Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Police chief- Lockerbie evidence was faked

A police chief, no less. Sounds bad

A former Scottish police chief has given lawyers a signed statement claiming that key evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial was fabricated. The retired officer - of assistant chief constable rank or higher - has testified that the CIA planted the tiny fragment of circuit board crucial in convicting a Libyan for the 1989 mass murder of 270 people.

The police chief, whose identity has not yet been revealed, gave the statement to lawyers representing Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, currently serving a life sentence in Greenock Prison. The evidence will form a crucial part of Megrahi's attempt to have a retrial ordered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC). The claims pose a potentially devastating threat to the reputation of the entire Scottish legal system. The officer, who was a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland, is supporting earlier claims by a former CIA agent that his bosses "wrote the script" to incriminate Libya.

Last night, George Esson, who was Chief Constable of Dumfries and Galloway when Megrahi was indicted for mass murder, confirmed he was aware of the development. But Esson, who retired in 1994, questioned the officer's motives. He said: "Any police officer who believed they had knowledge of any element of fabrication in any criminal case would have a duty to act on that. Failure to do so would call into question their integrity, and I can't help but question their motive for raising the matter now."

Other important questions remain unanswered, such as how the officer learned of the alleged conspiracy and whether he was directly involved in the inquiry. But sources close to Megrahi's legal team believe they may have finally discovered the evidence that could demolish the case against him.

An insider told Scotland on Sunday that the retired officer approached them after Megrahi's appeal - before a bench of five Scottish judges - was dismissed in 2002. The insider said: "He said he believed he had crucial information. A meeting was set up and he gave a statement that supported the long-standing rumours that the key piece of evidence, a fragment of circuit board from a timing device that implicated Libya, had been planted by US agents. "Asked why he had not come forward before, he admitted he'd been wary of breaking ranks, afraid of being vilified. "He also said that at the time he became aware of the matter, no one really believed there would ever be a trial. When it did come about, he believed both accused would be acquitted. When Megrahi was convicted, he told himself he'd be cleared at appeal." The source added: "When that also failed, he explained he felt he had to come forward. "He has confirmed that parts of the case were fabricated and that evidence was planted. At first he requested anonymity, but has backed down and will be identified if and when the case returns to the appeal court."

The vital evidence that linked the bombing of Pan Am 103 to Megrahi was a tiny fragment of circuit board which investigators found in a wooded area many miles from Lockerbie months after the atrocity. The fragment was later identified by the FBI's Thomas Thurman as being part of a sophisticated timer device used to detonate explosives, and manufactured by the Swiss firm Mebo, which supplied it only to Libya and the East German Stasi. At one time, Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, was such a regular visitor to Mebo that he had his own office in the firm's headquarters. The fragment of circuit board therefore enabled Libya - and Megrahi - to be placed at the heart of the investigation. However, Thurman was later unmasked as a fraud who had given false evidence in American murder trials, and it emerged that he had little in the way of scientific qualifications. Then, in 2003, a retired CIA officer gave a statement to Megrahi's lawyers in which he alleged evidence had been planted.

The decision of a former Scottish police chief to back this claim could add enormous weight to what has previously been dismissed as a wild conspiracy theory. It has long been rumoured the fragment was planted to implicate Libya for political reasons. The first suspects in the case were the Syrian-led Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), a terror group backed by Iranian cash. But the first Gulf War altered diplomatic relations with Middle East nations, and Libya became the pariah state.

Following the trial, legal observers from around the world, including senior United Nations officials, expressed disquiet about the verdict and the conduct of the proceedings at Camp Zeist, Holland. Those doubts were first fuelled when internal documents emerged from the offices of the US Defence Intelligence Agency. Dated 1994, more than two years after the Libyans were identified to the world as the bombers, they still described the PFLP-GC as the Lockerbie bombers.

A source close to Megrahi's defence said: "Britain and the US were telling the world it was Libya, but in their private communications they acknowledged that they knew it was the PFLP-GC. "The case is starting to unravel largely because when they wrote the script, they never expected to have to act it out. Nobody expected agreement for a trial to be reached, but it was, and in preparing a manufactured case, mistakes were made."

Dr Jim Swire, who has publicly expressed his belief in Megrahi's innocence, said it was quite right that all relevant information now be put to the SCCRC. Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the atrocity, said last night: "I am aware that there have been doubts about how some of the evidence in the case came to be presented in court. "It is in all our interests that areas of doubt are thoroughly examined."

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Scientific advances in fighting crime make forensic evidence the stuff of television dramas. A single hair can identify a killer. A fingerprint can prove that one witness is lying, the other telling the truth. DNA, preserved for years in drops of dried blood or even a stray skin cell can solve cold cases that once left investigators stumped.

Darryl Hunt won his freedom two years ago after DNA correctly identified another man as the person who had stabbed Deborah Sykes to death in Winston-Salem, a crime for which Hunt spent 18 years in prison.

In the messy world of crime and justice, scientific evidence stands out as pure, objective fact - so much so that prosecutors complain that jurors, schooled in justice by CSI and other shows, often won't convict without it. If the DNA matches, it must be so. But there's a story in forensic science that you won't see on CSI. It's the episode in which the scientists get it wrong.

The Winston-Salem Journal decided to examine forensic science in North Carolina because of the large number of wrongful convictions across the country caused by flaws in forensics or its misapplication. The newspaper tracked North Carolina cases with questionable forensic evidence. The focus was on capital cases - in which the stakes and expectation of certainty are highest. They show how in North Carolina, as in other states across the country, prosecutors have portrayed evidence as scientifically grounded and put prisoners on death row or locked them away for life in spite of disputes over the veracity of that science. Just as significantly, the cases show how errors and omissions in the use of science can undermine chances for successful prosecution.

The Penland case

Take the 1994 trial in Stokes County of Rex Penland, charged in the rape and killing of a Winston-Salem prostitute. Penland said he was passed out drunk in his pickup when Vernice Alford was stabbed to death, but the physical evidence presented at trial supported testimony by his nephews - twin brothers named Larry and Gary Sapp. They said that Penland raped Alford and had them tie her to a tree. The twins then waited in the truck, they said, and he soon returned with a bloody hunting knife and bragged of "icing" her. A deputy and an agent with the State Bureau of Investigation testified that a footprint at the scene matched Penland's snakeskin cowboy boots. With the footprint and the knife on their side, not to mention the Sapps' testimony, prosecutors won a murder conviction and a death sentence.

Now, 11 years later, the science is on Penland's side. A report by the state crime lab shows that there was no scientific evidence that the footprint matched Penland's boots. And new DNA evidence shows that the semen collected in the case wasn't his. As for the blood on his knife, the DNA doesn't match Alford's DNA. Instead, the partial DNA profile matches Penland's, who testified that he cut himself skinning a deer a few days before Alford's murder. The new evidence may not prove innocence, but it was enough for a judge last month to grant Penland a new trial. "What the science today shows is that the jurors were presented with facts and evidence that we now know were not true," Steve Royster, one of Penland's attorneys, said at his hearing.

More on the Penland case

A night of violence: Vernice Alford left her mother's apartment on Conley Street about 4 p.m. on Nov. 30, 1992. She told her mother that she would be home that night because the next morning she was expected at workat the convention center, where she was a waitress. Alford, 29, had a second job. She was a prostitute. That night, Penland and his 18-year-old nephews drove from King to Winston-Salem in Penland's green Chevrolet pickup. According to the Sapp brothers' testimony, they picked up Alford on Patterson Avenue and headed north to Payne Road, which winds through the southern part of rural Stokes County. Three days later, two surveyors found Alford's body in a ditch at the end of a logging road.

She had been stabbed 18 times. A length of nylon cord was tied to a bloodstained tree trunk. Investigators found an empty Monarch cigarette pack at the scene and a cigarette butt. The arrests were quick. The Stokes County Sheriff's Office got an anonymous tip that the Sapp brothers had something to do with the crime. Each gave a statement implicating Penland. Investigators arrested Penland at his mobile home in Germanton, where they seized his knife, a pack of Monarch cigarettes, a pair of muddy cowboy boots and a pair of black pants, torn in the thigh.

Investigators made a cast of the tire marks in the mud near where Alford's body was found and one of a footprint. The tire marks were consistent with Penland's truck - not surprising because there was never any question that it was his truck at the scene. The question was whether Penland was passed out in his truck as he said, or whether the Sapps told the truth. That made the footprint a crucial piece of evidence.

Joyce Petzka, an agent in the SBI crime lab, sent a report to prosecutors saying that she couldn't tell anything about the shoe from the cast made at the crime scene. She testified at Penland's trial about the tire tracks, but no one asked her about the footprint. Instead, prosecutors called Lt. Al Tuttle of the Stokes County Sheriff's Office and Bill Lemons, an agent with the SBI, to testify as expert witnesses about the footprint. They both said that the print was consistent with the boots they had seized from Penland's home. In his closing argument, the prosecutor used the footprint to declare Penland the liar and the Sapp brothers the truthful witnesses.

"If Rex Dean Penland was passed out drunk in the truck, how come his cowboy-boot prints are out there in the sod that night?" argued James Yeatts, the assistant district attorney in Stokes County. "What does that tell you about Larry and Gary Sapp? Tells you he wasn't passed out. It was just like they said. Mister was outside the truck in his boots."

After deliberating just 46 minutes, the jury convicted Penland and then sentenced him to death. Two weeks later, prosecutors cut a deal with the Sapp brothers. They pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and related charges and were each sentenced to 15 years. They were released in 1998, after serving less than five years. Larry Sapp is back in prison, on a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; since his release, Gary Sapp has been convicted twice of assault on a female.

