Friday, June 30, 2006

46 year-old wrongful conviction still being reviewed in Canada

While the guilty party is still free

A child witness who gave damning testimony at Steven Truscott's 1959 murder trial revealed years later to colleagues that she lied to investigators and that the "wrong guy" was behind bars, court heard Wednesday. Jocelyn Gaudet's claim that Truscott set a date to meet her in the woods the same evening 12-year-old Lynne Harper was raped and strangled was powerful ammunition for the prosecution - they successfully argued that the 14-year-old boy had sex on his mind and set his sights on Harper after failing to meet Gaudet.

In 1966, just days before the Supreme Court embarked on a review of Truscott's case, Gaudet confessed her secret to a group of fellow resident nurses at a Montreal psychiatric hospital, court heard. Sandra Stolzmann described Wednesday how Gaudet admitted she lied under oath when she testified at Truscott's trial 47 years ago, and even suggested to her friends that a man who had been spotted driving a yellow car in the area should have been considered a prime suspect. "'They've got the wrong guy, they've got the wrong guy. They've got to be looking for the guy in the yellow car,"' Gaudet told the women as she became visibly upset, Stolzmann testified.

Truscott steadfastly professed his innocence at trial and told prosecutors he saw Harper get into a passing car after he took his schoolmate for a bike ride in rural Clinton, Ont., on the evening of June 9.

When Gaudet was asked why she lied to police, she replied, "I was the old girlfriend and I didn't want them to know I as following them," said Stolzmann. Stolzmann's version of events was seconded by fellow nursing co-worker Elizabeth Hulbert, who also told court she was in the room and heard Gaudet say, "I was a witness and I lied."

When pressed by her colleagues to tell the truth before the Supreme Court, Gaudet said she would fake a psychiatric illness and be committed to an institution before admitting that she lied, Hulbert testified. Both women said Wednesday it was their belief that Gaudet did just that, although neither had first-hand knowledge of Gaudet ever being institutionalized.

When it became clear Gaudet wasn't going to testify before the Supreme Court, Stolzmann said she went to the RCMP. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled 8-1 against granting Truscott a new trial.

In preparing the report that concluded there was likely a miscarriage of justice in the Truscott case, Justice Fred Kaufman interviewed Gaudet, but the woman has not testified at the judicial review of Truscott's conviction.

The ubiquity of hitchhikers in post-war, rural Ontario was also explored Wednesday in the plain-spoken testimony of a childhood friend of Harper's - evidence that drew laughs from the spectator's gallery and even smiles from the Appeal Court justices hearing the case. "We usually just stuck our thumbs out and we usually got a drive to town," Catherine Beamer said before adding she and Harper did just that "at least 15 to 20 times" as young teens. Truscott's insistence that Harper thumbed a ride after they parted fell on deaf ears in 1959 - the girl's parents insisted their daughter would never hitchhike. "I don't think anybody ever gave it a second thought. It was just a way of life," Beamer said of hitchhiking.

The woman testified that she was friends with both Truscott and Harper, and outside the court expressed her hope that justice finally be done in the case. "Steve needs justice as does Lynne, because it's as much about justice for her as it is for him," said Beamer, who fondly recalled Harper as a close companion and "a little bit pushy." "She was my friend, and I miss her."

Truscott was convicted on Sept. 30, 1959, for Harper's rape and murder, becoming the youngest person in Canada ever sentenced to death. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1960, the same year his first appeal was denied. He served nine years in jail before being released on parole in 1969. Truscott has steadfastly professed his innocence. The review of the 46-year-old murder conviction is expected to stretch into next week.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Government justice officials supported 'police tunnel vision'

More on Canada's Lamer report. Sadly, no word of any action against the criminally incompetent police

Newfoundland's Crown attorney's office fostered a class of overzealous prosecutors who too often accepted police investigations that were plagued by "tunnel vision," an exhaustive inquiry into a trio of wrongful murder convictions has concluded. Former Supreme Court justice Antonio Lamer, in a scathing 486-page report released Wednesday, said the province's prosecutors must do a better job of assessing evidence and allow for more time when preparing for complex trials. "In sum, the Director of Public Prosecutor's Office demonstrated a Crown culture that accepted and supported the police tunnel vision," Lamer wrote. "There was no evidence before me that this culture has changed."

His report said prosecutors were too eager to accept evidence from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, a regional police force that Lamer described as "a ship adrift." "The (director of public prosecutions) should strive to establish and maintain a Crown culture that is sensitive to the opportunities to avoid injustice as well as to obtain convictions," Lamer wrote.

In a bid to improve the province's ailing justice system, Lamer made several dozen recommendations, the most notable being a call for an independent review of the Crown attorney's office. The province's attorney general, Tom Marshall, said the government intends to implement every one of Lamer's recommendations, and it has already appointed a retired Newfoundland judge to lead the review. Marshall also took the opportunity to apologize to Ronald Dalton and Randy Druken for the government's role in murder cases that would later be exposed as miscarriages of justice.

Gregory Parsons, the man at the centre of the third case in question, has already received a public apology from the government and $650,000 in compensation.

Dalton said Marshall's "half-hearted apology" gave him cold comfort. "You're never going to restore my confidence in the justice system in this province or any other," Dalton said. "The proof will be in the pudding. There's a lot of recommendations in there. We'll see what they do with it."

Marshall said some of Lamer's recommendations have already been implemented, particularly those relating to improved training and resources for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. Lamer's report commended the police force for making improvements.

Jerome Kennedy, defence lawyer for Dalton and Parsons, welcomed the recommendations but questioned whether the justice system would be overhauled in a timely manner. "Crown cultures are deeply seeded attitudes and beliefs, so you can put all the resources and money you want into a department, but unless you change the attitudes, you're not going to change the system itself," Kennedy said. "Resources by themselves won't do it."

Lamer's wide-ranging inquiry was launched in March 2003. He looked into the notorious cases that led to murder convictions for Parsons, Druken and Dalton. Dalton was arrested and charged the day after his wife was found dead on Aug. 16, 1988. He was convicted of strangling her the following year. Although an appeal was filed within weeks, the Newfoundland Court of Appeal did not hear the case until almost nine years later. Dalton, who had always insisted his wife choked on cereal, had his conviction overturned and he was acquitted after a retrial in June 2000. Lamer concluded that the lengthy delay in Dalton's case was caused by the inaction of two lawyers.

Parsons was 19 in 1991 when he found his mother dead in her St. John's home. She had been stabbed to death. In 1994, a jury convicted him of second-degree murder. He served six weeks before he was granted bail pending an appeal. Parsons was later exonerated by DNA evidence and was formally acquitted in 1998. A former friend was later sentenced for the crime. Lamer's inquiry made it clear that police "tunnel vision" contributed to Parson's wrongful conviction.

A year after Parsons was convicted, Randy Druken was imprisoned for the 1993 murder of his girlfriend, Brenda Marie Young. Druken was convicted largely on the testimony of a jailhouse informant and spent almost six years in prison before he was granted an appeal in 1999. The Crown consented to a new trial after the informant recanted. The Crown eventually stayed the charges - a decision Lamer criticized, saying the case was so flimsy prosecutors should never have called any evidence in the first place.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006


A federal judge has awarded a new trial to Michael Hutchinson, the Milpitas man who was convicted in 1999 of robbing a 7-Eleven, ruling that his attorney improperly failed to pursue photographic evidence that cast doubt on Hutchinson's guilt. The order from U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White came six years after Hutchinson's appellate lawyer first went to court contending that photographs taken by a store surveillance camera showed Hutchinson was too tall to be the robber captured on tape.

Hutchinson's case was featured as part of the Mercury News' ongoing series, ``Tainted Trials, Stolen Justice,'' documenting questionable conduct in Santa Clara County jury trials. The newspaper hired an expert to conduct the analysis Hutchinson was denied when the 6th District Court of Appeals rejected his appellate attorney's request for money to analyze the photographs.

Lawrence Gibbs, one of two attorneys who initially took the case for free after Hutchinson first appealed to federal court, said, ``This should have happened six years ago. Michael Hutchinson spent six years in prison because the court would not give a couple thousand dollars to his attorney.'' The 39-year-old Hutchinson, in a telephone call from prison, said simply, ``I'm shocked.''

In a 37-page opinion issued late Thursday, White ruled that trial attorney Dennis Kazubowski failed to give Hutchinson adequate representation because he did not investigate the photographic evidence. White also found Kazubowski's explanations, given at a hearing last month, not credible. The judge gave the state of California 60 days either to retry Hutchinson or release him. The state now must decide whether to appeal and ask that Hutchinson remain in prison.

The Mercury News discovered the case during reporting for its ``Tainted Trials, Stolen Justice'' series, which reviewed five years of appellate decisions in Santa Clara County criminal jury trials. Based on the refusal of the 6th District to grant money to explore evidence that Hutchinson could have been wrongly convicted, the Mercury News hired photogrammetry expert Gregg Stutchman, who concluded that the man in surveillance photographs appeared substantially shorter than the defendant. Stutchman became a critical witness in a new effort Hutchinson launched in federal court to overturn the verdict. Stutchman testified at the hearing last month before White, a San Francisco judge appointed by George W. Bush, who said Stutchman's testimony ``was very persuasive.''

