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