Monday, December 22, 2008
Mr. Fritz spoke for 45 minutes with all eyes glued upon him. Dennis captivated the 200+ audience with his very witty, storytelling ability. His very emotional, roller-coaster story out-of-hell— of having been falsely convicted of 1st Degree Capital Murder— touched the hearts of even the most unruliest of students. The students were so attentive and quietly focused to each and every word that Mr. Fritz spoke. Throughout Mr. Fritz’s presentation, it was so untypically quiet, that a straight pin could almost be heard hitting the floor.
Dennis spoke of his book, Journey Toward Justice, and what motivated him to write it.
On occasion, Mr. Fritz, would hesitate in silent thought—with the assembled group feeling his outright, overwhelming emotion from within. At the close of his story, which drew laughter intermingled with triumphant cheer, the students gave Dennis a standing ovation of applause.
Thereafter, Mr. Fritz signed books and visited with some students and staff. Dennis said that, "I will bring forth my story to anyone at any level. If my words can stop just one person from being falsely convicted, then, the 12 long, torturous years I suffered in prison—would be more than worth, it’s weight in gold.
WATCH SLIDE SHOW OF THE OCT. 2008 EVENT HERE
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Upon Dennis’ arrival, the Pardon and Probation officials gathered for an entertaining get together, shortly before a scheduled dinner event at the very popular Hotel. Everyone was so excited and ready to commence with the upcoming, numerous activities planned for the advancement of innovative ideas— whereby accomplishing their desired goals for future accomplishments within their well-organized Department expectations.
That evening, a beautiful display of fireworks illuminated the sky, commemorating everyone’s hard work and devotion, of having made past and present improvements within the Department. It was a night to remember, as everyone relaxed and visited with each other during the lengthy firework display.
Dennis intermingled with each of the attendees and made many new acquaintances and friends.
The following day was filled with a business-like atmosphere—in getting ready for the finality of the day’s agenda. Following a deliciously prepared lunch, everyone anxiously awaited the key-note presentation of Dennis Fritz.
All eyes were glued upon him as he took the podium and shared his horror-filled ( of having been falsely incarcerated for 12 years for 1st Degree Murder ) story with over a 100+ Pardon and Probation officers.
Mr. Fritz explained to the group that he was one of the two main characters in John Grisham’s, The Innocence Man. Mr. Fritz explained that his recently written book, Journey Toward Justice, was the celebrated, co-companion book to Grisham’s The Innocent Man. Being a true advocate of Justice, Dennis related to the group about the many problems that occur in prison, and of all the factors that cause a released inmate to return to prison. The assemble group showed great anticipation as to each and every description Mr. Fritz brought forth.
Following his talk, Dennis signed books and visited with everyone who wanted to talk with him—on a one-to-one basis. All in all, the conference was a huge success— that brought forth a much greater understanding and awareness— of the underlying causes associated with the recidivism rates of inmates returning to prison. Throughout the two day event, a wonderful and lasting partnership was made between Mr. Fritz and the attending U.S. Pardon and Probation members. Each of them had great respect and admiration for their united efforts in making the needed changes in the current system.
PHOTOS OF EVENT HERE - U.S. PARDON AND PROBATION COMFERENCE
You can buy Dennis Fritz's book, on Amazon HERE or you can email me for a signed copy or for large orders.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Upon invitation from Barbara Zaitzow,(the Chair person for the Appalachian State University Criminology Dept. ) Dennis Fritz and Tiffany Murphy met Barbara for the first time at the convention. Barbara’s zeal and radiant personality greatly inspired Dennis and Tiffany—as well as everyone else around her. Within the beautiful setting of the Hyatt Hotel ( located directly beside the renowned Arch, overlooking the mighty Mississippi ) thousands of people from all over the world, joined together, to gain a greater understanding about the theory and insight, of different types of criminal behavior. The atmosphere was bussing with high excitement and jubilation, as everyone anxiously checked into their rooms, and headed directly for registration.
Dennis quickly found a table and set up his books, then circulated throughout the crowds introducing himself; while making many new friends and future contacts. Even though the actual programs did not start until the next day, people were still coming in by the groves to get an early start on the beginning of the three day event.
After a long and luxurious breakfast, Dennis, Tiffany, and Barbara made their way upstairs to their assigned Rose Garden conference room. Before the event, Dennis and Tiffany just happened to bump into Cathleen Burnett, who is one of Kansas City’s very own leaders, in the Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Once inside the conference room, Dennis, Tiffany, and Barbara took their places at the panel table. To an audience of around 50 people, Barbara began by introducing Mr. Fritz and Ms. Murphy. After sharing some of her own insights with the group, Barbara turned over the podium to Dennis, to tell his nightmare out-of-hell story, of having been wrongfully convicted of 1st Degree Capital Murder. He was sentenced to a life sentence, and had to do 12 hard, torturous years in a very tough penitentiary—before being exonerated by DNA evidence. As usual, Dennis gained everyone’s astute attention throughout his spellbinding presentation.
Next, Tiffany began her presentation by sharing with the audience, the tremendous hurdles and obstacles that have to be overcome in effectively running an innocence Project. Tiffany’s strong and assertive words were not only clear and convincing, but had everyone on the edge of their seats. When Tiffany finished, everyone in the room was much more aware and educated as to the overall pitfalls in successfully establishing an inmate’s actual innocence. Following her talk, each of the 3 panelists answered questions—which were quite diverse and challenging. At the close, Mr. Fritz autographed several of his book(s)—Journey Toward Justice!
What a wonderful and powerful conference this year turned out to be.
Click here for photos of event
Saturday, November 29, 2008
The wrongfully convicted man is Dennis Fritz. Here is more about the college:
Buena Vista University - BVU Ranked Among America’s Best Colleges.
For photos of the event click here
Buena Vista University has been named a top school in the U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best Colleges 2009" publication. In the Midwestern Comprehensive Colleges - Bachelor's category, BVU is ranked 12th for academic quality. BVU received the same ranking in the 2008 edition.
"America's Best Colleges 2009" formulates this rating through an accumulation of data on a peer assessment test, freshman retention rate, graduation rate, class size and student/faculty ratio. It also takes into account the percentage of full time faculty, the ratio of students who were in the 25 to 75 percentile on their ACT and SAT scores, and the percentage of freshman in the top 25 percent of their graduating class.
READ MORE: Dennis Fritz On His Journey Toward Justice - Fritz Is One Of The Main Characters in John Grisham's Book "The Innocent Man" ONWARD TO STORM LAKE, IOWA click here
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Dennis Fritz On His Journey Toward Justice - Fritz Is One Of The Main Characters in John Grisham's Book "The Innocent Man"
On November 17, 2008, Dennis Fritz ( author of Journey Toward Justice ), drove to Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa—upon invitation from Lisa Wagner, (Technical Services and Event’s Director at Buena Vista), to share his powerful story at the long awaited, anticipated event.
Storm Lake, Iowa, is a small-nestled township within the northwest section of the State. The flavor and charm of the town is the Lake itself. In the summer months, Storm Lake is the main attraction to many local and out-of-area tourists. One can sense a somewhat mysterious aura that the lake projects—perhaps, as to some long-ago, un-talked about secrets that only the lake can tell.
On the northern edge of the city, the structures of Buena Vista University give birth within, to a highly regimented educative process. Although there are approximately 5000 students at Buena Vista, the students and staff are very closely united, thus allowing a greater one-on-one communication between themselves.
