DNA

Swearingen requests hearing on DNA testing; DA’s office focused on execution date


march 15,2014

Attorneys for convicted killer Larry Ray Swearingen filed opposition to the state’s motion to set an execution date, arguing the Court of Criminal Appeals remanded the case for further proceedings.

A motion was filed in early March with the state of Texas for a tentative execution date of April 24. However, Swearingen “respectfully” requested a hearing in the 9th state District Court of Judge Kelly Case the week of May 12.

That hearing, if approved, would consider the effect of the appeals court’s remand on DNA testing, as well as the state’s request for an execution date, said James Rytting, Swearingen’s attorney.

“If they (the CCA) wanted to issue an execution date they could have established one by themselves,” Rytting said.

Swearingen was convicted for the murder of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter. She was last seen leaving the Montgomery College campus with Swearingen on Dec. 8, 1998. Her body was found by hunters in the Sam Houston National Forest Jan. 2, 1999, north of Lake Conroe.

Trotter’s death was determined to be a homicide, and that she was sexually assaulted then strangled by piece of pantyhose.

Bill Delmore, appellate attorney with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, said Swearingen’s attorneys have started “grasping at straws.”

In their opposition to the state’s request for an execution date, Swearingen’s attorneys contend where the Court of Criminal Appeals has remanded the case for additional proceedings, it “would be an abuse of discretion” to ignore the “plain language” of the opinion issued by the appellate court in this case and instead set an execution date.

However, Delmore said Swearingen’s case was remanded back to the district court in Montgomery County to deny future requests for DNA testing, and to set an execution date.

A briefing schedule for both parties regarding the effect of the appeals court’s remand was suggested by Rytting on or before May 2.

(yourhoustonnews)

Innocence: List of Those Freed From Death Row


Last exoneration October 25, 2013 (#143)

Number of cases in which DNA played a substantial factor in establishing innocence: 18
Average number of years between being sentenced to death and exoneration: 10.1 years

