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BOOKS: Innocence  
  • In her new book, Execution’s Doorstep: The True Stories of the Innocent and Near Damned, author Leslie Lytle provides a compelling narrative recounting the harrowing journeys of five innocent men who spent many years on death row. Through extensive research and interviews, Lytle has succeeded in revealing the deep pain and suffering that such injustice yields, putting a human face to the recurring problem of innocence on death row. The book explores all aspects of the cases, from the crime and the trials to the time spent on death row and the difficult struggle to adjust to life outside of a maximum security prison. Through the stories of these five men, Lytle provides readers with a penetrating look at America’s criminal justice and capital punishment systems, showing their fallibility.

    Leslie Lytle is the Executive Director of the Cumberland Center for Justice and Peace. (Northeastern Univ. Press 2008). To date, 130 men and women have been exonerated from death row since 1973. See Innocence and Books.
     
 
  • The Innocence Commission, a new book by Jon B. Gould, describes how the advent of DNA testing and other forensic advances in the criminal justice system have led to serious efforts to understand how so many wrongful convictions have happened. In particular, The Innocence Commission details the first years of the Innocence Commission for Virginia (ICVA), which was the first in the country to conduct systemic research into all wrongful convictions in the state. Gould, the Chair of ICVA, examines twelve cases of wrongful conviction in Virginia, including one death penalty case, pointing out the instances where the wrongful conviction could have been avoided and offering suggestions on how to prevent such mistakes in the future. Ultimately, Gould concludes, innocence commissions are necessary in every state to ascertain where weaknesses in the system exist and to offer feasible solutions.

    The Library Journal writes that The Innocence Commission is “A thoughtful and disturbing account of his founding in 2003 of the Innocence Commission for Virginia (ICVA) to investigate wrongful convictions. . . . Written for the general public, Gould's book has important lessons for attorneys and policymakers as well.”
    (The Innocence Commission: Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Restoring the Criminal Justice System, by Jon B. Gould, NYU Press, 2008). See Innocence and Books.
     

 

  • In "Dead Wrong: Violence, Vengeance, and the Victims of Capital Punishment," author Richard Stack uses cases to examine three of the main causes of wrongful convictions - mistaken eyewitness testimony, official misconduct, and incompetent counsel. Stack, a professor at American University's School of Communication, based the book on three years of research conducted with the assistance of students enrolled in his public communication classes. He said that he wrote the book to "put a human face" on the issue of wrongful convictions, a concern that unites both supporters and opponents of capital punishment. "Even if you are an arch conservative, no one wants to see an innocent person executed," he observed. Three of the four stories highlighted by Stack portray death row exonerations, including that of Greg Wilhoit of Oklahoma, and Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee of Florida. Wilhoit's case provides the backdrop for Stack's review of incompentent legal defense, while Pitts' and Wilber's cases illustrate the errors that result from racial bias and systemic corruption. In his review of mistaken eyewitness testimony, Stack tells the story of Ronald Cotton, who spent 11 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. In addition to these four cases, Stack also recounts former Illinois Governor George Ryan's decision to commute more than 160 death sentences due to his concerns about the death penalty system. The book finally gives the perspective of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, a group of victims' family members who oppose capital punishment. Stack calls this section "the exclamation mark" on his argument for an end to the death penalty. He said, "These are the people politicians point to when they beat their chest and say we need the death penalty. But this group's position is, 'We don't want it, and if you're maintaining it for our benefit, you're way off base'." (American (University) Weekly, April 24, 2007; Praeger Publishers, 2006)

 

