Wrongfully convicted

LOUISIANA -Freedom After 30 Years on Death Row – Glenn Ford


A case involving a black man convicted by an all-white jury in Louisiana decades ago may be reopened.

march 11, 2014

UPDATE: Glenn Ford was indeed released from prison late Tuesday afternoon local time. The same judge who denied him relief in 2009 was the one who signed the order authorizing his release.

ORIGINAL STORY: Glenn Ford, a black man wrongfully convicted of murder by an all-white jury in Louisiana in 1984, a man who has spent the last 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit following a trial filled with constitutional violations, is on the verge of being set free. Once that happens (and it could happen as soon as tomorrow after a hearing in the case) he will become one of the longest-serving death row inmates in modern American history to be exonerated and released.

Ford’s dogged lawyers and enlightened parish prosecutors in Shreveport both filed motions late last week informing a state trial judge that the time has come now to vacate Ford’s murder conviction and death sentence. Why? Because prosecutors now say that they learned, late last year, of “credible evidence” that Ford “was neither present at, nor a participant in, the robbery and murder” of the victim in his case, a man named Isadore Rozeman.

Prosecutors believe the recent account of a confidential informant who claims that one of other four original co-defendants in the case, arrested long ago along with Ford, was actually the person who shot and killed Rozeman. This is not news to Ford. For three decades, stuck in inhumane conditions on death row in the state’s notorious Angola prison, he has insisted that he had nothing to do with the murder and that he was involved in the case only after the fact.

Any exoneration is remarkable, of course. Any act of justice after decades of injustice is laudable. It is never too late to put to right a wrong. But what also is striking about this case is how weak it always was, how frequently Ford’s constitutional rights were denied, and yet how determined Louisiana’s judges were over decades to defend an indefensible result.

Isadore Rozeman, an elderly white man with cataracts, a man fearful of crime in his neighborhood, was murdered in his small jewelry and watch repair shop in Shreveport on November 5, 1983. Ford had done yard work for Rozeman and several witnesses placed him near the scene of the crime on the day of the murder. When he learned that the police were looking for him he went to the police station where, for days, for months, he cooperated with the investigation.

Ford told the police, for example, that a man he identified as “O.B.” had given him jewelry hoping that he, Ford, could pawn it. The police would later discover that this jewelry was similar to merchandise taken from Rozeman’s store. Ford identified one possible suspect in Rozeman’s murder, a man named Jake Robinson, and later suggested that “O.B.” was Robinson’s brother, Henry, who also may also have been up to no good.

With all signs pointing to the Robinsons, and with police under the impression that the one or both of the brothers still possessed the murder weapon, Ford was not immediately charged with Rozeman’s murder. He and the two Robinsons were instead charged three months later—only after Jake Robinson’s girlfriend, Marvella Brown, incriminated them by telling the police that Ford was with the Robinsons, and in the possession of a firearm, on the day of Rozeman’s murder.

Louisiana also relied on “experts” to build its case. The first, the parish coroner who had not personally examined Rozeman’s body, testified about the time of death and the fact that the shooter was left-handed. The second expert found a few particles unique to or characteristic of gunshot residue on Ford’s hands. The third, a police officer not certified as a fingerprint expert, concluded that a “whorl” pattern on Ford’s fingers was consistent with a single partial fingerprint lifted from a bag the police believed was used in the murder.

There was no murder weapon found. There were no eyewitnesses to the crime. There were legitimate reasons why Ford would have been around Rozeman’s store. The primary witness against Ford was a person, Brown, whose credibility and reliability were immediately challenged. Expert opinions were not definitive. The police had reason to believe that one of the Robinsons had killed Rozeman. And most of all Ford had not acted suspiciously in any way.

Ford’s murder trial was constitutionally flawed in almost every way. The two attorneys he was assigned were utterly unprepared for the job. The lead attorney was an oil and gas attorney who have never tried a case—criminal or civil—to a jury. The second attorney, two years out of law school, was working at an insurance defense firm on slip-and-fall cases. Both attorneys were selected from an alphabetical listing of lawyers at the local bar association.

