Sunday, April 3, 2011

Long Island Couple Star in Big Brian The Fortune Seller TRUTV Show

A Woodmere woman is taking her zest for tag sales to the small screen. Anna Dray has been buying and selling jewelry at her Cedarhurst store,

Anna K’s Jewelry, for decades, and she frequently searches for items at tag sales. She’s now taking her expertise on diamonds, rubies and pearls to truTV’s newest show, “Big Brian the Fortune Seller,” which premieres Tuesday night at 10 p.m.

The show also stars Dray’s fiancĂ©, Vinny Kiretchjian, who has also worked tag sales for 20 years. “We’ve been doing this a long time,” Kiretchjian told Patch. “We started buying from Brian [Elenson] and he said it would be a good opportunity to be on the show, and it’s all history.”

The show follows Elenson, as he and his team travel to homes in New York and surrounding states to help owners clear up their houses and hold estate sales. “Brian tears houses apart for anything of value, sells it in a one-day, no-refunds, all-sales-are-final slam-bag auction, and makes all the junk disappear,” according to truTV’s website. “With hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially up for grabs, this ain’t your grandma’s tag sale.”

The first episode shows the team as they work a house in Sayville, according to Kiretchjian. The couple was a little closer to home over this past weekend, when some 1,500 people showed up for a sale they were holding in Woodmere. But, Kiretchjian pointed out, “We go everywhere.” Kiretchjian, who grew up in Queens Village and now lives in Pennsylvania, said he hopes Five Towners will tune in to the show to support the Woodmere native and mother of Hewlett-Woodmere students.

The couple met in Cedarhurst, when Kiretchjian was looking to open an eBay store down the block from Anna K’s. “Me and Anna fell in love on Central Avenue,” he said. “I call her my ‘Central Avenue angel.’” Story from The Five Towns Patch To Contact Anna K call - 516-374-2662

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wrongly Convicted Exonerees - Add Your Blog, Website or Story

Since 2006, I have been receiving many compelling stories from wrongly convicted exonerees from all over the world. I decided to add on My Blog, Barbara's Journey Toward Justice Here a special place for Wrongly Convicted Exonerees to list their website, blog or story. It is easy to do. Just add your site to "comments" below (Click on word Comments) or send me an email for now. For my email see "My Contact Information" on right sidebar. I will have a special place just for "Wrongly Convicted Exonerees". Let your story be heard.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Christy Sheppard,Debra Sue Carter's Sister Is Working To Free The Wrongly Convicted and Prevent Wrongful Convictions

Women Gain When Men Wrongly Accused of Rape Are Freed

Run Date: 07/27/06
By Maddy deLone
WeNews commentator
The Innocence Project often opens the prison gates for men falsely accused of sex assault. Its staff is often asked whether its work serves the interests of rape survivors and women generally. Commentator Maddy deLone says the answers are yes and yes.

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Earlier this month, Alan Newton walked out of a Bronx courtroom a free man. Twenty-two years after he was convicted for a brutal rape that he didn't commit, he was finally exonerated. For the first time since 1984, he decided what he would wear and what he would do.
One of the first things he did was approach several dozen reporters to talk about the rape survivor who mistakenly identified him as the perpetrator, leading to his conviction. Before addressing his own wrongful conviction and his new freedom, he said his thoughts were with the rape survivor. His voice chocked with emotion, he expressed compassion and sympathy for her.

To date, 182 people nationwide have been exonerated with DNA testing. The Innocence Project represented many of them, just as we represented Alan Newton. Because we only take cases where DNA can yield conclusive proof of innocence, many of our clients are men who were wrongly convicted of sexual assault. Ninety percent of the 182 exonerations involved sexual assault (sometimes in combination with murder and other crimes). While the criminal justice system began using DNA testing two decades ago to help identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent, it has become more prevalent and more sophisticated in recent years.

Since our clients are primarily men convicted of heinous crimes against women, some people wonder whether our work serves the interests of rape survivors and women generally. I strongly believe that it does in very specific, individual ways, and also more broadly and profoundly.

When No Justice Is Served
When the wrong man is convicted of assaulting a woman, nobody sees justice. The true perpetrator can remain at large, unpunished for a horrible crime and able to rape again. In one-third of the 182 DNA exonerations, we haven't just proved someone's innocence; the DNA has been used to help identify the true perpetrator.

As Alan Newton recognized earlier this month, wrongful convictions--once they're finally overturned--reopen crime victims' wounds and prevent them from moving forward, often decades after a crime. Once DNA proves that the wrong man was convicted, rape survivors are often brought right back to the night of the crime. Many are left questioning how they identified the wrong man, and wondering whether they will have to endure another trial, years later. The pain survivors experience at such times could be avoided if wrongful convictions were prevented in the first place.

