DNA EXONERATION COUNT: 325 wrongfully accused individuals have been set free as a consequence of DNA testing.
"The powers that be have been very busy lately, clawing over each other to position themselves for the game of the millennium."
-S.R. Hadden (played by John Hurt) in the motion picture film "Contact"
Provided below are descriptions of various, fascinating criminal cases from across the U.S. Many involve wrongful imprisonment, reinvestigation, and exoneration. In some instances, individuals have been imprisoned under enormously questionable circumstances. The specifics of the cases often defy all sense of rationality-but they are all quite true.
Reversed in Vermont
John Grega's story represents the first ever wrongful conviction reversed—with the assistance of Spence Forensic Resources (SFR).
The following summary of these recently unfolding events has been provided by Michael J. Spence, Ph.D.—the founder of SFR:
On February 28, 2011, I was contacted by Ian P. Carleton, an attorney located in Burlington, Vermont. Ian asked for my assistance on a 1994 homicide case. Ian's client, John Grega, was accused—and later convicted—of the horrific beating, rape, and strangulation of his wife, Christine Grega. To the present day—and throughout an enormously protracted 19-year ordeal—Mr. Grega has persistently maintained his innocence. Ian informed me of the complete absence of any available funds. This was no surprise. Typically, sparse resources are available to pursue justice for a convicted man, such as John Grega. Ian asked if I would be willing to examine the case documents and provide my opinion—in the form of an affidavit—with hopes to persuade the Windham County (Vermont) Court’s approval of post-conviction DNA testing.
Before I agreed to review the case file—I asked Ian to explain the detailed circumstances of the homicide. The facts of the case were as follows:
John Grega, an educated man, was a partner in his father’s window-washing business. John, his wife Christine, and their 2-year-old son, John Henry Grega Jr., lived in the Long Island town of Lake Grove, NY.
The Gregas traveled to West Dover, Vermont for a family vacation. On September 12, 1994, the Gregas were staying at a small condominium complex called Timber Creek. On that fateful day, John took his toddler son out to a local playground. When John returned to Timber Creek, his child was sound asleep in the backseat of the car. Shortly after entering the condo, John found Christine, dead in the downstairs whirlpool bathtub.
After unsuccessfully attempting to revive Christine, John ran next door to have the neighbors call an ambulance. Although John thought that Christine might have still been alive, the medical examiner later determined that the woman had died from asphyxiation. She had also been brutally assaulted. Her body showed signs of more than 100 distinct injuries, including irrefutable evidence of a sexual assault.
The investigators and the prosecution fixated on the fact that there was no sign of forced entry into the condo. They theorized that Grega—in fear that his wife intended to abandon an allegedly troubled marriage—killed his wife and then left the apartment with his son to create an alibi. John Grega had no criminal record, no history of mental illness, and no history of violence—sexual or otherwise. There were no witnesses to the crime and virtually no physical evidence was introduced at the trial. Regardless of these facts—and based upon nothing beyond a purely circumstantial case—John was charged with Christine’s murder. Less than a year later, on August 4, 1995, a jury convicted John Grega of aggravated murder and aggravated sexual assault. John became the FIRST PERSON EVER sentenced in the state of Vermont to life in prison without any chance for parole.
Did the criminal justice system in Vermont get this wrong?
In order to answer this question, I agreed to assist Mr. Carleton and Mr. Grega, by providing them with a careful examination of the various relevant biological/DNA documents associated with the case. At the same time, the defense was incorporating the assistance of two additional DNA experts. These scientists were Shelley Johnson, a DNA analysis Group Leader at Fairfax Identity Labs (Richmond, Virginia) and Steven Laken, Ph.D., CEO of Cephos Corporation, (Tyngsboro, Massachusetts).