During jury selection, prosecutors used their peremptory strikes to keep blacks off the jury. The reasons they gave for precluding these men and women from sitting in judgment of Ford were insulting and absurd. And leading up to and during the trial Louisiana did not share with the defense all evidence favorable to it as they were required to do under the United States Supreme Court’s constitutional command in Brady v. Maryland.

The prosecution’s case was based largely on the testimony of Brown, the girlfriend. Under cross-examination, however, she told jurors that the police had helped her make up the story she had told about Ford. When Ford’s attorneys later called her to the witness stand, she told jurors that a bullet left from an old gunshot wound to her head had affected her thinking. “I did lie to the Court… I lied about it all,” she said in court (remember, it was Brown’s story that led to Ford’s arrest).fter Brown’s credibility imploded on the stand, prosecutors turned to their “experts.” It was a case that cried out for rebuttal experts to make simple and obvious points. A coroner who did not examine the body could not accurately determine time of death or whether the shooter was left-handed. That sort of thing. But no experts testified for the defense. Why? Because Ford’s lawyers believed, mistakenly, that they would have to pay for the costs of these experts.* (Many years later, in a post-trial hearing, the experts Ford’s finally did hire profoundly undermined the conclusions reached by Louisiana’s trial experts.)

Ford was quickly convicted. At the sentencing phase of his trial, the lack of competent defense counsel again played a factor. The best mitigation witnesses who might have testified for him lived out of state—but Ford’s lawyers were unsure about the process for subpoenaing them to testify in Louisiana. It took that all-white jury less than three hours to recommend a sentence of death for the man they believed murdered Isadore Rozeman.

As it is in most capital cases, the appellate history of the case is tortuous. All through the years, in both explicit and implicit ways, the Louisiana appellate courts expressed their unease with the results of Ford’s trial. But no court, ever, reversed the conviction and sentence against him and ordered a new trial. This is so even though the first court to review the case, the Louisiana Supreme Court itself, concluded it had “serious questions” about the result.

Most people believe that ineffective assistance of counsel only occurs at trial. That’s not true. In these cases the incompetence that occurs at or before trial often is compounded by poor appellate work and that initially happened here— the same system, in other words, that can tolerate an oil and gas man handling a capital murder case can tolerate giving a convicted murderer an appellate lawyer who also doesn’t know what the hell he is doing.

But the fair trial issues Ford raised were so strong that in many respects he got lucky. For example, the justices in Washington ordered a hearing on his claims about race bias in jury selection– only to see the Louisiana courts back up the preposterous claims of prosecutors that there were neutral reasons for the jurors they selected and rejected. Only black juror was rejected, for example, because a prosecutor said he felt “uneasy” about her and thus did not look her in the eye.

And the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered a hearing on his claims about ineffective assistance of counsel and the prosecution’s failure to disclose exculpatory evidence– only to see the trial court again back up prosecutors by interpreting precedent in a way that renders meaningless the right to counsel and the Brady rule. (The irony here is profound; we now know, from the prosecution’s filing this week, that there is additional evidence that would have decided the outcome of the case.)

It was this ruling, in October 2009, that perhaps best illustrates the farce this case was. Yes, a Louisiana judge conceded, Ford would have been benefited from having those California witnesses testify for him during the mitigation phase of his trial. Yes, he would have benefited had his lawyers hired their own experts. But none of this constituted “ineffective assistance.” The Louisiana Supreme Court, in a two-word order, accepted this dreadful interpretation of law.

Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys are providing much public detail about the circumstances surrounding this “confidential informant” and why the case has turned so suddenly after all these years. My sense is that prosecutors in particular want to keep things quiet now to ensure they properly proceed against the person(s) they now believe murdered Isadore Rozeman. But soon, I hope, they will have to answer all the new questions this twist raises.