The Mercury News series documented repeated instances of questionable conduct by prosecutors, defense lawyers, trial judges and appellate justices during Santa Clara County criminal trials. Such conduct, the newspaper found, increases the small possibility of wrongful conviction.

Hutchinson's case was one of three detailed in a March article on the vagaries of eyewitness identification, a form of evidence that experts consider particular troubling, because it is both persuasive with juries and too often unreliable. Earlier this month, the 6th District Court of Appeals reversed the conviction in another one of those cases. The court found that Jeffrey Rodriguez did not receive adequate representation in his case.

Hutchinson's case began Oct. 25, 1998, when a man wearing a stocking mask burst into the convenience store, hopped the counter and took $200. He was arrested and charged after the store clerk identified him from a photographic lineup. On Friday, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Ed Fernandez said he remained ``absolutely convinced'' of Hutchinson's guilt and said it ``boggles my mind'' that Stutchman's conclusions were considered scientifically valid. White's ruling ``is not a get-out-of-jail-free card,'' added Fernandez, who said he is preparing for a possible retrial.

The key issues before White were whether the expert analysis cast doubt on Hutchinson's guilt and whether Kazubowski failed Hutchinson by not exploring that defense before the trial. Hutchinson, according to trial testimony, is 6 feet 1 or 6 feet 2. Stutchman studied the apparent height of the robber as he took a full stride running through the store's door and testified that the robber appeared at least 6 inches shorter. The two sides disagree on whether that difference could be explained by the gait and posture of someone in motion, but the state did not call an expert to contest Stutchman's testimony. White this week ruled that posture would not account for the large discrepancy in height.

At trial, prosecutors built their case on the testimony of the store clerk, as well as the store manager and a Milpitas policeman. Neither the manager nor the officer was present at the robbery, but both thought the man in the photo resembled Hutchinson. On the witness stand, the clerk went beyond her initial statement to police and testified that she saw Hutchinson outside the store moments before the robbery and watched him put the mask on his head.

Hutchinson testified he had been wrongly accused. He had a prior conviction for assault with a deadly weapon and had been arrested for domestic abuse. But since getting out of prison, he had worked as a pastor, counseling young people. A poster for his church, bearing his photograph, was on display at the 7-Eleven.

Kazubowski on Friday said ``I know I did my job'' in representing Hutchinson. He testified last month that he made a tactical decision not to seek expert testimony about the surveillance photograph, after he examined it and concluded that the robber captured on film was his client. But White rejected that explanation, writing, ``Neither his recollection nor his credibility can be credited here.''

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006


A newspaper investigation raises questions about the execution of a man for a 1983 slaying at a Corpus Christi service station. Carlos De Luna was executed 16 years ago for the fatal stabbing of Wanda Lopez, a gas station clerk and a single mother. De Luna was swiftly convicted and sentenced to death even though the parolee proclaimed he was innocent. He identified another man as the killer.

The Chicago Tribune, in the first of a three-part series published Sunday, said it has uncovered evidence strongly suggesting that De Luna's acquaintance, Carlos Hernandez, was the one who killed Lopez. Hernandez died in 1999. Hernandez's friends and relatives, ending years of silence, said the felon bragged that De Luna went to Death Row for a murder he committed. The case was compromised by shaky eyewitness investigation, sloppy police work and a failure to thoroughly pursue Hernandez as a possible suspect, the newspaper reported.

De Luna's prosecutors maintain the right man was convicted, though the lead prosecutor acknowledged being troubled by some of the new information. A former police detective said he now believes the wrong man was executed. No DNA or other conclusive proof of De Luna's guilt or innocence is available. The store did not have a security camera. The newspaper learned of the De Luna case from a Columbia University law professor who had begun to look into evidence pointing to Hernandez.

The possibility of De Luna's innocence played no role in his final appeal, which focused on his lawyers' failure to present mitigating evidence at his sentencing. The day after the killing, a man who lived near where De Luna was arrested found a white shirt and shoes that apparently belonged to him. The clothes and shoes, as well as swabs from his face, were sent to the state crime lab for testing. No blood was found. De Luna was executed by lethal injection in 1989.

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The full "Chicago Trib" story is here. There's lots of it

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Monday, June 26, 2006


Ignored witness could make a difference

The defense attorney for Aaron Matthew Dunagan says he has a new eyewitness to the automobile wreck that landed his client in jail, and he’s asking the court to grant a new trial so the witness has a chance to testify. “Had we had this guy to testify in the case, the outcome of the trial would have been very different,” said Steve Lanier, the defense attorney for Dunagan in a trial that concluded last month.

Dunagan, 26, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges resulting from a 2004 wreck on Ga. 53 that left Candice Wilson Bendek in a coma. He was convicted of reckless driving, serious injury by reckless driving and failure to obey a traffic control device. Jurors found him not guilty of driving under the influence and a related charge.

Don McDonald, a financial adviser with H&R Block in Rome, went to Lanier’s office after learning of the convictions because he felt a “grave injustice” had been done, Lanier’s court filing states. McDonald states in a sworn affidavit filed with the court that he witnessed the wreck and that Dunagan was not at fault.

Lanier filed his motion for a new trial Thursday with the Floyd County Superior Court, along with a handful of other motions, including a request for the court to reduce Dunagan’s sentence and a motion for bond so that Dunagan can be released from jail pending his appeal.

Steve Cox, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, said Lanier’s motion for new trial is standard procedure, and he doesn’t think McDonald’s testimony would have made any difference in the outcome of the trial. “To me it doesn’t really change the fact that the defendant ran a red light at a very high speed without any attempt to stop,” Cox said, citing the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses. Still, Dunagan’s family and friends are hopeful the new eyewitness will be the young man’s chance to escape what they see as a wrongful conviction. “We knew all the time there was a witness, and we beat the bushes trying to find him,” said Hoyt Brown, a friend of the family. “I believe the boy’s innocent. I can’t sleep good at night knowing there’s an innocent person in jail.”

Brown said the witness met Dunagan at the scene of the wreck and gave him his card, but Dunagan was shaken up and lost the card. Lanier tried to find the man, the attorney said, but he was not listed as an official witness in the police report, and no one knew his name.

McDonald states in his affidavit he personally knew the officer at the wreck scene and offered to share his version of the story, but the officer declined his help. He states he didn’t come forward before the trial’s conclusion because he thought Dunagan would be found not guilty. Cox said the prosecution was unaware there was another witness at the time of the trial, and he said the police did their best to interview the most useful witnesses at the wreck scene. “There was so much chaos at the scene,” he said. “I think the officers worked it as best they could, but there were scores of people standing around in no time at all.”

Dunagan’s mother, Melissa Dunagan, says she feels sympathy for Bendek and her family but doesn’t think her son is guilty of the crimes with which he was charged. “My heart breaks for them, but our hearts are broken, too,” she said.

The motion for new trial will be heard after a full transcript of the initial trial is completed, Lanier said. He predicted it would take four to six weeks for a judge to schedule a hearing, but he said the court could hear the motions for reduced sentence and for bond pending appeal sooner than that.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Why was this guy put through so much on such weak evidence?

No wonder few men are willing to be teachers these days with the risk of this sort of treatment

A judge has thrown out sex charges against a Wellington primary teacher, saying he had found it "implausible, then unlikely and then impossible" that offences had been committed. In a rare move, Wellington District Court judge Bruce Davidson told the jury, who were due to begin deliberating yesterday, that he was removing the case from them and discharging the teacher. He invited the jury to stay to hear his reasons and most remained to see the end of the week-long case they had been going to decide.

The judge granted permanent name suppression for the teacher and the school he had taught at in 1996, when the offences were alleged to have occurred. The teacher has been on suspension since his arrest last May. The teacher had denied two charges of sexual violation by rape, one of indecent assault and two of assault against a seven-year-old pupil.

The Crown alleged he had raped the pupil in a school corridor and also in a small office in his classroom. He was supposed to have touched her genitals while she was at his home. He was also alleged to have kicked her and pushed a couch over her feet.

Judge Davidson said that as the trial went on he had found it "implausible, then unlikely and then impossible" that the teacher could have committed the offences or that the jury could convict him. He said that by the end of the defence case it was clear it would be unsafe to let the jury deliberate and possibly convict.

Judge Davidson said any guilty verdict would be a miscarriage of justice and no conviction could have been regarded as safe. The opportunity for the teacher to have committed the offences was so limited as to make it impossible. The girl who had made the allegations had memory issues that were troubling and disturbing and Judge Davidson said there was a strong suspicion that she had come to believe in her own fantasy.

Released from the dock, the teacher was hugged by his wife and called out "yeehah" to his supporters. After court the teacher did not want to comment but his supporters expressed relief at the decision. It was not known whether the man will return to teaching.

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Late apology for wrongful conviction

Newfoundland and Labrador's top judge has apologized to Ronald Dalton for his wrongful conviction of murdering his wife. Clyde Wells, Chief Justice of the province's Appeal Court, wrote to Mr. Dalton on Thursday, a day after the Lamer inquiry released its report into the wrongful murder convictions of three Newfoundland men.

Mr. Dalton, who spent almost nine years in prison for a retrial that eventually acquitted him, said the apology, while late, is appreciated. “It's an acknowledgment, I guess, of what I've always known, that things had gone horribly wrong along the way,” Dalton told the CBC.