Penland has been trying to prove his innocence. In a motion filed in 1998, his lawyers argued that prosecutors withheld evidence at his trial by not turning over the SBI report saying that the footprint was unreadable. The motion goes on to argue that prosecutors passed over the valid expert opinion from the SBI lab in favor of a deputy's opinion. The DNA evidence won Penland a new trial before the court could consider the dispute about the expert testimony on the bootprint. The new scientific evidence may not settle whether it was Penland or his nephews who lied about what happened the night that Alford was stabbed to death, but it changes the state's case against Penland. At trial, the forensic evidence corroborated the Sapps' version of what happend; now the science corroborates Penland's version.

The Bullard case:

Identification by footprint: North Carolina produced one of the most infamous charlatans in forensic science. In the late 1970s and early '80s, an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro named Louise Robbins testified in numerous criminal cases that she could identify a suspect through a footprint. Physical anthropologists use footprints to investigate general characteristics about a tribe or a period in human development. Robbins was the first to testify in court that individuals leave unique footprints that could be analyzed with the accuracy of fingerprint identification.

Crime-lab analysts regularly testify that they can match a footprint to a defendant's shoes by examining treads, heel proportions and width. Robbins' claims went much further. She argued that a person's gait, height, weight - even race - left a unique print. Newspapers and Time magazine touted her claims, but the scientific community ignored her work until defense attorneys began to complain.

In 1987, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences found that there was no scientific basis to her theories. "It's just cockamamie stuff," said Russell Tuttle, a professor of physical anthropology at the University of Chicago who has researched her work. "Why do we allow this kind of rot, this pseudoscience to get into our courts? Her so-called method should never have been tried in the court."

Robbins died shortly after her work was debunked. Her testimony helped convict at least 10 people, including Vonnie Bullard of Cumberland County. Bullard was convicted in 1982 in the murder of Pedro Hales, who was shot and stabbed to death in August 1981. The state's case was largely circumstantial, based on witnesses who said they saw Bullard or his truck near where Hales was believed to have been murdered. The only physical evidence was a bare bloody footprint found at what appeared to be the crime scene.

Robbins testified that the footprint was Bullard's. A Cumberland County jury convicted him of first-degree murder. In 1984, the N.C. Supreme Court upheld the conviction. The U.S. Supreme Court turned down his final appeal in 2002, and his attorneys say that he has run out of legal remedies. He remains in prison, serving a life sentence.

Critics say that Robbins' work points out the influence that scientists have on a jury. "Louise Robbins wasn't a witness who said, 'I saw a footprint there and it looks like the same size as the defendant's foot' - what anyone else could say," said Rich Rosen, a law professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "She said, 'I'm a scientist, an objective, neutral observer, and based on scientific principles, I can tell you that was the defendant's footprint.' That carries tremendous weight with the jury."

In the years since Robbins' work was discredited, other forensic theories also have fallen. Glass shattered in a spider-web pattern was once thought to be proof of arson; bite marks were once thought to be unique; and the composition of bullet lead was once considered a valid way to match bullets to a crime. All have been debunked as nothing more than theory, and experts continue to raise questions about the reliability of standard methods such as fingerprint and hair analysis.

"All these things from CSI programs have this reputation of infallibility, yet when you scratch the surface, most of these so-called sciences are made of tin," said David Faigman, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. "It's almost an alchemy that's going on when they turn their experience into scientific opinion when there's no research underlying it."

More here

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Monday, August 29, 2005


What the article below discreetly fails to mention is that Queensland's present Director of Public Prosecutions is an affirmative action appointee -- a lady known as Leanne Clare. There is a picture of her with a smile here

Queensland's Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has come under fire again, this time for taking a minor assault charge against a high-profile Sunshine Coast solicitor to trial through the District Court. Former Maroochydore lawyer Garry Wayne Scott, 35, who now practises in the Solomon Islands, was acquitted on the charge of common assault involving a female employee following a three-day trial which ended yesterday. The jury took under an hour to reach its not guilty verdict, prompting Maroochydore District Court Judge John Robertson to comment that the case should never have been before a high court. "It has cost $12,000 over three days to run the court and the matter should never have been here," the judge said. "Other more serious cases have backed up because of that."

Mr Scott was charged with assaulting a former part-time employee in a law firm called Klooger Phillips Scott which he ran in partnership with Robert Phillips at Maroochydore in 2003. Mr Scott was charged with grabbing employee Linda Whitmore during a struggle for a computer mouse, leaving a red mark on her arm. How tragic, how awful!. Mr Scott maintained he had never assaulted Ms Whitmore and he had simply tried to stop her accessing the firm's main accounts computer after he had told her not to.

Outside court, Mr Scott said he was very relieved at his acquittal "but it was a terrible misuse of the justice system and the judge recognised that as well". Mr Scott said the whole issue had done "terrible damage" to his reputation and affected his business. "It should never have been brought in the first place," he said. "It (the computer) was my property and I was entitled to protect my property. It should have been sorted out . . . what a waste of taxpayers' money."

Crown prosecutor Craig Choudhury said in court that he agreed "wholeheartedly" with Judge Robertson's remarks, but that the decision to proceed was made by the DPP.

Mr Scott's defence barrister, Steve Courtney, said that overtures had been made (to have the case thrown out) but these had been rejected by the DPP. The DPP has also recently come under fire over its actions in high-profile cases involving former chief magistrate Di Fingleton, former One Nation founder Pauline Hanson and swimming coach Scott Volkers.

More here

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Sunday, August 28, 2005


In a Leon County courtroom this morning, the state of Florida is expected to ask a judge to dismiss compensation efforts by a man wrongfully imprisoned for 22 years. Legal nuances aside, the request responds to one gross miscarriage of justice by committing another - essentially asserting that two wrongs do make a right. And the state is doing it in the name of every Floridian. There is a word for this, but it can't be found in a legal dictionary: "chutzpa."

There no longer are any questions - not even one - about Wilton Dedge's innocence. Mr. Dedge was released from prison a year ago when DNA tests, which he first sought 16 years earlier, revealed that he couldn't possibly be responsible for the Brevard County rape that cost him more than 8,000 days of freedom. The only meaningful questions that remain are whether the state will repay him for the liberty that he lost, and how much.

Former Florida State University President Sandy D'Alemberte is representing Mr. Dedge. Mr. D'Alemberte maintains that if the state wrongfully confiscates someone's freedom, the law should respond as if a person's property had been wrongfully taken. When that happens, the law is clear, expeditious and fair, Mr. D'Alemberte says. Sadly, that's not the case when the state unjustly incarcerates an innocent person. "For 16 years we had an innocent man asking the state to allow the testing of his DNA, at no expense to the state, and they wouldn't allow it. It's my theory that's a denial of due process," Mr. D'Alemberte said Thursday. "We spend all of our time talking about people repaying their debt to society. It ought to work both ways."

Despite rhetoric about righting this wrong, the Florida House earlier this year failed to approve a claims bill for Mr. Dedge that the Senate approved. House leaders promised to try again in 2006, but meanwhile Mr. Dedge has nothing but bad memories to show for more than 22 years of life behind bars. Moreover, his parents spent much of their savings trying to help their son. Today the state would make Mr. Dedge and his parents victims again by closing the door on their compensation efforts through the court system. Incredible.

Attorney Joseph Welch is often credited with bringing U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy's recklessness to a halt with this famous retort: "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" In the Wilton Dedge case, one has to wonder what happened to the state's sense of decency.

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Saturday, August 27, 2005


It's clear that the real guilt lies with Pennsylvania government agencies and that is the problem

From his cell in Burlington County Jail, Larry Peterson sounds hopeful and determined. Hopeful that the justice system will at long last grant his freedom soon, and determined to clear his name. "They started this fight," Peterson said of prosecutors who arrested him for murder in 1987. "By them taking all this time out of my life, a fight they will get. This is supposed to be about justice."

Peterson, 54, has been behind bars since September 1987 for the rape and murder of Jacqueline Harrison in Pemberton Township. A jury convicted him in 1989 and nearly gave him the death penalty. Since 1994, Peterson has been trying to prove his innocence scientifically, through DNA testing. A court finally granted him the right to DNA testing in December 2003. The results came back last February, and clearly show that Peterson did not commit this crime. Sperm on the victim's clothing, which prosecutors said belonged to Peterson, actually came from the victim's boyfriend. Sperm in her body came from an "unknown male" - the real killer - whose skin also was found under the victim's fingernails. None of this genetic material came from Peterson. Hairs taken from the crime scene, which prosecutors had said matched Peterson's hair, instead all belonged to the victim.

Last month, a Burlington County judge finally overturned Peterson's conviction. But Peterson is still sitting in jail while his mother tries to raise $20,000 to post the required amount of his $200,000 bail. That's because Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi intends to compound this miscarriage of justice by trying Peterson again for murder. "They know that I didn't commit this," Peterson said in an interview this week. "Now that my innocence has been proven, they're going to extremes to try to cover up what they did. They know they framed me."

Bernardi has said he won't try this case in the media. But it seems like a good forum, considering the bang-up job that Bernardi's predecessors did in court in 1989. If he persists in this misguided second prosecution, Bernardi's case will rest largely on four witnesses who testified that Peterson admitted killing a woman. All of their stories have serious weaknesses. One man was a jailhouse snitch. The second witness was considered a suspect himself in the murder. The third man initially told investigators that Peterson had spoken of fighting with a man, not a woman. The fourth witness did not implicate Peterson at all when investigators first interviewed him.