Like whether the murder weapon, never found in 1983 or anytime thereafter, was in the possession of one or both of the Robinsons at the time of Rozeman’s death. And whether the “credible” evidence prosecutors have just discovered was discoverable 30 years ago. What took so long for this information to come to light? Why did it come to light now? What is so credible about this new witness? What do old-time Shreveport law enforcement officials think about all this?

In the next few weeks, as this story spreads, the focus naturally will be on the ending of it—Ford’s first steps toward freedom. What few will focus upon, sadly, is why it took 30 years for justice to shine through here or why anyone (in or out of Louisiana) ought to have any confidence in a judicial system that so mightily defends verdicts like this one. Sure, a judge here and there piped up. Hearings were held. But precisely what good did it do Ford?

This is a sad story with a happy ending. But it’s a story I’ve written before. And it raises the inescapable question of how many other condemned men and woman are sitting on death row in the nation’s prisons, after sham trials like this, after feckless appellate review, waiting for lightning to strike them the way it has Glenn Ford. How many men, that is, who have not yet been executed despite being innocent of murder.

Until the very end what happened here was neither law nor order. It was instead something arbitrary and capricious, like the application of the death penalty itself. For Glenn Ford, the man Louisiana now says is innocent of murder, once faced a death warrant—on February 28, 1991. Had that warrant been executed who exactly would have known of the injustice of that act? Twenty-six other Louisiana death row inmates were killed during his decades on death row—eight by lethal injection, 18 by the electric chair.

What a waste—of a man’s life, of million of dollars in prison costs, of thousands upon thousands of hours of work by lawyers and judges and investigators and experts, all because the criminal justice system failed 30 years ago to provide to Ford with even a remotely fair trial. Soon it will be the first day of the rest of Glenn Ford’s life. He’ll try to make the best of it. Which is about all you can say, too, about the men and women responsible for Louisiana’s justice system.

(theatlantic.com)

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After Death Row in Texas, I’m Fighting to End the Death Penalty – Kerry Max Cook


february 22, 2014

My name is Kerry Max Cook, but for two decades, I was known as “Cook, Execution number 600.” Innocent of the murder and rape I was accused of in 1977, my home became a tiny death row cell in Texas, the state that kills more people than anywhere else in the U.S. by far — including 141 of my fellow inmates before my release in 1999. By then, my only brother had been murdered and my Dad had died of cancer. My Mom died soon after. I was stabbed, raped and routinely abused on death row. My ordeal spanned two generations of the Smith County District Attorney’s office, two wrongful convictions, two reversals of conviction, a walk to the execution chamber, and three capital murder trials. My legal team and I have been unable to find a worse case of prosecutorial misconduct in Texan history.

I avoided a fourth trial only by pleading no contest, while making no admission of guilt. I have never been officially exonerated. Author John Grisham said, “If it were fiction, no one would believe it …”

I am, in fact, innocent. Another man’s DNA was found on the victim’s clothing two months after my release. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals accused Smith County prosecutors of “willful misconduct” in my case. Nonetheless that office remains determined to stop me clearing my name. My lawyers are working to file an application for writ of habeas corpus in coming months, hopefully prompting the appeals court in Austin to officially exonerate me and end my 36-year-old nightmare.

It all began in 1977. I was 20 and working as a bartender when a waitress said the manager wanted to see me. I stepped into a pitch-black room that was usually lit by fluorescent lighting and fumbled for the switch. Suddenly, hands reached out to grab both sides of me. The silver Smith & Wesson handcuffs crashed down on my wrist and I heard the detective’s words, “Kerry Max Cook, you’re under arrest for the capital murder of Linda Edwards” — a name I didn’t even recognize.

At the police station, they used my head as a toilet plunger. I knew the policeman was lying as he rammed my head repeatedly down the bowl filled with dark urine, screamed at me to confess and told me they had found my DNA on the body. I wept for my mother and father, for anyone, to help.