  • A new book by Bruce Watson examines the case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants whose guilt remains in serious doubt eight decades after Massachusetts carried out their death sentences. The book, "Sacco & Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders, and the Judgment of Mankind" (Viking, 2007), provides a factual account of the case surrounding the two men, who were convicted of stealing a shoe factory's pay envelopes and killing four people in the crime. Watson's investigation found that there were as many different accounts of the crime as there were people to testify about it, and that the state's prosecution of Sacco and Vanzetti was shaped by deep prejudice against Italian immigrants. Police focused their attention on Sacco and Vanzetti after one eyewitness stated that two suspicious-looking men speaking Italian had been seen in the town where the crime was committed, and that one of the men "bore a striking resemblance to Nicola Sacco." Watson's review of historical documents revealed that Sacco and Vanzetti's trial lacked basic due process. The two men were forced to sit in cages during their trial, during which prosecutors exploited the pairs well-known activism in anarchist circles. Even trial judge Webster Thayer called the two "anarchistic bastards" and told a friend that he "would get them good and proper." After Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted, they struggled for six years to prove their innocence, but all attempts to vacate their convictions were denied. Sacco and Vanzetti maintained their innocence throughout their trial and during their years on death row. Their case was among the first to generate widespread protest around the world and within the U.S. Thousands of supporters gathered in Boston and New York to protest the state's prosecution of the two men and to call for a halt to their executions. An editorial about their execution appearing in The Nation stated, "We are shaken to the core. . . . (The executions were) a judicial murder (that) struck at the reputation of the whole nation (and) everywhere strengthened all those who believe that the world can be reformed only by bombs and bloodshed." (Washington Post Book World, August 19, 2007 and The Nation, August 23, 2007).
  • In “Jingle Jangle,” author Jim Rix tells the story of his cousin, Ray Krone, who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to die in 1992 for the murder of a bartender in Phoenix. The book details efforts to exonerate Krone, including the important role Rix played in investigating his cousin's innocence claim. "Jingle Jangle" reveals how inaccurate testimony from a forensic science expert and prosecutorial misconduct led to Krone's wrongful conviction. It also closely examines other problems that impacted the case, including police corruption, faulty eyewitness testimony, and jury tampering. Sister Helen Prejean notes that Rix's book is "a must for readers of true crime and anyone wondering why so many innocent people are convicted in America." Journalist Bill Kurtis adds that it "will chill your belief in the American justice system." (Broken Bench Press, 2007).
  • Former Texas death row inmate Kerry Max Cook has authored a book detailing his wrongful conviction and his 22-year fight for freedom. Cook's book, "Chasing Justice," provides a first-hand account of his trial, his two-decade stay on death row in Texas, and his release after DNA evidence linked another man to the crime for which he was sentenced to die. Publisher HarperCollins notes that the book is "a shocking look inside death row, a legal thriller, and an inspirational story of one man's ultimately triumphant fight against extreme adversity." They add that the true story will "forever unsettle our view of the American justice system." Cook is scheduled to make a series of appearances across the country to discuss the book and the issue of innocence. (HarperCollins, 2007). See more information about the book and Cook's book tour schedule.
  • "The Dreams of Ada" by Robert Mayer tells a story strikingly similar to that recounted by John Grisham in "The Innocent Man." Each book involves the murder of a young woman from Ada, Oklahoma in the early 1980s. In both cases, there are two defendants whose convictions rely on little probative evidence but involve "confessions" that emerged from a dream. Both prosecutions were led by Bill Peterson and both involved the same jail-house informant. The defendants in Mayer's book, Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, were both sentenced to death, as was Ron Williamson in Grisham's book. Williamson and his co-defendant were eventually freed when DNA evidence excluded them from the crime scene. Ward and Fontenot remain in prison for life, after their death sentences were overturned. In their case, there was no DNA evidence to provide a more definitive answer. At the time of their trial, no body had even been discovered. Both Mayer and Grisham believe that Ward and Fontenot were victims of a complete miscarriage of justice. (R. Mayer, "The Dreams of Ada," Doubleday Broadway 1987, with new Afterword 2006).