There's a chance Peterson will be released on bail this weekend. The world outside jail is where he should stay. The prosecutor - not another jury - has a responsibility to look at the facts and the flaws and decide against another trial. The interests of justice demand it.

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Friday, August 26, 2005


The author of this article, John Flannery, of Lovettsville, is a former federal prosecutor, former director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and former special counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee

There is this wrong-headed notion in Virginia that, if we could just get better-paid criminal defense lawyers with more administrative and investigative resources, we would have criminal justice. That's just not the case. Assuring the accused of a decent defense in Virginia is but a small part of the failure of our so-called criminal justice system.

We are convicting innocent people in Virginia because of false eyewitness testimony, false confessions, over-eager snitches, faulty forensics, bad defense lawyers but also, and this is the worst of all, because of prosecutorial misconduct and police misconduct.

In this last category, what we often mean by misconduct is that the government is concealing or destroying evidence that is exclusively within its possession that demonstrates, or tends to demonstrate, that the accused is innocent or his accusers are not reliable. The commonwealth will fight to hold onto its information, keep it confidential from the accused, even at the risk of convicting the innocent.

When I was a puppy prosecutor and other prosecutors would ask my advice as to whether they should turn over evidence to the defense counsel, I'd ask why they were asking the question. It must have been, so I thought, that the information might tend to help the accused and, consciously or not, that these eager advocates -- my colleagues -- were reluctant to yield that advantage. I always thought the impetus for such questions led to only one obvious answer -- that the information must be handed over. The best defense lawyer in the nation, ignorant of a client's factual innocence because the commonwealth is sitting on the evidence of his innocence, is helpless to save his client from prison or death row.

We know that the innocent have been convicted in Virginia because DNA evidence now allows us to exclude individuals as suspects in crimes -- if the DNA evidence has been preserved.

Arthur Lee Whitfield spent 22 years in prison for the double rape of two women in Norfolk within the same hour. Both women positively identified him. Whitfield pleaded guilty to one of the charges to get a lesser sentence. The commonwealth had destroyed the DNA. But one serologist had violated lab protocol and saved a sample that exonerated Whitfield and implicated another prison inmate for the crime.

Former Independent Counsel Ken Starr is now fighting to save the life of death-row inmate Robin Lovitt, who is charged with killing an Arlington pool hall manager with a pair of scissors. DNA analysis of the scissors failed to link Lovitt to the murder. Starr has raised serious questions about the evidence, relying on an independent audit of the state crime lab that revealed it was wrong in the case of another death-row inmate. But the court clerk has since destroyed the scissors, precluding further DNA examinations. Will the Supreme Court release Lovitt for execution in October when it reconvenes? Or question the destruction of this critical evidence?

We must reform a system that provides less information to a person accused of a crime than a party would get if sued for a $200 bad debt in civil court. And we must reform the notion that a criminal prosecution is some sort of sport that is all about winning a conviction, rather than doing justice.

I was instructed when sworn in as a federal prosecutor of the enormous power that had been delegated, that it could destroy an individual's life with a misspent word, and was further instructed, in the words of former Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland: "The [Prosecuting] Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor -- indeed, he should do so. But while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction, as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one."

Original here

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Thursday, August 25, 2005


Gov. Jim Doyle and a bipartisan group of lawmakers were poised today to endorse a far-reaching package of reforms intended to make it harder to send innocent people to prison. The proposed reforms would require law enforcement officials to record interviews with all felony suspects, improve police line-ups and other eyewitness identification procedures, streamline DNA tests in cases where a wrongful conviction is involved, and extend the statute of limitations for many cases involving DNA evidence.

The proposals come in response to the wrongful conviction of a Fond du Lac man, Steven Avery, who served more than 18 years behind bars for a rape and brutal assault that he did not commit. Avery was released from prison about two years ago after DNA tests exonerated him and proved that another man had committed the crimes.

Doyle was set to unveil the reforms during a press conference with Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin, and other members of the Legislature's Avery Task Force. "What happened to Steven Avery could have happened to any of us, but we must make sure that it can never happen again," Doyle said in an advance draft of his remarks. "The people of Wisconsin deserve a system of justice they can have confidence in - one that punishes the guilty, protects the innocent, finds justice for the victims and never loses sight of its central mission: finding the truth."

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He's battling uphill in a country that believes it can do no wrong

A local man is seeking the community’s help to attend a wrongful conviction conference in Manitoba this fall. John Moore, who was convicted of second-degree murder in 1978 and served his full sentence at a federal penitentiary, has been fighting for more than 20 years to clear his name.

Moore feels his conviction was unfair because he wasn’t at the scene of the crime, and the law used to convict him was ruled unconstitutional years later. Aside from these basic facts, he also says he wasn’t involved in the planning or execution of the crime.

“The fight for justice and freedom in draining me emotionally, psychologically, mentally and spiritually,” Moore said in a prepared statement. “It’s hard fighting a government who doesn’t care about its citizens, and you are only one voice.”

The international conference, entitled Unlocking Innocence: Avoiding Wrongful Conviction will bring together judges, defence lawyers, prosecutors, law enforcement personnel, legislators, journalists, the victims of wrongful convictions and others to examine the issues. The conference takes place from Oct. 20-22 in Winnipeg. The three-day learning symposium costs roughly $562 to $670, depending on registration dates, plus the cost of travel and accommodations.

Moore says he’s been “promised” $800 towards the trip so far, and a few of his friends chipped in and donated $75. He’s looking for members of the community to come to his aid and he’ll provide a report on the conference upon his return. Anyone interested in donating can phone Moore at 673-9576 or his lawyer Denis Michel at 674-1976.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005


William Gregory still carries around the legal paperwork to prove he's not a rapist. Gregory served seven years behind bars before DNA tests five years ago showed he couldn't have committed the crime. He left prison with only a garbage bag filled with clothes and a television - and doesn't have much more today because Kentucky isn't one of the 19 states that allow wrongfully convicted people to seek compensation.

Now, Gregory is suing the prosecutors and police that handled the investigation leading to his conviction. "I don't have savings, I don't have nothing for retirement," Gregory said. "That's bad."

Of nearly 160 people freed from prison by DNA tests since 1989, 17 have been financially compensated by the states that locked them up. The federal government also has a compensation law. Only in a few cases have the amounts been made public: Ohio paid $250,000 to a man wrongly imprisoned 11 years for rape and Massachusetts paid $500,000 each to three men, whose time behind bars ranged from 14 to 19 years, for mistakenly convicting them of rape.

Compensation laws often make it difficult for a person who has been exonerated to collect any money, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington. Dieter pointed to Florida, where the law requires the Legislature to pass a bill awarding funds to the freed inmate, and North Carolina, where a pardon from the governor is required before a wrongly convicted person can become eligible for payments of $20,000 for each year spent behind bars.

But some prosecutors see a slippery slope once the state starts writing checks to people freed from prison. Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorney's Association, points to the case of famed prison journalist Wilbert Rideau. An appeals court granted Rideau a new murder trial 40 years after the crime was committed. Rideau was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to time served in prison.

But Adams points out that if the district attorney had not been able to assemble enough evidence to bring the case back to trial, Rideau would have been declared legally innocent and possibly entitled to compensation for his four decades in prison. "The danger ... is that there is no logical line to draw between factually innocent cases and the Rideaus," Adams said.

In states with no compensation law, some found wrongly convicted, such as Gregory, have sued the prosecutors and police who handled the investigation leading to the conviction. Those lawsuits have had mixed results. For example, Gregory's case against the city of Louisville and various police officers and investigators is on appeal after a judge dismissed parts of it.

Gregory was convicted in 1993 based in part on testimony that hairs found in a stocking worn by the attacker were consistent with his. He was sentenced to 70 years in prison for rape and two counts of attempted rape. DNA tests were not available at the time, but became available in the late 1990s. With help from The Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that pushes for DNA exoneration, Gregory successfully appealed to have the hairs tested. The tests showed the hairs could not have come from him. He was freed after prosecutors opted not to retry him. No one else has been arrested in the case.

Louisville police spokeswoman Alicia Smiley said the department does not comment on pending litigation. In court filings, the city and police say Gregory has failed to make a case that police intentionally did anything wrong, and that they should not be held responsible for honest mistakes.

Gregory, who now works in the electronics department of a Louisville-area Best Buy store, is hoping to settle the case and use the money to start a foundation aimed at helping people who are in his position. "Any money, it'll bring some comfort," he said, "but it won't bring back all those years."

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A prisoner of sexual double standards in Britain

"In some cultures to this day it is considered normal for a young boy to go to a much older woman for his first sexual experiences. The idea is that she will be kind to him, soothe his anxieties and teach him some useful skills, so that he in turn will be kind and sexually skilful with inexperienced young women in his future. Until recently in some circles rich boys were, and perhaps still are, taken by their indulgent fathers to a good-natured mistress or a friend of hers. Poorer boys might find themselves in the local brothel. Others might be initiated by a nanny, a governess or an older girl in the village or on the block.

I am not recommending this custom. I would not like to be seen as someone who actively encourages young boys into the arms of prostitutes, no matter how refined, or of friendly amateurs either, no matter how kindly. It just seems absurd to me, when the world is full of so much truly terrible evil, to feel particularly morally outraged when something of the sort happens - especially in a country where you can see young people wriggling in the throes of reality TV sex, or read the confessions of the bonking-mad every day in the tabloids.

Yet in our hypersexualised culture there was shock, horror and disgust last week when 32-year-old Hannah Grice was found guilty of having had a six-month affair with an apparently very willing boy of 14; she pleaded guilty to two specimen charges of indecent assault, but what she was really in the dock for was having sex with an underage boy. Of course what she did was illegal. Of course most people would think it was morally wrong. But I do very much wonder whether she deserved the extreme condemnation and the extreme punishments visited on her.