Even though I still bear the mental and physical scars and ongoing indignities of my wrongful conviction and imprisonment, I consider myself lucky. I have a wife and son. I have powerful allies — including Amnesty International, which found me in a dark cell and helped raise awareness of my wrongful conviction in 1991. It literally saved my life. I was so proud to be introduced by Susan Sarandon at Amnesty’s Bringing Human Rights Home concert in Brooklyn February 5 and address the audience as my 13-year-old Kerry Justice Cook looked on. I was proud to honor a powerful, global movement of activists who carry Amnesty’s torch for human rights — including my right to life. That is why I support Amnesty’s abolition work and the efforts by courageous activists on the ground, most urgently in New Hampshire, where a repeal vote in the state House is anticipated early next month.

The death penalty should be abolished across the United States, and everywhere. We do not need any more mistakes. We know that 143 people have served time on US death rows for crimes they were wrongfully convicted of. And imagine this. On appeal, the only question becomes whether the defendant received a fair and impartial trial. So if the evidence is made up, like in my case, you die.

The price of this system is a life. Of course the odds are stacked in your favor if you have access to financial resources, but you won’t be surprised to hear that you don’t meet too many people like that on death row.

One of death row’s other dirty little secrets is that it is a repository for every conceivable mental illness. Its population consists largely of untreated, traumatized children who grew up into broken adults. There are exceptions, of course, but I do not believe that even the guilty on death row are irredeemable. As Rosalind says in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “Time is the old justice that examines all such offenders.” If my case proves anything, it is that only time can tell if someone is guilty.

No prosecutor should have the power to end another human life. No other living soul should endure what I did. So I am praying now for victory, by Amnesty International USA and all those who are pushing to end this barbaric practice, in New Hampshire, and everywhere. Then, my nightmare will be over.

Click here to read more about Kerry’s fight for justice, and here to read about his work on self-empowerment.

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  

A Final Farewell to Greg Wilhoit, Who Survived Oklahoma’s Death Row, wrongfully convicted


february 20, 2014 (huffington)

America’s community of death row survivors bids a farewell to another one of its own. Gregory R. Wilhoit, who had spent five years on Oklahoma’s death row after being wrongfully convicted for the brutal murder of his wife, died in his sleep on February 13.

Greg had suffered. Suffered a whole lot. He was convicted of killing his wife Kathy — the mother of his two little daughters, then 4 months and 14 months old — on June 1, 1985. The case rested on the testimony of dental experts, one of them barely out of dental school, who said the bite mark found on Kathy’s body matched Greg’s teeth.

But that wasn’t all. Greg was a victim of bad lawyering. He hired two lawyers who were incompetent and did not defend him. In fact, Greg’s defense counsel came to court drunk and threw up in the judge’s chambers. And Greg was convicted in 1987 and sent to Death Row, because after all, somebody had to pay.

“All they wanted me to do was enter a guilty plea, despite the fact that I had pleaded not guilty,” Greg said in an interview over a decade ago. “I felt helpless and defeated. I felt I was going to be convicted and there was nothing I could do about it. The experts against me were very convincing. If I had been on the jury, I wouldn’t have hesitated to find me guilty.”

The jury took merely two hours to return with a guilty verdict for Greg. “I was sentenced to be executed by lethal injection, but I was shaken even more when the judge told me that I might be electrocuted, hung or shot if necessary,” Greg recalled. This would prove to be the most sobering moment of my life.

In 1991, Greg’s conviction was overturned when 11 forensic experts testified that the bite mark found on his wife was not his, and an appeals court ruled that Greg had ineffective counsel at trial. He was released, and ultimately acquitted on retrial in 1993.

Still a death penalty supporter in his third year on Death Row, Greg would become a strong opponent of capital punishment. Along with his sister Nancy Vollertsen, he became a member of Witness to Innocence, the national organization of death row survivors and their loved ones.

