Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tim Kennedy Home on Bond

Friday brought release from prison for Tim Kennedy. Colorado Springs TV Station KKTV--which has given significant coverage to the Kennedy story this week--offers this video of his release:

Kennedy's story has gained national notice within the Innocence Movement, because his original conviction included the FBI's use of comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA), a discredited technique discontinued in 2005, which was used to trace a bullet from the crime scene to a box of bullets in his possession.

Learn more about discredited comparative bullet lead analysis from this CBS 60 Minutes video:

To my knowledge, the DA's Office has not released any information on other El Paso County cases that relied upon this discredited technique or the role it played in other convictions.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The DA and the Exoneree

Here's Larry King's interview with the most recent Dallas exoneree Jerry Lee Evans. Towards the end of the video, King speaks with Dallas DA Craig Watkins. His smart on crime approach is the gold standard for American justice.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

El Paso County DAs Under Investigation

A May 5 column by the Denver Post's Susan Greene came to my attention today. It's lead is:

The state is investigating El Paso County DAs for withholding evidence in the case against Tim Kennedy.

Greene goes on to say, "According to people familiar with the probe, the state Supreme Court is looking at why prosecutors sat on a letter that could have raised doubts about Kennedy's guilt when they tried him for murder."

In yesterday's blog entry I mentioned that we've not heard if the DA's office was considering disciplinary action against the prosecutor responsible for withholding the evidence in questions: a letter from an alternate suspect that Judge Kane had previously ruled “contains language that could be interpreted as solicitation of perjury” as well as “an admission to involvement in the murders."

It turns out that the prosecutor who withheld that letter originally and continued to withhold it this past winter is the same person who continues as Kennedy's lead prosecutor.

So why does the District Attorney continue to assign Kennedy's prosecution to the same person who's already under an ethics investigation for misconduct in prosecuting Kennedy?

Wouldn't common sense call for assigning the prosecution of Kennedy to someone without a personal interest in the case's outcome? Why not reassign the prosecution to someone who can pursue truth without being encumbered by an understandable desire to save face? Can we trust the person who withheld such crucial evidence to pursue truth in the upcoming retrial of Kennedy?

District Attorney Dan May should explain his answers to these questions.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tim Kennedy: A Dream Deferred

Tim Kennedy enters the courtroom, shackled in orange prison garb. His eyes are bight, he controls a hopeful smile. He’s already told interviewers that whatever happens in today’s hearing, he’ll be happy. Happy because he’s waited 14 years for a second chance to show his innocence. There’s hope that this morning’s hearing will see his dream of exoneration become reality, that his prosecutor, Dan Zook, will acknowledge that “mistakes were made,” that charges will be dropped, that Kennedy will walk free.

As I sat in the courtroom, TV cameras rolled, and lines from the poet Langston Hughes played in my head.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin
in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like
rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Kennedy’s dream was deferred.

John Dicke, Kennedy’s attorney, reminded the court that assumptions, such as the soundness of now-discredited bullet-lead analysis, used to justify Kennedy’s original trial, were no longer valid. He pointed to the newly-brought-to-light evidence previously described by presiding Judge Thomas Kane to be “of such character as to probably bring an acquittal.” And Dicke recounted Kennedy’s reputation as a trustworthy and well-behaved inmate, as he’s waited all these years for exoneration.

But clearly, Dicke already knew that the DA would not drop the case. Otherwise, Dicke would not have had to proceed with an argument for setting bail at a relatively low $60,000.

Prosecutor Dan Zook’s insistence on retrying Kennedy centered upon character assassination. Kennedy, according to Zook was an unemployed drug dealer strung out on meth, though the record shows that Kennedy had no previous criminal record. Dicke rebutted, saying that Kennedy had suffered from an addiction to prescription painkillers. Zook only indirectly addressed the issue of a letter from an alternate suspect that Judge Kane had previously ruled “contains language that could be interpreted as solicitation of perjury” as well as “an admission to involvement in the murders." This letter had been withheld by the prosecution at Kennedy’s original trial.

So far, the DA’s office has been unwilling to reveal whether the failure to turn over the letter might result in any disciplinary action against those responsible for the failure. Today’s hearing suggests that the DA is uninterested in re-examining the 1991 murders in light of new scientific evidence.

