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No New Trial for Troy Davis in Georgia


The Georgia Supreme Court today in a 4-3 opinion denied death row inmate Troy Davis an evidentiary hearing allow him to present evidence of his innocence. You can read the opinion here (pdf.) Some background here:

Troy Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of Police Officer Mark Allen McPhail at a Burger King in Savannah, Georgia; a murder he maintains he did not commit. There was no physical evidence against him and the weapon used in the crime was never found. The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state's non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.

One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester "Red" Coles – the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.

Amnesty International responds to today's decision:

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Mississippi's Medical Examiner for Hire: New Probe Underway

Dr. Steven Hayne, Mississippi's medical examiner for hire, had his faulty forensic work exposed when two inmates, wrongfully convicted in separate child murders, were exonerated a few weeks ago after serving 15 years in prison. The Innocence Project has more on his background and on the two clients recently released.

There's more news today, as the Innocence Project has filed open records requests on Dr. Hayne.

The Innocence Project and the Mississippi Innocence Project today issued 23 formal Public Records Act requests that will show the extent to which discredited medical examiner Steven Hayne is using state facilities to conduct autopsies – and potentially using federally-funded crime labs for forensic work that is fraught with negligence and misconduct.

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DNA Frees Two, Wrongfully Convicted in Mississippi

Two men in Mississippi, wrongfully convicted of murdering a child, have been released from prison after a decade, thanks to the work of the Innocence Project and local lawyers.

The cause of these wrongful convictions: fraudulent evidence. Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project says:

"You have a local forensic dentist who fabricated evidence in both these cases to get two innocent men convicted."

Here's more from the Innocence Project on the clearing and release of Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks.

In both cases, the real perpetrator has now been apprehended.

Update: Radley Balko at Reason has an update on Mississippi's woeful forensics system.

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PA. Death Row Exoneree to Get $4 Million

Nick Yarris, released from jail four years ago after spending 22 years in prison having been sentenced to death for a murder he didn't commit, has settled his wrongful conviction case against Delaware County, PA for $4 million.

The settlement was the result of a malicious-prosecution lawsuit Yarris filed in 2004 against Delaware County and the law enforcement officials who investigated and prosecuted him, and it came as the case was moving closer to trial in U.S. District Court.

[His lawyer John] Beavers said county representatives agreed to inform the family of murder victim Linda Mae Craig that "no probable cause existed to believe Nick Yarris had anything to do with her death."

Yarris now lives in London where he is a stay at home dad to his 21 month old daughter.[More...]

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Another Wrongful Conviction in Texas

[Bump (Jeralyn): This got lost with all our election coverage and it's important.]

Texas leads the nation in executions by a wide margin. It should therefore be concerning that Texas appears to lead the nation in wrongful convictions.

Since 2001, DNA tests have exonerated at least 30 wrongfully convicted inmates in Texas, the most of any state, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal clinic that seeks to uncover wrongful convictions.

Another victim of a bungled Texas prosecution, Charles Chatman, is expected to be released today after serving more than 26 years in prison for a rape that he has always denied committing. He was convicted after the complaining witness picked him from a photo array -- a notoriously unreliable identification procedure. DNA testing established his likely innocence.

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New Policy Paper on Jailhouse Snitch Testimony

The non-partisan Justice Project has a new policy paper (pdf) on jailhouse snitch testimony, one of the top causes of wrongful convictions. From the press release:

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.

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Ken Richey to Be Freed After 20 Years on Ohio's Death Row

When I last checked in on Kenneth Richey, the British citizen was 40 years old and had been imprisoned in Ohio since he was 22. He had just had his death sentence overturned but not been released, even though not only did he not commit the crime, it is likely there was no crime and the fire he was accused of setting was accidentally started.

Amnesty International visited Richey on death row and said he was treated like a rabid animal. Amnesty described Richey's case as “one of the most compelling cases of apparent innocence that human rights campaigners have ever seen.”

The Government appealed to the Supreme Court which remanded the case for reconsideration of procedural issues. In August, 2007, his conviction was set aside again. The 6th Circuit opinion is here (pdf).

Yesterday, the TimesOnLine reported Richey is about to be released. He'll be home for Christmas. In a "no contest" plea bargain, Richey will get time served.

“The State wanted him to plead guilty and he would not do that. They have agreed to drop murder, to drop the arson and took the most basic minor face-saving deal of no contest. There was nothing left for them to fight about.”

