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The 141st wrongfully convicted death row inmate in the U.S. was released from jail today after serving 15 years for a crime he didn't commit. Damon Thibodeaux, now 38, left prison today. The cause of his wrongful conviction: A false confession. Later DNA testing excluded him as the perpetrator of the crime.
Nationally, DNA has freed 18 wrongfully convicted death row inmates.
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John Edward Smith, imprisoned for the past 19 years for a murder he did not commit, walked out of court a free man yesterday.
It was not DNA evidence that freed him, but perjured testimony at his trial. The sole eyewitness at his trial admitted lying.
Prosecutors told the judge they were convinced that the lone eyewitness to the 1993 shooting had lied at Smith’s trial, naming him as the gunman. Smith maintained he was at his grandmother’s house when the shooting occurred several blocks away.
The witness said said he was pressured by police to identify Smith as the shooter. [More...]
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A hearing is underway in federal court in North Carolina to determine whether new evidence, when considered collectively rather than piecemeal, is sufficient to overturn the murder convictions of former Army surgeon and Green Beret Jeffrey MacDonald, imprisoned since 1982 for the 1970 Charles Manson-style attack on his wife and daughters.
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What a nightmare. In 1996, Kristin Bunch was 21, pregnant and living in a mobile home with her three year old. A sudden fire engulfed the trailer, killing her three year old. The police said it was arson and claimed she went into her son's bedroom, doused it with a liquid accelerant like kerosene or diesel fuel and set it on fire. She was charged and convicted of felony murder and arson and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Arson investigators testified at her trial that burn patterns indicated the fire was arson.
After 16 years in prison, she was released on bond today pending a retrial, and went home with her jubilant mother and now 16 year old son (whom she gave birth to in prison.) In March, the Indiana Court of Appeals set aside her conviction, finding it was based on invalid, outdated science and the prosecutor had withheld critical evidence at her trial. (Great work by Kristin's post-conviction team, including the Center on Wrongful Convictions.)[More..}
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Andre Davis, now 50 years old, left a maximum security prison in Illinois today, after serving 32 years for a rape and murder that DNA evidence has proven he didn't commit.
A federal court overturned his conviction when DNA tests not available at the time of his trial came back with a finding that the blood and semen found at the crime scene were not those of Davis.
Prosecutors earlier today said they will not recharge him. Did the DNA tests sway them? Not much.
[Prosecutor] Reitz said that while she didn't doubt the results of the DNA tests, she decided not to retry Davis because of the difficulty in taking a 32-year-old case to trial — not because of those tests.
Davis requested the DNA testing in 2004. Why did it take 8 years to free him?
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Robert Dewey, a Colorado inmate sentenced to life without parole for murder, left jail today a free man after serving 18 years of his sentence. DNA testing, using a technology not available at the time of his conviction, proved he was innocent.
Dewey is the 290th person to be exonerated nationwide on the basis of DNA evidence proving factual innocence -- meaning someone else committed the crime.
"I find that Mr. Dewey is factually innocent of the crimes of which he was accused of in this case," the judge said, noting Dewey had spent more the 6,000 days behind bars. "Mr. Dewey is now again a free man."
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Did anyone catch Jeopardy last week when this question was asked?
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Henry James was convicted of aggravated rape in Louisiana in 1982 and sentenced to life without parole. Today, the court vacated his conviction after DNA testing proved he was not the perpetrator. He served 1 month less than 30 years, the longest time served by any DNA exoneree in Louisiana.
James was convicted based in large part on a faulty cross-racial eyewitness identification. He had three alibi witnesses at trial: his father, his boss and a neighbor. The jury convicted anyway.
His stepfather confirmed that he had been asleep at the time of the crime. (James’ mother had passed away, and he lived with his stepfather. James slept in the same bed as his stepfather.) Another witness testified that he saw the defendant walking to work and gave him a ride the rest of the way, and his boss testified that he arrived at work at 6:48 AM. However, James’ lawyer failed to inform the jury about the serological testing that excluded James as a suspect.
Although DNA had been collected at the crime scene, it wasn't tested at the time of trial. By the time James was able to get the Innocence Project on board, it had been lost. Last year, a lab worker came across the slide while looking for DNA evidence in another case. [More...]
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The West Memphis 3, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, have been freed from prison after 18 years. They agreed to plead guilty via Alford pleas, under which they acknowledge the state has sufficient evidence to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but they do not admit they committed the crimes and can maintain their innocence. Why the Alford pleas? So they can't sue the state for their wrongful conviction and confinement.