The devil lies in the detail in such cases. The degree of wrong depends on the circumstances, which in this case I know only from court reports. This woman was a teacher and married, with two young children; many of her crimes were committed in the matrimonial bed and they were persistent. She was a friend of the boy's parents but abused their trust, as well as her unhappy husband's.

On the other hand, she was not this boy's teacher herself; she did not breach that trust, which would surely have been very much worse. Nor, it seems, did she seduce him in the ordinary sense of the word. Perhaps legally speaking she did, but it seems that he developed a crush on her and, even if he may initially have been reluctant, he was willing.....

In any event, the wretched woman has been sentenced to 15 months in jail. This seems extreme, especially as she has also been put on the sexual offenders' register for 10 years and has naturally been sacked from her teaching job. Her career is over, her name is mud, her family is in shock and, as a sex offender, she will find it very difficult to get other work. This alone is severe punishment, even without a jail sentence. And 15 months is a long time in a British prison.

There is something very odd about this case, given what's happening to prison sentences. Generally speaking, the government and the judiciary seem determined to send fewer, not more, people to jail. In January this year the Home Office announced legislation under which judges and magistrates will have to take prison overcrowding into account when sentencing, because the jails are already full to bursting. Paul Goggins, the correctional services minister, said that offenders would receive effective punishments while ensuring that prison was reserved for the most dangerous and persistent offenders - not, one might think, a category that Grice falls into.

What is more, only last Wednesday Lord Woolf, the lord chief justice, called for changes to sentencing that would put fewer criminals in jail. He said prison should be reserved only for the worst crimes, such as murder, violent assault and white-collar offences, and also fine defaulters. "While I firmly believe," he said, "that for serious and violent crimes there is no alternative to a custodial sentence, I also believe passionately on taking steps to turn people away from crime . . . One major challenge is to convince the public that non-custodial sentences do provide a satisfactory punishment to offenders."

Double standards seem to be at work here. Compare the sentence given in 2004 to Phillip Carman, the GP who indecently assaulted several women patients in his surgery in the most flagrant breach of trust and abuse of a doctor's authority. He was sent down for a year, three months less than Grice. The judge said that Carman had been punished enough because he had lost his standing in the community. Admittedly, his sentence was later increased to 18 months by another court - but that is still only a bit more than Grice's term.

Or compare the sentence for a drunk driver who knocked down and killed a young girl on Christmas Day; in 2004 his sentence was reduced to five years by appeal court judges. They said their decision followed a ruling by Woolf, who recommended four to five years where the offender pleaded guilty and showed remorse.

Where is the logic in any of this? However badly Grice has behaved, she is simply not in the same league as a drink-driving killer, a sexually abusive doctor or men who abuse babies. The law is not always an ass, of course, but in this case it does appear to have been both a bit of an ass and a bit of a misogynist prig, as well

More here

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Monday, August 22, 2005


On June 16, 2005, at approximately 11-12 PM, I was walking on Warren Street past St. Paul's School as I have for ten years. I have lived on Warren Street since 1995 and regularly have run and walked Warren Street in that area.

While walking along, dressed in a pair of black stretch pants and a bright tan pullover, I noticed a vehicle coming toward me. I tend to walk heading into traffic and I could clearly see that the vehicle was going to pull over by the roadside, so I simply skirted the vehicle as it pulled over and continued walking. After the vehicle had pulled over, I happened to notice the reflection of its lights and realized that it was a police car, as the blue lights had been activated.

However, because I was simply walking and the trooper had no reason to detain me, I didn't pay attention to the car. I had an MP3 player with earphones in my ears and was listening to music. However, at some point I became aware of someone saying "State Police. Stop."

I turned and saw State Trooper A.A. Presby, in a State Police uniform, coming toward me with a flashlight in his hand, and heard him telling me to stop. I stopped and asked the trooper why he was stopping me. He instantly replied, "I want to talk to you." I responded, "I don't want to be stopped, I would like to continue on my way." The response from Trooper Presby was, "Do you have any identification?"

I continued to protest, asking why I was being stopped. Trooper Presby claimed that he was stopping me for my safety because after all if anything happened to me later he would have felt very bad.

How Trooper Presby's illegal detention of me was going to prevent something from happening to me later was beyond my understanding. I explained to Trooper Presby that the only items I had with me showing my name were a credit card and my New Hampshire Pistol/Revolver license in my bright pink Galco fanny pack. I did not have a purse or any other thing with me, simply had a Galco fanny pack, a pouch which is designed for a right hand draw, designed for a semi-auto.

As soon as I handed him "my permit" he next instantly asked me "Do you have a weapon on you?" My answer was "It's night, I'm walking, of course I have a firearm."

He insisted that I give him my firearm. Obviously, I complied; I had no choice. I properly and slowly opened my Galco fanny pack with the right hand draw and handed him my Glock 23. He took my Glock 23 and laid it on the trunk of his cruiser.

I continued to protest and ask why I was being stopped and detained. He continued to ask me "Well, don't you have a driver's license?"

I explained to him that yes, I do have a driver's license. He wanted to see it. I explained to him again that I wasn't driving, I was out walking, and my driver's license was at home in my wallet. He repeatedly asked me if I had any other forms of ID. I repeatedly answered the question and said, "Look, I've answered the question more than once. I have the license to carry and a credit card, and that is the only form of "ID" I have on me."

Parts of Warren Street heading out of town are what I call "dead cell space," because I can't get any cell service for 100 yards at a time. The particular place Trooper Presby had detained me was on the lower entrance to the St. Paul's School and is one of the dead zones or, quite frankly, I would have been utilizing my cell phone to hopefully have someone extricate me from this horrible situation.

Trooper Presby attempted to use his radio to call my information in. It was clear that either the radio was either not working correctly or he did not know how to use it correctly. He continued to ask me what I was doing out there and claimed that he traveled this road and had never seen me before.

I explained to him that I have lived in this area over 10 years and have run and walked this road many times at all hours of the night and day, and I didn't appreciate being detained. I again asked him why I was being detained, and I repeatedly asked to be released. I didn't want to be stopped and didn't want to be detained and repeatedly asked Trooper Presby to let me go.

At some point, I became much more vocal, explaining I was an attorney and that he had no right or reason to stop me and that I demanded to be released or charged with something. It was at that point he handed me my New Hampshire Pistol/Revolver license and my firearm back and attempted to write down the serial number on my Glock 23, which I also protested.

He then asked "What is your date of birth and name again?" and proceeded to write my name and date of birth in ink on his hand.

I had repeatedly asked him for his business card while I was being detained. At the end, when we terminated our contact, I again told him that I wanted his business card identifying him. Trooper Presby finally gave one to me, and because it was night and it is a very dark green card, I asked Trooper Presby to shine his flashlight on the card so that I could see if there was in fact writing (there was - it is gold writing). Under both the NH and the United States constitutions, this officer had no right to stop or detain me. Had I not vigorously, repeatedly, and firmly asserted that I wanted to be set free, I could have been there indefinitely. After I explained to him I was an attorney, that appeared to be the impetus for him to release me.

I wonder how many other citizens are being harassed in this way: citizens who don't know their rights, have no practical recourse, and are afraid of the authorities. I don't know, but if this is an example of how Trooper Presby is treating other citizens, I certainly think that his behavior and his tactics need to be evaluated and I certainly expect an apology.

I was not - nor could I have been - charged with anything. I was simply a private citizen taking a walk on a nice evening, and there was no reason for Trooper Presby to detain me. I repeatedly told this officer that I was fine, that there was no reason for him to detain me, and that I expected to be left alone. The officer claiming that detaining me was for my future safety is utterly ridiculous.

More here

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Sunday, August 21, 2005


Catt has always had aspirations. When she moved to Taree in the early 1980s, the then divorcee drove a white Corvette and enjoyed socialising. She was the blonde blow-in who would later divide the town and be labelled one of Australia's most hated women.

Arrested in 1989 and charged with assaulting, stabbing, poisoning and conspiring to kill her second husband, Taree mechanic Barry Catt, Roseanne denied the charges, claiming she had been framed by her husband, his lifelong friend Adrian Newell and the police officer in charge of the investigation, detective Peter Thomas, who has since left the police service. The sordid small-town saga included threats, rumours, tit-for-tat pettiness, family breakdown, domestic violence and sex abuse. At Catt's 1991 trial, judge Jane Matthews said she was either "an evil, manipulative woman or the innocent victim of a monstrous conspiracy". She was jailed for 12 years.

She served almost 10 years before being released on bail in 2001 after fresh claims that evidence against her was fabricated and her trial tainted by Thomas. The then NSW attorney-general, Bob Debus, asked for a fresh appeal against her convictions. On Wednesday, the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal upheld the appeal against seven of Catt's nine convictions, leaving it to the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide if she should be retried. The court found that there was "significant fresh evidence available which, if accepted by the jury, would support the conspiracy allegation".

Fronting the court, which was crowded with family, supporters from the Free Roseanne group and media, Catt was a model of composure with her blonde coiffured hair, manicured nails, meticulous make-up and matching accessories. This was a woman who had waged a 16-year battle to clear her name and hoped to be acquitted. She beamed, convinced she would be exonerated.

For a few minutes following Justice Peter McClellan's judgement, the teary 58-year-old appeared rattled. It was not the clear-cut result she had been seeking. But after a meeting with her counsel, Catt emerged smiling. "It is good. It is good," she repeated like a mantra. And later: "I feel as though I'm still living under a cloud, but it's still a victory. I've done very well considering what I was up against."