The inquiry was launched in March, 2003, to examine the murder convictions of Gregory Parsons, Randy Druken and Dalton. Mr. Dalton was arrested and charged the day after his wife was found dead on Aug. 16, 1988, in their Gander home. He was convicted the following year of strangling her. Although an appeal was filed within weeks, the Newfoundland Court of Appeal did not hear the case until almost nine years later. Mr. Dalton, who had always insisted his wife choked on cereal, won the overturning of his conviction. He was acquitted after a subsequent retrial in June, 2000.

DNA evidence was used to clear Mr. Parsons in the killing of his mother. Mr. Druken was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, and while the prosecution later stayed the charges, he was never formally acquitted. Antonio Lamer, in his report, said the Appeal Court should have acted five years sooner on Mr. Dalton's file.

The retired Supreme Court of Canada justice concluded that the provincial Crown attorney's office too often accepted and supported police investigations that were plagued by “tunnel vision.” Chief Justice Wells, a former premier, said in his letter to Mr. Dalton that Mr. Lamer's criticism is fair and warranted. “The chief justice rarely speaks publicly, and I don't think he issues many written apologies,” Mr. Dalton said. “So, as the chief justice of the province, he's speaking on behalf of the judiciary of the province.”

Attorney-General Tom Marshall has said the government intends to implement every one of Mr. Lamer's recommendations. He also apologized Wednesday to both Mr. Dalton and Mr. Druken for the government's role in the miscarriages of justice. Mr. Parsons has already received a public apology and $650,000 in compensation from the government. Mr. Dalton has a number of lawsuits pending, including against the provincial government.

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Background on the Druken case:

A former Crown prosecutor will not say if he would have charged Randy Druken with murder in 1993. Bern Coffey testified Monday in St. John's at the Lamer Inquiry, which is examining Druken's conviction of the murder of his girlfriend, Brenda Young. Druken was released from prison after almost seven years, after DNA evidence indicated he did not commit the crime.

At the time, Coffey was the assistant director of public prosecutions, but he was not consulted on the case. The Crown's case focused on a jailhouse informant who was later charged with perjury. No physical evidence pointed to Druken.

When asked if he would have prosecuted the case himself, Coffey said the question is difficult to answer. "I honestly can't say now," Coffey testified. "It would be unfair."

Druken spent more than six years in prison, DNA evidence put Druken's brother, Paul, at the murder scene. These details were not publicly revealed until several weeks ago, during testimony at the Lamer Inquiry. A second trial was ordered for Druken. Coffey testified when that happened, the charge against Randy Druken should have been dismissed or withdrawn. However, that didn't happen. Instead, the Crown eventually filed a one-year stay of proceedings against Druken. At the time, Druken said the charge should have been withdrawn in order to clear his name.

Previous report on the Dalton case on this blog on 6th Feb.

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Friday, June 23, 2006


For the past two years Roderick Rigby’s life has not been his own. He says that his identity has been stolen so many times that he has lived in fear of a policeman or bailiff knocking on the front door and yet another court summons arriving in the post. The mild-mannered upholsterer has received 52 summonses for driving offences that he says he did not commit, been convicted and fined in his absence and mistaken by prosecutors as a dangerously violent felon serving a 14-month sentence. He has written repeatedly to the DVLA and pleaded with police that he is not the man racking up speeding and parking fines all over the country, but they have refused to believe him — until now.

At a hearing before Burnley Crown Court in Lancashire — his latest bid to quash a conviction for failing to supply his documents at a police station — the Crown Prosecution Service finally threw in the towel. Judge Barbara Watson, the Recorder of Burnley, told the court that heads would roll at the CPS if it could not explain the matter.

Mr Rigby, 51, of Rishton in Lancashire, said: “It has been a living nightmare for me and my wife.” Two years ago, fines for motoring offences started arriving in the post. They sometimes carried different names but were always delivered to his address. He has even received logbooks from the DVLA saying that cars have been registered in his name or at his address. “I write back to all the summonses and fines to explain they are not meant for me but it is an awfully long process and no one believes me,” he said. “Bailiffs have been around. We have had letters saying my goods would be seized and all because someone has registered cars in my name and been racking up parking and speeding fines. “I have had tickets from all over the country, from places I have never even visited — London, Northampton, Bolton and Burnley. I have even had fines when I have been on holiday. It is not easy sleeping at night.”

In May 2004, he was arrested when a Mr Royle, who was wanted for driving a car without insurance, MoT or licence, gave his address. The arresting officer cautioned him in the “names of Royle or Rigby”. Several weeks later the DVLA confirmed to magistrates in Accrington that Mr Rigby was not the culprit and the caution was wiped from the record.

In the same year a motorist stopped for jumping a red light in Blackburn gave Mr Rigby’s name, address and a close guess at his date of birth. When the motorist failed to produce his documents at a police station, the summons was sent to Mr Rigby ordering him to appear in court. “It was at this time that other documents started arriving at home, parking tickets and speeding fines,” he said. “I phoned and wrote to the DVLA and the authority issuing the fines but still they kept coming through the post.” He had to appear in court nine times to sort out the initial summons. Once, magistrates in Accrington threatened him with a contempt of court charge when he tried to explain that it was a case of mistaken identity.

Mr Rigby, who cares for his asthmatic wife Jacqueline, 51, was eventually convicted in his absence, given six penalty points and fined £540. Since then he has been fighting the conviction in an action that Mr Rigby’s barrister has estimated has cost £30,000.

The last straw came when Mr Rigby turned up in court to hear the prosecutor tell the judge that the defendant was excused from appearing in person because he was in prison for wounding. Jumping to his feet Mr Rigby said: “No, I am not. I’m here.”

A spokeswoman for the CPS said: “There is no doubt that people do give false details to the police, but equally people who are responsible for the offence claim it wasn’t them. “We needed to check that the right person was prosecuted. We tried to do that but Mr Rigby did not attend court and was convicted in his absence. “Clearly the conviction has been quashed and the appeal has been allowed. “From our point of view we were trying to find out who the person was the police stopped.” The spokeswoman said that the suggestion that Mr Rigby was behind bars for a wounding was an administrative error. He had been confused with a Roderick James Rigby currently serving a 14-month prison term. “I can confirm that the prisoner and the man who appeared in court are not the same person,” she said. [Brilliant!]

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Freed ex-lifer settles with State of Pennsylvania over conviction

No sign that the lying bitch of a forensic chemist who put him away will suffer any sanction, though

A man who served 28 years in prison on a murder conviction but released after questions were raised about evidence has settled a federal wrongful-conviction lawsuit with the state. "I'm just thankful to God that the case concluded today," said Steven Crawford, 49. "Now my family and I can move on with our lives and I will be able to attempt to restore mine after 28 years living in a cage."

The terms of Monday's settlement, which also covered a second lawsuit he had filed, were not disclosed. Neither Crawford nor the state admitted any wrongdoing. But family members considered it an exoneration for Crawford, who was convicted three times in the bludgeoning death of a 13-year-old Harrisburg paperboy in 1970. "For us, this is a verdict of innocence," said Crawford's sister, Linda Thompson. "It's an admission that a wrong was committed."

The wrongful-death suit named the state, Dauphin County and the city of Harrisburg as well as a former state police chemist, a state police trooper, and the estate of a county detective who all testified about the validity of handprint evidence that was later contradicted by the chemist's notes. Janice Roadcap, the former chemist, declined to comment Monday. "It's settled. It's over. It's done," she told The Patriot-News of Harrisburg.

The other lawsuit, filed in Dauphin County, accused 13 state police commissioners of inadequately training and supervising the investigators who handled his criminal case. The body of the paperboy, John Eddie Mitchell, was found in a blood-spattered garage in an alley behind Crawford's Harrisburg home in 1970. Crawford was 14 at the time. Mitchell had been beaten on the head with a sledgehammer and he had been robbed of the $32 he collected on his paper route that day, police said.

Crawford's release on $1 bail came in June 2002, when a set of notes belonging to a since-deceased investigator surfaced, raising serious doubts about the validity of Roadcap's work. The following month, prosecutors dismissed charges, citing the Mitchell family's objection to a fourth trial and the time he had already served.

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Background report on the case from 2002:

Summary: When 13-year-old John Eddie Mitchell was bludgeoned to death on September 12, 1970, investigators and prosecutors in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania spared no effort to convict 14-year-old Steven Crawford -- altered reports, junk science, manipulated and perjured testimony and lost evidence. Steven Crawford has spent the past 28 years in prison, even though authorities identified Mitchell's killers 25 years ago. The State has a conviction, and will fight all efforts to reverse it.

Last year, lawyers for convicted killer Steven Crawford found a copy of a secret police lab report that appeared to support his claims of innocence in a 1970 murder. The report, found in a briefcase belonging to an investigator, flatly contradicted the trial testimony of the forensic chemist who had examined a blood-specked palm print, the only physical evidence in the case. Now, lawyers for Crawford say another copy of the lab report, found recently in the state police archives, was altered in an attempt to make it conform to the prosecution's theory that Crawford, then 14, beat his friend John Eddie Mitchell, 13, to death with a hammer to steal $32.