Beyond the substantial consequences for the wrongly accused and individual rape survivors, wrongful convictions concern many of us because people of color and poor people are disproportionately targeted by our criminal justice system. That's troubling enough, but when it's done in the name of protecting the public and punishing violence against women, we cannot stand by.

More Men of Color Convicted
Among the 182 exoneration cases, where the race of wrongly convicted people is known, nearly 75 percent are men of color. No two cases are alike, but in many of them, police focused on an African American man immediately and ignored information that might have led to other suspects. In some of them, police coerced confessions, prosecutors concealed evidence and defense attorneys for poor defendants failed to challenge faulty evidence and law enforcement tactics.

The leading cause of wrongful convictions--playing a factor in about 75 percent of the exoneration cases--is eyewitness misidentification. The day after Alan Newton was exonerated in the Bronx, a member of a "men's advocacy" group called our office. He wasn't calling to help Newton find a job or offering other support to him, as many others have. He wanted to know why the Innocence Project doesn't pursue perjury charges against rape survivors who identify the wrong man.

Aside from the patently offensive notion of putting rape survivors on trial, the truth is that eyewitness misidentification is often the result of flawed law enforcement techniques that lead crime victims to identify a suspect who police already presume is guilty. The Innocence Project pursues policy reforms to improve identification techniques nationwide so crime victims aren't led to misidentify innocent people. These include specific changes to police lineup procedures, which have already been adopted by a number of cities, states and counties.

Women Who Help Our Work
A number of rape survivors and crime victims work with the Innocence Project to remedy the deeply embedded problems in our criminal justice system that cause wrongful convictions in the first place. They are all incredibly strong, powerful and amazing women. A particularly inspiring partner in our work is Christy Sheppard of Oklahoma.

Her cousin, Debra Sue Carter, was brutally raped and murdered in 1982. Six years later, Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were convicted; Fritz was sentenced to life in prison, while Williamson received the death penalty and came within five days of being executed. In 1999, both men were exonerated with DNA testing, which indicated that the state's main witness against them was actually the perpetrator.

In the years since, Christy Sheppard has pressed for state legislation to create an Innocence Commission that would study wrongful convictions in the state and identify steps to avoid future wrongful convictions. She says this advocacy is her way of fighting for real justice for her cousin, and for countless other women.

In very different ways, Christy Sheppard and Alan Newton remind us why working to free the wrongly convicted and prevent wrongful convictions is critical for everyone involved. They show us not just what's at stake, but that all of us can--and must--do our part to correct injustice.

Let me preface this by saying that I have an enormous amount of respect for the efforts of The Innocence Project. Those involved devote their time to freeing individuals who have been wrongly convicted and it is through their efforts that many men who have been falsely accused of rape and other crimes have been freed.

For this, I applaud them.

That said....the premise of this article is to convince people that it is beneficial to women if innocent men who are wrongly convicted of rape are freed from jail.


What bearing should it have upon the righting of a heinous wrong if it serves the interests of women? It is done because it is right; it is done because anything less should be unthinkable.

Unquestionably, we all benefit and the greater good is served when right and justice prevail but even if this were not the case; even if it could be indisputably proven that women were negatively effected by innocent men being released from jail....WHO CARES?

It's a telling commentary that this issue is even addressed....that even for one minute, when discussing the wrongful imprisonment of innocent men, there should be a need to expound upon it's mutual benefits to women.

Is this how we now define justice? Is right now determined by whether or not something benefits women? Do we need to convince the masses that something will ultimately serve the best interest of women in order for it to be deemed worthy of action?

An innocent man should not have to sit one day behind bars. An innocent man should not have to have his life destroyed for something he never did. An innocent man should be set free from jail because he is innocent. Whether or not such an action is beneficial to women is immaterial. It is an offense to justice, truth and right that this question was ever asked. Above all, it is an offense to the innocent men whose lives have been wasted behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit.

From A Great Blog - Equal but Different: It's Only Right When It Benefits Women

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wrongfully Imprisoned - Dennis Fritz and Darryl Burton Speak Out

From left, Josh Kezer of Columbia applauds as Dennis Fritz greets Darryl Burton as the former inmates told their stories of wrongful imprisonment as part of a Midwestern Innocence Project fundraiser Wednesday night in Neff Hall Auditorium at the University of Missouri.
Photo by Parker Eshelman

Josh Kezer speaks to audiences across the county warning of the reality of wrongful convictions. He doesn’t do it for himself or the publicity; he passionately tells his tale for all the men and women he believes deserve a new day in court.

In front of a standing-room-only classroom last night on the University of Missouri campus, Kezer and two other exonerated inmates told their stories in an effort to raise money for the Midwestern Innocence Project. Through fundraising, the organization provides legal counsel for prison inmates in cases that have a high probability of being overturned.