With a sparkle in his eye and a noticeable sense of confidence within himself, Mr. Fritz shared his shocking story with two, back-to-back criminology classes, under the direction of Dr. Stephanie Hays—who is the Assistant Professor of Criminology.
In 1999, Mr. Fritz was released from prison, after having spent 12 long, torturous years for a charged 1st Degree Capital Murder that he did not commit or know anything about, whatsoever! Most people would have been emotionally and permanently damaged if they had been exposed to what Dennis went through. Because of his great inner strength and faith in the Lord, Dennis has overcome the towering obstacles of great pain and suffering, and was still able to put his life back together and move forward in such a dramatic and positive way. Dennis is admired by everyone that he comes in contact with.
Dennis is one of the two main characters in John Grisham’s best selling book, The Innocent Man. Dennis’ book, Journey Toward Justice, is truly recognized as THE companion book to Grisham’s 1st non-fiction work of art. John and Dennis travel the country and do fundraisers together to help raise money for Innocence Projects across the U.S.
In addition, Dennis travels extensively on his own, in sharing his story with an array of various groups across the nation. Being a certified board member for the Midwestern Innocence Project in Kansas City, Missouri, allows Dennis many opportunities to bring about a greater awareness as to the devastating impact of false convictions.
Dennis Fritz took the stage to an audience of around 200+ people. His outright manner, and perfected speaking abilities, put everyone in awe—as to the living nightmare out of hell that he and his family had to suffer through. When Dennis speaks, he can make you cry—and then, in the end—make you laugh with nothing but sheer joy in your heart. Following his talk, Dennis, as usual, autographed his books while warmly greeting everyone. In his modest way, Dennis always says, “I am on a mission to simply bring about a much greater awareness as to how false convictions can destroy someone’s life—as well as, tearing at the very fabric of our moral and legal society.
For More photos click here
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The conference started off with a bang, as Jay Swearingen gave his power point presentation to over 60 female professional secretaries. Jay is an excellent speaker, who captured everyones attention, concerning the overall duties and responsibilities of the Midwestern Innocence Project.
The special guest speaker, Dennis Fritz, took the microphone and told his harrowing story of having spent 12 long, nightmarish years in an Oklahoma penitentiary for being falsely convicted of 1st Degree Capital Murder. The viewing audience was overwhelmed by his detailed description of the sheer madness that he and his family suffered through. Mr. Fritz has now become the leading speaker in the nation on wrongful convictions. His easy-going and mild-manner personality, conveyed the horrendous amounts of injustice from being in a nightmare out of hell.
Following a thunderous round of applause, Mr. Fritz autographed copies of his book, Journey Toward Justice while visiting with each and every attendee in the group. Dennis Fritz and John Grisham travel around the country doing fundraisers for several Innocence Projects throughout the U.S. Dennis is one of the two main characters in Johns 1st non-fiction book, The Innocent Man. Dennis always says, "that it is such a great pleasure and honor to share his story, to bring about a much-needed greater awareness as to the impact of false convictions.
CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Published October 17, 2008 on West Website:
West supports The Innocence Project of Minnesota, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the national efforts of
The Innocence Project, well-known for its work to exonerate wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system.
As part of West’s connection to The Innocence Project, the Thomson Reuters Legal division hosted a presentation on Wed. Oct. 15 to employees at our Eagan, Minn. headquarters by Dennis Fritz, one of two men convicted in 1988 of murdering a woman in Oklahoma. Fritz and the other man, Ron Williamson, served 11 years in prison until DNA evidence proved their innocence.
You may know the case because it also is featured in “The Innocent Man,” a book by bestselling author John Grisham. Fritz also wrote a book about his ordeal, titled “Journey Toward Justice.”
Fritz presented his story to Thomson Reuters employees, answered questions and autographed copies of his book. Afterward, we asked him about his story in this video interview:
After his visit to Thomson Reuters, Fritz joined Grisham at a West-sponsored “Benefit for Innocence” event in Minneapolis, to raise money for The Innocence Project of Minnesota.
To view and download photos from the event, click here.
Headquartered in Eagan, Minn., West is the foremost provider of integrated information solutions to the U.S. legal market. West is a business within Thomson Reuters (www.thomsonreuters.com). For more information, please visit the West Web site at www.west.thomson.com.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
• John Grisham, author of “The Innocent Man.”
• Robert Mayer, author of “The Dreams of Ada.”
• Dennis Fritz, the author of “Journey Toward Justice.”
• Barry Scheck, one of Fritz’s lawyers who helped exonerate him, and a co-author of “Actual Innocence,” that discusses the case of Williamson and Fritz.
• The Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, publisher of “The Innocent Man” and “Actual Innocence.”
• Random House Inc., which owns Doubleday Dell.
•Broadway Books, publisher of “The Dreams of Ada.
• Seven Locks Press and/or James C. Riordan, publisher of “Journey Toward Justice”, is on its way to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Read More: click here >DA Bill Peterson Suing The Innocent Man Dennis Fritz For Emotional Distress Oct.2007
MORE Case Dismissed Sept.18,2008 click here
Thursday, September 25, 2008
In 1977, when Johnnie Lee Savory was 14, he was falsely accused and unjustly convicted for killing his best friend and his best friend's sister in their hometown of Peoria, Illinois.
With the help of Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions, he was paroled and released in late 2006, after spending 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Since Johnnie's release from prison, he has organized a broad coalition of support from some of the most influential and respected lawyers and legal minds in the country. Including John Grisham, - see my post - Sunday, January 27, 2008
"John Grisham Seeks Governor's Aid In DNA-Test Request For Man Convicted Of Double-Murder", click HERE .
Though a free man today, society still considers Savory an ex-felon, which is why he is asking Governor Rod Blagojevich to order DNA testing of the evidence that was used to convict him.
With nothing to personally gain, Johnnie's supporters all agree that his case from start to finish was grossly mishandled, and that the evidence used to convict him demands DNA testing.
Johnnie has started a campaign called Justice for Savory to shine a light on this injustice.
The campaign includes a blog, which you can find here: http://justiceforsavory.windycitizen.com/
Here's the url to Johnnie's youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/justiceforsavory
On the youtube channel, they just posted a youtube video by Rob Warden, the executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions. In the video, Mr. Warden explains why Johnnie's case demands DNA testing and addresses why Lyons is afraid of the truth. Here's the link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tlJZXPgOUo
Monday, September 22, 2008
--CASE DISMISSED--September 17, 2008
United States District Court Eastern District of Oklahoma -
In September, 2007, William N. Peterson, the District Attorney in Ada, Oklahoma, filed a complaint for civil conspiracy, libel, publicity placing a person in false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The complaint was a result of the depiction of Prosecutor Peterson in the following books:
- The Innocent Man by John Grisham -- Doubleday Publishing
- Journey Toward Justice by Dennis Fritz -- Seven Locks Press
- Dreams of Ada by Robert Mayer - Broadway Books
The defendants named were:
John Grisham - Doubleday Publishing
Dennis Fritz - Seven Locks Press
Robert Mayer - Broadway Books
Barry Scheck - Random House
James C. Riordan
On September 17, 2008, Ronald A. White, United States District Judge, Eastern District of Oklahoma GRANTED the defendants motion to dismiss.
Judge White in his opinion stated:
"The conduct complained of here is not extreme and outrageous for two reasons:
(1) the statements are not defamatory because they are constitutionally and statutorily protected and;
(2) the alleged conduct is not atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society.
Therefore it is not plausible that these statements about public officials concerning matters of public concern even comes close to extreme and outrageous conduct."
This is Great News !!