NR*
NAME
ST
RACE
CONVICTED
EXONERATED
YEARS BETWEEN
REASON
DNA **
1 David Keaton FL B 1971 1973 2 Charges Dismissed
2 Samuel A. Poole NC B 1973 1974 1 Charges Dismissed
3 Wilbert Lee FL B 1963 1975 12 Pardoned
4 Freddie Pitts FL B 1963 1975 12 Pardoned
5 James Creamer GA W 1973 1975 2 Charges Dismissed
6 Christopher Spicer NC B 1973 1975 2 Acquitted
7 Thomas Gladish NM W 1974 1976 2 Charges Dismissed
8 Richard Greer NM W 1974 1976 2 Charges Dismissed
9 Ronald Keine NM W 1974 1976 2 Charges Dismissed
10 Clarence Smith NM W 1974 1976 2 Charges Dismissed
11 Delbert Tibbs FL B 1974 1977 3 Charges Dismissed
12 Earl Charles GA B 1975 1978 3 Charges Dismissed
13 Jonathan Treadway AZ W 1975 1978 3 Acquitted
14 Gary Beeman OH W 1976 1979 3 Acquitted
15 Jerry Banks GA B 1975 1980 5 Charges Dismissed
16 Larry Hicks IN B 1978 1980 2 Acquitted
17 Charles Ray Giddens OK B 1978 1981 3 Charges Dismissed
18 Michael Linder SC W 1979 1981 2 Acquitted
19 Johnny Ross LA B 1975 1981 6 Charges Dismissed
20 Ernest (Shujaa) Graham CA B 1976 1981 5 Acquitted
21 Annibal Jaramillo FL L 1981 1982 1 Charges Dismissed
22 Lawyer Johnson MA B 1971 1982 11 Charges Dismissed
23 Larry Fisher MS W 1984 1985 1 Acquitted
24 Anthony Brown FL B 1983 1986 3 Acquitted
25 Neil Ferber PA W 1982 1986 4 Charges Dismissed
26 Clifford Henry Bowen OK W 1981 1986 5 Charges Dismissed
27 Joseph Green Brown FL B 1974 1987 13 Charges Dismissed
28 Perry Cobb IL B 1979 1987 8 Acquitted
29 Darby (Jesse) Tillis IL B 1979 1987 8 Acquitted
30 Vernon McManus TX W 1977 1987 10 Charges Dismissed
31 Anthony Ray Peek FL B 1978 1987 9 Acquitted
32 Juan Ramos FL L 1983 1987 4 Acquitted
33 Robert Wallace GA B 1980 1987 7 Acquitted
34 Richard Neal Jones OK W 1983 1987 4 Acquitted
35 Willie Brown FL B 1983 1988 5 Charges Dismissed
36 Larry Troy FL B 1983 1988 5 Charges Dismissed
37 Randall Dale Adams TX W 1977 1989 12 Charges Dismissed
38 Robert Cox FL W 1988 1989 1 Charges Dismissed
39 James Richardson FL B 1968 1989 21 Charges Dismissed
40 Clarence Brandley TX B 1981 1990 9 Charges Dismissed
41 John C. Skelton TX W 1983 1990 7 Acquitted
42 Dale Johnston OH W 1984 1990 6 Charges Dismissed
43 Jimmy Lee Mathers AZ W 1987 1990 3 Acquitted
44 Gary Nelson GA B 1980 1991 11 Charges Dismissed
45 Bradley P. Scott FL W 1988 1991 3 Acquitted
46 Charles Smith IN B 1983 1991 8 Acquitted
47 Jay C. Smith PA W 1986 1992 6 Acquitted
48 Kirk Bloodsworth MD W 1984 1993 9 Charges Dismissed Yes
49 Federico M. Macias TX L 1984 1993 9 Charges Dismissed
50 Walter McMillian AL B 1988 1993 5 Charges Dismissed
51 Gregory R. Wilhoit OK W 1987 1993 6 Acquitted
52 James Robison AZ W 1977 1993 16 Acquitted
53 Muneer Deeb TX O 1985 1993 8 Acquitted
54 Andrew Golden FL W 1991 1994 3 Charges Dismissed
55 Adolph Munson OK B 1985 1995 10 Acquitted
56 Robert Charles Cruz AZ L 1981 1995 14 Acquitted
57 Rolando Cruz IL L 1985 1995 10 Acquitted Yes
58 Alejandro Hernandez IL L 1985 1995 10 Charges Dismissed Yes
59 Sabrina Butler MS B 1990 1995 5 Acquitted
60 Joseph Burrows IL W 1989 1996 7 Charges Dismissed
61 Verneal Jimerson IL B 1985 1996 11 Charges Dismissed Yes
62 Dennis Williams IL B 1979 1996 17 Charges Dismissed Yes
63 Roberto Miranda NV L 1982 1996 14 Charges Dismissed
64 Gary Gauger IL W 1993 1996 3 Charges Dismissed
65 Troy Lee Jones CA B 1982 1996 14 Charges Dismissed
66 Carl Lawson IL B 1990 1996 6 Acquitted
67 David Wayne Grannis AZ W 1991 1996 5 Charges Dismissed
68 Ricardo Aldape Guerra TX L 1982 1997 15 Charges Dismissed
69 Benjamin Harris WA B 1985 1997 12 Charges Dismissed
70 Robert Hayes FL B 1991 1997 6 Acquitted
71 Christopher McCrimmon AZ B 1993 1997 4 Acquitted
72 Randal Padgett AL W 1992 1997 5 Acquitted
73 Robert Lee Miller, Jr. OK B 1988 1998 10 Charges Dismissed Yes