Sean O’Brien, an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law and Midwestern Innocence Project board member, is one of many masterminds who head exoneration cases or work to find an attorney to handle a case. With a staff of two attorneys, a fundraiser, legal secretary and several volunteers in Kansas City, he works to conduct the groundwork needed to jump-start a potential exoneration case.

“We want people to be able to put a face on the issue,” O’Brien said. “People understand there are innocent people in prison, but this makes it real to them.”

O’Brien and project attorneys rely on volunteers to sort through the 700 cases the project has on file. Only two or three cases will be selected this year, he said, sometimes making a successful exoneration into a five-year process.

DNA evidence and testing technologies have contributed to clearing numerous inmates nationwide, including 20 Missouri cases since 1980. Typical components of an exoneration case include eyewitness misidentification, junk science, false confessions, lousy lawyering and snitch testimony, O’Brien said. Each of the three exonerated speakers’ cases was a mixed bag of such components, including snitch testimony.

Kezer was 17 when he was arrested for shooting a Southeastern Missouri State University student three times. He was prosecuted in Scott County and served 16 years in state prison. He was exonerated last February after a rebuke of prosecutor-turned-Congressman Kenny Hulshof.

In a 44-page decision, a Cole County circuit judge said Hulshof withheld key evidence from defense attorneys and embellished details in his closing arguments. Conflicting testimony and three jail inmates who had claimed Kezer confessed to the killing later acknowledged they lied in hopes of getting reduced sentences.

“They didn’t care about the truth. I should have never been arrested,” Kezer said. “That’s not me saying that. That’s out of the judge’s mouth.”

Also sharing his story was former high school science teacher Dennis Fritz. Ron Williamson and Fritz were convicted in the sexual assault and murder of a 21-year-old woman who was found strangled in December 1982 in Ada, Okla. In 1988, both men were convicted, partially because of microscopic hair comparisons done as part of a scientific testing method that has since been largely discredited.

Fritz and Williamson, who served 11 years in prison, also were convicted based on testimony by witness Glen Gore, an informant later shown by DNA testing to have been the real killer. Gore was later convicted of rape and murder.

“I was convicted by snitch testimony,” Fritz said. “These were the dirtiest of the dirty and the lousiest of the lousy. They needed to find me guilty.”

Fritz’s tale became the subject of a John Grisham book, “The Innocent Man.”

St. Louis resident Darryl Burton served the longest time in prison of the three speakers. For 24 years, he worked to clear his name of a murder he did not commit. He said he found faith and his grown-up daughter in the process.

Burton was convicted in 1985 of a gas station murder on the basis of testimony by two people claiming to be witnesses. No physical evidence or motive was offered at the trial, but the two witnesses made deals with the prosecutor in exchange for their testimony because they faced unrelated felony charges.

“I thought it would take 24 hours for them to realize they made a mistake and let me go,” Burton said. “It took 24 years.”

By Brennan David

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Friday, February 5, 2010

Court Dismisses Libel Case Against Grisham

Three public officials from Oklahoma lost their bid to revive a libel lawsuit against best-selling author John Grisham and other writers who penned books about the wrongful convictions of Dennis Fritz and Ronald Williamson. Oklahoma District Attorney William Peterson, former police officer Gary Rogers and ex-criminalist Melvin Hett accused the authors and their publishers of engaging in a "massive joint defamatory attack" in order to drum up opposition to the death penalty. Williamson and Fritz were wrongly convicted of the 1982 rape and murder of cocktail waitress Debra Sue Carter. After spending more than a decade in federal prison, they were exonerated by DNA evidence.

Grisham's book about Williamson, called "The Innocent Man," describes a broken criminal justice system that condones "bad police work, junk science, faulty eyewitness identifications, bad defense lawyers, lazy prosecutors, [and] arrogant prosecutors." Fritz's book, "Journey Toward Justice," criticized the public officials who put him behind bars. And his former attorney, Barry Scheck, devoted a chapter of his 2003 book, "Actual Innocence," to the wrongful convictions. The plaintiffs also sued author Robert Mayer, whose book "The Dreams of Ada" explored a case that shared many parallels with the Carter case, including Peterson as prosecutor and Rogers as investigator.

Grisham said he found Mayer's book particularly helpful in his research for "The Innocent Man." All but "Actual Innocence" were published or re-released in October 2006. A federal judge in Oklahoma dismissed the libel claims, saying the books were protected political speech. The 10th Circuit agreed. Under Oklahoma law, public officers can't sue for libel unless someone falsely accuses them of a criminal act. "[P]laintiffs point to no statement in which defendants directly accuse any plaintiff of a crime," Judge Carlos Lucero wrote for the three-judge appellate panel. "Any connection between defendants' statements and an accusation of criminal activity is far too tenuous for us to declare them as unprivileged," Lucero added. The judges similarly rejected claims for civil conspiracy, emotional distress and false light invasion of privacy, and denied the plaintiffs' motion to amend.
Courthouse News Service
Read More about Case

Thursday, February 4, 2010

10th Circuit Dismisses Libel Suit Against John Grisham

A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a libel suit filed by an Oklahoma prosecutor and other state officials against best-selling author John Grisham.
The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Grisham and other defendants were protected by an Oklahoma statute imposing high burdens on libel plaintiffs who are public officials, the
Tulsa World reports.