On March 29, 2011, I provided an affidavit—which addressed the Windham County Court. In parallel to the documents provided by Ms. Johnson and Dr. Laken, I attested to the urgent need to utilize powerful DNA technology—which was entirely unavailable in 1995. Such state-of-the-art tests hold the potential to reveal previously unobtainable results from ‘intimate’ items recovered from a variety of complex crime scenes. A passage from my affidavit—persuading the Windham County Court to utilize Y-chromosome-based DNA testing—appeared as follows:
"The YFiler system (trademark of Applied Biosystems, Inc.) has proven to be an extraordinarily effective diagnostic tool in criminal case investigations-particularly sexual assaults and child molestations. The reason for this effectiveness is the fact that, regardless of the load of DNA present from any female contributors, the Y Chromosome-based Y-STR system provides typing data only from any male DNA that is present within the detection limits. Y-STR based DNA typing was not available at the time that this crime occurred.
This technology would be particularly valuable for the analysis of any intimate swabs taken from Mrs. Grega’s body – specifically, oral, anal and vaginal swabs. A Y-STR DNA profile from any intimate swab might indicate the presence of biological material from John Grega or his two-year old son, John Henry Jr. These two Y-STR profiles would be identical, due to their father-son relationship. However, in the event that such a test reveals the presence of as little as one or a few unknown male genetic markers-alleles that cannot be accounted for by John Grega’s Y chromosome-this would conclusively establish presence of an unidentified male. Logic dictates that such a discovery would point to this individual as a person who engaged in intimate contact with Ms. Grega, sometime immediately prior to her death."
On September 2, 2011, the Vermont Court ordered the prosecution and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office to arrange for DNA testing of evidence from John Grega’s case. On May 14, 2012, a laboratory report was released—summarizing the extraordinary DNA test results. A DNA mixture was revealed on an anal swab that had been collected during the 1994 medical examination—from the deceased body of Christine Grega. Within that DNA mixture, THE MAJOR DNA PROFILE ORIGINATED FROM AN UNKNOWN MALE. To be clear, this unknown male IS NOT Mr. Grega. To this day, this mysterious male has yet to be identified.
Prosecutors working on the Grega case reluctantly agreed that—in light of these remarkable DNA results—Mr. Grega was entitled to a new trial. Consequently, the Court ordered such a trial to take place. On August 22, 2012, John Grega was finally released from prison, after serving 18 years for a crime that he clearly did not commit. John walked out of the Southern State Correctional Facility (Springfield, Vermont) and into the arms of his family and friends.
In a motion crafted by Mr. Carleton and the defense team, they wrote: “It is difficult to overstate the game-changing nature of this new evidence, especially in a case where, as here, the evidence of Mr. Grega’s guilt has at all times been purely circumstantial….” . They added “Put simply, we now have compelling evidence that John Grega did not commit the crime for which he has served nearly two decades in jail.”
John Grega’s tireless efforts to prove his innocence have been facilitated by the Innocence Protection Act—passed by the Vermont Legislature in 2008. This enormously vital social initiative allows individuals convicted of certain crimes—under questionable circumstances—to petition the court for various types of forensic tests—including DNA. Vermont Defender General, Matthew Valerio, pointed out that—at the time—many people were downplaying the importance of the 2008 legislation. Their claim was that “Vermont doesn’t convict innocent people.” Valerio refered to that view as: “.....pretty naïve. The thing that came up over and over again was this kind of thing doesn’t happen in Vermont.”
Defying logic, the Vermont prosecution team continued to subject John to this seemingly endless ordeal. They continued—over the course of an additional year—to try to salvage their case, in anticipation of a new trial. On August 21, 2013, the prosecution finally abandoned their poorly-conceived denial of the glaring truth. They dismissed all charges against the man. John Grega has now become the first person in Vermont’s history to be exonerated—based on DNA evidence obtained under the state’s 2008 Innocence Protection Act.
For more on this story, read the following:
The Grega story: As reported by the national Innocence Project
The New England Innocence Project
Video report from a leading local news channel
Reversed in Colorado
This Colorado case exhibits remarkable similarities to the West Memphis Three story. In both cases, the suspect(s) are teenagers, who were convicted and sentenced to life in prison, or handed the death penalty. Both crimes are homicides involving mutilation with a knife or scalpel, with attention to the genitalia. Prosecutorial strategies in both Colorado and Arkansas included a profound reliance on circumstantial evidence. Virtually no physical evidence linked any of the defendant(s) to the victims or to the crime scene. Instead, law enforcement investigators were more preoccuped, in both cases, on the defiant, misfit, or free-spirited tendencies of each teenage suspect. Just a few years prior to both homicide cases, was perhaps the most famous case of a defiant, satanic, misfit serial killer, The Night Stalker: Richard Ramirez.