UPDATE - Oct. 2008
This story is just unbelievable. A libel lawsuit against Dennis Fritz, author of Journey Toward Justice and author, John Grisham headed to court of appeals.
Read More HERE
Thursday, September 18, 2008
The lawsuit was filed last year by former Pontotoc County District Attorney William Peterson, former Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation investigator Gary Rogers and Melvin Hett, an OSBI criminologist.
The lawsuit named Grisham, his publishing company and the authors and publishing companies of two other books critical of Peterson and his prosecution of murder cases.
Also named as a defendant was Barry Scheck, founder of the New York-based Innocence Project and an attorney for one of the men falsely accused in the killing of Debbie Sue Carter.
U.S. District Judge Ronald White on Wednesday dismissed the lawsuit saying, "What two words best describe a claim for money damages by government officials against authors and publishers of books describing purported prosecutorial misconduct? Answer: Not plausible.”
Pair cleared by DNA
Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were prosecuted by Peterson and convicted of killing Carter. They were later cleared by DNA evidence and freed after 12 years in prison. Williamson, who was sentenced to death, was just five days away from his execution when he was granted a stay.
Grisham's book, "The Innocent Man,” and Fritz's "Journey Toward Justice” both documented the killing and subsequent trials. A third book, "The Dreams of Ada” by Robert Mayer, explored the investigation and prosecution of two other men for the 1984 killing of Denice Haraway in Ada.
Judge says analysis, criticism are needed
The plaintiffs alleged in their lawsuit that the defendants conspired to commit libel, generated publicity for themselves by placing the plaintiffs in a false light and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.
White rejected those claims in his ruling Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.
"Where the justice system so manifestly failed and innocent people were imprisoned for 11 years (one almost put to death), it is necessary to analyze and criticize our judicial system (and the actors involved) so that past mistakes do not become future ones,” White wrote in his ruling. "The wrongful convictions of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz must be discussed openly and with great vigor.”
The original lawsuit had alleged that attorneys for Fritz and Williamson participated in the wrongful treatment. At one point in the ruling, White quoted the movie "Casablanca,” and he included a footnote with a YouTube link in his ruling as a parody of how attorneys met with experts and discussed the facts of the case, using the opinions that are most favorable to their side.
Gary Richardson, the attorney for Peterson, Rogers and Hett, said he was still reading the judge's order to determine whether he would file an appeal.
"Of course, I'm quite disappointed and a bit surprised at the ruling,” Richardson said. "I felt that we had a solid case.”
Scheck, who worked to help free Fritz and Williamson, said he was pleased with the ruling.
"This is a victory for free speech and for holding officials publicly accountable for their role in wrongful convictions,” Scheck said in statement. "The court noted that we can learn from wrongful convictions to improve the system, and we can't do that unless these cases are fully examined, even when the facts are embarrassing for public officials who were involved in these miscarriages of justice.”
My first post on story - Tuesday, October 2, 2007
DA Bill Peterson Suing The Innocent Man Dennis Fritz For Emotional Distress
Dennis Fritz, who wrote the book, "Journey Toward Justice", is named as a defendant in a libel lawsuit along with , John Grisham, author of "The Innocent Man", Robert Mayer, author of "The Dreams of Ada", and all their publishers, and New York City attorney Barry Scheck, Fritz's former lawyer who once represented Fritz and is co-director of The Innocence Project.
With the aid of Barry Scheck and irrefutable DNA evidence, Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were exonerated in 1999. Pontotoc County District Attorney Bill Peterson and Gary Rogers, a former agent for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation filed the libel lawsuit. The lawsuit, seeks at least $75,000 compensation and demands a jury trial. Peterson and Rogers were instrumental in the conviction of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz in the murder of Debbie Sue Carter in Ada, Oklahoma in 1982.
The conviction was later overturned on DNA evidence pursued by the Innocence Project, which Scheck heads, Dennis Fritz was wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit and spent 12 years in prison. Part of the lawsuit claims the defendants conspired to commit libel against the plaintiffs, generate publicity for self interest by placing them in a false light and intentionally inflicting emotional distress upon them.
So... Prosecutor with the help of Gary Rogers sent 2 innocent men, Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson to prison for 12 years. Both Innocent men freed by DNA evaluation of crime scene evidence. Innocent man, Dennis Fritz writes book about his experiences. Prosecutor and Gary Rogers sue the innocent man they wrongfully sent to prison and Prosecutor and Rogers sue for intentionally inflicting emotional distress upon them. Only in America Folks...
Posted by Barbara's Journey Toward Justice
UPDATE OCT. 2008
Dennis Fritz, "The Innocent Man" and John Grisham's Real Life, "Appeal"
This story is just unbelievable. A libel lawsuit against Dennis Fritz, author of Journey Toward Justice and author, John Grisham headed to court of appeals. Read More HERE
Sunday, August 31, 2008
It took three years for David Donaldson and Mark Grisham — the younger brother of John Grisham — to finish their debut novel “Bedlam South,” which will hit bookstores worldwide on Oct. 7, 2008.
“Bedlam South,” a novel that begins and ends in an insane asylum during the Civil War, could be the saving grace for its novice authors as well as a Southaven charity.
Both Grisham and Donaldson have pledged that a significant portion of the proceeds from the sale of their book will go to help Impact Missions, the organization that Donaldson oversees.
Recently, donations to the nonprofit that helps needy and neglected children and families dropped drastically as the effects of a slumping economy trickled down to charitable organizations.
Donaldson, Impact Mission’s president, recently had to ask local governments for extra funding to pay the bills for this month.
“Whatever success we have with this book, we want to help this dedicated charity,” Grisham said. “So, we want to get the word out about our book, because it is a blessing for us and so many others.”
They didn’t ask Mark’s big brother, John, whose best-selling novels have brought him international fame, for help.
“We could’ve taken that short cut and asked him for advice, but we were raised to paddle your own canoe,” said Mark Grisham, 47, who lives in the Nesbit area and whose company sells heavy construction equipment parts. “After we finished the book, I told John and he almost fell off his chair. He then read it and he gave us some helpful tips.
“He also told me he was glad we got it published without help from him because he wants us to get all the credit.”
A little added information:
The book is being published by State Street Press, a publishing arm of Borders Books.
A Los Angeles company is working to turn "Bedlam South" into a screenplay.
The two longtime friends, who have known each other since junior high school, started their literary career in 2005.
Impact Missions Inc. Website - (click here ). .
Features a Donation Link
Impact Missions Address:
8791 Northwest Drive
Southaven, MS 38671
Friday, August 29, 2008
If legislature passed death penalty law, I would sign it I support adequate funding for a strong public safety presence in Alaska. Feeling safe in our communities is something we cannot accept any compromise on. This includes policing in all its forms, the court system, prosecutors and corrections. If the legislature passed a death penalty law, I would sign it. We have a right to know that someone who rapes and murders a child or kills an innocent person in a drive by shooting will never be able to do that again. Source: Campaign website,www.palinforgovernor.com, Issues" Nov 7, 2006 ,
Sarah Palin is against abortion and gay marriage,as well as the right to bear arms.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
The idea is simple: Each of the 52 playing cards contains information about a murder, a missing person or another unsolved crime.
Inmates know information law enforcement agents don't, and as corrections officers can attest, inmates love to talk as long as it's not about their own crimes.
Most of the cases featured on the New York cards deal with missing persons, but some show unsolved murders, some dating to the 1980s.
Inmates can provide information by calling a hot line. They're not required to provide their names. Cindy Bloch, case manager at New York's Criminal Justice Services, said she's encouraged by the response.
