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Vocapedia > Justice > Miscarriages of justice


Injustice, Exonerations, DNA evidence


Australia, UK, USA





Illustration: Daniel Zender


Life After Wrongful Conviction


MAY 28, 2016



















In this photo provided by Cal State Los Angeles,

Maurice Hastings smiles

at a hearing at Los Angeles Superior Court

where a judge dismissed his conviction for murder

after new DNA evidence exonerated him,

Oct. 20, 2022, in Los Angeles.


Photograph: J. Emilio Flores



DNA evidence has freed

a California man imprisoned for more than 38 years


October 29, 2022    4:17 AM ET



















From left:

Raymond Santana,

Yusef Salaam,

Korey Wise,

Kevin Richardson,

and Antron McCray in 2019.


Photograph: Bennett Raglin

Getty Images for BET


We Are the ‘Exonerated 5.’

What Happened to Us Isn’t Past, It’s Present.

Deceptive interrogations and false confessions are all too common.

New York can stop them.


Jan. 4, 2021




















Henry Lee McCollum wiped tears at a hearing

Tuesday in Lumberton, N.C.,

where a judge declared him

and his half brother Leon Brown innocent

and ordered them both released from prison.


Photograph: Chuck Liddy

The News & Observer


DNA Evidence Clears Two Men in 1983 Murder


SEPT. 2, 2014



















 Jonathan Fleming embracing one of his lawyers, Anthony Mayol,

after his murder conviction was overturned on Tuesday.


Photograph: Michael Appleton

for The New York Times


Man Wrongfully Convicted in 1989 Brooklyn Murder Is Set Free


APRIL 8, 2014


















Mr. Lee being led to State Police barracks

in Pennsylvania in 1989.


He was given a life sentence

after the death of his daughter in a fire.


Photograph: David W. Coulter

The Pocono Record,

via Associated Press


Locked Away for 24 Years,

an Exonerated Man Still Feels Imprisoned


MARCH 10, 2016


















“I still think it’s totally unfair

that I had to serve 24 years in prison,”

Han Tak Lee, 81, said. “I’m innocent.”


Photograph: An Rong Xu

for The New York Times


Locked Away for 24 Years,

an Exonerated Man Still Feels Imprisoned


MARCH 10, 2016




















David Ranta,

wrongly convicted in a 1990 killing,

was freed last year.


The office of New York City’s comptroller

settled the case before a suit had been filed.


Photograph: David B. Hollingsworth

for The New York Times


Man Framed by Detective Will Get $6.4 Million



















Remembering Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter,

prizefighter who fought

for his and others’ freedom

PBS    2014




Remembering Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter,

prizefighter who fought for his and others’ freedom



April 21, 2014    6:46 PM EDT

















injustice        UK










racial injustice        USA


















Australia >  unconditional pardon        USA






































































injustice        USA










unjustly        USA












unjustly Imprisoned        USA










unjust convictions        USA










unjustly convicted > appellate court >

Louisiana 5th Circuit Court of Appeal >

judges of the 5th Circuit >

ignore the petitions of prisoners

who could not afford an attorney


In a state where police and prosecutorial misconduct

frequently make national headlines

and a stream of exonerations has revealed

a criminal justice system still functioning

in the shadow of slavery and Jim Crow,

a group of white judges had decided

that the claims of hundreds,

perhaps thousands, of inmates

— most of them Black —

were not worth taking the time to read.


fifth-circuit - November 4, 2023










by police and prosecutors        USA










equal justice initiative        USA

















































wrong man        USA

















movies > 1956 > Alfred Hitchock > the Wrong Man        USA










USA > wrongful imprisonment        UK / USA














USA > Glynn Simmons


served US’s longest wrongful imprisonment

for a 1974 murder        UK










be wrongly accused of N        USA










(be) wrongly / wrongfully convicted over / of N        USA
















jailhouse-informant-false-testimony-exoneree-portraits/ - March 9, 2020









































the wrongfully convicted        USA


fix-wrongful-imprisonment-compensation - March 26, 2024








USA > be wrongfully accused of murder        UK










wrongfully convicted man        USA


fred-steese-wrongfully-convicted - early March 2021








(be) wrongfully imprisoned        USA



















wrongfully imprisoned for 35 years        USA










wrongful imprisonment for N
























USA > wrongful convictions

False Arrests, Convictions and Imprisonments        UK / USA

























wrongful-conviction-murder-chicago-police-daniel-taylor - May 25, 2022






















































wrongfully convicted and imprisoned > Ronnie Wallace Long        USA










wrongfully convicted > exonerated > Leonard Allan Cure        USA


 (Cure) spent more than 16 years in prison

before being released in 2020

(and) was fatally shot on Monday (October 16, 2023)

by a sheriff’s deputy in Georgia during a traffic stop
















wrongful conviction > Jonathan Fleming

spent 25 years in prison

for a crime he did not commit.        UK












wrongly convicted in N        USA










USA > wrongly convicted man        UK / USA












the wrongly convicted        USA


why-michigan-failing-compensate-wrongly-convicted-despite-law - January 2, 2024















The Phantom    Official Trailer

Greenwich Entertainment    2 June 2021





The Phantom

Video    Official Trailer    Greenwich Entertainment    2 June 2021


THE PHANTOM tells the story

of one of the darkest episodes

in the long history of American justice.


A story of how the State of Texas

knowingly sent an innocent man to his death

and left a serial killer at large.


A case in which - for the first time -

it can be conclusively proven

that the US courts executed a blameless man.


This film uncovers the shocking truth behind a tale of murder,

corruption and lies that unfolded in the dusty,

desperate streets of a Texas oil town nearly thirty years ago.


Director: Patrick Forbes

Producer: Mark Bentley



















USA > The wrong Carlos:

how Texas sent an innocent man to his death        UK


Groundbreaking Columbia law school study

sets out in shocking detail the flaws

that led to Carlos DeLuna's execution in 1989





















Sentenced to death

for crimes they did not commit:

the men who lived to tell the tale        UK        2007










USA > The One for Ten road trip        UK        2013


comes to an end this week

after a 5,200-mile cross-country trek

to interview 10 death row exonerees

and make a short film

about each that highlights different flaws

in the US capital punishment process.


The name of the project is inspired

by the more than 1,300 executions

and 142 exonerations

since the death penalty

was reinstated in the US in 1976

– a remarkably high number of errors

considering the gravity of the punishment

and avowed thoroughness of the system










miscarriage of justice        UK







podcast - Guardian podcast










When-innocent-men-go-to-jail-miscarriages-of-justice-in-Britain.html - 4 September 2014











































USA > miscarriage of justice        UK / USA















































victim of miscarriage of justice        UK










victims of miscarried justice








miscarriage of justice > Michael Morton        USA










justice nightmare        USA










USA > judicial lynching        UK

















DNA        USA










USA > DNA evidence        UK / USA



































Robert DuBoise        USA


man wrongfully Imprisoned for 37 years

Robert DuBoise, 59,

was sentenced to death

after being wrongfully convicted

in a 1983 murder and rape.


He sued after his conviction was overturned

and reached a settlement with the city (of Tampa)


The man, Robert DuBoise, 59,

was just 18 when he was arrested

in connection with

the killing of Barbara Grams, 19,

who was beaten to death

and whose body was discovered

behind a dental office

on the north side of the city

on Aug. 19, 1983.


Mr. DuBoise was convicted

of first-degree murder

and attempted sexual battery in 1985

following a one-week trial

in which a jailhouse informant claimed

he was guilty, and prosecutors argued

that Mr. DuBoise’s teeth matched

what they described as a bite mark

on the victim’s cheek.


He was initially sentenced to death,

but three years later,

the Florida Supreme Court changed

that sentence to life in prison.


In August 2020,

Mr. DuBoise was freed

after new DNA evidence came to light

that exonerated him

and implicated two other men

who were later charged in the killing.


The next year,

Mr. DuBoise filed a federal lawsuit

against the City of Tampa,

four former police officers

and the forensic odontologist

who had testified against him.


On Thursday,

the Tampa City Council unanimously

approved the settlement,

which is to be paid

in three installments over three years.


















 Christian Pacheco        USA










USA > Damien Echols        UK










USA > miscarriage of justice > DNA testing > Damon Thibodeaux        UK










Sean Hodgson        UK










miscarriage of justice


Sean Hodgson released after 27 years        March 2009






















Stefan Kiszko        UK












Long-standing miscarriages of justice in the UK        UK


High-profile judicial mistakes,

from Barry George's conviction

for the murder

of TV presenter Jill Dando

to the jailing of Judith Ward

for the 1973 IRA coach bombing










in denial of murder    IDOM        UK

miscarriage of justice > Robert Brown























get a case review








Criminal Cases Review Commission    CCRC        UK
























innocent        UK

















USA > innocent        UK / USA











wrongful-conviction-murder-chicago-police-daniel-taylor - May 25, 2022






















































prison-judge-declares-innocent-94-murder-case/ - May 9, 2016













































frontline-death-by-fire/ - 10/19/2010








innocents behind bars        USA










innocence        USA










protest his innocence        USA


will-andrew-malkinson-finally-clear-his-name-podcast - Guardian podcast








maintain his innocence        USA


will-andrew-malkinson-finally-clear-his-name-podcast - Guardian podcast
























maintain her / his / their innocence        USA

















profess one's  innocence        USA










N's claims of innocence        USA


richard-glossip-oklahoma-execution - July 24? 2022















The Innocence project        USA












The Innocence Project:

the court of last resort        UK        January 2011


In the US,

the Innocence Project has freed

260 people imprisoned

for crimes they did not commit –

and inspired a new film

starring Hilary Swank.


In the UK the work is just beginning,

but the lawyers who only take

the most desperate cases of injustice

have a first victory in their sights...










Innocence project > Death penalty


DNA Exoneree Case Profiles        USA

















failure of justice








fabricate confessions









The Confessions

Aired: 11/09/2010        01:24:24        Rating: NR        USA


Why would four men confess

to a crime they didn't commit?



















The Birmingham Six

14 March 1991
































The Central Park Five        USA


The story of the five black

and Latino teenagers from Harlem

who were wrongly convicted

of raping a white woman

in New York City’s Central Park

in 1989.




















































the Norfolk Four        USA        1997-2010














the Hoxton One        UK


Sam Hallam was convicted in October 2005

for the murder of Essayas Kassahun,

a 22-year-old Ethiopian trainee chef

who was beaten to death in October the previous year

by a gang of youths.


But Sam says

that not only did he not attack Mr Kassahun,

but that he wasn't even at the place

when the crime took place.

mother-fights-to-free-the-hoxton-one-1704141.html - 13 June 2009



mother-fights-to-free-the-hoxton-one-1704141.html - 13 June 2009


1704129.html - 13 June 2009







the Cardiff Three        UK










the Birmingham Six        UK


In March 1991,

six men wrongly accused

of carrying out two bombings

in the British city of Birmingham

finally had their convictions quashed,

ending one of Britain's

worst miscarriages of justice.


