wrongfully convicted

Ex-death row inmate Anthony Porter angry, feels ‘cheated’ out of money


April 20, 2014

Anthony Porter is angry.

He’s come within hours of being executed after he was convicted of killing two people.

He was freed from Death Row after another man, Alstory Simon, confessed to the murders.

He got a pardon, but he didn’t get a dime when he sued the city and the cops for framing him.

And now, there’s a serious push to strip away what little Porter has left: his claim of innocence.

Attorneys pushing for Simon’s release from prison say the justice system got it right the first time — that the evidence points to Porter all along in the notorious double murder in 1982 at a South Side park.

Porters’ friends and supporters argue that a racist conspiracy is trying to rewrite history and make a victim, Porter, into a villain once again.

“Yeah, I’m innocent, man,” Porter said in an interview that was sometimes tense and combative.

“They keep on bringing the same old stuff up,” Porter told the Chicago Sun-Times, as he was surrounded by supporters.

“I ain’t got no peace of mind,” he said. “I’m suffering. I’m tired.”

The questions about Porter’s innocence have been coming up more frequently as the attorneys for Simon argue he was set up.

Those lawyers accuse Richard Devine, the Cook County state’s attorney at the time, of bowing to political pressure and accepting a guilty plea from Simon despite strong evidence pointing to Porter. Devine has said politics had nothing to do with his decision.

Last fall, Devine’s successor, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, agreed to review the circumstances of Simon’s confession and imprisonment.

And that makes Porter furious.

He and his supporters say the review of Simon’s case is part of a conspiracy to discredit the anti-death penalty movement that embraced Porter as a symbol of a broken justice system. Former Gov. George Ryan, who pardoned Porter, has said the case factored heavily in his decision to impose a moratorium on the death penalty.

“They’re trying to destroy me and Gov. Ryan at the same time,” Porter said.

Porter, 59, said he can’t walk on the street without people pointing at him because of the renewed questions about the murders of Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green.

In an interview last week, Porter gave a rambling but impassioned defense of his innocence. A longtime supporter, Maurice Perkins, president of the Bronzeville-based Inner City Youth and Adult Foundation Inc., was at his side, helping him respond to questions because — Perkins said — of Porter’s low IQ. Tests have shown Porter has an IQ of 51, which was a factor in his getting “railroaded,” Perkins said.

Porter wore a beige suit and suede shoes during an interview in the historic Swift mansion at 45th and Michigan, the headquarters of the foundation.

The stress from the renewed questions about his innocence have made him sick, Porter said. He needs surgery for a gall bladder ailment, he said.

Porter also said he lost his former wife, two children and a grandchild in a fire in Alabama a few years ago.

He does odd jobs for the foundation and speaks to youth groups, but the stigma of the case prevents him from landing a full-time job, he said.

“They damaged my name. I’ve been cheated out of my money,” he said.

Porter did receive about $145,000 in restitution from Illinois in 2000, but in a court deposition, he said he didn’t keep much of it, spending a large chunk on a Lincoln Navigator SUV and giving money to churches and supporters.

And suing the city got him nothing.

Attorney Walter Jones, who represented the city in the lawsuit, said he supports the review of Simon’s murder case.

“I am like any ex-prosecutor,” Jones said. “I want the truth to come out. I certainly believe I heard the truth come out during the course of the trial. I never met the man, Alstory Simon. All I can tell you is the truth that came out in my trial always said: ‘It is Anthony Porter.’ ”

When Porter was sent to Death Row for the 1982 killings of the couple in the bleachers near a pool in Washington Park, he’d never accused the police of abusing him physically.

Now, he alleges he was tortured in the same way detectives working under former police Cmdr. Jon Burge allegedly coerced confessions from suspects.

“They beat me, stomped me,” Porter said. “They put a plastic bag over my head.”

Porter has never confessed to the murders, though, and has steadfastly denied being in Washington Park when the killings happened.

“I wasn’t in no park,” he angrily repeated last week.

Witnesses at his trial in 1983 said otherwise.