"Prior to the playing card program being implemented, we had virtually no calls coming from correctional facilities," she said. "We now have 40 or 50 calls per month coming in."
Sheriff Jack Mahar, who runs the county jail in Rensselaer County, New York, said he replaced all the playing cards in the jail with the cold case cards.
"The people that are here live out on the streets, they grew up out on the streets, they know what's going on," Mahar said.
"Sooner or later, someone will hear, someone talks; it always happens whether it's two days from now or five years from now."
Even inmates think the cards are a good idea.
Doug and Mary Lyall began the card program in New York. Their daughter has been missing for a decade.
Cards could help uncover cold case clues"
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were two of those wrongfully convicted based on inaccurate and misleading forensic evidence. A visual hair comparison - a “science” that has an error rate as high as sixty-seven percent on individual samples - was a major factor in their convictions. They spent over a decade in jail, with Williamson on death row, until DNA testing proved their innocence in 1999. The DNA at the crime scene matched the man who originally led police to Williamson and Fritz.
The problems in Fritz and Williamson’s case are among those highlighted in a new publication from The Justice Project (TJP), which is designed to help states improve the quality of evidence in criminal trials and increase fairness and accuracy within the criminal justice system.
A new publication from The Justice Project (TJP), Improving the Practice and Use of Forensic Science: A Policy Review, provides an overview of the problems with certain forensic science policies and procedures, offers solutions to these problems, profiles cases of injustice, highlights states with good laws and procedures, and includes a model policy for the states.
The Justice Project recommends that:
· States create an independent, transparent oversight commission to develop and enforce quality standards for forensic science laboratories.
· States require all forensic science laboratories to develop internal structures and policies to prevent bias in testing and analysis.
· States require that all forensic laboratories are independent from law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies.
· States require that all forensic laboratory analysts receive proper training and certification.
· States allocate sufficient funding to adequately implement these recommendations.
To ensure a more fair and accurate criminal justice system, it is critical to improve the reliability, objectivity, and independence of forensic analysis and testimony in criminal trials and investigations. This and other policy reviews are available on TJP’s website at www.thejusticeproject.org.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Book List: DNA data banks, judicial error, false imprisonment, forensic sciences. I will be adding more books to list in the future. To Submit A Book - Have a book to recommend and add to list, just click on the word "comments" on bottom of post and add a book to list. Must be on subjects.
- Journey Toward Justice Author: Dennis Fritz, Seven Locks Press, 2006 - judicial error, false imprisonment, forensic sciences
- DNA Databases edited by Lauri R. Harding - Greenhaven Press, Dna Crime Scene: Inside the World of the Real CSIs by Connie Fletcher - St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2007
- The Forensic Laboratory Handbook: Procedures and Practice edited by Ashraf Mozayani and Carla Noziglia - Humana Press
- Crime Scene: The Ultimate Guide to Forensic Science- Law - DK Publishing 2003 by Richard Platt (Author)
Partial List of Books about Forensics for Youths
- Whodunit? : Science Solves the Crime Author: Otfinoski, Steven.; Scheld, Betsy,Publication: New York : W H Freeman, 1995 Reading Level: Ages 4-8
- Police Lab: Using Science to Solve Crimes Author: Sheely, Robert, 1956-Publication: New York : Silver Moon Press, 1993 Reading Level: Ages 9-12
- Cool Careers for Girls as Crime Solvers Author: Thornburg, Linda, 1949-Publication: Manassas Park, VA : Impact Publications, 2001
- Forensics - Author: Ball, Jacqueline A. Publication: Milwaukee, WI : Gareth Stevens Pub., 2003 Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Monday, August 18, 2008
FIGHT FOR FREEDOM
On June 21, 2008, an outside rally was held in Harrah, Oklahoma for Raye Dawn Smith. She is now serving a 27 year sentence for the charge of Enabling—in that, she ‘should have known’ that her former husband was abusing her child Kelsey, which thereafter resulted in her death.
At a country-side park ( just minutes away from the prison where Raye Dawn is currently incarcerated ) people were arriving in carloads, to give their unyielding support for Raye Dawn’s declared innocence.
The keynote speakers, Dennis Fritz, author of Journey Toward Justice ( the co-companion book to John Grisham’s, The Innocent Man ), and Tabitha Pollock—along with her husband, Abe—were seen in and around the pavilion, greeting and meeting Ray Dawn’s family members and guests. Tabitha, who had also been once convicted for the same charge of Enabling, was outwardly expressive in showing her empathy, as she mingled throughout the now-crowded assembly of people in sharing her support.
The smell of grilled hotdogs permeated throughout the gathering, thus signaling everyone’s attention that this special day, would help to bring forth Raye Dawn’s long sought-after freedom. The building intensity of emotions could easily be felt, like a fast moving thunderstorm sweeping through on a once calm, cloudless day. Every word and mannerism expressed by the guests and family members, were powerfully focused on one thing, and one thing only—to bust open those prison gates that wrongfully restrained Ray Dawn Smith.
As the large populated crowd sat down at the picnic tables to enjoy their lunch, the rally began. Several members of Ray Dawn’s family—including her mother, Gayla, went to the front and poured their hearts out. The inner strength of their words brought tears to everyone’s eyes. Their outright determination bore the resemblance of a lit cherry bomb that was about to ignite. A true spiritual blessing from the holy spirit was being felt by everyone in attendance. It was almost like you could feel the overhead pavilion shaking from it’s very foundation.
Next to speak was Tabitha Pollock. The emotion in her voice could not hide the tremendous amount of pain and suffering that she had been through. As she told her story of the traumatic years she spent behind bars— in having to deal with the agony of her daughter’s death—her broken words pierced everyone’s heart like a horror story straight out-of-hell. Although tears were streaming down from her eyes, an enormous inner strength brought forth a renewed Raye-of-Hope, that one day, Raye Dawn Smith’s innocence would be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Her slowly spoken words reverberated the pent-up scars that extended to the depths of her soul. Her courage shined through like a brilliant light as she shifted from side to side. It was the first time that Tabitha had told her complete story in front of a group of people.
When she had finished, it was noticeably visible that a great burden had been lifted from her shaking, small-framed body. Everyone clapped and cheered with joy and happiness as she passed the microphone. God bless you, Tabitha!
The next speaker, Dennis Fritz, described his horrible account of having been wrongfully convicted for 12 years of 1st Degree Capital Murder. Mr. Fritz eloquently compared his nightmarish circumstances to that of Raye Dawn Smith’s plight for justice. In his straight forward and easy going manner, Dennis spoke of hope and divine intervention for Raye Dawn and her family. His inspiring words also brought forth a tremendous comfort and renewed hope, that Raye Dawn would be exonerated in the near future.
With all eyes glued upon him, Mr. Fritz further conveyed the many instances how the Lord had been there to help him throughout his wrongful conviction. Following a brief silence of inward thought, Dennis raised his head and said, “Raye Dawn will receive her freedom through her strong faith and belief in the Lord. At first, my prayers were all about asking the Lord to get me out of this situation. After entering prison, my prayers changed by giving thanks to the Lord for being in the actual process of opening those prison doors.
It was my full faith in the Lord that brought about my miracle of freedom.” One could easily see that strong feelings of faith, love, and determination were running through everyone’s minds. Thereafter, Mr. Fritz went to a designated area outside the pavilion and signed many books for the people standing in line.