74 Curtis Kyles LA B 1984 1998 14 Charges Dismissed
75 Shareef Cousin LA B 1996 1999 3 Charges Dismissed
76 Anthony Porter IL B 1983 1999 16 Charges Dismissed
77 Steven Smith IL B 1985 1999 14 Acquitted
78 Ronald Williamson OK W 1988 1999 11 Charges Dismissed Yes
79 Ronald Jones IL B 1989 1999 10 Charges Dismissed Yes
80 Clarence Dexter, Jr. MO W 1991 1999 8 Charges Dismissed
81 Warren Douglas Manning SC B 1989 1999 10 Acquitted
82 Alfred Rivera NC L 1997 1999 2 Charges Dismissed
83 Steve Manning IL W 1993 2000 7 Charges Dismissed
84 Eric Clemmons MO B 1987 2000 13 Acquitted
85 Joseph Nahume Green FL B 1993 2000 7 Charges Dismissed
86 Earl Washington VA B 1984 2000 16 Pardoned Yes
87 William Nieves PA L 1994 2000 6 Acquitted
88
Frank Lee Smithdied prior to exoneration FL B 1986 2000 ** 14 Charges Dismissed Yes
89
Michael Graham LA W 1987 2000 13 Charges Dismissed
90 Albert Burrell LA W 1987 2000 13 Charges Dismissed
91 Oscar Lee Morris CA B 1983 2000 17 Charges Dismissed
92 Peter Limone MA W 1968 2001 33 Charges Dismissed
93 Gary Drinkard AL W 1995 2001 6 Charges Dismissed
94 Joaquin Jose Martinez FL L 1997 2001 4 Acquitted
95 Jeremy Sheets NE W 1997 2001 4 Charges Dismissed
96 Charles Fain ID W 1983 2001 18 Charges Dismissed Yes
97 Juan Roberto Melendez FL L 1984 2002 18 Charges Dismissed
98 Ray Krone AZ W 1992 2002 10 Charges Dismissed Yes
99 Thomas Kimbell, Jr. PA W 1998 2002 4 Acquitted
100 Larry Osborne KY W 1999 2002 3 Charges Dismissed
101 Aaron Patterson IL B 1986 2003 17 Pardoned
102 Madison Hobley IL B 1987 2003 16 Pardoned
103 Leroy Orange IL B 1984 2003 19 Pardoned
104 Stanley Howard IL B 1987 2003 16 Pardoned
105 Rudolph Holton FL B 1986 2003 16 Charges Dismissed
106 Lemuel Prion AZ W 1999 2003 4 Charges Dismissed
107 Wesley Quick AL W 1997 2003 6 Acquitted
108 John Thompson LA B 1985 2003 18 Acquitted
109 Timothy Howard OH B 1976 2003 26 Charges Dismissed
110 Gary Lamar James OH B 1976 2003 26 Charges Dismissed
111 Joseph Amrine MO B 1986 2003 17 Charges Dismissed
112 Nicholas Yarris PA W 1982 2003 21 Charges Dismissed Yes
113 Alan Gell NC W 1998 2004 6 Acquitted
114 Gordon Steidl IL W 1987 2004 17 Charges Dismissed
115 Laurence Adams MA B 1974 2004 30 Charges Dismissed
116 Dan L. Bright LA B 1996 2004 8 Charges Dismissed
117 Ryan Matthews LA B 1999 2004 5 Charges Dismissed Yes
118 Ernest Ray Willis TX W 1987 2004 17 Charges Dismissed
119 Derrick Jamison OH B 1985 2005 20 Charges Dismissed
120 Harold Wilson PA B 1989 2005 16 Acquitted
121 John Ballard FL W 2003 2006 3 Acquitted
122 Curtis McCarty OK W 1986 2007 21 Charges Dismissed Yes
123 Michael McCormick TN W 1987 2007 20 Acquitted
124 Jonathon Hoffman NC B 1995 2007 12 Charges Dismissed
125 Kennedy Brewer MS B 1995 2008 13 Charges Dismissed Yes
126 Glen Chapman NC B 1994 2008 14 Charges Dismissed
127 Levon Jones NC B 1993 2008 15 Charges Dismissed
128 Michael Blair TX O 1994 2008 14 Charges Dismissed Yes
129 Nathson Fields IL B 1986 2009 23 Acquitted
130 Paul House TN W 1986 2009 23 Charges Dismissed
131 Daniel Wade Moore AL W 2002 2009 7 Acquitted
132 Ronald Kitchen IL B 1988 2009 21 Charges Dismissed
133 Herman Lindsey FL B 2006 2009 3 Acquitted
134 Michael Toney TX W 1999 2009 10 Charges Dismissed
135 Yancy Douglas OK B 1995 2009 14 Charges Dismissed
136 Paris Powell OK B 1997 2009 12 Charges Dismissed
137 Robert Springsteen TX W 2001 2009 8 Charges Dismissed
138 Anthony Graves TX B 1994 2010 16 Charges Dismissed
139 Gussie Vann TN W 1994 2011 17 Charges Dismissed
140 Joe D’Ambrosio OH W 1989 2012 23 Charges Dismissed
141 Damon Thibodeaux LA W 1997 2012 15 Charges Dismissed Yes
142 Seth Penalver FL W 1999 2012 13 Acquitted
143 Reginald Griffin MO B 1983 2013 30 Charges Dismissed  

