NEW EXONERATION: Angel Echavarria

In 1994, a robber tied up two men and shot and killed one of them. The surviving victim identified a suspect during a photo identification procedure. Several days later the surviving victim saw Echavarria in a barber shop, and became convinced that Echavarria was the perpetrator, not the person he initially identified. No other evidence linked Echavarria to the crime. Echavarria was convicted of murder, robbery and assault on teh basis of the eyewitness ID. After almost 20 years in prison, new DNA tests were done which didn’t implicate Echavarria and evidence was uncovered that the sole eyewitness was a heavy drug user at the time of the identification. Echavarria was exonerated a week and a half ago. Read the rest of his story here: http://bit.ly/1dgmozu

Photo de The National Registry of Exonerations.source : The National Registry of Exonerations

NEW EXONEREE: Alfred Brown. Texas

June 10, 2015

Mr. Brown was sentenced to death in 2005 for a robbery-murder in Houston where a police officer and store clerk were killed. He was exonerated YESTERDAY after telephone records corroborating his alibi were found in a detective’s garage, and a witness admitted that she only said Brown confessed to the crime because the prosecutor threatened to prosecute her for the murder and make sure that CPS took her children if she didn’t. Mr. Brown is the 115th person to be exonerated off of death row. Read the rest of his story here: http://bit.ly/1Iv8chc

More evidence emerges that Texas almost certainly executed an innocent man. Todd Willingham-Yet another reason why our error-prone justice system should never have to the power over life and death.

february 27, 2014 (nytimes)

In the 10 years since Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham after convicting him on charges of setting his house on fire and murdering his three young daughters, family members and death penalty opponents have argued that he was innocent. Now newly discovered evidence suggests that the prosecutor in the case may have concealed a deal with a jailhouse informant whose testimony was a key part of the execution decision.

The battle to clear Mr. Willingham’s name has symbolic value because it may offer evidence that an innocent man was executed, something opponents of the death penalty believe happens more than occasionally. By contrast, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote seven years ago that he was unaware of “a single case — not one — in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit.”

Mr. Willingham was convicted on charges of setting the 1991 fire in Corsicana, Tex., that killed his three children, and was sentenced to death the next year. The conviction rested on two pillars of evidence: analysis by arson investigators, and the testimony of a jailhouse informant, Johnny Webb, who said that Mr. Willingham had confessed the crime to him.


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Mr. Willingham was convicted and executed in the killings. Credit Associated Press

The arson investigation has since been discredited; serious questions were raised about the quality of the scientific analysis and testimony, which did not measure up to the standard of science even at the time. But the prosecutor who led the case shortly before Mr. Willingham’s execution argued that even though the arson analysis had been questioned, the testimony of Mr. Webb should be enough to deny any attempt for clemency.

In recent weeks, as part of an effort to obtain a posthumous exoneration from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry, lawyers working on Mr. Willingham’s behalf say they have found evidence that Mr. Webb gave his testimony in return for a reduced prison sentence. Evidence of an undisclosed deal could have proved exculpatory during Mr. Willingham’s trial or figured in subsequent appeals, but Mr. Webb and the prosecutor at trial, John Jackson — who would later become a judge — explicitly denied that any deal existed during Mr. Webb’s testimony.

In September, lawyers from the Innocence Project in New York filed an official request with the board to exonerate Mr. Willingham, citing the flawed fire science and Judge Jackson’s subsequent actions in the Webb case: efforts to cut Mr. Webb’s prison time and to downgrade the charges after the Willingham trial. The Innocence Project also contends that prosecutors suppressed an effort by Mr. Webb to recant his testimony.

But recantations in criminal cases are relatively common, said Walter M. Reaves Jr., a criminal defense lawyer who has worked on Mr. Willingham’s case, so the biggest open question has been whether Judge Jackson and Mr. Webb had made a deal. Judge Jackson, who has retired from the bench, continued to insist there was no deal, even in an interview last year.

What has changed is that investigators for the Innocence Project have discovered a curt handwritten note in Mr. Webb’s file in the district attorney’s office in Corsicana. The current district attorney, R. Lowell Thompson, made the files available to the Innocence Project lawyers, and in late November one of the lawyers, Bryce Benjet, received a box of photocopies.

As he worked through the stack of papers, he saw a note scrawled on the inside of the district attorney’s file folder stating that Mr. Webb’s charges were to be listed as robbery in the second degree, not the heavier first-degree robbery charge he had originally been convicted on, “based on coop in Willingham.”

Mr. Benjet recalled a “rush of excitement,” he said, and thought, “This is what we’ve been looking for.”

The Innocence Project submitted the note, which is not dated or signed, in a new filing to the board asking that it be included as part of its September request for a pardon.

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, called the note a “smoking pistol” in the case.

“We’re reaching out to the principals to see if there is an innocent explanation for this,” he said. “I don’t see one.”

Judge Jackson did not respond to several requests for comment.

Mr. Thompson, the district attorney, said that while he willingly complied with the request for the Webb files, he had no opinion as to what happened during the Willingham trial in 1992. “I wasn’t even a college graduate yet,” he said.