Now, the time was at hand for the spectacular event—the releasing of the balloons! Hundreds of multi-colored balloons were SET FREE into the sky, as a commemoration to Raye Dawn’s upcoming day of FREEDOM. The expressions of glamour and celebration were on everyone’s faces, as the drifting balloons found their way to a freedom that would never end.
The rally ended with group photograph pictures. All of the family members and guests wore their purple Fight For Freedom Tee-shirts, that were being sold for donations. Right before each picture was taken, Mr. Fritz would count to 3 and everyone would yell as loud as they could—“FREEDOM.” Needless to say, countless pictures were taken. What a day to remember. It is that very memory that is still-framed in everyone’s mind—on that very special day— that will help to bring about that glorious DAY OF FREEDOM that WILL come to Raye Dawn Smith. Hallelulla!!!!!!
FOR PHOTOS CLICK HERE
Thursday, August 14, 2008
So far, more than 200 people have been exonerated by DNA evidence, yet according to a New Report on Post-Conviction DNA Testing , (Link here) many states – including Oklahoma -- still have barriers that prevent DNA testing from being used effectively. Improving Access to Post-Conviction DNA Testing: A Policy Review provides an overview of problems with current post-conviction DNA testing laws, offers solutions to these problems, profiles cases of injustice, highlights states with good laws and policies for DNA testing, and includes a model policy.
This is the link to The Justice Project here .
According to the policy review, Oklahoma is one of seven states without a statute for post-conviction DNA testing access. (The others are Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts, Mississippi, South Carolina, and South Dakota.) Oklahoma passed a statute in 2000, but it expired in 2005. Other states with access statutes
TJP’s policy review includes six common sense recommendations for improving state post-conviction DNA testing to create a more accurate criminal justice system and restore public confidence in the system’s ability to correct its own errors.
Without DNA testing, Dennis Fritz would still be in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. But it’s clear from this report states still have a long way to go to make sure that every wrongfully convicted person has a fair chance to prove their innocence through DNA testing.
All of TJP’s policy reviews are available on its website at The Justice Project
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
I’m pleased to provide you with an electronic copy of the latest TJP policy review, Improving Access to Post-Conviction DNA Testing: A Policy Review. (Click the title for PDF.) This policy review provides an overview of problems with current post-conviction DNA testing laws, offers solutions to these problems, profiles cases of injustice, highlights states with good laws and policies for DNA testing, and includes a model policy.
TJP’s six recommendations for states will improve the effective use of post-conviction DNA testing to create a more accurate criminal justice system and restore public confidence in the system’s ability to correct its own errors.
All of TJP’s policy reviews are available in the National Work section of our their website The Justice Project, here
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Raye Dawn Smith convicted to 27 years in jail because she should have known of the abuse of her 2 year old daughter Kelsey, not that she knew anything but convicted on the basis that she should have.
On October 11, 2005, Raye left the home for 30 to 40 minutes to pick up her step-daughter from school. Mike Porter was expecting a friend to pick up some tires and Kelsey was sleeping so Raye went to pick up the child and left Kelsey in bed with Mike Porter watching after her. When Raye Dawn returned home, an ambulance was there and Kelsey was unresponsive. Kelsey died later that day.
Raye has been convicted of enabling child abuse with a recommended sentence of 27 years. Raye shared a special bond with Kelsey. She would have never allowed anyone to harm her child.
Due to the mass media coverage on this case, Raye Dawn Smith was not granted a fair trial. Join us in starting an online petition to bring light to the injustice that has occurred as we lobby for fairness in this over-publicized case.
In a local television interview, the D.A., Smothermon, stated "the media has been detrimental to this case...I would rather take the evidence and present it to twelve jurors..."
Raye refused to take a blind plea for spanking Kelsey with a brush. She said, "I didn't do it! I won't take it!" Raye Dawn is innocent, it's time to set the record straight. She left her fate in the hands of a jury, a jury that got it wrong.
To Read More "The Truth About Kelsey"
Thursday, August 7, 2008
The possibility of solving crimes committed years ago is hampered by lack of DNA samples as well. The biggest problems surrounding this issue are the guidelines and length of time for saving DNA material and the requirements and cost for storage.
What states are doing:
• South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed a proposal last month that, in part, would have mandated preservation of biological evidence. He says he supports giving the "wrongly accused a chance to clear their names" but could not endorse a provision requiring all suspects charged with felonies — but not yet convicted — to provide genetic profiles.
• A similar proposal in New York, one of the largest states that do not require DNA preservation, died in the State Assembly in June.
• Colorado prosecutors and defense lawyers are grappling to implement a broad law that requires law enforcement agencies to keep DNA evidence in murder, sexual assault and other serious cases for the lifetime of convicted defendants. It also calls for keeping DNA evidence in less serious crimes.
• Arizona lawmakers approved legislation, which takes effect Dec. 31, to maintain biological evidence in murder and sexual assault cases for as long as the offender remains in prison.
Larry Pozner, former head of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, says states have shown a "shocking" disinterest in keeping DNA: "Innocent inmates are going to die in prison."Evidence preservation has been the key to freeing more than 200 wrongfully convicted prisoners, says the Innocence Project, a group that works to free the innocent based on DNA testing.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Psychologically and emotionally, coping with what happened to me and the after effects has been hard, as has adjusting to being free after having decisions made for me for such a long time. In many ways, it is like being dropped off on a strange planet where one knows nobody, doesn’t understand the culture, customs, or technology.
Financially, it is a struggle. I earn money by giving lectures on wrongful convictions across the country at high schools, colleges, churches, and other community organizations, but I never know when or if the next one is coming. I also write an article a week for a local newspaper on criminal justice and wrongful conviction type subjects. When I have tried to find a job making consistent income to support myself in between engagements, I am only offered dead end jobs being paid next to nothing because I don’t have the same level of experience that others have.
It has been hard breaking in socially. Most people have a circle of friends and people that they socialize with. They form these associations from work, college, high school, and friends of friends. But I am never at the same location twice unless I get invited back, I email in my articles for the paper, at college the students were in the wrong age group, and I was incarcerated during what would have been my high school years. What does one do when one has no assets with which to start?
I am a solutions oriented, pro-active person who has a never give up mentality. But I am in an environment which I do not fully understand. To deal with readjustment and what happened to me, I see a therapist twice a week. I have worked hard trying to learn technology, for the most part on my own through asking questions here and there. I am not quite caught up to speed, but I have learned a lot. Financially, I have started my own non-profit organization whose purpose is to disseminate information about wrongful convictions, get reforms passed, help exonerate people, and help the exonerated reintegrate, and am currently looking for funding from both wealthy people and other philanthropic organizations. If I can find it, not only will those issues be worked on but I will help supervise things, and thus I will in effect have created my own job. I have also tried to get a loan, using my lawsuit as collateral. The goal would be to borrow enough to have a modest amount of money to live off of for the next 3-4 somewhat akin to what I would make as a salary while I await compensation. I am willing to pay back the principal and interest, as well as an additional amount of money for doing me the favor, but again I have not been able to find anybody. Litigation banks want such an absorbitant amount of money interest wise that I might as well be handing them the lawsuit.