The Birmingham Six

had spent more than 16 years in jail

for a crime they did not commit.














http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03lb2hm - 16/03/2016 GMT




















the Birmingham Six / the Guildford Four


Ludovic Kennedy,

veteran presenter and campaigner        UK        1919-2009










the Bridgewater Four        UK


the four men convicted in 1979

of killing newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater

- a conviction later overturned by revelations

about false and involuntary confessions.



















 Gerry Conlon in 2005,

the year he received a public apology.


Photograph: Stefan Rousseau

Press Association, 

via Associated Press


Gerry Conlon,

Imprisoned in I.R.A. Attack and Freed After 15 Years,

Dies at 60


JUNE 22, 2014

















IRE / UK > the Guildford Four        UK


 It was one of the most notorious

miscarriages of justice

in British legal history.


Three Belfast men

and an English woman

spent 15 years in prison

after police fabricated confessions

for the IRA bombing

of the Horse and Groom pub

in Guildford in 1974.


But even after their convictions

were quashed in 1989,

Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill,

Paddy Armstrong

and Carole Richardson,

had spoken of the clinging stigma

and the black hole

of post-traumatic stress.


Some felt

there was a whispering campaign

in the corridors of power

that they had been freed

on a technicality

and a "cloud of suspicion" remained.


































story/0,12269,1330869,00.html - 20 October 1989








Ireland, UK > the Guildford Four > Gerry Conlon    1954-2014        UK / USA


After his release from prison,

Mr. Conlon became a vigorous campaigner

for victims of miscarriages of justice

and lobbied for the establishment

of a trauma center to help them deal

with life after prison.













the Maguire Seven        UK










the Martinsville Seven > posthumous pardons        USA


Seven Black men

were executed in February 1951

over the alleged rape of a white woman,

Ruby Stroud Floyd, in 1949.


They were Frank Hairston Jr., 18,

Booker T. Millner, 19,

Francis DeSales Grayson, 37,

Howard Lee Hairston, 18,

James Luther Hairston, 20,

Joe Henry Hampton, 19,

and John Claybon Taylor, 21.




















miscarriage of justice >

1949-2021 > USA > The Groveland Four
















free        USA


















be set free        UK










walk free from court        UK










freedom        UK




















conviction > overturn        USA













be overturned        USA


nypd-wrongful-conviction-lawsuit-law-department - April 27, 2023
















2019 > 'Oval Four' men jailed in 1972

cleared by court of appeal in London        UK


















Illustration: Angie Wang


Paying for Years Lost Behind Bars


MAY 18, 2016











































































exonerate        USA
















USA > ruling > be exonerated / be cleared        UK / USA



























wrongful-conviction-murder-chicago-police-daniel-taylor - May 25, 2022


































jailhouse-informant-false-testimony-exoneree-portraits/ - March 9, 2020

















































































USA > exonerated man / prisoner        UK / USA












the exonerated        USA










Muhammad Aziz

- exonerated in the killing of Malcolm X














Khalil Islam,

also known as Thomas 15X Johnson    ? - 2009

- exonerated in the killing of Malcolm X












clear his name        UK











clear        USA










USA > exonerated        UK / USA



















exoneration        USA
































posthumous exonerations        USA










National Registry of Exonerations        USA










appellate court >

Louisiana 5th Circuit Court of Appeal >

judges of the 5th Circuit >

ignore the petitions of prisoners

who could not afford an attorney


In a state

where police and prosecutorial misconduct

frequently make national headlines

and a stream of exonerations has revealed

a criminal justice system still functioning

in the shadow of slavery and Jim Crow,

a group of white judges had decided

that the claims of hundreds,

perhaps thousands, of inmates

— most of them Black —

were not worth taking the time to read.


fifth-circuit - November 4, 2023








exoneree        USA










 judge > vacate the conviction of N        USA










judge > vacate murder conviction

of (...) man wrongfully imprisoned for 35 years        USA










be vacated        USA
















judge > dismiss all charges        USA










USA > be freed from a wrongful conviction        UK










be freed        USA


















William Lopez    USA    1959-2014


William Lopez


was convicted of murder

in Brooklyn

and imprisoned for 23 years

before being exonerated

last year

















Innocence Project New Orleans    IPNO        USA










Justice on Trial        UK













cast doubt over N








UK > Derek Bentley    1933-1953


At the age of 19,

Derek Bentley was hanged

for the murder of PC Sydney Miles,

the policeman who caught him

breaking into a warehouse

in Croydon, south London.


Bentley, who had

a mental age of only 11,

had not pulled the trigger

but was convicted

on the strength

of an ambiguous instruction

to 'Let him have it'

shouted to his accomplice,

16-year-old Chris Craig.










newsid_3393000/3393807.stm  - 1953








be pardoned > Derek Bentley        UK












settlement        USA












Corpus of news articles


Northern Ireland, UK, USA > Justice


Miscarriages of justice, Injustice




DNA evidence




152 Innocents,

Marked for Death


APRIL 13, 2015

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages




However much Americans may disagree about the morality of capital punishment, no one wants to see an innocent person executed.

And yet, far too often, people end up on death row after being convicted of horrific crimes they did not commit. The lucky ones are exonerated while they are still alive — a macabre club that has grown to include 152 members since 1973.

The rest remain locked up for life in closet-size cells. Some die there of natural causes; in at least two documented cases, inmates who were almost certainly innocent were put to death.

How many more innocent people have met the same fate, or are awaiting it? That may never be known. But over the past 42 years, someone on death row has been exonerated, on average, every three months. According to one study, at least 4 percent of all death-row inmates in the United States have been wrongfully convicted. That is far more than often enough to conclude that the death penalty — besides being cruel, immoral, and ineffective at reducing crime — is so riddled with error that no civilized nation should tolerate its use.

Innocent people get convicted for many reasons, including bad lawyering, mistaken identifications and false confessions made under duress. But as advances in DNA analysis have accelerated the pace of exonerations, it has also become clear that prosecutorial misconduct is at the heart of an alarming number of these cases.

In the past year alone, nine people who had been sentenced to death were released — and in all but one case, prosecutors’ wrongdoing played a key role.

The latest was Anthony Ray Hinton, who on Apr. 3 walked out of the Alabama prison where he had spent almost 30 years, half his life, on death row. Mr. Hinton was convicted of two murders largely on faulty evidence that the bullets had come from his gun. His prosecutor at the time said he knew Mr. Hinton was guilty and “evil” just by looking at him. And later prosecutors continued to insist on his guilt even when expert testimony clearly refuted the case against him.

Why does this keep happening? In a remarkable letter to the editor published last month in The Shreveport Times, A.M. Stroud III, a former prosecutor in Louisiana’s Caddo Parish, offered a chillingly frank answer: “Winning became everything.”

In 1984, Mr. Stroud convinced a jury to convict a man named Glenn Ford and sentence him to death for murder. But Mr. Stroud now admits that because he was so focused on winning rather than on seeking justice, he failed to identify and turn over evidence that would have cleared Mr. Ford.

“How totally wrong was I,” Mr. Stroud wrote, apologizing to Mr. Ford — who spent 30 years in prison, 26 of those on death row — as well as his family, the judge, the jury, and the family of the murder victim, a jeweler named Isadore Rozeman.

This is little consolation to Mr. Ford, who was released in 2014 but is now dying from lung cancer that developed, and went untreated, while he wasted away in prison. (Last month a Louisiana judge denied Mr. Ford any compensation beyond the $20 debit card he received upon his release.) Still, Mr. Stroud’s powerful message is a rare admission of prosecutorial hubris and the outrageously high price many people pay for it.

Unfortunately, that message is unlikely to be heeded in places where it needs to be heard most — in Caddo Parish itself, for example, which sentences more people to death per capita than anywhere else in the country. Responding to the searing honesty of Mr. Stroud’s letter, the parish’s current first assistant district attorney, Dale Cox, offered up some candor of his own: “I’m a believer that the death penalty serves society’s interest in revenge,” Mr. Cox told The Shreveport Times. “I think we need to kill more people.”

The all-too-common mind-set to win at all costs has facilitated the executions of people like Cameron Todd Willingham or Carlos DeLuna, whose convictions have been convincingly debunked in recent years. And that mind-set led to the wrongful conviction of people like Mr. Hinton, Mr. Ford and Henry Lee McCollum, who was exonerated last year after spending three decades on North Carolina’s death row.

If not for the extraordinary after-the-fact efforts of lawyers, investigators, or just plain dumb luck, these men would be dead too, and neither Mr. Cox nor anyone else would be the wiser.

A version of this editorial appears in print on April 13, 2015,
on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline:
152 Innocents, Marked for Death.

152 Innocents, Marked for Death,
APRIL 12, 2015,






Advances in Science of Fire

Free a Convict After 42 Years


April 2, 2013

The New York Times



TUCSON — Prosecutors who seek a conviction on a charge of arson must first prove that a fire was intentionally set, and then that the defendant was the one who set it.

Louis C. Taylor was facing arson charges 42 years ago, and he left court convicted on multiple felony murder counts for sparking a hotel fire that claimed 29 lives. He has always professed his innocence, and on Tuesday, advances in the science of fire investigations finally set him free.

He was serving 28 life sentences for starting the deadliest fire in Arizona history.

Mr. Taylor’s release offered him only a small measure of redemption. Under an agreement with prosecutors in Pima County, he entered a no-contest plea during an hourlong court hearing, which set aside his original conviction and gave him credit for the time he had spent behind bars. The arrangement means that he did not admit guilt, but because he did not contest the charges, he is effectively barred from suing anyone who had a role in his conviction.

As the hearing came to a close, Judge Richard S. Fields of Pima County Superior Court said, “Welcome back, Mr. Taylor.”

Four hours later, Mr. Taylor, wearing a light blue shirt, emerged from a state prison here to cheers from his lawyers, who had been waiting to greet him.

“It’s two tragedies,” he said during a brief stop by the prison’s gates. “The Pioneer Hotel fire, and me being convicted.”

Mr. Taylor, 58, who did not even know how to drive when he went to prison at the age of 16, is facing a bleak future in an entirely unfamiliar world. His case is among several in recent years to call into question some of the scientific principles that once guided fire investigations — including the idea that multiple and independent points of a fire’s origin were proof of arson, a decisive element of Mr. Taylor’s prosecution.

Last year, a committee in Texas began a review of arson convictions after a report revealed that a man executed in 2004 for setting a blaze that killed his three children may not have been guilty. The committee concluded that evidence that the fire was intentionally set had been based on faulty science.

Just last week, Texas’s highest criminal court ordered a new trial for another man convicted of starting the fire that killed his stepsons, over similar doubts.

“What we’re going after, more than anything else, is a pervasive prosecuting practice, not some isolated mistake that happened in the past,” said Jeff Blackburn, founder and chief counsel to the Innocence Project of Texas, the legal advocacy organization that is helping forensic scientists and the Texas fire marshal’s office carry out the review.