As for Mr. Webb, he said, the robbery that put him in a cell with Mr. Willingham was not his only brush with the law. “I’ve also prosecuted him,” he said. “The D.A. before me prosecuted him, and the D.A. before him prosecuted him.”

Mr. Scheck said that the Willingham case suggested a fundamental weakness in the justice system: If Mr. Webb’s testimony “was really based on a deal and misrepresentation, then the system cannot be regulated,” he said. Under those circumstances, “you cannot prevent the execution of an innocent person.”

Even if the board ultimately agrees with Mr. Willingham’s advocates, the final decision will rest with Governor Perry (who has called Mr. Willingham “a monster” who killed his children) or with his successor in 2015.

Mr. Willingham’s stepmother, Eugenia Willingham, said: “I’m real thrilled that all this has come to light. We’ll see what happens. I can’t help but be hopeful.”

His cousin Patricia Cox said that if an exoneration does occur, the family has no plans to press for damages. “We’re not asking compensation,” she said. “We’re asking justice.”

Innocence: List of Those Freed From Death Row

Last exoneration October 25, 2013 (#143)

Number of cases in which DNA played a substantial factor in establishing innocence: 18
Average number of years between being sentenced to death and exoneration: 10.1 years

DNA **
1 David Keaton FL B 1971 1973 2 Charges Dismissed
2 Samuel A. Poole NC B 1973 1974 1 Charges Dismissed
3 Wilbert Lee FL B 1963 1975 12 Pardoned
4 Freddie Pitts FL B 1963 1975 12 Pardoned
5 James Creamer GA W 1973 1975 2 Charges Dismissed
6 Christopher Spicer NC B 1973 1975 2 Acquitted
7 Thomas Gladish NM W 1974 1976 2 Charges Dismissed
8 Richard Greer NM W 1974 1976 2 Charges Dismissed
9 Ronald Keine NM W 1974 1976 2 Charges Dismissed
10 Clarence Smith NM W 1974 1976 2 Charges Dismissed
11 Delbert Tibbs FL B 1974 1977 3 Charges Dismissed
12 Earl Charles GA B 1975 1978 3 Charges Dismissed
13 Jonathan Treadway AZ W 1975 1978 3 Acquitted
14 Gary Beeman OH W 1976 1979 3 Acquitted
15 Jerry Banks GA B 1975 1980 5 Charges Dismissed
16 Larry Hicks IN B 1978 1980 2 Acquitted
17 Charles Ray Giddens OK B 1978 1981 3 Charges Dismissed
18 Michael Linder SC W 1979 1981 2 Acquitted
19 Johnny Ross LA B 1975 1981 6 Charges Dismissed
20 Ernest (Shujaa) Graham CA B 1976 1981 5 Acquitted
21 Annibal Jaramillo FL L 1981 1982 1 Charges Dismissed
22 Lawyer Johnson MA B 1971 1982 11 Charges Dismissed
23 Larry Fisher MS W 1984 1985 1 Acquitted
24 Anthony Brown FL B 1983 1986 3 Acquitted
25 Neil Ferber PA W 1982 1986 4 Charges Dismissed
26 Clifford Henry Bowen OK W 1981 1986 5 Charges Dismissed
27 Joseph Green Brown FL B 1974 1987 13 Charges Dismissed
28 Perry Cobb IL B 1979 1987 8 Acquitted
29 Darby (Jesse) Tillis IL B 1979 1987 8 Acquitted
30 Vernon McManus TX W 1977 1987 10 Charges Dismissed
31 Anthony Ray Peek FL B 1978 1987 9 Acquitted
32 Juan Ramos FL L 1983 1987 4 Acquitted
33 Robert Wallace GA B 1980 1987 7 Acquitted
34 Richard Neal Jones OK W 1983 1987 4 Acquitted
35 Willie Brown FL B 1983 1988 5 Charges Dismissed
36 Larry Troy FL B 1983 1988 5 Charges Dismissed
37 Randall Dale Adams TX W 1977 1989 12 Charges Dismissed
38 Robert Cox FL W 1988 1989 1 Charges Dismissed
39 James Richardson FL B 1968 1989 21 Charges Dismissed
40 Clarence Brandley TX B 1981 1990 9 Charges Dismissed
41 John C. Skelton TX W 1983 1990 7 Acquitted
42 Dale Johnston OH W 1984 1990 6 Charges Dismissed
43 Jimmy Lee Mathers AZ W 1987 1990 3 Acquitted
44 Gary Nelson GA B 1980 1991 11 Charges Dismissed
45 Bradley P. Scott FL W 1988 1991 3 Acquitted
46 Charles Smith IN B 1983 1991 8 Acquitted
47 Jay C. Smith PA W 1986 1992 6 Acquitted
48 Kirk Bloodsworth MD W 1984 1993 9 Charges Dismissed Yes
49 Federico M. Macias TX L 1984 1993 9 Charges Dismissed
50 Walter McMillian AL B 1988 1993 5 Charges Dismissed
51 Gregory R. Wilhoit OK W 1987 1993 6 Acquitted
52 James Robison AZ W 1977 1993 16 Acquitted
53 Muneer Deeb TX O 1985 1993 8 Acquitted
54 Andrew Golden FL W 1991 1994 3 Charges Dismissed
55 Adolph Munson OK B 1985 1995 10 Acquitted
56 Robert Charles Cruz AZ L 1981 1995 14 Acquitted
57 Rolando Cruz IL L 1985 1995 10 Acquitted Yes
58 Alejandro Hernandez IL L 1985 1995 10 Charges Dismissed Yes
59 Sabrina Butler MS B 1990 1995 5 Acquitted
60 Joseph Burrows IL W 1989 1996 7 Charges Dismissed
61 Verneal Jimerson IL B 1985 1996 11 Charges Dismissed Yes