  • In his new book, Desire Street: A True Story of Death and Deliverance in New Orleans (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), the city editor Jed Horne examines the exoneration of Louisiana death row inmate Curtis Kyles and how his case has impacted the New Orleans criminal justice system. The book investigates the murder of Delores Dye, a 60-year-old housewife who was gunned down in full view of six eyewitnesses. Kyles was arrested and tried twice for the crime. After an initial mistrial, he was convicted of the crime and spent 14 years on death row before the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his original conviction. Since then, Kyles was retried unsuccessfully an additional three times and eventually freed with all charges dropped. Horne's book looks at this case and uses Kyles' experiences to demonstrate the broken criminal justice system in New Orleans, including a review of problems such as racism, the suspect nature of eyewitness identification, and the political nature of the relationship between death penalty cases and elected attorneys and judges. (Review, Times-Picayune, Jan. 30, 2005).
  • On October 10th, 2006, John Grisham's first non-fiction book, The Innocent Man, will be released. The book is the compelling true story of Ron Williamson, a former hometown baseball hero of Ada, Oklahoma, who was convicted in 1988 of raping and murdering Debbie Carter. In 1999, Williamson was exonerated of the crime after serving eleven years on death row. In the context of this case, Grisham addresses many of the fundamental issues that surround the death penalty in the United States. He describes the poor legal representation that Williamson received and explores the mind of a mentally ill man. There are detailed accounts of life on death row and the execution process. In addition to being a fascinating and well-told story, the book shows how innocent people can end up on death row. Grisham has written numerous international bestsellers, including The Firm, A Time to Kill and The Pelican Brief. (The Innocent Man, Random House 2006).
  • Rob Warden, Executive Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, has written a book about one of the first accounts of a death penalty exoneration in the U.S. Wilkie Collins, a British author, had written a novel entitled "The Dead Alive" about the convictions and death sentences of Jesse and Stephen Boorn for a murder committed in 1819. They were later exonerated. Warden's book is entitled "Wilkie Collins's The Dead Alive: The Novel, the Case, and Wrongful Convictions" and he provides examples of other mistakes in capital cases. Scott Turow wrote the Foreward for this new book. (Northwestern University Press, December 2005; all proceeds go to the Center on Wrongful Convictions).
  • Victims of Justice Revisited, a new book by Thomas Frisbie and Randy Garrett, details the innocence case of Rolando Cruz, an Illinois man who was wrongly convicted and sent to death row for the 1983 murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico. The book tells the story of Cruz and his two co-defendants, Alejandro Hernandez and Stephen Buckley, from the day of the crime to the groundbreaking trial of seven law enforcement officers accused of conspiring to deny Cruz a fair trial. Cruz's case was one of several innocence cases that led then-Governor George Ryan to declare a moratorium on executions in Illinois. In this book, the authors use Cruz's case to provide readers with a detailed study of the death penalty in the United States. Author Scott Turow notes, "This is the first comprehensive account of the most extraordinary criminal case I know - the infamous Nicarico murder -and the 12-year crusade for justice which it inspired. The two men who were on the scene the longest, and who probably know more about this case than anyone else, have written a gripping, provocative, often moving account of how great evil -and good-came to take place." (Northwestern University Press, May 2005).
  • In her new book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, Sister Helen Prejean uses her personal experiences as a counselor to those on death row to explore the issue of innocence and the likelihood of executing a wrongly convicted person. The book also traces the historical and legal underpinnings of the death penalty in the U.S. Prejean, who authored the #1 New York Times bestseller "Dead Man Walking," begins her new book by focusing on the cases of Joseph Roger O'Dell and Dobie Gillis Williams, both of whom she believes received unfair trials and probably were innocent. O'Dell was executed in Virginia in 1997 and Gillis was executed in Louisiana in 1999. Prejean was closely involved with each of their cases and accompanied both men to the death chamber. Their cases sparked "The Death of Innocents" and Prejean's closer look at wrongful convictions, inadequate defense, the capital appeals process, race, poverty, and the politics of capital punishment. (Random House, 2005).
  • Scott Christianson's new book, Innocent: Inside Wrongful Conviction Cases, examines mistakes in New York's criminal justice system with an emphasis on mistaken identifications, perjury by eyewitnesses, ineffective counsel, false confessions, and police and prosecutorial misconduct. The book includes a log of the state's wrongful conviction cases, including some capital cases. Christianson reminds readers, "Unfortunately, not much is known about the current nature and extent of wrongful conviction. The state does not maintain a master list of its mistakes." He does applaud state and national efforts to review and improve accuracy, including programs such as The Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School and North Carolina's study to investigate the causes of wrongful convictions. (New York University Pres, 2004).