I left the courthouse wondering if the DA’s office was as committed to finding truth as to saving face.

Tim Kennedy and his family left with a dream of exoneration that continues to be deferred.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Thanks for Your Support

Yesterday after my weekly Sunday visit with Todd, I returned to Colorado Springs with the same feelings of despair I frequently have on Sundays. Another week passed that Todd has spent in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Another week beginning that Todd will spend in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Todd and I frequently talk about the people who knowingly and willingly sent him to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. I wonder how they live with themselves. Todd wonders why they chose to pursue him over the more obvious perpetrator of this crime. And we both continue to wonder if there is any hope for justice in a system so entrenched in claiming convictions, no matter how wrong, to reverse itself. We pray there is. So many people who support Todd pray there is.

This week, I should be able to visit Todd both Friday and Sunday as I usually do. (I missed this past Friday because I was too sick to visit.) And, I’ll continue to work with traumatized children Monday-Thursday and Saturdays, as I always do. I fill my life with as much energy and love as I can, and I stay busy helping others when my own life often seems so hopeless. Bill and I continue the fight for Todd; Bill who is much more articulate than I, continues to increase public awareness, and as Todd’s parents we continue Todd’s fight through legal avenues. We so appreciate the wonderful support we’ve had from so many lovely people. In our hearts we know we will succeed even when our heads alert us to the uphill battle we face; your continued support helps us fight the good fight.

Thank you

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Misconduct and Wrongful Convictions

This from a report by CBS News on the Texas Tim Cole Compensation Act:

Since 1989 there have been more than 230 DNA exonerations nationwide. In at least 33 of those cases, prosecutorial misconduct was cited as the reason for the wrongful conviction.

What's not mentioned is that these cases went through an appeal process that failed to note the significance of misconduct in contributing to the wrongful conviction.

Tim Cole, was a 25-year-old college student when he was convicted of rape. But DNA testing in 2008 revealed Cole did not commit the rape. And in his final opinion the presiding judge, Charles Baird, concluded Cole was convicted because "evidence was downplayed or deliberately ignored" by prosecutors.

But Cole wasn't in court to hear his name cleared. In 1998, after 13 years in prison, he had an asthma attack in his cell and died.

We don't know whose time Tim Cole served. We don't know how many others may have been victims of the actual perpetrator who was allowed to go free thanks to the faulty procedures employed by his prosecutors.

That's the case when a crime is attributed to the wrong person. Justice loses, and so do the rest of of. Cole's wrongful incarceration in today's dollars cost the people of Texas approximately $390, 000, just for housing. The dollar value, though, is meaningless to any subsequent victims of the actual perpetrator.

To voice your concern about this issue, support the June 27 Freedom March in Denver and in other cities across the nation.

Freedom March 2009 : Denver, Colorado

Bearing False Witness is pleased to be part of a national event to raise awareness for wrongful convictions. Citizens concerned about the flood of wrongful convictions experienced nation-wide are setting aside Saturday morning to raise their voices in events now scheduled for eleven states. For the Colorado event participants will meet at Sonny Lawson Park in Denver and then march 10 blocks to the west steps of the Capitol.

For all the details on this event, go to There you will find material about wrongful convictions, avenues for getting involved in the Innocence Movement, and details about the event itself.

You'll also find a flyer for the event. Please download it and use it to make others aware of this opportunity to speak out for justice.

Friday, May 22, 2009

DA Craig Watkins talks about being smart on crime

The video embedded here is very short--only 76 seconds, but Dallas County DA Craig Watkins teaches an invaluable lesson on being smart on crime. His Conviction Integrity Unit is a model for all jurisdictions.

On Tuesday in Colorado Springs, we may gain insight into how concerned local DA Dan May's office views its responsibility to avoid convicting the innocent. May has deferred comment on the recently overturned conviction of Tim Kane, which resulted in part from new DNA evidence, as well as a revelation that May's predecessor withheld exculpatory evidence that pointed to what appears to be a more likely suspect.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tim Kennedy, Colorado's next DNA Exoneree?

Next Tuesday, May 26, 2009, may be one of the most important days in Tim Kennedy's life. At a hearing in Colorado Springs he'll learn if he'll be retried for a 1991 double-murder. Kennedy has always maintained his innocence, and new evidence backs him up.