Like many innocent people who are released from prison, Greg Wilhoit never received a penny for his troubles, not as much as an apology for the suffering he endured, and for what they took from him. That would surprise those people who assume that the wrongfully convicted all receive ample compensation, set for life, with riches lavished upon them. Although the Oklahoma legislature had passed a compensation law allowing up to $200,000 for the wrongfully imprisoned, officials told Greg that he wasn’t eligible because he needed a pardon, but was ineligible because he was innocent.

The tortuous conditions of death row — in which prisoners await their own homicide in solitary confinement — took an emotional and psychological toll on Greg Wilhoit. He had to grapple with his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and deteriorating physical health challenges.

“Greg was one of those men who suffered the greatest because of his death row conviction. He not only lost his wife but his kids as well as he sat on death row for a crime he did not commit,” said Ron Keine, assistant director of membership and training at Witness to Innocence, himself an exonerated death row survivor who had spent two years on New Mexico’s death row. “Even after his release he never fully connected with his kids. This bothered him greatly. We almost lost him a few times in the past where he pulled through like a trooper. I mean like the man walked out of hospice, where he was near death, and got married to a sweet lady and began life again,” Keine added.

In spite of his deteriorating frame, the man had a strength about him that could not be denied, and allowed us to draw strength. “Greg’s style of speaking was unique. He could make the audience cry and laugh at the same time,” Keine reflected. And despite his pain and suffering and all he had seen and lost, Greg was able to crack a joke and make us laugh.

It is not funny that Greg Wilhoit never received a penny for his troubles. We will miss him.

2014-02-19-1921904_10151959430477219_646964137_n.jpg

After decades in prison over murders, DNA evidence frees 2 New York men


february 7, 2014

(CNN) — Two men behind bars for more than half their lives over a triple murder walked free this week after DNA evidence tore holes in their convictions.

Antonio Yarbough and Sharrif Wilson were teenagers when prison doors clanked shut behind them.

Now, in their late 30s, they can hardly believe they’re out.

What does freedom feel like? “I’m still going through it right now,” Yarbough said Friday.”I haven’t slept yet. I’ve been up for two days now. I have no words for it right now.”

Nearly 22 years of hard time

Imagine more than two decades in a maximum security prison. Add to that the fact that you’re accused of killing your mother, your sister and your cousin.

As if that’s not enough, you were the one who discovered their lifeless, bloodied bodies when you opened the door to your home one night.

If it’s hard to imagine what that’s like, Yarbough will tell you.

After years in Attica’s maximum security prison among New York’s toughest criminals, he left its high, gray walls behind him Thursday.

“It was a nightmare,” Yarbough told CNN’s Piers Morgan in an exclusive interview. “Twenty-one years and seven months was more like 42 years and seven months, when you know you’re in prison for something you didn’t do.”

After reviewing DNA evidence, District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson said the previous convictions for the 1992 murders in Brooklyn would most likely not stand up in court again and agreed the two men should be freed.

“Anybody looking at this evidence with an open mind would see that there is no chance in the world that Tony murdered his mother and these two little girls,” his lawyer Zachary Margulis-Ohuma said.

And that goes beyond the DNA evidence alone. Margulis-Ohuma was convinced Yarbough was innocent years before.

At least one false confession detectives coerced out of a scared teenage boy over 20 years ago led to the convictions.

A night out

After a night of partying, Yarbough, 18 at the time, and Wilson, 15, went home to Coney Island. Wilson was staying with friends, they said.

When Yarbough got home, he opened the door to find his mother, sister and a close family friend lying stabbed and strangled to death. The two girls were partially undressed.

Police came.

“I was asked to come down to the precinct,” he said. Officers said they wanted him to tell them who might have killed his family, he said.

“Before you know it, I had this photograph shoved in my face, and I was being threatened and slapped around, and they wanted me to sign a false confession. And I wouldn’t,” Yarbough said.