Debunking junk science in arson and other criminal convictions, Mr. Blackburn said, “is really the next wave of innocence work.”

A few years ago, the National Academy of Sciences turned its attention to the misuse of science in courtrooms, saying that pseudoscientific theories had been used to convict people of crimes they may not have committed. By then, a small group of fire engineers had already begun to discredit many of the assumptions employed in fire investigations, like the practice of using the amount of heat radiated by a fire to assess if an accelerant had been used.

Unlike DNA evidence, which can exonerate one person and sometimes incriminate another, the evidence collected in some arson investigations does not yield precise results. Often much of the evidence has been lost or destroyed. In the case of the hotel fire here, all that is left are photographs, reports and chemical analysis, all of them assembled to prove arson.

As a result, “we can’t definitely say what really caused the fire,” said John J. Lentini, a veteran fire investigator who wrote a report on Mr. Taylor’s case. “But what we can do is discredit the evidence” used to support the charge.

Race and questionable investigative practices may have also played a role in Mr. Taylor’s conviction. He was a black man convicted by an all-white jury at a time of racial strife in Tucson; four years later, a lawsuit would force the city to confront segregation in the largest of its school districts.

After Mr. Taylor’s arrest, Cyrillis W. Holmes Jr., a fire investigator hired by the state, offered a profile suggesting that the arsonist was a young black man. (Mr. Holmes reaffirmed his theory during a deposition five months ago, saying that “blacks, at that point, their background was the use of fire for beneficial purposes.”)

During the trial, another investigator testified that an accelerant had been used to ignite the flames, a finding not backed by laboratory tests on debris from the hotel, which Mr. Taylor’s lawyers did not know existed.

The fire at the downtown hotel, the Pioneer International, broke out just after midnight on Dec. 20, 1970, as an aircraft company was holding a holiday party for 350 people. Rooms were full of guests, many of them Mexican tourists visiting Tucson to do Christmas shopping.

By his admission, Mr. Taylor went to the Pioneer to try to get free drinks. After the fire began, he was found knocking on doors, rousing guests, escorting them outside and helping the injured onto stretchers.

On the upper floors, some people fashioned ropes out of bedsheets, while others jumped out of windows in a desperate bid to escape. Firefighters’ ladders were too short to reach them.

In court on Tuesday, Paul D’Hedouville II choked up as he described losing his father in the fire when he was 4. Still, he told Mr. Taylor, “I harbor no feeling of ill-will or vengeance for you.”

“Do as you choose, Mr. Taylor, but choose wisely,” Mr. D’Hedouville said. “Do not waste your new beginning on life.”

Prosecutors, in filings and at Tuesday’s hearing, said they still believed Mr. Taylor was guilty, but chose to accept the agreement because they would not have been able to pursue a new trial. The evidence is too old and scarce, and there are not enough living witnesses, they said.

Mr. Taylor was represented by the Arizona Justice Project, which helps inmates believed to have been wrongfully accused. In court, Edward F. Novak, who led the legal team, told Judge Fields, “Mr. Taylor does maintain his innocence, and the no-contest plea allows him to do that.”

    Advances in Science of Fire Free a Convict After 42 Years,
    NYT, 2.4.2013,






Jailed for 2 Decades

in Rabbi’s Death, Unjustly,

Prosecutors Say


March 20, 2013
The New York Times


In the wintry darkness 23 years ago on a back street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a jewelry thief fleeing a botched robbery panicked and shot a Hasidic rabbi in the head.

Four days later, the rabbi, Chaskel Werzberger, an Auschwitz survivor, died of his wounds. Even in the New York City of 1990, as homicides crested at 2,245, the murder stirred grief and outrage. The “Slain Rabbi” was front-page tabloid news. Mayor David N. Dinkins traveled to Williamsburg’s Satmar enclave to sit in mourning and to offer a $10,000 reward.

The new Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, stood shoulder to shoulder with fur-hat-wearing Satmars, watching as they rocked back and forth and wailed as the pinewood coffin was carried out. He vowed to bring the killer to justice.

Forty detectives worked the case, soon led by the swaggering, cigar-chewing Detective Louis Scarcella. Working closely with an influential Satmar rabbi, Detective Scarcella arrested a drug-addicted, unemployed printer named David Ranta. Hasidic Jews surrounded the car that carried the accused man to jail, slapping the roof and chanting, “Death penalty!”

Mr. Ranta was convicted in May 1991 and sentenced to 37.5 years in maximum-security prison, where he remains to this day.

He is almost certainly not guilty.

This week Mr. Hynes, after a long investigation by a unit that he created to look into questionable convictions, plans to ask a state judge to release the prisoner. Mr. Ranta’s lawyer, Pierre Sussman, who conducted his own inquiry, said his client has been instructed to pack up his cell.

Mr. Ranta could walk free as early as Thursday. In the decades since a jury convicted him of murder, nearly every piece of evidence in this case has fallen away. A key witness told The New York Times that a detective instructed him to select Mr. Ranta in the lineup. A convicted rapist told the district attorney that he falsely implicated Mr. Ranta in hopes of cutting a deal for himself. A woman has signed an affidavit saying she too lied about Mr. Ranta’s involvement.

Detective Scarcella and his partner, Stephen Chmil, according to investigators and legal documents, broke rule after rule. They kept few written records, coached a witness and took Mr. Ranta’s confession under what a judge described as highly dubious circumstances. They allowed two dangerous criminals, an investigator said, to leave jail, smoke crack cocaine and visit with prostitutes in exchange for incriminating Mr. Ranta.

At trial, prosecutors acknowledged the detectives had misbehaved but depicted them as likable scamps. Reached in retirement on Tuesday, Mr. Scarcella defended his work. “I never framed anyone in my life,” he said.

No physical evidence ever connected Mr. Ranta to the murder.

He now sits in a cell at a maximum-security prison outside Buffalo. He is a touch shy; his gray hair is fast thinning. His voice still carries the slantwise intonations of working-class south Brooklyn. Asked how he survived, he said he was not sure he had.

“I’d lie there in the cell at night and I think: I’m the only one in the world who knows I’m innocent,” he said. “I came in here as a 30-something with kids, a mother who was alive. This case killed my whole life.”


A Guilty Verdict

It began with a fumbled robbery on Feb. 8, 1990.

Chaim Weinberger, a courier for Pan American Diamond Corporation, left his apartment in a public housing tower in Williamsburg, pulling a 50-pound suitcase filled with diamonds and precious gems. He had to catch a 7 a.m. flight to the Dominican Republic, where his cargo would be cut into jewelry.

His trips were predictable and easily timed; he worried about robbery. In the lobby, he saw a tall, blond, strikingly handsome guy, “like a lifeguard on the beach,” Mr. Weinberger said. They stared at each other.

The blond man walked downstairs.

As Mr. Weinberger hurried beneath towering sycamores to the street, he saw the man trailing him. He tossed the suitcase into the trunk and started his engine. The blond man strode quickly now, covering his face with a handkerchief and pulling out a silver gun.

Mr. Weinberger put the car into reverse and knocked the gunman into a trash heap. He sped away, his door flapping open. He did not stop until he got to the airport, he recalled in an interview.

Tragedy unfolded behind him. The robber, unnerved, spotted Rabbi Werzberger warming up his blue 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme before driving to a synagogue. He ran over, fired a shot, pulled out the mortally wounded rabbi and drove off in his car.

This murder tore at the heart of the then-25,000-strong Satmar community. Rabbi Werzberger was their shamas and adviser to the grand rebbe. The Satmar, the intensely devout, politically powerful ultra-Orthodox sect, demanded that the police find his killer. Rabbi Leib Glantz became their point man.

Rabbi Glantz rounded up witnesses, brought them to the precinct and translated from Yiddish as detectives conducted interviews.

Detectives worked furiously, calling in paroled felons and miscreants of many varieties for questioning. An anonymous caller suggested that the police talk to Joseph Astin, an experienced holdup man who was tall and blond, with rugged good looks. But on April 2, Mr. Astin crashed his car in a police chase and died.

In late April, Detective Scarcella went to jail and visited Dmitry Drikman, a mustachioed bull of a man with a perpetual glower. Mr. Drikman was being held for several robberies, and had in the past been convicted of a horrific rape.

Mr. Drikman, in hopes of obtaining a shorter sentence, proved talkative. He gave Detective Scarcella the name of his friend, Alan Bloom.

Mr. Bloom, a crack-cocaine addict, had been convicted of dozens of robberies and faced a potential century in prison. He decided to start talking.

The detectives placed Mr. Bloom and Mr. Drikman in the same section of the jail, so they could continue their conversation. Soon they had their story: Mr. Bloom had had a hand in the robbery, but an acquaintance, David Ranta, a small-time thief and drug user, was the gunman. And Mr. Drikman’s girlfriend told detectives she had seen Mr. Ranta and Mr. Bloom planning to cover up the crime.

District Attorney Hynes shook hands with Mr. Bloom shortly before prosecutors gave him immunity from prosecution in the murder case and greatly reduced his sentence for other crimes.

On Aug. 13, Detectives Scarcella and Chmil found Mr. Ranta on 73rd Street in Bensonhurst. They handcuffed him and drove to the 90th Precinct in Williamsburg.

Detective Scarcella testified at Mr. Ranta’s trial that, 26 hours later, he sat on a bench in a crowded office and listened as Mr. Ranta, with little or no sleep, gave a long, rambling confession.

The detective said he did not have to ask Mr. Ranta a single question. “He flowed, and I took it all down, verbatim,” the detective testified.

Asked why he did not question the suspect, Detective Scarcella was nonchalant.

“That’s not my style,” he replied.

The case was laden with inconsistencies. Mr. Weinberger had stared the gunman in the face and testified during the trial that Mr. Ranta was “100 percent not” that person. In fact, four of the five witnesses in the first lineup did not identify Mr. Ranta.

In the end, however, the jury pronounced Mr. Ranta guilty.

Before his sentencing, Mr. Ranta addressed the court. He spoke of corrupt police officers and those who testified against him.

“Now you people do what you got to do because I feel this is all a total frame setup,” he told the court. “When I come down on my appeal, I hope to God he brings out the truth because a lot of people are going to be ashamed of themselves.”


Behind the Scenes

During the trial, Detective Scarcella proved to be an entertaining witness. A son of Bensonhurst, a professed old-school detective, he talked about how to make a suspect talk and where to buy the best pizza (New Haven, he advised). But his description of his investigation angered the judge, Francis X. Egitto.

Asked why he took prisoners out of jail to eat at restaurants and visit felonious friends, Detective Scarcella replied, “I do what I want to do with my prisoners.”

“They’re not your prisoners,” Justice Egitto responded.