TEXAS – CCA Denies DNA Testing in Swearingen Case


UPDATE

 

Court Reverses DNA Testing Decision in Swearingen Case

The state’s highest criminal court on Wednesday unanimously reversed a lower court’s decision to allow further DNA testing in the case of death row inmate Larry Swearingen, sending his case back to a district court for further proceedings.

Swearingen was sentenced to death in 2000 after he was convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing 19-year-old Melissa Trotter in Montgomery County. His lawyers say DNA testing on evidence found near Trotter’s body could prove his innocence, but prosecutors say further testing is unnecessary.

James Rytting, a lawyer representing Swearingen, said he would revisit the present motion for further DNA testing now that the case is before the district court once again.

“They remanded it,” Rytting said of the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision. “They didn’t say DNA testing is completely forbidden.”

Bill Delmore, the Montgomery County assistant district attorney prosecuting Swearingen’s case, said he would ask the court to set another execution date, adding that there was a “mountain of evidence” of Swearingen’s guilt.

“Here we are, back where we started,” he said.

february 5, 2014

Death row inmate Larry Swearingen cannot prove that biological materials exist on evidence connected to the 1998 murder of Melissa Trotter – including on the alleged murder weapon – and therefore is not entitled to DNA testing of those items, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled this morning.

Swearingen was convicted and sentenced to die for the 1998 murder of 19-year-old Trotter, a Montgomery County community college student who disappeared from her college campus on Dec. 8, 1998. Her body was found several weeks later, by a group of hunters, in the Sam Houston National Forest near Lake Conroe.

Swearingen was seen with Trotter on campus not long before she disappeared. He has maintained his innocence and has been seeking DNA testing for a decade. Among the never-before-tested items of evidence are two lengths of pantyhose – one used to strangle Trotter, found around her neck, the other later found by Swearingen’s former landlord inside a house Swearingen and his wife had previously rented from the man.

The state maintains that visual comparison proves the two pieces came from a single pair of hose. Neither piece has ever been subjected to DNA analysis.

In ruling against Swearingen on Wednesday, Judge Paul Womack wrote for the unanimous court that a district court ruling that last year approved the requested DNA testing would be overturned because Swearingen “cannot prove the existence of biological material” that could be tested. Although the defense presented to the district court expert testimony that biological evidence would “likely” be found on the pantyhose that is not enough to secure testing, the court ruled. “[W]e have explicitly held that appellee must prove biological material exists and not that it is merely probable.”

In other words, without testing, there can be no testing.

The court’s conclusion also precludes any testing of cigarette butts found near Trotter’s body or of Trotter’s clothes, absent a showing that biological material exists on each item.

Only finger nail scrapings taken from Trotter are considered “biological evidence per se” and thus not restricted by the need to prove DNA exists before testing can be done. Only some of the collected scrapings were tested, and material found from under one of Trotter’s fingernails produced DNA from an unknown male.

Still, that result is not enough to convince the court that if additional testing were to be performed it would do anything to convince a jury of Swearingen’s innocence. “In order to be entitled to DNA testing,” Womack wrote for the court, “[Swearingen] must show by a preponderance of the evidence (51%) that he would not have been convicted if the exculpatory results were available at trial.”

Indeed, the unidentified profile previously identified was presented to Swearingen’s jury, the court notes, apparently without effect. “Since the jury already was aware that an unidentified male’s DNA was found under the victim’s fingernails, we fail to see how other such results would have changed its verdict,” Womack wrote. “The jury chose to believe that the foreign DNA either was contamination or that it came rom outside the context of the crime.” In short, the court concluded, Swearingen “cannot show that new testing would lead to a different result.”

During a December hearing on the matter before the CCA, Montgomery County prosecutor Bill Delmore told the court that the mountain of circumstantial evidence against Swearingen is insurmountable and that even if further DNA testing revealed additional evidence from another male – even from a known “serial killer” – that he would conclude only that Swearingen had an accomplice. “Nothing will ever convince me of his innocence,” Delmore said.

PAMPA-TX -Testimony ends in Hank Skinner’s DNA hearing


february 5, 2014

PAMPA — A Texas Department of Public Safety expert testified Tuesday that genetic material found on a knife at the scene of a 1993 triple homicide was consistent with Hank Skinner’s DNA profile, but the death row inmate’s defense team maintains that another man killed the family.

Georgette Oden, an assistant attorney general, quizzed DPS expert Brent Hester about a battery of DNA testing results during an evidentiary hearing at the Gray County courthouse.

Testimony ended Tuesday in the two-day hearing, but attorneys for both sides are expected to submit further briefs to District Judge Steven Emmert after court transcripts are completed.