62 Dennis Williams IL B 1979 1996 17 Charges Dismissed Yes
63 Roberto Miranda NV L 1982 1996 14 Charges Dismissed
64 Gary Gauger IL W 1993 1996 3 Charges Dismissed
65 Troy Lee Jones CA B 1982 1996 14 Charges Dismissed
66 Carl Lawson IL B 1990 1996 6 Acquitted
67 David Wayne Grannis AZ W 1991 1996 5 Charges Dismissed
68 Ricardo Aldape Guerra TX L 1982 1997 15 Charges Dismissed
69 Benjamin Harris WA B 1985 1997 12 Charges Dismissed
70 Robert Hayes FL B 1991 1997 6 Acquitted
71 Christopher McCrimmon AZ B 1993 1997 4 Acquitted
72 Randal Padgett AL W 1992 1997 5 Acquitted
73 Robert Lee Miller, Jr. OK B 1988 1998 10 Charges Dismissed Yes
74 Curtis Kyles LA B 1984 1998 14 Charges Dismissed
75 Shareef Cousin LA B 1996 1999 3 Charges Dismissed
76 Anthony Porter IL B 1983 1999 16 Charges Dismissed
77 Steven Smith IL B 1985 1999 14 Acquitted
78 Ronald Williamson OK W 1988 1999 11 Charges Dismissed Yes
79 Ronald Jones IL B 1989 1999 10 Charges Dismissed Yes
80 Clarence Dexter, Jr. MO W 1991 1999 8 Charges Dismissed
81 Warren Douglas Manning SC B 1989 1999 10 Acquitted
82 Alfred Rivera NC L 1997 1999 2 Charges Dismissed
83 Steve Manning IL W 1993 2000 7 Charges Dismissed
84 Eric Clemmons MO B 1987 2000 13 Acquitted
85 Joseph Nahume Green FL B 1993 2000 7 Charges Dismissed
86 Earl Washington VA B 1984 2000 16 Pardoned Yes
87 William Nieves PA L 1994 2000 6 Acquitted
Frank Lee Smithdied prior to exoneration FL B 1986 2000 ** 14 Charges Dismissed Yes
Michael Graham LA W 1987 2000 13 Charges Dismissed
90 Albert Burrell LA W 1987 2000 13 Charges Dismissed
91 Oscar Lee Morris CA B 1983 2000 17 Charges Dismissed
92 Peter Limone MA W 1968 2001 33 Charges Dismissed
93 Gary Drinkard AL W 1995 2001 6 Charges Dismissed
94 Joaquin Jose Martinez FL L 1997 2001 4 Acquitted
95 Jeremy Sheets NE W 1997 2001 4 Charges Dismissed
96 Charles Fain ID W 1983 2001 18 Charges Dismissed Yes
97 Juan Roberto Melendez FL L 1984 2002 18 Charges Dismissed
98 Ray Krone AZ W 1992 2002 10 Charges Dismissed Yes
99 Thomas Kimbell, Jr. PA W 1998 2002 4 Acquitted
100 Larry Osborne KY W 1999 2002 3 Charges Dismissed
101 Aaron Patterson IL B 1986 2003 17 Pardoned
102 Madison Hobley IL B 1987 2003 16 Pardoned
103 Leroy Orange IL B 1984 2003 19 Pardoned
104 Stanley Howard IL B 1987 2003 16 Pardoned
105 Rudolph Holton FL B 1986 2003 16 Charges Dismissed
106 Lemuel Prion AZ W 1999 2003 4 Charges Dismissed
107 Wesley Quick AL W 1997 2003 6 Acquitted
108 John Thompson LA B 1985 2003 18 Acquitted
109 Timothy Howard OH B 1976 2003 26 Charges Dismissed
110 Gary Lamar James OH B 1976 2003 26 Charges Dismissed
111 Joseph Amrine MO B 1986 2003 17 Charges Dismissed
112 Nicholas Yarris PA W 1982 2003 21 Charges Dismissed Yes
113 Alan Gell NC W 1998 2004 6 Acquitted
114 Gordon Steidl IL W 1987 2004 17 Charges Dismissed
115 Laurence Adams MA B 1974 2004 30 Charges Dismissed
116 Dan L. Bright LA B 1996 2004 8 Charges Dismissed
117 Ryan Matthews LA B 1999 2004 5 Charges Dismissed Yes
118 Ernest Ray Willis TX W 1987 2004 17 Charges Dismissed
119 Derrick Jamison OH B 1985 2005 20 Charges Dismissed
120 Harold Wilson PA B 1989 2005 16 Acquitted
121 John Ballard FL W 2003 2006 3 Acquitted
122 Curtis McCarty OK W 1986 2007 21 Charges Dismissed Yes
123 Michael McCormick TN W 1987 2007 20 Acquitted
124 Jonathon Hoffman NC B 1995 2007 12 Charges Dismissed
125 Kennedy Brewer MS B 1995 2008 13 Charges Dismissed Yes
126 Glen Chapman NC B 1994 2008 14 Charges Dismissed
127 Levon Jones NC B 1993 2008 15 Charges Dismissed
128 Michael Blair TX O 1994 2008 14 Charges Dismissed Yes
129 Nathson Fields IL B 1986 2009 23 Acquitted
130 Paul House TN W 1986 2009 23 Charges Dismissed
131 Daniel Wade Moore AL W 2002 2009 7 Acquitted
132 Ronald Kitchen IL B 1988 2009 21 Charges Dismissed
133 Herman Lindsey FL B 2006 2009 3 Acquitted
134 Michael Toney TX W 1999 2009 10 Charges Dismissed
135 Yancy Douglas OK B 1995 2009 14 Charges Dismissed
136 Paris Powell OK B 1997 2009 12 Charges Dismissed
137 Robert Springsteen TX W 2001 2009 8 Charges Dismissed
138 Anthony Graves TX B 1994 2010 16 Charges Dismissed
139 Gussie Vann TN W 1994 2011 17 Charges Dismissed
140 Joe D’Ambrosio OH W 1989 2012 23 Charges Dismissed
141 Damon Thibodeaux LA W 1997 2012 15 Charges Dismissed Yes
142 Seth Penalver FL W 1999 2012 13 Acquitted
143 Reginald Griffin MO B 1983 2013 30 Charges Dismissed  