The detective testified that while interviewing Mr. Bloom and Mr. Drikman, he never wrote a single note, as required by police procedure. Nor did he show witnesses photographs of Mr. Drikman or Mr. Bloom, although they were murder suspects.

The judge in particular questioned how Detective Scarcella obtained Mr. Ranta’s confession, asking why a veteran detective did not take Mr. Ranta to an interview room, where he could have tape-recorded it. Detective Scarcella said he transcribed the 658-word confession by hand.

Mr. Ranta has insisted he confessed to nothing. He passed a polygraph test in which he was asked if he shot the rabbi.

Midway through the trial, the judge spoke to the lawyers of his mistrust of these detectives. They are playing games, he said. They have “taken it upon themselves to be judge, jury and partial executioner.”

Yet, when he instructed the jury on what to consider during deliberation, he mentioned none of his concerns.

Four years later, new doubts arose. In 1996, Theresa Astin testified that her husband, Mr. Astin, who had died in that car wreck in April 1990, had murdered the rabbi. She knew details of the killing that only someone close to it would. Mr. Ranta’s defense lawyer, Michael Baum, filed a court motion.

Ms. Astin turned out to be a complicated witness.

In the early 1980s, she was the girlfriend of Joe Sullivan, a freelance hit-man known as Mad Dog who killed at least 11 men.

Afterward, she married and settled down in the Gravesend neighborhood with Mr. Astin, a mechanic with a cocaine problem and a tendency to pull armed robberies.

Snarled though her personal life was, Ms. Astin told a compelling tale: Her husband had planned a robbery, and he came home shaking and nearly in tears on the day the rabbi was shot. Later she found him in the bathroom, dismantling a pistol.

“He said, ‘I hurt someone, something happened,’ ” Ms. Astin testified. “He was crying, he was scared.”

“ ‘You’re in trouble, Joe. It’s like you killed a priest in our religion,’ ” she warned him. Justice Egitto handled the court hearing. Again he wrote of troubling facts — and refused to toss the verdict.

Mr. Ranta feared he had exhausted every option for appeal. “I figured I was going to die in prison,” he recalled.


Case Falls Apart

Every Christmas, Mr. Baum received a Christmas card from Mr. Ranta. “I never had any doubt in my mind he was innocent,” Mr. Baum said in an interview. “I sleep with it every night.”

Sixteen months ago, the district attorney, promoting his newly established Conviction Integrity Unit, gave a talk to the public defenders. Does anyone, he asked, know of cases that should be re-examined?

Mr. Baum raised his hand.

In the Bronx, Pierre Sussman, a defense lawyer hunting for evidence of police misconduct, noticed that Detective Scarcella’s name showed up in several troubled cases. He did a computer search, discovered Mr. Ranta’s name and visited him in prison, where he agreed to take on his case.

Soon the last vestiges of evidence fell away. A man who was 13 at the time of the murder, Menachem Lieberman, testified back then that he had seen Mr. Ranta sitting in a car near the murder site.

Now, reached at his home in Montreal, Mr. Lieberman said the case had nagged at him for years. “Before I entered the” lineup room, he told investigators, “a police detective told me to ‘pick the guy with big nose.’ ”

He picked Mr. Ranta, he said, “because he had the biggest nose.”

And Mr. Drikman’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Cruz, also abandoned her story and apologized. “I made up everything,” she said in an affidavit, in hopes of gaining a deal for her boyfriend.

Mr. Drikman also stated that he fabricated his account, and that detectives and Mr. Bloom “framed” Mr. Ranta.

The case against Mr. Ranta had come undone.

“What’s important to me is that this fellow should not be in prison one day longer,” Mr. Hynes said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

All that remains is for Mr. Ranta, now 58, to feel the shackles taken off his hands and legs and stand before a State Supreme Court judge.

“I’ve lived years in a cage, stripped down, humiliated,” he said. “I’ll be able to touch people again, to make decisions.”

He took a great gulp of air. “To be honest, what’s ahead scares me.”

Jailed for 2 Decades in Rabbi’s Death, Unjustly, Prosecutors Say,
NYT, 20.3.2013,






Cleared in the Rape

of a Central Park Jogger,

but Still Calculating the Cost


November 20, 2012
The New York Times


Antron McCray climbed on stage in a Manhattan theater one night last week and stepped into the kind of spotlight that, until now, has almost always meant trouble for him.

Exiled from New York, his hometown, Mr. McCray was last seen in public two decades ago as a skinny 16-year-old, practically drowning in a suit that he wore to the Manhattan courthouse where he was tried on charges that he was part of a mob that raped a jogger in Central Park and beat her nearly to death in April 1989. In the television news footage, he often held his mother’s hand as he walked past screaming demonstrators.

With four other Harlem boys, all of whom refused plea bargains, he was convicted of attacking the jogger and sent to prison. More than a decade later, the convictions of all five were overturned. Another man — a serial rapist and killer who was unknown to any of the five — had convincingly implicated himself as the sole attacker of the jogger. DNA evidence backed his story.

This Friday, “The Central Park Five,” a documentary film on the case by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, opens in three Manhattan theaters.

Alone of the five, Mr. McCray declined to be interviewed on camera for the film, unwilling to lift the veil. Instead, his recorded voice is heard. As soon as he could after prison, Mr. McCray moved to the South. He works as a forklift operator, is a father, pays his taxes.

He stepped back into the public eye last Thursday for a screening of the film at the closing night of the Doc NYC festival.

The audience that had just seen him as a boy — in a baseball uniform, in a police precinct station house being interrogated, in the too-big suit going to court — and had listened to his voice throughout the film could now see him as a man. At 39, his shoulders were broader, and his waist a bit thicker.

There was something he wanted to tell the audience about his anonymity.

“Here’s the reason why I escaped New York: I just had to get away,” Mr. McCray said. “Start a new life.”

That logic took him to a shocking place.

“Actually, uh,” he said, “I don’t even go by Antron McCray no more.”

Saying that out loud seemed to take even Mr. McCray by surprise, a sudden tolling of what he lost. Words thickened in his mouth. On either side of him, two of the other men, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam, squeezed his shoulders and patted his back.

The film lays out the intricacies of the case, the sights and sounds of a brittle era; it will be full of revelations for those who never knew about the crime and how its life-bending effects were multiplied as the wrong people were prosecuted while the right man continued to maim, murder and rape on the Upper East Side.

The filmmakers follow the story far beyond the procedural failures identified by journalists interviewed in the film, including me. Kharey Wise, by far the scrawniest of the group, happened to be the only one old enough to spend all his time in adult jail and prison. Raymond Santana said he cursed God and lost his faith.

With Mr. McCray, they tunnel into Shakespearean territory.

“I thought he was like a superhero,” Mr. McCray said of his father, Bobby. “He coached all of my Little League teams. He was a great teacher.”

By the time of the trial, though, the man Mr. McCray had idolized had abandoned him and his mother.

“I couldn’t understand,” he said. “And I just, I hated him after that. Me and my mother started going to court by ourself. Demonstrators, you know people just shouting, you know, ‘Rapist!’ ‘You animal!’ ‘You don’t deserve to be alive.’ It just felt like the whole world hated us.”

His parents reconciled, but when Mr. McCray came home from prison, he would not accept his father’s apologies, even as his father grew ill and died.

“Seeing him laying there, it just hit me. You know, he used to be my best friend.”

Offstage last week Mr. McCray said: “I wish I had forgiven him. Me being older, and me being a father.”

He told the audience it had taken him a long time to decide to give the filmmakers a chance.

“Like Ray said in the film, I lost my religion, I don’t believe in anything, I’m by myself,” Mr. McCray said. “But tonight — I think that might change.”

He wiped his face, then smiled.

“I may be 39,” he said, “but I’m still kind of shy.”

    Cleared in the Rape of a Central Park Jogger,
    but Still Calculating the Cost,
    NYT, 20.11.2012,






5 Jailed in ’95 Killing of Cabby

Didn’t Do It,

U.S. Inquiry Says


August 2, 2012
The New York Times


Amid a rash of murders of taxi drivers in New York City, the killing of Baithe Diop in 1995 still attracted attention. He was shot in his livery cab, left to die as his car rolled down a street in the Bronx, not stopping until it struck a trash hauling bin.

Six people were tried; five were ultimately convicted. An article in New York magazine that focused on the investigation carried the headline, “How to Solve a Murder.”

But now, 15 years after the criminal trials, federal authorities have concluded that all five of those now imprisoned for the murder were innocent of the crime.

The United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, which conducted an exhaustive review of the case, reported its findings in June to the Bronx district attorney’s office, which had prosecuted the defendants over the course of two trials and defended their convictions on appeal.

The new findings suggest that there was a colossal breakdown in the criminal justice system. Robert T. Johnson, the Bronx district attorney since 1989, said through a spokesman on Thursday that his office had been notified of the new evidence discovered by federal prosecutors but had not yet been able “to resolve all of the questions that have been raised by this evidence.”

Paul Casteleiro, a lawyer for one defendant, Cathy Watkins, would not discuss the new findings but, like other lawyers in the case, said he would soon file papers asking that his client’s conviction be vacated based on newly discovered evidence and her actual innocence.

“It’s a mind-boggling case,” Mr. Casteleiro said. “She’s stone cold innocent.”

The murder of Mr. Diop, in January 1995, came at a time when cabdrivers were being attacked regularly in the city, with nearly 70 drivers killed in 1993 and 1994. Mr. Diop, a 43-year-old Senegalese immigrant, was working for New Harlem Car Service; on his last fare, he made a pickup at West 141st Street in Harlem and headed to the Bronx, where he was robbed and killed.

All of those arrested in Mr. Diop’s murder pleaded not guilty, but jurors in two separate trials returned convictions. In the first trial, four men were tried for the Diop murder and a second killing, two days earlier, that was said to be related: the execution-style shooting of Denise Raymond, a Federal Express executive, in her apartment.

Three men — Devon Ayers, Michael Cosme and Carlos Perez — were convicted of the Diop murder (a fourth, Israel Vasquez, was acquitted); all four men were convicted in the Raymond killing. Jurors accepted the theory advanced by prosecutors and the police that Mr. Diop’s murder was part of an elaborate plot to distract the police from the intended crime: the theft of $50,000 worth of cocaine from a passenger in Mr. Diop’s car.

In a second trial that focused only on the Diop murder, two more defendants — Ms. Watkins and Eric Glisson — were convicted. The defendants all received long prison sentences.

Then, in late May, federal prosecutors received a letter from Mr. Glisson at Sing Sing prison in Ossining, N.Y. Mr. Glisson again professed his innocence, saying he had been wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of a cabdriver in 1995 in the Soundview section of the Bronx.

He added that he had heard that the killing had been carried out by members of a Bronx narcotics gang called Sex Money and Murder, or S.M.M. He cited the names of several gang members.

The letter had been addressed to a prosecutor who was no longer in the office, and was then redirected to John O’Malley, an investigator in the office’s violent crimes unit who had once been a homicide detective in the Bronx.