In terms of trying to find people to do things with, I would like people between 25-37 to hang out with, who are educated, progressive, and social justice type people, who like doing energy based type things for fun, such as sports, anything involving a ball, swimming, biking, karaoke, trying new things, going to new places, parks, amusement parks, historical places, and just having a good conversation, who live within 25 minutes of Tarrytown, NY. I have went to a variety of places, tried many ideas that others have suggested, placed ads on meetup.com, myspace, and Craigslist. I even tried starting my own Meetup group; alas no one showed up. I do not know what else to try. If anybody would like to send me a message of support, comments, much needed ideas, make a contribution to help the foundation get started, or even to hang out if you are within 20 minutes of Tarrytown, NY, please email me through my website www.JeffreyDeskovicSpeaks. All emails will be answered.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Area high school students and TCC Biotechnology students didn’t blink while a man who spent 11 years in prison described what it was like to be behind bars, and innocent. Their eyes were cemented to the speaker, not even looking away when someone opened a door allowing sunlight to spill into the black theatre.
As Dennis Fritz spoke, empathy enveloped him. Teenagers, sometimes revered as the toughest audience to engage, didn’t breathe as he told a
story that seemed to come straight from Hollywood.
Dr. Diana Spencer, coordinator of the biotechnology program, invited both Fritz and Forensic Supervisor Cassie Johnson to speak at this year’s event.“We wanted to expose students to the real-life events connected to biotechnology,” she said. Fritz was convicted of first-degree murder in 1988, along with co defendant Ron Williamson (Williamson died in 2004). Fritz received a life sentence while Williamson received the death penalty. At one point, Williamson was literally days away from being put to death. The two spent 11 years in prison until they were exonerated on April 15, 1999 at the Pontotoc County Courthouse. Fritz and Williamson were convicted based on unreliable evidence and false confessions. They got their freedom back thanks to The Innocence Project: a non-profit legal clinic affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University and created by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld in 1992.
According to www.innocenceproject.org, the project is “a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.”
were prosecuted before DNA biotechnology, and use the miniscule amounts of DNA to free the incorrectly incarcerated.”
people. Before Fritz spoke, Johnson, who does pro bono work for The Innocence Project, told students about her life as a Forensics Supervisor and Technical Leader of Y-STR and mtDNA Analysis at Orchid Cellmark in Dallas. She gave an overview of tests they perform in the lab as well as a snapshot of what her typical day includes. She said forensic science is a lot different than what is portrayed on popular crime investigation television programs. While entire crimes are solved in 20 to 40 minutes on television, actual DNA testing can take from a few days to a few weeks.
To finish the day, the 100 high school participants performed DNA
testing on strawberries at the Health Sciences and Biotechnology Learning Center, also on the Southeast Campus. Johnson and Fritz accompanied the students, watching as possible future biotechnologists got their first taste of DNA analysis.
secondary schools and engage students in conducting DNA la procedures. Funds also provide materials for secondary teachers to use in classrooms
so they can incorporate biotechnology experiences into their everyday
curriculum. Spencer said the grant, along with TCC’s Health Sciences and Biotechnology Learning Center, enables TCC to train the students needed for this exploding field.
“In Oklahoma, the occupation of biological technician is one of the 30 fastest-growing jobs in the state,” she said. “Biotech has been described by the U.S. Department of Commerce as essential to the national long-term economic growth and leadership.” She said she appreciates Fritz and Johnson speaking at the Biotechnology Extravaganza, hoping their personal and professional experiences will touch students in a way that textbooks cannot. “It takes what they’ve learned in the classroom to a new level,” Spencer said. “These events describe how effective science can change lives."
Orchid Cellmark Inc. is engaged in the provision of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing services that generate genetic profile information by analyzing an organism’s genetic identity. The Company’s business focuses on DNA testing for human identity, particularly for forensic and family relationship, as well as security applications. The Company provides DNA testing for agricultural applications, including for food safety, selective trait breeding and traceability purposes, all of which are conducted in the United Kingdom. The Company caters to various government agencies, private individuals and commercial companies. Majority of its customers are based in the United States and in the United Kingdom. On October 31, 2007, the Company acquired ReliaGene Technologies, Inc. (ReliaGene), a provider of forensic and paternity DNA testing services based in New Orleans, Louisiana. More from Reuters »
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Scott included photos of himself and Laci within his blog. CCADP blog offers free web-space to death row inmates.
On his blog Scott Peterson discusses what he considers to be "his wrongful conviction."
Scott Peterson was convicted Nov. 12, 2004, for the 2003 deaths of his wife, Laci, and their unborn child, Connor. Laci Peterson was eight-months pregnant when she died.
Laci was reported missing after her disappearance on Christmas Eve in 2002. Laci's body was found April of 2003 in California's Berkeley Marina. Her unborn baby boy was found washed up miles away.
Scott's personal website is from Death Row - San Quentin, California.
The website includes links to his family's blog entitled Journey To Justice" and a website called ScottPetersonAppeal.org.
Scott has an entry on his personal page, saying he’s encouraged by the mail he receives. He states he enjoys hearing from people.
His prison mail address is also posted so people can write to him.
Contributors to "Journey to Justice" includes, none-other-then, Scott Peterson, sister Susan Cuadillo and parents Jackie and Lee Peterson. On June 6th, 2008, Scott Peterson's was the first to post on "Journey to Justice." It is titled "Let's Try a Blog".
Blog Excerpt -
"Knowing that there are rational, thoughtful people, willing to look at the evidence, and some so kind as to drop notes of good will or send a small donation has a huge positive impact. We want to have better communication with such great people and it has been suggested that we do a blog." - Scott Peterson, entry from Journey to Justice.
Laci's mother is outraged that her daughter's killer has access to the Internet from inside San Quentin State Prison.
In an interview with CNN’s Larry King, Laci’s mother, Sharon Rocha, said that, "although Scott’s family is entitled to the family blog,
I still feel that it’s not right that Scott has the ability to speak on the Internet through his family or friends or whomever."
What a joke this is ! What about Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot's Case. THEY'RE INNOCENT, and have been in prison for well over a decade-for a murder they did not commit.
View CNN VIDEO HERE Heading - Laci Peterson's mom outraged 5:07
Larry King talks to Laci Peterson's mom who is outraged Scott Peterson is using the internet to proclaim his innocence.
What do you make of the controversy about Scott “blogging” from San Quentin?
You can post comments here on my blog, Barbara's Journey Toward Justice HERE. Would like to hear what you think.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Here is a great forum called, "Raye of Hope" Link HERE- Information and assitance on wrongful convictions and false allegations.
This forum is an informational site on wrongful convictions and false allegations, that also provides information on wrongful convictions.
It is their goal not only to educate the public about the reality of wrongful convictions, but to help who have been wrongfully convicted or falsely accused.
For contact information for Dennis Fritz you can email me or write, to doc.fritz(at)yahoo(dot)com.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
About author, Michael Knigge.
Michael has headed up the German editorial team of DW-WORLD.DE since 2004. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the English service of Deutsche Welle Radio, as well as for various news agencies. Michael is an alumni of young professional programs with the Aspen Institute Berlin and the American Council on Germany and he was a Media Fellow at Duke University in 2006.
He studied in Germany and the U.S. and holds a Master's degree in American Studies. Michael is based in Bonn, Germany.
Michael Kniggs has a blog called,"Across the Pond".
Across the Pond is a joint German-American blog about the U.S. election campaign 2008 with a focus on international aspects of the presidential race.
Excerpt from an article titled "Barack Obama Alienates Europeans By Favoring Death Penalty And Right To Bear Arms"
"What is politically interesting is that Obama has arguably switched to the right on two key issues for conservatives in the last week: gun control and the death penalty. Which brings up the old issue of flip-flopping again. Does this make him a flip-flopper or a savvy politician? That probably depends on whether Obama can argue his switch convincingly. What do you think?"
To read full article click Here
Thursday, July 10, 2008
full page ad in USA Today with a letter from the Rivera family.