The case: In Fort Collins, Colorado, a passing bicyclist discovered the sexually mutilated body of Peggy Hettrick. The woman’s body was near the home of 15-year-old Tim Masters. Since February 12, 1987 – the day after the killing – Masters insisted that he did not commit the crime. When police found gruesome sketches that had been drawn by Masters, they focused the next several years of their investigative efforts upon the teenager. In 1999, twelve years after Hettrick’s death, these efforts finally saw Masters convicted of the homicide and sentenced to life in prison. This was despite the fact that no physical evidence was ever found that tied Masters to the crime. I'm surprised that the authorities did not simply execute the 15-year-old boy on the spot-the minute they discovered the ghastly sketches. Who needs physical evidence anyway?
In 1995, eight years after the homicide and four years prior to the Masters conviction, Fort Collins police investigated Dr. Richard Hammond, a 44-year-old eye surgeon. In Dr. Hammond’s home, they found sophisticated cameras and an enormous collection of pornography. At the doctor’s home, as well as at his medical office, police found countless homemade videos. These videos included precisely detailed shots zooming into the vaginal areas of females using the downstairs toilet in the Hammond home as well as the patient toilet at his medical office. The doctor was using carefully controlled, cleverly concealed cameras. His unsuspecting victims ranged from girls in their early teens to women in their forties. Other hidden cameras captured women's breasts as they stood at the restroom mirrors. Police also discovered a storage unit Dr. Hammond was renting that contained thousands of pornographic materials and containers filled with sex toys and jewelry. He also had a secret bank account and a secret apartment. Dr. Hammond was arrested on sexual-exploitation charges. Days later, the man committed suicide in a Denver hotel room using an IV drip filled with cyanide.
Although Dr. Hammond was often known to disappear for hours and he frequently left town on mysterious trips, his wife had no knowledge of her husband’s secret identity. His friends, stunned by the news of the doctor’s arrest, described him as extremely polite and professional. His partner and his colleagues, equally floored by the news, had always admired Hammond’s specialized expertise with a scalpel.
Detective Dave Mickelson of the Fort Collins Police Department was particularly alarmed by two facts. First, the Hammond home was located just 100 yards east of where Peggy Hettrick's body had been found eight years earlier. Second, the woman’s body had been skillfully carved up by her killer, with special focus on the intricate vaginal parts and the nipples of her breasts. These facts, taken together with Dr. Hammond’s obsession with female genitalia and breasts, and his surgical expertise, prompted Detective Mickelson to approach his superiors.
Despite pleas from the detective for a thorough investigation of Hammond as a suspect in the Hettrick homicide, his concerns were promptly dismissed. All of the evidence that was seized during the investigation was destroyed within six months after Dr. Hammond's arrest and subsequent suicide. Four years later, Tim Masters was tried and sent to prison for murder.
In a January 2008 news conference, Colorado special prosecutor, Don Quick, announced that a defense-commissioned DNA test pointed not to Tim Masters, but to an unknown male. The validity of the DNA test was supported by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Quick filed a motion citing four instances in which police and prosecutors should have provided evidence to Masters' original defense team. When Quick requested for the conviction to be vacated, Judge Joseph Weatherby promptly agreed. Tim Masters, at the age of 36, was released from prison.
Based on the clear instances of misconduct, Fort Collins District Attorney Larry Abrahamson has vowed to review all "contested convictions" in which advances in DNA testing may prove useful. Abrahamson also said that he has met with the Fort Collins police chief and his investigators to discuss the importance of information flow between law enforcement authorities, prosecutors, and counsel for the defense.
Abysmal conviction in Colorado
Convicted by doodles, freed by DNA
Case coverage on Frontline (PBS)
"The Confessions", aired November 9, 2010.
