Saturday, December 26, 2009
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 - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Examiner Independence, MO —
Sunday, November 1, 2009
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
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
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 DanielSatin@gmail.com
PHOTOS OF EVENT CLICK HERE
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
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
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"
Article provided by Paul Cramm
Visit us at www.kansascity-criminal-attorney.com
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.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
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
CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO NEWS CLIP
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
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The evening’s event started off with a bang, as Jay Swearingen introduced the Midwestern Innocence Project, and its related goals and objectives of freeing innocent men— from the tortures of being falsely convicted. Daryl Burton and Josh Kezer, who were recently released from long terms in prison, ( 24 and 16 years respectively ), were among the honored, exonerated people attending the featured fundraiser. Also included was Ellen Reasonover— who had spent 16 wrongful years for a murder she knew nothing about—who now resides in St. Louis, and, Johnny Briscoe, who had spent 24 years for a bogus rape charge he knew nothing about.
Master of Ceremonies, Ida Goodwin Woolfolk, started the evening’s event off by introducing Dennis Fritz, author of Journey Toward Justice—the co-companion book to John Grisham’s, The Innocent Man. Dennis took the podium and began to tell a shortened version of the terrible nightmare he had went through—of spending 12 years in prison after having been falsely convicted of 1st Degree Capital Murder. The crowd became very silent as Dennis spoke of the tremendous hurdles and obstacles he and his family had to overcome.
Dennis then blended his very painful circumstances to begin his introduction of John Grisham, and how his writing of The Innocent Man, has had a tremendous, positive impact upon our justice system. As Dennis shared his story of how he had met John, and worked with him during his writing of The Innocent Man, one could feel a stirring in the crowd—that was filled with anticipation and eagerness— to see and hear Mr. Grisham speak. Since John and Dennis had done several fundraisers before, it was easy to sense the already-developed friendship between the two.
Upon being introduced, the crowd roared with delight and exhilaration as John walked up to the podium. After Dennis and John hugged while passing the microphone, Dennis was called back to the podium and a celebration cake was brought out in his honor for his 10th year of freedom. A thunderous round of ovation filled the ballroom as Dennis finished blowing out the candles. What a wonderful touch for a perfect evening. As always, John displayed his eloquent demeanor and speaking ability, as he began describing, in detail, his writing of The Innocent Man. The crowd was entranced from the very beginning, as John conveyed to the audience how he had first gotten the idea, to write his first non-fiction book—after having read an obituary in New York City about the death of Ronnie Williamson.
As John continued to speak about his overall experiences in writing, The Innocent Man (and the reasons why), the crowd drifted into a noticeable, relaxed state due to John’s easy-going and down-to-earth manner. The audience’s pedestal perceptions had now faded. Now, the greatest legal-thriller writer in the world—whom everyone idolized—had also become in everyone’s mind and spirit, a real-to life person who shoots straight from the hip, without any pretense, whatsoever!
More than anything else, everyone in the audience became aware of what John was really all about:
He not only was able to talk the talk, but also, there was no doubt that he could walk the walk— by being a true, blue advocate of overall, by-the-book justice.
Next, the special awards ceremony began by commemorating the following attorney’s:
Cheryl Pilate, who was responsible for the exoneration for Ellen Reasonover and Darryl Burton ( in conjunction with The Centurion Ministries-Jim McCloskey ), Shawn O’brian, who pulled Joe Amrine out of prison after having served 25 years, and Attorney Charlie Weiss, who was directly responsible for helping to exonerate Josh Keezer.
Chris Koster, Missouri’s 41st elected Attorney General, then took the stage and acted as the auctioneer for the evening’s event. What a smashing success! An entire collection of Grisham’s originally-printed books, were sold to the highest bidder for a substantial sum of money.
Also, Steve Stolze who owned a condo in Hawaii, allowed it to be auctioned off for a substantial amount of money. Next, a dinner for six (6) with Robin Carnahan—Missouri’s Secretary of State—was sold to the highest bidder.
All of this auction money went to the Midwestern Innocence Project for their costly work of freeing wrongfully-convicted people. .
The finale of the evening’s event was an announced invitation for the 5 falsely convicted people ( including, Dennis Fritz ) to come to the stage— carrying a piece of paper with their prison numbers written on it— and after giving a brief, verbal description of what they had been charged with, and how much time they had wrongfully spent in prison, they raised their arms and ripped their prison numbers into. The crowd clapped loudly as each inmate delivered his ceremonial announcement of freedom. Wow!
