innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Chicago police not held accountable for torture

CHICAGO — “Justice delayed is justice denied,” shouted the crowd at a rally and picket line here April 24 in front of Special Prosecutor Edward Egan’s downtown office. Egan was appointed by an appellate judge in 2002 to investigate allegations that former Police Commander Jon Burge and others under his command tortured suspects to obtain confessions. But four years and $5 million later, according to some estimates, a report has yet to be issued.

Burge is believed to be responsible for leading a corrupt police brutality ring on the city’s South Side that used electroshock devices, Russian roulette, near-suffocation and beatings to get false confessions out of more than 135 African American men during his tenure. Some of the torture victims, known as the Death Row 10, were sentenced to death, while many others continue to serve long prison terms.
Neither Burge nor any of the officers who worked under his command have faced prosecution, and Burge, fired in 1993, still collects a full pension.
Read more of this story in the People's Weekly World.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

DNA Exonerations Reach 177

23 Years After Conviction Based on Eyewitness Misidentification,
DNA Proves Orlando Bosquete’s Innocence

Cuban-American Immigrant in Florida Who Escaped Prison and Lived on the Run
For a Decade Is Exonerated; Immigration Issues Delay Release

(MARATHON, FL; May 23, 2006) – DNA tests prove that Orlando Bosquete did not commit a burglary and sexual assault in the Florida Keys for which he was convicted in 1983 and sentenced to 65 years in prison, the Innocence Project said today.

Bosquete began serving his sentence in February 1983, escaped from prison two years later, lived on the run for more than a decade until he was apprehended in 1995, escaped from prison again, and was finally apprehended in 1996.

He has remained in prison since then, serving time for one of his escapes concurrent with his initial sentence for the burglary and sexual assault that DNA testing now proves he did not commit.

At a hearing this morning in Florida State Court in Monroe County, Bosquete’s conviction was vacated. On Monday, Palm Beach authorities dismissed Bosquete’s conviction for escaping prison in 1985; he has already served time for the 1995 escape.

Federal immigration officials are holding Bosquete – who fled Cuba for Miami in the 1980 Mariel boatlift – while they review case files from the decade after he escaped.

In January 1983, Bosquete was convicted of one count of burglary of a dwelling during which an assault was committed, and one count of attempted sexual battery with slight force.

In the early morning hours in June 1982, a Stock Island woman reported that two Latino men broke into her home as she slept.

While one was in the living room, the other came into her bedroom and fondled her before masturbating on her.

After the men left, she called the police, who issued an all-points bulletin with general descriptions of two Latino men, one of whom had no shirt and no hair (which is how the woman described the man in her bedroom).

Within minutes, an officer stopped several Cuban-American men in a nearby convenience store parking lot; only one of them (Bosquete) had little or no hair and was not wearing a shirt.

The victim was taken to the area to see whether she could identify her attacker; from 20-feet away, in a police car in the middle of the night, she identified Bosquete as the man who was in her bedroom and ejaculated on her clothing.

In the subsequent six months before Bosquete’s trial, the victim was not asked to identify him in any other way (photo array, lineup, daylight identification, etc.). The night before she testified at his trial, the victim was shown a mug shot of Bosquete from the night he was arrested.

In the photo, Bosquete had a large, black moustache. Although she had earlier said her attacker had no facial hair, when she testified at the trial the next day, she said for the first time that the perpetrator had a moustache.

In 2003, Bosquete filed a motion seeking DNA testing (which was not available when he was convicted in 1983) on semen stains on the victim’s clothing. In 2004, Monroe County State Attorney Mark Kohl consented to DNA testing, which a judge ordered and Orchid Cellmark, Inc., conducted pro-bono earlier this year.

The DNA test results conclusively show that another, unknown male was the source of the semen on the woman’s underwear and pajamas. Kohl agreed to vacate Bosquete’s conviction once he reviewed the DNA lab report.

Kohl also worked with the Innocence Project to help resolve legal issues involving Bosquete’s escape convictions.

In addition to Bosquete’s case, eyewitness misidentification played a role in more than 75% of the 177 wrongful convictions nationwide that have been overturned with DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project. Bosquete’s exoneration is the sixth post-conviction DNA exoneration in Florida in the last five years, and the fifth that involves eyewitness misidentification.