One of the prosecution witnesses, William Taylor, testified at the trial that he saw Porter pull the trigger. Taylor would later modify his testimony and say that while he saw Porter in the park, he did not see the actual murders.

Porter was convicted of the murders and of robbing a man of $2 at gunpoint at the pool just minutes before the shootings in the nearby bleachers.

But the convictions unraveled after Northwestern University professor David Protess, his journalism students and private investigator Paul Ciolino famously reinvestigated the case in 1998.

Ciolino went to Milwaukee and obtained a videotaped confession from Simon, a convicted robber.

Just two days after the explosive video was aired on TV, prosecutors released Porter.

But Simon’s attorneys, Terry Ekl and James Sotos, claim Simon was tricked into confessing. Ciolino played a videotape for Simon of an actor pretending to have witnessed Simon commit the murders.

Simon was sentenced to 37 years in prison. He’s eligible for parole in 2017.

In an interview, Porter insisted all of the witnesses against him have recanted their testimony.

Perkins said those witnesses made up stories about Porter because he was known as a bully in their neighborhood and they wanted to get rid of him.

Indeed, Porter’s lengthy rap sheet includes two other robbery convictions and a conviction for shooting a man in the head during an argument over a dog. The man survived with a graze wound.

Some of the witnesses to the 1982 double murder were threatened by police to identify Porter as the killer, Perkins claimed.

He said the witnesses later decided to tell the truth and recant their statements against Porter.

But several of those witnesses were recently interviewed for a feature-length documentary called “Porter” and have renewed their allegations against him.

The film, due to be released this summer, is directed by Shawn Rech, a Cleveland-area resident who produces the “Crime Stoppers Case Files” show. It’s partially funded by Chicago attorney Andy Hale, who represents police officers in lawsuits claiming misconduct.

In one interview in the documentary, reviewed by the Sun-Times, Taylor said: “I saw Anthony Porter run past down the bleachers right past me out of the south gate.”

“Anthony Porter, I still think in my heart, is guilty,” Taylor said.

Another witness, Kenneth Edwards, said: “I am positive that Anthony Porter killed those two people. I saw it with my own eyes.”

Edwards, now serving a prison term for murder, said he heard a “pow, pow.”

“I saw Porter, I saw Tony Porter, and I saw him do it,” he said.

In the documentary, Jacqueline Green, a sister of murder victim Marilyn Green, also suggests Porter was the culprit. “It makes me angry that a killer could be walking out free when they took someone’s life and changed my life forever,” she said.

Porter, though, said he remains on good terms with the Green family, and notes Marilyn Green’s mother believes Simon did it.

In a strange new twist to an already complex case, meanwhile, Porter and Perkins say they were both recently paid $500 “bribes” in return for Porter appearing on camera for the documentary.

Perkins said he and Porter were offered “thousands” more if Porter would confess.

Simon’s attorneys deny involvement in an offer to pay for Porter to confess.

Rech, the director of the documentary, acknowledges giving Porter and Perkins $500 each at Perkins’ request.

“We thought it would add authenticity to have the real guy [Porter] in the movie saying he didn’t do it,” Rech said.

But Rech denies he or anyone else in his project offered a bonus to Porter to confess.

Perkins insists that racist, pro-law enforcement motivations are driving the renewed questions of Porter’s innocence.

“You’re trying to rewrite history, man,” Perkins said.

Porter added: “I’m an innocent black man in Chicago.”

(suntimes.com)

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OHIO – Man wrongfully sent to Death Row hopes court will reverse ruling – Dale Johnston


april 9, 2014

A Grove City man sentenced to death for a pair of Hocking County murders he did not commit is turning to the Ohio Supreme Court in his bid to be declared wrongfully imprisoned.

Dale Johnston has attempted for more than 20 years to win a court judgment so he could seek monetary damages for the seven years he spent on Death Row before being freed when an appellate court overturned his convictions.

