innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, March 31, 2006

$14.5 Million Settlement in Tulsa

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A federal jury awarded $14.5 million in damages to a man who spent 14 years in prison for a rape conviction before DNA evidence exonerated him.

Arvin McGee Jr., 44, was freed in 2002 after his conviction in the 1987 rape and kidnapping was overturned. He sued the city of Tulsa the following year, claiming his constitutional rights had been violated.

“It’s justice,” McGee said Wednesday after the jury announced its verdict. His lawsuit didn’t name an amount. Deputy City Attorney Larry V. Simmons said the jury’s decision was “understandable in light of the fact that he was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.”

But he said the city would likely appeal. He could not say it might pay the $14.5 million if the appeal failed.

McGee’s lawsuit claimed a Tulsa police officer involved in the case acted with “deliberate indifference” toward McGee’s constitutional rights in connection with a five-man photo lineup from which the victim identified McGee as her attacker.

DNA testing later linked another man to the crime, but by that time, the seven-year statute of limitations that existed at the time of the crime had expired.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

innocence blog

This article was originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune
by: Greg Moran
March 26, 2006

Less than two years ago, Ken Marsh's daily life was largely described by numbers: the number of years spent in prison, the number of years he had left and the identification number assigned to him as a state prison inmate.

Now, there is a new number in Marsh's life: $756,900.
That is the amount of money the Rancho Peñasquitos man will be getting in a record-setting award from the state.

Late Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill granting Marsh the $756,900 as compensation for being wrongly convicted and locked up on charges of beating a child to death in 1983.

The award is the largest the state has ever given under a program that gives people who can convince a state panel they were wrongly convicted. The compensation is $100 a day for each day spent in prison.

Marsh said the bill signing is a welcome milestone in his long battle to clear his name, although he said it does not make up for all of the two decades he spent locked up.

“It's a step in the right direction,” he said. “We're glad the governor signed it and it passed through as quickly as it did.”

Click here for the whole story.

Monday, March 27, 2006

New Trial in '86 Rape Conviction

This article originally ran in the Chicago Tribune on March 24, 2006.

By Maurice Possley
Tribune staff reporter

The Illinois Appellate Court on Thursday ordered a new trial for convicted rapist Bennie Starks, ruling that DNA tests have shown a crime-lab analyst presented false scientific evidence at his 1986 trial.

Starks, 46, who has served nearly 20 years of a 60-year prison term after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a 69-year-old Waukegan woman, has maintained his innocence since he was arrested."

This is a triumph of justice," said Vanessa Potkin, an attorney with the New York-based Innocence Project who has been representing Starks along with Waukegan attorney Jed Stone.

"This is an incredible example of how DNA evidence ferrets out legal mistakes and wrongful convictions and creates a more level playing field for the accused," Stone said.Michael Mermel, a Lake County prosecutor who has fought to preserve Starks' conviction, said Thursday that the ruling would be appealed.

The battle over Starks' claim of innocence has dragged out for several years.In 2002, his lawyers filed a motion for a new trial after DNA tests conducted on the victim's underwear isolated a male profile that was not his.

After Lake County Circuit Judge Christopher Starcks dismissed that motion, biological evidence long believed lost was discovered in the Northern Illinois Crime Lab.

DNA tests on that evidence excluded Starks.In the meantime, the defense lawyers discovered laboratory reports by an analyst at the crime lab who performed blood tests on the evidence in 1986, as DNA testing was not then available.

Defense lawyers contended that the lab reports showed that Starks should have been excluded, but the crime lab analyst, who no longer works at the lab, testified that Starks could have been the attacker.

Starks' lawyers again sought a new trial, but they were rejected. The appeals court overturned the rejection, citing the DNA exclusion, the false testimony from the crime lab analyst, and trial testimony from the victim that was impeached.

At Starks' trial, a public-aid worker testified that after the attack, the victim told her that she had not been raped but had been physically assaulted by someone acting on behalf of people jealous of her sexual relationship with someone else.

The appeals court said the DNA results so contradicted the victim's identification of Starks as her attacker that the jury's verdict "was manifest error." The outcome of a new trial, with the new evidence, would likely be different, the court ruled.At the trial, the victim said Starks pulled her into a ravine and beat, bit and raped her.

A Gurnee dentist said he matched Starks' teeth to a bite mark on the victim, and Starks' jacket was found near the scene of the alleged attack. Starks said he had spent the evening in a nearby tavern and had been robbed of his money and coat on his way home.