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Articles about Wrongful Convictions

U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. Creates Unit to Investigate Flawed Convictions

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia has set up the first federal unit nationwide unit to internally identify, investigate, and possible wrongful convictions, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. said.  “This new unit will work to uncover historical injustices and to make sure that we are doing everything in our power to prevent such tragedies in the future,” he said.

The formation of the new unit comes in the wake of the vacating of five wrongful convictions resulting from faulty evidence testing or exonerations based upon new DNA evidence.  A four-year review was recently concluded of more than 2,000 FBI evidence files that used now-discredited hair or fiber evidence to establish guilt.

Exonerations of the wrongfully convicted defendants are still wending their way through the criminal justice system, a recent story by the Washington Post indicated. Donald Gates was one of those who were erroneously convicted.  He was found guilty of a 1982 rape and murder based upon hair evidence, but proven innocent in 2009 on the basis of DNA testing.

Prisoner rights advocates such as Shawn Ambrust of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, cautiously welcomed the development, but expressed reservations about ...

Florida Allows Compensation of Wrongfully Convicted Man 25 Years after Release

The Florida Legislature passed a bill in the closing minutes of its 2014 session that allows a man who served 21 years on a wrongful conviction to seek up to $2 million in compensation.

James Richardson was convicted in the 1967 poisoning deaths of his seven children. Richardson, a black man, was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to death. Decades later, the babysitter who served the children their last meal confessed she had committed the crime. Although she was in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s disease, the governor ordered the case reopened.

A special prosecutor’s investigation concluded Richardson was convicted on the testimony of jail inmates beaten into perjury and via prosecutorial misconduct. That resulted in the court finding no basis for the conviction, and Richardson was released in 1989.

Since his release, Richardson has move to Wichita, Kansas. He attended the legislative session, but as it wound, down a political fight unrelated to the bill that would allow him to seek compensation was among the bills that were suspended by the deadlock. Richardson left for home. The next day, at 9:15 P.M. the legislative passed the bill that would allow Richardson to seek Compensation.

Florida ...

Urban Institute Published Report on Post-Conviction DNA Testing and Wrongful Conviction

For decades, law enforcement investigations used forensic evidence (i.e. fingerprints, DNA, and ballistics) to include or eliminate suspects. Scientific advances and improvement in forensic analysis have helped to exonerate those convicted of serious crimes. In many cases, forensic biological evidence like DNA was not used. Thus, some individuals convicted sexual assault and homicide may have been eliminated by a forensic analysis. To estimate the rate of such possible wrongful convictions and to identify their predictors, the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice (NIJ) funded the Urban Institute (UI) to perform retrospective DNA testing of physical evidence in cases where there was a conviction of a sexual assault or homicide and physical evidence was retained. In June 2012, UI issued a report of the study.

UI reviewed data on Virginia homicides and sexual assaults from 1973 to 1987 (over 534,000 cases). 3,000 of them had retained physical evidence and 2100 of them had an identified suspect. 740 of those cases had at least one suspect convicted of a felony.

Of those, 634 cases with 715 convictions (62 cases had multiples suspects) were eligible for this study based on crime type (homicide, sexual assault) and ...

Massachusetts Man's Estate Paid Millions for Wrongful Conviction

The town of Ayer, Massachusetts, and five insurance companies have agreed to pay the estate of a man who spent 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit a total of $3.4 million. A sixth insurance company, Western World Insurance Group, had declined to settle.

Kenneth Waters was convicted in 1983 for the 1980 murder and robbery of Katherina Row, a woman who regularly visited the diner where Waters worked in Ayer. In 2001, however, Waters was freed from prison after his sister, Betty Anne Waters, uncovered DMA evidence which proved her brother wasn't the killer. (See: PLN, December 2009, p. 42.)

Kenneth died just six months after his release from prison from a head injury he suffered when he fell from a 15-foot wall in Rhode Island.

Betty Anne, then 54, said she devoted exactly "half of my life” trying to win her brother's freedom and clear his name. "It's been a long 27 years,” she said.

Following Kenneth's conviction, Betty Anne, a waitress and a mother of two, went to college, earned her law degree, and then started representing Kenneth herself. With the help of the New York-based Innocence ...

Man Nearly Executed, Awarded $14M after Exoneration

A former death row inmate who came within weeks of being executed was awarded $14 million by a federal jury in New Orleans after being cleared of his murder conviction.

John Thompson, 40, spent 18 years in prison after being convicted of killing hotel executive Ray Liuzza during a 1984 robbery. Thompson adamantly maintained his innocence during his trial and prison term. Thompson spent most of his 18 years on death row.