This case involved the investigation and conviction of four men -- current and former sailors in the U.S. Navy -- for the 1997 rape/homicide of a young woman in Norfolk, Virginia. Frontline’s coverage of the “Norfolk Four” revealed malicious, high-pressure police interrogation techniques -- the threat of the death penalty, sleep deprivation, and intimidation. The outrageous, irresponsible tactics caused each of the men to confess, despite the glaring lack of any evidence linking any of them to the crime. When the dust settled, eight men had been charged. Five of those men had been coerced into confessions, .....four of them false. Most baffling, .......only ONE DNA profile had been recovered from the case evidence.
Twenty-five-year-old Danial Williams, married for 11 days, was the first to be arrested for the rape/murder of Michelle Bosko. Williams attempted to explain to FRONTLINE how he came to confess after a brutal, humiliating interrogation that spanned ELEVEN HOURS.
When Williams FINALLY confessed, the details were not consistent with the physical evidence. Instead of doubting the validity of the confession, investigators badgered Williams into a ‘revised’ confession that presented a 'better fit' to the crime scene evidence.
Williams' DNA failed to match the DNA observed from Ms. Bosko's sexual assault kit, Of course, this pesky little DNA hiccup did not create any doubt among the investigators. Instead, they simply addressed the glitch by hauling in Williams' roommate, Joe Dick. Yes, the investigators launched yet another interrogation.
Dick's interrogation was conducted by one of Norfolk's most formidable detectives, Robert Glenn Ford, who had a reputation for getting confessions. Utlimately, Ford delivered a second confession, ......from a second suspect. Detective Ford was SO formidable, Joe Dick actually began to believe in his own guilt. Dick proceeded to implicate another sailor, Eric Wilson. Another startling development, .....the police eventually hammered out their THIRD confession.
At some point, one might expect law enforcement officials to view three confessions (with ONE DNA profile) as a sufficient number of defendants. No, the police relentlessly plowed ahead. In the end, four men confessed to the rape and murder of Michelle Bosko. Another three men were arrested before an eighth man, a convicted rapist named Omar Ballard, was found to be the only DNA match with the sexual assault evidence.
Ballard confessed to the rape and murder of Michelle Bosko. Furthermore, Ballard made it clear that he did it alone -- a statement that was consistent with the physical evidence uncovered at the crime scene. However, with a significant percentage of the U.S. Navy already incarcerated for this ONE crime, the police and prosecution refused to change course. Instead, they presented a new theory of the crime.
The investigative team presented their theory that seven guys were pacing around the parking lot. The group of men were contemplating how they might break into an apartment in order to rape and murder a young woman. At that moment, Omar Ballard happened to be strolling by. The aspiring rapists/murderers decided to approach Ballard -- a complete stranger -- and inquire if he had any thoughts on the matter. Before long, all eight men managed to squeeze into the tiny apartment and proceeded with their brutal plan.
Of course, NO witnesses ever came forward, to corroborate the collection of men in the parking lot. Nobody ever reported the wild group, .....forcing their way into the apartment. And lastly, not a soul remembered hearing a disturbance consistent with such a series of events involving so many people. From an initial theory of a single assailant, namely Danial Williams, the prosecution theory had now evolved into a profoundly improbable tale. Such a scenario might as well have been cooked up by a babbling mental patient.
All four sailors are now out of prison -- one served his sentence, and the other three were granted conditional pardons, after some 11 years in prison. But the men were not exonerated as felons or sex offenders.
Imagine everyone's surprise when, in the summer of 2010, Detective Robert Glenn Ford was indicted for extorting money from defendants in exchange for getting them favorable treatment. He was tried in U.S. District Court in Norfolk and took the stand in his own defense. On October 27, 2010, Ford was found guilty on two of four extortion charges and one charge of lying to the FBI. Sentencing is scheduled for February 25, 2011.
U.S.A. VERSUS THEODORE LARGO
Mr. Stephen D. Aarons (Santa Fe, New Mexico) was the assigned public defender for a Navajo man named Mr. Theodore Largo. Up until the week of the trial, July 26-29, 2010, Theodore had been sitting in jail for 16 months. In Federal Court, the FBI crime lab's enormous interpretive flaws were fully dissected in front of the jury. Mr. Largo was found not guilty on all counts and immediately released.