 

  • The Innocents- This book of photography by Taryn Simon features portraits of 45 men and women who served more than 500 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. The book includes summaries of each case accompanied by related images, such as re-creations of the scenes of the arrest, portraits of alibi witnesses, or vignettes from the lives of the wrongfully convicted. The book also contains commentary by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld of The Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School in New York. (Umbrage Editions, 2003).
  • "The Wrong Men: America's Epidemic of Wrongful Death Row Convictions" by Stanley Cohen is slated for release in October 2003. This book tells the story of how more than 100 innocent people found themselves on death row in the United States. Through an examination of eyewitness error, jailhouse snitches, racism, junk science, prosecutorial misconduct, and incompetent counsel, Cohen provides a behind-the-scenes look at the problems leading to wrongful convictions. He also captures the stories of those individuals whose dogged determination helped exonerate the innocent. Among the cases highlighted in this book are those of Anthony Porter, Randall Dale Adams, and Earl Washington. (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003)
  • In "An Expendable Man," Virginian-Pilot editorial writer Margaret Edds uses the case of death row exoneree Earl Washington, Jr. to examine "the secret, shameful underbelly" of capital punishment. Washington, a black, mentally retarded farm-hand, spent 9 years on death row and almost 18 years in Virginia prisons for a crime that DNA evidence proved he did not commit. Edds uses Washington's case to demonstrate the relative ease with which individuals who live at society's margins can be wrongfully convicted, and the extraordinary difficulty of correcting such a wrong once it occurs. (New York University Press, 2003)
  • "Wrongly Convicted: Perspectives on Failed Justice"- This book features a collection of essays and articles about wrongful convictions by some of the nation's most respected lawyers, sociologists, criminologists, and psychologists. The essays consider the causes of wrongful convictions, the social characteristics of the innocent men and women sent to prisons and death rows, personal stories and case studies of these innocent inmates, and suggestions for system-wide reforms in order to prevent future wrongful convictions. (Saundra D. Westervelt and John A. Humphrey, eds., Rutgers University Press, July 2001)

 

  • "The Wrong Man: A True Story of Innocence on Death Row" (2001) by Michael Mello, with foreword by Mike Farrell, is the story of Mello's twenty-year fight to save "Crazy Joe" Spaziano from execution for a murder he didn't commit. In a gripping personal account, Mello, a well-known author, activist, and legal commentator, describes the details of the case and the controversial extremes to which he was driven by it. "The Wrong Man" is available at bookstores or from University of Minnesota Press at (773) 568-1550. For more information about "The Wrong Man" visit www.upress.umn.edu/Books/M/mello_wrong.html. Also see the Spaziano case timeline.
  • Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution and Other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convicted (Doubleday, 2000). This excellent new book by DNA experts Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld and columnist Jim Dwyer, tells the stories of ten innocent men wrongly convicted and sentenced to death or to prison and the effectively explains how such miscarriages of justice come about. Read DPIC's summary of Actual Innocence.

 

  • Victims of Justice, is a book about Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez, two innocent men wrongfully sentenced to death. The book, written by Thomas Frisbie and Randy Garrett, is published by Avon Books.
  • A Promise of Justice: The Eighteen-Year Fight to Save Four Innocent Men by Rob Warden and David L. Protess. The dramatic true story of how a journalist, a professor, and three students solved a murder and helped free four wrongly convicted men, two of them from death row (Dennis Williams and Verneal Jimerson) after 18 years in prison. Hyperion Press, August 1998.
  • A book about the injustices in the trial and likely innocence of Roger Keith Coleman has just been released. Coleman was executed in Virginia in 1992.The book is May God Have Mercy: A True Story of Crime and Punishment, by John C. Tucker, Norton Press, 1997,which was reviewed in the New York Times on Sunday, Dec. 14.
  • Connery, Donald S., ed.: "Convicting the innocent: the story of a murder, a false confession, and the struggle to free a 'wrong man'"; Brookline Books, Cambridge, MA, 1996
  • Parloff, Roger: "Triple jeopardy: a story of law at its best - and worst"; Little Brown and Company, New York, 1996
  • Harris, Arthur Jay: "Until proven innocent: a true story of murder, honor, and justice"; Avon Books, New York, 1995
  • Perske, Robert: "Deadly innocence?"; Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 1995
  • Earley, Pete: "Circumstantial evidence: death, life, and justice in a Southern town"; Bantam Books, New York, 1995
  • Davies, Nick: "White lies: rape, murder, and justice Texas style"; Pantheon Books, New York, 1991
  • Radelet, Michael L, Bedau, Hugo Adam: "In spite of innocence"; Northeastern University Press,
  • Adams, Randall Dale, et al.: "Adams vs. Texas", St. Martins Press

 


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Texas Defender Service Study Contains Blueprint for Reform

A new study from the Texas Defender Service calls for substantial changes in the way Texas handles capital murder cases. The report recommends that Texas implement a series of reforms, including uniform investigation procedures, a life-without-parole sentencing option, and a statewide public defender's office.

