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Wrongfully Convicted Inmate Freed From Death Row in Lousiana

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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CA Judge Frees Wrongfully Convicted Gang Member After 19 Years

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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Ill. Inmate Freed by DNA After Serving 32 Years

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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DNA Mixup in Las Vegas: Innocent Man Served 4 Years

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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Innocent TX Man to Be Cleared After Serving 30 Years

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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NY to Pay $9.9 Million To Man Framed By Corrupt Detective

New York City has agreed to pay Barry Gibbs $9.9 million. Gibbs served 19 years in jail as a result of being framed by a corrupt detective.

....Barry Gibbs, had served 19 years in prison when his conviction was overturned in 2005 after questions were raised about how his case had been handled by Louis J. Eppolito, a New York City police detective, one of the notorious “Mafia cops” serving life in prison for taking part in mob-related killings.

.... “They are permanent scars,” he added. “It’s been a long road. I’ve been through a lot, and it was very traumatic for me.” Mr. Gibbs, 62, who has recently wrestled with severe health problems, previously received a $1.9 million settlement from the state.

The victim was a prostitute, and at the time of her murder, Gibbs was a postal worker with a drug problem who had had a relationship with her. [More...]

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Tim Masters Gets $4.1 Million for Wrongful Conviction

Larimer County, Colorado has agreed to pay Tim Masters $4.1 million for the ten years he spent in prison, wrongfully accused and convicted of murder.

Masters was 15 when Fort Collins, Colorado, police began investigating him in the murder of 37-year-old Peggy Hettrick, who was found murdered and sexually mutilated in a field near Masters' family home. He was convicted largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of an expert witness who said he fit the profile of a sexual predator.

Two prosecutors, Terrence Gilmore and Jolene Blair, were found to have withheld exculpatory evidence. Both are now judges, and opposed the settlement, saying they didn't have a chance to defend themselves. [More...]

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Man Freed After 4 Years, Victim Admits False Rape Report

Biurny Peguero claimed three men kidnapped and raped her. She swore to it under oath at the grand jury and at the trial of William McCaffrey, a construction worker. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years. He went to prison. Four years later, McCaffrey was officially cleared today.

How did it happen? His attorney was able to get new DNA tests on bite marks on Peguero's arms. The reports at the time of the trial were inconclusive. The new testing showed the bites didn't come from McCaffrey but from two women who had fought with Peguero.

Peguero later confessed to a priest and then to the DA's office that she made the whole thing up. She wanted people to feel sorry for her.

She claimed she was raped because she wanted her friends "to feel badly" for her, and then was afraid to back down from her story as the case continued, prosecutors said in court filings this fall. She thought McCaffrey ultimately would be acquitted because of a lack of other evidence, prosecutors said.

[More...]

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Court Frees NY Man After 26 Years : "Compelling Innocence" Case

Dewey Bozella was convicted twice of a brutal murder. He served 26 years. His conviction was overturned yesterday and he was immediately freed. DNA evidence did not play a role. What convicted him:

The prosecution relied almost entirely on the testimony of two men with criminal histories, both of whom repeatedly changed their stories and both of whom got favorable treatment in their own cases in exchange for their testimony.

What freed him: A retired police officer who had saved his file, "who said it was the only one he kept after retirement, figuring that the conviction was so problematic lawyers might want it someday." In the file was evidence the prosecution had failed to turn over to the defense. [More...]

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NC: DNA Frees Another Wrongly Convicted Inmate

Joseph Abbitt, age 49, was sentenced to two life terms for murder and rape. He served 14 years.

Today, he leaves prison a free man, as DNA saved by the Winston-Salem police department but only re-tested recently, has proven he was not the culprit.

A joint motion to vacate the convictions against Abbitt filed by the Forsyth County District Attorney's Office and the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence is scheduled to be heard at noon today by Judge A. Moses Massey in Forsyth Superior Court.

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Forensics Show Texas Executed an Innocent Man

We've previously written about Cameron Todd Willingham who was executed in Texas in 2004 for an arson/murder. Evidence was mounting that the fire was not arson, but accidental. See here, here, and here.

Steve Mills of the Chicago Tribune reports today that the forensic report requested by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which is charged with investigating allegations of forensic error and misconduct, concludes the fire in the Willingham case was accidentally set.

In a withering critique, a nationally known fire scientist has told a state commission on forensics that Texas fire investigators had no basis to rule a deadly house fire was an arson -- a finding that led to the murder conviction and execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.

The finding comes in the first state-sanctioned review of an execution in Texas, home to the country's busiest death chamber. If the commission reaches the same conclusion, it could lead to the first-ever declaration by an official state body that an inmate was wrongly executed.

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Scalia: Constitution Doesn't Recognize Claims of Innocence After Verdict


Via Left in Alabama, Justice Scalia had this to say about the Troy Davis case, in which he dissented from the majority which ordered Davis get a hearing on his innocence claim. Davis, you may know, has had one of the the most compelling claims of innocence in decades. According to Justice Scalia:

This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is "actually" innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged "actual innocence" is constitutionally cognizable.

Left in Alabama responds:[More...]

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5th Cir. Affirms $14 Million Award to Former Death Row Inmate

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an award of $14 million to former death row inmate John Thompson for prosecutorial misconduct. The court was evenly divided, which means the lower court's verdict is affirmed.

Judge Edward Prado, who wrote the court's order to uphold the $14 million verdict, said that the appellate court must give deference to the jury's verdict. He added that the Thompson verdict will not subject other cities to "widespread liability" because it is such an extraordinary case.

"The dissent is merely quibbling with the jury's factual findings," wrote Prado. "This oversteps our bounds as an appellate court. The dissent presents nothing more than a skewed version of the facts in favor of the District Attorney's Office...these factual disputes were for the jury to resolve."

Here's what caused the verdict. [More...]

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DNA Frees Another TX Man - This One After 23 Years

Ernest Sonnier served 23 years of a life sentence for rape. Yesterday, he was released from prison after DNA testing and his lawyers from the Innocence Project established his innocence.

Over the last 18 months, genetic testing of evidence found on the victim’s clothing and at the scene of the attack had yielded no trace of Mr. Sonnier, the Harris County district attorney’s office said. Instead, it has implicated two other men. Both are felons and known associates. One is awaiting trial for a different rape.

Prosecutors are not conceding Sonnier's innocence, "though prosecutors acknowledge that the new DNA tests cast strong doubt on the conviction." Now they want to do more investigation. Why didn't they do it when the claims of innocence were first raised?

Texas leads the nation in exonerations of the wrongfully convicted: [More...]

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NY to Create Permanent Innocence Task Force

New York's top judge, Jonathan Lippman (chief judge of the NY Court of Appeals) has announced the creation of a permanent task force to study wrongful convictions and how to minimize their occurrence. The plan is receiving wide praise.

Members of the task force, who are being selected by Judge Lippman, will include prosecutors, defense lawyers, scientists and lawmakers. They will have a broad mandate to examine police procedures, court rules and other issues involved in wrongful convictions.

“We’re going to take the raw material from all the cases here in New York and, for that matter, around the country, and see what we need to do to change the criminal justice system so this doesn’t happen,” Judge Lippman said in an interview on Wednesday.

This is something that Innocence Project co-founders Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld called for in their 2002 book, Actual Innocence, and in detail here.[More...]

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