The prosecution’s scientific case was simple: 4 anal swabs had been collected from a young alleged victim. The FBI lab report stated "….semen identified". Mr. Aarons contacted SFR to examine the FBI lab report. Dr. Spence immediately asked Mr. Aarons to request discovery - all of the supporting scientific documentation. The FBI lab documents pointed to a "Faint Positive" screening test on two of the four swabs. Defying logic, NO effort was made to identify sperm cells on the evidence swabs via microscopic searches. Instead, they proceeded to test ONE of the four swabs for DNA. This strategy revealed NOTHING suggesting the possible presence of Mr. Largo's DNA. Despite this glaring chasm in their scientific case, FBI Lab management refused to back off from their conclusion of "….semen identified".
Dr. Spence informed Mr. Aarons that the FBI lab's conclusions were entirely unjustified, inappropriate, and an enormous misrepresentation of the scientific facts. Dr. Spence backed up that opinion by having the swabs tested (Independent Forensics, Hillside, Illinois) with a more accurate, SPECIFIC screening test for semen, as well as a more sensitive, more thorough DNA testing strategy. The independent outsource lab revealed NO indication of semen and SUPPORTED the FBI Lab’s finding of NO DNA linking Mr. Largo to any criminal act.
The screening test utilized by the FBI lab was an ultra-sensitive detection system for a protein that is abundant in semen, ....prostate specific antigen (PSA). The error of leaning too heavily on a PSA test is that recent years have revealed the presence of PSA in body tissues and fluids OTHER than semen. For the defense, the PSA and ZERO DNA issues were illuminated by Richard Coughlin, Ph.D. (President/Chief Scientific Officer of Sequela, Falmouth, Maine), Karl Reich, Ph.D. (Chief Scientific Officer, Independent Forensics), and Michael Spence (Spence Forensic Resources). Refer to the link for elementary information addressing the forensic detection of PSA.
The prosecution’s entire scientific case hinged upon a $1.05 PSA detection cartridge produced by Seratec, a German biotech company. Hidden in the FBI’s documentation was the "FT POS" notation, indicating the apparent presence of ONE protein. NO attempt was made to find any sperm cells, and two laboratories revealed a conspicuous ABSENCE of any incriminating DNA. It was no surprise that the jury took only a few hours to grant Mr. Largo his immediate release.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the PSA tests, ....when they are employed strictly as screening tools, ….pointing the way to the Holy Grail of Forensic Biology, …….DNA. PSA is anything but THE de facto means to establishing a crime. Management associated with ANY forensic biology lab (law enforcement or private enterprises) should interpret certain data with extreme caution.
The first ever DNA-based exoneration occurred in January, 1989. David Vasquez, a borderline retarded man, was accused of sexually assaulting and murdering a Virginia woman. Two witnesses placed Vasquez near the victim's home on the day of the crime. Vasquez had no alibi. After four years of wrongful imprisonment, DNA tests from three laboratories implicated Timothy Spencer as the rapist/killer. Ironically, Spencer became the first person executed after being convicted by DNA testing.
First Recorded DNA-Based Exoneration
The first recorded DNA-based exoneration of a Death Row inmate occurred in December, 1993 in the state of Maryland. On July 25, 1984, a 9-year-old girl was found dead in a wooded area. She had been beaten with a rock, sexually assaulted, and strangled. An anonymous caller and various witnesses claimed they had seen Kirk Bloodsworth with the little girl on the day of the crime. Bloodsworth had told friends that he had done "something terrible" that day that would affect his marriage. In his first police interrogation, Bloodsworth mentioned a "bloody rock," even though the police had not revealed the nature of the murder weapon.
After the conviction, Bloodsworth's attorneys filed an appeal contending that their client mentioned the bloody rock ONLY because the police happened to have a bloody rock sitting on the table next to their suspect during the initial interrogation. Defense attorneys also pointed out that the "terrible" thing Bloodsworth mentioned to his friends was that he had failed to make good on his promise to buy his wife a taco salad. A Baltimore County judge sentenced Bloodsworth to death. After eight years in prison, DNA testing gave Kirk Bloodsworth his place in history-the first exonerated Death Row inmate.