The ad is in Thursday, July 10th's edition of USA Today.
An Open Letter, from the Rivera Family.
Jose's death did not have to happen. Jose served in the United States Navy and survived two tours in Iraq. But it wasn't the war that killed him - he survived the war. We lost our son and brother on June 20, 2008 at the hands of inmate improvised weapons at the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, CA, where Jose was a Correctional Officer. And as a Federal Correctional Officer, dealing with the most violent criminals in the United States, he was not armed, nor was he provided an armored vest.
Under federal Bureau of Prisons policy, Jose could only be armed with a radio. He was taken from us because of the situation in Federal Prisons today. The Justice Department is cutting back on staff and cutting funding for programs that could prevent the kind of violence that took Jose's life. Overcrowding, underfunding and depriving our Officers of the tools they need to defend themselves will only lead to more violence and more lives lost. Just this week at the United States Penitentiary in Hazelton, WV there was another lockdown due to an assault, tragically proving that what happened at Atwater was not an isolated event-it's happening across the country.
If federal prison funding continues to decline, incidents such as these will skyrocket.
When will the Justice Department take action?
Do more Correctional Officers have to die?
Jose is gone. His death is senseless. We can't bring him Back.
Please let Congress know that this tragedy could have been prevented.
Call your Representatives and Senators at 202-225-3121 and tell them that the underfunding and overcrowding of federal Prisons is unsafe, reprehensible and will be the cause of more tragic deaths.
The Rivera Family
A website I highly recommend:
This site is primarily for Correctional Officer and Staff. All forms and members of the Law Enforcement Community are welcome. Some Public Discussions
Public Discussions - Information and Knowledge Base Information -Archive for Correctional and Law Enforcement - Unions and Associations - Regional Discussion - United States Local Discussion for all 50 States: State, County, and City welcome - U.S. Federal and Military forums -PO.Org Staff, Support, and Suggestions Correctional Officers and Law Enforcement ONLY - What's Going On? and Donations.
To all my friends at prisonofficer.org - I am not "60 Minutes", but I hope this helps getting your voices heard.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Kudos To Walter D. Smith Wrongfully Incarcerted 11 Years Now Motivational Speaker and Professional Body Builder
More on Walter Smith from The Innocence Project:
Walter D. Smith
Incident Year: 1985
Charge: Rape, Kidnapping, Robbery
Conviction: Rape, Kidnapping, Robbery
Sentence: 78-190 Years
Year of Conviction: 1986
Exoneration Date: 11/8/96
Sentence Served: 10 Years
Real perpetrator found? Not Yet
Contributing Causes: Eyewitness misidentification
In July of 1985, while awaiting trial on unrelated charges, Walter D. Smith was identified by three women who had been sexually assaulted several years earlier. Smith plead guilty to the other charges but adamantly denied the accusations of rape.
In 1986, based on the testimony of several eyewitnesses, the jury convicted Smith of rape of two of the three victims and handed down a sentence of 78 - 190 years.Smith continually maintained his innocence and became a model prisoner, completing a drug rehabilitation program and acquiring an associates degree in business from Wilmington College. According to his testimony, Smith started requesting DNA testing in 1987.
When DNA testing was completed in 1996, the results revealed that Smith could not be the perpetrator of these rapes. Independent testing by the Franklin County prosecutor's office confirmed these results and on December 6, 1996, Smith was paroled.
Following his exoneration, Smith successfully sought compensation for the additional five years that he was imprisoned due to the rape convictions. Walter D. Smith is a motivational speaker and professional body builder. Please visit WalterDSmith.com for more information.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Music by Jonathan Batiste . YOUTUBE VIDEO Click Here.
I will adding Special Photos of the event on my blog,
" Barbara's Journey Toward Justice ". Here
Please visit again for updates.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
I will be adding many great photos of the event on my blog soon.
An Emotional Night At The Innocence Project’s Second
by Jeff Deskovic
On May 7, 2008, The Innocence Project held its second annual fundraising Gala Dinner. The Innocence Project is a not-for-profit organization that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners in those Annual Gala Dinner
cases in which DNA testing can prove innocence. They also work towards bringing about legislative changes to prevent wrongful convictions in the first place. There have been 215 people across the country who have been exonerated through DNA evidence. Over 150 of those cases were personally worked on by The Innocence Project.
Such work, of course, requires money. The attorneys and other staff members must be paid a salary in order to focus full-time on the cases, as do the people who work on policy. Beyond that, there is other overhead, and other costs of litigation. Additionally, as a tactic that has sometimes worked in overcoming prosecutorial objections to the testing based on cost, The Innocence Project also offers to pay for the testing.
The focus of the evening was to show previous donors the result of their work, with the purpose of encouraging them to continue making contributions, while at the same time raising money to cover the event. Celebrated author John Grisham, who is also an attorney, was the guest of honor. The evening was billed as a “Celebration of Justice and Freedom.”
Grisham had written a book entitled “The Innocent Man”, which was the story of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, who had been wrongfully convicted of murder in Oklahoma. The book has been responsible for raising the awareness of countless people across the country about wrongful convictions. In addition, Grisham serves on the board of directors of The Innocence Project, and has helped raised funds for the Mississippi Innocence Project. He has also lectured about wrongful convictions around the country.
Grisham was invited to speak. He spoke of how he came to write the book, and mentioned that he had read the following obituary in The New York Times, written by Jim Dwyer:
Ronald Williamson, Freed From Death Row, Dies at 51
Published: December 9, 2004
Ronald Keith Williamson, who left his small town in Oklahoma as a high school baseball star with hopes of a Major League career but was later sent to death row and came within five days of execution for a murder he did not commit, died on Saturday at a nursing home near Tulsa.He was 51. The cause was cirrhosis of the liver, which he learned he had six weeks ago, his sister Annette Hudson said. Mr. Williamson’s early life appeared charmed. As a pitcher and catcher in Ada, he twice led his high school teams to the championship of a state where another native son, Mickey Mantle, enjoyed the status of near deity.
The Oakland Athletics picked Mr. Williamson in the second round of the 1971 amateur draft. After six years in the minor leagues, Mr. Williamson saw his career end because of arm injuries. He returned to Oklahoma and worked at a sales job, but began to show signs of a mental illness that was eventually diagnosed as bipolar disorder. His marriage, to a former Miss Ada, broke up. He returned to his mother’s home and slept 20 hours a day on the couch, Ms. Hudson said, afraid of his old bedroom. In late 1982, a waitress, Debbie Sue Carter, 21, was found raped and killed in her apartment in Ada. The case remained open until 1987, when a woman who had been arrested for passing bad checks told the police that she had heard another prisoner discussing the killing. The man, she said, was Mr. Williamson, who had been in the jail for kiting checks.
Mr. Williamson was charged with the killing. So was a second man, Dennis Fritz, a high school science teacher who had been one of Mr. Williamson’s few friends when he returned to town a er his baseball career. The evidence, the authorities said, consisted of 17 hairs that matched those of Mr. Williamson and Mr. Fritz, and the account provided by the woman who said she had heard Mr. Williamson confess.
A second jailhouse informer later stepped forward to buttress the case against Mr. Fritz. Mr. Williamson and Mr. Fritz were tried separately and found guilty. Mr. Fritz was sentenced to life in prison, and Mr. Williamson - who had not received his psychiatric medicines for months before the trial and shouted angrily at the prosecution witnesses - was sentenced to die. Mr. Williamson later said the prison guards taunted him over an intercom about Ms. Carter’s murder. In September 1994, when all of his state appeals had been exhausted, he was taken to the warden’s office and told that he would be executed on Sept. 24. He recalled filling out a form that directed his body to be returned to his sister for burial. A team of appellate lawyers, however, sought a writ of habeas corpus from Judge Frank H. Seay of Federal District Court, arguing that Mr. Williamson had not been competent to stand trial and that his lawyer had not effectively challenged the hair evidence or sought other suspects.
