Thursday, March 13, 2008

How an Innocent Person is Convicted, Part 1: the forgotten witness interview

When a member of your family languishes in prison for a crime he didn't commit, you find youself haunted by the simple question: Why? I've spent my whole working life sworn to defend the constitution--as a military pilot, a member of the FBI, a professor at the Air Force Academy. To see a wrongful conviction firsthand is a tragedy that is multiplied by the high expectations I'd come to have for American justice. I still believe in our founding principles, but I've come to realize how imperfectly we've implemented them.

The path to wrongly convicting Todd began early on the day Anthony Madril died. Detective Ricky Frady interviewed one of the most important witnesses, Chas Shwartz. Schwartz sat in the driver's seat of his pickup while Madril and Orgill battled in front of him and while Lopez and Todd confronted each other just outside the passenger-side door. A file containing a transcript from Frady's interview is available online.

In his initial report of the this interview, Frady writes (in error) that the videotape machine had malfuntioned, so he had only his memory and notes to go on. As a result the report is sketchy and fails to mention details that reveal the sequence of events that night. If you read the actual transcript of the interview (taken from the videotape, which, it turns out, had been recorded after all), you'll see how Frady focuses on exactly where Todd was and where Madril was and how Madril was fighting with Orgill. Much of that detail failed to make it into Frady's initial report. In fact, Frady would not actually view the videotape for another year and a half. In the meantime, the police were not able to consider this important eye-witness account, which provided significant detail that was exculpatory for Todd.

Next: Part 2--Ignorance leads to more ignorance.

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