Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wrongly Convicted Exonerees - Add Your Blog, Website or Story

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

Sunday, April 11, 2010

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

Women Gain When Men Wrongly Accused of Rape Are Freed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For this, I applaud them.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wrongfully Imprisoned - Dennis Fritz and Darryl Burton Speak Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Brennan David

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Friday, February 5, 2010

Court Dismisses Libel Case Against Grisham

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

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

Grisham said he found Mayer's book particularly helpful in his research for "The Innocent Man." All but "Actual Innocence" were published or re-released in October 2006. A federal judge in Oklahoma dismissed the libel claims, saying the books were protected political speech. The 10th Circuit agreed. Under Oklahoma law, public officers can't sue for libel unless someone falsely accuses them of a criminal act. "[P]laintiffs point to no statement in which defendants directly accuse any plaintiff of a crime," Judge Carlos Lucero wrote for the three-judge appellate panel. "Any connection between defendants' statements and an accusation of criminal activity is far too tenuous for us to declare them as unprivileged," Lucero added. The judges similarly rejected claims for civil conspiracy, emotional distress and false light invasion of privacy, and denied the plaintiffs' motion to amend.
Courthouse News Service
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Thursday, February 4, 2010

10th Circuit Dismisses Libel Suit Against John Grisham

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

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

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

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