“One innocent person spending years in prison because of misidentification should create a groundswell to reform eyewitness ID procedures. In Florida, we now have five cases in five years where incorrect eyewitness identification led to wrongful convictions – nobody can look at these cases and credibly say there isn’t a problem that needs to be fixed,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project and one of Bosquete’s attorneys.

Earlier this year, Florida legislators passed a bill giving prisoners access to DNA testing that can help prove their innocence. Governor Jeb Bush is expected to sign the bill into law. Bosquete’s original motion for DNA testing in 2003 was filed shortly before the original October 2003 deadline for all DNA testing requests in Florida. At that time, the deadline hadn’t been extended and the Florida Innocence Initiative worked with hundreds of inmates around the state to either find attorneys for them or send them sample motions they could file on their own, as Bosquete did.

“Even though Orlando Bosquete had no trial transcripts or legal resources, and a limited ability to write legal documents in English, he filed his motion before the initial deadline. This case shows the importance of prisoners having access to DNA testing that can help prove their innocence, and it shows the critical role prosecutors and the courts can play in helping get to the truth once and for all,” said Nina Morrison, Innocence Project Staff Attorney.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"Where's the Accountability?"

Santa Clara, Calif - May 19, 2006 -- The California State Board ofControl awarded $704,700 to John Stoll to compensate him for the 20 years he spent in state prison, wrongfully convicted of child sexual abuse.

The Stoll case was one of eight Kern County multi-offender, multi-victim sex ring cases prosecuted in the mid 1980s in Bakersfield, California.

Stoll was convicted of 17 counts of child molestation in 1984. Witnesses who testified as children recanted their trial testimony and Stoll was exonerated in April 2004 after Kern County Superior Court Judge John Kelley ruled that techniques investigators used to question the children two decades ago "resulted in unreliable testimony."

To this day, Kern County officials refuse to admit they did anything wrong.

Cookie Ridolfi, Director of the Northern California InnocenceProject (NCIP) at Santa Clara University School of Law and one of Stoll's lawyers said, "It's great that the state of California has acknowledged that this horrible injustice happened here and that they have agreed to pay John compensation, but it's ironic that we allow Kern County police and prosecutors to deny responsibility for any of it, to deny that anything wrong happened. Where's the accountability?"

After Stoll's release in 2004, NCIP filed a claim for compensation onbehalf of John Stoll pursuant to California Penal Code section 4903,which provides $100 a day for each day of wrongful imprisonment.

After investigation of the case, the California Attorney General and StateBoard of Control determined that John Stoll had not committed the crimeshe was convicted of and recommended to the California Legislature thathe be awarded $704,700.00.

"No amount of money can ever truly repair the harm done to John," said Linda Starr, Legal Director of the Northern California Innocence Project.

"John was wrongfully imprisoned for almost twenty years - he lost one-third of his life, his relationship with his son, and his mother. No monetary sum that can replace what he lost."

Monday, May 22, 2006

Moushey Calls For Innocence Project in Philadelphia


Below is a story about the lack of an innocence project in Philadephia that grew out of my keynote speech two weeks ago at the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. Any commentary is welcome.
Bill Moushey

For the whole story, click here.

Prison Population Increase

This AP article by Elizabeth White ran in the PittsburghPost-Gazette May 22nd, 2006.

Number of U.S. Inmates Rises 2 Percent

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Prisons and jails added more than 1,000 inmates each week for a year, putting almost 2.2 million people, or one in every 136 U.S. residents, behind bars by last summer.

The total on June 30, 2005, was 56,428 more than at the same time in 2004, the government reported Sunday. That 2.6 percent increase from mid-2004 to mid-2005 translates into a weekly rise of 1,085 inmates.

Of particular note was the gain of 33,539 inmates in jails, the largest increase since 1997, researcher Allen J. Beck said. That was a 4.7 percent growth rate, compared with a 1.6 percent increase in people held in state and federal prisons.

Prisons accounted for about two-thirds of all inmates, or 1.4 million, while the other third, nearly 750,000, were in local jails, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.