He now is asking the justices to reverse a Feb. 20 ruling by the Franklin County Court of Appeals that threw out a trial-judge’s finding he was illegally detained for the 1982 dismemberment slayings of his stepdaughter and her fiancé.

The appellate judges ruled that the judge erred when he retroactively extended a 2003 change in the wrongful-imprisonment law to Johnston’s case.

Johnston and his lawyer are arguing the appellate ruling, sought by the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, misinterprets the law and asks the justices to rule in his favor.

“It may be safe to say that no reasonable person in the history of the world would or could review the facts surrounding these gruesome homicides and think anything other than Dale Johnston is and was an innocent man victimized by Ohio’s criminal justice system,” his lawyers wrote in their filing.

Johnston was sentenced to die in the electric chair in 1984 for the shooting deaths of Annette Cooper, 18, and Todd Schultz, 19, whose bodies were cut up and buried in a cornfield and thrown into the Hocking River.

In 2008, Chester McKnight, a drifter and drug addict, confessed to killing the couple and was sentenced to life imprisonment, freeing Johnston to again pursue his quest to be declared wrongfully imprisoned.

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.

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NU students investigating shaken-baby cases


October 3, 2012 http://www.sacbee.com

CHICAGO — Students in a Northwestern University program that gained national fame for investigations that helped free wrongfully convicted prison inmates – including some who were on Death Row – have a new cause. They are now investigating cases in which caregivers were convicted in what are called shaken-baby syndrome cases.

In a news release, the Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern says the students will look at two Chicago-area cases.

This is the first time the project has looked into shaken-baby syndrome cases. The project’s director,Alec Klein, says the decision to take a look was made because science has evolved and some assumptions about the cause of death in such cases are being challenged.

The project has also compiled a national data base and is reviewing about 1,400 other cases.

 

Exonerated death row inmate to speak in Colorado Springs – Juan Melendez


June 8, 2012  Source : http://www.csindy.com

Rev. Roger Butts, organizer for Coloradans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. “And God forbid we execute an innocent person.”

Juan Melendez nearly became that person. After 17 years on death row in Florida for a 1983 murder — and several denied appeals — that state’s Supreme Court finally overturned his conviction when a key witness recanted his testimony. Ten years after his release, he’s bringing his story to Colorado Springs. On Sunday evening. Melendez will speak and respond to questions at First Congregational Church, 20 E. Saint Vrain St., at 6 p.m.

“The guy is just so incredibly inspiring,” says Rev. Butts. “I have a feeling that if I spent 17 years on death row, I’d be bitter, and angry, and mean, and just a recluse or something. But this guy is so unbelievably inspiring.”

His visit is sponsored by Coloradans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, who hope to pass legislation in 2013 to make Colorado the 18th state in the union to end capital punishment. For more information, contact Rev. Roger Butts at revrogerb@msn.com

Check out the trailer for Juan Melendez 6446, a documentary about Melendez’s perilous journey through capital punishment’s legal apparatus.

US – Over 2,000 People Exonerated In 23 Years


May 21, 2012 Source : http://dfw.cbslocal.com

WASHINGTON (AP) – More than 2,000 people who were falsely convicted of serious crimes have been exonerated in the United States in the past 23 years, according to a new archive compiled at two universities.

There is no official record-keeping system for exonerations of convicted criminals in the country, so academics set one up. The new national registry, or database, painstakingly assembled by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, is the most complete list of exonerations ever compiled.

The database compiled and analyzed by the researchers contains information on 873 exonerations for which they have the most detailed evidence. The researchers are aware of nearly 1,200 other exonerations, for which they have less data.

They found that those 873 exonerated defendants spent a combined total of more than 10,000 years in prison, an average of more than 11 years each. Nine out of 10 of them are men and half are African-American.

Nearly half of the 873 exonerations were homicide cases, including 101 death sentences. Over one-third of the cases were sexual assaults.

DNA evidence led to exoneration in nearly one-third of the 416 homicides and in nearly two-thirds of the 305 sexual assaults.

Researchers estimate the total number of felony convictions in the United States is nearly a million a year.