Mr. O’Malley immediately recalled that Mr. Glisson’s description of the crime matched a version of a confession that he had heard in 2003 — from two former S.M.M. members, Jose Rodriguez and Gilbert Vega, who had agreed at the time to cooperate with prosecutors against their former gang.

Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Vega had independently told investigators, including Mr. O’Malley, that they were involved in an armed robbery of a livery driver in the Bronx in late 1994 or early 1995. They had said they believed they had killed the driver but had left the scene quickly and were uncertain. They recalled that they had just come from a woman’s apartment in Harlem and had gotten into a livery cab with an African driver to return to Soundview.

At some point during the ride, Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Vega said they decided to rob the driver; when the driver argued and struggled, the men said they both shot him. Each man separately recalled jumping out of the moving livery car.

Mr. O’Malley went to Bronx homicide detectives in 2003 to try to corroborate the confession, but no records could be found of a homicide that matched. Because there was no proof of death and no identified victim, Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Vega pleaded guilty to serious but lesser charges related to the taxi robbery.

Upon receiving the letter from Mr. Glisson in May, Mr. O’Malley phoned Mr. Vega and Mr. Rodriguez, and both reaffirmed their accounts of how they shot Mr. Diop. On June 15, Mr. O’Malley met with Mr. Glisson at Sing Sing.

He eventually prepared a detailed affidavit, which is dated Monday and has not been made public, presenting his findings in support of a potential motion by the defendants for a new trial.

“I believe the evidence is overwhelming that Vega and Rodriguez, acting alone, robbed and shot Baithe Diop on Jan. 19, 1995, causing his death,” he wrote.

The defendants who seem likely to benefit most quickly from the new findings are Ms. Watkins and Mr. Glisson, who were convicted solely in Mr. Diop’s murder. The other imprisoned defendants — Mr. Ayers, Mr. Cosme and Mr. Perez — were also convicted of the murder of Ms. Raymond, on which Mr. O’Malley’s investigation does not focus.

But the findings by Mr. O’Malley, who worked closely with a senior prosecutor, Margaret M. Garnett, would seem to raise serious questions about the convictions in Ms. Raymond’s killing because the Bronx prosecutor’s office relied on the same key witnesses and said the two murders were related.

“We certainly believe that a serious issue like this must be resolved as soon as possible,” Mr. Johnson, the Bronx district attorney, said through a spokesman about Mr. O’Malley’s findings. “Therefore, we are attempting to rapidly gather further information from our own files and those of the United States attorney.” The office of United States Attorney Preet Bharara declined to comment on Thursday.

Claudia Trupp, a lawyer for Mr. Perez, said he “has been consistent throughout our representation that he’s innocent of these crimes.”

Mr. Vasquez, the defendant acquitted of the Diop killing but convicted in the Raymond murder, had his conviction overturned by a state appeals court that said the theory of the case against him was “based on speculation unsupported by any credible evidence.”

Earl S. Ward and Julia Kuan, lawyers who are representing him in a civil-rights lawsuit, said in a joint statement, “It was in pursuing Israel Vasquez’s civil rights claims that it became obvious to us that everyone who was convicted in both of these crimes was innocent.”

As for Mr. Glisson, the inmate whose letter to federal prosecutors prompted the new review, he was “overjoyed” when Mr. O’Malley visited him at Sing Sing and told him of his findings, his lawyer Peter A. Cross said.

Mr. Cross said Mr. Glisson, describing the meeting, said Mr. O’Malley had “outright apologized,” and said, “We know you’re innocent and we’re going to do everything we can to get you out of jail.”


Jack Styczynski contributed reporting.

5 Jailed in ’95 Killing of Cabby Didn’t Do It, U.S. Inquiry Says,






When Innocence Isn’t Enough


March 2, 2012
The New York Times


EDWARD LEE ELMORE turned 53 in January. For more than half his life, the soft-spoken African-American who doesn’t understand the concept of north, south, east and west, or of summer, fall, winter and spring, was in a South Carolina prison, most of it on death row.

On Friday, Mr. Elmore walked out of the courthouse in Greenwood, S.C., a free man, as part of an agreement with the state whereby he denied any involvement in the crime but pleaded guilty in exchange for his freedom. This was his 11,000th day in jail.

Mr. Elmore was convicted in 1982 for the sexual assault and murder of an elderly white widow in Greenwood. His trial lasted only eight days, including two spent picking the jury. The state concealed evidence that strongly pointed to Mr. Elmore’s innocence and introduced damning evidence that appears to have been planted by the police. For three decades lawyers for Mr. Elmore, who were convinced of his innocence, sought to get him a fair trial.

Headlines and news stories about men being released from death row based on DNA testing suggest that this happens often. But it doesn’t. Once a person has been convicted, even on unimaginably shaky grounds, an almost inexorable process — one that usually ends in execution — is set in motion. On appeal, gone is the presumption of innocence; the presumption is that the defendant had a fair trial. Not even overwhelming evidence that the defendant is innocent is necessarily enough to get a new trial. “Due process does not require that every conceivable step be taken, at whatever cost, to eliminate the possibility of convicting an innocent person,” Justice Byron R. White wrote for the majority in a 1977 case, Patterson v. New York.

In other words, innocence is not enough.

I came to the Elmore case indirectly during the 2000 presidential campaign. On “Meet the Press,” George W. Bush, who as governor of Texas had presided over more executions than anyone in history at the time (Rick Perry has surpassed him), told Tim Russert that he was confident that every person who had been executed or placed on death row in Texas under his watch was guilty and had had a fair trial. This led to a reporting assignment in which a New York Times colleague, Sara Rimer, and I wrote about capital punishment, starting in Texas and then ranging from coast to coast.

It was an eye-opening experience. But no case grabbed me like Mr. Elmore’s. The case stands out because it raises nearly all the issues that shape debate about capital punishment: race, mental retardation, a jailhouse informant, DNA testing, bad defense lawyers, prosecutorial misconduct and a strong claim of innocence.

Few men on death row are without any connection to the crime for which they are condemned to die. Their conviction might be reversed after an appellate court finds they were denied due process or didn’t receive a fair trial. Other death row inmates may not be guilty of murder, because they didn’t pull the trigger though they were present during the crime. But in the case of Mr. Elmore, I am convinced beyond a scintilla of a doubt that he had nothing to do with the Greenwood woman’s death. His conviction resulted primarily from a rush to judgment — and flagrant prosecutorial misconduct.

Mr. Elmore, who grew up in abject poverty as the 8th of 11 children born to a tenant farmer’s daughter, was arrested 36 hours after the body of 76-year-old Dorothy Ely Edwards was found in her bedroom closet. Mr. Elmore had occasionally washed windows and cleaned gutters at the woman’s house, the last time two weeks before the murder. Less than 90 days later, his trial began.

During his opening statement, the prosecutor, William Townes Jones III, a courtroom legend, said that 53 hairs had been gathered from the victim’s bed, where the sexual assault supposedly took place, and that most were the defendant’s pubic hairs. It was the only physical evidence that put Mr. Elmore inside the house at the time of the crime. “That’s what convicted him,” said a juror.

But contradictions appeared at the outset. When Mr. Jones called an agent from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED, as a witness, he handed him a plastic bag marked State Exhibit 58 and asked him if it contained “53 hairs gathered from the bed of the deceased.”

“The total count on the hairs is 49,” answered the agent, Earl Wells, and he added that there were only 42 in the bag, because he had taken seven out for examination.

Mr. Elmore’s lawyers made nothing of this discrepancy during their cross-examination of Mr. Wells, or in their closing argument.

The state’s own inability to agree on how many hairs were found wasn’t the only suggestion of foul play. State Exhibit 58, the baggie with the hairs, wasn’t sealed. Which means that the hairs could have been put in by anyone at any time, and could have included those yanked from Mr. Elmore’s groin at the police station after he was arrested.

Further, the bed barely featured in the police investigation. Investigators from SLED took nearly a hundred pictures at the house. They took pictures in the guest bedroom, where nothing had happened — even the small figurines on the bureau had not been knocked over — and of the bed in the guest bedroom, which looked as if it was ready for the next guest. But the investigators took no photos of the bed where they claimed to have found hairs.

Nor did the investigators take the sheets from the bed. Why not? “There were no obvious blood or other stains present,” one of the agents, Ira Parnell, explained during Mr. Elmore’s post-conviction relief hearing in the case. The hearing, which is much like a civil trial before a judge, is an opportunity for the defendant’s lawyers to present new evidence and to examine and cross-examine witnesses. He was categorical: “We did not see any stains of any kind.”

The state argued that while the police might have made some mistakes, none served to deny Mr. Elmore any of his constitutional rights. The hearing judge adopted the state’s arguments verbatim and declined to grant Mr. Elmore a new trial.

Perhaps Mr. Elmore’s only good fortune was that on appeal he had on his side two determined appellate lawyers, Diana Holt, who had first begun working on the case as a law school intern, and J. Christopher Jensen, an accomplished New York litigator who was representing Mr. Elmore pro bono. Two years later, they turned up new evidence that the state had sought to hide and that pointed to Mr. Elmore’s innocence.

At Mr. Elmore’s trial, the prosecutor, Mr. Jones, said he had authorized the arrest after being told that during the autopsy, the doctor had found a “Negroid” hair on the victim’s abdomen. The doctor sent the hairs and fibers found on the body to SLED, where the agent, Mr. Wells, examined them under a microscope, then put the slides in a padded envelope and labeled it “Item T.”

In the 1963 landmark case Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court ruled that the state must turn over all potentially exonerating evidence to the defendant. But Mr. Jones did not give Item T to Mr. Elmore’s trial lawyers. More shocking still, Item T disappeared.

When Mr. Elmore’s lawyers began searching for it, state officials repeatedly said they couldn’t find it. The lawyers persisted and, 16 years after the trial, found Item T — in Earl Wells’s filing cabinet, where the state attorney general’s office conceded it had been all along. (Mr. Wells said he found it while moving offices.)

The retired F.B.I. agent retained to examine the hair said it was not “Negroid,” but Caucasian. Mr. Elmore’s lawyers had the hair DNA-tested. It wasn’t Mrs. Edwards’s, which suggested it was from an unknown man, likely the killer. Armed with this development, Mr. Elmore’s lawyers went back to court. There was a hearing, a few days before Christmas 2000, in the same courtroom where Mr. Elmore had been convicted 18 years earlier. It was widely expected that he would get a new trial.

The judge ruled against him. “One hair is not enough,” he said. Spectators gasped. But the South Carolina Supreme Court agreed.

Mr. Elmore’s lawyers did not give up. Remarkably, in November, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals — historically one of the most conservative — ordered a new trial. In a 163-page opinion, the majority was searing in its criticism of the SLED agents and the police.

There was “persuasive evidence that the agents were outright dishonest,” and there was “further evidence of police ineptitude and deceit,” Judge Robert Bruce King wrote.

