15 Inmates Freed Due to Drug Informant's Lies

A federal judge in Cleveland has ordered 15 inmates released from long prison terms and more may be coming, due to an DEA informant's lies.

Collectively, the men have served at least 30 years behind bars. They were sentenced to a combined 86 years. Federal public defender Dennis Terez called the release of so many people at one time unprecedented.

Fallout from the case is expected to spread beyond the federal courthouses in Cleveland and Akron, where the men were convicted of dealing crack cocaine in Mansfield.

Uncorroborated snitch testimony is inherently unreliable and our system has depended on it for far too long.

The case is a blow to the federal justice system, which relies heavily on informant-based testimony, lawyers said. The men, some with no prior run-ins with the law, were given long prison sentences based almost exclusively on the word of informant Jerrell Bray and Lee Lucas, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent who supervised Bray.

An investigation is ongoing into the conduct of the DEA Agent Lee Lucas who supervised the informant.

Also revealing is that most of the inmates to be released pleaded guilty. Here's why. [more...]

They might have done so because of the case of Geneva France, a mother of three with no record. She steadfastly proclaimed her innocence and refused plea bargains that would have sent her to prison for up to four years. France went to trial but was convicted based on the testimony of Bray and Lucas.

France was sentenced to 10 years in prison, sending a message to the other defendants to take plea bargains or face longer prison sentences.

Our system which relies so heavily on purchased testimony from informants -- whether bought with money or promises of leniency in their own cases -- is morally bankrupt. Freedom is a precious commodity and the incentive to lie in order to satisfy the Government that it is hearing "the truth" is enormous.

The informant has been sentenced for his lies:

Bray was sentenced to 15 years in prison for perjury and civil rights violations and is working with a U.S. Justice Department task force investigating how the case unfolded.

Will the Government give him another sentencing break if he rats out the DEA Agent? Will the DEA agent, if charged, argue that Bray is not a credible witness and singing for his supper? How ironic that would be.

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    This is the kind of thing... (none / 0) (#1)
    by garyb50 on Wed Jan 23, 2008 at 01:08:11 PM EST
    ...I was asking about yesterday when I posted about the freed death row inmates. I was trying to find statistics about all exonerations - like these. Like the Tulia, Tx. convictions. It's astonishing how often I read or hear about these 'bad' convictions.

    I'm still looking for a comprehensive site.

    The innocence project has stats (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Wed Jan 23, 2008 at 01:20:31 PM EST
    on wrongful convictions due to snitch testimony where there's DNA -- obviously that's not drug cases.

    See what Rob Warden, the Director of Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions, wrote.

    Here's a recent Justice Project policy study on Jailhouse Snitch Testimony.


      ...The use of jailhouse snitch testimony has been widely used throughout the American criminal justice system. Unfortunately jailhouse snitches are often utilized by prosecutors despite their testimony being widely regarded as the least reliable form of evidence in the criminal justice system. A 2005 study of 111 death row exonerees found that 51 were wrongly sentenced to death in part due to testimony of witnesses with incentive to lie...

    In drug cases, the snitches are usually on the street, not in jails.

    The Inspector General reported on the FBI's misues of informants.

    That should get you started.

    And in Brooklyn..... (none / 0) (#3)
    by kdog on Wed Jan 23, 2008 at 01:28:45 PM EST
    In drug cases, the snitches are usually on the street, not in jails.

    And in Brooklyn, the narcs pry info from the snitches with free dope stolen from dealers.  Info or tall tales, depending on what the snitch knows or how good the dope is.

    What a tangled web prohibition weaves....

    Thanks Jeralyn (none / 0) (#4)
    by garyb50 on Wed Jan 23, 2008 at 01:34:37 PM EST
    Believe it or not I found all of those yesterday except for the Inspector General report.

    The Innocence Project has a pretty unwieldy exoneration by state page, but like you said it only deals with DNA. (Wonderful to find out that here in Texas we lead the pack) <sarcasm>

    Maybe what I'm looking for doesn't even exist. One that takes into account all wrongful convictions by whatever means that are eventually overturned. Probably too big a project.

    It might be too onerous, but... (none / 0) (#5)
    by jefered on Wed Jan 23, 2008 at 01:46:38 PM EST
    ...how about holding prosecutors and law enforcement witnesses civilly liable for wrongful convictions?

    Jeralyn (none / 0) (#6)
    by HeadScratcher on Wed Jan 23, 2008 at 02:15:48 PM EST
    These are the kinds of stories you do best! Keep up the good work

    Great ruling (none / 0) (#7)
    by nolo on Wed Jan 23, 2008 at 03:33:36 PM EST
    especially coming from a judge who's hardly what you'd call a liberal (or "soft on crime," or any of that kind of stuff).

    Jim Webb (none / 0) (#8)
    by NaNaBear on Wed Jan 23, 2008 at 10:22:55 PM EST
    I was invited to his hearing on incarceration.  THis is a subject thats near and dear to my heart. Subjects like this is what drew me to TL every day. Keep up the good work.  

    They have a picture of me at the hearings on his website(smile).  I didn't get to speak of course, only the experts spoke. They know my concerns and hopefully they will do more than just listen.  

    They know how I feel  about paid informants being able to go before grand juries and sitting up other people. Afterwards, they tell people  those arrested are the ones snitching.  It causes all kinda harm and chaos in communities.  

    This is just one of my many concerns

    "snitch testimony is unreliable" (none / 0) (#9)
    by diogenes on Thu Jan 24, 2008 at 07:52:14 PM EST
    If you have strict POSSESSION laws, prosecutors can recommend long sentences for known bad characters without relying on jail-house snitches or making victims of violent threats take additional risk by testifying in court.
    If the jury convicted based on a jail-house snitch, then isn't this the jury's and grand jury's fault?  It isn't the prosecution's duty to only prosecute a 100% sure case.  This is mainly an indictment of the finders of fact, whether it was judge or jury, as well as of grand juries that will indict a ham sandwich.
    The "anti-snitch" attitude (known as omerta in Sicily) also leads to real witnesses being menaced about testifying against real violent people.  The main victims are other people who live in the neighborhood.

    paid informants (none / 0) (#10)
    by NaNaBear on Thu Jan 24, 2008 at 10:03:34 PM EST
    I hear what you are saying, but I was refering to paid informats being used to testify before a gran jury in order to get an indictment. My concern is they will say what the prosecutors tell them to say.  

    two different things (none / 0) (#11)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Jan 24, 2008 at 10:24:07 PM EST
    We're talking about the paid use of informants to bust and make or cement cases against others -- the payment being either promises of leniency for their own misdeeds or cash.

    This shouldn't be confused with citizen informants who witness a horrible crime and tell the prosecutors who did it. Bystanders and witnesses are not included in our criticism.

    Sorry, if I was misunderstood (none / 0) (#12)
    by NaNaBear on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 05:09:03 PM EST
    I was refering how  paid informants are used. I only used their being used before gran juries as an example. I wasn't invited to the hearings based on what takes place when innocent citizens witness crimes.