For more on Kennedy's case, read

You can also watch a video interview with Kennedy from the Limon Correctional Facility, where continues to serve his sentence.

An Innocence Movement Platform – the Three ‘R’s: Raise, Resolve, and Remedy

Modern science and technology have shaken the strong faith many once placed in the accuracy of judgments made by our criminal justice system. Thanks to DNA analysis of biological evidence, hundreds of convicts have been exonerated—many after spending years on death row. Those who value justice, who demand that the criminal justice system apply the lessons learned from the many cases of wrongful conviction, support policy initiatives that:

  1. Raise the accuracy rate in judgments of guilt and innocence.
  2. Resolve credible post-conviction claims of innocence.
  3. Remedy the tragic impact of wrongful convictions.

Raise the accuracy rate

The Innocence Project has analyzed exonerations to reveal a broad collection of factors that contribute to the likelihood of wrongful convictions. Among them are:

  1. Eyewitness Misidentification
  2. Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science
  3. False Confessions / Admissions
  4. Government Misconduct
  5. Informants or Snitches
  6. Bad Lawyering

The Innocence Movement supports policy reform that addresses these areas as well as other measures that can improve accuracy in conviction judgments. Reforms are needed in the areas of

  1. Juror education and training
  2. Plea bargaining
  3. Pre-trial incarceration
  4. Reducing prosecutorial misconduct—including misconduct deemed to be “harmless” error
  5. Restrictions on snitch testimony
  6. Increased accountability for ethical breaches
  7. Heightened expectations for defense attorneys
  8. Reduced case loads for public defenders

Resolve post-conviction claims of innocence

Most are surprised to learn that criminal appeals are not about innocence, but about trial procedure. The Innocence Movement supports reforms that provide venues and policies for resolving claims of innocence. Such venues and policies may include:

  1. Conviction Integrity Units such as the one begun by Dallas DA Craig Watkins
  2. Innocence Commissions such as those established in several states
  3. Appeal process that includes consideration of credible claims of innocence
  4. Preservation of physical evidence
  5. Testing of biological evidence, such as DNA, to resolve innocence claims
  6. Systemic review of convictions obtained through use of discredited techniques such as lead-bullet analysis

Remedy the impact of wrongful convictions

Wrongful convictions have tragic consequences, best avoided by reducing the number of wrongful convictions. However, wrongful convictions do occur and they profoundly affect the wrongly convicted as well as the victim of the crime. Wrongful convictions compound the tragedy of the original crime, leaving the wrongly convicted with greatly diminished potential and leaving the victims of a wrongly prosecuted crime with despair. Policies that can remedy the tragic impact include those that would:

  1. Help stakeholders in justice learn what went wrong with the process and how to fix it.
  2. Compensate the wrongly convicted.
  3. Provide transition assistance to the wrongly convicted.
  4. Reopen the investigation of the wrongly prosecuted crime.
  5. Counsel victims of the wrongly prosecuted crime.

Because no remedy is available when an innocent person is executed, the Innocence Movement rejects the use of the death penalty, and calls for its elimination. Further, the Innocence Movement supports enlightened approaches to incarceration that nurture genuine rehabilitation and reintegration of productive citizens.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Maintaining the Integrity of Evidence

A recently published report on wrongful convictions by the New York Bar Association's Task Force on Wrongful Convictions examined 53 exonerations and extracted the causes linked to wrongful convictions. The graph below taken from that report shows that half the cases involved problems with forensic evidence.

Among the report's recommendations is that "evidence should be maintained in a way that ensures its integrity and permits ready retrieval."

The failure of authority's to maintain the integrity of crucial evidence is at the heart of our recently submitted Coverdell allegation.

If you agree with the proposition that all citizens should demand that evidence collected by the authorities be properly handled and maintained, join in communicating your opinion to the agencies charged with investigating the allegation we've filed. You can write them at these addresses:

Attorney General John Suthers
Colorado Attorney General’s Office
1525 Sherman Street, 7th Floor
Denver, Colorado 80203

or email him at

Colorado Springs Police Department
Internal Affairs
705 South Nevada
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80903

District Attorney—4th
Judicial District
105 E. Vermijo Avenue
Colorado Springs,

Integrity in evidence preservation is fundamental to any good investigation and prosecution.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Forensic Expert Pans Congressional Testimony

Here's an excerpt from comments by Brent Turvey, who has reviewed this week's testimony concerning the House Crime Subcommittee hearing on NAS Report on the need to reform the forensic science establishment. Mr. Turvey, a nationally known forensic scientist and criminal profiler is a Senior Partner at Forensic Solutions LLC. He is the author of Criminal Profiling and other books dealing with forensic science.