Judge Seay granted a stay five days before Mr. Williamson was scheduled to die. In 1998, lawyers from the Innocence Project at the Benjamin C. Cardozo School of Law in New York arranged DNA tests for Mr. Williamson and Mr. Fritz. They showed that neither man had been the source of the semen or hair collected from the victim’s body. Another man, Glen D. Gore, has since been convicted of the killing and sentenced to die for it. Mr. Williamson and Mr. Fritz were freed in April 1999. On a visit that spring to New York, they took a tour of Yankee Stadium, and Mr. Williamson wandered along the sparkling outfield grass. “I just got a taste of how much fun they were having up here,” he said. Besides Ms. Hudson, another sister, Renee Simmons of Allen, Tex., survives.
The two men later won settlements for their convictions. But Mr. Williamson continued to be troubled by his psychiatric problems, Ms. Hudson said. Last year, however, he participated in a one-mile march, making an appeal to the governor of Illinois to commute the sentences of death row prisoners in that state. That obituary led Grisham to learn more and more about Williamson and Fritz’s case, and eventually he decided to write the book.
Grisham recounted how Williamson had suffered on death row: struggling with mental illness and being given improper medication, pulling his own hair out as well as his teeth. He mentioned how the guards had tortured him as well, speaking to him through an intercom, pretending to be the victim and how he would pay for the crime. Further, the author stated that Williamson, who died from cirrhosis of the liver, which went untreated in prison.
He then spoke a little bit about the death penalty, and how it poses the danger of executing innocent people, and why that was a reason to do away with it. He said that one day DNA testing would prove that an innocent person had been executed; though he was unsure of the ultimate impact of that on the whole death penalty debate, however he seemed to be saying that that element was probably the best shot attending the death penalty, and that he would want to write a book on that case if and when it occurred.
Of course, the late Ron Williamson, and his surviving co-defendant Dennis Fritz, who was, in fact, in attendance at the Gala, were not the only people horrifically impacted by their wrongful convictions. I cannot imagine what Renee Simmons and Annette Hudson, Ron Williamson’s sisters, went through. Grisham mentioned that when Williamson was within days of being executed, the family was called by the prison and asked what they wanted to do with the body. Both Simmons and Hudson were in attendance.
Christy Sheppard, the sister of Debra Sue Carter, the murder victim that Williamson and Fritz were wrongfully convicted for killing, also had her life changed forever. She was only eight years old when the crime happened, and she grew up believing that Williamson and Fritz were guilty. Grisham mentioned that it had shattered their family. Carter’s family believed they could finally move forward knowing that the perpetrators were brought to justice.
Trying to triumph over the tragedy, Sheppard became part of a growing and critical component of the innocence movement: crime victims and their families who want to address and prevent wrongful convictions. Working with the Innocence Project and local advocates for the past two years, Sheppard has campaigned for an Oklahoma innocence commission, an independent entity with members from all areas of the criminal justice system that investigates previous wrongful convictions and suggests reforms to prevent them. Sheppard has talked with legislators and the public about wrongful convictions and the need for a state commission. “When I learned about this innocence commission, all the stars aligned, and I knew that’s what needed to be done,” Sheppard said. When Curtis McCarty of Oklahoma was exonerated in May, Sheppard’s family joined McCarty’s parents and others at a press conference to renew the call for an innocence commission.
The gala dinner was a very emotional experience for me. As I watched each exoneree mention their name along with the amount of time that they served, I understood, as no one, other than an exoneree, could, the suffering that wrongful incarceration wreaks on a person. I realized that in some ways each person’s traumatic time in prison was different, and that the particular horrors may differ, along with the types of mistreatment. Yet there are a lot of similarities that are true across the spectrum, and certainly the experience of being wrongfully imprisoned puts people in a much better vantage point from which to understand the havoc that it wreaks.
With each mention of a name, along with the amount of time served, thoughts raced through my mind of just what that incarceration and all of its effects entailed. Then, I tried to imagine going through it with that length of time. I kept in mind as well that many had experiences worse than mine. Some had been on death row, while others were housed in prisons in other states that were much worse than the horrible ones in New York.
I heard the names of Alan Newton, who served 21 years in New York for rape; Barry Gibbs, who served 19 years for murder in New York; Scott Fappiano, who served 21 years in New York for rape, sodomy, burglary, and sexual abuse; Roy Brown, who served 15 years for murder in New York; David Shephard, who served 9 ½ years in New Jersey for rape, robbery, weapons violations, and terrorist threats; Chris Conover, who served 18 years in North Carolina; Kennedy Brewer, who had been sentenced to death and served 15 years in Mississippi; Dennis Fritz, who served 12 years for murder in Oklahoma; Jerry Miller, who served 24 ½ years in Illinois for kidnapping, rape, and robbery; James Tillman, who served 16 ½ years for sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery, assault, and larceny in Connecticut; Calvin Johnson, who served 15 ½ years for rape, aggravated sodomy, and burglary in Georgia.
The sight of Fritz on stage, with Williamson’s sisters, along with Sheppard, all in solidarity, was so powerful that I teared up a bit. When it was my turn to speak, I quickly mentioned that from 17-years of age, I served 16 years in New York for a murder and rape which DNA cleared me of. I also mentioned obtaining my B.A. in Behavioral Science, and of my dream of becoming an attorney and working to exonerate others who have been wrongfully convicted. The exonerees had all been allotted 30 seconds in which to speak, yet I felt that this was an opportunity to try to bring awareness to a problem that is very often overlooked amidst all of the justifiable attention paid to wrongful convictions and exonerations: the financial difficulties in being able to reintegrate.
Much as I had done in prior interviews with the media, I decided to sacrifice personal privacy by using myself as an example of a problem, in order to call attention to it, with the hope that there would be changes, or at the very least that I would get the conversation started. I mentioned that The Innocence Project has a program by which they collect donations, and spend them on the exonerees on an emergency basis. These funds had been paying the costs of my phone, mental health services, my car insurance, as well as my internet connection, but that these funds would be cut off in a few months, due to my reaching the cap of what they will allocate to each wrongfully convicted person.
Despite making money by speaking and writing articles, I would be unable to absorb these additional costs, yet I would need these services just as much as before. Elaborating further, I mentioned that when I had tried to get consistent work in addition to these, not having the work experience, I have been unable to compete with others my age group, due to what happened to me, and thus financial offers have been dead end jobs paying next to nothing. I also referenced other exonerees who would be facing similar issues. Many came up to me afterwards and said that they had been moved. Whether or not that translates into donors making more contributions to the emergency fund or not, remains to be seen. But despite feeling inadequate and somewhat embarrassed at not being able to thus far be on an even par with others my age who had never been wrongfully convicted, I felt that I had to at least try.
Article Reprinted With The Permission Of The Westchester Guardian
Click HERE - For the video that opens with Exoneree Dennis Fritz dancing with the mother of the murder victim in the case for which he was wrongfully convicted.
The Video - Author John Grisham discusses his book "The Innocent Man" at the Innocence Project's Annual Benefit.
Please also visit Jeff Deskovic wonderful website at www.jeffreydeskovicspeaks.org