Skip navigation

Articles about Wrongful Convictions

Exclusive! Breaking News: Illinois Prisoner Exonerated, Released after Ten Years

Exclusive! Breaking News: Illinois Prisoner Exonerated, Released after Ten Years

by Derek Gilna 

The lies of Chicago police officers, as well as the concealment of clearly exculpatory evidence, kept Jermaine Walker in Illinois prisons for ten years – but he never stopped proclaiming his innocence. Plainclothes officers contended that on February 21, 2006, at approximately 8:30 p.m., they saw Walker hand cash to another individual in an alley in what they said was an illicit drug transaction.

            Walker maintained that a video security camera on a building at the site of the alleged drug sale had recorded his confrontation with the arresting officers, Eric Reyes and Sebastian Flatley, and would prove he had committed no crime. Police officials and an investigator with the State’s Attorney’s office, Thomas Finnelly, asserted there was no security camera; based on their statements, the court declined to appoint an investigator to help Walker prove the camera and video footage existed. At trial, prosecutors introduced photos of the alleged crime scene, taken by Finnelly, that were carefully staged to avoid showing the presence of any security camera.

            In fact, during closing arguments the prosecutor told the jury, “If there was a camera ...

Ninth Circuit: Improper ICE Detainer Constitutes Article III Injury

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s dismissal of a false imprisonment suit based upon an improper immigration detainer, as the district court incorrectly held that it lacked Article III standing.

In June 2007, Bernardo Mendia was arrested on several California state charges. The court granted bail but Mendia needed the assistance of a bondsman to get out.

Before Mendia could make bail, he was interviewed by two agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – Ching Chang and John M. Garcia. Mendia insisted that he was an American citizen and had a valid U.S. passport, and gave them his Social Security number. He then invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, directing the agents to speak with his public defender. Agent Garcia became irate and said, “Oh! You don’t want to talk to me? We’ll see if you want to talk when we’re deporting your ass!”

An immigration detainer was immediately lodged against Mendia, falsely declaring that he was an illegal immigrant of Mexican nationality. The detainer blocked Mendia from posting bail. All the bondsmen he contacted “refused to even consider posting a bail ... because of the immigration detainer.”

About six months ...

$2.5 Million Award for Wrongfully Convicted Former Michigan Prisoner

An exonerated Michigan man will receive $2.5 million for his almost 26 years of wrongful incarceration. He was released from prison after it was discovered that Detroit police had tainted the victim’s identification and withheld exculpatory evidence.

Walter Swift was 21 when he was arrested on September 16, 1982 ...

Tortfeasor May Not Shift Punitive Damages Claim to Insurer under Illinois Law

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held an insurer did not breach its duty to protect a group of detectives from punitive damages in a civil rights action. The court further questioned whether Illinois law would allow a suit that shifted the burden of punitive damages from the tortfeasor to ...

D.C. Appellate Court Reverses $2.3 Million Wrongful Imprisonment Award

The District of Columbia’s Court of Appeals has reversed a judgment against the D.C. government based upon the municipal liability standard set forth in Monell v. Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). According to the appellate court, the plaintiff, who had been wrongfully jailed following a parole revocation, failed to show that the violation of his rights resulted from a municipal policy or custom, shielding the District from liability for the improper acts of its employees.

The Court of Appeals wrote that “[t]he District of Columbia Board of Parole revoked plaintiff Charles Singletary’s parole based primarily on unreliable multiple-hearsay testimony. This court later determined that the evidentiary basis for his parole revocation failed to satisfy the requirements of the Due Process Clause.”

Singletary filed suit against the D.C. government under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arguing “that the District bore responsibility for the Board’s unconstitutional revocation decision. The district court found the District liable, and a jury awarded $2.3 million in damages for the period of Singletary’s confinement following the revocation of his parole.” [See: PLN, Sept. 2012, p.30].

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Monell is ...

U.S. Court of Claims Awards Federal Prisoner $172,465.75 for Wrongful Conviction

Michael Alan Crooker, wrongfully convicted in Massachusetts on a federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, had his conviction reversed on appeal by the First Circuit in 2010, setting the stage for a certificate of innocence and a claim for financial damages from the federal government ...