Police also took in Wilson and questioned him separately from Yarbough. But he got similar treatment, he said.

“I was scared, afraid; I was lied to, manipulated into believing that I was going to go home, if I do tell … what they said happened.” Wilson said.

Faced with a life behind bars, the young boy cooperated for the promise of lighter treatment.

Life in prison

The two were convicted in separate trials. Yarbough was sentenced to 75 years to life. Wilson got a lower sentence of nine years to life.

They sat behind bars for about 12 years, then something important arrived by mail.

“Out of the blue, I got a letter from his (Yarbough’s) aunt,” Wilson said. “And she asked me, did we really do it. And I had to tell the truth.”

He wrote back to her: “I was wrong for turning on him, but I was scared and pressured into it.” We’re innocent, he told her.

“For many years I felt horrible that I had to do that and that I actually did it knowing that we weren’t guilty for a crime we didn’t commit,” Wilson said.

“I still feel horrible now,” he said, sitting next to Yarbough.

Wilson’s letter led lawyer Margulis-Ohuma and the district attorney Thompson to review their cases in 2010 — five years after he sent it.

Wrongful convictions

Thompson came into office in January with promises to restore justice to the wrongfully convicted. This case is part of a review of Brooklyn killings from the 1980s and early 1990s.

Then, last year, the right shred of evidence came along in the form of a DNA sample from a rape-murder committed in 1999.

It matched DNA found under the fingernails of Yarbough’s mother, indicating that the same killer probably committed both crimes. In 1999, Yarbough and Wilson were in prison and couldn’t have committed the second murder.

Margulis-Ohuma called Yarbough in prison to tell him that he was going to be free.

“When I heard about it, I was extremely overwhelmed,” Yarbough said. “I was happy.”

And the DNA was not the only thing that matched. The m.o. was the same, Yarbough said. The victim was stabbed and strangled.

“Hope had finally started to sink in,” he said.

Free at last

Wilson and Yarbough had not seen each other for more than two decades, when they met in court Thursday.

Wilson approached the man he had testified against. “I just wanted to apologize to him for all I put him through, all I went through.”

Yarbough is still in pain over it, but he faults someone other than Wilson.

“I know what they did to him, because I know what they did to me,” he said.

As to finding his relatives’ killer decades later, Yarbough said, “It’s in God’s hand’s now.” He teared up.

Both men celebrated freedom by fulfilling some longings they had for two decades.

Wilson filled his mouth with a hot slice of New York pizza.

Yarbough filled his lungs with New York air.

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

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.

Man freed by Innocence Project victimized by system


MADISON — A man who was freed this month from prison, where he was serving a 102-year sentence for a 1991 rape he didn’t commit, is living in a Madison homeless shelter and doesn’t have enough money to buy the medication he takes for several serious health problems.

Joseph Frey, 54, was convicted in 1994 of raping a University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh student. He was freed this month after new DNA evidence testing linked the attack to a now deceased man who was convicted of sexually assaulting two sisters in Fond du Lac after the attack on the student. At the time he was convicted, Frey was serving a lengthy prison term for an earlier Brown County sexual assault to which he had pleaded no contest.

When he was released July 12, Frey had less than a week’s supply of the dozen or so drugs he needs for a degenerative bone disease, blood clots and other health problems. He can’t afford more or the required follow-up visits to the doctor.

“I’m transient,” said Frey, who is staying at the homeless shelter at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison. “I have no health coverage. Nothing.”

Wisconsin Innocence Project attorney Tricia Bushnell, who helped get Frey exonerated, said the state doesn’t provide social services like they would for someone released on a mandatory release date.

“In those cases, they get a social worker, they help provide them transitional housing, they look into helping them look for jobs or education,” she told the Wisconsin State Journal (http://bit.ly/1b4WvQY ).

Frey is now relying on the Innocence Project for help in putting his life back together.

Had he been released in 2005 — after completing his confinement for the Brown County assault — Frey would have gotten some help transitioning beyond prison life, Bushnell said.

