innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, August 18, 2006

More Success for the Wrongfully Convicted

This piece ran in the Providence Journal on Wednesday, August 16, 2006.

Hornoff settles with Warwick for $600,000

Journal Staff Writer

WARWICK -- The city of Warwick has reached a settlement Scott Hornoff, the former police detective who wrongfully served six years in prison for murdering a former lover.

Hornoff will be paid $600,000 and will receive a work-related disability pension, beginning July 18 of this year.

The settlement was reached yesterday afternoon. Under the terms of the federal court resolution, the city will pay $525,000 out of its legal reserve fund, and the remainder will be paid by the Rhode Island Interlocal Trust, Warwick's insurer.

Hornoff was released from prison in 2002 after Todd Barry confessed to the 1989 murder of Victoria Cushman. He later filed suit in Superior Court against the city of Warwick, seeking reinstatement to the city's police department and, in Federal Court, for an alleged civil rights violation stemming from his wrongful conviction. He asked for $11 million in damages.

"The city is pleased to be able to put this issue behind us and behind Mr. Hornoff,'' said Mayor Scott Avedisian. ``I hope that this bad chapter of city history is finally behind us, and I wish Mr. Hornoff all the best.''

Hornoff's lawyers recently approached state authorities about settling the case, but the Attorney General's Office refused, said Mike Healey, a spokesman for Attorney General Patrick Lynch.

Hornoff was undergoing foot surgery today, according to the Associated Press. His wife, Tina Hornoff, declined to speak about the case.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Justice Demands Attonement When Innocent Are Punished

This op-ed piece by Steve Chapman ran in the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, August 17, 2006.

How much do we owe exonerated inmates?

Published August 17, 2006

Michael Evans won an Illinois lottery.

A couple of years ago, the state presented him with a check for $162,000. But forgive him if he's not as grateful as most Lotto winners. His payout didn't come to him because he selected some winning numbers. It came because he spent 27 years in prison for a rape and murder committed by someone else.

That amount of money wouldn't be a bad return on a $2 wager. But for the time he spent behind bars, it comes to about $6,000 a year. He could have made more working for the minimum wage.

Evans thought someone owed him more than that for all he endured. He filed a $60 million lawsuit against 10 former Chicago police officers whom he accused of framing him. But last week, a federal jury rejected his claim, which meant Evans got nothing--except that state check.

The maximum allowed by law, it amounts to less than $17 per day he spent behind bars.

He took the verdict hard, saying, "In my case, I don't really see how justice has been done." Bad as his treatment was, though, it could have been worse. Illinois furnishes modest compensation for inmates who are exonerated. But many states that allow compensation offer even less--and most states provide nothing at all.

Some states are reasonably generous. Utah provides $70,000 for each year spent on Death Row. Tennessee allows awards as high as $1 million. Alabama, Vermont, Michigan and Hawaii offer up to $50,000 for each year of mistaken imprisonment. California pays $100 per day.

But others think inmates should be content with breathing fresh air. Wisconsin caps payouts at $25,000, and New Hampshire has a limit of $20,000. Montana grants only tuition, room and board at any community college in the state.

And 29 states have no laws aimed at making the injured person whole. In those places, if you get locked up by mistake and want financial compensation, you have to go to court or to the legislature, neither of which is obligated to give it. All you're guaranteed in Florida, for example, is $100 and a bus ticket, which is provided to the guilty as well as the innocent.

Florida's legislature has sometimes approved financial redress but, as in other states, obtaining it can be harder than getting off Death Row. Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee spent 12 years in prison before being pardoned in 1975. But Florida rebuffed 19 separate petitions before finally agreeing to give them each $500,000--in 1998.

Lawsuits can be even harder. To win damages, the former inmate has to demonstrate not only that he was convicted in error, but that the police were guilty of misconduct. Ineptitude or carelessness isn't enough.

Even states that have set up systems for compensation don't necessarily make it easy. Illinois is one of several states that say it doesn't suffice to be cleared by DNA or other compelling evidence; a pardon by the governor on grounds of innocence is also required.

Discovering wrongful convictions is not exactly a freakish occurrence anymore. Since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, 123 inmates have been removed from Death Row. Many other inmates have been exonerated of lesser felonies, usually through DNA analysis.

It's hard to envision a more nightmarish experience than being convicted of a heinous crime that you didn't commit and then sent to prison for years or decades.