Innocent, but broke…Glen Chapman was exonerated from death row in 2008. Why hasn’t he received the $750K he deserves in compensation?

May 21, source :http://www.salon.com

Glen Edward Chapman, or “Ed,” was exonerated in 2008 after spending 15 years on death row for crimes he did not commit. Though North Carolina is one of the 27 states with statutes that provide some level of compensation for the wrongfully convicted, the state continues to refuse Chapman any compensation for the loss of his freedom, reputation, family, friends and much more.

Chapman was sentenced to death in 1994 at the age of 26 for the murders of Betty Jean Ramseur and Tenene Yvette Conley in Hickory, N.C. After more than a decade of court appeals, Superior Court Judge Robert C. Ervin ordered a new trial based on revelations that detectives “lost, misplaced or destroyed” several pieces of evidence that pointed to another suspect. It was also discovered that lead investigator Dennis Rhoney lied on the witness stand at Chapman’s original trial. Shortly thereafter, the district attorney dismissed all charges against Chapman due to lack of sufficient evidence leading to his exoneration in 2008.

Chapman is just one of a growing number of wrongfully convicted inmates who have been cleared thanks to criminal justice reforms and new DNA testing laws put in place over the last decade. But oftentimes the hardship doesn’t end there.

In 2007, the New York Times interviewed 137 former prisoners exonerated by modern DNA testing methods and found that half were “struggling — drifting from job to job, dependent on others for housing or battling deep emotional scars. More than two dozen ended up back in prison or addicted to drugs or alcohol.”

According to a 2009 report by the Innocence Project, an organization devoted to exonerating the wrongfully convicted, an astounding 40 percent of people exonerated by DNA testing have received zero compensation, due in part to the 23 states around the country that do not offer assistance to the wrongfully convicted. That leaves exonerees like Alan Northrop, who lost 17 years behind bars in the state of Washington, with little to no help in rebuilding their lives.

Even in states that do offer compensation, the amount is often woefully inadequate in helping exonerees reestablish themselves, though compensation varies by state ranging from $20,000 in New Hampshire regardless of the years spent behind bars to $80,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment in Texas.

Most state compensation statutes, however, include conditions for eligibility. Last year, Texas refused to compensate Anthony Graves the $1.4 million he would have received for the 18 years he spent on death row because the judge did not include the words “actual innocence” on the document ordering his release. Texas reversed its decision only after nationwide media attention led to a massive public outcry.

In North Carolina, the exonerated are eligible to receive $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment capping out at $750,000 but only if they are granted a pardon of innocence by the governor who is not required to give a reason for her decision. Chapman filed a pardon request in 2009 but a decision has yet to be made. The office of North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue did not respond to a request for comment.

Chapman’s experience is consistent with statistics from the Innocence Project that show it takes an average of three years to secure compensation. Meanwhile, the wrongfully imprisoned face an uphill battle almost immediately upon release, starting with where they will sleep that night and how they will get their next meal. Only 10 states even offer the kinds of services — housing, transportation, education, healthcare, job placement, etc. — crucial to helping exonerees transition back into society as free citizens.

Chapman was not notified he was going to be released until the day he was freed. On April 2, 2008, a guard told him to “Pack up” and 10 minutes later he was out the door.  No one asked if he had a ride or a place to stay.

Luckily he had help from Pamela Laughon, a college professor and chairwoman of the psychology department at the University of North Carolina, who spent eight years working on Chapman’s appeal as a court-appointed investigator. The two immediately clicked when they met and have been inseparable since.

