innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, June 09, 2006

DNA May Be Clue in 10 Old Killings

By Ashraf Khalil, Times Staff WriterJune 9, 2006

Inglewood police said Thursday they were awaiting the results of a DNA sample taken from a 65-year-old man being held in state prison to determine whether he might have a connection to 10 unsolved slayings that occurred over the last two decades.

Detectives stressed that they have not conclusively linked the killings to one assailant but said they found enough similarities in the crimes to ask a judge for a DNA sample from Roger Hausmann, currently behind bars in Fresno while awaiting trial in a kidnapping case.

The judge agreed to the request, and Inglewood Police Det. Jeffrey Steinhoff recently traveled to Fresno to take a sample of Hausmann's saliva. The 10 cases that detectives are focusing on mostly involved women — including several prostitutes — whose bodies were found in Inglewood and surrounding communities such as South Los Angeles.

The possible link in the cases was first reported by the L.A. Weekly.Steinhoff said in an interview Thursday that he was investigating the cold case of a 14-year-old girl who was raped and killed in March 2002 when he discovered that DNA found on her body matched that on the bodies of three other homicide victims.

Two of those victims were shot with a handgun linked to six other area killings, he said.The department hopes to know in coming weeks whether the DNA found on the girl matches the sample taken from Hausmann."It will all come down to the DNA," said Steinhoff, who is working with the Los Angeles Police Department's cold case unit. "We're all waiting for the same thing."

Hausmann's name entered the investigation after Fresno County officials alerted L.A. authorities last year. Hausmann, the Fresno officials said, "made comments that when he was in Los Angeles, he had killed a number of prostitutes," said Capt. Ed Winter of the L.A. County coroner's serial homicide team. Detectives said they were still trying to fit together the pieces of the cases and were not certain how many of the killings were related.

Steinhoff said that if Hausmann's DNA is not a match, he will be eliminated as a suspect but that detectives will continue to look into possible links among the killings.The case comes two years after another in which the LAPD charged a man in the deaths of 10 women whose cases had remained unsolved for years.

Police have accused Chester D. Turner of killing the women — and a victim's fetus — during an 11-year rampage that began in 1987. He has pleaded not guilty.Turner is serving an eight-year prison sentence in a rape case. Genetic testing conducted after that conviction tied him to sperm cell matter found on the bodies of the 10 women, according to an analyst with the LAPD's Scientific Investigations Division.

Turner's DNA was also allegedly linked to two other killings that were wrongly blamed on David Allen Jones, who was released from prison in March because of wrongful convictions. Turner has not been charged in those killings.Hausmann, who could not be reached for comment, is expected to go on trial Monday.

The former repossessor is charged with kidnapping, false imprisonment and criminal threats in connection with an abduction involving two women, said Bob Ellis, an assistant district attorney in Fresno County.Inglewood detectives said they couldn't be sure when the DNA test would come back.

The speed of the testing process depends on the lab's caseload.Testing related to a current trial or active investigation "will take precedence over a cold case," Steinhoff said. "After all, the guy isn't going anywhere. He's already in prison."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"Mafia Cops" May Get Life Sentences

This article by Alan Feuer originally ran in the New York Times.

For 2 Ex-Detectives, Life Terms and Tales of Grief

Published: June 6, 2006
Calling their crimes the "most heinous" he had ever seen in court, a federal judge issued — but did not officially impose — life in prison sentences yesterday for two retired New York detectives convicted in April of taking part in at least eight murders for the mob.

Michal Weinstein, whose father was killed 20 years ago, said that the defendants "took away our childhood."

The sentencing of the men, Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, drew to a conditional close a stunning case of police corruption that began 20 years ago when they stopped a jeweler on the highway, helped to kill him and later left his body buried under concrete in an auto-body shop.
The judge, Jack B. Weinstein, issued the harshest penalty he could, but held up its imposition until he conducts a hearing later this month to determine if the men had shoddy lawyers, as they contend, and deserve a new trial.

There was little reaction from either man in Federal District Court in Brooklyn and both returned to jail, where Mr. Caracappa's face has grown skeletal and Mr. Eppolito has grown a white goatee and gotten somewhat slimmer.

By law, the friends and family of a victim can address the court at sentencing, and before the penalty was read, there were brutally emotional — and achingly personal — accounts from the survivors.

