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Articles about Wrongful Convictions

Five Wrongfully Convicted North Carolina Men Receive Almost $8 Million

Five former prisoners who were wrongfully convicted in a home invasion murder have received settlements and compensation totaling nearly $8 million following a botched investigation and misconduct by the sheriff’s office in Buncombe County, North Carolina.

Three masked men entered the Fairview home of Walter R. Bowman on September 18, ...

Illinois: DNA Evidence Exonerates One Man, Implicates Another

On September 28, 2016, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office announced charges against convicted murderer Osborne Wade, 42, in connection with the brutal sexual assault and murder of a child in 1992. The charges followed an extensive investigation by the State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which revealed that Mark Maxson, now 55, had been wrongfully convicted for the crime in 1994.

As a result, the charges against Maxson were dismissed and he was released after serving approximately 22 years of a life sentence. Elliot Zinger, one of Maxson’s attorneys, said they will seek a certificate of innocence to have his conviction expunged, which would entitle him to up to $200,000 in compensation from the state. Zinger has also filed a lawsuit on Maxson’s behalf against the Chicago police detectives who allegedly coerced, beat and threatened his client into providing an unsigned confession.

Cook County prosecutors announced that DNA evidence from six-year-old Lindsey Murdock, Jr.’s clothing was a match to Wade, who subsequently confessed to the crime and wrote letters of apology to Murdock’s family.

Judge James Brown called the case the worst he’d seen in 14 years on the bench.

“I’m left with a case where an individual sat in ...

$28.1 Million Jury Award after Eighth Circuit Allows Conspiracy Claims in Nebraska Wrongful Conviction Suit

On December 31, 2015, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held that six wrongfully convicted former prisoners could sue Gage County, Nebraska for conspiring to manufacture false evidence; further, law enforcement officials involved in the investigation that led to the wrongful convictions were not entitled to qualified immunity. [See: PLN, March 2016, p.16].

Joseph White was convicted in 1989 of raping and murdering Helen Wilson, 68. To convict him, prosecutors used the testimony of his co-defendants, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas W. Winslow, James L. Dean, Kathleen A. Gonzalez and Debra Shelden, all of whom pleaded guilty to related charges. Collectively they were known as the Beatrice Six.

In 2008, DNA evidence exonerated the Beatrice Six, who were pardoned or had their convictions overturned. They filed independent lawsuits against Gage County, then-Sheriff Jerry O. DeWitt and two of his employees under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985. They claimed the defendants led a reckless investigation, manufactured false evidence, conspired to manufacture false evidence and coerced false testimony. Wilson’s murder was eventually linked to Bruce Allen Smith, who died in 1992.

Initially, a consolidated trial in the lawsuits resulted in a hung jury. The defendants then filed motions under Federal Rule of ...

Too Little, Too Late: Prosecutor Remorseful for Sending Innocent Man to Death Row

The district attorney who prosecuted Glenn Ford, a Louisiana man exonerated after spending 30 years on death row, called capital punishment “an abomination that continues to scar the fibers of this society.” That statement was made in a column expressing remorse for his role in convicting an innocent defendant.

Ford, 64, was charged with the November 5, 1983 murder of a Shreveport jeweler during a robbery. In late 2013, credible evidence came to the attention of prosecutors “supporting a finding that Glenn Ford was neither present at nor a participant in the robbery and murder of Isadore Rozeman.” He was released from prison on March 10, 2014 and given a $20.04 debit card by prison officials.

Under Louisiana law, Ford was entitled to $330,000 in compensation for his wrongful conviction. However, a state court judge denied compensation, stating Ford likely had a role in the robbery that resulted in Rozeman’s death as he was in possession of items taken during the robbery.

“I can take no comfort in such an argument,” wrote A.M. “Marty” Shroud III, the lead prosecutor at Ford’s trial, in a March 2015 column published in the Shreveport Times. “As a prosecutor and officer of the court, ...

Kansas Supreme Court Modifies “Exoneration Rule”

In an opinion handed down on December 31, 2015, the Supreme Court of Kansas modified the requirement that a criminal defendant be exonerated prior to suing the attorney who represented him (the “exoneration rule”). Under the modification, reversal of a conviction or other post-conviction relief may count as a form for exoneration.

George Michael Garcia hired attorney Charles Ball to represent him in a probation revocation hearing during which he stipulated to the violation. The court violated the probation and remanded him to the Kansas Department of Corrections (DOC) to serve his originally imposed prison term. However, the journal entry of sentencing erroneously directed Garcia to serve 12-months post-release supervision following his 9-month prison term. This violated state statute, K.S.A. 22-3716(e), which prohibits post-release supervision following a prison sentence due to the revocation of probation.

The DOC sent the district court a letter informing it of the erroneous post-release supervision requirement, but also stating; that it would abide by the court’s order until it was ordered to do otherwise. The court never corrected the erroneous sentence.

Following his release, Garcia was convicted of another offense. Because it was committed while he was on post-release supervision, the sentence was enhanced. While ...