Laughon told Salon she was shocked her client was released with just 10 minutes’ notice and no ride or money. “Years ago they used to let them out with at least a bus ticket,” she says. Nevertheless, the two had already decided that if and when Chapman was released he would live with Laughon until he got on his feet.

That meant Chapman would have to move to Asheville, N.C., which worked out for the best because he did not want to return to Hickory. “When I go back to Hickory the hair on my neck stands up,” says Chapman. The town reminds him of the trauma from his trial when family members testified against him and the time he spent incarcerated instead of watching his two young sons grow up.

Laughon was happy to help. “I had lawyers calling me from all over the state asking me if I was nuts. I spent eight years trying to get this man released. There was no way I was going to drop him off at a homeless shelter or the projects where he grew up,” she told Salon.

With Laughon’s assistance, Chapman set up a checking account, got a driver’s license for the first time, found housing, learned how to use a cellphone and more.

She helped him manage his finances, which quickly dwindled given that he hadn’t received an income in 15 years. Over a decade in prison led him to mishandle the money he did have because, Chapman says, “I was so unused to having things that I wanted to buy everything. I went shopping crazy.” It was moments like this that having Laughon’s support was crucial to Chapman’s ability to readjust to society as a free man.

Laughon also went on job interviews with him to help explain his background to prospective employers. “I’m a college professor and chair of a department, so I have some cred,” she says. “He’s a black guy in the south. If he told an employer ‘by the way I was wrongfully convicted and spent the last 15 years on death row,’ people would look at him like he was crazy and laugh.”

With help from one of Laughon’s students, Chapman found a job at a hotel a few weeks after his release. Four years later, he still works there, which he says is the longest he’s ever held a job.

Still, life is a struggle. Laughon argues that Chapman needs the compensation because, “He’s stuck in minimum wage, being paid the lowest legal amounts you can pay a human being.”

The pardon of innocence pending before Gov. Perdue is important to Chapman not just for the compensation but also because it would be an official declaration of innocence. Laughon calls his current predicament “a no man’s land between not being guilty or innocent.”

Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, a pastor in Hickory and third vice president of the North Carolina NAACP, points out that without an official declaration of innocence, “His family is still at odds with him, not knowing whether he’s a criminal or not. The stigma of being a felon is still on him.”

Spearman went on to compare wrongful conviction to a crime in and of itself. “To be incarcerated, locked up for 15 years wrongfully, is to me a criminal act and the state needs to make up for that,” he told Salon. “The government needs to go head over heals to make sure these men receive apologies and make sure that they can get on with their lives meaning compensation, education, whatever they need to survive.”

Jean Parks, an active member of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (her sister was murdered) and People of Faith Against the Death Penalty in Asheville, agrees that Chapman needs be pardoned but feels that monetary compensation for the wrongfully convicted does not go far enough. “Money should be a part of it to help cover for lost wages and lost opportunities but the state’s response should go beyond that,” says Parks. “It should include an official apology and some social services to help the person get reacclimated to society, find a job, and reestablish oneself as a productive member of the community.”

Laughon argues that states should provide a “life coach” to do for the exonerated what she did for Chapman, which she describes as “somebody that’s going to navigate all the many day-to-day things like managing a bank account, how paychecks will be taxed, and the other kinds of life skills you and I do second nature.” She believes her experience with Chapman serves as a successful case study of the “life coach” approach.

In the meantime, Chapman has an interview with the clemency office on May 30, a signal that Gov. Perdue will likely come to a decision soon. He is determined to stay positive no matter what the outcome and insists he has no bitterness toward the people who put him on death row. “I can forgive. That doesn’t mean I have to forget,” says Chapman.

He upholds that principle by traveling across the state when he can to speak about his exoneration and bring awareness to the flaws in the criminal justice system. He admits he was not aware of the death penalty before his conviction but “now that I do know, I’m going to do everything I can to put an end to it.”

Since his exoneration, Chapman has written a book called “Life After Death Row.” His next book, “Within These Walls,” will be released later this year and includes his diary entries from death row. He says, “It’s going to be a tear-jerker.” Chapman will also be featured in an upcoming episode of B.E.T.’s “Vindicated,” a documentary-style television show that tells the stories of exonerated prisoners.

If he receives compensation, Chapman hopes to open a bed and breakfast. He also dreams of one day opening a shelter for at-risk women.

Chapman acknowledges that none of this would be possible without someone like Laughon in his life. “When I first met Pam it was like meeting an old friend for the first time. To this day, she’s like my big sister,” he says. “She’s been there for me from start to finish. I don’t think I would have made it without her.

TEXAS – Texas ordered to pay ex-inmate $2M over conviction – Billy Allen

may 18, 2012 Source : http://www.freep.com

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas was ordered on Friday to pay about $2 million to a man who spent 26 years in prison for murder before his conviction was overturned.

Billy Frederick Allen’s attempt to get the money has been a key case in developing standards for when ex-prisoners should be compensated. State Comptroller Susan Combs resisted paying Allen, arguing his conviction was overturned because of ineffective lawyers, not because he had proven his innocence.

But the state Supreme Court said the criminal courts showed Allen had a legitimate innocence claim and he should be paid.

Allen was convicted of two 1983 Dallas-area murders. He was freed in 2009 and sued the state for compensation for wrongful imprisonment.