Illinois: Exonerated Sex Offender Sues for Wrongful Conviction

An Illinois man who was wrongfully convicted of a sex offense, and released from prison after his supposed victim was discredited, has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago, the Chicago police department and other defendants as a result of his 2002 conviction for a rape he did not commit. In the meantime, Carl Chatman, 59, has had to defend himself against the faulty bookkeeping of Illinois’ sex offender registry.

Chatman was released from prison in 2013 thanks to the efforts of the Northwestern Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. The prosecution did not oppose his certificate of innocence; in fact, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office provided hard copies of Chatman’s release documents to the Illinois Department of Corrections, and prison officials claimed they entered a “Court Ordered Discharge” into the state’s criminal database – though they failed to indicate the reason for the discharge. As a result, Chatman’s name continued to appear on the sex offender registry and he was later arrested for failure to register.

“The whole thing is kind of a mess, and it really ought to be cleaned up and fixed so this kind of thing doesn’t happen,” said Rob Warden, executive ...

Former Washington Prisoner Exonerated, Receives Compensation, Arrested Again

A wrongfully convicted former Washington prisoner was awarded $546,383 in compensation under a new state law for spending 10 years in prison on robbery and burglary charges for crimes he did not commit.

Brandon Redtailhawk Olebar was arrested following a February 2003 incident involving at least eight attackers who broke into the home of his sister’s ex-boyfriend. The man was pistol whipped and beaten unconscious during the 10-minute assault.

The victim told police officers his attackers had “feather” facial tattoos and he recognized Olebar’s sister as one of the assailants. Olebar, then 19 years old, was picked out of a photo lineup by the victim two days after the incident. Despite not having facial tattoos and presenting an alibi defense, Olebar was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 16.5 years in prison. His sister pleaded guilty to robbery charges and received 20 years.

In 2011, two law students, Nikki Carsley and Kathleen Kline, at the Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW), which is based out of a clinical law program at the University of Washington Law School, began investigating the case and developed a body of evidence to prove Olebar was not involved in the crime.

They were able ...

Innocence Project Frees Thirty One People in 2013

Thirty one people were exonerated by the Innocence Network in 2013. Three of them were women. All total, these prisoners served 451 years of illegal incarceration.

Bennie Starks spent 20 years behind bars after being wrongfully convicted of raping a 69-year-old woman. Even though Starks had an alibi and did not match the description of the attacker two forensics experts offered false testimony that assisted in getting Starks convicted.

The Innocence Project showed in 2000 that the DNA evidence belonged to another man but the courts refused to give Starks a new trial. In 2004 the Innocence Project found more evidence that excluded Starks and in 2006 the Illinois Appellate Court for the Second District finally overturned Starks conviction. Still, it was not until 2013 that the state finally dismissed all charges against Starks.

Kristine Bunch served 17 years in an Indiana prison for a murder she did not commit. On June 30, 1995 Bunch’s house caught on fire killing her 3-year-old son. An arson investigator testified that he found evidence of an accelerant proving that the fire was deliberately started. A forensic analyst corroborated those findings. Bunch was sentenced to 30 years for arson and 60 years for murder ...

New Pennsylvania Legislation Sucker Punches Inmate Speech

Law Shreds Rights

by: Linn Washington Jr.

The serious injustice endured by Pennsylvania prison inmate Lorenzo ‘Cat’ Johnson, detailed yesterday in Part I of this series [1], is the subject of a website and numerous other postings on the Internet. Those Internet postings detail gross misconduct by police and prosecutors that have kept Johnson imprisoned for a murder that evidence indicates he neither committed nor had anything to [do] with.

Johnson served 16-years of a life sentence before a federal appeals court ordered his release in October 2011 after ruling insufficient evidence existed to maintain his conviction. Prosecutors never claimed Johnson was the killer only that he was present when the killing occurred.

However, a perverse appeal by Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office prosecutors forced Johnson’s return to prison in June 2012 –- following six-months of freedom.

Those websites supporting Johnson’s release, which contain documents and other evidence detailing Johnson’s wrongful conviction, are in danger of being wiped under terms of legislation recently approved by Pennsylvania’s Republican-dominated House and Senate.

That legislation, fast-tracked through the legislature in an election-timed attempt to boost the hugely unpopular Republican Gov. Corbett's flagging re-election bid, allows victims of crime to go to court for ...