The overall registry/list begins at the start of 1989. It gives an unprecedented view of the scope of the problem of wrongful convictions in the United States and the figure of more than 2,000 exonerations “is a good start,” said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions.

“We know there are many more that we haven’t found,” added University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, the editor of the newly opened National Registry of Exonerations.

Counties such as San Bernardino in California and Bexar County in Texas are heavily populated, yet seemingly have no exonerations, a circumstance that the academics say cannot possibly be correct.

The registry excludes at least 1,170 additional defendants. Their convictions were thrown out starting in 1995 amid the periodic exposures of 13 major police scandals around the country. In all the cases, police officers fabricated crimes, usually by planting drugs or guns on innocent defendants.

Regarding the 1,170 additional defendants who were left out of the registry, “we have only sketchy information about most of these cases,” the report said. “Some of these group exonerations are well known; most are comparatively obscure. We began to notice them by accident, as a byproduct of searches for individual cases.”

In half of the 873 exonerations studied in detail, the most common factor leading to false convictions was perjured testimony or false accusations. Forty-three percent of the cases involved mistaken eyewitness identification, and 24 percent of the cases involved false or misleading forensic evidence.

In two out of three homicides, perjury or false accusation was the most common factor leading to false conviction. In four out of five sexual assaults, mistaken eyewitness identification was the leading cause of false conviction.

Seven percent of the exonerations were drug, white-collar and other nonviolent crimes, 5 percent were robberies and 5 percent were other types of violent crimes.

“It used to be that almost all the exonerations we knew about were murder and rape cases. We’re finally beginning to see beyond that. This is a sea change,” said Gross.

Exonerations often take place with no public fanfare and the 106-page report that coincides with the opening of the registry explains why.

On TV, an exoneration looks like a singular victory for a criminal defense attorney, “but there’s usually someone to blame for the underlying tragedy, often more than one person, and the common culprits include defense lawyers as well as police officers, prosecutors and judges. In many cases, everybody involved has egg on their face,” according to the report.

Despite a claim of wrongful conviction that was widely publicized last week, a Texas convict executed two decades ago is not in the database because he has not been officially exonerated. Carlos deLuna was executed for the fatal stabbing of a Corpus Christi convenience store clerk. A team headed by a Columbia University law professor just published a 400-page report that contends DeLuna didn’t kill the clerk, Wanda Jean Lopez.

US – Free After 25 Years: A Tale Of Murder And Injustice – Michael Morton


April 30 Source : http://www.npr.org

The past few years in Texas have seen a parade of DNA exonerations: more than 40 men so far. The first exonerations were big news, but the type has grown smaller as Texans have watched a dismaying march of exonerees, their wasted years haunting the public conscience.

Yet a case in Williamson County, just north of Austin, is raising the ante. Michael Morton had been sentenced to life in prison for murdering his wife. He was released six months ago — 25 years after being convicted — when DNA testing proved he was not the killer.

Instead of merely seeking financial compensation, Morton is working to fix the system. His lawyers, including The Innocence Project, want to hold the man who put him behind bars accountable. They also want new laws to make sure Morton’s story is never repeated.

The Day Of The Murder

On the morning of Aug. 13, 1986, Morton was getting ready for work as head of the pharmacy department at a nearby Safeway in Austin. He closed the door to his home, blissfully unaware that the next time he saw his wife of seven years she would be in a coffin. Morton had nine hours of his normal life left. The clock ran out after work, when he arrived to pick up his son from day care.

“First time I figured something was up was when I locked eyes with the baby sitter,” he says. “She looked at me real weird, like, ‘What are you doing here? Eric’s not here, why are you here?’ ”

Morton was immediately worried and called home. The man who answered was Williamson County Sheriff Jim Boutwell. The sheriff refused to answer Morton’s questions and told him to come home immediately. Morton drove there in a panic.

“There were a lot of cars in the street. There was a big yellow crime-scene ribbon around our house,” he says. “Neighbors were across the street, clustered on the corner … talking to each other, and of course, when my truck comes racing up, they all kind of key on me.”