The hearing focused on whether it is “reasonably probable” that Skinner, now 51, would have been acquitted if all DNA evidence in the case had been presented at his 1995 trial, according to court records.

Skinner was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die in the slayings of Twila Jean Busby, 40, and her sons — 22- year-old Elwin “Scooter” Caler and 20-year-old Randy Busby.

Skinner has claimed he was too intoxicated to have slain the Busbys because he drank vodka and took codeine on the night of the killings.

After the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted Skinner’s execution three times due to changing post-conviction law, prosecutors agreed to allow DNA testing, and both sides now have received the results.

Hester, a DPS analyst from the Lubbock crime lab, testified Tuesday that genetic material recovered from the blade of a knife found on the front porch of the victims’ home could be linked to Skinner. Forensic tests on the knife blade, he said, proved the presence of blood on the weapon, and the material found on the knife contained DNA traces from Skinner, Caler and Busby.

“We do not say it was that person’s DNA,” Hester said of how DPS interprets DNA results recovered from a crime scene. “They are not consistent solely with him, but they are consistent with him being a possible contributor.”

Hester also testified that some DNA recovered from the crime scene was contaminated with his DNA and that of a former court reporter who handled evidence in the case. The longtime forensic scientist also testified that some genetic material recovered from a carpet stain, door handles in the home and a door frame could be tied to Skinner.

Hester also said DNA from an unknown individual also was located in the carpet stain, which was in a bedroom where the two male victims were found. Hester said that genetic material could have been deposited when the carpet was originally laid and could have come from nearly anyone who visited the Busby home at 804 E. Campbell St. in Pampa.

Robert Owen, Skinner’s attorney, said after the hearing that testimony showed minute traces of DNA from an unknown person and Twila Busby’s blood had been found on a dish towel that had been left in a plastic bag at the crime scene.

Owen also said the prosecution has claimed that Skinner stabbed Randy Busby in the back while he lay on his bunk bed, but Owen said testimony presented during the hearing casts doubt on the state’s theory.

“If Mr. Skinner stabbed Randy Busby in the manner claimed by the state, Mr. Skinner’s blood should have been on the blanket of Randy’s bed. It was not. If Mr. Skinner’s hands were covered with the victims’ blood when he staggered out of the house, their blood should have been mixed with his on the doorknobs he touched. It was not,” Owen said in a statement.

Owen said a state expert’s testimony also indicated that three of four hairs found in Twila Busby’s hand — hairs the defense said contain DNA consistent with a maternal relative of the victims — were “visually dissimilar” to the victim’s own hair. That testimony, he said, supports the defense team’s conclusion that Robert Donnell, Twila Busby’s now-deceased uncle, killed the Pampa family.

“The state presented no compelling evidence that the hairs could have come from another maternal relative. In fact, Ms. Busby’s mother stated under oath before Mr. Skinner’s trial that she had not been inside the house in the preceding four months,” Owen said in a statement.

Owen also said he was disappointed that Emmert did not allow testimony from a key witness about a jacket found at the crime scene. The witness was prepared to testify the now-missing jacket belonged to Donnell.

“At the DNA hearing, Mr. Skinner sought to present testimony from a witness who can positively identify the jacket as Donnell’s, and to have his DNA expert explain how testing could have confirmed Donnell’s DNA on the jacket,” Owen said in a statement. “We respectfully disagree with this decision. In our view, this evidence is at the center of the case. It shows why a jury that heard all the evidence, including DNA results, would have harbored a reasonable doubt about Mr. Skinner’s guilt.”

Owen also noted that much of the DNA evidence gathered in the case was mishandled, contaminated or lost.

Owen indicated in his statement that “doubts about Hank Skinner’s guilt are far too great to allow his execution to proceed, particularly where the state’s utter failure to safeguard key pieces of evidence may make it impossible to resolve those questions conclusively.”

(Source: Amarillo Globe News)

TEXAS -Day two of death row inmate Hank Skinner’s evidentiary hearing


february 4. 2014

Texas: Assistant attorney general tears down Skinner defense witness

During cross examination of defense witness Dr. Julie Heinig, PhD, a DNA expert from Cincinnati, Ohio, Georgette Oden, an assistant state attorney general, began a systematic dismantling of Heinig’s credentials as an expert witness.

Oden began by pointing out inconsistencies in Heinig’s education, and the witness’ lack of complete training with DNA evidence testing.