Drawing from recommendations made by the blue-ribbon Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment that was established to address wrongful convictions in that state, the Texas Defender report notes, "Texas has executed 340 people in the modern death penalty era, 28 times the number executed by Illinois, yet its nine exonerations lag far behind those of Illinois. Texas is at unacceptable risk for wrongful conviction and execution, an especially troubling fact given its status as the undisputed leader in executions among the 38 states with the death penalty."

The report, "Minimizing Risk, A Blueprint for Death Penalty Reform in Texas," was sent to Texas Governor Rick Perry's Criminal Justice Advisory Council, which was created this year to recommend changes that could improve the state's criminal justice system. 


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Independent Audit of Virginia's DNA Lab Prompts Review of 150 Cases

An independent audit of Virginia's central crime laboratory initiated by the present governor found that the lab had botched DNA tests in the death penalty case of Earl Washington (pictured). The finding prompted Gov. Mark Warner to order a review of 150 other criminal cases and the development of procedures to insulate the lab from outside political pressures.

The audit was conducted by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. It found that the Virginia lab's internal review process was flawed, and it raised concerns that lab workers had felt pressured to produce quick and conclusive results in the Washington case, even when the evidence was unclear. Washington had been sentenced to death for a 1982 murder and rape. His death sentence was commuted in 1994 after DNA tests first threw doubt on his guilt. He was eventually granted an absolute pardon in 2000 and freed from prison. Tests commissioned by defense lawyers in 2004 have implicated another suspect, who is in prison in an unrelated rape case. The audit concluded that the state lab improperly excluded this suspect as the source of DNA found on the victim.


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DNA Evidence May Lead to Exoneration in Former Capital Case

Results from DNA testing may soon lead to the exoneration of Larry Peterson in New Jersey.  He would become the first person in the state to be cleared of a homicide through DNA evidence.  Peterson was convicted of a rape and murder that occurred in 1987.  For the past 10 years, Peterson tried to have DNA evidence from his case tested.  At his original trial in which he faced the possibility of a death sentence, the prosecution maintained that hairs from the crime scene belonged to Peterson.  He was convicted and given a life sentence.  DNA testing has now shown that the hairs belonged to the victim, and that semen from the crime scene belong to another male.  Peterson's lawyers from the Innocence Project have filed a motion to have his conviction overturned.


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Supreme Court to Consider "Lingering Doubt" Evidence in Capital Cases

Oregon v. Guzek - The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will consider whether capital defendants have a constitutional right to present evidence that would cast doubt on their conviction during the penalty phase of their death penalty trials, a question that has divided state and lower federal courts for many years. The defendant, Randy Lee Guzek, sought to introduce alibi evidence after he was convicted during the sentencing phase of his trial. This evidence tended to show that he had not been present at the victims' home at the time of the murders. On direct appeal, the Oregon Supreme Court held that the trial court erred in excluding the alibi evidence from Guzek’s penalty-phase proceeding. In their ruling, the judges reasoned that the alibi evidence was "highly relevant" in determining his sentence, and therefore was required to be considered by the jury under the Eighth Amendment and Oregon statutory law.

In some cases, juries decide to sentence a defendant to life rather than death becasue they retain lingering doubts about the defendant's guilt, despite having convicted him. The case will be argued in the fall 2005 term. (See New York Times, April 26, 2005).

See DPIC's description of Oregon v. Guzek. See also, Supreme Court and Innocence.


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POSSIBLE INNOCENCE: DNA Evidence Could Free Man From Arizona's Death Row

An Arizona court has overturned the conviction of death row inmate Clarence Hill because of new DNA evidence.  The court noted that, "It is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted Mr. Hill in light of the present DNA evidence." Hill has spent 15 years on death row for the murder of his landlord, but new DNA tests have revealed that the victim was not the source of the blood found on Hill's clothing and bedsheets during the investigation. The blood was used as evidence in the state's case against Hill.  Defense attorneys are now seeking his release. The state's Attorney General must decide within weeks whether to appeal the court's ruling or have the case sent back to Mohave County, where prosecutors can decide if Hill will face a new trial.  (The Arizona Republic, April 20, 2005).

Since 1973, 119 persons have been exonerated and freed from death row, including 13 who have been found innocent through DNA testing. Seven people have been exonerated from Arizona's death row, including Ray Krone who was freed based on DNA evidence. 