Bushnell gave credit to Winnebago County Assistant District Attorney Adam Levin for agreeing to the DNA testing sought by the Innocence Project. It implicated a now-deceased rapist who, his mother told Oshkosh police in April, spent the final months of his life agonizing over an Oshkosh sexual assault he committed that was pinned on another man.

“There’s three victims here, the way I see it,” Frey said. “The victim was victimized repeatedly in this situation. The public was victimized by their representatives of law enforcement in Winnebago County, and I was victimized. And so far, there’s been very little accountability for that.”

If he’s lucky, Frey will qualify for the maximum $25,000 that the state can award to the wrongfully convicted, or $5,000 a year for a maximum of five years. Past efforts to boost that amount and to provide health care, housing and other services for exonerated prisoners have been unsuccessful.

“That’s not even minimum wage for one year,” Frey said. “I mean, look, it’s nothing. Is the injustice that shallow it could be wiped away like that, so nonchalantly? I don’t think so. I just hope that it changes. Because it’s not right.”

Frey insisted he is not bitter about the extra eight years he spent in prison. Self-taught in criminal law, Frey said he hopes for a time when he can “pay it forward” and help other inmates get justice.

http://www.postcrescent.com

Man walks free after serving two decades on wrongful conviction – Daniel Taylor


CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) – Jul 23, 2013

A man is beginning his redemption Monday after serving two decades behind bars on a wrongful conviction.

Daniel Taylor endured 20 years of time in a prison cell knowing he didn’t commit the crime that got him there. He was a teenager when he went into the big house, but now, he’s a free 37-year-old who will move to a place he can really call home.

“Well, it feels like I’m finally getting established and stepping out on my own and finally getting a chance to get re-acclimated with society,” Taylor says. “It’s very bittersweet, but I’ll accept this over my alternative, which is an 8 by 2 cuz those are not 8 by 9 cells.”

Taylor spent just over 20 years in that 8-by-2 cell at the Menard Correctional Center. He was 17 years old when he was arrested and charged with double murder at a North Side apartment complex.

Taylor had an alibi when the murders were committed: he was already in jail for disorderly conduct and being held at another police station. That took a backseat in the investigation when Taylor confessed to the crime.

“I have never heard anyone who had the alibi that I had,” Taylor explains. “You have people who was at a football game—with their girlfriend making love but how many people have said I was actually in your custody and they went and got certain documents from their own police station. I was beaten and tricked.”

Taylor contacted the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwest University, shared his story and six years later, he had another court date.

“He was in custody at the time when the murders were committed. I had to take that case. He had no parents or lawyer with him when he was dealing with the police. people don’t realize that you can admit to something that you didn’t do.”

Now, Daniel and his brother are trying to do what’s right.

David was 16 years old when Chicago police arrested him in the middle of the night. It’s a night his brother David says he’ll never forget. He missed his big brother so much that he committed crimes to get arrested with hopes of getting assigned to the same jail cell as Daniel.

“By him being by my side and letting me know everything was going to be alright…and then, when that was taken away from me, it was like woah,” David says.

Both brothers want to keep at-risk kids out of trouble and out of jail.

“You need to really sit down and talk to your parents because when it’s all said and done, your parents are going to be the only ones you have if you end up in prison,” Daniel says.

While in prison, Daniel Taylor earned his GED and says he read the dictionary from cover to cover. He has now been free for six months, living in the two-bedroom apartment. Many people are rooting for him and a number of people are trying to help him find a job.

Death penalty Focus


Today, in the United States, we celebrate freedom. At DPF, we are celebrating the freedom of exonerees like Obie Anthony, who spent 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.We also remember that there are thousands of other wrongfully convicted people, still sitting behind bars, trying to prove their innocence. We will keep fighting for their freedom, and for a criminal justice system that is more fair and just.

We hope you have a great Fourth of July, and thank you for joining us in the fight for justice!