Wrongful Conviction Roundup

• Des Moines businesswoman Phyllis Davis died in the cross-fire of a gang-related shootout between the occupants of two vehicles in 1996. One of the vehicles matched a distinctive SUV that David Flores owned. Via the Des Moines Register, Flores makes a strong argument that he was wrongly convicted of killing Davis.

[N]o murder weapon, no fingerprints and no eyewitnesses ever placed him at the scene. During Flores' controversial trial, four witnesses - including three for the prosecution - testified that a black man, not a light-skinned Hispanic like Flores, was in the SUV from which prosecutors believed the fatal bullet was fired.

This year, the judge in Flores' post-conviction case learned a newly discovered FBI report from 1996 shows another man, Rafael Robinson, might have been involved in Davis' death. At least two people also agreed to testify in sworn depositions that Robinson, a gang member who was also fatally shot in 1996, was the man witnesses saw in the SUV that day.

[more ...]

A third witness who knows Flores says he wasn't the shooter. A fourth witness, tried three times for a net of zero convictions (one mistrial, two reversals) for the 1995 shooting that triggered the gang war, may also be available to testify that Flores is innocent. Flores' motion for a new trial is pending.

• Efren Paredes Jr., a 15 year old bagger at Roger’s Foodland in St. Joseph, Michigan, was convicted of killing his boss during a robbery. Parades has always maintained his innocence.

Prosecutors said Paredes planned and executed a “thrill kill.” He was the last worker to punch out before the after-hours homicide. A teen who served time for his role in the crime told jurors he picked up Paredes from the store after Paredes shot Tetzlaff and took $11,000 in cash and checks.

But Paredes’ mother said he was home during the murder, insisting she saw Tetzlaff himself drop her son off before returning to the store. Supporters said those responsible for the crime lied, cut deals and pointed the finger at Paredes to save themselves. Paul Ciolino, a Chicago-based private investigator who was hired by the Paredes family and has helped free five men from Illinois’ death row, called his case a “classic” wrongful conviction.

Young Parades was sentenced to a mandatory term of life without parole. He failed to overturn the conviction or sentence in his state and federal post-conviction proceedings, despite this:

The jury foreman was a co-worker of the victim’s wife’s aunt. Paredes alleged the foreman was crucial in persuading other jurors who initially voted 9-3 for acquittal.

For obvious reasons, judges can't consider any of the vote counts taken before deliberations produce a unanimous verdict. Still, news of an arm-twisting jury foreman who might have an interest in the trial's outcome does not inspire confidence in the verdict.

While Iowans Michiganders consider the wisdom of applying a mandatory "life without parole" law to a 15 year old (300 juveniles are serving life sentences in Iowa Michigan), Paredes' only remaining hope may be executive clemency. His clemency request will be decided by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who will likely be guided by the Parole Board's recommendation. The Board will not reexamine the evidence against Paredes, but will decide whether he deserves clemency in light of his excellent prison record.

Parole Boards usually look for evidence that the inmate has accepted responsibility for his crimes and feels genuine remorse for the harm he caused. That evidence doesn't exist when an inmate is innocent.

“I will not take responsibility for a crime I did not commit,” a handcuffed Paredes told parole board members. “I never will do that even if it meant I could leave today.”

Sadly, Parades isn't likely to receive a clemency recommendation without saying the magic words.

• Peter Limone spent 33 years in prison because the FBI withheld evidence of his innocence to protect an informant who was involved in the killing. He has yet to collect the $26 million he was awarded as compensation for the government's wrongdoing because the government appealed.

Now the government has arrested Limone, accusing him of running "an illegal gaming enterprise that included loan sharking, attempted extortion and bookmaking." His wife insists he's innocent, but really, can't the man catch a break? He's 74 years old. After serving 33 years for a crime he didn't commit, hasn't he already done enough time to pay for whatever loan sharking he can do in his remaining years?

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    OK, it's late and my brain is frozen from... (none / 0) (#2)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 09:38:44 PM EST
    ...the cold (and a loooong day at work), but I can't make the connection of this...

    While Iowans consider the wisdom of applying a mandatory "life without parole" law to a 15 year old

    ...to the Des Moines case.  Who's the 15 year old?  Or were you refering to the Michigan case?

    /yes, I did read the linked DM Register story

    In a past life (none / 0) (#3)
    by Steve M on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 10:39:38 PM EST
    I used to be the guy who handled clemency requests for the Michigan Parole Board.

    I always considered it a pretty raw deal that you can't get parole unless you express contrition for your crime, because I'm not sure what you're supposed to do if you're actually innocent.  On the other hand, I understand why the Parole Board can't really get involved in examining the evidence.

    However, a claim of innocence isn't a bar to executive clemency in the same way that it's a bar to parole.  The prosecutor and the sentencing judge get to weigh in - and in the vast majority of cases, even a flunky like me was able to glance at the trial record and see that the claims of innocence were totally spurious.  But if you have legitimate grounds, you're going to get a fair look, and Gov. Granholm is a lawyer who takes her job very seriously.

    The courts, prosecutors, parole boards (none / 0) (#4)
    by JamesTX on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 11:47:30 PM EST
    and other actors in the so-called criminal justice system have all the same characteristics, interestingly, that they claim the alleged psychopaths they put away have. They can't admit their own mistakes, even in the face of indubitable facts. They put their own reputations and designs ahead of the rights of other people. They blame someone else for all their errors and problems, never recognizing their own role in the problems. They are charming, popular, and able to win the trust and confidence of most people instantly. They seem to have no remorse or guilt about the people they harm.

    i wish i could say i am shocked, shocked (none / 0) (#5)
    by cpinva on Fri Dec 19, 2008 at 08:27:34 AM EST
    by this! sadly, i can't, because i'm not. however, on the plus side, out of all the law enforcement actions taken through any given year, the wrong ones constitute a very minute % of the whole.

    i realize that's small consolation for the individuals who constitute that very minute %, but it does show our system, as a whole, works as intended. we just have to continue to strive to make it better, and be willing to admit to, and correct, mistakes when discovered.