On top of this, Death Row inmates spend every hour anticipating the day when they will be escorted from their cells, strapped to a gurney and injected with lethal poison. When freed, inmates face huge hurdles in trying to rebuild the lives that were taken from them. Most of us wouldn't go through that for all the money in Microsoft.

The 5th Amendment to the Constitution says the government may not take your property without paying just compensation. But if you're entitled to fair market value for being deprived of your house, shouldn't losing a large share of your time on Earth be worth more than $6,000 per year?

In Illinois and most other places, the answer is no. But if justice demands that we punish the guilty, it also calls for full atonement when we punish the innocent.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Journalists Kidnapped

This AP article ran in the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday, August 15, 2006.

Palestinians seek abducted journalists

By DIAA HADID Associated Press Writer

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian security forces hunted for two abducted Fox News journalists Tuesday, and the Palestinian president and prime minister were intervening in an attempt to gain their release.

President Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Hamas-led government, scheduled meetings with the news organization's Jerusalem bureau chief, Eli Fastman, and its chief correspondent in Israel, Jennifer Griffin.

Investigators said the president's office was closely following the probe into the abduction.
American reporter Steve Centanni, 60, and New Zealand cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, were seized by masked gunmen Monday near the headquarters of the Palestinian security services.

No one has claimed responsibility for kidnapping, and police said no demands have been made. Major militant groups denied any connection to the abduction.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark dispatched diplomats to Gaza to assist in any contacts for their release. She said she was "very concerned" about the kidnapping.

Wiig's wife, Anita McNaught, said Fox representatives told her negotiations for their release were already under way. But officials in Gaza said no contact had been established with the kidnappers.

Nabil Abu Rdeina, an Abbas aide, said the president ordered all security forces to work on tracking the two journalists. "This is an unacceptable act. We condemn this operation and hope we would succeed to find a peaceful solution very soon," he said.

An investigator in the case, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize the investigation, said suspicions were focusing on a renegade group from an established Palestinian militant organization, but he declined to give further details. The car in which the journalists were taken has been identified, he said.

Centanni was behind the wheel of the Fox vehicle, marked in large letters "TV," when the gunmen pulled up and stopped them, a Fox employee said. A Palestinian who was with them was forced onto the floor at gunpoint, and the two journalists were taken away.

An official following the investigation said the getaway car was spotted driving south along the coastal road.

Police and security forces were deployed at major intersections and roads in Gaza immediately after the kidnapping.

Several foreigners have been kidnapped in Gaza by small groups seeking the release of relatives from jail, jobs or other personal favors. All have been freed within a few days without harm.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Boston Pays $3.2 Million for wrongful Conviction

This AP article ran in the Boston Globe on August 11, 2006.

Boston man awarded $3.2 million for wrongful conviction

August 11, 2006

BOSTON --A man who spent 6 1/2 years in prison after a faulty fingerprint match led to his conviction for shooting a Boston police officer was awarded $3.2 million by the city, equaling what's believed to be the largest amount the city ever paid in a wrongful conviction case.

The award to Stephan Cowans, 35, of the city's Mattapan section, stemmed from the 1997 wounding of Sgt. Gregory Gallagher. Cowans was exonerated by DNA evidence through the New England Innocence Project and freed in January 2004.

In March, the city agreed to pay $3.2 million to settle a lawsuit brought by Neil Miller, who served 10 years in prison after being convicted of raping a 19-year-old Emerson College student. In 1989, DNA tests proved another man had committed the crime.

In May 1997, a man shot Gallagher twice with the officer's gun after a scuffle, then fled into a nearby home, where he briefly held a mother and her two children hostage. He drank from a glass of water before fleeing the house, leaving a fingerprint on the glass that police later mistakenly matched to Cowans.

In 1998, Cowans was convicted of armed assault with intent to murder, home invasion and related charges, and was sentenced to 35 to 50 years in prison. His mother died four months before he was freed from prison, and his request to attend her funeral was denied, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Cowans last year.

As part of the settlement, Cowans agreed to drop claims against the city, the Police Department and six police officers -- including Gallagher, who had identified Cowans as the shooter -- who were included in the lawsuit, Boston city attorney William Sinnott told The Boston Globe.

The police department's fingerprinting unit, which was blamed for Cowans' conviction, was shut down by then police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole in 2004, and its work was turned over to the State Police. The department has since resumed control of the unit in a new, high-tech facility, run by a veteran fingerprint analyst.