What a powerful evening it was—for the cause of justice and freedom!
CLICK HERE for great photos of the event
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Dennis Fritz (left) and Ron Williamson upon their release from an Oklahoma prison in 1999.
In 1988, Fritz and Williamson were convicted in separate trials based partially on microscopic hair comparisons, done as part of a scientific testing method which has since been largely discredited. Fritz and Williamson were also convicted based on testimony of witness Glen Gore, an informant who was later proved through DNA testing to be the real killer. Gore has since been convicted of the rape and murder of Carter.
If not for DNA evidence saved from the scene and later tested, Fritz might still be incarcerated for the rape and murder. Both he and Williamson were exonerated and released from an Oklahoma prison in 1999 based on the results of DNA testing. Fritz was incarcerated from 1988 to 1999, during a large part of his daughter’s childhood — time he can never get back. “That makes his story even more tragic,” said Pilate, who helped Fritz seek financial compensation for his wrongful incarceration.
“Dennis not only had to live through the horror of prison, but he also missed out on watching his daughter grow up.”
“It made me feel like that if I had to go through this, there was some purpose,” said Fritz. In 2002, the City of Ada and the State of Oklahoma settled the lawsuits brought by Fritz and Williamson for significant amount, which cannot be disclosed because of a confidentiality agreement.
Fritz has remained active with the Innocence Movement in Kansas City, helping the Midwestern Innocence Project with fund-raising projects and keeping in touch with other local exonerees who are readjusting to society.
We need to make the appeals process easier for those inmates who can legitimately claim innocence through previously unavailable scientific evidence or testimony from witnesses who may not have been brought to the attention of the court during trial.”
Source Midwestern Innocence Project
Friday, April 24, 2009
The numerous contacts that Jeff and Dennis made really paid off. Some of the Senators’ and House members, who had been previously staunch, pro death penalty advocates, whole-heartedly promised to give their full considerations in modifying their decisions making about the death penalty.
That evening, Dennis spoke to an assembly of Missouri University students, about the horrors of having been falsely incarcerated for 12 years in a very harsh Oklahoma penitentiary—for the crime of 1st Degree Capital murder, that he knew nothing about, whatsoever!
It was yet, another small victory for Dennis Fritz— in the picture as a whole— of dedicating himself to bring about that greater awareness of false convictions—to anyone and everyone that will listen.
PHOTOS CLICK HERE
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
On March 5, 2009, Dennis Fritz and long-time activist Jeff Stack traveled to the State Capital in Jefferson City, Missouri, to lobby on getting the death penalty abolished. Dennis and Jeff spent the morning and the entire afternoon, speaking to members of both the House and Senate, to gain their combined support in abolishing the death penalty.
The numerous contacts that Jeff and Dennis made really paid off. Some of the Senators’ and House members, who had been previously staunch, pro death penalty advocates, whole-heartedly promised to give their full considerations in modifying their decisions making about the death penalty.
That evening, Dennis spoke to an assembly of Missouri University students, about the horrors of having been falsely incarcerated for 12 years in a very harsh Oklahoma penitentiary—for the crime of 1st Degree Capital murder, that he knew nothing about, whatsoever! It was yet, another small victory for Dennis Fritz— in the picture as a whole— of dedicating himself to bring about that greater awareness of false convictions—to anyone and everyone that will listen.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
John Grisham was interviewed at the Virginia Festival of the book. He discussed his career as a novelist, his writing practices, and his research on his lone nonfiction title, The Innocent Man. His latest novel is The Associate.
Other topics are:
Death Penalty - Wrongful Convictions - Ron Williamson - Dennis Fritz - Debra Sue Carter. A fantastic video. I highly recommend viewing
C-Span Video Library(click here)
Length: 46 minutes
Location: Charlottesville, Virginia
"The Innocent Man" - John Grisham’s first work of nonfiction, an exploration of small town justice gone terribly awry, is his most extraordinary legal thriller yet.
In the major league draft of 1971, the first player chosen from the State of Oklahoma was Ron Williamson. When he signed with the Oakland A’s, he said goodbye to his hometown of Ada and left to pursue his dreams of big league glory. Six years later he was back, his dreams broken by a bad arm and bad habits—drinking, drugs, and women. He began to show signs of mental illness.
Unable to keep a job, he moved in with his mother and slept twenty hours a day on her sofa.
The two were finally arrested in 1987 and charged with capital murder.With no physical evidence, the prosecution’s case was built on junk science and the testimony of jailhouse snitches and convicts. Dennis Fritz was found guilty and given a life sentence. Ron Williamson was sent to death row.
