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DNA Exonerates LA Inmate Henry James: Freed After 30 Years

Henry James was convicted of aggravated rape in Louisiana in 1982 and sentenced to life without parole. Today, the court vacated his conviction after DNA testing proved he was not the perpetrator. He served 1 month less than 30 years, the longest time served by any DNA exoneree in Louisiana.

James was convicted based in large part on a faulty cross-racial eyewitness identification. He had three alibi witnesses at trial: his father, his boss and a neighbor. The jury convicted anyway.

His stepfather confirmed that he had been asleep at the time of the crime. (James’ mother had passed away, and he lived with his stepfather. James slept in the same bed as his stepfather.) Another witness testified that he saw the defendant walking to work and gave him a ride the rest of the way, and his boss testified that he arrived at work at 6:48 AM. However, James’ lawyer failed to inform the jury about the serological testing that excluded James as a suspect.

Although DNA had been collected at the crime scene, it wasn't tested at the time of trial. By the time James was able to get the Innocence Project on board, it had been lost. Last year, a lab worker came across the slide while looking for DNA evidence in another case. [More...]

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West Memphis 3: Alford Pleas for Freedom, Release

The West Memphis 3, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, have been freed from prison after 18 years. They agreed to plead guilty via Alford pleas, under which they acknowledge the state has sufficient evidence to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but they do not admit they committed the crimes and can maintain their innocence. Why the Alford pleas? So they can't sue the state for their wrongful conviction and confinement.

The hearings were closed to the media and public. The District Attorney is giving a press conference now, and says the three are being processed for release and will walk out as free men today.

From the press conference: The DA says: Moments ago, all three entered guilty pleas to murder. The deal was proposed by the defense. The D.A. consulted with the families but did not give the families veto power. [More...]

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Reports: West Memphis 3 to Be Released

A surprise hearing has been scheduled tomorrow for the West Memphis 3 , Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin. A gag order is in place, but WREG reports that two of them, including Damien Echols who was sentenced to death, will be released. Reports are that a plea deal has been arrived at under which all three would plead guilty to lesser charges and two would be released. Some reports say all three would be released immediately. The reports emanate from the families of the murdered youths, who were told about the deal but asked not to discuss it until tomorrow. The three have already been moved from their respective prisons for tomorrow's hearing in Jonesboro:

The Arkansas Department of Corrections says all three have left their prisons and are now in the custody of the Craighead County Sheriff's Office, taking all their belongings with them.

The Court released this statement: [More...]

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DNA Mixup in Las Vegas: Innocent Man Served 4 Years

Dwayne Jackson served four years in prison for a robbery it turns out he did not commit. An "accidental switch" of DNA samples at the Las Vegas lab, or "human error" as the news puts it, was responsible.

The state has admitted the error and a settlement has been reached. Jackson was freed from prison in 2006.

More than 200 cases will now be reanalyzed to determine if other such errors were made by this lab tech, who has been placed on administrative leave.

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Appeals Court Orders Consideration of DNA Evidence in Jeffrey MacDonald "Fatal Vision " Case

In 1979, Jeffrey R. MacDonald, a captain in the Medical Corps, was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and their two young daughters in the family’s Fort Bragg home. He was sentenced to three life terms and has steadfastly maintained his innocence. He lost his direct appeal and many post-conviction motions for relief. His case was the subject of the book and movie, Fatal Vision.

A year ago, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in his latest request for relief. Today, the Court ordered the trial court to consider DNA evidence casting doubt on his guilt in conjunction with the other submitted innocence evidence. The court said the innocence evidence must be considered together as a whole, rather than piecemeal. The opinion is here.

Via e-mail from the Innocence Project, which filed an amicus brief along with the New England Innocence Project and the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence in the case: [more...]

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Innocent TX Man to Be Cleared After Serving 30 Years

Via the Innocence Project: Cornelius Dupree served 30 years in prison for a rape and robbery new DNA tests show he did not commit. A judge is expected to exonerate him tomorrow. He was paroled in July.

His co-defendant, Anthony Massingill, is also expected to be cleared at a later hearing tomorrow. The primary cause of the wrongful conviction: Faulty eyewitness identification. Misidentifications account for 75% of wrongful convictions. Innocence co-director Barry Scheck says:

Cornelius Dupree spent the prime of his life behind bars because of mistaken identification that probably would have been avoided if the best practices now used in Dallas had been employed.... most counties in Texas do not have these best practices in place.