After reading the statements and the testimony, it has become painfully evident that none of the lab supervisors who testified have the first clue what they are talking about when it comes to forensic science. They all sounded like lawyers trying to argue points and preserve their funding rather than scientists trying to advance a scientific profession. That and their arguments were really poorly rendered if not just badly crafted. The fingerprint discussion even devolved into point counting - which even the FBI no longer uses. And it took Neufeld to bring that out.

Moreover, nobody once mentioned the major NAS finding related to bias and the need to separate labs from law enforcement. That was simply ignored.

Bottom line: I wish this had been attended by fewer attorneys and more actual scientists. The only person there on the side of science was Neufeld and that is problematic. The rest of them barely understood what science is, the methods being used, or the problems with them.

Nothing more frustrating than watching lawyers, prosecutors, and police advocates argue over these things without input from actual scientists.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if our courts relied upon science rather than the manipulations of prosecutors going for a win? And if our representatives relied upon unbiased testimony from independent experts rather than hacks trying to preserve their funding?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Strengthening Forensic Science

Regular readers of Bearing False Witness know that a failure of forensic facilities in Colorado contributed to Todd's wrongful conviction. Unfortunately, real life isn't like CSI--in real life corners are cut, prosecutors decide what tests will be run, and they often succumb to the temptation to order only tests that will gain a conviction rather than find the truth. And lab technicians sometimes feel pressure to help them make that case, often relying upon what's come to be called "junk science."

You can help fix this problem by raising your voice. Here's text from an email I received earlier today from Sarah Chu, a Forensic Policy Associate at the Innocence Project:

As you know, the Innocence Project has been tracking the work of the National Academy of Sciences Committee’s study group on the forensic sciences very closely over the last two years. Now that Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward has been released, we have been strongly advocating for the report’s primary recommendation: the creation of a non-partisan, independent and science-based agency that will fund basic and applied scientific research on extant and developing forensic disciplines in need of more examination; set standards for their use in court; and coordinate future federal functions, programs, and oversight. We have recently launched a website: to build a coalition to further advocate for our campaign.

I urge all who think that forensic science should actually be a science to support this campaign. Go to and sign the petition.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Some clarifications on the Gazette report

Because I was unavailable to return Gazette reporter Maria Sanchez's fact-checking phone call, and because some readers of the Gazette report raised questions about the nature of the evidence that was altered, I'm using this space tonight to set a couple of things straight.

First, the trial record is clear regarding the "argument over a stripper," and it shows that the initiator of that argument was Brad Ogill, and we know that from Orgill himself--from his sworn testimony at the trial. A longer segment of his testimony from the trial transcript is available online, but here's the soundbite:

A. I made a comment saying, you know, "That was disrespectful. You shouldn't talk to ladies like that."
Q. Okay. And then what happens?
A. There was kind of like -- I'm not sure if there was, you know, direct pushing, but kind of a getting in each other's face, heated atmosphere.

Second, the deposit on the knife was more than a "black spot." The section of Detective Richer's report of his examination of the knife, November 20, 2009 describes it this way:
Closer examination of the blade itself would indicate various forms of debris and material along the cutting surface, specifically from the serrated edge back toward the hilt. Some of this debris in the latter area appears to be from a liquid state. I then turned the knife over to where I could readily observe the down side (pocket clip side) of the knife. From this perspective, I noted the pocket clip of the knife to also have the word "Bench Made" embossed on it, and "USA" underneath. The pocket clip itself is anchored to the hilt end of the handle. Upon examining the blade itself, I noted the same scratch/scaring pattern along the length of the blade, as earlier observed on the other side of the knife. Again additional areas of debris were notated, again with the higher concentration along the serrated edge and gaining in density as it moved closer to the hilt of the knife.