During the rare and costly 2003 District Court inquiry into whether Catt was wrongfully convicted, the mother-of-two worked day and night with her "guardian", Sister Claudette Palmer, to prepare her case. The pair would walk into the drab room with a suitcase filled with files and throughout proceedings take notes, cross-reference statements and scan hundreds of documents. Catt, always well-dressed, displayed the spectrum of behaviour of someone obsessed. She was moody and abrupt, embracing friends and then snapping orders at them. She would talk manically about every legal detail and occasionally, very occasionally, she'd simply sit in the punishing straight-backed benches, shoulders hunched, hands clasped, deflated and exhausted. And while her declarations that God's support and the example set by Nelson Mandela and Lindy Chamberlain motivated her to keep going were predictable, there was no doubt that something extraordinary sustained her.

Critics - and there are many - would suggest a hunger for compensation was driving her. "Nothing, no amount of money, could ever make up for what I've been through," she has said. "None of my family should have had to endure it. It's wicked. If I was a criminal I'd have stood up and said I was guilty rather than put them through all of this." As her book about her ordeal in jail (Ten Years, PanMacmillan) is readied for publication and Harry M. Miller organises her publicity schedule, Catt will be preoccupied with the possibility of a retrial. One thing is certain: she will continue to divide people. Maybe a girl from Dapto who became one Australia's most infamous women isn't supposed to have aspirations.

More here

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Saturday, August 20, 2005


He just cannot admit that he was wrong. What an infant!

North Carolina -- Gov. Mike Easley has refused to pardon a man he sent to prison when he was a prosecutor even though the man was freed after the victims recanted their testimony. Easley denied the petition of Sylvester Smith, 54, who was convicted in 1984 for first degree rape and two counts of first degree sexual offense, the governor's office said Wednesday. At the same time, however, the governor pardoned Leo Waters, 56, of New Bern, who served 21 years in prison for a 1981 rape and was freed based on new DNA evidence. A pardon in North Carolina allows a wrongfully convicted person to seek $20,000 a year from the state for each year the person was imprisoned, up to $500,000.

Smith said Easley had a conflict of interest because he prosecuted the case when he was district attorney in Brunswick County. "I don't think he's man enough to say he made a mistake," Smith said.

A judge ordered Smith released from prison in November. The accusers, who were 5 and 6 at the time of the trial, recanted their earlier testimony and said their grandmother told them to say Smith was responsible for the abuse rather than their 9-year-old cousin. The cousin, who can't be prosecuted because of his age at the time of the crime, is serving a life prison sentence for murder. The grandmother has died. Smith won a new trial and a prosecutor dismissed the charges.

The governor issued a statement saying his decision was based on a review of the 1984 trial transcript and a recently completed inquiry by the State Bureau of Investigation. There is no appeal of Easley's decision. Smith's attorney, Roy Trest, said he would file a new petition with the next governor in 2009.

In the other case, Waters was cleared of his rape conviction after a DNA test conducted in 2003. District Attorney Dewey Hudson dismissed charges against Waters more than year ago and a grand jury indicted a Massachusetts prison inmate in the case Tuesday. Waters had been convicted in a March 31, 1981, attack on a Jacksonville woman. DNA taken from the victim and the crime scene was compared to samples in a national registry and matched that of Joel Bill Caulk, 58, serving time in Massachusetts for rape and robbery, Jacksonville Police Detective Len Condry said.

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Friday, August 19, 2005


After 21 years in jail for an innocent man -- again a (coached?) eyewiness conviction

A Massachusetts prison inmate once known as California's "Want-Ad Rapist" has been charged with a 1981 sexual assault that another man wrongfully served 21 years in prison for. Joel Bill Caulk, 58, was indicted Tuesday in North Carolina on charges of rape, sexual offense and robbery with a dangerous weapon. Caulk is currently serving time for rape and robbery at the maximum-security Souza-Baranowski prison in Shirley, Mass., and has also been convicted of rape and other violent crimes in Maine, New Hampshire and California. His criminal record dates to 1970 when he was convicted of three sexual assaults in San Diego. In 1987, he received a life sentence in Maine for the 1981 shooting death of a real estate agent. Caulk was known in California as the "want-ad rapist" for his manner of choosing victims through newspaper ads listing household items for sale.

The announcement of his indictment came on the same day North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley pardoned Leo Waters, who was cleared of the crime by a DNA test in 2003. Waters was convicted of the March 31, 1981, attack on a Jacksonville woman who was bound and raped by a man answering her classified ad to sell a water bed. Charges against Waters were dismissed more than a year ago, after he served 21 years in prison. "Two conclusive DNA tests prove Leo Waters did not commit these crimes. This pardon of innocence fully exonerates Mr. Waters," Easley said in a statement.

DNA testing wasn't available when Waters was arrested, but the victim identified him as her attacker and authorities said his blood type matched that of the rapist. When Waters' DNA was analyzed in 2003 it didn't match samples left behind by the attacker. Those samples were compared with other samples contained in a national registry and they matched Caulk's, investigators said.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005


The Cuban Five, anti-terrorist fighters jailed in the United States since 1998, had their convictions reversed on Tuesday Aug. 9th in a historic and unanimous decision by three judges of the US Court of Appeals Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta. Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, René González, and Fernando González were serving sentences ranging from 15 years to two life sentences plus 80 months in separate prisons around the US for various alleged spying offences, and one for conspiracy to commit murder.

The Appeal Court decision follows hot on the heels of a report by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which concluded that the detention of the Five Cubans was both arbitrary and in breach of international law. The Five were part of a larger group of 14 Cubans living in Miami in 1995 who infiltrated and monitored Miami-based terrorist groups, with the sole aim of warning of, and frustrating, their planned attacks, a principle considered legitimate by the US Administration to defend their country after the September 11 attacks.

In July 1998, the Cuban government submitted to the F.B.I a memorandum documenting the terrorist activities of the Miami-based groups, based on the information provided by the 14 Cubans. Instead of arresting the Miami terrorists, on whom the FBI had their own extensive files, 10 of the 14 Cubans were arrested, five accepted plea bargains and were tried separately, and the remaining Five were subjected to a farcical politically motivated trial that has finally been judicially exposed for the travesty of justice it was.

The judges´ decision addressed only one of the eight or nine issues raised at the appeal hearing on 10 March 2004, that of change of venue. The defendants´ lawyers argued that the pervasive community prejudice against Fidel Castro and the Cuban government and its agents, and the publicity surrounding the trial and other community events, combined to create a situation where they were unable to obtain a fair and impartial trial. The judges agreed, unanimously reversing the convictions and overturning their sentences, and remanding them for a new trial on a date yet to be determined.

Aside from making legal history, the successful appeal represents the first small shred of justice to surface in the sorry saga of US misadministration of due process that led to these convictions, and while welcoming the Appeal Court decision as an important step towards the Five´s freedom, there is still the matter of remand to be addressed, and possibly yet another trial to be endured by the defendants and their families.

Still on Remand

In the US justice system, a person is considered innocent until proven guilty. The convictions of the Five have been reversed, rendering their guilt unproven. On 12 September these innocent men will have already spent seven years behind bars, during which time US prison authorities acknowledge they have all been model prisoners. How long will the retrial process take to play out - another two, three, four, five years? Given the time already served by these innocent men, and their impeccable behaviour while incarcerated, is there any need to remand them to further periods of imprisonment pending the retrial?

As evidence from US military personnel at the first trial demonstrated, the Five posed no threat to US security, and these anti-terrorist fighters certainly pose no threat to the US public or to any peaceful citizen of the world, rather the opposite. Do they pose a threat of flight? Hardly - they openly and voluntarily handed over all of the information on their activities to the FBI months before they were arrested, months during which they had plenty of time to leave the US, if that was their intention. No, there is no justification to hold these five innocent men in prison for another moment, until and unless they are found guilty of a crime.

Much more here

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Crooked and negligent police cost all concerned heaps

Twelve men have filed for compensation under the state's wrongful conviction law: Ulysses Rodriguez Charles: Spent almost two decades in prison for rape, robbery and other charges. He was released in 2003 after new DNA evidence came to light. He is also suing the city of Boston and others in federal court.

Stephan Cowans: Convicted for the 1997 shooting of a Boston police officer and a subsequent home invasion, and spent more than six years in prison. He was released after DNA tests and a second fingerprint analysis excluded him as the perpetrator. Last month, Cowans filed suit against the city of Boston and several police officers, saying they botched the fingerprint work and then covered it up.

Lawyer Johnson: Sentenced to death in 1972 for first-degree murder and spent two years on death row until a second trial resulted in a second-degree murder conviction. He served more than 10 years in prison until a witness identified the killer as a man who had testified against Johnson at trial. He is seeking $500,000 from the state, but his attorney said too much time has elapsed to pursue any other lawsuits.

Dennis Maher: Spent almost 20 years in prison after he was convicted of raping two Lowell women and an Ayer woman in the early 1980s. He was released after a law student found long-lost evidence from the cases in a courthouse basement, and subsequent DNA testing excluded him as the rapist. The state said on Friday it was willing to pay Maher $550,000, less than the $1.5 million he sought in three separate claims.

Neil Miller: Spent a decade in prison after he was convicted of aggravated rape and robbery at a Boston apartment in 1989. He was released in 2000 after DNA testing showed the semen collected from the apartment didn't match his DNA. He is also suing the city of Boston and police department employees in federal court. Another man pleaded guilty to the crime last week.