Exonerated Ohio Prisoner’s Claim for Improperly Released Medical Record to Proceed

An Ohio Court of Appeals held a trial court improperly granted summary judgment to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) in a lawsuit claiming invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The suit was brought by Clarence Elkins, Sr., who was convicted in 1999 on multiple felony charges and sentenced to life. He was subsequently exonerated and released from prison. He obtained a declaration of being wrongfully imprisoned and received $7.84 million in settlements from the State of Ohio and City of Barberton. [See: PLN, June 2012, p.34; July 2011, p.11]. His ex-wife and son also received settlements.

Prior to receiving their settlements, the ex-wife and son filed for bankruptcy. Once they received the settlements, the federal government made a claim for unpaid taxes on the settlement funds. As part of that claim, the Tax Division of the U.S. Department of Justice issued a subpoena to ODRC requesting production of copies of documents related to medical treatment Elkins received while imprisoned. ODRC responded by providing the records.

In response to Elkins’ suit, ODRC moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. On appeal, Elkins made four assignments of error. The appellate court made a ...

Phoenix Fire Investigators and Insurance Company Implicated in Wrongful Prosecutions

Following a decision by Arizona prosecutors not to criminally charge a pair of Phoenix Fire Department (PFD) investigators who allegedly lied under oath and trained a dog to implicate innocent people, victims have pursued justice through civil litigation. During the course of one of those lawsuits, a wrongfully-accused woman found strong evidence suggesting that her own insurance company sought to aid in her conviction.

According to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, the May 2009 investigation of a fire in an east Phoenix neighborhood, led by PFD Captains Sam Richardson and Fred Andes, involved “an utter breakdown in basic investigative techniques and procedures.”

However, while Richardson and Andes made “incorrect or impeachable statements” in the case, Montgomery declined to prosecute them in October 2014, saying the pair had skirted prosecution because Arizona law requires that they knowingly made false statements.

“Not bringing criminal charges obviously did not result in us saying that there was nothing wrong with what happened here, or with what the investigation identified,” Montgomery said.

Carl Caples was charged with arson in the east Phoenix fire after an arson dog named Sadie signaled to investigators that she smelled accelerants at the scene. Although Caples insisted during interrogation that ...

Alabama Prisoner Exonerated after Serving 30 Years on Death Row

After almost 30 years, Alabama death row prisoner Anthony Ray Hinton was freed on April 3, 2015 – at the age of 58 – when prosecutors dropped the charges against him.

At the time of his release, Hinton, who is black, told The Marshall Project that he believed racist officials, including prosecutors and police officers, had “lied on me and convicted me of a horrible crime for something I didn’t do.”

“They stole my 30s, they stole my 40s, they stole my 50s. I could not afford to give them my soul. I couldn’t give them me. I had to hold onto that, and the only thing that kept me from losing my mind was my sense of humor,” he added.

Hinton was convicted of committing murders during two fast food restaurant robberies. In both cases the victims were forced into the restaurants’ coolers and shot twice in the head. The first robbery occurred on February 25, 1985, the second on July 2, 1985.

Pressure mounted on law enforcement to solve the crimes. A manager at another restaurant was robbed and shot on July 25, 1985; he survived and police targeted Hinton after the manager identified him in a line-up. ...

Pennsylvania: Former Cop Indefinitely Jailed for Failure to Supply Passwords

In March 2015, former Philadelphia police sergeant Francis Rawls, 37, was identified as a suspect in a child porno­graphy ring. As part of the investigation, Delaware County authorities confiscated several electronic devices from Rawls’ home and requested that he provide the passwords to decrypt the computers, tablets, iPhone and external hard drives. Rawls did not cooperate, saying he “couldn’t remember” the passwords. A court order was obtained requiring Rawls to divulge the encryption keys. He again did not comply. In September 2015, a judge found that Rawls’ explanation of forgetfulness was implausible; he was held in contempt and jailed indefinitely even though he had not been charged with a crime.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals heard testimony in the case on September 7, 2016. Defense attorney Keith M. Donoghue argued that decryption of the computers and other devices would violate Rawls’ rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Judish countered that authorities could demand the production of a key to a safe if they knew its contents; he compared Rawls’ passwords to a safe key. Neither lawyer addressed the possibility that, just like many other computer users, Rawls had actually forgotten ...

Wayward Prosecutors Go Unpunished as Prison Time for Victims Piles Up

by Brooke Williams & Shawn Musgrave

Massachusetts prosecutors have violated defendants’ rights to a fair trial regularly and without punishment, even as wrongfully convicted victims of tainted prosecutions have spent years in prison before being freed, decades of court rulings show.

The state’s Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court have reversed at least 120 criminal convictions since 1985 in part or entirely because of the prosecuting attorney’s misconduct described in the judges’ rationale for the overturned verdicts.

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting reviewed more than 1,000 rulings in which defendants alleged prosecutorial misconduct. In addition to the 120 reversals, judges criticized the prosecution’s behavior in another 250 cases, but found the lapses not serious enough to affect the jury’s decision, and upheld the convictions.

At least 11 convicted defendants in the reviewed cases were ultimately exonerated. Added together, their time served for crimes they didn’t commit totaled more than 100 years. Others were convicted again or pleaded guilty when facing retrial, sometimes to lesser charges with sentences reduced.

Some prosecutors failed to turn over important evidence to defense attorneys or didn’t disclose information bearing negatively on witness credibility, judges said. Others misrepresented evidence in their closing statements to the ...