The suit was filed by three former public officials: Pontotoc County District Attorney William Peterson, a state criminal investigator and a criminologist. They had alleged Grisham’s 2006 nonfiction book The Innocent Man had defamed them and inflicted emotional distress, the Associated Press reports. Grisham’s book chronicled the convictions of two men exonerated in the murder of an Oklahoma waitress after spending more than a decade in prison.

Other defendants included one of the exonderated defendants, Dennis Fritz, who also wrote a book about the case; and Fritz’s lawyer, Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project in New York.
The 10th Circuit
decision (PDF) cited an Oklahoma statute requiring libel plaintiffs who can’t prove special damages to prove libel per se—a statement that is clearly defamatory on its face. Plaintiffs who are public officials carry an especially heavy burden, since the statute allows them to sue only for false statements that they engaged in criminal behavior.
“Plaintiffs expect us to scale a mountain of inferences in order to reach the conclusion that defendants’ statements impute criminal acts to plaintiffs,” the opinion said. “We decline to engage in such inferential analysis, or to take a myriad of other analytical leaps plaintiffs ask us to make.
By Debra Cassens

Read More about Case

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Quick 5 questions for Dennis Fritz

1- Give us some background about what happened to you. I was living Ada, Okla., raising my young daughter. I was a science teacher. A murder happened in Ada. Debbie Sue Carter was viciously murdered and raped. A year before, I met an individual named Ronnie Williamson. Ronnie had bipolar disorder and the police didn’t like him. He would do bizarre things. They(police) zeroed in on Ronnie and me. They had no evidence yet they wanted to solve this crime.

2- So how you did get out of prison? I started working on my own case and learned criminal law inside and out. I contacted the Innocence Project for help. I was released on the strength of DNA evidence testing. When we were released, the actual murderer of the crime escaped from minimum security prison in Oklahoma. He was serving time for another crime. They had tested his DNA against the crime scene DNA and they matched. Anyway, he escaped from prison after knowing we had been exonerated. They caught him.

3- What inspired you to write “Journey Toward Justice?” Five years after we were released, I read an Associated Press article that said John Grisham was going to write a book about our case. I told myself that if John Grisham can write a book about my case, well so can I. I collaborated with John for about nine months on his writing of “The Innocent Man.” John gave me his one and only endorsement on my book.

4 -When you read or hear criminal accusations against suspects in the news media, do you believe them or are you deeply skeptical? I’m very deeply skeptical. There could possibly 10 to 20 percent people who are actually innocent who have been found guilty. After 10 years and they’re still screaming their innocence, then they’re innocent. I can tell by being around people who have been incarcerated for something they didn’t do by how they act. They lose that con job after a year or two in prison.

5- In ways did the ghosts of your ordeal haunt you as you penned the book? Five years had passed from the time I was released to when I started writing. I had feelings of alienation and paranoia. When I would hear a car door slam outside, I’d start thinking in my mind the fear of seeing the cops in my driveway. If I saw a police car drive by my house, I would kind of freeze. I tried to talk myself out in so many ways of not writing the book, but I had a good and strict editor.
By Michael Glover -
The Examiner Independence, MO —

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Men Exonerated for Crimes They Had No Part of Tell Their Story

One says he's positive there are other innocent men still behind bars.
By Rob Hoy Wednesday, October 14, 2009
About 50 Oklahoma City University Law students heard from three men who were wrongfully convicted of crimes.
Dennis Fritz was one of the speakers Wednesday night... He spent 11 years in prison in Oklahoma for a murder he didn't commit and he says he knows other inmates who he believes are innocent...
"It's like everybody that's been falsely convicted and has been down for a few years... you can tell when you look in somebody's eyes, another inmate, if they're telling you the truth."
Second year law student Justin Joseph says cases like Fritz's are incredible to hear...
"It seems like there's a lot of problems with our system that these guys are facing."
Two of the other speakers spent at least 15 years each behind bars for crimes they have now been cleared of.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dennis Fritz The Other Innocent Man

In 1982, 21-year-old Debra Sue Carter was brutally murdered in the small town of Ada, Okla.

In 1988, former Lee’s Summit resident Dennis Fritz and his acquaintance Ron Williamson were charged and convicted of the murder. Fritz was sentenced to life in prison and Williamson received the death penalty­­.

On April 15, 1999, Fritz and Williamson were exonerated by DNA evidence.