In documents filed Friday, lawyers Jerry J. Russo and Joshua D. Lock asked Dauphin County Court to let them question the chemist, Janice Roadcap, under oath before any hearing on the case. "We merely are seeking to determine the truth," Russo said. "I hope this case doesn't get any dirtier ..."

Crawford has spent the last 28 years in prison. He was convicted in the Sept. 12, 1970, murder of Mitchell, whose battered body was found under a car in Crawford's family's detached garage on Atlas Street. Investigators tied Crawford to the scene of the crime by analyzing microscopic flecks of blood on a palm print he left on a car at the murder scene. Roadcap and two investigators testified the blood specks were only on the ridges of the print, not in the valleys between them, meaning blood was on Crawford's hand when he touched the car.

That theory, and their testimony, was contradicted by a photocopy of Roadcap's report, which surfaced in May after two youths in Lower Allen Twp. found a discarded briefcase belonging to former County Detective Walton D. Simpson, the lead investigator in the case. The report, made during a chemical test for the presence of blood, said "numerous particles in the valleys also gave positive reactions," which would support defense contentions that blood was spattered across an existing print.

When District Attorney Edward M. Marsico Jr. asked state police for the original report, the phrase about the particles in the valleys was blacked out. Where the report says the chemical reaction was greater along the ridges, the word "greater" is blacked out and "only" is written above it. A review of two years of Roadcap's reports surrounding the time period of the 1972 blood test showed no others were blacked out like the notes in Crawford's case, according to the court documents filed Friday. Furthermore, other notations by Roadcap call into question whether the microscopic flecks found on Crawford's palm print were even

Marsico's office conceded last month that Crawford, 45, deserved a hearing based on the discovery of the notes and defense contentions about their meaning. However, Marsico now says he can offer explanations for all the contradictions. He declined to detail the explanations, saying he would do so in an answer to the petition to free Crawfordordered Friday by President Judge Joseph H. Kleinfelter and at a hearing scheduled March 7. "We have conducted an extensive investigation into this matter including detailing two deputy district attorneys to it to ensure that the verdict is supported by the evidence," Marsico said, adding that he has turned over all new evidence to the defense. It was not clear when the notes were changed. Marsico said it wasn't recently, but he would not elaborate.

The testimony about the blood being only on the ridges led nationally recognized blood-spatter expert Herbert MacDonell to testify for the prosecution in 1978 that blood must have been on Crawford's hand when he touched the car. Last month, after being advised of Roadcap's lab notes, MacDonell said the blood had no evidentiary value because it could have been splattered across an existing print. Last week, however, MacDonell said the specks were too small to be blood spatter and should have been the same size as particles on the ridges. He said his opinion has changed with the different evidence he has been presented and that the latest is based on what he was told of Roadcap's explanation by Chief Deputy District Attorney Francis T. Chardo. He said he could make definite conclusions if he examined the original print but was told it was lost when it was sent out for DNA testing in 1996.

Roadcap told The Patriot-News in November that particles she observed in the valleys were so small they couldn't be seen unless magnified between 200 and 1,000 times under a microscope. However, in her trial testimony she said her microscope was only 100 power and that when she was observing the particles on the ridges she was focusing at between 30 and 70 power. She said she did not mention the particles in the valleys because she didn't want investigators to ask her to test them. Yet Simpson and State Police Cpl. John C. Balshy were present during the test and both received copies of the unaltered report.

Russo and Lock claim they need to question Roadcap before the hearing so MacDonell can give an accurate opinion. In their petition, Lock and Russo also ask that Roadcap be advised of her right to remain silent, if she has said anything that prosecutors believe is inaccurate. On the back of the original report are notes on other tests Roadcap performed. The first test -- a benzidine test -- only detects the possible presence of blood. A test to confirm that the substance is blood -- called a Takayama test -- was performed in 1974. At trial, Roadcap said she put some of the flecks in the solution and waited three hours before getting a positive reaction.

Other experts at the trial, including MacDonell, who was testifying for the prosecution, said if the reaction did not occur within 30 to 90 minutes the substance was not blood. Roadcap's notes indicated she let the test sit overnight before receiving a reaction. Last week, MacDonell said any substance would give a positive reaction if left that long. Roadcap did not return a telephone call last week. Marsico said it was unlikely that she would comment.

Crawfordwas first convicted in 1974, but the case was sent back twice because of trial errors. Before his third trial, Crawford rejected a deal in 1978 that would have set him free on time served. Former Dauphin County President Judge John C. Dowling, who heard the case against Crawford twice, told The Patriot-News last month that Crawford deserved a new trial.

Mitchell, 13, of the 500 block of Curtin Street, disappeared while making his Saturday newspaper collections for The Patriot-News on Sept. 12, 1970. The next day a neighbor found a bloody hammer in a row of garages on Atlas Street, behind Crawford's home in the 2300 block of North Fifth Street. Police searched all the garages and found Mitchell's body stuffed under a car in Crawford's father's garage.

In 1997, Frederick Kaeppel, who lived in the neighborhood at the time, told investigators he lured Mitchell into the garage, where he was killed by another man. However, he refused to testify after being read his rights at an evidentiary hearing.

Crawford is serving life without parole at the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy. Crawford's sister, Harrisburg City Councilwoman Linda Thompson, urged Marsico to free her brother. "It is easy to do justice," Thompson said. "It is harder to do right, and I'm asking him to do right by my brother and my entire family and undo this criminal act."

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What’s a baby’s life worth?

Jackson Bailey D’Aloisio lived just 42 tortured days. When he died after weeks of being beaten, punched, slapped and shaken by his father he was suffering from head injuries, multiple rib fractures of differing ages, damaged liver and spleen caused by blunt force trauma, a fractured left leg, damaged lungs and viral pneumonia caused by the broken ribs. With time already served taken into account his father will walk free from jail in less than four years. So what’s a baby’s life worth? According to the courts, not much.

Jackson’s father Douglas D’Aloisio was sentenced in Victoria’s Supreme Court yesterday after pleading guilty to manslaughter. The Director of Public Prosecutions originally refused to accept that plea and intended to prosecute D’Aloisio for murder. But he changed his mind when he discovered that D’Aloisio was going to claim he was suffering from psychiatric illnesses – depression and compulsive obsessive disorder – at the time of the killing.

Justice Geoffrey Eames said that despite the mental illnesses, D’Aloisio was aware of what he was doing during the attacks on Jackson and knew that they were wrong. But he went on to hand down a sentence that was, in the judge’s own words, “substantially less than would have been imposed had you not been suffering mental illness at the time of the offence”.

The court was told that D’Aloisio, 31, regularly punched Jackson in the chest, shook him and gave him “moon slaps” – hitting him on the head with the heel of his hand. Here is how Justice Eames described Jackson’s final day:

“…whilst you were having coffee, you heard your son “whinging”, in your words, and you went inside to check on him. Because ‘he was carrying on’, as you put it, you shook him and punched him to the chest.

“You then grabbed him around the neck, lifted him and shook him. His neck was completely unprotected. You then wrapped him and put him back in the cot. As you said to the police, ‘I wrapped him up, heard him whinging a bit, and I clouted him in the ear hole’. You said you did that quite hard, a couple of times, whereupon your son went quiet.

“ He then started crying again and you punched him in the stomach or chest, two or three times. You then walked out the bedroom and shut the door. You lit up a cigarette and finished your coffee.

“Upon returning inside the house to make another coffee, you heard your son crying, again. You gave him the dummy, which he spat out. You then punched him a couple of times in the chest. You picked him up, tried the dummy, and once more he spat it out. Then, in your words to police, ‘I clapped him in the head a couple of times’. You shook him again, this time holding him under the arms. You closed the door and left the bedroom.

“A friend later arrived, unexpectedly, at your home. He brought some beers, which you were sharing with him. You went to check on the baby and, as you said to police, ‘I could hear him whinging and carrying on and I thought, f***in’ not now, not now. I went in there, had a quick look, tucked him in, put his dummy in and he spat it out and I hit him on the forehead a couple of times’.

“You described hitting him with the heel of your hand two, three or four times, with more force applied after the first blow. He was lying in the cot. You told the police ‘and then I’m just going to have a little drink, I punched him a couple of times in the chest again and shut the door and went out’. You returned to your friend and continued drinking, displaying no signs, at all, of any loss of control nor, indeed, of any agitation.”
Jackson was found “seriously ill” in his cot shortly afterwards by his mother, who had returned home from a doctor’s appointment. Paramedics were unable to revive him.
When police first spoke to D’Aloisio, he “omitted to mention” he had struck Jackson. Only later, after the cause of death was established, did he confess. He told police that he had started beating his son when the baby was only three and a half weeks old. He assaulted him two or three times a week before Jackson’s death on 22 February 2005. The attacks intensified towards the end.

Four days before the baby’s death D’Aloisio had given him “a couple of ‘moon slaps’, one to the front and one to the side of his head”, because he “whinged” during lunch. Three days before the death D’Aloision punched Jackson in the chest, picked him up and shook him by the neck and slapped the back of his head after the baby started crying. The day before the death D’Aloisio punched Jackson a number of times in the chest and “clapped him a couple of times on the side of the head” because he spat out his dummy. Later he hit him on the side of the head two or three times because the baby was crying.