Gazette Coverage of Coverdell Allegation

Today's Colorado Springs Gazette reports our demand for an investigation of how crucial evidence in Todd's trial was altered, either at the El Paso County Sheriff's storage facility or at the Pueblo laboratory of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

The article quoted a response from lead prosecutor Jeff Lindsey, who said, "The jury heard about it, but they still found him guilty."

Mr. Lindsey's response fails to address the substance of the allegation of negligence/misconduct we've filed. It's not about what the jury thought; it's about what forensic authorities did.

The implications of evidence mishandling--and the allegation we filed clearly shows that mishandling occurred--go beyond what the jury thought in one particular case. To quote from the allegation we filed:

That the CBI failed to reveal evidence spoliation, that the initial state response to proof of spoliation was a denial of responsibility, that the evidence in question was crucial to obtaining a controversial conviction calls for an investigation that so far has not happened. All stakeholders in Colorado’s criminal justice system deserve to find out how the evidence in question here came to be altered—to find out what went wrong, to learn what mistakes must be avoided in the future to ensure integrity in forensic analysis.

What the jury thought in Todd's case is another matter. But I invite Mr. Lindsey to satisfy his interest in the thought process of the jury by viewing this video:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Mixing of Blood

On the heals of the recent filing of our "Coverdell Allegation" regarding the mishandling of crucial evidence used to convict Todd, comes the report of Paul House who spent 22 years on death row for a murder he didn't commit. CNN reports that the victim's blood had been found on House's jeans, "but questions were later raised whether the samples were contaminated en route to an FBI lab for analysis."

Another case where crucial evidence had been mishandled, contaminated, and used to convict an innocent person.

The CNN report provided background from Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project: "In the three years since the U.S. Supreme Court stepped into this case and sent it back to the trial court, substantial additional DNA testing and further investigation have shown that he is innocent. Each time a layer of this case was peeled away, it revealed more evidence of Paul House's innocence."

The full text of the allegation we've filed regarding mishandling of evidence in Todd's case is available at

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Calling for an investigation

Yesterday we filed an allegation of negligence/misconduct concerning the handling of crucial physical evidence from Todd’s case. The technical name for “intentional or negligent withholding, hiding, alteration or destruction of evidence relevant to a legal proceeding” is spoliation. And spoliation is exactly what happened to the knife that prosecutors alleged to have been the murder weapon. Lead prosecutor Jeff Lindsey said the knife was “crucial evidence in the People’s case.” The spoliation concerned deposits that had been noted on the knife, when it was originally examined, but which later disappeared.

The integrity of this “crucial evidence” has been cast into doubt both by the presiding trial judge Gil Martinez and by Patricia Van Horn, a deputy Attorney General for Colorado. After viewing photos showing the changed condition of the knife, Martinez said, “somebody did something wrong, Counsel, because this knife should have been taken down to the CBI in the same condition as this photograph and apparently it wasn't, so somebody somewhere dropped the ball.” Initially, Van Horn denied any responsibility by the state, but during oral arguments in the case, she conceded of the evidence that the state was not going to argue “that this wasn’t destroyed by state action….we know it was in the state’s custody….”

The evidence was crucial because it was the only physical evidence connecting Todd to the victim Anthony Madril. None of the six witnesses had seen Newmiller confronting Madril, but all had seen Madril in a fierce fight with another man, prosecution witness Brad Orgill. Entering the fight with Orgill enthusiastically, Madril shouted, “It’s on. Let’s go.” Madril emerged from the fight bleeding from his chest and saying, “I just got stabbed.” Orgill’s clothing contained significant quantities of blood found to belong the victim. Todd’s clothing had no blood from the victim.

The prosecution’s theory of the crime was that Todd, unseen by any of six witnesses, stabbed Madril in the chest, breaching both ventricles, and then went on to have a non-violent confrontation with one of the victim’s friends. Meanwhile, according to the prosecution’s theory, Madril, his heart now slashed, went on to fight with Orgill. Todd says that he was angry after being punched by Madril’s friend Chisum Lopez and in retaliation used the knife (an aging folding knife he’d used early in the day to open boxes at work) to puncture the right rear tire of the pickup truck Lopez had ridden.