In 2006 John Grisham released his first non-fiction book based on the events of the case, “The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town.” And shortly after, on Oct. 6, 2006, Dennis Fritz released his own memoir about the case, “Journey Toward Justice.” On Saturday, Sept. 12, Fritz will host a book signing from 2 to 6 p.m. at Maxwell’s, 301 S.E. Douglas in downtown Lee’s Summit.

Revisiting the past

Although Fritz had already written a little about his trial, his appeals and his conviction while in prison, once he was released he wasn’t eager to revisit that portion of his life.

“Anyone who has spent several years in a penitentiary — a hard and violent place —will walk out with post traumatic stress,” Fritz told the Journal last Friday.

And he just wanted to get on with his life.

But after five years had passed, and he had adjusted to life after prison, he began to work with Grisham on “The Innocent Man.”

“I told myself, if John (Grisham) can write about my case, then so can I,” Fritz said.

But writing his own story proved to be more difficult than he had anticipated.

“It was tremendously difficult,” he said. “When I started writing my book I began to be revisited by my thoughts and fears from the trial.”

Fritz said he became almost paranoid again.

“Whenever I saw a cop car or heard sirens drive by my house I was afraid they would pull in,” he said. And Fritz had every reason to be afraid. The arresting officers and the former district attorney who prosecuted him were still telling media outlets they believed Fritz and Williamson were still guilty.

“There’s no statute of limitations on murder,” Fritz said. “I was fearful I was going to go back.”

In 2003, DNA evidence convicted another Ada resident, Glen Gore, for Carter’s murder. But after his death sentence was overturned in 2005, he was sentenced to life without parole in 2006.

The Never-ending Case

Although Gore had been convicted and both Grisham’s and Fritz’s books had been written and become widely popular, Fritz wasn’t done with his journey through the courts system. Only this time it was in civil court.

In 2007, former Pontotoc County District Attorney, William Peterson, and former Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation employees, Gary Rogers and Melvin Hett, sued Fritz, Grisham and their publishers for libel.

“They made a mistake and even now, they don’t want to admit it,” Fritz said about the investigators.

In September 2008, a judge dismissed the lawsuit, calling the petition’s claims “not plausible,” but Fritz said the decision was appealed.

“From the time of her death in 1982 until now, 27 years have passed by and this is still going on,” Fritz said.

Working for the innocent

Although Fritz spent more than 11 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and is still entangled in a civil lawsuit regarding the same case, Fritz isn’t too bothered by his past these days.

“Especially after spending 12 years in a hard and violent penitentiary, nothing bothers me too much.” Fritz said. “Things are meant to happen for a reason and I was sacrificed to bring about reform.”

In fact, Fritz said his case is one of the leading cases used to expose corruptness in the legal system.

“I want to focus on bringing awareness, and I use my book for that,” he said.

Now Fritz serves as a board member for the Innocence Project, the same organization he contacted while in prison.

With the help of the organization, DNA samples found at the crime scene were re-tested and none of it was found to match DNA from either Williamson or Fritz.

Now Fritz helps the same organization that helped him. He frequently makes appearances to talk about his case and works to raise money for the organization so more innocent prisoners can be exonerated.
Source Miranda Wycoff, Journal Staff


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project’s Second Annual Awards Luncheon

Over 300 Supporters Attend MAIP 2nd Annual Awards Luncheon
Seven exonerees of wrongful convictions and a best-selling legal writer were among the speakers July 15 at the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project’s Second Annual Awards Luncheon.
John Grisham, whose book The Innocent Man has helped bring light to wrongful convictions, was the keynote speaker at the event after receiving the Champion of Justice Award. Grisham was introduced by Dennis Fritz, whose struggle for freedom was chronicled in Grisham’s book.
Grisham’s speech highlighted many of the accomplishments by the innocence movement. He also stressed the need for future action, emphasizing the case of the four convicted sailors known as the Norfolk Four. Former VA. Gov. Mark Warner was given the award last year.

Fritz was joined on stage by six other exonerees. Marvin Anderson, Victor Burnette, Aaron Michael Howard,, Beverly Monroe, Earl Ruffin Marty Tankleff and Fritz each spoke about their time in prison, their exonerations and their lives outside of prison.
The legal teams that represented Howard and Tankleff were also honored, receiving the Defender of Innocence awards. Over 330 supporters, including attorneys from 30 Washington D.C. and Richmond law firms were among the guests at the luncheon, which was held at the Washington D.C. Grand Hyatt Hotel.
The MAIP 3rd Annual Awards Luncheon will be held during the summer of 2010 at a date to be determined. If you would like to be on the mailing list to receive updates on the event, please e-mail