Even though he walked out of court on Friday, none can call it justice.

A man has served 30 years for a crime he did not commit, many of those under the threat of imminent execution. Surely, there are grounds for a Justice Department investigation into whether his civil rights were violated.


A lawyer and former New York Times reporter

and the author of “Anatomy of Injustice:

A Murder Case Gone Wrong.”

    When Innocence Isn’t Enough, NYT, 2.3.2012,






Exonerated of Murder,

Texan Seeks Inquiry on Prosecutor


December 19, 2011
The New York Times


AUSTIN, Tex. — A Texas man wrongfully convicted in 1987 of murdering his wife is scheduled to be officially exonerated on Monday.

That is no longer so unusual in Texas, where 45 inmates have been exonerated in the last decade based on DNA evidence. What is unprecedented is the move planned by lawyers for the man, Michael Morton: they are expected to file a request for a special hearing to determine whether the prosecutor broke state laws or ethics rules by withholding evidence that could have led to Mr. Morton’s acquittal 25 years ago.

“I haven’t seen anything like this, ever,” said Bennet L. Gershman, an expert on prosecutorial misconduct at Pace University in New York. “It’s an extraordinary legal event.”

The prosecutor, Ken Anderson, a noted expert on Texas criminal law, is now a state district judge. Through a lawyer, he vigorously denied any wrongdoing in Mr. Morton’s case.

Mr. Morton, who was a manager at an Austin supermarket and had no criminal history, was charged with the beating death of his wife, Christine, in 1986. He had contended that the killer must have entered their home after he left for work early in the morning. But Mr. Anderson convinced the jury that Mr. Morton, in a rage over his wife’s romantic rebuff the previous night — on Mr. Morton’s 32nd birthday — savagely beat her to death.

Mr. Morton was sentenced to life in prison. Beginning in 2005, he pleaded with the court to test DNA on a blue bandanna found near his home shortly after the murder, along with other evidence.

For six years, the Williamson County district attorney, John Bradley, fought the request for DNA testing, based on advice from Judge Anderson, his predecessor and friend. In 2010, however, a Texas court ordered the DNA testing, and the results showed that Mrs. Morton’s blood on the bandanna was mixed with the DNA of another man: Mark A. Norwood, a felon with a long criminal history who lived about 12 miles from the Mortons at the time of the murder. By then, Mr. Morton had spent nearly 25 years in prison.

Mr. Norwood has been arrested and charged in Mrs. Morton’s death and is a suspect in a similar murder from 1988.

The filing by Mr. Morton’s lawyer, John Raley, and attorneys from the Innocence Project, a group based in New York that represents prisoners seeking exoneration through DNA testing, is asking for what is known as a “court of inquiry.” The lawyers did not share the document with reporters but answered questions about it.

They will ask the court to determine that there is probable cause to believe that Mr. Anderson withheld reports that the judge in the 1987 trial had ordered him to turn over. The judge had demanded the documents to determine whether they might help Mr. Morton’s case. Finding nothing exculpatory in the small number of documents he was provided by the prosecutor, the judge ordered the record sealed.

In August, however, a different judge ordered the record unsealed, and Mr. Morton’s lawyers discovered that Mr. Anderson had provided only a fraction of the available evidence. Missing from the file was the transcript of a telephone conversation between a sheriff’s deputy and Mr. Morton’s mother-in-law in which she reported that her 3-year-old grandson had seen a “monster” — who was not his father — attack and kill his mother.

Also missing were police reports from Mr. Morton’s neighbors, who said they had seen a man in a green van repeatedly park near their home and walk into the woods behind their house. And there were even reports, also never turned over, that Mrs. Morton’s credit card had been used and a check with her forged signature cashed after her death.

In October, Judge Sid Harle of Bexar County District Court freed Mr. Morton based on the DNA evidence and authorized an unusual process allowing his defense lawyers to investigate the prosecutor’s conduct in the original trial. The lawyers questioned the lead sheriff’s investigator, an assistant district attorney who worked with Mr. Anderson and the former prosecutor himself.

In their accounts, the witnesses said Mr. Anderson had firmly controlled every detail of the prosecution. In his own two-day deposition, however, Judge Anderson said he recalled few details of the case and asserted that he had done nothing wrong. He said that he had interpreted the judge’s order to disclose the reports as a narrow demand for the initial documents from the investigation and that he felt “sick” over Mr. Morton’s wrongful imprisonment.

If the court of inquiry ends with a finding that Mr. Anderson committed serious acts of misconduct by concealing material evidence, it could lead to disciplinary action by the state bar association and possibly even a criminal prosecution.

Experts, however, are skeptical that Judge Anderson could face serious punishment or disbarment, even if the court were to decide that he had committed malfeasance. Susan R. Klein, a professor at the University of Texas Law School who specializes in criminal issues and prosecutorial ethics, said that such actions would be “incredibly unusual,” particularly after the Supreme Court’s decision this year dismissing a $14 million civil jury award against a Louisiana prosecutor, Harry Connick Sr., for his failure to turn over evidence that ultimately led to an exoneration.

While withholding material evidence intentionally can get a lawyer disbarred, Ms. Klein said, “It’s extremely unlikely.” In the court filing, Mr. Morton’s lawyers argue that the amount of time that has passed since the trial may not be a bar to criminal prosecution if Mr. Anderson is found to have violated a court order; they argue that there may be no statute of limitations for contempt of court under state law.

Mark Dietz, a lawyer for Judge Anderson, said that he had asked for, but had not received, the report that Mr. Morton’s lawyers plan to file on Monday. He said he worried that the report would inaccurately reflect what happened in 1987. Mr. Dietz questioned whether Judge Harle had jurisdiction to order a court of inquiry, and in a letter to Barry C. Scheck, the co-founder of the Innocence Project, wrote that while his client welcomed “positive discussion about criminal justice reforms,” “false and defamatory statements regarding Mr. Anderson’s conduct as a prosecutor in the Morton case have no proper place in that discussion.”

In an interview, Mr. Scheck said he hoped the court of inquiry proceeding would result in changes in law and policy that could promote greater fairness in criminal cases. Previous high-profile exonerations, he said, have led to new laws that improved access to DNA testing after conviction and provided generous compensation to those who were wrongfully convicted.

“This is one of those catalytic, iconic cases that leads to reform,” he said.


John Schwartz reported from New York,

and Brandi Grissom from Austin.

Ms. Grissom writes for The Texas Tribune,

which produces a twice-weekly local section

in the Texas editions of The New York Times.

    Exonerated of Murder, Texan Seeks Inquiry on Prosecutor,
    NYT, 19.12.2011,






Exonerated of Murder,

a Boxer Makes a Debut at 52


October 10, 2011
The New York Times


PHILADELPHIA — The television crew had him up at dawn doing the Rocky fandango, dashing up the 72 stone steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and dancing around in triumph like another over-the-hill, underdog pugilist who had made it big.

Cliché or not, it is hard not to imagine the familiar trumpet score along with the thwock, thwock, thwock of fists on punching bags as Dewey Bozella trains for one of the least likely boxing matches in history.

After 26 years in New York State prisons, and two years after he was exonerated of murder, Mr. Bozella will make his professional boxing debut on Saturday in Los Angeles, at age 52, on the undercard of the light-heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins. (A mere 46 himself, Mr. Hopkins became the oldest fighter to win a major world championship this May.)

Mr. Bozella’s other fight, in which he is seeking compensation for the half of his life he spent behind bars, may be even more daunting than chasing victory in the ring. But for now, Mr. Bozella is focused on what he says will be his one and only professional bout.

“I want to go out there and give 100 percent and then move on with my life,” he said. “This is not a career move. It’s a personal move and a way to let people know to never give up on their dreams. My favorite quote is ‘Don’t let fear determine who you are and never let where you come from determine where you’re going.’ That’s what this is about.”

The product of a violent broken family and a hard life on the streets, Mr. Bozella was a troubled 18-year-old in 1977 when Emma Crapser, 92, was murdered in her Poughkeepsie, N.Y., home after returning from playing bingo. Six years later, based almost entirely on the testimony of two criminals who repeatedly changed their stories, he was convicted of the murder.

There was no physical evidence implicating Mr. Bozella. Instead, there was the fingerprint of another man, Donald Wise, who was later convicted of committing a nearly identical murder of another elderly woman in the same neighborhood. Mr. Bozella was retried in 1990, and was offered a deal that would let him go free in exchange for an admission that he committed the crime. He refused. A jury convicted him again.

At Sing Sing, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Mercy College and a master’s from the New York Theological Seminary. And he boxed in the prison’s “Death House,” once the scene of electrocutions, then a boxing ring, where he became Sing Sing’s light-heavyweight champion. At parole hearings, he repeatedly refused to express remorse for the crime he did not commit. He would get out one way, he said, either in a box or as an exonerated man. The box seemed more likely.

In the end, he was saved by a miracle. The Innocence Project, a legal clinic dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions, believing in his case but unable to pursue it absent DNA evidence, referred it to the law firm WilmerHale. Lawyers there eventually found the Poughkeepsie police lieutenant who had investigated the case. He had retired, and Mr. Bozella’s was the only file he had saved. It included numerous pieces of evidence favorable to Mr. Bozella that had not been turned over to his lawyers. On Oct. 28, 2009, he walked out of the courthouse in Poughkeepsie finally a free man.

He struggled to find work, eventually counseling former convicts while teaching boxing at a Newburgh, N.Y., gym until ESPN became interested in his story. In July, at its annual ESPY Awards, he was given its Arthur Ashe Courage Award, whose past recipients have included Muhammad Ali, Pat Tillman and Nelson Mandela. The offer to box professionally came as a result of that appearance.

But when he took the rigorous California State Athletic Commission test on Aug. 24 to get licensed to box in the state, he failed. After Labor Day, he began working out in Philadelphia with the trainers for Mr. Hopkins. They were skeptical.

“I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to kill this old guy,’ ” said Danny Davis, one of Mr. Hopkins’s trainers. “There’s no way this guy can make it through my training.”

But Mr. Bozella got tougher, leaner and more nimble, dropping 10 pounds in little more than a week. He sparred with, and took serious lumps from, a world-class fighter: Lajuan Simon, a middleweight title contender. Mr. Bozella took the test again on Sept. 29. This time he passed.

Officials said Mr. Bozella was believed to be the oldest fighter ever licensed to box in California. Fighters that age are extremely rare but hardly unknown. “The Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists,” by Bert Randolph Sugar and Teddy Atlas, has a section on “Boxing’s Greatest Methuselahs” that includes Mr. Hopkins; Jem Mace, the legendary 19th-century English boxer who fought at 59; and Saoul Mamby, a former junior welterweight titleholder who fought in 2008 at the age of 60, making him the oldest fighter ever to appear in an officially sanctioned bout.