It’s undisputed that the puncturing of the tire occurred after Madril was engaged in the fight with Orgill. Debris noted on the knife and described by Detectives Don Richer and Jeff Nohr was consistent with what one would expect to have come from the punctured tire. What was in dispute was how a small quantity of the victim’s blood—not noted until the knife arrived at the CBI lab—came to be on the knife. The defense argued that the blood had to have been deposited sometime after Madril’s confrontation with Orgill. Other physical evidence supporting that position includes the absence of Madril’s blood on Todd’s clothing, the absence of blood spatters on the ground in the area where Todd was known to be standing, and the absence of blood in the puncture of the tire. Further, there were a number of opportunities for blood transfer to the knife after the confrontation, including the possibility of cross-contamination after the evidence was received. Had the knife been preserved in its original condition, it could have been subjected to a more comprehensive and credible analysis.

Early in the investigation of the stabbing, two members of the El Paso County Sheriff’s office, Detectives Don Richer and Jeffrey Nohr examined the knife closely. Both detectives noted that the knife contained various forms of debris and material. Neither detective noted the presence of any blood on the knife. Detective Richer testified that when he examined evidence, if he observed anything that looked like blood, he would so note it.

After the knife had been delivered into the possession of the CBI, Agent Rebecca Strub examined it and has since testified that the knife did not contain any debris or material as Richer and Nohr had reported. She did, however, note a minute amount of blood on the handle of the knife and around the logo on the blade of the knife. Photographs of the knife taken shortly after it was received by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, and reviewed by Judge Martinez, show the debris on the knife but do not reveal the existence of any blood on the knife. Testimony by a prosecution witness, Brad Orgill, who viewed the knife prior to its being received into evidence by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, corroborates the existence of debris and the absence of blood on the knife.

So far, no one has explained the spoliation that occurred. But that may change as the result of the allegation that we sent to the Colorado Attorney, the local District Attorney, and Internal Affairs at the Colorado Springs Police Department. These agencies are identified as having oversight of the facility where the knife had been stored and of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab where the knife had been sent for testing. Because these forensic facilities received federal funding under the Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grant Program, federal law requires an investigation.

The mishandling of crucial evidence in Todd’s case is not an isolated example of problems in the application of forensic science. The Innocence Project, which provided advice in drafting the allegation we’ve filed, reports that in “more than 50% of DNA exonerations, unvalidated or improper forensic science contributed to the wrongful conviction.” It’s not like CSI. A recent report by the National Academy of Science calls for a major overhaul of forensic science in America, to include “removing all public forensic laboratories and facilities from the administrative control of law enforcement agencies or prosecutors’ offices.” We wonder if the condition of the knife used as evidence against Todd would have changed had it been in possession of a neutral agency charged with finding the truth rather than simply building a case for conviction.

The full Coverdell allegation, which includes additional details about the mishandling of the knife, including its being “lost” for three months in the evidence room, is available online at

A video about the evidence in question is available at It includes scenes from oral arguments in our appeal to include Van Horn’s admission of the state’s failure to preserve the evidence in its original condition.

Monday, May 11, 2009

After Innocence

The Innocence Project has announced the release on DVD of the award-winning documentary After Innocence. A trailer of the documentary is available online.

Here's what the film is about:

AFTER INNOCENCE tells the dramatic and compelling story of the exonerated - innocent men wrongfully imprisoned for decades and then released after DNA evidence proved their innocence. The film focuses on the gripping story of seven men and their emotional journey back into society and efforts to rebuild their lives. Included are a police officer, an army sergeant and a young father sent to prison and even death row for decades for crimes they did not commit.The men are thrust back into society with little or no support from the system that put them behind bars.

While the public views exonerations as success stories - wrongs that have been righted - AFTER INNOCENCE shows that the human toll of wrongful imprisonment can last far longer than the sentences served.The film raises basic questions about human rights and society's moral obligation to the innocent and places a spotlight on the flaws in our criminal justice system that lead to wrongful conviction of the innocent.