Marvin Mitchell: Served seven years for the 1988 rape of an 11-year-old Dorchester girl, despite a semen test that failed to prove a match. He won his release in 1997 after DNA tests confirmed the semen taken from the victim did not belong to him.

Marlon Passley: Received a life sentence for killing a man and wounding two others in a 1995 shooting incident in Dorchester. He had served four years when new information about the case surfaced and helped win his release in 1999.

Louis Santos: Was convicted of the 1983 shooting death of a social worker in a Dorchester robbery. He got out of prison after three years when a higher court threw out his conviction, and a jury acquitted him in a 1990 retrial.

Eric Sarsfield: Convicted in 1987 of a Marlborough rape, spent a decade in prison. DNA tests cleared him in 2000, after he was out of prison. In addition to the $500,000 state settlement announced Friday, he also has a federal suit pending against the city of Marlborough and the officers who investigated the rape.

John Scullin: Convicted of child rape in 1996 from what his lawyer says were false allegations made in a divorce battle. He served just under two years, and the indictment was dismissed in 1998. At this time, he has no plans to file any other suits.

Peter Vaughn: Convicted for serving as the lookout in the 1983 robbery of a Boston supermarket, even though a similar crime, involving a similarly described suspect, took place soon after while Vaughn was in jail. A state appeals court ordered his release in 1986.

Eduardo Velasquez: Convicted in 1988 on aggravated rape and several other charges involving the assault of a woman in Chicopee the year before. He spent 13 years in prison until DNA tests excluded him as the attacker. The state announced a $500,000 settlement for him on Friday, and he is suing Chicopee in federal court.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Looks like another confession coerced by the police

A Byron Bay charity worker has admitted he robbed a Brisbane newsagency, four years after another man was jailed for the same offence. Damien Paul Godwin, 32, has pleaded guilty in the Brisbane District Court to robbing a Camp Hill newsagency on February 23, 2001, while pretending to be armed with a gun. He had painted a sawn-down curtain rod to look like the barrel of a gun.

Crown Prosecutor Brendan James said Lee William Carkeet had pleaded guilty to the robbery and a number of other offences in September 2001 and was subsequently jailed but fingerprints found at the scene were later matched to Godwin. He made full admissions when eventually found by police.

The court heard Godwin, who had a gambling problem at the time, made the self-described "idiotic plan" to rob the newsagency to repay a $1000 debt after he and his then de facto partner had been threatened with serious harm. It was told Godwin handed the shop assistant at the Old Cleveland Rd store a note demanding all the $50 and $20 notes or he would shoot her. He escaped with $225. The court was also told the shop assistant had been robbed several times before and had trouble distinguishing each separate event.

Defence barrister Bruce Mumford said his client was willing to repay $225 in compensation, had dealt with his gambling problem and was now living with his family while working as a volunteer for Meals on Wheels and Landcare Australia. Judge Ian Dearden sentenced Godwin to three years' jail to be suspended after serving nine months, for an operational period of four years.

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Monday, August 15, 2005


They ignore all principles of justice. They ignore the outcome of several official enquiries. NOTHING will make them admit wrongdoing. And if it can happen to military top-brass, what chance has the little guy got?

A former air commander of Australia, Peter Criss, has accused the chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, of selectively and misleadingly quoting from a private letter to excuse himself from a military justice scandal. Air Vice Marshal Criss's anger is based on Defence's continuing refusal to publicly apologise to him for his summary removal from his post on false grounds - as was recommended by a high-powered internal review more than four years ago.

A more recent review by a former inspector-general of intelligence and security, Bill Blick, was the third into Air Vice Marshal Criss's case. It also lambasted the military justice system and urged a quick resolution of the matter. Nine months after Mr Blick's report, the current custodian of the military justice system, Air Chief Marshal Houston, is refusing to apologise for Air Vice Marshall Criss's mistreatment. Asked about the case on Friday, Air Chief Marshal Houston brandished a letter written to Air Vice Marshal Criss by his predecessor as defence chief, Admiral Chris Barrie, in December 2001. In the letter, Admiral Barrie "apologised unreservedly" to Air Marshal Criss for the manner in which his relief of command was handled, Air Chief Marshal Houston said.

An exasperated Air Vice Marshal Criss told the Herald: "Admiral Barrie's highly qualified apology brought no lasting satisfaction because, within six months of him privately writing it, he totally reversed his position. "Bill Blick's report exposes this hypocrisy for what it was." In a May 2002 direction to Defence lawyers - made just before he retired - Admiral Barrie said Air Vice Marshal Criss's removal was not related to "any shortcoming of process".

Mr Blick was highly critical of Admiral Barrie's instruction, saying it "lacked logic" and was a "complete reversal" of his stance outlined in the December 2001 letter to Air Vice Marshal Criss.

The Criss case, like many in the military justice system, raised hopes - only to be crushed as decisions were inexplicably reversed to protect Defence's reputation. Air Vice Marshal Criss was removed without explanation in 1999 and without the opportunity to argue his case. A review by a retired Supreme Court justice and a retired senior naval officer ordered in July 2001 that Air Vice Marshal Criss be paid substantial compensation and receive a public apology. But Admiral Barrie appointed an officer - Lieutenant-General Des Mueller - adversely mentioned in the report to review it. General Mueller subsequently exonerated himself and the Defence Force of any wrongdoing.

"This case consists of maladministration piled on top of maladministration, piled on even more maladministration," Air Vice Marshal Criss said yesterday. "Defence needs to use its initiative, publicly admit to its multiple mistakes and abuses, set the record honestly straight and let all concerned get on with life."

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Sunday, August 14, 2005


More cases of eyewitness identification being shown as wrong by DNA

Three men wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit became the first to receive cash compensation from the state under a law approved last year. Two of the men, Eduardo Velazquez and Eric Sarsfield, received the maximum allowed under the law – $500,000 each. A third man who had submitted two claims, Dennis Maher, received $550,000. The cases were reviewed by the attorney general’s office before they were sent to Gov. Mitt Romney’s budget chief, Eric Kriss, who signed off on the three settlements Friday. Another nine cases are still pending.

The three men had each been convicted of rape and spent a decade or more in prison. All three were later exonerated with the help of DNA evidence.

Sarsfield was convicted in 1987 for a rape in Marlborough. The victim identified Sarsfield three months after the attack, and after he was cleared, she wrote a letter in support of his attempt to get compensation from the state.

Velazquez was convicted in 1988 of aggravated rape and indecent assault in Chicopee. He served nearly 14 years in prison before being released in 2001.

Maher was convicted in 1983 of two rapes and an assault in Lowell and Ayer. He was identified as the attacker by each of the three victims at two separate trials. He ended up serving 19 years in prison before being released in 2003.

Peter Neufeld of the law firm Cochran, Neufeld and Scheck, represented Sarsfield and Velazquez. He said both men suffered during their time in prison. Velazquez spent a portion of his sentence in a private prison for sex offenders on the Texas/Mexican border. Neufeld said Velazquez appreciates both the public declaration of innocence and the fact that he received the maximum available under the law. “There’s no question that the state can’t adequately compensate Eric and Eduardo for the time they spent in prison and the freedom they lost,” Neufeld said. “Other young men were going out and getting married and starting family and starting careers, and they were in these facilities punching license plates.”

Corey Welford, a spokesman for Attorney General Tom Reilly, said that under the law the three men were clearly entitled to the settlement. “We’re pleased to quickly resolve these cases for these three men whose innocence was clear and who clearly met the standards of the statute,” he said. Under the law passed by the Legislature late last year, exonerated people can ask for a civil trial to make their case for compensation of up to $500,000. Anyone filing a claim has to show by “clear and convincing evidence” that they did not commit the crime for which they were convicted. They must also show they spent at least a year in prison. The state isn’t liable for punitive damages.

Supporters of the law say it’s a matter of simple justice that the state compensate the wrongfully convicted for the time spent behind bars. More than a dozen other states already have similar laws, including New York and Illinois. Before the law was approved, it required a special act of the Legislature to compensate the wrongfully convicted.

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Saturday, August 13, 2005


Two children have been separated from their mother for 15 months because the Queensland Child Safety Department mixed up the woman's case file with that of a mentally-ill, drug and alcohol dependent child-abuser. The children, aged 11 and 8, were taken from their classrooms by federal police and placed in the care of the mother's former partner, who has a criminal record, a history of drug addiction and is not the older child's biological father. Queensland Legal Aid officers refused to grant the mother assistance to fight her case in the Family Court, declaring it unwinnable after reading her file from the Child Safety Department.

The 35-year old woman, who has only a Year 10 education, discovered the bungle after filing a freedom of information application to the department. The application, lodged in November last year, took eight months to process and followed unsuccessful appeals to the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Family Court. Two weeks ago, 235 pages of documents were handed over, which included extensive confidential details relating to another Brisbane mother who has a different name.

Ms T, whose full name cannot be published for legal reasons, contacted the department and pointed out the anomalies. Last week, a senior officer drove to her Brisbane bayside home and asked for the department file to be returned. "The mistakes of these people ruin lives," the mother said. "Children should not have to go through all of this because of mistakes bureaucrats have made. "On May 25, 2004, police came to my children's school and took them from the classroom back to the police station and handed them over to my former partner. It is all just so wrong."

She was handed a copy of a letter from the department to the Registrar of the Family Court saying a departmental investigation had detected an error in the material supplied to the court for the custody hearing beginning in Brisbane next week. The department's letter, dated August 3, said: "This error includes material that identifies Ms T ... as having a history of drug and alcohol use/abuse, mental health illness and erratic/volatile behaviour. "Unfortunately, the information had inadvertently been included in Ms T's file, but in fact it belongs to a totally unrelated client. "The Department of Child Safety regrets any inconvenience [How big of them!] caused to the applicant and to the parties, and is currently seeking to remedy the situation as soon as possible."