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fabricated DNA

(CBS) Scientists in Israel have successfully fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA, potentially undercutting what has been considered key evidence in the conviction or exoneration in crime cases, the New York Times reported.
According to the newspaper, the scientists also demonstrated that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person.
"Any biology undergraduate could perform this,” said Dr. Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper, which is published online in the journal Genetics.
The paper asserts that while DNA analysis has become a centerpiece of law enforcement, the possibility that such evidence can be faked has not been considered.
"This is potentially huge news in the world of criminal justice, which hasn’t yet even fully had the time to embrace DNA for all of its uses," said CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "And I suspect it won’t be long before defense attorneys are using this study to undercut DNA analysis and conclusions in cases all over the country."
"This is potentially terrible news for prosecutors and police and the military and all sorts of industries that use DNA testing to confirm or find information," Cohen adds. "As the paper’s author says, 'You can now just engineer a crime scene.' Good news for crime dramas on television but not so much to the criminal justice system."
"It’ll be interesting to see how the legal world reacts to it and whether this study will be embraced or scorned by DNA experts here in the States," Cohen said. "But you can be sure that before too long DNA evidence in criminal cases all over will be challenged based upon these findings."

Please post your comments here

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson and Hair Analysis in Forensics

In 1982, microscopic hair analysis of strands found on the body of a victim was used and Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were framed for the murder. Seventeen years later, DNA analysis of the same hair fragments was used to prove that these men were innocent.

As this case shows, hair analysis has come a long way the past thirty years.
Hair analysis, basically, is the scientific examination of a hair sample. It can be hair from a crime scene examined to find out who committed the act, or it can be hair taken from the back of your head and sent to a laboratory where it is checked for signs of health problems.
Hair analysis is still an evolving science, and while it has a lot of potential, we need to be careful about what we expect hair analysis to tell us about the person whose head it used to grow on.
The scientific basis of hair analysis
The scientific basis of hair analysis is simple: when new hair cells are forming in the hair follicle, they take in traces of substances going through the blood stream of the individual. As hair grows, the new cells push out the older ones, and as cells come out of the bulb, they die and harden - and thus create a long lasting record of whatever was in the blood of the person when they were forming.
Besides the hair stand itself, the sebum that coats the hair (from the sebaceous gland connected to the hair follicle) also contains traces of the drugs and minerals flowing through your body. And if the root or the root sheath is attached to the hair, it also provides a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) record.
Hair can thus keep a more long-lasting record of what passes through the body of an individual than either blood or urine – the body fluids which are usually used for such tests. Each hair lives about 5-6 years before it falls off the scalp.
Hair analysis techniques
A trichogram is a physical macro- and microscopic examination of hair and the scalp – the kind of hair analysis which was used to convict Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson. Today doctors use this mainly to find out why a person is losing hair, or how much of his hair are in the growing or resting or falling phases.
Modern, more sophisticated, hair analysis uses gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to chemically test hair or find its DNA composition. Usually, a pencil-tip thickness of hair close to the body (from the region behind the head just above the neck) is cut out. The hair closest to the scalp is used because it is the most recent growth, and it can be expected to show the most recent condition of the body.
The hair is usually dissolved for this procedure and the extract is analyzed for minerals, drugs, toxins or heavy metals. This data is also used, more controversially, to diagnose diseases and deficiencies/excesses in your system.
Modern methods are sensitive enough to find traces of minerals/metals/drugs that are a thousandth of a gram (microgram), or a nanogram (one billionth of a gram) or even a picogram (one thousandth of a nanogram) per gram of hair.
Hair analysis for minerals, drugs and toxins
Hair analysis is a standard medical test for chronic arsenic poisoning – the stuff of whodunits, but in real life more often seen in agricultural workers who inhale fumes containing arsenic from insecticide sprays or dust.
Another accepted use of hair analysis is to show if someone has been taking illegal drugs – cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, or alcohol. The analyst checks for the presence of the substances themselves or their metabolites (the products of the body’s metabolism of these substances) in the strand of the hair. The results of such tests have been acceptable in courts of law a long time.
But there are a few problems with this analysis –
1. False positive or negative results are possible, so results always need to be confirmed by another technique.
2. If hair analysis shows a positive result for a substance, it is difficult to say where it came from especially if it is quite commonly found. For example, for illegal drugs like marijuana a positive result might mean the person consumed the drug, or it might only mean he was physically close when someone else was smoking it.
Hair analysis in forensics
One hair analysis case in Germany in 1990s involved a dog suspected of causing a traffic accident. Later this particular dog was found innocent of the crime because DNA taken from the dog did not match DNA taken from dog hair fragments stuck to the car.
A physical examination of the hair found in the crime scene, sometimes under a microscope, can show details like the race a person belongs to, and it be used to rule out possibilities. At this level, evidence cannot be used to identify a single person. But this can be done if the hair has root or root sheath material attached, which can be used for DNA analysis of the hair. DNA fingerprinting is accepted as definitive evidence.
Hair analysis is also used in forensics to check if a person has been sticking to a drug regimen (or a no-drug regimen). A person’s hair keeps a record of amphetamines, opium, cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol ingested for months. While hair analysis will not show if someone was driving under the influence or smoked pot yesterday (because even the hair closest to the scalp can be weeks old), it can show if he has been taking alcohol or pot the last month (or three or four or more months, depending on the length of hair available for analysis).
Source Link and more on Hair analysis potential and limits