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Attorneys Seek DNA Testing In Case of Executed Texas Man

Attorney Barry Scheck plans to ask Texas Governor Rick Perry to order DNA testing in the case of Claude Jones, who maintained his innocence until his execution in December 2000. Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, says Jones' conviction was largely based on dubious evidence. The state's case against him included testimony from an accomplice linking Jones to the crime and the report of a state forensic scientist who examined a one-inch length of hair found at the crime scene.  The scientist said that it was similar to Jones' hair using microscopic hair comparison, a faulty test that has been replaced by the more precise science of DNA testing.  Accomplice testimony has been proven to be often unreliable.

Scheck said that he may not necessarily be able to prove Jones' innocence, but this case raises the question of whether then-Governor George W. Bush knew of Jones' request for DNA testing when he refused to grant a  stay of execution. Files uncovered by the Chicago Tribune note that Bush's staff inquired about the hair comparison as they prepared to present their recommendation to the Governor, but the final summary of the case that was sent to Bush did not mention Jones' request for DNA testing of the hair. DNA testing after an execution is rare.


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Time Running Out for Access to DNA Testing in Florida

For Florida prisoners, including death row inmates, who were convicted before DNA evidence was routinely tested, the state-imposed October 1 deadline to submit new claims is fast approaching.  After that date, evidence may be destroyed and the chance for an exoneration extinguished.  Yet the system is seriously backlogged and under-resourced.  Noting that Governor Jeb Bush recently stated that any court in Florida or elsewhere would "immediately" review a prisoner's claim of DNA evidence exonerating him, the St. Petersburg Times called for the passage of legislation to ensure relief for the wrongly convicted by extending the deadline:

If only it were so.

The governor must be unaware of the laws and recent history of his own state. Prisoners convicted before DNA was routinely tested have only until Oct. 1 to submit their claims. Those who pleaded guilty or no contest, as even innocent people sometimes do, are ineligible. There is no money to pay lawyers to file DNA petitions. Nearly 700 applications are backed up and will likely run afoul of the deadline. The governor's office is lobbying the Legislature for a constitutional amendment that, among other things, would prevent the Supreme Court from reopening the window of opportunity.


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Virginia Study Says Mistaken Eyewitness Identification Is Major Factor In Wrongful Convictions

A two-year study of 11 wrongful conviction cases in Virginia found that mistaken eyewitness identification is the major reason innocent people have been convicted in the state. The report's recommendations note that Virginia could dramatically reduce the number of wrongful convictions through a series of reforms, such as changing a variety of police procedures, relaxing the state's 21-day rule to allow evidence of innocence to be considered beyond this time restriction, ensuring that prosecutors provide defense attorneys with evidence favorable to defendants, and improving the quality of legal help given to poor people in Virginia. The state currently pays court-appointed lawyers the lowest fees in the nation. Researchers conducting the study closely examined the cases of 11 wrongly convicted persons in Virginia who had spent a total of 118 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Nine of the 11 cases involved mistaken identity by victims or other eyewitnesses, especially when the eyewitness was of one race and the alleged perpetrator or another. The review was spearheaded by the Innocence Commission for Virginia, a collaborative effort of The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, the Administration of Justice Program at George Mason University, and The Constitution Project.


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POSSIBLE INNOCENCE: Florida Supreme Court Vacates 1985 Capital Conviction

The Florida Supreme Court has vacated James Floyd's 1985 conviction and death sentence, ruling that critical evidence was withheld by the prosecution and that the evidence might have been enough to change the verdict at trial. In its 4-2 decision, the Court ruled that the prosecutor's failure to inform Floyd's defense counsel that an eyewitness had seen two white men entering the victim's home on the day of the murder and saw them leave in a suspicious manner approximately one hour later "severely compromised Floyds' constitutional right to a fair trial." The ruling noted that the state's case against Floyd, who is black, was based mainly on circumstantial evidence, and included no eyewitness, fingerprint or DNA evidence linking him to the murder. "We conclude that our confidence in the defendant's murder conviction has clearly been shaken by the evidence that the State suppressed in this case. While there is not a 'smoking gun' in the suppressed evidence that would completely exonerate the defendant, there was also not a 'smoking gun' in the State's case against him," the court wrote. Bernie McCabe, the state attorney in Pinellas County, said he didn't know if the state would attempt to bring Floyd to trial again.


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