One of them was Michal Weinstein, daughter of the jeweler, Israel Greenwald, who on Feb. 10, 1986, disappeared after giving young Michal a hug as she waited for a bus. She was 10 years old then, and as she spoke from the stand, addressing both defendants by name, it was with a caged fury that only now, after 20 years, had found release.

"You took away our daddy," she said, "and by doing that you took away our childhood. You took away our mother. You stole our innocence. You filled our nights with nightmares and our days with torture."

She posed a list of questions to the men: Did they know what it was like to be asked about your father and not have an answer? To be treated with fear and pity? To watch from the window as your mother's car is repossessed? To leave the only home you ever knew and loved because you could not afford the mortgage? To take charity from the very charities your father once gave to? To visit a friend who had lost a loved one and be envious? Because they had a grave?

"To be envious of a grave," she said.

It seemed impossible after such a speech for another syllable to be spoken, but three more family members of victims took the stand and then, sheepishly, Mr. Eppolito rose to speak.
He began contritely, saying that he understood the families' pain and that, in 22 years as a detective, he had often had to deliver news about a death. He had knocked on doors, he said, had spoken to grieving widows — "I know the feelings."

He then invited the families of his victims — the Greenwalds, the Hydells, the Linos — to visit him in jail, where he promised he could prove to them he was an innocent man.

It was at this point that without warning and certainly without permission, a large man wearing a seashell necklace suddenly stood up.

"Mr. Eppolito!" he yelled from the gallery. "Do you remember me?"

Apparently baffled, Mr. Eppolito said, "No."

"I'm the guy you put away for 19 years! I'm Barry Gibbs! You don't remember me? You don't remember what you did to me? To my family?"

The marshals quickly led the man outside, as the courtroom burst into applause.

Mr. Gibbs went to prison 19 years ago for murder, but was released in September when a judge in Brooklyn found that Mr. Eppolito had intimidated the only eyewitness in the case into lying on the stand. Mr. Gibbs's startling appearance put something of a kink in Mr. Eppolito's speech, which he amended on the spot, repeating that he did not know the man.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Recording Custodial Interrogations Could Limit False Confessions

This article by Gary Craig originally ran in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:
June 1, 2006) — When Douglas Warney was freed from prison on May 16, he joined a list of almost 180 people nationwide exonerated by DNA evidence for crimes they didn't commit.
Nearly a quarter of those people were, like Warney, convicted based largely on false confessions.

Warney's case and those like it are prompting more calls for videotaping police station confessions so there is a clear record of what occurred in the interrogation. Not everybody sees videotaping as a worthwhile idea, but advocates say there clearly is a problem that needs to be addressed.

"There are documented occurrences (that false confessions) have occurred throughout history," said local lawyer and former Deputy Capital Defender William Easton. "They occur with regularity in the criminal justice system and it's been demonstrated time and time again."
Most people have a hard time fathoming that anyone would make false admissions to crimes."

People have a very, very powerful belief in a just world," said Saul Kassin, a psychology professor at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and an expert on false confessions. "It's hard for people to imagine being arrested and then charged and then prosecuted and then imprisoned for something they didn't do. People have a hard time imagining that could happen."

But, as the Warney case shows, false confessions do happen — and can lead to wrongful convictions. Warney confessed to the 1996 stabbing death of a Rochester civil rights activist, William Beason, and was convicted in 1997. Prosecutors now say that DNA evidence they sought has led them to the real killer, a man already incarcerated for another murder.
Meanwhile, the Warney case has pulled Monroe County's criminal justice system into an ongoing debate about how to guard against false confessions.For instance:

Local advocates for the videotaping of interrogations contend the Warney case is proof that prosecutors and police should support taping.

Warney's lawyers are pushing for a probe by the Attorney General's Office into the false confession, which included some specific information from the murder scene that the lawyers say must have been fed to Warney by the police.

Warney intends to sue over his wrongful conviction, and the civil suit likely will include allegations that his police interrogation was coercive.

Monroe County District Attorney Michael Green argues that the Warney case is an anomaly and should not be held up as a sign of weaknesses in the county's criminal justice system.
He said he thinks Warney did make the statements attributed to him in the confession, and any information he may have known specific to the crime scene was either culled from police questions or from his knowledge of Beason's home, which he had visited.

"This isn't a case where cops made up a confession," Green said. " ... I haven't seen anyone make the argument that Warney didn't say these things."

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