The film features exonerees Dennis Maher of Lowell, MA; Calvin Willis of Shreveport, LA; Scott Hornoff of Providence, RI; Wilton Dedge of Cocoa Beach, FL.; Vincent Moto of Philadelphia, PA; Nick Yarris of Philadelphia, PA; and Herman Atkins of Los Angeles, CA.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Confirmation Bias

I read an article from the Wisconsin Law Review, "The Multiple Dimensions of Tunnel Vision in Criminal Cases," by Keith A. Findley and Michael S. Scott, both Professors at the Wisconsin School of Law. "Tunnel Vision," also referred to as "Confirmation Bias," has long been recognized as a cognitive phenomenon, but only recently has its role in wrongful convictions surfaced in popular awareness. A short clip from the prime time TV series Bones, dramatizes a forensic analyst displaying confirmation bias:

Of course a 23 second clip can't begin to tell us all we should know about confirmation bias, but Findley and Scott's article can take us deep into the topic. They describe several cases, including the famous Central Park Jogger case where confirmation bias resulted in wrongful convictions. Then they go on to describe how even trial and appellate judges can become victims of the phenomenon.

Findley and Scott's work is especially meaningful for us because our son Todd's case bears the hallmarks of confirmation bias: an early snap decision by investigators and prosecutors followed by an unwillingness to follow leads that pointed away from Todd as the perpetrator. Prosecutor Amy Mullaney insisted on cutting a plea bargain with the only person seen fighting with the victim, many months before the state's forensic analysis would be complete.

The state even declined to test a blood stain on Todd's jacket. We had it tested at our own expense to prove that the blood did not belong to the victim but rather to Todd. During the appeal, the Deputy Attorney General referred to Todd's blood stained jacket in an attempt to imply that the stain connected Todd to the victim, even though by then the DNA results were in and the stain had been identified as Todd's, not the victim's.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

A Conviction Integrity Unit

Dallas DA Craig Watkins instituted a conviction integrity unit that should be a model for all DAs. Watch the trailer below, watch the show, "Dallas DNA," on the Discovery Channel, and then ask your local DA to institute a conviction integrity unit.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Convicted Wrongly at 13, Free After 16 Years

From this morning's Chicago Sun-Times:

More than 16 years ago, 13-year-old Thaddeus Jimenez was arrested for a street gang murder on Chicago's Northwest Side, despite his claim of innocence. A judge sentenced him as an adult to 50 years in prison, describing Jimenez as a "little punk, probably too young to shave, but old enough to commit a vicious murder."

But Friday, Jimenez, 30, became what his lawyers say is likely the youngest person in U.S. history to be wrongfully convicted of a crime and exonerated after Cook County Criminal Court Judge Joseph Claps vacated Jimenez's conviction. He was released from Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg.

Watch the video of his release:

Saturday, May 02, 2009

State Innocence Commissions

In the wake of last week's announcement of the formation of the New York Task Force on Wrongful Convictions, comes word that the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee has approved 8-3 Texas State Representative Ruth Jones McClendon's proposal for a commission to investigate and prevent wrongful convictions in Texas.

The commission would be named the Timothy Cole Innocence Commission in honor of the Army veteran who served 10 years of a 25-year sentence after being wrongfully convicted of a sexual assault he did not commit. Cole died in prison in 1999, before he was cleared.

Colorado, as well as other states, needs to look closely at its use of practices that we now know convict the innocent and let the guilty go free. The exoneration of Tim Masters last year provides a peak into a justice system that rushes to judgment and seldom looks back on mistakes. It's time for us learn from past mistakes rather than simply repeating them at great cost to justice.

Friday, May 01, 2009

New York Task Force on Wrongful Convictions

From the April 30, 2009, New York Times:

In one of his first major initiatives as the state’s top jurist, Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of New York’s Court of Appeals, said he would create a permanent task force to examine wrongful convictions and recommend ways to minimize them.

Members of the task force, who are being selected by Judge Lippman, will include prosecutors, defense lawyers, scientists and lawmakers. They will have a broad mandate to examine police procedures, court rules and other issues involved in wrongful convictions.

A recent spate of high-profile cases have involved exoneration or overturned convictions, including those of Martin H. Tankleff, who was convicted in 1990 of bludgeoning his parents, and Jeffrey Deskovic, who was convicted that same year of raping and murdering a high school classmate. According to a report released last month by the New York State Bar Association, 53 people have been formally exonerated in New York since 1964, about half through the use of DNA testing.

Read the entire article. As the numbers of exonerations grow nationwide, we're beginning to realize how severe the problem of wrongful convictions has become. Other states need to follow New York's lead.