Mr. Bozella, a cruiserweight — between light-heavyweights and heavyweights — will not be fighting for a championship; he is taking on Larry Hopkins, 30, of Houston, who is 0-3 as a professional (and is not related to Bernard Hopkins). His purse in the pay-per-view bout will be in the very low four figures.

But even if hype and marketing are as much a part of boxing as quick feet and sharp jabs, Mr. Bozella said the bout was anything but a stunt.

“You’ve seen the workout I went through, the pain, blood and bruises I’m getting,” he said after four rounds sparring with Mr. Simon last week. “No one’s giving me nothing for free. I can go out there and get knocked out, or I can knock the other guy out. It’s that simple.”

Mr. Bozella hopes to open his own gym as a way to mentor youngsters, but beyond its Hollywood touches, his feel-good story turns cloudier. The day after he passed the boxing test, a federal judge threw out his lawsuit against Dutchess County and the City of Poughkeepsie over the evidence that was not turned over to his lawyers.

The decision was primarily based on a controversial Supreme Court ruling in the case of Connick v. Thompson. By a 5-to-4 margin, the court, in a decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas in March, threw out a $14 million jury award to a former death row inmate freed after prosecutorial misconduct came to light. The decision stated that only a pattern of misconduct in properly turning over evidence could warrant financial compensation, no matter how egregious the misconduct against a single defendant.

“I’m not going to disrespect the courts,” Mr. Bozella said. “I’d just like the justice system to be fair. Same thing with boxing. If the judges are fair, then the real winner wins. Just be fair. That’s it.”

Exonerated of Murder, a Boxer Makes a Debut at 52,
NYT, 10.10.2011,






A Grievous Wrong


September 20, 2011
The New York Times


Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday for the 1989 killing of a police officer in Savannah, Ga. The Georgia pardon and parole board’s refusal to grant him clemency is appalling in light of developments after his conviction: reports about police misconduct, the recantation of testimony by a string of eyewitnesses and reports from other witnesses that another person had confessed to the crime.

This case has attracted worldwide attention, but it is, in essence, no different from other capital cases. Across the country, the legal process for the death penalty has shown itself to be discriminatory, unjust and incapable of being fixed. Just last week, the Supreme Court granted a stay of execution for Duane Buck, an African-American, hours before he was to die in Texas because a psychologist testified during his sentencing that Mr. Buck’s race increased the chances of future dangerousness. Case after case adds to the many reasons why the death penalty must be abolished.

The grievous errors in the Davis case were numerous, and many arose out of eyewitness identification. The Savannah police contaminated the memories of four witnesses by re-enacting the crime with them present so that their individual perceptions were turned into a group one. The police showed some of the witnesses Mr. Davis’s photograph even before the lineup. His lineup picture was set apart by a different background. The lineup was also administered by a police officer involved in the investigation, increasing the potential for influencing the witnesses.

In the decades since the Davis trial, science-based research has shown how unreliable and easily manipulated witness identification can be. Studies of the hundreds of felony cases overturned because of DNA evidence have found that misidentifications accounted for between 75 percent and 85 percent of the wrongful convictions. The Davis case offers egregious examples of this kind of error.

Under proper practices, no one should know who the suspect is, including the officer administering a lineup. Each witness should view the lineup separately, and the witnesses should not confer about the crime. A new study has found that even presenting photos sequentially (one by one) to witnesses reduced misidentifications — from 18 percent to 12 percent of the time — compared with lineups where photos were presented all at once, as in this case.

Seven of nine witnesses against Mr. Davis recanted after trial. Six said the police threatened them if they did not identify Mr. Davis. The man who first told the police that Mr. Davis was the shooter later confessed to the crime. There are other reasons to doubt Mr. Davis’s guilt: There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime introduced at trial, and new ballistics evidence broke the link between him and a previous shooting that provided the motive for his conviction.

More than 630,000 letters pleading for a stay of execution were delivered to the Georgia board last week. Those asking for clemency included President Jimmy Carter, 51 members of Congress and death penalty supporters, such as William Sessions, a former F.B.I. director. The board’s failure to commute Mr. Davis’s death sentence to life without parole was a tragic miscarriage of justice.

    A Grievous Wrong, NYT, 20.9.2011,






The Prosecution Rests, but I Can’t


April 9, 2011
The New York Times


New Orleans

I SPENT 18 years in prison for robbery and murder, 14 of them on death row. I’ve been free since 2003, exonerated after evidence covered up by prosecutors surfaced just weeks before my execution date. Those prosecutors were never punished. Last month, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 to overturn a case I’d won against them and the district attorney who oversaw my case, ruling that they were not liable for the failure to turn over that evidence — which included proof that blood at the robbery scene wasn’t mine.

Because of that, prosecutors are free to do the same thing to someone else today.

I was arrested in January 1985 in New Orleans. I remember the police coming to my grandmother’s house — we all knew it was the cops because of how hard they banged on the door before kicking it in. My grandmother and my mom were there, along with my little brother and sister, my two sons — John Jr., 4, and Dedric, 6 — my girlfriend and me. The officers had guns drawn and were yelling. I guess they thought they were coming for a murderer. All the children were scared and crying. I was 22.

They took me to the homicide division, and played a cassette tape on which a man I knew named Kevin Freeman accused me of shooting a man. He had also been arrested as a suspect in the murder. A few weeks earlier he had sold me a ring and a gun; it turned out that the ring belonged to the victim and the gun was the murder weapon.

My picture was on the news, and a man called in to report that I looked like someone who had recently tried to rob his children. Suddenly I was accused of that crime, too. I was tried for the robbery first. My lawyers never knew there was blood evidence at the scene, and I was convicted based on the victims’ identification.

After that, my lawyers thought it was best if I didn’t testify at the murder trial. So I never defended myself, or got to explain that I got the ring and the gun from Kevin Freeman. And now that I officially had a history of violent crime because of the robbery conviction, the prosecutors used it to get the death penalty.

I remember the judge telling the courtroom the number of volts of electricity they would put into my body. If the first attempt didn’t kill me, he said, they’d put more volts in.

On Sept. 1, 1987, I arrived on death row in the Louisiana State Penitentiary — the infamous Angola prison. I was put in a dead man’s cell. His things were still there; he had been executed only a few days before. That past summer they had executed eight men at Angola. I received my first execution date right before I arrived. I would end up knowing 12 men who were executed there.

Over the years, I was given six execution dates, but all of them were delayed until finally my appeals were exhausted. The seventh — and last — date was set for May 20, 1999. My lawyers had been with me for 11 years by then; they flew in from Philadelphia to give me the news. They didn’t want me to hear it from the prison officials. They said it would take a miracle to avoid this execution. I told them it was fine — I was innocent, but it was time to give up.

But then I remembered something about May 20. I had just finished reading a letter from my younger son about how he wanted to go on his senior class trip. I’d been thinking about how I could find a way to pay for it by selling my typewriter and radio. “Oh, no, hold on,” I said, “that’s the day before John Jr. is graduating from high school.” I begged them to get it delayed; I knew it would hurt him.

To make things worse, the next day, when John Jr. was at school, his teacher read the whole class an article from the newspaper about my execution. She didn’t know I was John Jr.’s dad; she was just trying to teach them a lesson about making bad choices. So he learned that his father was going to be killed from his teacher, reading the newspaper aloud. I panicked. I needed to talk to him, reassure him.

Amazingly, I got a miracle. The same day that my lawyers visited, an investigator they had hired to look through the evidence one last time found, on some forgotten microfiche, a report sent to the prosecutors on the blood type of the perpetrator of the armed robbery. It didn’t match mine; the report, hidden for 15 years, had never been turned over to my lawyers. The investigator later found the names of witnesses and police reports from the murder case that hadn’t been turned over either.

As a result, the armed robbery conviction was thrown out in 1999, and I was taken off death row. Then, in 2002, my murder conviction was thrown out. At a retrial the following year, the jury took only 35 minutes to acquit me.

The prosecutors involved in my two cases, from the office of the Orleans Parish district attorney, Harry Connick Sr., helped to cover up 10 separate pieces of evidence. And most of them are still able to practice law today.

Why weren’t they punished for what they did? When the hidden evidence first surfaced, Mr. Connick announced that his office would hold a grand jury investigation. But once it became clear how many people had been involved, he called it off.

In 2005, I sued the prosecutors and the district attorney’s office for what they did to me. The jurors heard testimony from the special prosecutor who had been assigned by Mr. Connick’s office to the canceled investigation, who told them, “We should have indicted these guys, but they didn’t and it was wrong.” The jury awarded me $14 million in damages — $1 million for every year on death row — which would have been paid by the district attorney’s office. That jury verdict is what the Supreme Court has just overturned.

I don’t care about the money. I just want to know why the prosecutors who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn’t do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves. There were no ethics charges against them, no criminal charges, no one was fired and now, according to the Supreme Court, no one can be sued.

Worst of all, I wasn’t the only person they played dirty with. Of the six men one of my prosecutors got sentenced to death, five eventually had their convictions reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct. Because we were sentenced to death, the courts had to appoint us lawyers to fight our appeals. I was lucky, and got lawyers who went to extraordinary lengths. But there are more than 4,000 people serving life without parole in Louisiana, almost none of whom have lawyers after their convictions are final. Someone needs to look at those cases to see how many others might be innocent.

If a private investigator hired by a generous law firm hadn’t found the blood evidence, I’d be dead today. No doubt about it.

A crime was definitely committed in this case, but not by me.


John Thompson

is the director of Resurrection After Exoneration,

a support group for exonerated inmates.

    The Prosecution Rests, but I Can’t, NYT, 9.4.2011






30 Years Later,

Freedom in a Case

With Tragedy for All Involved


September 16, 2010
The New York Times


HATTIESBURG, Miss. — A little after 10 o’clock on Thursday morning, it was all up to Phillip Bivens. Just like that. The judge adjourned the hearing and Mr. Bivens, standing in a red jumpsuit in the corner of the courtroom, could all of a sudden do anything he wanted. After 30 years in prison, he was not sure what that was.

“Take it easy, I guess,” he said. “Try to ease my mind.”

Mr. Bivens, 59, and Bobby Ray Dixon, 53, two men who were serving life sentences, were exonerated by a judge on Thursday morning, their guilty pleas to the charge of murder erased. The judge said it was likely that another man, Larry Ruffin, would soon be cleared for the same murder.

There was no special hurry in his case. Mr. Ruffin died in prison eight years ago.

The expected ruling would be one of only a handful of posthumous exonerations nationwide, and taken with Thursday’s events, a rare triple exoneration.

Nonetheless, said Emily Maw, the director of the Innocence Project of New Orleans, the law center that pressed for the men’s release, the case has been nothing but a series of tragedies.

On a warm night in early May 1979, a man broke into the home of Eva Gail Patterson, raped her and cut her throat in front of her 4-year-old son. Ms. Patterson, whose 2-year-old was sleeping in the next room and whose husband was working offshore on an oil platform, stumbled to her neighbor’s carport, where she collapsed and died. The 4-year-old, Luke, told the police that a single man, “a bad boy,” had killed his mother.