If you believe that in America you are innocent until proven guilty, this book will shock you
If you believe in the death penalty, this book will disturb you.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Dennis Fritz lost 11 years of his life.
Mr. Fritz, who now lives in Kansas City, was sentenced to life in prison in 1988 after being charged with the murder of a woman who worked at a bar in Ada, Okla., he’d been known to frequent. Police claimed that hair found at the crime scene had been microscopically analyzed and determined to be his.
It wasn’t until 1999 that further DNA testing revealed the hair was not Mr. Fritz’s but actually belonged to the man who had been the state’s main witness at Mr. Fritz’s trial. Mr. Fritz was freed at last — but not before years of injustice took away his chance to see his daughter grow up and to otherwise live his life as he should have been able to.
Unfortunately, statistics show Mr. Fritz isn’t alone in being wrongly charged with murder and suffering severe consequences because of it. Some have been exonerated only after being put to death for crimes they allegedly committed — and it’s in light of this that First Christian Church in St. Joseph has hosted Mr. Fritz and others with similar stories who shared about their experiences.
In addition, the church voted Sunday to pass a resolution calling for a moratorium on executions of Missouri inmates on death row. This resolution supports a bill now in the Missouri legislature — HB 1870 — sponsored by Rep. Bill Deeken of Jefferson City. If the bill is passed, no executions will take place in Missouri until 2012. And during this moratorium period, a committee will study the details of cases in which the death penalty has been sought and will recommend remedies for deficiencies it finds.
“In Matthew 25, Jesus specifically mentions ministry to people in prison as ministry to him,” says the Rev. Chase Peeples, pastor of First Christian. “In our society, there is perhaps no group that could be considered 'the least of these’ more than people in prison, especially those in death row. Without approving of any crimes that may have been committed, we can declare that because of God’s love for them, each person on death row deserves a fair trial, competent legal counsel and access to the latest in DNA technology.”
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Dennis Fritz, one of the two main characters in John Grisham’s book, The Innocent Man and author of "Journey Toward Justice".
As mentioned in the previous story, (link HERE)
Mr. Fritz and Professor Hutton had convinced the S.D. House committee members, to unanimously allow the Professor’s proposed DNA bill onto the House Floor. Shortly thereafter, the House also unanimously voted the DNA bill in. Within a couple of weeks the bill was passed to the Senate, whereas, a landslide victory occurred by a majority of the Senate committee member’s votes.
What a victory this was for South Dakota. Now, any inmate claiming his innocence— with DNA involved— will have the right to do the DNA testing, under the bill’s narrowed provisions. South Dakota had been one of six states that did not have a DNA bill available.
A sweeping domino effect miraculously occurred. Within a week after the DNA bill passed in South Dakota, Mississippi’s legislative House and Senate, both voted the post-conviction DNA bill into law. Professor Hutton and Mr. Fritz are still celebrating as of today! What a wonderful tribute to these two people, in stepping forth to bring about the needed change which will free many innocent people in prison.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Dennis Fritz's case was recounted by novelist John Grisham in the non-fiction book "The Innocent Man." Dennis Fritz goes into great detail about case in this amazing interview.
- Monday, December 8, 2008
LISTEN HERE MP3
In September, a federal judge dismissed a libel lawsuit filed by former Pontotoc County District Attorney Bill Peterson, a former Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent and a state criminologist. The men claimed their reputations had been damaged by best-selling author John Grisham and two other writers who had authored books about the wrongful convictions and subsequent exonerations of two Ada men for a 1982 murder. In his ruling, Judge Ronald White wrote, “Where the justice system so manifestly failed, and innocent people were imprisoned for eleven years (and 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.” The plaintiffs are now asking a federal appeals court to reinstate their suit.
NPR SOURCE KGOU NEWS
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Photo - Dennis Fritz and Chief Justice David Gilbertson
South Dakota is one of six states that does not have a legislative bill passed for the availability of post-conviction DNA testing.
On February 11, 2009, Dennis Fritz, along with Professor of Law at the University of South Dakota, Christine Hutton, traveled to Pierre—the Capitol of S.D.— to present a bill to the House committee for post-conviction DNA testing. Law students, LaRae Hancock and McLean Thompson ( from U.S.D. ) accompanied the Professor and Mr. Fritz— whereby extending their lobbying support.
Professor Hutton, who authored her own revision of the existent DNA bill, that was vetoed back in 2003, introduced Dennis Fritz—one of the two main characters in John Grishams’ The Innocent Man, and author of his own book, Journey Toward Justice.
