innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Man Charged in Wrongful Conviction Rape Case

This AP article was taken from Forbes online on August 22, 2006.

Man Indicted in Wrongful-Conviction Case

08-22-2006, 02:36 PM

A convicted serial rapist has been indicted in a 1982 rape and slaying that another man spent 18 years in prison for, at one point coming within days of his execution.

A Culpeper County grand jury Monday indicted Kenneth Maurice Tinsley on charges of murder, rape and sodomy in the death of Rebecca Lynn Williams. The 19-year-old mother was found stabbed to death outside her Culpeper apartment.

Tinsley, 61, is serving a life term in a Virginia prison for a 1984 rape in Albemarle County and has two rape convictions in Chicago.

Earl Washington Jr. spent more than a decade on death row after being convicted of Williams' slaying and came within nine days of execution in 1985.

After DNA testing in 1993 cast doubt on Washington's guilt, then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder commuted his sentence to life in prison. More sophisticated DNA tests conducted in 2000 prompted then-Gov.

Jim Gilmore to pardon Washington. In May, Washington was awarded $2.25 million by a federal court jury that ruled that the mildly retarded man falsely confessed after he was fed details of the crime by a state police investigator.

Tinsley's name emerged only during Washington's civil lawsuit. Washington's attorneys also learned that the Virginia state lab had botched earlier DNA tests. Tinsley's DNA was identified six years ago as matching semen found on the victim.

Special Prosecutor Richard E. Moore declined to say why it took six years to obtain an indictment, except to say the latest conclusion was "based in large part on test results not available to any previous prosecutors in this case." Tinsley is scheduled to appear in Culpeper Circuit Court on Sept. 6.

Tinsley was to have a lawyer appointed at that time. Prosecutors have not announced whether they will seek the death penalty. Curtis Wilmore, the state police investigator cited in Washington's false confession, died in 1994. An attorney for his estate has asked the court to vacate the jury's verdict.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Exonerated Immigrant Finally Released

This article ran in the Miami Herald on Tuesday, August 22, 2006.

Absolved man is freed again

Released once after a wrongful conviction but detained by Immigration, a former Miami-Dade man is free again after officials made a deal.


Orlando Boquete, the former Miami-Dade resident who was exonerated by DNA of a 1983 sexual assault conviction three months ago, is a free man -- finally.

He strolled out of the Krome detention center alone late Monday afternoon after his lawyers struck a deal with federal officials. The slight, Cuban-born 51-year-old walked down the driveway leading out of the West Miami-Dade immigration facility carrying a plastic bag filled with clothes, brown shoes and a Bible. He wore a Yankees ball cap, a white T-shirt and khakis.

When he reached the gate, he smiled at reporters, thrust his arms over his head, clenched his fists and joked:
``Do you have any questions for me?''

Boquete, who will celebrate his birthday on Wednesday, said freedom is a wonderful gift.
''I'm going to see what the future holds for me now,'' he said.

One of his first orders of business was to say that state and federal officials had misspelled his name as Bosquete for years on official documents. He said the proper spelling is Boquete.

He plans to spend his birthday eating lobster with his family in Marathon, and maybe going fishing.

''I don't want a party,'' he said. ``I want to take it easy. I haven't had a drink in years, and I'm afraid a few beers at a party would make me drunk. I just want to enjoy my family.''

A Monroe County judge set aside Boquete's conviction and declared him a free man on May 23, after DNA tests ruled him out as the man who attacked a Stock Island woman in her apartment. He had spent 13 years in prison and 10 more as a fugitive after two escapes.

His freedom was short-lived, though. Immigration officials were waiting at the Marathon courthouse and immediately handcuffed him and took him away because of felonies he had committed while he was on the run.

His family and lawyers were incensed, saying he had spent enough time wrongfully locked up. They petitioned Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release him.

Boquete's release on Monday came as a surprise to his family, his lawyers -- and to him.

They all had expected negotiations with the government to stretch until Wednesday or Thursday.

''They just called for Detainee No. 631 and said I should report to the deportation officer,'' Boquete said. 'He told me, `You go home today.' ''

After he gathered his belongings, officers asked him if he wanted to wait in the lobby for his family to arrive.

'I said, `No,' grabbed my stuff and just started walking,'' Boquete said later.

His Miami attorney, John Pratt, arrived at Krome first. After hugging and celebrating for a moment, Boquete and Pratt called the New York-based Innocence Project, which had championed his case, to rejoice with his attorneys there.

Then his family arrived. After seeing Boquete free, his niece, Danay Rodriguez, 23, ricocheted between tears and giddiness. Boquete will live with her family in Marathon, where he will work as a landscaper.

''When they called me to say he was getting out today, I didn't know whether to cry, jump or scream, so I did them all,'' Rodriguez said.

Boquete, his relatives and Pratt headed to Versailles restaurant in Little Havana to celebrate his release.