Ms T said yesterday she survived on a supporting parent's pension with the two older children she has at home, and could not afford legal representation to fight for custody of the two younger ones. She has been forced to represent herself in court, preparing all legal documentation without assistance. "I have been treated like a fool," she said. "At various times, I have actually been told I was a nutter by bureaucrats. These are people who are supposed to be concerned with justice and the best interests of the children, but neither of those considerations came into play. "For the last 15 months, I have had to live without my children and the older ones have had to live without their siblings, and nothing can replace that. "I am so angry this has happened. If only somebody had listened to me, just once, the mistakes could have been addressed," she said. "The Department of Child Safety last week contacted Legal Aid and told them of their mistake, and I have been offered a solicitor with just one week to prepare for a four-day custody trial."

Child Safety Minister Mike Reynolds said the mistake occurred when the file was compiled in 2001. "More than $200million has been spent reforming this department, and the mistake was made under the old Family Services Department," he said. "We acted very quickly to give to all parties the material to clarify the matters that needed to be clarified because it is set down for hearing on August 15. It is unfortunate this error has occurred, but also important that as a result of our enhanced complaints mechanisms, it has been brought to our attention and rectified."

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Friday, August 12, 2005


Apparently you can even destroy a defenceless baby's life as long as you say you are sorry

A foster father who shook his 10-week-old foster son so hard the baby became blind and brain damaged, has been sentenced to 52 weekends in jail. The baby's natural mother was yesterday outraged by the sentence and called on the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal the sentence. The Sydney District Court had heard the baby had fallen from the man's arms onto the floor, and then became unresponsive. The 43 year-old admitted he then shook the baby and slapped his head to "get him to come round".

The boy later developed seizures, but was not taken to hospital until 5 am the next morning, December 22, 2003, at least 12 hours later. The Department of Community Services had taken the baby from its mother three days after he was born in October 2003 because of concerns about her mental health, the court heard. The baby was placed with foster parents - the mother's sister and her husband, who also had a one-year old child of their own. But the Herald understands the foster parents had informed the Children's Court four weeks before the incident they no longer wished to care for the boy, but the case was adjourned and the boy stayed with them. DOCS said they were not aware of these concerns.

Neither the foster parent nor the baby can be identified for legal reasons. The court heard the man had been beaten regularly by his parents, but DOCS said in a statement the parents had been assessed and the man did not disclose his history of family violence.

Judge John Nield yesterday sentenced him to two years imprisonment for maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm, with a one-year non-parole period to be served as periodic detention. He took into account in sentencing another offence of neglecting to provide adequate medical care for the child. Judge Nield said he believed the man, who had pleaded guilty in April this year, was sorry and had known that he should not shake a baby. But his actions had not been deliberate or premeditated, he found. "I believe that he panicked in a situation that he found himself in and then acted unthinkingly and recklessly towards [the baby]."

Nigel Spence, the head of the Association of Children's Welfare Agencies, said while he was reluctant to comment on the sentence, it appeared to be "quite light". The community had high expectations of foster parents who took over responsibility from parents who could not look after their children, he said. "This case has to trigger another look at the level of support, assessment and supervision of this carer and other carers in similar circumstances."

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit

The story below softpedals official guilt but, as previously pointed out here on 19th March, Ken Marsh was freed last summer when the Cal Western Innocence Project produced medical evidence pointing to accidental death of the child he was accused of killing. One hopes he gets a huge damages award. 21 years in jail for nothing!

A man who had his murder conviction set aside last year after serving 21 years in prison filed a federal lawsuit against San Diego County, Childrens Hospital and its former director, Dr. David Chadwick. Kenneth Marsh was freed Aug. 10, 2004 after San Diego prosecutors said a review of the medical evidence cast reasonable doubt that he was guilty of killing his then-girlfriend's toddler son in 1983. Marsh's attorney Thor Emblem said the suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Diego.

In a report last year, Dr. Sam Gulino of Hillsborough County, Fla., said while Phillip Buell's head injury might have been the result of deliberately inflicted trauma, that couldn't be ascertained beyond a reasonable doubt or to a reasonable degree of medical certainty.

Marsh maintained that he walked out of the room in April 1983 while baby-sitting the child, heard a crash and returned to find the child on the ground, presumably from a fall. He was convicted in November 1983 of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005


And prosecutors like it that way

By William S. Sessions

When I became the director of the FBI in 1987, the forensic use of DNA to find and convict wrongdoers was just emerging as a tool in criminal investigations and trials. This "genetic fingerprinting" provided an entirely new capability in the effort to separate the guilty from the innocent. In early 1988, the FBI Laboratory Division created a DNA testing lab; by year's end, testing was completed in 100 active cases. I was fully expecting the results to confirm the careful investigative and evaluative work that had gone into the decisions to prosecute these suspects.

Instead, I was stunned by the results. In about 30 percent of the cases, the DNA gathered in the investigation did not match the DNA of the suspect. Fifteen years later, this rate remains virtually the same. Approximately 25 percent of DNA tests do not produce a match. I am proud that throughout its existence, the FBI's DNA lab has served both to identify criminals and to exonerate suspects mistakenly identified by law enforcement investigations across the country. But with 137 post-conviction DNA exonerations now on the books in the United States, I am increasingly concerned about recent news stories that suggest a growing resistance on the part of prosecutors across the country to allow post-conviction DNA testing, even in cases where there is strong evidence of innocence.

There are always reasons -- time, money, bureaucratic obstacles -- that something cannot be done. But when it comes to justice and fairness, those reasons are just excuses. Prosecutors not only have a professional duty to seek the truth, they have a moral responsibility to respond to the DNA no-match rate. Just as pretrial DNA testing has illuminated the unexpected frequency with which police and prosecutors have targeted the wrong person, post-conviction testing in cases that were tried 15 or more years ago -- before the availability of forensic DNA -- can exonerate those wrongly convicted, and can possibly identify the true perpetrator and shed light on the causes of the wrongful conviction.

One case vividly illustrates the power of DNA testing. In 1984, a 9-year-old Maryland girl was found strangled, raped and beaten to death with a rock. In 1985, Kirk Bloodsworth was convicted of the crime in Baltimore County and sentenced to death, mainly on the basis of eyewitness identifications and vaguely suspicious statements that Bloodsworth had made. Luckily for him, there was biological evidence in his case, and later DNA testing proved more reliable than the evidence presented against him at trial. In 1992, DNA testing of sperm on the victim's clothing excluded Bloodsworth as the source. In 1993, after spending more than eight years in prison, two of them on death row, Bloodsworth was exonerated and released.

But the case did not end there. For more than a decade, Baltimore County prosecutors continued to consider Bloodsworth their chief suspect in the crime, until they finally agreed to perform more sophisticated DNA tests that could be entered into state and federal databanks. Just two weeks ago, DNA material left by the rapist-murderer at the scene was entered into Maryland's DNA database and produced a "cold hit," implicating a man currently serving time for an unrelated crime. Bloodsworth finally received the apology from prosecutors that he had been waiting 10 years to hear.

The Bloodsworth case vividly demonstrates the need for law enforcement officials to join advocates for the innocent in seeking DNA testing where it previously was unavailable. The phenomenal scientific potential of this evidence should be championed by law enforcement officials, whose principal interest has always been to protect the innocent as they try to apprehend the guilty.

As DNA technology continues to improve, so does its ability to identify the true perpetrators of crimes and exclude those who are wrongly suspected or charged. Defendants who were convicted before these scientific and technological advances might have exonerated them are now desperately asking for advanced DNA tests to prove their innocence. If the 137 DNA-based post-conviction exonerations are any indication, the defendants' requests for DNA testing clearly are warranted.

It is one thing for prosecutors to argue that, in some cases, DNA test results wouldn't necessarily establish a defendant's innocence and that other evidence is so strong that the conviction should still stand. But what is not understandable, nor seemingly justified, are the efforts of prosecutors to deny defendants access to DNA evidence for testing in cases where the results could make a difference.

Last year, a Kentucky inmate named Michael Elliot was trying to prove his innocence in a murder. An enterprising law student had located a blood stain near the scene of the crime. Elliot, who is serving a life sentence, wanted the court to order DNA testing of the stain. The prosecutors responded not just by opposing the testing, but by informing Elliot's lawyers that they would destroy the evidence unless a judge instructed them not to do so. The judge granted the prosecutors' motion, but the Kentucky Court of Appeals intervened before the prosecutors could act. Unfortunately for Elliot, the blood stain turned out to be from the victim and was thus of no help to his claim. But Elliot couldn't have known that without testing -- and neither could the prosecutor's office.

In 1997 in Harris County, Tex., after DNA testing exonerated Kevin Byrd of rape, court officials decided to discard the "rape kits" -- the vaginal swabs taken from victims -- in 50 other cases. They cited a lack of storage space. Byrd's lawyer was quoted in the media as questioning the decision, saying the rape kit has been crucial to proving his client's innocence in the 1985 case. Why wasn't the prosecutor's office asking for the evidence to be preserved?

Prosecutors have nothing to lose -- unless they put their pride before their professionalism -- in allowing post-conviction DNA requests to go forward. If the DNA test proves the defendant is guilty, then all doubts will be resolved. If it exonerates the defendant, then there is an opportunity to correct a tragic mistake and begin the search for the real criminal.