Texas’ compensation law is the most generous in the U.S., according to the national Innocence Project, which works on cases where inmates allege wrongful convictions. Freed inmates who are declared innocent by a judge, prosecutors or a governor’s pardon can collect $80,000 for every year of imprisonment.

In Allen’s case, he didn’t have an innocence declaration. What he had instead was a Court of Criminal Appeals ruling that reversed his conviction based on ineffective counsel. It also determined that the evidence against him was too weak to for a reasonable jury to convict him.

Although prosecutors dismissed the charges, they said they still consider him a suspect and have kept the case open.

DNA evidence has led to most of Texas’ exonerations. But with DNA testing essentially standard in most cases now and the number of DNA-based exonerations expected to dwindle, cases like Allen’s — which had no DNA evidence — are likely to account for more compensation claims.

Released From Prison, but Never Exonerated, a Man Fights for True Freedom

march, 31, 2012  source : http://www.nytimes.com

A couple of Fridays ago, Kerry Max Cook, who was released from Texas’ death row in 1997 after two decades, went to pick up his 11-year-old son, Kerry Justice, from his North Dallas school. Class was just letting out. As Mr. Cook approached a group of children and their parents, a little girl squirmed out of her mother’s arms and ran toward him. “Mr. Kerry!” she called. He laughed as she jumped into his arms. “Haleigh!” he shouted, and began tickling her. “She adores Mr. Kerry,” her mother said.

The same jolly scene followed Mr. Cook as he walked around the small campus — children calling out to him, laughing, jumping into his arms. Vicki Johnston, the school’s director, looked on, smiling. “Kerry’s such a big part of the school,” she said. “He’s like a pied piper to the kids.” Asked about his past, Ms. Johnston simply said: “We know him. We know what kind of man he is.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Cook, 15 years after his release, the State of Texas still does not share Ms. Johnston’s view. Though he is widely recognized as one of the country’s most famous exonerated prisoners, Mr. Cook is not legally exonerated. In fact, in the eyes of the state, he is still a killer — convicted of the 1977 rape and murder of Linda Jo Edwards.

Mr. Cook’s situation is complex. His death sentence was twice overturned by higher courts, and DNA taken from the victim’s underwear did not match his own, and the evidence used to convict him has been shown to be entirely fallacious — but because Mr. Cook pleaded no-contest to the murder on the eve of what would have been his fourth trial, he cannot be declared actually not guilty.

Nevertheless, Mr. Cook has become a high-profile spokesman for the wrongfully imprisoned. He has published a book about his experience and has been one of the subjects of a popular Off Broadway play, “The Exonerated,” which was later made into a film. He has given speeches all over the United States and Europe. His Facebook page contains pictures of Mr. Cook with actors like Robin Williams, Richard Dreyfuss and Ben Stiller, who have been drawn to his story.

Yet Mr. Cook lives in the shadows with his wife and their son, knowing that whenever he applies for a job or gets on an international flight, he will be identified as a convicted murderer. Now he hopes to change that, with two motions filed recently in Smith County, where the case was originally heard, that could finally clear his name.

Mr. Cook has always claimed to be innocent of the murder of Ms. Edwards, a woman who lived in the same Tyler apartment complex. The case against him was largely circumstantial, including the words of a jailhouse informant who said that Mr. Cook had confessed to him and the recollections of a man who said that on the night of the murder, he and Mr. Cook had had sex and watched a movie that involved a cat torture scene.

The prosecution’s theory was that Mr. Cook, aroused by the torture scene in the movie, had left his apartment to rape and kill Ms. Edwards.

In the years after, every piece of evidence used to convict Mr. Cook was revealed to be bogus. The informant admitted he had lied as part of a deal with prosecutors, and the witness who claimed to have had sex with Mr. Cook told a grand jury that there was no sex and that Mr. Cook had not paid any attention to the movie. The prosecution had also suppressed evidence showing that Mr. Cook and Ms. Edwards had known each other casually, which explained a fingerprint found at the scene.

Mr. Cook’s verdict was overturned on a technicality in 1988. When District Attorney Jack Skeen of Smith County tried him again in 1992, the case ended in a mistrial. Another trial in 1994 resulted in a guilty verdict and a new death sentence, but two years later the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, reversed that conviction, noting that “prosecutorial and police misconduct has tainted this entire matter from the outset.”

Mr. Cook was released on bail in 1997, but the state prepared to try him for a fourth time. He was presented with an option: plead guilty in exchange for 20 years, which he had already served, and the charges would be dropped. He refused. As the trial date approached, in early 1999, Ms. Edwards’s underwear was sent to a lab for modern DNA testing. Mr. Cook, certain he would be exonerated, gave a blood sample.

On the morning of jury selection, the district attorney made another offer: if Mr. Cook pleaded no-contest with no admission of guilt, the case would be dismissed and he could go on with his life. Mr. Cook considered the deal. He had suffered terribly during his 19 years in prison — he had been stabbed, raped repeatedly and had tried to kill himself, once slitting his own throat after severing his penis, which was reattached.

He took the plea deal. Two months later, the DNA results returned. The semen belonged to James Mayfield, a married man with whom Ms. Edwards had been having an affair.