Mr. Fritz immediately captured the attention of every House committee member. In a very deliberate and serious tone of voice, Mr. Fritz spoke to the committee members about the human side of his own tragic experience. As such, Dennis was denied DNA testing by the Oklahoma courts throughout his 12 year, wrongful incarceration.
Each House member listened intently as Mr. Fritz continued with his spell binding descriptions, of the enormous pain and suffering that he and his family had went through.
When Mr. Fritz had concluded his presentation, the looks on the House members’ faces clearly showed that they were greatly moved by his words.
Next, Mr. Fritz yielded the floor back to Professor Hutton, who went into detail about the strengths of her proposed DNA bill. Christine spoke to the committee members with an air of confidence and boldness. She keenly presented each feature of her 1 page DNA bill. Her clever delivery was to the point and matter of fact. The individual House members soaked in every word that Professor Hutton said. No one in the almost-full audience, dared to make a sound.
It went without saying, that the House members were in full agreement with the Professor. Yes, South Dakota DID need a DNA bill which would provide, that anyone claiming their innocence— who met certain specific guidelines—would be granted the long, sought after DNA testing. Sure enough!
After the opposition took their turn in attempting to argue the merits of Professor Hutton’s DNA bill, the House committed responded by delivering their own verbal discussions. Yea! Every House committee member voted to allow the proposed DNA bill to pass onward to the floor on the following day. Before leaving the Capitol building, Mr. Fritz and his group was introduced to Chief Justice David Gilbertson, in his chambers.
The Chief Justice was such a intelligent and wonderful, down-to-earth human being. He took great pleasure in welcoming us. Thereafter, the Chief Justice himself gave the assembled group a dynamic tour of the Appellate Court where he now presides. The courtroom was nothing short of a work of art, as to its crafted, flowing architecture displaying the legal themes within. What a day to remember.
After a couple of weeks went by, the long-awaited news had finally come. The House of Representatives passed the DNA bill through its legislature. Wooow! What a victory this was. Now, before the DNA bill could go into law, it will have to pass the Senate also by a majority vote. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
This was a huge step forward for every innocent person that is incarcerated, not only in the state of South Dakota, but everywhere across our strong and unified nation.
PHOTOS OF EVENT HERE
After being released from prison 16 days earlier, Joshua Kezer spoke at MU about what it was like to be wrongly incarcerated for the same number of years.
Kezer and Dennis Fritz, who served 12 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of murder, described their experiences to students at a lecture in the Arts and Sciences Building Wednesday night.
Fritz's case was recounted by novelist John Grisham in the non-fiction book "The Innocent Man."
The combined 28 years the two men served in prison have given them resolve to raise awareness about other innocent people who may still be behind bars.
"The reality is that there are men in prison right now that have stories to tell, that have claims of innocence, many of which I know personally," Kezer said.
"I was fortunate to not be on death row, but I could've ended up there," Kezer said. "The purpose of this is to remember that if there's innocent people who've spent years in prison standing before you now, talking about how their cases were overturned, then there are innocent people on death row."
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1973, the total number of death row inmates in the U.S. exonerated through the use of new testimony or evidence has risen to 130. There have been three in Missouri.
"When you experience it first hand there is no way that you can condone the death penalty," Ferguson said. "I mean it has been proven that innocent people have been executed and it's found out after their execution they were innocent, and that should never happen. It's a scary thing. If Ryan, or Dennis, or Josh can get convicted of a crime it can happen to anybody, it can happen to you."
Kezer said he hopes the legislation passes, so that other innocent people wrongfully incarcerated could also get a second chance.
"Let's pray that something is done, to give people the opportunity to tell their story before they're dead and they just become some kind of history, some remembered name, some memorial," Kezer said. "I'd rather see them out here living a productive life, teaching us, learning from them, than just wasting away with nothing to look forward but liquids running through their veins."
* * Correction:
In the March 5 report "Exonerated former prisoners speak at MU", the reason for Joshua Keser's exoneration was inaccurate. Keser was exonerated because of the discovery of new evidence for the case. The Maneater regrets the error.
(Added 3:55 p.m., March 12, 2009)
Source By Will Guldin
Published March 5, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Dennis Fritz, one of the two main characters in John Grisham’s book, The Innocent Man and author of "Journey Toward Justice", traveled to Duluth, Minnesota, to speak to the state’s Department of Corrections on October 31, 2008. Dan Raden, a guard for the Department of Corrections invited Mr. Fritz, to speak to correction officials at a yearly-held conference in Duluth, Mn.