Those opposed to post-conviction DNA testing say that it opens the door to demands from every inmate and would cost a fortune. No one is suggesting such a widespread reexamination. Organizations such as the Innocence Project -- which favors testing -- rigorously screen requests from inmates, eliminating roughly 90 percent of these requests.

The tests themselves are relatively inexpensive and often are paid for by the defendants, the network of Innocence Projects around the country and other nonprofit organizations. In cases where alternative funds are not available, DNA testing at state and county labs may cost as little as $1,000 -- a fairly minimal expense for taxpayers, given the price of imprisoning, or even executing, the wrong person while allowing the real perpetrator to remain free to commit more crimes.

During my time as a federal judge in Texas and as FBI director, I had contact with prosecutors and law enforcement officials who are among the best anywhere, working together in a criminal justice system that is the model for countries around the world. But we can -- and must -- do better. Given the stakes involved, we cannot deny defendants a right to post-conviction DNA testing.

(William Sessions served as director of the FBI from 1987 to 1993 and, earlier, as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. He is a member of the Constitution Project's Death Penalty Initiative, a committee studying ways to prevent abuses in capital punishment)

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005


(A cheat got a fine that was less than what she would have paid in interest by borrowing the money from a bank. The court makes it cheaper to steal than to borrow)

I've just read your blog with great interest, as since spending a day at a local Magistrates Court I was surprised at the almost arbitrary way in which sentences seem to be handed out.

This case in particular really illustrated to me that for some people crime really does pay:-

Case 3506922
27th June 2005
Christine Patricia Fifield AKA Christine Carter "Siddowes" 7 Courtlands Lane Exmouth
Was convicted of two counts of "Benefit Fraud" obtaining a total of £8244.01 by deception. There were no mitigating circumstances she admitted that she just wanted the money. She was fined £700 with £75 costs.

This seemed to be almost collusion with her by the Magistrates, because she had this money for a period of 4 years, and she would have paid far more than this derisory fine, had she borrowed a smaller sum of £7,500 from a bank

Yet looking in the Western Morning News I have seen other cases where people have been imprisoned for lesser amounts

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Monday, August 08, 2005


Jacobs, a 57-year-old grandmother, is a dead woman walking - although, in her case, walking free, after being sentenced to death for a murder she did not commit. She was locked up for almost 17 years - the only woman at that time in America who had a death sentence. She spent five years on death row, albeit one specially created for her by the Florida prison authorities, which cleared out an entire wing of an old prison for women, before locking her up in solitary confinement.

In 1976 Jacobs and her common-law husband, Jesse Tafero, were convicted of the fatal shooting of two Florida police officers, based on the false testimony of the man who had actually committed the murders. Like scores of other innocent men and women wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in the United States, Jacobs was eventually released in 1992, when the real killer finally confessed.

It was too late for Tafero, though. He had been executed two years earlier, in the most grisly botched procedure in the history of the American death penalty - the electric chair malfunctioned and the executioner had to pull the switch three times, sending three massive bolts of electricity through his body. Before it was over, Tafero's head burst into flames. "It took Jesse 131/2 minutes to die," says Jacobs wearily. After they sentence you to death, they tell you exactly how they're going to do it, she continues calmly. "They say they are going to send 2,200 volts of electricity through your body until you are dead - then they ask if you have anything to say!" ......

In The Exonerated, Jacobs has been played by Susan Sarandon (who also starred as her in the TV movie version), Mia Farrow, Lynn Redgrave, Jill Clayburgh and many others. "With the exception of Mia, a lotta tall women have been me - and I'm so short," exclaims Jacobs, who has also played herself on stage and will do so for a limited run in Edinburgh, where the cast also includes Aidan Quinn and Robert Carradine.

Jacobs' heart-rending story never fails to move audiences to tears. "The play has given us a voice, but more importantly it has given Jesse a voice. As he was executed, he said, 'They're gonna remember my name.' And, thanks to The Exonerated, they do," she says.

Today, with the shimmering Atlantic Ocean virtually on her doorstep, and rolling green fields surrounding the rented farmhouse she shares with Peter Pringle, her 66-year-old partner - himself an exonerated death-row inmate, from Ireland - Jacobs has finally found freedom. Although, even when she was imprisoned in a tiny cell - "six paces from the door to the open toilet in the corner, and this wide," she says, stretching out her arms to demonstrate how she could touch the walls - she remained a free spirit. ...

FORTY years ago, New York-born Sunny Jacobs, barely 18, fell pregnant and married her high-school sweetheart in Long Island, where she and her younger brother were raised by loving parents. "My childhood was very safe, very ordinary," she says. The marriage broke down, leaving Jacobs a single parent, but blessed with a son, Eric. Then, when she was 23 - "a hippie mom and a vegetarian, believing only in peace and love" - she met Jesse Tafero, who had a police record that dated from his teenage years. But those misdemeanours would come back to haunt them. "I grew up with the romantic American dream, and I wanted that," recalls Jacobs. "All I dreamed of was having a loving husband and a father for my son; I was in love with Jesse, and I thought we would live happily ever after."

They were together for three years, and although they weren't officially married, she considered him to be her husband. She was the breadwinner, doing part-time jobs in North Carolina. In 1976 she had recently given birth to their daughter, Tina, when Tafero announced that he was going to get himself regular work - not easy, given his police record. But he just needed to go to Florida one last time to do a little deal. She didn't want to know the details.

Then he called, told her the deal had fallen through, that he was broke and had no way of getting home - "and he was staying with some girl". She said she would be right there to get him. "How stupid was that?" she wonders now. "But I loved him."

So she put nine-year-old Eric and ten-month-old Tina into her rusting car and set off. By the time she got to Florida, the car had broken down and couldn't make the long journey back. Tafero's friend, Walter Rhodes, offered them a lift part of the way home. Jacobs didn't like him, but he was willing to drive them north. "We had no money, nothing. And it was only a ride," she says.

Shortly after they set off, Rhodes pulled into a rest area to sleep. Early the next morning, two policemen, on a routine check, looked in the car, saw the sleeping passengers, then spotted a gun on the floor between Rhodes' feet. They called in to headquarters and discovered that he was on parole, and possession of a gun is a parole violation. At gunpoint, they ordered him and Tafero out of the car. Then the shots began.

Shielding her children in the car, the terrified Jacobs didn't know who had been hit. When it went quiet, she looked up and saw the two policemen were dead. Rhodes then kidnapped the family at gunpoint, taking them on a wild journey.

As they sped along the motorway, Jacobs heard helicopters and breathed a sigh of relief - they were about to be saved. Rhodes swerved to avoid a roadblock and the police opened fire on the car. Rhodes was shot in the leg; Jacobs and her family were uninjured. The cops dragged everyone out and brought them all in as suspects. Although she was scared, Jacobs was certain they would let her and Tafero go.

Paraffin tests on their hands established that Rhodes was the only one of the three who had fired a gun that day. But Rhodes was a career criminal and he knew the system. He immediately started arranging a plea bargain - one in which he would receive three life sentences and immunity from the death penalty, in exchange for serving as star witness against Jacobs and Tafero.

Tried separately, both Jacobs and Tafero were sentenced to death. She remained convinced that the police would find out she was innocent."I was so certain that I would be released that I kept my breast milk going for Tina for more than a year," she says. "I managed to get a plastic bowl and at midnight I would express my milk, so that I would still be able to nurse Tina when I got out. One day, though, I realised there was no point. She was no longer a baby."

Meanwhile, Rhodes was also writing letters - to judges and prosecutors, in which he disavowed his previous testimony against the couple and took sole responsibility for the crime. Then he would recant his recantations, so that they both remained on death row. In 1982, though, the death sentence against Jacobs was overturned and commuted to life imprisonment. Rhodes was released on parole in 1994.

But Jacobs was not without caring supporters. A childhood friend, Micki Dickoff, from Los Angeles, heard about her plight and was convinced of her innocence. She worked tirelessly for Jacobs and Tafero, bringing in a new defence lawyer and ultimately making a TV film about the case.

Despite these efforts, though, Tafero was executed. Then, two years later, Jacobs was freed, in large part based on the theory that Rhodes was actually the lone killer. It emerged that evidence in the couple's favour had been held back, including a polygraph test taken by Rhodes, which had been falsified....

Despite having received no compensation, Jacobs says, "This is the happiest time of my life; I've never known such peace, such love. It's a gift." At this she gazes up into Pringle's navy-blue eyes. And indeed, this gentle giant of a man, with his mane of snowy-white hair and beard, looks exactly like Santa Claus as he gift-wraps her in his muscular arms and kisses her pale cheek.

WHILE we talk, Pringle deftly prepares a hearty meal for us - picking fresh salad ingredients grown by Jacobs - and tells his own story. He was a fisherman who had recently separated from his wife (he has two sons, two daughters and five grandchildren) when, in 1980, he was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to death for the killing of a policeman and of committing armed robbery in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon. "When the crime was committed, I was at least 50 miles away, in Galway," he says. "The police had pursued one of the perpetrators into the county, but they lost him. Then, for whatever reason, they decided to pick me up and fabricate evidence against me. I did not have a police record, although I had a political background and had been interned during the 1950s. Perhaps that was enough reason for them."

His death sentence (capital punishment was not abolished in Ireland until 1990) was revoked ten days before he was due to be executed. His sentence was reduced to 40 years' penal servitude, without remission. He spent almost 15 years in jail. Despite having left school at 13, he studied law and finally proved his innocence. In May 1995 his conviction was quashed. His fight for compensation is ongoing. "It's Dickensian. It's as if they're waiting for me to die," he says.

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