By then Mr. Cook was trying to move on with his life, but it was harder than he had imagined. The physical and emotional abuse he endured in prison causes nightmares and suicidal urges. And the murder conviction made him a second-class citizen.

“I couldn’t get a job, couldn’t sign a lease,” he said. “We’ve had to move five times because people would find out about me. One woman threatened to put up posters in the neighborhood saying ‘Convicted murderer lives here.’ ”

In 2009 Mr. Cook met Marc McPeak, a civil lawyer — with Greenberg Traurig in Dallas — who had read his book. Mr. McPeak’s firm began devising a legal strategy, pro bono, to navigate the difficult road of getting Mr. Cook an official exoneration. The first step was to get DNA testing on other items from the crime scene, including a hair found on Ms. Edwards’s body.

On Feb. 28, Mr. McPeak filed two motions in Smith County, one for the DNA testing and the other to recuse the judge who would decide whether to allow the testing — Mr. Skeen, the former district attorney. “We want it heard outside of Smith County,” Mr. McPeak said. “Not once in 35 years have officials there shown either the desire or the ability to treat Kerry fairly.”

They hope that further DNA evidence excluding Mr. Cook will help them to file a writ of habeas corpus to have him declared actually innocent.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cook waits. He dresses only in black (he swears he will not wear any other color until he is exonerated), and with his dark eyes and white hair, he cuts a striking figure. What he wants more than anything else are life’s simplest things.

“All I want is to be able to put my name on a lease,” he said. “I want to be able to walk my dog and have my neighbors over for cookouts. I want to live a normal life.”

Bill Would Make Wrongful Conviction Awards Tax-Free

march, 29 sourcehttp://www.forbes.com

Congressmen Sam Johnson (R-TX) andJohn Larson (D-CT) have introduced legislation to prohibit the IRS from taxing compensation awarded to anyone wrongfully convicted of a crime and later exonerated. Is this bill necessary or a good idea? Yes on both counts.

More and more prisoners are being exonerated based on DNA or other evidence. Under statute, by lawsuit or even by legislative grant, exonerees may receive compensation for their years behind bars. See Ex-Inmate Struggles to Cash In on Texas Law That Pays for Years of Wrongful Imprisonment. In fact, are you ready for some shocking figures?

Since the first DNA exoneration in 1989, wrongfully convicted persons have served more than 3,809 years in prisons across 35 states before being exonerated. The nearly 300 DNA exonerees served an average of 13.5 years in prison, ranging from less than one year to 35 years. Whether you look at an individual case or at the averages, these are some astounding numbers. See Congressmen Sam Johnson and John Larson Press Release.

The tax issues have been surprisingly cloudy. In the 1950s and 1960s, the IRS ruled prisoners of war, civilian internees and holocaust survivors received tax-free money for their loss of liberty. In 2007, the IRS “obsoleted” these rulings suggesting the landscape had changed. The IRS now asks whether a wrongfully jailed person was physically injured/sick while unlawfully jailed. If so, the damages are tax free, just like more garden variety personal physical injury recoveries.  See IRS To Collect on Italian Cruise Ship Settlements.

What if an exoneree isn’t physically injured? In IRS Chief Counsel Advice 201045023, the IRS said a recovery was exempt, but the IRS sidestepped whether being unlawfully incarcerated is itself tax-free. The Tax Court (and Sixth Circuit) in Stadnyk suggest persons who aren’t physical injured may be taxed. See Why the Stadnyk Case on False Imprisonment Is a Lemon.

There are usually significant physical injuries and sickness but not always. Besides, what about the money just for being locked up?  What if an exoneree gets $50,000 for physical injuries and $450,000 for being unlawfully behind bars?

The loss of physical freedom should be tax-free in its own right. Many exonerated individuals experience severe hardship acclimating to society, finding jobs, housing and reconnecting with family. The Wrongful Convictions Tax Relief Act proposes to allow exonerees to keep their awards tax-free.

According to Congressman Larson, “Though we can never give the wrongfully convicted the time back that they’ve had taken from them, they certainly shouldn’t have to pay Uncle Sam a share of any compensation they’re awarded. This bill will make sure they don’t have to suffer that insult on top of their injury.”

The two Congressmen are right. It is bad social justice and bad tax policy to tax these recoveries.  It is also unfair to leave the tax law murky so some people are paying tax.

For more, see:

Freedom after nearly 25 years of wrongful imprisonment

Wrongful Imprisonment Tax Ruling Stirs Controversy

Tax On Wrongful Imprisonment Needs Reform

Tax-Free Wrongful Imprisonment Recoveries

Should False Imprisonment Damages Be Taxable?

Why False Imprisonment Recoveries Should Not Be Taxable

A ‘Get Out of Jail’ Card That’s Far From Free

Are False Imprisonment Recoveries Taxable?

Robert W. Wood practices law with Wood LLP, in San Francisco.  The author of more than 30 books, including Taxation of Damage Awards & Settlement Payments (4th Ed. 2009 with 2012 Supplement, Tax Institute), he can be reached at Wood@WoodLLP.com.  This discussion is not intended as legal advice, and cannot be relied upon for any purpose without the services of a qualified professional.