Just weeks before Thompson was scheduled to die, a defense investigator discovered a crime lab report which found that the blood type of the robber, which was recovered from the victim's pants, did not match Thompson's.

Based on the newly-discovered evidence, a judge resentenced Thompson to life in prison without parole, but his murder conviction was upheld until a state appeals court later overturned it and ordered a new trial.

Thompson was found not guilty in the retrial.

In the subsequent civil lawsuit, which Thompson filed against Orleans Parish officials and several current and former prosecutors, a federal jury determined that Thompson was entitled to $14 million for the wrongful conviction.

Gordon Cooney, along with fellow attorney Michael Banks, worked for 14 years to win Thompson ...

Federal Jury Awards $9 Million to Illinois Man Cleared of Rape He Was Convicted of as Teenager

Alejandro Dominguez, who spent four years in prison for a rape he did not commit, was awarded $9 million by a federal jury after DNA evidence cleared him of the charges.

Dominguez, now 33, was 16 years old when he was convicted of the 1989 home invasion and rape in Waukegan, Illinois, and was sentenced to nine years in prison. Dominguez was released after serving half his sentence with time off for good behavior.

DNA tests later showed that Dominguez could not have been the source of the semen recovered from the victim, and a judge overturned his conviction in 2002. He was pardoned by the governor in 2005.

Dominguez then filed suit, claiming that Waukegan police violated his due process rights to a fair trial. Jon Loevy, who represented Dominguez in his civil trial against the city of Waukegan and now retired police Lt. Paul Hendley, said police pushed the rape victim to pick Dominguez out of a one-person lineup.

As a result of the wrongful conviction, Dominguez said that he had difficulty finding a job, was hassled by immigration, and was forced to register as a sex offender.

"It’s a day for justice,” said Loevy after the ...

DNA Keeps Overturning Convictions, But Spike in Exonerations Owed to Other Factors

Nicole Harris, Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown have lived through their own nightmares of injustice. All three were wrongfully convicted of the heinous murders of children. Combined, they spent nearly 70 years in prison before being exonerated and forced to adapt to a world that had left them behind.

But their cases represent two different eras in the criminal justice system: one in which DNA evidence has reversed some of the most horrific miscarriages of justice of the last several decades—and rightfully dominated headlines about exonerations—and a new era that is shining a light on wrongful convictions won by false confessions, unreliable witnesses, bunk science and prosecutorial misconduct.

In late September 1983, half-brothers McCollum and Brown—then 19 and 15, respectively—were arrested for raping and murdering 11-year-old Sabrina Buie, who had been found in a soybean field in Red Springs, North Carolina, beaten with sticks and suffocated with her own underwear.

The crime was so vicious and wicked that in 1994, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia—in response to then-Justice Harry Blackmun's declaration that he opposed capital punishment—cited Buie's murder as a case that clearly warranted the death penalty.

"How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with ...

HRDC Represents Former Illinois Prisoner in Wrongful Conviction Suit

Over the years, Prison Legal News and its parent non-profit organization, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), have filed dozens of censorship lawsuits against state prison systems and county jails, as well as numerous public records suits. [See: PLN, May 2015, p.12]. More recently, HRDC has represented the families of deceased prisoners in wrongful death complaints against corrections officials, and also represented a former prisoner who was pregnant and lost her baby due to inadequate medical care at a CCA-run jail. [See: PLN, Dec. 2014, p.28].

HRDC has now begun taking wrongful conviction cases, partnering with the Chicago law firm Loevy & Loevy to represent former Illinois state prisoner Jermaine Walker.

Walker, 39, a student at Fisk University in Tennessee prior to his wrongful imprisonment, filed a federal civil rights action on July 7, 2016 that accused current and former Chicago police officers of beating and planting drugs on him during a February 2006 traffic stop. Walker, a PLN subscriber while incarcerated, filed for a Certificate of Innocence after Cook County Judge Catherine Haberkorn ordered his immediate release from prison in March 2016. He had served ten years.

The Certificate of Innocence was granted on April 27, 2016 ...

$7,000 Settlement after Second Circuit Reverses Dismissal of New York Prisoner’s Suit

In 2007, prisoner Aaron Willey filed a pro se federal civil rights lawsuit against guards employed by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, alleging harassment, inadequate nutrition, theft of legal documents, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment and unsanitary conditions of confinement.

Willey claimed that after he refused ...

$950,000 Settlement in DC Prisoner’s False Imprisonment Lawsuit

The District of Columbia paid $950,000 to settle the lawsuit of Joseph S. Heard for unlawful imprisonment.

On November 15, 1998, Heard, a deaf man, was arrested for unlawful entry into a George Washington University building. The case was dismissed October 13, 1999 with an order from the court ...