He was greeted there by Luis Diaz, a Miami-Dade man who spent 26 years in prison for a wrongful conviction in a series of rapes committed by the so-called Bird Road Rapist. He was freed last year with the help of the Innocence Project.

The two men high-fived, embraced and started to talk about their time in prison.
Diaz shook his head. ''Let's not talk about that,'' he said.

Boquete's brother, Manuel Comas, 43, watched him from across the table.

''I could show you a photo of him before he was in prison, and you would be able to see how all of this has been like 100 years falling on top of him,'' Comas said. ``He has been robbed. I hope he can get some of that life back.''

Monday, August 21, 2006

Possible False Confession in Ramsey Case

This article ran in the Miami Herald on August 19, 2006.

Murder confessions may be false

Investigators in the JonBenet Ramsey case are learning that details of her alleged killer's confession may not add up.


Twenty-seven years ago, Jerry Frank Townsend toured northwest Fort Lauderdale with a convoy of detectives and recounted grisly details of a series of rapes and murders only the killer could know.

That September night in 1979, Townsend confessed to strangling 19-year-old Terry Cummings with a piece of wire.

He confessed to killing 23-year-old Ernestine German with a knife.

And he confessed to raping Sonja Marion, 13, in the ballfield at Dillard High School and then smashing her skull with a concrete block.

In all, Townsend confessed to at least six murders in South Florida -- and others across the country.

The only problem: Townsend made it all up.

A confession is one of the most powerful pieces of evidence in any murder case: The suspect says he did it, the cops take credit for solving a crime and the public feels safe.

International attention is refocused on the phenomenon of false confessions after John Mark Karr told police he drugged, strangled and assaulted 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey.

His confession already is being scrutinized. Key details he has described don't match the evidence in the 10-year-old murder. Authorities say the autopsy uncovered no signs of drugs in JonBenet's body. And Karr's own ex-wife insists that he was in Atlanta or Alabama on Dec. 26, 1996, the day JonBenet was killed in Boulder, Colo.

Karr, 41, a former teacher, was arrested in Bangkok. At a frenzied news conference, he flatly told reporters he killed JonBenet.

''Her death was an accident,'' he said.

Some experts are now wondering whether he is lying or simply deranged.

'I took a look of the tape of him [Karr] speaking and said, `This is a problem,' '' said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, the Cardozo School of Law program based in New York that works to free the wrongly convicted.

Scheck, who worked as a consultant on the JonBenet case, said people make false confessions for myriad reasons.

''There are wannabes out there who confess to commiting murder, perfectly sane people can give coerced confessions,'' Scheck said. ``And there are people who come to believe they did it, the mentally vulnerable, like the young and the mentally challenged.''

Particularly with high-profile crimes, it's not unusual for people to confess. And at times, those who provide false confessions often believe they committed the crime. Psychologists say they are often driven by a need to punish themselves or others.

The convictions of Tim Brown and Keith King, accused of the 1990 slaying of Broward Sheriff's Office deputy Patrick Behan, were largely the result of false confessions. Brown, 14, at the time of the murder, and King, 17, both confessed. Both teens, like Townsend, have subpar IQs and marginal verbal skills.

King pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served a reduced sentence. In a 2001 interview with The Miami Herald, King said he ``didn't know why he confessed.''

''These are complex, distorted personalities,'' said Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade state attorney's office. ``These cases are actually very rare.''

Saul Kassin, a professor of psychology at Williams College and co-author of Confessions in the Courtroom, said false confessions are more common than one might think.

''There are two myths that have to be debunked in this country,'' Kassin said. One is that ``I would never admit to a crime that I didn't commit -- and the second is that if someone does give a false confession, I'd know it.''

People in an interrogation room will do almost anything to get away, Kassin explained -- even wrongfully confess.

Since 1989, the Innocence Project reports, 183 people have been exonerated of crimes they didn't commit. About 20 percent of those involved false confessions.

And in a comprehensive review of murder confessions in South Florida, The Miami Herald found that between 1990 and 2001 at least 38 false or questionable murder confessions were thrown out by Broward County courts -- rejected by juries or abandoned by police or prosecutors. In at least six cases, innocent people languished in jail while killers remained free.

After the series was published, Fort Lauderdale police and BSO started video taping homicide interrogations to prevent coercion, improper promises of leniency, off-the-record threats and beatings by detectives.

Scheck said that while Broward is videotaping interrogations, the rest of the country has failed to follow suit.

''We should not have any interrogations in homicide cases unless it's videotaped from the Miranda warnings on,'' Scheck said. "Particularly to see if the details of the case can be corroborated, details that presumably only the killer would know.''

Townsend, with an IQ of 58, confessed falsely to murders in Broward, Miami-Dade, Tampa and San Francisco. In 2001, DNA exonerated Townsend of three Broward homicides. He was released after 22 years behind bars.