The hearings were closed to the media and public. The District Attorney is giving a press conference now, and says the three are being processed for release and will walk out as free men today.
From the press conference: The DA says: Moments ago, all three entered guilty pleas to murder. The deal was proposed by the defense. The D.A. consulted with the families but did not give the families veto power. [More...]
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A surprise hearing has been scheduled tomorrow for the West Memphis 3 , Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin. A gag order is in place, but WREG reports that two of them, including Damien Echols who was sentenced to death, will be released. Reports are that a plea deal has been arrived at under which all three would plead guilty to lesser charges and two would be released. Some reports say all three would be released immediately. The reports emanate from the families of the murdered youths, who were told about the deal but asked not to discuss it until tomorrow. The three have already been moved from their respective prisons for tomorrow's hearing in Jonesboro:
The Arkansas Department of Corrections says all three have left their prisons and are now in the custody of the Craighead County Sheriff's Office, taking all their belongings with them.
The Court released this statement: [More...]
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Dwayne Jackson served four years in prison for a robbery it turns out he did not commit. An "accidental switch" of DNA samples at the Las Vegas lab, or "human error" as the news puts it, was responsible.
The state has admitted the error and a settlement has been reached. Jackson was freed from prison in 2006.
More than 200 cases will now be reanalyzed to determine if other such errors were made by this lab tech, who has been placed on administrative leave.
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In 1979, Jeffrey R. MacDonald, a captain in the Medical Corps, was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and their two young daughters in the family’s Fort Bragg home. He was sentenced to three life terms and has steadfastly maintained his innocence. He lost his direct appeal and many post-conviction motions for relief. His case was the subject of the book and movie, Fatal Vision.
A year ago, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in his latest request for relief. Today, the Court ordered the trial court to consider DNA evidence casting doubt on his guilt in conjunction with the other submitted innocence evidence. The court said the innocence evidence must be considered together as a whole, rather than piecemeal. The opinion is here.
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Via the Innocence Project: Cornelius Dupree served 30 years in prison for a rape and robbery new DNA tests show he did not commit. A judge is expected to exonerate him tomorrow. He was paroled in July.
His co-defendant, Anthony Massingill, is also expected to be cleared at a later hearing tomorrow. The primary cause of the wrongful conviction: Faulty eyewitness identification. Misidentifications account for 75% of wrongful convictions. Innocence co-director Barry Scheck says:
Cornelius Dupree spent the prime of his life behind bars because of mistaken identification that probably would have been avoided if the best practices now used in Dallas had been employed.... most counties in Texas do not have these best practices in place.
This must be remedied in the next legislative session by the adoption of an eyewitness identification reform bill that had the votes needed for passage last session but not enough time to get enacted. Let us never forget that, as in the heartbreaking case of Cornelius Dupree, a staggering 75% of wrongful convictions of people later cleared by DNA evidence resulted from misidentifications.”
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A Missouri judge today found Dale Helmig innocent of killing his mother in 1993, a crime for which he has served 17 years in prison. The ruling follows a week-long hearing in July on whether Dale should receive a new trial.
DeKalb County Senior Judge Warren McElwain ruled that Helmig "established his innocence by clear and convincing evidence." He called Helmig, who was convicted in 1996 of killing his mother three years earlier in central Missouri's Osage County, a "victim of manifest injustice."
This one is personal for me, since I spent more than a week in Missouri interviewing Dale Helmig, his family, witnesses, the judge, prosecutors and Dale's trial and appellate defense counsel, for a 2000 TNT movie about his case, Was Justice Denied?. We also conducted our own investigation of the facts and reviewed all of the trial transcripts. I've continued to follow the case through its ups and downs here on TalkLeft. [More...]
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Alan Newton served 22 years for a rape he didn't commit. For years, New York police kept insisting there was no DNA to test. The Innocence Project took up his case and got a DA to find the evidence the police insisted didn't exist:
The rape kit, it turned out, was in its original storage bin from 1984, Barrel No. 22, in the same police warehouse that the authorities said they had searched at least three times since Mr. Newton first asked in 1994.
The DNA cleared Newton and he was released from prison in 2006. A New York jury yesterday awarded him $18.5 million in damages.
The Innocent Project said in 2006 that Newton could have been cleared in 1994, and that 17 other inmates face the same dilemma.
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