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Innocence: Fla. Man Freed After 14 Years

Chad Heins, aqe 33, imprisoned for 14 years for a rape and murder he did not commit, has been freed from prison in Florida. He is the ninth DNA exoneration in Florida and the 210th DNA exoneration nationwide. The Florida Innocence Project says:

On Tuesday December 4, 2007, at the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court in Jacksonville, Florida, the Fourth Circuit State Attorney officially dropped the murder and attempted rape charges against Chad Heins in light of results of DNA testing which conclusively prove his innocence. After fourteen years of enduring the torture of wrongful incarceration and the humiliation of being convicted of murdering his sister-in-law, Tina Heins, Chad Heins gained his freedom in time to return to his family in Wisconsin for Christmas.

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Jury Acquits Man Who Spent 15 Years on Death Row

A Tennessee jury has found Michael Lee McCormick not guilty following a retrial of his murder case. McCormick spent 15 years on death row.

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Struggles of the Exonerated to Rebuild Their Lives

The New York Times has a feature article on the struggles of exonerated to rebuild their lives after years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Here's the story of Jeffrey Deskovic.

There are 400 exonerees and the number keeps growing. When you're making your holiday donations this year, I hope you consider Life After Exoneraton and The Innocence Project.

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Innocent Texas Man Freed After Serving 12 Years

There's been another wrongful conviction and exoneration in Texas. Ronald Taylor was released from prison yesterday after serving 12 years for a rape he didn't commit.

Taylor was convicted of rape in 1995 and sentenced to 60 years in prison. The victim picked him out of a lineup but acknowledged she only caught a glimpse of her attacker's face.

During his trial, a crime lab analyst testified that no body fluids were found on the victim's bedsheet. This summer, the Innocence Project paid to have a New Orleans lab retest the bedsheet. Semen that lab found matched the DNA of a man already in prison.

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal apologized to Taylor in court Tuesday, and several council members echoed his regret.

Taylor is the third person exonerated due to faulty lab work by the Houston Police Department.

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The Lesson in the Mike Nifong Debacle

The transcript of the disbarment ruling for Durham D.A. Mike Nifong is now available here. The Sunday papers will be filled with editorials about Nifong's disgraceful conduct. But, the money quotes are these:

The prosecutor, as any defense lawyer will tell you, is imbued with an aura that if he says its so it must be so. And even with all the constitutional rights that are afforded criminal defendants, the prosecutor merely by asserting a charge against defendants already has a leg up. And when that power is abused, as it was here, it puts constitutional rights in jeopardy. We have a justice system but the justice system only works if the people who participate in it are people of good faith and respect those rights.

....It is very difficult to find any good in this situation that brings us here. I can only think of a couple things. One is that there are very few deterrents upon prosecutorial misconduct. For very good policy reasons, prosecutors are virtually immune from civil liability. About the worst that can happen to them for the conduct of a case is that the case can be overturned. The only significant deterrent upon a prosecutor is the possibility of disciplinary sanction. And here the most severe sanction is warranted.

While many, and perhaps most prosecutors don't cheat and lie, Nifong is not the only one. This happens to many defendants all over the country who don't have the resources for top-flight lawyers who will fight for them to the end.

According to the Innocence Project,

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Colorado's Wrongful Execution

In Canon City on Saturday, for the first time a tombstone will be placed on the grave of an executed prisoner. His name is Joseph Arridy.

This Saturday, June 2, 2007, at 11 a.m. in Canon City’s Greenwood Cemetery, a dignifying tombstone will be placed on the grave of death row inmate Joe Arridy. Arridy was executed in the Canon City prison gas chamber on January 6, 1939, and buried on top of Woodpecker Hill. The tombstone, which will feature an etching of a replica of Joe’s toy train, is being placed and dedicated by a number of citizens in the Pikes Peak Region who have taken a newfound interest in Arridy’s life and death. Evidence uncovered in the past decade indicates that he was a victim of police and prosecutorial misconduct. This is the first time in the history of Colorado that a personalized tombstone will be placed on the grave of an executed prisoner.

Arridy was mentally retarded and had the mind of a five year old. The warden gave him toys to play with.

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8th New York Inmate in 13 Mos. Freed by DNA

The Innocence Project reports that Roy Brown, the 8th New York prisoner in 13 months, will be freed from prison today because DNA testing has established his innocence.

Roy Brown solved the case from his jail cell.

“This is unlike any case we’ve ever seen. Roy Brown broke the case from his prison cell and confronted the actual perpetrator, who in turn killed himself. The true perpetrator’s courageous daughter then volunteered her own DNA sample, only to have the judge who oversaw Roy’s trial refuse to release him – saying that he had more confidence in the highly questionable practice of ‘bite-mark’ analysis than in the hard science of DNA.

Only after the true perpetrator’s body was exhumed and subjected to DNA testing did prosecutors accept the truth,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project. “Today, exactly 15 years after he was convicted, the truth has finally set Roy Brown free.

This is just more evidence that New York needs to establish an Innocence Commission:

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