Justice Eames said it was “quite inappropriate to describe Jackson as a temperamentally demanding baby”. “At worst, his demanding behaviour occurred over only six weeks, and it may well have been that much of his crying was in response to his earlier injuries,” he said. “You do not claim, and there is no evidence to support any such claim, that your mental illness rendered you incapable of controlling your actions, and unable to appreciate that they were wrong.”

But he went on to sentence D’Aloisio to eight years jail, with a non-parole period of five years – which the judge said was lower than normal. Deducted from the five years is the 470 days D’Aloisio has already served on remand. The judge said he was taking into account D’Aloisio’s mental illnesses, good previous record and the remorse he had shown.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Court renders justice in case of Paul House

Supreme Court says that DNA evidence could have changed jury's decision

DNA testing is now a routine part of criminal investigations; the result of that testing is available for juries. Yet many offenders who were convicted before DNA became such a factor of certainty in criminal justice are now in prison. When a convicted offender presents substantive evidence that DNA testing could bolster a claim of innocence, he or she should be allowed to have it considered. One such offender is Paul Gregory House, who was convicted in the 1985 murder of Caroline Muncey in Luttrell, Tenn. DNA testing wasn't available when House went to trial. Instead, prosecutors used blood typing to point out at trial that semen found in Muncey's clothing was consistent with House's blood type.

More than a decade after House was convicted and sentenced to death, DNA tests indicated that the semen on Mrs. Muncey's nightgown and underwear came from the victim's husband, not from House. Since the prosecutors convinced the jury that House raped, then killed Mrs. Muncey, the semen evidence was crucial to the motive ascribed to him.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court made exactly the right decision in the House case. In a 5-3 decision, the court said that House can use the DNA evidence to attempt to prove his innocence. Justice Samuel Alito Jr. had not joined the court in time to participate in the decision. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy emphasized that "this is not a case of exclusive exoneration," but reasoned that the DNA information - if it had been available to jurors - could have resulted in a different outcome at the trial. The dissent, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, pointed out that the trial judge found House and several witnesses who testified in his behalf to be unreliable.

There is no question that this is a complex case. Since House's conviction, other witnesses have surfaced who implicated Mrs. Muncey's husband. On the other hand, House's alibi for the evening of the murder always has been shaky. And just because the semen on Mrs. Muncey's clothing wasn't House's does not mean House is innocent. But the only way the specifics of this case can be examined is by allowing House to present them in court. As long as this nation grapples with pre-DNA convictions, it must allow offenders a reasonable opportunity to get new DNA evidence before a judgeand jury.The need for that opportunity is particularly acute when the life of the convicted is at stake.

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Another comment on the House case:

In a ruling that could affect death row inmates across the country, the nation's highest court for the first time cited DNA evidence in clearing the way for a condemned Tennessee prisoner to argue that he's innocent of the crime of which he was convicted. The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Monday in the northeast Tennessee murder case of Paul House could help other death row inmates get new court hearings based on DNA or other old evidence.

Among those cases is that of Memphis-area man Sedley Alley, who is scheduled for execution on June 28 and is fighting in two separate courts for the right to conduct DNA tests.

If jurors in House's 1986 trial had heard "all the conflicting testimony" and known about the DNA evidence, they probably wouldn't have voted to convict him, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. The justices stopped short of exonerating House, saying his proof was not strong enough for them to release him from death row.

House's case now goes back to U.S. District Court in Knoxville for a judge to decide whether he received a fair trial, said Stephen Kissinger, House's federal defender in Knoxville. The federal judge could order a new trial, in which a jury could hear new DNA and other evidence.

"This is huge," said Bradley MacLean, a Nashville attorney who represents death row inmates. It is the first case in which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of an inmate on an actual innocence claim based on newly discovered DNA evidence, MacLean said.

House was sentenced to death 20 years ago for the rape and murder of Carolyn Muncey, a neighbor in the town where they lived, Luttrell, Tenn. "This is not a case of conclusive exoneration," Kennedy wrote on behalf of himself and four other justices. "Although the issue is close, we conclude that this is the rare case where - had the jury heard all the conflicting testimony - it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror viewing the record as a whole would lack reasonable doubt," Kennedy wrote. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented. Justice Samuel Alito did not participate because the case was heard before he joined the court.

Kennedy wrote that jurors could find reasonable doubt because DNA evidence found on the dead woman's underwear belonged to her husband, not House, undermining the prosecution's argument that rape was House's motive for killing. Kennedy also wrote that other evidence from witnesses points to Muncey's husband as a possible suspect and that blood found on House's jeans believed to belong to the dead woman could have been spilled from samples taken during her autopsy.

Tennessee Attorney General Paul G. Summers issued a statement saying the opinion does nothing more than allow House to proceed in federal court with his claims. "It does not relieve him of his conviction or death sentence, both of which the State believes to be appropriate and just," Summers wrote. "We remain confident that the State will prevail on the merits of the habeas case and that the victims of House's senseless crime will ultimately see justice done."

Alley's attorneys said the ruling buttressed their claims that Alley should have access to DNA evidence. They have made their claims in petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court and the state Court of Criminal Appeals. Alley came within eight hours of being put to death last month for the 1985 rape and killing of a young Marine. "Now that the court has recognized that DNA evidence of this type is quite relevant to federal claims, that strengthens our arguments," said Kelley Henry, an assistant federal public defender representing Alley.

The Innocence Project hailed the House decision as having nationwide impact. "This is an important ruling that will profoundly impact people in all 50 states," Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, wrote in a statement. "New scientific evidence can change the entire landscape of a case that resulted in a conviction, and today's ruling makes it clear that people should have an opportunity to seek new trials where juries can hear all the facts," he said

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Killer driver freed in Australia despite long record

Theresa Johnson dreads July 12. That is the day her son's hit-and-run killer, a proven menace on Queensland's roads, is due to walk free after serving only six months in jail. When Joseph William Sole, 21, illegally climbed behind the wheel of a white Mitsubishi Triton on December 30, 2004, he wasn't deterred by the risk of getting caught. In 12 months, he had racked up 12 driving offences, including speeding, unlicensed driving and driving an unregistered vehicle and received a range of fines and was banned from the road.

But he treated such punishments with disdain until he ploughed into Shaine Johnson, 21, on a Gold Coast road. His car struck Shaine as he was crossing the road, catapulting him about 15m into a parked car and killing him instantly. Her son's death was the beginning of Theresa Johnson's torment.

Shaine's is one of the worst of several cases identified by a special investigation by The Courier-Mail into how repeat dangerous drivers flout the law. It has revealed millions in fines, including some on dangerous drivers, have remained unpaid for years. Months after striking Shaine, Sole crashed the vehicle he was driving and was charged with yet another batch of offences. But the system again benefited the perpetrator, not the victim.

Sole's lawyers had the second set of charges – from March last year – heard before he faced court over Shaine's death. This meant the magistrate could not take the killing into account when dealing with those charges. He received $1000 in fines and was banned from driving for 30 months. But when he faced court in January this year over the fatality, the second set of charges could not be considered because the offences happened after Shaine's death. If the two matters were heard together Sole could have faced a tougher sentence.

Mrs Johnson said that when she identified Shaine at the morgue "there was nothing left of my son". "He took my son's life. He should have got at least 10 years (jail). I will never forgive him," she said. "I hope for the rest of his life, on Thursday night at 10 o'clock he (Sole) remembers what he's done."

Sole, facing court over Shaine's death, pleaded guilty to failing to stop and remain at an accident, driving without due care and attention, and disqualified driving. A Coolangatta magistrate handed down the maximum sentence applicable: two years' jail, suspended after six months.

Despite 329 people dying on Queensland roads last year – the worst toll in seven years – The Courier Mail found numerous examples where dangerous drivers continue to receive light penalties. Colin Bell, 21, of Wondai near Kingaroy, was charged with five charges of driving while disqualified in the three months from March, but his punishment was only community service, fines and an extended period of disqualification. However, Bell claims he is now a changed man because a magistrate last week threatened to send him to jail if he reoffended.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006


Hiding evidence is ALWAYS a disgraceful procedure

A divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday that police armed with a search warrant may rush into a house without giving a required warning to the occupants and may use the evidence they find there. In a 5-4 decision, the court said it would be rash to bar evidence in a criminal trial simply because police did not wait long enough before entering, a technical violation of the "knock and announce" rule. Criminals should not be handed a "get out of jail free card" in cases where the police have a valid search warrant, said Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the opinion for the majority. The dissenters said the court's ruling all but repealed a decision that had protected the privacy and dignity of homeowners.

New Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. cast the decisive vote. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor heard the case when it was argued in January but retired in February before the case was decided. At that point, the court was evenly split. The case was reargued when Alito replaced her, and he became the tie-breaker. Until Thursday, the court had usually insisted that evidence be thrown out in cases where the police violate the Constitution's ban on "unreasonable searches and seizures." This so-called exclusionary rule was among the most controversial legal developments of the 1960s, and many law-and-order conservatives continue to chafe at it. Scalia is among them. Suppressing evidence should be "our last resort, not our first impulse," he said, and his opinion was joined in full by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Clarence Thomas and Alito.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy voted with the majority but wrote separately to emphasize that the exclusionary rule is "settled" and "not in doubt." The issue in this case, Kennedy wrote, was whether the police's failure to give a proper warning even when they had a valid warrant to enter a home, merited an extension of the exclusionary rule.