As an example, Oden brought out that of the 10 publications written by Heinig for her PhD., five were about lamprey eel research and two were in DNA fingerprint analysis.

Oden then asked if it’s true that Heinig’s employer, DNA Diagnostics Center, does DNA testing for the “Maury Povich Show,” a tabloid television talk show also based in Cincinnati. The lab is often called upon to perform DNA testing in child custody cases that are aired on the TV show.

Heinig answered yes, and Oden countered with, “Then it’s true that your employer’s DNA testing regimens do not follow the standard procedure of the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s crime lab?”

Heinig again answered yes.

Cross examination by Oden then delved into the defense’s contention that many of the blood samples taken were not conclusive for Hank Skinner’s DNA.

In her questioning, Oden asked Heinig if there were any samples of mixed blood that could have excluded Skinner from the crime scene. DNA testing done by the state proved it was inclusive on whether Skinner’s DNA was in those blood samples.

Heining agreed that the tests did not exclude Skinner from the crime scene.

Four hairs were found on Twila Busby’s hand at the crime scene but were not tested. Busby and her two sons were the victims in the brutal triple homicide on Dec. 31, 1993. Skinner was Busby’s live-in boyfriend.

The defense had earlier questioned why the hairs weren’t tested.

The state then brought as its witness John Lan Bundy, a former trace analyst for the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab in Lubbock, whose responsibility at the time was identifying the hairs found on Busby’s hand.

Bundy testified that of those four hairs, one was an animal hair and the other three were not sufficient for laboratory testing because they weren’t attached to their roots.

DNA cannot be taken from a hair unless it has a root and there are obvious differences between human hair and animal hair, he said.

At that point, the state passed the witness to the defense, who chose not to cross examine Bundy.

The hearing recessed shortly after 5 p.m. and will reconvene at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Pampa, TX – Day two has just come to a close after some 6 hours of discussion, both the state and Hank Skinner’s defense team have rested their cases.

What happens next, is both sides will submit a proposed fining report, basically explaining to the judge why they think he should side with them. After court transcripts are filed, the state and the defense team have 21 days to make those reports. After three weeks, the judge will make a decision.

No official decision has been made regarding death row inmate Hank Skinner. Over the last two days, his defense team tried to create reasonable doubt surrounding evidence that was collected from the 1993 crime scene. The state says DNA points to Skinner as the killer of Twila Busby and her two sons.

(Source: NewsChannel 10)

US – Prosecutors help set record number of exonerations in 2013


February 4, 2014 (dallasnews)

ST. LOUIS — A nationwide push by prosecutors and police to re-examine possible wrongful convictions contributed to a record number of exonerations in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday.

The National Registry of Exonerations says 87 people falsely convicted of crimes were exonerated last year, four more than in 2009, the year with the next highest total. The joint effort by the Northwestern University and University of Michigan law schools has documented more than 1,300 such cases in the U.S. since 1989 while also identifying another 1,100 “group exonerations” involving widespread police misconduct, primarily related to planted drug and gun evidence.

The new report shows that nearly 40 percent of exonerations recorded in 2013 were either initiated by law enforcement or included police and prosecutors’ cooperation. One year earlier, nearly half of the exonerations involved such reviews.

“Police and prosecutors have become more attentive and concerned about the danger of false conviction,” said registry editor Samuel Gross, a Michigan law professor. “We are working harder to identify the mistakes we made years ago, and we are catching more of them.”

Texas topped the state-by-state breakdown with 13 exonerations in 2013, followed by Illinois, New York, Washington, California, Michigan and Missouri.

District attorneys in the counties containing Dallas, Chicago, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Santa Clara, Calif., are among those to recently create “conviction integrity” units. The International Association of Chiefs of Police also is pushing to reduce wrongful convictions, joined by the U.S. Justice Department and The Innocence Project, an advocacy group that seeks to overturn wrongful convictions. The association’s recommendations to local departments include new guidelines for conducting photo lineups and witness interviews to reduce false confessions.

Fifteen of the 87 documented cases in 2013 involved convictions obtained after a defendant pleaded guilty, typically to avoid a longer prison sentence. Forty of the cases involved murder convictions, with another 18 overturned convictions for rape or sexual assault.

The number of exonerations based on DNA testing continued to decline, accounting for about one-fifth of the year’s total.

“It’s extremely valuable to use,” Gross said. “But most crimes don’t involve DNA evidence. … DNA hastaught us a huge amount about the criminal justice system. Biological evidence has forced all of us to realize that we’ve made a lot of mistakes. But most exonerations involve shoe-leather, not DNA.”