Larry Ruffin, 19 at the time, was picked up a few days later. The night of the murder he had been on leave from a halfway house, where he was sent after stealing some beer from a store. Over the next few weeks, he gave several statements, contradictory on many points but all conforming to the same basic storyline: He had raped and killed Ms. Patterson, and he had acted alone.

Mr. Ruffin soon recanted, however, saying that he had been physically coerced by law enforcement officials into confessing, and maintained his innocence. Over a year later, just before Mr. Ruffin’s trial was set to begin, the police interviewed Mr. Dixon, who had been with Mr. Ruffin at the halfway house at the same time. Mr. Dixon told them that Mr. Ruffin had killed Ms. Patterson, but said that he had been with him that night. Mr. Dixon, who pleaded guilty to murder, apparently said Mr. Bivens was with them as well, though no records exist of that first interview.

Mr. Bivens, who had returned to his home in California several months earlier, was arrested by police officers who showed up at his door one night.

“I’d never been on a airplane before,” he said on a car ride out of Mississippi after the hearing. “I thought they were going to kill me. I thought they were going to get me up there and push me out.”

Back in Hattiesburg, he was told he could be facing the death penalty unless he pleaded guilty. Law enforcement officials showed him pictures of the crime scene and asked what he remembered, he said. He had never met Mr. Dixon before, he said, but, fearing for his life, he backed up Mr. Dixon’s account.

“All of these things, it’s hard to push them out of my mind,” he said on the car ride, staring out the window. “I don’t like to think about it. I feel like I should have been stronger than that.”

The trial, in the winter of 1980, was based almost exclusively on the three statements.

On the stand, Mr. Dixon, who described himself as a “hard learner” who could barely read, began to contradict his own testimony. Finally, he said that he had not been with the other two that night and that he did not even know what Ms. Patterson looked like. He said that he had been kicked in the head by a horse as a child and ever since had suffered seizures.

“I don’t have the right mind,” he said on the witness stand. “My mind comes and goes, and I don’t like to see nobody took away for nothing they ain’t done.”

Mr. Ruffin was convicted, though a hung jury prevented a death sentence. He was sentenced to life in prison and died of a heart attack in 2002.

Mr. Dixon, whose seizures were so frequent in prison that guards gave him a baseball batting helmet, developed lung cancer last year, which has since spread to his brain.

A couple of years earlier, lawyers for the Innocence Project had received an application for help from Mr. Dixon through a corrections officer. The lawyers, pointing to studies that show the frequency of false confessions, requested a DNA test of the evidence from the rape kit.

In July, the results came back. They implicated a man named Andrew Harris, who had lived just up the road from Ms. Patterson. In 1982, he was convicted of a rape outside Hattiesburg and is now serving a life sentence.

Law enforcement officials are now investigating his connection to the Patterson case.

Mr. Dixon was granted medical parole after the test results came in and has been out of prison since. Only Mr. Bivens remained.

The courtroom on Thursday was full of people who last came together 30 years ago. Mr. Ruffin’s family members wore “Free at Last” T-shirts, maintaining that freedom is a state that can be still achieved by the dead.

Mr. Dixon was there, smiling and leaning on a cane carved by his brother. The Patterson family, including Luke, now in his 30s, was sitting the front row. The district attorney, the same man who had been in the post in 1979, represented the state.

After the hearing, Mr. Dixon was taken by his brother a few dozen miles out of town to a sun-dappled clearing among pine trees, the site of Mr. Ruffin’s grave. The Ruffin family prayed, sang hymns and released balloons, and Mr. Dixon broke into sobs.

Earlier, Mr. Bivens stood across the street from the courthouse, in brand-new clothes still bearing the creases of the display shelf. He carried his belongings in a pillowcase: two Bibles, a pair of flip-flops, some shampoo, some socks. The lawyers took him to lunch and then drove him to New Orleans.

He was planning to stay in housing there that was set up especially for exonerated prisoners. Maybe, he said, he could find a job gardening. And he was thinking about looking up his old girlfriend, the one he was about to marry before the police arrived at his door that night.

It is important to have people around you, he said. They keep you from thinking about things too much. And they serve as an alibi, just in case.

    30 Years Later, Freedom in a Case With Tragedy for All Involved,
    NYT, 16.9.2010,






Op-Ed Columnist

Innocent but Dead


September 1, 2009
The New York Times


There is a long and remarkable article in the current New Yorker about a man who was executed in Texas in 2004 for deliberately setting a fire that killed his three small children. Rigorous scientific analysis has since shown that there was no evidence that the fire in a one-story, wood frame house in Corsicana was the result of arson, as the authorities had alleged.

In other words, it was an accident. No crime had occurred.

Cameron Todd Willingham, who refused to accept a guilty plea that would have spared his life, and who insisted until his last painful breath that he was innocent, had in fact been telling the truth all along.

It was inevitable that some case in which a clearly innocent person had been put to death would come to light. It was far from inevitable that this case would be the one. “I was extremely skeptical in the beginning,” said the New Yorker reporter, David Grann, who began investigating the case last December.

The fire broke out on the morning of Dec. 23, 1991. Willingham was awakened by the cries of his 2-year-old daughter, Amber. Also in the house were his year-old twin girls, Karmon and Kameron. The family was poor, and Willingham’s wife, Stacy, had gone out to pick up a Christmas present for the children from the Salvation Army.

Willingham said he tried to rescue the kids but was driven back by smoke and flames. At one point his hair caught fire. As the heat intensified, the windows of the children’s room exploded and flames leapt out. Willingham, who was 23 at the time, had to be restrained and eventually handcuffed as he tried again to get into the room.

There was no reason to believe at first that the fire was anything other than a horrible accident. But fire investigators, moving slowly through the ruined house, began seeing things (not unlike someone viewing a Rorschach pattern) that they interpreted as evidence of arson.

They noticed deep charring at the base of some of the walls and patterns of soot that made them suspicious. They noticed what they felt were ominous fracture patterns in pieces of broken window glass. They had no motive, but they were convinced the fire had been set. And if it had been set, who else but Willingham would have set it?

With no real motive in sight, the local district attorney, Pat Batchelor, was quoted as saying, “The children were interfering with his beer drinking and dart throwing.”

Willingham was arrested and charged with capital murder.

When official suspicion fell on Willingham, eyewitness testimony began to change. Whereas initially he was described by neighbors as screaming and hysterical — “My babies are burning up!” — and desperate to have the children saved, he now was described as behaving oddly, and not having made enough of an effort to get to the girls.

And you could almost have guaranteed that a jailhouse snitch would emerge. They almost always do. This time his name was Johnny Webb, a jumpy individual with a lengthy arrest record who would later admit to being “mentally impaired” and on medication, and who had started taking illegal drugs at the age of 9.

The jury took barely an hour to return a guilty verdict, and Willingham was sentenced to death.

He remained on death row for 12 years, but it was only in the weeks leading up to his execution that convincing scientific evidence of his innocence began to emerge. A renowned scientist and arson investigator, Gerald Hurst, educated at Cambridge and widely recognized as a brilliant chemist, reviewed the evidence in the Willingham case and began systematically knocking down every indication of arson.

The authorities were unmoved. Willingham was executed by lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004.

Now comes a report on the case from another noted scientist, Craig Beyler, who was hired by a special commission, established by the state of Texas to investigate errors and misconduct in the handling of forensic evidence.

The report is devastating, the kind of disclosure that should send a tremor through one’s conscience. There was absolutely no scientific basis for determining that the fire was arson, said Beyler. No basis at all. He added that the state fire marshal who investigated the case and testified against Willingham “seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires.” He said the marshal’s approach seemed to lack “rational reasoning” and he likened it to the practices “of mystics or psychics.”

Grann told me on Monday that when he recently informed the jailhouse snitch, Johnny Webb, that new scientific evidence would show that the fire wasn’t arson and that an innocent man had been killed, Webb seemed taken aback. “Nothing can save me now,” he said.

Innocent but Dead,






Jill Dando murder:

Miscarriages of justice

Barry George is not the first person
to be wrongly convicted of murder
and then have their conviction quashed.


01 Aug 2008

Last Updated: 6:27PM BST

The Daily Telegraph

By Caroline Gammell


Stephen Downing spent 27 years in prison for the murder of Wendy Sewell, a typist who was killed in a churchyard in Bakewell, Derbyshire, in 1973.

His conviction in the so-called "Bakewell Tart" case was hailed as one of Britain's worst miscarriages of justice when he was freed in January 2002.

Mr Downing received an initial £250,000 payment on release from prison and further £500,000 in 2006 because he was not told he was under arrest or that he had the right to a solicitor.

He was 17 with a mental age of 11 when he was convicted of beating 32-year-old Mrs Sewell to death with a pick-axe handle at a cemetery in Bakewell.

He was arrested and interviewed for about eight hours before admitting the attack. Later he retracted his confession but was convicted the following year.

Stefan Kiszko was convicted of killing 11-year-old Lesley Molseed in 1976 and served 16 years before being released in 1992.

The tax clerk, from Rochdale in Greater Manchester, was found guilty of abducting the girl and then stabbing her on a moor in West Yorkshire.

Mr Kiszko, who was described as "odd and vulnerable", spent nearly two decades in prison before the Court of Appeal acknowledged that his impotence meant he could not possibly have killed her.

He died of a heart attack aged 44 just a year after being released.

His mother Charlotte died four months later and because he had no other relatives, the Government did not have to pay him compensation of more than £500,000.

Ronald Castree was finally convicted in November 2007, having committed the crime as a 21-year-old.

Timothy Evans, 25, was hanged on March 9, 1950, for the murder of his wife and daughter.

Deemed to be of low intelligence, the Welsh van driver with an IQ of 70 apparently "confessed" to killing his wife Beryl and their 14-month-old daughter Geraldine in 1949.

Three years after his execution, former neighbour John Christie confessed to strangling eight victims - including Mrs Evans and Geraldine.

Mr Evans received a post-humous official royal pardon in 1966, but his case helped bring about the abolishment of capital punishment.

His family fought for compensation right up until 2004, arguing that the royal pardon was "inadequate remedy".

Unemployed Colin Stagg was tried for the murder of 23-year-old Rachel Nickell, who was killed while walking with her two-year-old son on Wimbledon Common in 1992.

He was charged with murder and spent a year in prison, but the judge presiding over the case threw out the charges against him because they were based on a honey trap operation.

Trial judge Mr Justice Ognall described it as "wholly reprehensible'' and "deceptive conduct of the grossest kind" and threw the evidence out.

Mr Stagg is still trying to claim more than £1 million compensation from the Metropolitan Police but the case is on hold while the police investigation continues.

Robert Napper, 41, has been charged with Miss Nickell's murder and appeared in court last November.

Jill Dando murder: Miscarriages of justice,










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