In 1995, the justices agreed unanimously that the 4th Amendment usually requires officers to knock on the door and call out "Police!" before they burst into a home. This rule helps ensure the safety of the police and the privacy of the residents, the court said then. Officers have been advised in other cases that they should usually wait about 20 seconds after knocking and announcing their presence before trying to enter a house, but the court has said in past rulings that officers may move faster if they suspect residents are going to flush drugs down a toilet.

In the current case, Detroit police admitted they did not wait long before entering the home of Booker T. Hudson Jr. They had obtained a search warrant to look for drugs and guns at his residence. On a summer afternoon in 1998, seven officers approached Hudson's house and saw nothing unusual. Several called out "Police! Search warrant!" but less than five seconds later, the lead officer turned the doorknob and walked into the living room. There sat Hudson with 23 bags that contained crack cocaine. Under the cushion of his chair, they also found a loaded revolver and five rocks of cocaine. Elsewhere in the house, police found more bags of drugs. Hudson was charged with drug and gun crimes, but his lawyers urged the judge to suppress the evidence because police had violated the "knock and announce" rule.

A prosecutor agreed the police had violated the rule, and a trial judge suppressed the evidence. But the Michigan Supreme Court disagreed and said disallowing the evidence was "not an appropriate remedy" for such a violation. Hudson appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed last year to hear his case.

Scalia said this was not an instance where police obtained evidence by breaking the law. They had a valid warrant to search for and seize the drugs. Since the homeowner's privacy rights were not violated, "the exclusionary rule is inapplicable," he said in Hudson vs. Michigan.

The four dissenters said the requirement to "knock and announce" will be meaningless if it can be ignored and the evidence used in court. Thursday's decision "represents a significant departure from the court's precedents. And it weakens, perhaps destroys, much of the practical value of the Constitution's knock-and-announce protection," wrote Justice Stephen G. Breyer.

Scalia responded that people like Hudson still have recourse against the city and the police by suing them for violating their constitutional rights. He also pointed to the "increasing professionalism of police forces, including a new emphasis on internal police discipline." These checks, he suggested, will deter the police from being overly aggressive and reckless.....

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Saturday, June 17, 2006


By Theodore Dalrymple, a former prison doctor

A remand prisoner who was a patient of mine returned to prison one day from court after his trial. He was in a state bordering on fury. “What’s the matter?” I asked him. “They gave me three months,” he said. “Three months is no use to me. I was hoping for at least 12.” This story illustrates a little-known fact about prisoners — or British prisoners at least. About a third of them (I don’t have precise figures) prefer life inside to life outside.

The reasons for this are several. The most important is that prison provides them with boundaries to their own behaviour that they are incapable of providing for themselves. They therefore feel safer in prison than at large; they do less damage there to themselves and, more importantly, to others.

Criminals, unlike the current British criminal justice system and criminologists, know the value of punishment. Both inside prison and out, they impose their discipline by means of the threat of punishment on their colleagues, friends, family and the rest of society. It is this threat, for example, that prevents a prisoner who has been brutally attacked in jail and injured badly from revealing the identity of his attackers. If he does so, he will be considered a “grass”, a crime that carries with it a life sentence, in as much as he will be under threat of further attack by other prisoners for the rest of his career inside. Indeed, the threat can be extended to his area of residence on his release from prison.

In other words, prisoners have no doubts about the deterrent effect of condign punishment. Similarly, they have little doubt about the effects of leniency. Certain phrases have burnt themselves into my mind, so often did I hear them in the mouths of victims of a crime who failed to complain to the police about it. The perpetrator would say to them, even as he assaulted or stole from them: “Remember, I’ll be walking the same streets as you in six weeks.”

In other words, the perpetrator expected a lenient sentence that itself would be automatically halved. A sentence of six months means three; one of three months means six weeks. Early-release schemes have meant that sentences are shorter than they appear when first given: the desire to keep prison numbers under control is far more important in the mind of the Government and its bureaucracy than is protection of the public from criminals (it helps that the main victims of crime come from the poor, ignorant and unprotesting classes).

It is worth remembering, too, that short sentences and early release are not the only, or even the most important, manifestation of the leniency of the British criminal justice system. Because of the corrupting influence of performance indicators, which have rotted all branches of the British public service, it can be difficult to persuade the police even to record a crime, let alone do anything about it.

But if the police do take notice, and actually catch the perpetrator, they often deal with him administratively, by issuing a caution, rather than by charging him. This is because the work involved in charging someone is so time-consuming for the police and likely to prove ultimately unproductive: the Crown Prosecution Service will refuse to prosecute (I have known it drop charges against people who have quite clearly intended to kill, claiming that to prosecute them would be against the public interest), or if it prosecutes, the sentence at the end of the process will be so slight as to be risible, productive merely of a smirk on the face of the person thus sentenced.

Moreover, the convicted person may ask many other offences to be taken into consideration, without receiving an iota of extra punishment for having committed them, however numerous, and thereby gaining an assurance that he can never again be charged with them (the police benefit from this egregious, indeed iniquitous, system because it increases their notional clear-up rate).

It is hardly surprising, then, that the British criminal justice system is an object of contempt for criminals who are only too aware of the value of deterrence. Neither the police nor the courts are feared, except by those who are in any case law-abiding.

A few days ago, I witnessed a perfect illustration of the ineffectiveness of the criminal justice system, which is inflated and swollen in size, but very weak. Like all British public institutions, it retains its form, but not its content. I went to court to give evidence in a case. I was horrified to discover that the courts were patrolled by semi-militarised policemen with guns in their holsters and also bearing automatic weapons which they looked ready to use at the slightest provocation. It was a show of force that might lead the naive to suppose that the British State was become extremely severe in its suppression of wrongdoing.

Inside the court, however, I witnessed something that demonstrated how enfeebled the whole system has become. The accused (who was guilty) was brought into the dock. A man in the seat beside me, himself clearly a member of the criminal classes, began quite audibly to threaten him, saying that he would “get him” when he came out of prison. He glared at him in a menacing way, and repeated his threats several times. The accused was so frightened that he looked away.

Everyone in the court was aware of what the man beside me was doing, and yet nothing was done either to stop him, let alone punish him for behaving in this way. Could anyone blame him if he concluded from the fact that he had got away with a crime even in the very heart of the criminal justice system, with armed policemen patrolling outside, that he had nothing to fear from that system? What sensible person would feel other than contempt for an institution that was unable to defend people from intimidation even within its hallowed portals?

In the circumstances, I was not surprised when I asked a prisoner who came into my prison consulting room what he was in for. His upper lip curled a bit and he blew out his cheeks with contempt. “Just a poxy little murder charge,” he said

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Friday, June 16, 2006


What if the guilty party is still out there and ready to strike again?

Tracy Thomas doesn't sleep well at night. Since the murder of her sister, Cynthia Thomas in 2005, she has struggled with the healing process. Now the man suspected of killing Cynthia Thomas is dead and old wounds are splitting wide open. Lamar "Johnny" Benton was found dead in his Russell County Jail cell early Monday morning. Death came for the 18-year-old Seale, Ala., man when he fabricated a rope using a torn bed sheet and hanged himself in his solitary cell, Sheriff Tommy Boswell said. Thomas' sisters and mother said they gain little satisfaction from knowing Benton is gone, however. They fear, among other things, they'll never know whether this teenager is really the one who did it.

Upon hearing of Benton's death, Russell County Chief Deputy District Attorney Buster Landreau said he contacted the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in Montgomery and asked them to cease forensic testing in this case. "We asked them to stop as of the moment and let us see what has been completed," Landreau said. He said it was doubtful the district attorney's office will request the forensics lab to continue with the analysis, but that depends upon how far along they are. Asked if any of the testing has been completed, Landreau said he believed the forensic biology portion may be finished, but he's not sure what else has been done. "The state lab is months and months behind," Landreau said. "Do we want them to consume resources and time doing work on a case where the defendant is deceased or do we want them to focus on cases that will go to trial?"

Benton's attorney, Jeremy Armstrong, said the correct answer would be to continue. It is the district attorney's responsibility to seek the truth and seek justice, Armstrong said. By not fulfilling that responsibility in this case they are convicting Benton without him ever going to trial, he said. In a letter sent Tuesday to the Russell County District Attorney's Office, Armstrong wrote: "I respectfully request that DNA testing and fingerprint analysis proceed and that we be provided with all reports regarding the conclusions of these tests." "I don't think we should convict Mr. Benton just because he's dead," Armstrong said.

Landreau doesn't see eye-to-eye with the defense attorney, however, pointing out that Benton reportedly confessed to the murder. [There have been umpteen false confessions] "I don't view it that there's any miscarriage of justice," Landreau said.

It was a flat tire that ultimately led to Cynthia Thomas' death the morning of Feb. 17, 2005. The 39-year-old mother of three was traveling on Alabama 169 around 8 a.m. when a tire on her white Nissan Maxima went flat near Luton Lane. Soon, help arrived in the form of an off-duty sheriff's deputy and his wife. The couple offered Thomas the use of their cell phone, a commodity she was without at the time. Thomas called her family, at which point the officer and his wife drove away.