Mark Farley Grant: freedom but not exoneration

march, 29 source : http://www.baltimoresun.com


When Renee Hutchins, the University of Maryland law professor, got her client on the phone Thursday afternoon and told him the news — that the governor was going to commute his life sentence — Mark Farley Grant was “largely speechless and completely stunned.”

Hutchins said she will visit her client at the state prison in Hagerstown on Monday. By then, Grant should have a complete understanding of what’s happening: freedom after nearly 30 years in prison, but no exoneration and no pardon.

This was never simply a case of a convicted killer asking for parole as he approached middle age. There are plenty of such cases.This was a young man — 14 years old at the time of his arrest in a fatal shooting of another teenager in Baltimore in 1983 — with a credible claim of innocence. He had exhausted all his appeals over two decades since his trial.

Then, as a last resort, he’d asked Gov. Martin O’Malley to look at the facts of his case and consider his petition for clemency. Hutchins, together with another professor, Michael Millemann, and students at the University of Maryland law school (the governor’s alma mater) spent four years researching Grant’s 1984 conviction. They filed a report with the governor’s office in 2008. I caught wind of it a year later, and I first visited Grant in prison in September 2009. My first column on this case, drawing to the public’s attention the disturbing facts raised by the law school’s impressive investigation, appeared that month.

Each time I asked, a member of the governor’s staff said the case was “being reviewed.”

But it is clear by now that the governor never acted on the report. He never made a judgment about whether Grant had been wrongfully convicted.

Time went on, month after month, year after year.

From prison, Grant wrote several letters, asserting his innocence and stating his hope that Mr. O’Malley’s heart would be turned.

“Remember this, if nothing else,” Grant wrote me from prison in November 2010, “our creator, God, Lord of the Universe, created the sun, the moon and the Earth, and gave Earth life and everything in it. God is the turner of hearts.”

Still, nothing happened with regard to his claim of innocence.

And with Thursday’s executive order, O’Malley remains silent on the question of whether Mark Farley Grant ever belonged in prison.

All the governor has done is commute Grant’s sentence — something that would have happened on March 30 in the absence of gubernatorial action. The General Assembly made it so.

Legislators changed the law that gives the Maryland governor final say on parole recommendations for lifers. As of last Oct. 1, when the new law took effect, the governor had to act within 180 days of a Maryland Parole Commission recommendation or the recommendation automatically took effect. Grant’s was among those that were still pending on Oct. 1.

O’Malley denied 57 other recommendations.

So, in that regard, I guess Grant should be grateful. He has claimed his innocence since the night of his arrest 29 years ago. He had the help of law professors and students, who put in long hours to investigate the case and to locate witnesses, one of whom said he testified against Grant under threat of death from the real killer’s family. Grant’s advocates got the governor’s attention. Considering that the politically ambitious O’Malley has embraced the “life means life,” no-parole policy begun (but since disavowed) by the state’s previous Democratic governor, Parris Glendening, Grant is lucky.

But minus action by the governor, who has the authority and power to independently investigate Grant’s claim of innocence, Grant leaves prison under a cloud. It is disingenuous of Mr. O’Malley to say he is being just and fair in commuting Grant’s sentence while not acting on — perhaps even ignoring — his credible claim of innocence.

“60 Minutes” to Feature Michael Morton on Sunday

In a long-awaited segment, the CBS news program 60 Minutes will air its story this Sunday on the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton

The former grocery store manager was convicted in 1987 of murdering his wife, Christine Morton. Morton was sentenced to life in prison and served 25 years before DNA tests last year proved his innocence and connected another man to the brutal crime. Morton was freed in October and officially exonerated in December.

The man whose DNA was connected to Christine Morton’s murder was also found at the scene of another Austin murder in 1988. Mark Norwood, a 57-year-old Bastrop dishwasher, has been indicted for Christine Morton’s murder and is considered a suspect in the death of Debra Masters Baker.

Following Morton’s exoneration, Bexar County State District Judge Sid Harle authorized a court of inquiry to examine whether the prosecutor who oversaw Morton’s conviction commtited criminal misconduct in his handling of the case. Morton’s lawyers argue that former district attorney Ken Anderson, who is now a state district judge, deliberately hid evidence that pointed to his innocence during the original trial. That evidence includes a transcript of a phone conversation between a sheriff’s investigator and Morton’s mother-in-law in which she tells the officer that the couple’s 3-year-old son described watching a “monster” — who was not his father — beat his mother. The judge and jury also never saw police reports in which neighbors reported that they saw a man in a green van who appeared to be casing the home. They also didn’t see reports from a store owner in San Antonio who said someone tried to fraudulently use Christine Morton’s credit card after she died.

Anderson, who was appointed to the bench by Gov. Rick Perry, has vociferously denied that he did anything wrong in the prosecution, and he has said that he regrets that the justice system failed Morton. His lawyers have said that Anderson is looking forward to the court of inquiry as an opportunity to clear his name.

Tarrant County Judge Luis Sturns has been appointed to oversee the unusual process of investigating allegations of misconduct against a sitting official. And last week, Sturns appointedhigh-profile Houston defense lawyer Rusty Hardin to act as special prosecutor in the case.

Click here to watch a preview of the 60 Minutes episode.