A gala rally was held the night before the event at a local establishment in Duluth. Over a hundred plus correctional attendees crowded into the jam packed confines of the two story structure. Guards, counselors, case managers, and up, were emotionally fit for the evening’s excitement.
After a lot of hard work over the past year, it was now time for the correctional people to have some fun. Hilarious jokes and spilling-over laughter created a roar of emotion as the evening progressed.
Of course, this was the very first time that Mr. Fritz had mingled on a personal level with Department of Correction officers and staff. After having spent 12 years in an Oklahoma prison for 1st Degree Capital Murder, Mr. Fritz was now enjoying himself while getting to know the various levels of prison personal.
At first, Mr. Fritz was a little slow in opening up to the people, who at one time, had held him behind bars for a crime that he did not commit.
The next day, after a rather short night’s sleep, Mr. Fritz took the podium and told his very gruesome story of being falsely convicted of a life sentence that was spent in a very harsh prison environment. All ears and eyes were focused upon him as he described his painful circumstances from his arrest onward. Now, the tables had turned.
The correction people were captivated, while learning from Mr. Fritz’s descriptions, as to his roller-coaster ride out of hell. After speaking, the audience asked many questions concerning their own prison experiences. It was a day of great interactions between Mr. Fritz and the D.O.C. people. It resulted in a most productive learning experience after having heard the flip sides from two different perspectives.
Mr. Fritz had accomplished his mission—to bring about that always needed, much greater awareness of the impact of how false convictions can destroy, not only the person’s life, but also, the moral fabric of society as a whole.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Supreme Court Hears DNA Case - Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld argued before the U.S. Supreme Court
On March 2, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that the constitution allows prisoners access to DNA testing that can prove their innocence. The Innocence Project represents William Osborne, who has been seeking DNA testing in Alaska for years. Click here for resources on the case, media coverage, videos and more.
From The Innocence Project website
Innocence Project client William Osborne was convicted in Alaska in 1993 for a crime that DNA testing could prove he didn't commit. Alaska has arbitrarily refused Osborne’s requests for DNA testing for years – even though the testing would be performed at no cost to the state, and the state now concedes that DNA testing could prove his innocence.
An eye witness and a jailhouse snitch said he did it. But a man convicted 16 years ago of rape says he's in prison for a crime he didn't commit.
William Osborne says a DNA test would prove he's innocent. But the question is whether the DNA trumps all other evidence.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday on the case that could guarantee due process of law to convicts seeking evidence that could exonerate them.
When convicted of the brutal rape and kidnapping of a prostitute in 1993, Osborne said he didn't do it.
"It's extremely hard for me to sit here and hear all the accusations, charges that basically make me look like a monster," Osborne said at his sentencing hearing.
Osborne reportedly confessed to the rape during a parole hearing, but now says a condom found at the crime scene will prove his innocence.
"If there is biological material connected to the crime, which the State of Alaska has conceded, which if tested could prove him innocent -- it might also prove him certainly guilty. But it would show one way or another," said David Rudovsky, a University of Pennsylvania law professor who has represented several inmates freed after post-conviction DNA tests.
Prosecutors claim convicts aren't entitled to post-conviction DNA testing. But last year an appeals court ruled in Osborne's favor.
Nationwide, DNA tests have exonerated 232 convicts, including Dennis Fritz, who spent 12 years in prison.
"When someone's denied DNA testing, and finally after years and years they are granted testing and it proves that they are in fact innocent, that means that for all of those years there is someone else out there that was actually the perpetrator," Fritz said.
Osborne's attorney decided against examining the semen sample prior to his first trial, fearing it could conclusively link him to the crime.
Alaska is one of only six states that do not allow prisoners to petition for DNA testing. Attorneys for Alaska say prisoners don't have the right to old evidence.
"Now he's trying to play procedural games to get out of prison," said Paul Cassell, a University of Utah law professor and former federal judge who spoke on behalf of victims' rights. "Osborne should be required to go through the normal process to get access to this kind of information -- he should have to file a habeas corpus petition. That way he would be respecting crime victims' rights."
The Innocence Project -- an organization that aims to help prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing -- is arguing the case on behalf of Osborne.
"Alaska has set up this mechanism that gives people the opportunity to prove their actual innocence, and yet it won't give them the one test, which is probably the only test, that would meet that quantum of evidence needed to prove your actual innocence," said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project.
States that don't allow the testing fear a ruling against them will open the floodgates to prisoners making the request, with the states picking up the tab.