Two more people allegedly stopped that morning, but Thomas refused assistance, saying help was on the way. She was waiting alone for a family member to arrive when Benton stopped, authorities said. Thomas was found lying in the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church cemetery on Sandfort Road in Seale, Ala., around 3 p.m. A visitor to the cemetery discovered the body. She had been raped and stabbed. Benton was arrested Saturday, Feb. 26, 2005. Russell County Jail records listed his charge as murder with a knife.

As it stands, the district attorney's office will wait for the lab to send the results they do have and then make a decision where to go from there. Asked how long it will take to receive the results, Landreau said he didn't know.

Cynthia Thomas' sisters, Sheila Lane and Tracy Thomas, and her mother, who asked not to be identified by name, said they support Armstrong's request. "I prefer for them to continue on for some closure," Lane said. "Right now, only she has the answers and she's not here. Only they know what happened that day." Both families are entitled to have closure to this case, Armstrong said. By asking to allow forensic testing to continue, Armstrong contends his client will be absolved of wrongdoing, an assertion he defends based on conversations he had with his client, as well as his own investigation into the murder, he said. "At the very least, he was not the only one there that day," Armstrong said. "I'm asking the district attorney's office to allow these tests to continue. If they don't match my client, we have a killer still on the loose."

For Tracy Thomas, the news of Benton's death was hard to swallow. "This family was not prepared for anything like this," she said in a phone interview. Cynthia Thomas' mother said Benton's death is tragic. "My daughter's gone and she's never coming back," she said. "Now, another life has been taken. I really wanted to look him in his eyes and tell him I forgive him." Closure would be a sweet thing for the Thomas family to have, although all three women said they have been forever changed by Cynthia's death. "I will never be the same," Cynthia's mother said. "Now, all I want is for people to let her rest in peace."

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

U.K.: Release of 53 "lifers" under fire

A total of 53 people sentenced to life since 2000 in England and Wales have already been released on licence, ministers have disclosed. The release of the lifers, including rapists and murderers, was "absolutely disgraceful" Tory MP David Davies said.

The news comes amid a row over sentencing after paedophile Craig Sweeney was given a life sentence which could see him serve just five years. Home Secretary John Reid described that sentence as "unduly lenient". On the release of lifers, Mr Davies, MP for Monmouth, said: "Life should mean life in prison. These criminals should not be released before they have served their sentence that they were given in a court of law. "Members of the public are being led to believe that once caught and found guilty, these criminals are being sent to prison to serve out the whole of their sentence. They are being misled."

But a Home Office spokesman said: "Tariffs are set by judges and release is by order of the parole board. "The most common offence represented among the 53 is grievous bodily harm." The spokesman added that 500 people a year had received life sentences since 2000. Mr Reid's intervention in the Sweeney case caused controversy, with Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said to be unhappy about it. A spokesman insisted Lord Goldsmith would not bow to political pressure when deciding whether to appeal the sentence. Tony Blair's spokesman said it was right for the home secretary "to articulate the concern the public has".

The spokesman rejected suggestions that Mr Reid may have jeopardised any appeal to increase Sweeney's sentence through his intervention. He said Mr Blair would not comment on any individual case but would often express his determination to re-balance the judicial system in favour of victims of crime. The Sentencing Guidelines Council is already carrying out a review of the amount of "discount" sex offenders should receive on their sentences for pleading guilty. The attorney general's spokesman said: "The attorney has called for the file in Craig Sweeney's case in order to consider whether to refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal as unduly lenient."

A Home Office spokesman had earlier said Mr Reid "is concerned that the tariff Craig Sweeney has been given does not reflect the seriousness of this crime and is writing to the attorney general to ask him to consider referring the sentence to the Court of Appeal as unduly lenient".

Commenting on the release of lifers, Lib Dem Nick Clegg said it was "vital" that the decisions of parole boards held public confidence. He added: "Public confidence is vital to the operation of the criminal justice system, and releasing inappropriate prisoners could be another blow to an already beleaguered system." However, Judge John Griffith Williams QC was acting in accordance with guidelines in sentencing Sweeney, 24, at Cardiff Crown Court.

Sweeney - who was known to the family - had snatched the girl from her home after she had returned home from a shopping trip and while her mother made a telephone call. He drove her to his Newport flat where he was living after being released early from a three-year sentence for indecently assaulting a girl aged six. There she was sexually assaulted. Earlier this month, five judges at the Court of Appeal increased the minimum jail sentence on Alan Webster, convicted of raping a 12-week-old baby, after the case was referred to them by the attorney general.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006


A five-year minimum sentence for a convicted paedophile who seized and subjected a three-year old girl to a terrifying ordeal is to be reviewed by the Attorney-General. Lord Goldsmith, QC, said he had requested the file in the case of Craig Sweeney and would consider a challenge to the jail term. The Home Secretary and the Crown Prosecution Service both called for a review of the sentence, described by the little girl's relatives as "an insult".

John Reid, the Home Secretary, also called it "unduly lenient" and said he would write to the Attorney-General asking him to refer the case to the Court of Appeal. But Lord Goldsmith's office emphasised that he would make his decision "purely on the merits of the case and not in response to political or public pressure". It did not "imply any criticism of the sentencing judge".

Sweeney, 24, was jailed for life at Cardiff Crown Court yesterday by Judge John Griffith Williams, who told him that early release was "unlikely". But the judge cut his jail term by one third to 12 years in recognition of his guilty plea. Because prisoners are eligible for parole after half their sentence, and taking into account time spent on remand, Sweeney could in principle be released in five years, 108 days.

Sweeney was living in a halfway house for freed offenders when he took the girl from her front room while her mother was on the telephone. He subjected the girl to a terrifying ordeal which ended only when he crashed his car after a police chase.
Yesterday there was concern in legal circles about political pressure over sentences, fuelled by a campaign in The Sun criticising "soft" judges. The office of the Lord Chief Justice declined to comment last night but several judges have expressed concern about the singling out of individuals and calls for them to be sacked. The Lord Chancellor defended judges' sentences, which were not "by and large" unduly lenient, but said the newspaper was "free to attack the judiciary as offensively as it likes, short of defamation".

After yesterday's sentence on Sweeney, Anne Tyson, the solicitor for the girl's family, said: "The family believes today's sentence is an insult to their three-year-old daughter and that there are grave failings in the criminal justice system that need to be urgently addressed. "The victim's family is now calling for the Government . . . to significantly increase the prison sentences given to paedophiles."

The court heard that Sweeney took the girl after knocking on her mother's door. The family had last seen him nine years before. Sweeney had been released on licence just two days earlier after serving 18 months of a three-year sentence for sexually assaulting a six-year-old girl. Susan Ferrier, prosecuting, said: "The family returned home from a shopping trip and saw a young man on the front doorstep of the house . . . the mother recognised him as a babysitter from nine years ago. "He was invited in and sat with the family in the kitchen. They were already concerned about comments he was making. He said he had just been released from prison and he said he had spent time with paedophiles and rapists. "The mother went to make a telephone call and heard her 10-year-old son yelling: `He's got her'. He could clearly see that Sweeney was leaving with the little girl. It was too late, he was already gone."

Sweeney drove from her home in Cardiff to the halfway house in Newport where he was living where he subjected the girl to a violent sexual assault. Sweeney, who had been drinking, then showed off the child to other residents, including other convicted sex offenders at the address. One of his friends told him that police were looking for him. Sweeney set off along the M4 into England where he carried out another sexual assault in a lay-by in Swindon. But a police patrol car noticed him drive through a red light with no lights and began a pursuit. They followed for 13 miles as he drove at speeds of up to 100mph on the wrong side of the road.

Miss Ferrier said: "He was swerving violently towards police trying to block his exit. At one point he sped straight at an articulated lorry before swerving away at the last minute. Police positioned a helicopter above Sweeney, at which point he swerved violently down a bank." Sweeney was arrested near Marlborough, Wiltshire, and the officers who until then had been unaware of the kidnapping, found the girl lying at the side of the road where she had been thrown from the car. When the girl was rescued by police, she asked doctors: "Is the nasty man gone?" Sweeney, of Newport, Gwent, admitted kidnap, three charges of sexual assault and dangerous driving.

Judge John Griffith Williams QC told Sweeney that he was a "thoroughly devious man. You kidnapped this little girl for your own sexual gratification. You subjected her to an extremely painful ordeal that beggars belief." He added: "You and the family must understand that early release is unlikely. You will be not released while there is the slightest risk of you reoffending. "You are an exceptionally high risk to young girls."

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Australian State government convinced a condemned man is innocent

Most governments fight tooth and nail to uphold the wrongful convictions of their courts. Nice to see one that is actually more responsible than its courts. Previous post on the case here on 4th

Convicted killer Graham Stafford could receive a multimillion-dollar compensation payoutfrom the State Government if he is pardoned for the 1991 murder of schoolgirl Leanne Holland. Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Linda Lavarch confirmed this week the Government could make an ex-gratia payment to Stafford, 42, if he is cleared after 15 years in jail. She cited legal precedent with the Kelvin Condren case, when the Goss Government paid out $400,000 in 1995 after he was freed after serving seven years for murder. Former chief magistrate Di Fingleton received $475,000 compensation last year for her wrongful imprisonment.

