act / forensic reform
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News from the innocence movement around the United States
Dog Scent Evidence Challenged
Two lawsuits in Texas allege that dog scent evidence implicated innocent people for crimes they didn’t commit. Both men have been cleared, but their suits allege that a dog handler provided questionable evidence to implicate them.
Dog scent evidence has been involved in at least three wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing. A report on dog scent evidence and wrongful convictions is scheduled to appear on Anderson Cooper 360 tonight on CNN.
Two Freed After 20 Years
Ronald Kitchen and Martin Reeves were freed in Chicago on July 7 after spending 21 years in prison for murders they’ve always said they didn’t commit. Kitchen says he falsely confessed after officers allegedly beat him during an interrogation.
Read more and watch a video of their release.
DNA Evidence Found After 20 Years
Shane Sebastian Davis has spent nearly two decades behind bars for a murder he says he didn’t commit. DNA evidence from the crime scene — previously believed to be lost or destroyed — has been located.
Davis’ attorneys, working with the Griffith University Innocence Project - a member of the Innocence Network, are seeking testing on the evidence.
Art and Innocence
An exhibition of paintings by artist Dan Bolick is currently on display at the Westmoreland Museum in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Bolick painted large portraits of 10 people who were exonerated after spending years in prison. Above is his painting of Pennsylana exoneree Drew Whitley.
Bolick wrote about his experiences meeting and painting the exonerated on the Innocence Blog this month.
Read his posts.
Aidan Quinn and Brooke Shields
In two new Innocence Project videos, Aidan Quinn and Brooke Shields perform scenes from the award-winning play “The Exonerated.”
Watch the videos on our YouTube page.
Learn more about how the arts and entertainment community is helping address and prevent wrongful convictions through the Innocence Project Artists’ Committee. .
Use our easy online form to forward this message to friends, family and colleagues.
Connect with other Innocence Project supporters on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube.
We welcome your feedback. Please contact us at the address below. Cases for review must be submitted via postal mail.
The Innocence Project
Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva Unversity
100 Fifth Ave., 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10011
After Two Decades, On the Verge of Freedom
Lebrew Jones, who has served more than two decades in prison for a New York City murder he has always said he didn’t commit, learned last week that he’ll be released on parole in November. His parole follows mounting evidence of his innocence and comes as his legal team — including attorneys at the Innocence Project — seeks DNA testing in the case.
Jones (above, photo by Tom Bushey, Times Herald-Record) had no criminal record before he was convicted in 1989 of killing a 21-year-old woman in Manhattan. He has maintained his innocence for two decades and his case was the subject of an award-winning investigative series by the Times Herald-Record newspaper. Included in his parole application was a letter from Lois Hall, the mother of the murder victim, saying she believes he is innocent and should be paroled while his quest to clear his name continues.
"Oh my God, I'm so happy," Hall told a reporter upon hearing he will be released. "The only sad part about this is he had to do 22 years for something he never did."
Although biological evidence that could potentially prove Jones’ innocence was collected from the crime scene, it has been reported as lost or destroyed. The Innocence Project is consulting on DNA issues in Jones’ case with his lead attorneys at the law firm of Davis, Polk and Wardwell.
Jones’ case is not the only one affected by lost evidence in New York City, where the Innocence Project continues calling for improvements in evidence preservation and storage practices. Approximately half of all New York City cases closed by the Innocence Project in recent years were closed because of lost or destroyed evidence. In 2006, evidence in Alan Newton’s case was located after being falsely reported destroyed for eight years. The tests exonerated Newton and he was freed after 22 years in prison.
Read more about Jones’ case and explore the Times Herald-Record’s multimedia feature on the case, including video interviews with Jones in New York’s Otisville State Prison.
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Reevaluating Lineups — in North Carolina and Nationwide
When Police Chief Darrel Stephens first implemented changes to eyewitness identification procedures in his department in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, he met some resistance. But the effectiveness of improved lineups soon became apparent to his department and the reform has since spread to the entire state.