But the Innocence Project says that's not the case.
"It's not a key to open the door of the courthouse," said Bill Oberly, director of the Alaska Innocence Project. "There are very few people who have actual innocence claims."
The case before the Supreme Court could strengthen the rights of prisoners across the nation who may be innocent but still wait. The court expressed some skepticism about giving a broad constitutional right to convicts facing DNA testing.
But Justice David Souter says a person should be able to test claims of innocence.
Contact Ashton Goodell at email@example.com
Please visit site below to watch news videos of this story
Source KTUU.com Alaska's news and information source High court considers convicts' rights to DNA testing
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Sponsored by Western’s Newman Club and co-sponsored by Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty, Amnesty International and the AJ Muste Memorial Institute, the Road Trip for Justice was designed for the purpose of engaging others to think about the Death Penalty and its consequences.
The speakers included Dennis Fritz, who was wrongfully convicted of first-degree murder and spent 11 years behind bars before being exonerated by DNA evidence; Linda Taylor, whose son Michael has been on death row since 1991; and Bess Klassen-Landis, whose mother was brutally raped and murdered when she was 13 years old.
At the event, Fritz discussed the terror he and his co-defendant Ron Williamson experienced during 11 years of incarceration and his life mission to bring about a greater awareness of false convictions. Taylor shared the story of her son’s arrest and trial, and the events of Feb. 1, 2006, the day her son was to be executed before receiving a stay of execution. Klassen-Landis describes the fear she lived in and reminded the audience that no matter what they did, those on death row are still human beings, not monsters.
Taylor, who works with Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty, believes that the event achieved its purpose.
“I hope it will give them an opportunity…to educate themselves concerning the Death Penalty,” Taylor said.
Kayla Kelder, a psychology-spanish major at Western, is the president of the Newman Club. Kelder argues that the event is not designed to abolish the Death Penalty nor talk down to those in favor of the Death Penalty, but rather to rationalize the worth of human life.
“How can we say that killing someone who’s killed someone shows that the killing is wrong?” Kelder said. “We should lead by example and that’s not doing it.”
Rachel Hansen, secretary of the Newman Club, was in attendance. Hansen feels the event has a very deep purpose.
“If we try to understand each other first, we’ll have a much better grasp on what another person believes,” Hansen said.
Regardless of whether or not the Death Penalty is abolished as a result of this speaking tour and the ones to follow, Kelder hopes that the Road Trip for Justice will succeed in showing people how the Death Penalty affects everyone.
“We’re all interconnected in this great big thing called human life,” Kelder said. “Life is worth so much. We all effect each other in one way or another.”
Source By jesse_west • February 19, 2009
Speakers oppose death penalty The Griffon News
Monday, February 9, 2009
After landing at the airport, Mr. Fritz headed for the historic, Chestnut Hill Hotel, located in Chesthill, Pa. on Germantown Avenue—which is noted for it’s cobblestone brick streets and giant, historical mansions.
The age of the hotel itself, dates back to 1684; radiating its alluring charm and wealth of age-less secrets.
With the smell of late fall permeating through the crisp, afternoon air, Dennis exited the cab and checked into the hotel—with a surge of tingling excitement budding within. This was yet another opportunity for Dennis to tell his electrifying story to the gathered group of law professors and students at the Lasalle University. Mr. Fritz has continuously traveled throughout the country— at many different Law Universities—to bring about the much- needed greater awareness of wrongful convictions.
Following Mr. Fritz’s wrongful conviction of First Degree Capital Murder ( in which he had spent 12 painful years on a life sentence, before being released upon the strength of DNA evidence ), Dennis had the strength and courage to write his own book, entitled Journey Toward Justice. Dennis’ co-companion book— to that of Grisham’s, The Innocent Man— literally rocked the legal world as to their unfolding descriptions, of the devastating injustices that occurred in the murder cases against himself and his co-defendant, Ronald Williamson.
All ears and eyes hinged upon every word that Mr. Fritz described, about his horrifying case circumstances, at the Lasalle speaking engagement.
At the close of Mr. Fritz’s talk, everyone was emotionally moved—as to the out-right, grave details that had been painfully expressed by Mr. Fritz. Upon departing, everyone left with a much greater awareness, of the extreme legal injustices that had occurred in Mr. Fritz’s wrongful conviction.
In all, Dennis was so thankful that he had gotten another opportunity to tell his whole story—in bringing about the truth, in attempting to prevent, yet another false conviction.
Photos of Event HERE