Stafford, who was convicted in 1992 for the brutal sex slaying of his then-fiancee's 12-year-old sister, was paroled last week, four months before his minimum release date, prompting speculation authorities had accepted an innocent man might have been jailed. Stafford's legal team is preparing a petition to the Queensland Governor seeking a pardon.

Ms Lavarch said the Governor was likely to refer the matter back to her and she would then seek advice about sending the case back to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal could uphold the conviction - as it did in 1997 - or it could quash the conviction and set him free or order a retrial. Ms Lavarch said the Director of Public Prosecutions could then offer no evidence at a retrial and Stafford would be discharged. Ms Lavarch said it was too early to estimate a monetary payout but legal sources said it could be upwards of $2 million. "There is precedent of an ex-gratia payment being made," she said.

The Attorney-General strongly denied that the prospect of a big payout would influence a decision on Stafford. "Absolutely not ... one of the most fundamental rules of law is that no innocent person should go to jail, no innocent person should be convicted," she said. "Rule 101 in jurisprudence is that you would much rather see 10 guilty people go free than one innocent person imprisoned. "This is about the principles of justice. It would never be reduced to dollars."

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Monday, June 12, 2006


They were so keen to convict Nat Fraser -- who may well have been guilty -- that they fabricated evidence and colluded with prosecutors to cover up the fabrication. Excerpt below:

Fraser was convicted in 2003 of the murder of his estranged wife, Arlene. Central to the case against him was the alleged disappearance and reappearance of Mrs Fraser's wedding, engagement and eternity rings from her home around the time she went missing. The prosecution succeeded in arguing that Fraser had returned the rings, and so must have had access to his wife's body. But it has emerged that the jury in Fraser's trial was never told of claims made by a former Grampian Police officer that the rings had been removed and later returned by a member of the force's investigation team.

Professor Christopher Gane, a vice-principal of Aberdeen University and one of Scotland's leading legal experts, said yesterday: "Clearly this is very important evidence, given the nature of the Crown's case. The Crown may well have some difficulty convincing the appeal court that there has not been a miscarriage of justice." The allegations surrounding police involvement in returning the rings will form the focus of separate legal and police investigations.

The three rings mysteriously appeared in the bathroom of Mrs Fraser's home in Smith Street, New Elgin, more than a week after she vanished on 28 April, 1998. There was no sign of the rings when officers from Grampian Police took a detailed film of the interior of Mrs Fraser's home shortly after her disappearance. The trial was told that police and Mrs Fraser's relatives had been over the house with a fine-tooth comb and that the rings had not been in the house.

But they were later discovered in full view in the bathroom, hanging on a peg under a soap dish. The discovery was made on 7 May, nine days after Mrs Fraser disappeared, by Catherine McInnes, of Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, who is married to Mrs Fraser's father, Hector. Mrs McInnes told the court that the rings had "definitely" not been there when she and other members of the family had earlier searched the house for any clues, such as a note or missing clothing, to explain what had happened. And the trial was told that Fraser had been seen "lurking" outside the bathroom on the day the rings were found.

The tale of the rings formed a critical part of the Crown's case. The jury was told by the advocate depute, Alan Turnbull, QC, that it was Nat Fraser's tokens of love which had "ensnared" him on the charge of arranging his estranged wife's murder. Mr Turnbull argued that the appearance of Mrs Fraser's rings after she had gone missing was a most compelling and eloquent piece of evidence against Fraser. He claimed that the jury could convict Fraser on the circumstantial evidence alone, without the damning testimony of Hector Dick, Fraser's former co- accused, who turned Queen's evidence during the trial and claimed that Fraser had hired a hitman to kill Mrs Fraser before disposing of her body.

Mr Turnbull argued that Fraser had returned the rings, and it showed that he had access to the body. He told the jury: "He has been caught by that mistake. These are the rings he gave to his wife and the mother of his children. "How ironic these tokens of love, permanence and fidelity should end up being his undoing ... the undoing of a husband who became consumed by jealousy and greed. These rings tell us as eloquently and powerfully as any witness that Nat Fraser killed Arlene."

But the jury, it has been revealed, was never told of the claims that it was police investigators who were responsible for returning the rings. Two investigations - one by Catherine Dyer, a Glasgow procurator-fiscal, and the other by Richard Gray, the deputy chief constable of Strathclyde Police - have begun, to establish why the crucial evidence was not made available at the 2003 trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.

Yesterday, Fraser's lawyer, John McAulay, called for the dual investigation into the conviction to be extended to the critical evidence given at the trial by members of the family of his client's estranged wife. Mr McAulay said yesterday: "I hope Mr Gray's investigation will extend to some of the highest ranks of Grampian CID and to some of those members of Mrs Fraser's family who gave evidence at the trial. I am alluding to the ones who gave evidence in relation to the rings." Mr McAulay added that no date had yet been set for Fraser's appeal hearing and that he was still considering whether to apply for his client to be released on bail, pending his appeal. He declined to comment on Fraser's reaction to his possible release from a 25-year prison sentence.

Fraser is now out on bail and any attempt at finding him guilty in a retrial would run up against great skepticism about any evidence presented. So it may well be another example of the old, old story: Corrupt police work ends up letting the guilty go free. The latest report (excerpt) on Fraser below:

Fraser was convicted of killing his estranged wife in 2003 and given a life sentence. The trial was told that Fraser removed rings from Arlene and taken them back to the family home. But fresh evidence is believed to show that the rings were removed by detectives and returned to the house at a later date. Fraser was freed pending an appeal last month and returned to Elgin, Moray, almost immediately.

But he faced a serious blow when his former best man and business associate gave an interview to the Sunday Mail about how Fraser organised the murder of his wife. Ian "Pedro" Taylor claimed Fraser persuaded an associate to use chloroform to kill Arlene before the pair of them disposed of her body in a dump. Detectives from Strathclyde Serious Crime Squad have the tapes as part of their investigation into Grampian Police's original murder probe. Yesterday, they said they had not spoken to Taylor but are still planning to interview him.

Meanwhile taxpayers face funding a new life for Fraser in another town. Not only could he end up with a 1 million pound payout for wrongful conviction, he could argue his life is intolerable in Elgin and he needs to move. Lawyer Cameron Fyfe said: "If Fraser can prove the Lord Advocate or the police were malicious in their handling of his case, he could win a whole new life for himself, including the cost of a move from Elgin."

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Tulsa to Settle Wrongful Conviction Suit

Okla. man who spent 14 years in prison for rape before DNA evidence cleared him to get $12.25M

A man who spent 14 years in prison for a rape conviction before DNA evidence exonerated him will receive $12.25 million under a settlement of his lawsuit against the city. City officials had asked a federal judge to dismiss a $14.5 million verdict a jury awarded to Arvin McGee Jr. in March, but they decided Friday to pay the lesser amount.

McGee, 44, was freed in 2002 after his conviction in the 1987 rape and kidnapping was overturned. He sued the city of Tulsa the following year, claiming his constitutional rights had been violated. "Like I told everybody from the get-go, this has never been about money," McGee said after the settlement was announced. "I'm glad we could get it hashed out. I hope the jury doesn't take it as a blow that we took less than what the verdict was." Under the settlement, McGee will receive $6.125 million within 60 days and another $6.125 million by June 1, 2007. It still must be approved by a judge.

Deputy Mayor Tom Baker said the agreement shows the city's "concern for Mr. McGee and what he's been through."

His lawsuit claimed a Tulsa police officer acted with "deliberate indifference" toward McGee's constitutional rights when using a five-man photo lineup from which the victim identified McGee as her attacker. DNA testing later linked another man to the crime, but by that time, the seven-year statute of limitations that existed at the time of the crime had expired.

And so the REAL guilty party escaped justice

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In 1987, a twenty-year-old woman was attacked in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, laundry where she worked. The victim was tied up and locked in the restroom. The attacker returned, carried her over his shoulders to a car, drove to a secluded area, and raped her. In 1989, after three trials, Arvin Carsell McGee was convicted of this brutal crime and sentenced to 365 years in prison.

McGee's conviction rested largely on the victim's identification. McGee was identified from a photographic array four months after the crime occurred. She had initially picked out another man in another photographic lineup. Prosecutors also relied on serological testing of semen collected from the victim, which could not exclude McGee as a possible contributor.

McGee continued to maintain his innocence. At the time of the crime, he was suffering from an injury requiring surgery, rendering him physically unable to carry out the crime. His defense attorneys also pointed out the inconsistencies in the victim's description of her attacker, which changed several times. McGee's first trial was a mistrial, the second ended in a hung jury. After the third trial, he was convicted of rape, kidnaping, forcible sodomy, and robbery. His sentence was later reduced to 298 years.

More than thirteen years later, his case was taken on by the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System. They arranged for DNA testing of the semen evidence. The results revealed that McGee was excluded as a contributor of the spermatozoa and, therefore, could not have been the perpetrator. A second round of testing ordered by Tulsa County prosecutors yielded the same results. Arvin McGee was exonerated and freed from prison in February 2002. He had spent 14 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

In September 2002, Oklahoma authorities revealed that the DNA profile from the spermatozoa evidence matched the profile of Edward Alberty, a prisoner in Oklahoma. Alberty has since been charged with first degree rape and forcible sodomy.

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