“Police officers are like most people — change is difficult, particularly when they don’t understand the basis for the change. Once our detectives understood the research, they accepted the need for making the change they just had to get used to the new procedures,” Stephens told the Innocence Project. “The investigators, as they’ve talked about and worked on these different procedures and understood the research, have become much better detectives."
Stephens — along with exoneree Ronald Cotton, crime victim Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and many others — pushed for statewide reforms in North Carolina, and new procedures took effect in 2008. North Carolina is now one of nine states that have taken action to reform eyewitness procedures, and the Innocence Project plans to focus on implementing reforms in 10 more states in the next year.
An Innocence Project report released this month outlines the problems with traditional lineups and explains how states like North Carolina have succeeded in reducing the inaccurate identifications through proven reforms.
Download the new report — "Reevaluating Lineups: Why Witnesses Make Mistakes and How to Reduce the Chance of a Misidentification.”
Read an Innocence Project Q&A with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Chief Darrel Stephens.
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Take Action for Forensic Reform
In a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that “serious deficiencies have been found in the forensic evidence used at criminal trials.”
The court ruled 5-4 in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts that defendants have the right to cross-examine lab analysts who conducted testing presented as evidence in a criminal trial. The Innocence Project, as part of the Innocence Network, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, arguing that allowing cross-examination will help defendants expose faulty evidence.
The Birmingham News applauded the court’s decision but stressed that it is just the first step toward more reliable forensics. “Putting the forensic methods through the rigors of science will serve all of us in a far more fundamental way. It will serve the interests of justice,” the paper’s editorial reads.
Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld wrote in the Tennessean that we should focus “on what the case says about the state of forensic science in this country — and how much remains to be done to ensure that our criminal justice system relies on solid science."
The August cover story in Popular Mechanics focuses on the “shaky science” of forensics and hones in on the case of Roy Brown, who was exonerated in 2007 after serving 15 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
An Innocence Project case review this year found that in approximately 50% of DNA exonerations, unvalidated or improper forensic science contributed to the wrongful conviction. Many forensic disciplines — such as those comparing objects like hair or fiber or impressions like tool marks — were developed solely to solve crime and have not been sufficiently tested in laboratory settings to determine how precise they are. In a groundbreaking report earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences found serious deficiencies in forensic science and called on Congress to create a National Institute of Forensic Science.
The Innocence Project strongly supports the creation of an independent, science-based federal agency to stimulate research that can validate forensic sciences, set national standards and oversee the enforcement of those standards, and we need your help to make it happen. Urge Congress to take action on forensic reform by signing the Just Science Coalition’s petition.
Why I Give: Rodger Popkin
Children's Summer Camp Owner/Director
Hendersonville, N.C. I own and direct a residential co-ed summer camp for children in western North Carolina. Last summer we devoted a week to learning about and discussing the issue of wrongful convictions, and I found that the issue resonated strongly with our older campers and college-age staff.
Most people don’t realize that the unimaginable injustice of a wrongful conviction could happen to them. We showed the documentary “After Innocence” to older campers and staff members and they clearly recognized that simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time is enough to cause a wrongful conviction for anyone. Many of them were shocked at first, but then became energized to bring about reforms in the system.
Over the years it has become very clear to me that at the heart of our campers' youthful idealism and their hopes for our democratic society is the tangible expectation of fairness and justice. My 38 years working with young people teaches me that the young do not easily accept or submit to injustice as a necessary or unavoidable fact of life. We encourage "our kids" to leave camp each year with ways to change the world. By including the Innocence Project and wrongful convictions in last summer's program, we inspired many in our summer community to focus on criminal justice reform.
Donating funds to the Innocence Project and raising awareness of the causes of wrongful convictions is a way for me to highlight the practical and realistic possibility of a more just society. Not one person should be imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit, and the 241 DNA exonerations to date show very clearly that our criminal justice system is broken. This work is opening the door to critical reforms, and opening people’s eyes to problems with eyewitness identifications, forensics and other evidence. By spreading the word about the Innocence Project, I aim to help make the injustice of wrongful convictions a thing of the past. Please donate today to help me in this mission.
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