This must be remedied in the next legislative session by the adoption of an eyewitness identification reform bill that had the votes needed for passage last session but not enough time to get enacted. Let us never forget that, as in the heartbreaking case of Cornelius Dupree, a staggering 75% of wrongful convictions of people later cleared by DNA evidence resulted from misidentifications.”

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Mo. Judge Rules Dale Helmig Innocent After 17 Years in Prison

A Missouri judge today found Dale Helmig innocent of killing his mother in 1993, a crime for which he has served 17 years in prison. The ruling follows a week-long hearing in July on whether Dale should receive a new trial.

DeKalb County Senior Judge Warren McElwain ruled that Helmig "established his innocence by clear and convincing evidence." He called Helmig, who was convicted in 1996 of killing his mother three years earlier in central Missouri's Osage County, a "victim of manifest injustice."

This one is personal for me, since I spent more than a week in Missouri interviewing Dale Helmig, his family, witnesses, the judge, prosecutors and Dale's trial and appellate defense counsel, for a 2000 TNT movie about his case, Was Justice Denied?. We also conducted our own investigation of the facts and reviewed all of the trial transcripts. I've continued to follow the case through its ups and downs here on TalkLeft. [More...]

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NY Jury Awards $18.5 Million to Wrongfully Convicted Man

Alan Newton served 22 years for a rape he didn't commit. For years, New York police kept insisting there was no DNA to test. The Innocence Project took up his case and got a DA to find the evidence the police insisted didn't exist:

The rape kit, it turned out, was in its original storage bin from 1984, Barrel No. 22, in the same police warehouse that the authorities said they had searched at least three times since Mr. Newton first asked in 1994.

The DNA cleared Newton and he was released from prison in 2006. A New York jury yesterday awarded him $18.5 million in damages.

The Innocent Project said in 2006 that Newton could have been cleared in 1994, and that 17 other inmates face the same dilemma.

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New DNA Evidence Found in Tim Masters Case

DNA "touch tests" have produced new evidence in the case of Tim Masters, wrongfully imprisoned for ten years for the murder of Peggy Hettrick. Masters received a $10 million settlement from the City of Fort Collins and Larimer County, Colorado.

Two prosecutors in the case, Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair, are now district court judges. They were censured by the Colorado Supreme Court for misconduct in failing to comply with proper defense discovery requests and engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. The Blair decision is here and the Gilmore decision is here. They are up for a retention vote in November. [More...]

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FL Supreme Court Appoints Former Judge to Head Innocence Commission

Two weeks ago, the Florida Supreme Court ordered the formation of an official Innocence Commission. From the Administrative Order:

NOW, THEREFORE, the Florida Innocence Commission is hereby established to conduct a comprehensive study of the causes of wrongful conviction and of measures to prevent such convictions. In conducting its work, the Commission may review individual cases involving a wrongful conviction where innocence has already been officially acknowledged, to determine the cause of these wrongful convictions. Such review may include the examination of documents and the interview of individuals involved in the cases. However, unproven innocence claims will not be reviewed.


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NY to Pay $9.9 Million To Man Framed By Corrupt Detective

New York City has agreed to pay Barry Gibbs $9.9 million. Gibbs served 19 years in jail as a result of being framed by a corrupt detective.

....Barry Gibbs, had served 19 years in prison when his conviction was overturned in 2005 after questions were raised about how his case had been handled by Louis J. Eppolito, a New York City police detective, one of the notorious “Mafia cops” serving life in prison for taking part in mob-related killings.

.... “They are permanent scars,” he added. “It’s been a long road. I’ve been through a lot, and it was very traumatic for me.” Mr. Gibbs, 62, who has recently wrestled with severe health problems, previously received a $1.9 million settlement from the state.

The victim was a prostitute, and at the time of her murder, Gibbs was a postal worker with a drug problem who had had a relationship with her. [More...]

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U.S. Lets $101 Million Verdict Stand Over FBI Frame in Mob Slaying Case

Solicitor General Elena Kagan has let the time pass for appealing (seeking Supreme Court review) of a historic $101 million verdict for civil rights violations in a lawsuit against the FBI for framing four men from Boston for a mob slaying. The government will pay up.

Josesph Salvati, now 77, served 29 years in prison. He will get $31 million, plus another $2 million in interest.

DOJ tried to get Kagan to seek review but she refused, siding with the wrongfully convicted men. The verdict was rendered by U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner, following a 22 day bench trial. [More....]

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