Boutwell met Morton outside the front door and, in front of everyone, bluntly told him Christine Morton was dead, murdered in their bedroom. Morton reeled.

“You really don’t know how you’re going to react until it happens to you, and with me, I remember it was as if I was … falling inside myself,” he says.

Morton was stunned, nearly mute, which fueled the sheriff’s suspicions and became a major prosecution touchstone at his trial. The fact that Morton didn’t cry out or weep became evidence that he didn’t love his wife and had killed her.

Boutwell took Morton into the living room, his wife’s body still down the hall. For the next four hours, Morton answered every question the sheriff could think of and never once asked for a lawyer.

“In my mind, I knew that, ‘OK, he’s doing his job. You have to eliminate the suspects, so he’s got to tick off these certain questions and get rid of me as a suspect and get on with this thing,’ ” he says.

The ‘Evidence’

Morton was wrong. Boutwell had already decided that Morton was his No. 1 one suspect. The previous day had been Morton’s birthday, and the family had gone out for a nice dinner. After getting home and putting Eric to bed, Morton was hoping for a “happy ending” with his wife. That’s not what happened, though, and Morton’s feelings were hurt. He wrote her something the next morning before he left for work.

Chris, I know you didn’t mean to, but you made me feel really unwanted last night. After a good meal, we came home, you binged on the rest of the cookies, then you farted and fell asleep. I’m not mad. I just wanted you to know how I feel without us getting into a fight about sex. Just think how you’d feel if you were left hanging on your birthday. I love you.”

This note, left on the couple’s bathroom mirror, turned out to be Morton’s doom.

Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson used it to weave a sensational tale of unspeakable violence. In Anderson’s version of the crime, Morton used a wooden club to viciously bludgeon his wife’s head because she wouldn’t have sex with him. Then, in triumph over her body, he pleasured himself. The mild-mannered pharmacy manager was transformed into a sexually sick, murderous psychopath.

It was all a prosecutorial fantasy; none of it was true. Yet Anderson pounded his fists into his hands and wept to the jury as he described Morton’s perversity. Compared with this vivid picture of the crime, Morton’s defense didn’t have a lot to offer.

“The defense was that [Morton] didn’t do it, and we don’t know who did it. But whoever did it snuck in and committed a really vicious, vicious murder,” says Bill Anderson, now a criminal law professor at the University of Texas who was Morton’s lawyer in 1986. “And that is very frightening. A jury, by convicting [Morton], makes themselves safe. They’ve solved the case and they can go on about their business.”

What the jury and the defense lawyers didn’t know about was the evidence that had been concealed by Williamson County law enforcement. Only the sheriff’s office and the district attorney knew about it.

Undisclosed Information

For the past eight years, John Raley, of the Houston firm Raley & Bowick, has spent thousands of hours pro bono as Morton’s lawyer. “There were fingerprints on the sliding glass door, and there were fingerprints on the luggage that was piled on Christine Morton’s body,” he says. That’s not all: A neighbor told police that she’d seen a man in a green van casing the Morton home. Repeatedly.

“The neighbors report that they had seen a strange van driving around the neighborhood, stopping around the Morton house. The man in the van would drive around back to the wooded area and walk into the wooded area in back,” Raley says. “The interesting thing is, it’s around that area where the bandanna that contains the DNA was eventually found.”

A bloody bandanna had been found by a deputy behind the Morton home. Incredibly, the sheriff’s office decided to ignore it and left it lying on the ground.

Read full article (pictures, listen the story)  : click here 

Ray’s Story – wrongfully convicted


Ray Krone was sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. He has been proven innocent and exonerated, and now helps other “exonerees” share their stories of unjust sentences and close calls with state-sanctioned death penalties. Ray works for Witness to Innocence, which receives support from Atlantic, toward abolishing the death penalty throughout America. Atlantic is the largest funder of work to abolish the death penalty in the U.S.

For more info see: http://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/rays-story-death-penalty-mistake