In Illinois, Nicole Harris and Daniel Taylor each received certificates of innocence from a Cook County judge in January after their respective murder convictions were tossed out in 2013 — a designation that allows both to receive financial compensation from the state. Harris had been convicted in 2005 of strangling her 4-year-old son, who had an elastic band wrapped around his neck. Taylor was released after spending more than 20 years in prison for a fatal robbery that occurred while he was in police custody for an unrelated incident.

In Missouri, former death row inmate Reginald Griffin went free in October 2013 after a small-town prosecutor declined to refile murder charges in connection with a 1983 prison stabbing for which Griffin spent nearly three decades behind bars. Griffin denied his involvement but was convicted after two inmates claimed to have seen him stab the prisoner. One of those inmates later recanted, saying he had not seen the attack. An appellate attorney also discovered that prosecutors had withheld a report that guards had confiscated a sharpened screwdriver from another inmate as he was attempting to leave the area where the attack took place.

Ryan Ferguson, convicted in 2005 in the beating death of a Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune sports editor, was freed in November 2013 after a state appeals court panel ruled prosecutors had withheld evidence from his attorneys and that he didn’t get a fair trial. The state attorney general’s office decided not to retry Ferguson, who had received a 25-year prison sentence.

Like their counterparts across the country, Missouri prosecutors are reviewing not just questionable individual convictions but also the broader issues that lead to exonerations, from coerced confessions to contaminated crime labs.

“It’s the duty of police and prosecutors to protect everyone in the community, including victims and defendants,” said Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight. “We want the process to be as fair and transparent as possible.”

EXONERATIONS  IN 2013 PDF REPORT

Pampa : DNA hearing set in case of Texas death row inmate – Hank Skinner


february 3, 2014 (AP)

PAMPA, TX — A hearing is set regarding recent DNA testing in the case of a Texas death row inmate convicted of a triple slaying in the Panhandle.

Attorneys for the state and Hank Skinner’s attorneys will present testimony during the two-day hearing set to begin Monday in Pampa.

Skinner’s attorneys hope to show he didn’t kill a woman and her two sons in 1993. The 52-year-old was convicted of capital murder in 1995.

Court documents filed by the state say results of DNA testing done at a law enforcement lab “further confirm” Skinner’s guilt. Skinner’s attorneys say more sophisticated test results from an independent lab make doubts about his guilt “too weighty” to allow his execution.

Each side will submit written arguments after the hearing. The judge will later release his findings.

Defense lawyers: Skinner won’t appear in Pampa


31.01.2014

Hank Skinner, the Texas death-row inmate convicted of murdering his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her sons, Randy and Elwin “Scooter” Caler, will not be attending an evidentiary hearing scheduled in Pampa Monday and Tuesday.

An employee who works for Skinner’s defense attorneys, Douglas Robinson and Robert Owen, told The Pampa News that both the state and defense attorneys will offer witnesses and other evidence, such as laboratory reports, to show what results were produced by the DNA testing that has been performed in Skinner’s case over the past 18 months. The attorneys will try to argue about what inferences can be drawn from those test results, she said.

A series of tests on DNA taken from the crime scene have been performed since June 2012, two by a Texas Department of Safety crime lab in Lubbock and one by an independent laboratory in Virginia.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office, who is presenting the state’s case to the court, claims the DNA tests overwhelmingly show that evidence collected at the crime scene consistently shows that Skinner is guilty of strangling and bludgeoning Busby in the living room of her home on New Year’s Eve 1993.

The defense attorneys claim the DNA tests performed at the Virginia lab point to Robert Donnell, Twila Busby’s deceased uncle, as the real killer in the triple homicide. The attorneys say it is well known that Donnell was making unwelcome advances to Busby on the night she was killed.

Judge Steven R. Emmert of the 31st District will not issue a definitive ruling at the conclusion of the hearing, the employee said.

Instead, the parties will have an opportunity to submit written arguments in late February, and the judge will issue a definitive ruling after considering those arguments.

A ruling in Skinner’s favor in this proceeding would not automatically reverse his conviction.

(Source: The Pampa News) #deathpenalty #hankskinner

Wrongly imprisoned Tulsa man declared innocent, eligible to seek compensation from state


A man who spent some 16 years behind bars on now-nullified burglary and robbery convictions has made a sufficient showing of “actual innocence” that he can seek to recover financially from the state of Oklahoma, a Tulsa County judge determined Tuesday.