More on Dennis Fritz Click Here

Better 10 Guilty Men Go Free than to Convict a Single Innocent Man

Published: 2009-6-9
"Better 10 Guilty Men Go Free than to Convict a Single Innocent Man"
Article provided by Paul Cramm
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The essence of this quote forms the very cornerstone of the system of justice that separates the United States from virtually every other civilized nation. Think about the presumption of innocence; the requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt; the requirement of a unanimous jury verdict. These core elements of our system of criminal justice all flow directly from the premise that the wrongful conviction of a single innocent person is ten times worse than a guilty person going unpunished.

Many of us are instinctively patriotic; downright “‘jingoistic” about the protections afforded us by the Bill of Rights: the right to be free from unlawful search and seizure of our person or effects; the right to remain silent if accused of wrongdoing; the right to be represented by counsel; the right to a trial by jury.

We take off our hats and hold our hands over our hearts when we hear the national anthem at a sporting event. We get misty eyed at images of our enlisted men and women returning from active duty. We hang our flags on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day the Fourth of July and Presidents Day.

How many of us, however, grumble disparagingly under our breath during the evening news when a photograph of a suspect is displayed during a report of a criminal investigation, based on nothing more than the suspect's race, ethnicity or socio-economic status? How many of us could truly be fair and impartial jurors in a criminal case after we have seen or read wholly unsubstantiated news accounts of the alleged incident? How many of us refrain from commenting about sensational and salacious tidbits spread about a criminal case we have seen or heard about on the news? How many of us would honestly and sincerely honor the Defendant's Constitutional Presumption of Innocence?

If you grew up in an upper middle class (or better) family and neighborhood, there may not be anyone in your immediate or extended family who has ever even been accused, let alone convicted, of a criminal offense. It’s possible that someone in your family got a DUI on his or her way home from the annual company Christmas party, or maybe someone in your family got caught with a misdemeanor amount of marijuana while in high school or college. But the reality is that true, firsthand experience with the criminal justice system is rare among most middle and upper class registered voters: the people most likely to be called for Jury Duty.

We live in truly amazing times. An event can occur in New York and someone in Los Angeles can log on to a near "real time" live video feed. We can call from San Diego to Maine on our cell phones, from our cars, and tell each other the events of our day. News media like CNN and MSNBC provide round-the-clock coverage of national and international events. Cable networks provide real-time coverage of trials across the nation. All of this provides us access to information that may be deemed wholly unsubstantiated, unreliable and inadmissible at the ultimate trial of a sensationalized crime.

Thus, can we be "good jurors" in today's day and age? Are we able to decide cases based solely on evidence admitted into court, regardless of what we may have seen or heard about a case from local and sometimes national or even international news media? Often times being fed dramatized information from the day of the crime, which happened long before trial was scheduled? Moreover, do we all still agree that it truly is “Better that 10 guilty men go free than to convict a single innocent man” or has it become too easy to ignore the reality of wrongful conviction; as long as it isn't happening to our own neighbors?

The Innocence Project has now had some 100 death sentences overturned based upon post-conviction evidence. According to their study of the first 70 cases reversed:

• Over 30 of them involved prosecutorial misconduct.
• Over 30 of them involved police misconduct which led to wrongful convictions.
• Approximately 15 of them involved false witness testimony.
• 34% of the police misconduct cases involved suppression of exculpatory evidence.
• 11% involved outright evidence fabrication.
• 37% of the prosecutorial misconduct cases involved concealing exculpatory evidence.
• 25% involved knowing use of false testimony.

Keep in mind; these statistics involve Death Penalty cases wherein the State sought to literally kill the innocent person who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

How many of those 100 innocent, wrongly accused citizens were convicted in the media before jury selection ever began in their trial? How many were wholly deprived of their Constitutional Presumption of Innocence? If we allow ourselves to make watershed decisions far "upstream" about whom is and is not deserving of the protections afforded by our Constitution, our entire system of justice becomes a hollow shell with a predetermined outcome.

I recently had the privilege of meeting
Dennis Fritz at local book club meeting to discuss his book “Journey Toward Justice.”
Dennis was charged along with Ronald Williamson for the murder in Ada Oklahoma that prompted John Grisham to write “The Innocent Man.” In Dennis’ book, he describes in a way that only first-hand experience allows what it was like to be accused, arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned for 11 years for a crime he did not commit. The fact that OUR esteemed system of “justice” is responsible for what happened to this innocent man is chilling. We all need to remember that our system of justice is what truly separates us from all other civilized nations. The way we as a community treat those accused of crimes defines us as a nation. We must treat those accused of heinous crime with blind and impartial fairness as much for them as we do for our own integrity.

