the tests.

Villalobos, a former prosecutor who saw "an overburdened justice system that encourages quick resolutions over jury trials. The innocent, he said, get swept up in the tide."

The Republican senator from Miami believes that widening the scope of DNA testing will provide another safeguard in the justice system.

"The truth is whatever it is," said Villalobos, "you can't mold it to your point of view." Villalobos went on to say that DNA testing has the power to prove guilt or innocence.

To read more about it, click here.

To read a national article from USA Today that discusses the power of DNA to prove both guilt and innocence in the cases of Roger Keith Coleman and Alan Crotzer click here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Civil Rights Pioneer Dies

Civil rights pioneer, Coretta Scott King, died late last night of heart failure at the age of 78. Wife of Martin Luther King, she fought for human rights after her husband's assassination.

For more on Mrs. King, click here.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Shaky testimony puts man in jail for life

Paul Ford's mother holds her imprisoned picture

Joey Jones told seven people he shot a man dead outside a Monview Heights tenement and he matched the description two others gave of the killer, but, on the witness stand, Mr. Jones pointed the finger at Paul Ford Jr.
Crack addict Nikela Carrington told police she watched Mr. Ford rob and kill a man that day in 1994, but she was in her apartment, where a neighboring building would have blocked her view.
Nicole Bennett, a friend of Ms. Carrington's and a fellow drug user, denied seeing the shooting for six days, then told police she saw Mr. Ford pull the trigger and later admitted conspiring with Ms. Carrington to extort money from Mr. Ford by threatening to say that he did it.
No forensic evidence tied Mr. Ford to the killing.
The only witnesses against him were Mr. Jones, Ms. Carrington and Ms. Bennett, all admitted liars.
But seven people, including two jail guards, said Mr. Jones confessed to the killing. Two witnesses said they saw a man matching Mr. Jones' description flee the shooting and dispose of the weapon, but they never were called to testify.
Mr. Ford was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
Twelve years later, the Post-Gazette and Innocence Institute of Point Park University investigated the case and found that police ignored evidence which pointed away from Mr. Ford and might have got the wrong man, just as Mr. Ford has maintained all along.
Mr. Ford, a street-level drug dealer, admitted being at the scene of the killing with some associates but denied involvement in it.
He believes he was targeted because of his illegal activities and the fact that, eight years before, his father had shot the lead detective in the investigation. Allegheny County Police Detective Gary Tallent, who is now retired, had survived two shots to the chest during a 1986 hostage siege because he was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Prosecutors have prevailed in Mr. Ford's appeals and have repeatedly denied improprieties in the investigation. Detective Tallent, his superiors in the police department and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. did not respond to written requests for their views on this case.
Mr. Ford, from his cell at the State Correctional Institution at Frackville, continues to maintain his innocence and closes his letters with: "I have committed no crime, a crime has been committed against me."
To read more click here.
This article was written by Bill Moushey, director of the Innocence Institute at Point Park University. Two graduate students, Elizbeth Perry and Sara Wolfe, also contributed to this article.