Tulsa County District Judge William Kellough found that Sedrick Courtney “has made a prima facie showing of actual innocence for the purpose of initiating a claim pursuant to the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claim Act.”

The most Courtney could recover through the state’s compensation process for wrongfully convicted people is $175,000, lawyers say.

Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court ruled that Kellough had erred previously in denying Courtney a “threshold determination of actual innocence” in a post-conviction relief proceeding.


CLEARED
Sedrick Courtney: He served 16 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit.

Kellough also erred in ruling that Courtney did not present “clear and convincing evidence of his actual innocence in the face of the exonerating scientific evidence that supported the vacation of the criminal conviction,” according to the high court’s order.

Courtney, now 41, had been found guilty in a 1995 case in which two masked intruders robbed a woman at her Tulsa apartment. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

The victim identified Courtney – who denied being one of the intruders, denied any involvement and had alibi witnesses.

Results from DNA testing available at the time were inconclusive, but more recent DNA tests of numerous hairs found in ski masks excluded Courtney as a possible donor of the hairs, court filings show.

The Innocence Project, an organization that uses DNA evidence in an effort to get wrongfully convicted people exonerated, took on the case while Courtney was in prison.

Courtney, now 41, was released from prison on parole in 2011.

In July 2012, Kellough granted post-conviction relief based on the newly discovered evidence – the new DNA testing results. The judge vacated Courtney’s convictions for robbery and burglary, with the agreement of District Attorney Tim Harris.

Kellough declined then to make any finding of actual innocence and indicated that Courtney did not establish by “clear and convincing” evidence that he did not commit the crime.

In September, Kellough ordered the dismissal of the robbery-burglary charges.

An appeal challenging Kellough’s ruling on the actual innocence issue was initiated in the state Supreme Court in October.

According to the Supreme Court, a finding of actual innocence is necessary under Oklahoma law for Courtney to recover money damages based on a wrongful conviction.

Individuals who are convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit can apply for as much as $175,000 in compensation from the state under legislation that was signed into law by then-Gov. Brad Henry in 2003.

A year earlier, Arvin McGee was exonerated by DNA evidence in an unrelated Tulsa County kidnapping and rape case.

A Tulsa federal jury awarded McGee $14 million from the city of Tulsa in 2006 – $1 million for each year he served in prison – but a settlement was reached after the verdict for the city to pay a total of $12.5 million.

Courtney’s compensation could be resolved through the state’s risk-management claims process, but it could be taken to trial, one of Courtney’s attorneys, Richard O’Carroll, has said previously.

Death row inmate Willie Manning granted DNA testing


 

Jul. 25, 2013

 

The Mississippi Supreme Court has given death row inmate Willie Jerome Manning the chance to argue before a judge for DNA and fingerprint testing that he alleges will show him innocent in the deaths of two college students.

The high court on Thursday gave Manning 60 days to file a brief in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court, where he was convicted, to support his motion for DNA testing and fingerprint analysis.

The order reversed an earlier decision in which the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against Manning’s request for DNA testing.

Manning argues that technological strides in the past two decades in DNA testing could lead to proof that he is innocent of killing two Mississippi State University students in 1992.

The Supreme Court had stopped Manning’s execution on May 7 so it could further review his arguments.

The bodies of Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller were found in rural Oktibbeha County in December 1992. Manning, now 44, was convicted in 1994 and sentenced to death. Prosecutors said Manning was arrested after he tried to sell some items belonging to the victims.

Manning’s efforts to stop his execution were supported by the U.S. Justice Department. The department had said there were errors in FBI agents’ testimony about ballistics tests and hair analysis in the case.

The FBI said its microscopic analysis of evidence, particularly of hair samples found in the car of one of the victims, contained erroneous statements. The FBI also said there was incorrect testimony related to tests on bullets in the case.

The FBI has offered to conduct the DNA testing.

Manning’s lawyers said in filings with the Mississippi Supreme Court that the execution should be blocked based on the Justice Department’s disclosures and until further testing could be done.

The Mississippi attorney general’s office rebutted that testing wouldn’t exonerate Manning because the evidence is so overwhelming.

Also Thursday, the state Supreme Court denied Manning’s request for a hearing on the Justice Department’s filings on the reliability of expert testimony. It also denied Manning’s request to have his convictions set aside.