Sources:FindLaw KnowledgeBase

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Dennis Fritz Author of Journey Toward Justice"

In a way, Brett Behenna wishes he did not have to do what he is about to do.
The Edmond native will join other Oklahomans in support of family members they believe were wrongfully convicted during the state’s inaugural Freedom March, which will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday on the south steps of the state Capitol.

Other events will occur concurrently around the country.
During the local event, supporters will march along a route that will take them south from the Capitol on Lincoln Boulevard to 18th Street across the mall and north on Lincoln back to the steps. Then Behenna will speak about his brother.
On March 20, Army Ranger 1st Lt. Michael Behenna was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing an Iraqi detainee while serving in Iraq. The soldier maintains that he acted in self defense. Government prosecutors said it was premeditated murder.
The jury did not get to hear from an expert witness who would have corroborated Behenna’s testimony. Family members are seeking a new trial. Meanwhile, Behenna is incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Brett Behenna, a 2003 graduate of Edmond North High School who is studying law at the University of Oklahoma, said this type of public speaking will be a new experience for him, but law school has prepared him for it.
Brett said his mother, federal prosecutor Vicki Behenna, of Edmond, an adjunct law professor at the Oklahoma City University Law School, told him about the march. She was asked to participate, but had plans to visit Michael in Kansas this weekend.
“I’m nervous, but I wrote the speech,” Brett said.
Brett said during his speech he will tell Michael’s story, talk about the reason for the event, the fight for justice and how the outcome of each trial should serve justice.

Brett said he and Michael are close, that they have grown to depend on one another. Now it’s his turn to help his brother.
“I hope it’s a big turnout,” he said. “I hope to convince people that Michael’s story is one worth telling and to build support for his cause.”
Local organizer Sherri Heath said the march was organized to raise awareness about the issue of wrongful convictions.
Heath said she has met a lot of families who feel like their loved one was wrongfully convicted through the Raye Dawn Smith case. Heath is co-director of Raye of Hope, an organization that seeks to give wrongfully convicted inmates a voice.

“No one seems to listen about wrongful convictions — lawmakers mainly, judges, the governor, the public,” Heath said, noting that some legislators are aware of the problem. “There are wrongful convictions. There are prisoners who have problems. But they’re not sure what to do.”
Also, some prosecutors in Oklahoma, who are elected, like to win their cases, Heath said.
Furthermore, sometimes lawmakers don’t want to appear to be “soft on crime,” Heath said. One goal of the movement is to replace that attitude with being “smart on crime,” she said.
“We’re trying to get the ones who can change things to actually stand up and do what’s right,” Heath said.
Another issue is the emotional and financial affects of wrongful convictions on family members, Heath said. The average cost to convince the court of a wrongful conviction is $200,000-$300,000, she said.
Often, the wrongfully convicted are first-time offenders not savvy about the system, Heath said.

Raye of Hope
Other speakers will include Dennis Fritz, Author of Gayla Smith, mother of Raye Dawn Smith, and Jim Rowan, chairman of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Gayla Smith believes her daughter was wrongfully convicted in the much-publicized case involving her 2-year-old daughter, Kelsey Smith-Briggs.
In October 2005, Kelsey died from blunt force abdominal trauma and a jury convicted her stepfather, Michael Lee Porter, of enabling child abuse by injury. Porter was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Raye Dawn Smith is serving a 27-year sentence for enabling child abuse.
Gayla Smith contends her daughter was convicted in an unfair trial by a biased jury.
Gayla lost her father to cancer in 2003, her husband to cancer in 2004, her grandmother in 2005, her granddaughter to murder also that same year and her daughter to a wrongful conviction.
Gayla said children are raised to trust in the legal system, but individuals can be accused of anything, and it can happen to anyone.
“Once the allegation is made, it’s up to you to prove that it didn’t happen,” Gayla said.
Laura Hipperson said she traveled from London to support Raye Dawn Smith and the Freedom March. Several years ago, Hipperson heard Raye Dawn’s story. Hipperson said she researched the facts and found parts of it didn’t ring true. Source - Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun
On June 27, 2009 people marched for freedom of the wrongfully convicted around the country. This is one of the news clips from the Oklahoma march. Video is from KOCO Channel Five in Oklahoma City

More On Author Dennis Fritz and His Book, "Journey Toward Justice" CLICK HERE

Praise For The Book "Journey Toward Justice" - From John Grisham
The story of the unwarranted prosecution and wrongful conviction of Dennis Fritz is compelling and fascinating. After serving eleven years for a murder he did not commit, Dennis was exonerated and had the strength and courage to put his life back together. - - John Grisham