Punishment For Failing To Buy A Taco Salad: Death Row
The fascinating William Dillon case was recently revisited on the May 23, 2010 edition of On the Case-with Paula Zahn
On the morning of August 17, 1981, the body of James Dvorak was discovered in wooded area near Canova Beach, on Florida’s Atlantic coast. The body was nude and severely beaten.
Five days later, 22-year old William Dillon was sitting in a car with his brother when they were approached by law enforcement officers. William was petrified when one of the officers began questioning him about the recent homicide. The main cause for his case of nerves was the fact that he was hiding a smoldering marijuana cigarette in the palm of his hand. William was certain that the officer would detect the pungent, smoky odor and order him out of the car.
Although the Dvorak murder was widely reported in the media, the officers were suspicious of William’s awareness of the brutal crime. When William pointed and stated, “It happened right over there.” the officers believed they were on to something big. They DID order him out of the vehicle. Still nervous about the marijuana, William didn't mention that EVERYBODY in the community could clearly see the bright yellow police crime scene tape encircling the area.
The officers insisted upon William scheduling a visit to the police station ASAP in order to “provide a statement”. William readily agreed. More than anything else, he was agreeable with the officers FINALLY walking away without busting him for possession. Young William, unaware that he was being considered as a suspect, never showed up for his appointment at the police station. Why should he? He had NOTHING to do with the crime. Prosecutors eventually charged him for the homicide.
William took the stand in his own defense and testified that he was miles away from the beach at the time of the Dvorak homicide. Witnesses corroborated his alibi. After a five-day trial, William was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. The jury based their verdict predominantly on flimsy testimony provided by various unreliable sources. One key witness was John Preston, the handler for a scent-tracking dog. William Dillon spent 27 years, more than half of his life, in a Florida prison-until he was recently freed by DNA testing.
Just three months after William was sentenced in 1981, another local Florida man, Wilton Dedge, was convicted of a murder based on strikingly similar, shoddy testimonial evidence. The prosecution's case included testimony from the scent-tracking dog handler, John Preston. Like William Dillon, Dedge was a Florida Innocence Project client. He was exonerated by DNA testing in 2004 after serving 22 years in prison.
In recent years, John Preston’s qualifications have been subjected to careful scrutiny. By this time, Preston had participated in hundreds of scent-tracking cases, assisting with countless convictions. In 2008, when Preston’s dog failed an accuracy test, a Brevard County judge concluded that Preston was often being used by prosecutors “to confirm the state’s preconceived notions.” Dog scent identification has yet to be validated as a reliable source of scientific data.
Scent tracking-going to the dogs in Florida
September 18, 2009: The following text is quoted directly from an Innocence Project website article entitled:
Cameron Todd Willingham:
An Innocent Man Executed in Texas
“Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004. Willingham was convicted of murder in 1992 after his three young daughters died in a fire at his Corsicana, Texas, home.
The prosecution claimed he intentionally set fire to his home in order to kill his own children. Willingham, who was asleep in the home when the fire started, always said he was innocent. He was convicted based on the testimony of forensic experts who said the fire was intentionally set and a jailhouse informant who said Willingham had confessed to him.
In the days leading up to Willingham's execution, his attorneys sent the governor and the Board of Pardon and Parole a report from Gerald Hurst, a nationally recognized arson expert, saying that Willingham's conviction was based on erroneous forensic analysis. Documents obtained by the Innocence Project show that state officials received that report but apparently did not act on it.
Months after Willingham was executed, the Chicago Tribune published an investigative report that raised questions about the forensic analysis. The Innocence Project assembled five of the nation's leading independent arson experts to review the evidence in the case, and they issued a 48-page report finding that none of the scientific analysis used to convict Willingham was valid.
In 2006, the Innocence Project formally submitted the case to the Texas Forensic Science Commission, asking the empowered state entity to launch a full investigation. Along with the Willingham case, the Innocence Project submitted information about another arson case in Texas where identical evidence was used to send another man to death row. In that case, Ernest Willis was exonerated and freed from prison because the forensic evidence was not valid.
In 2008, the Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed to investigate the case. The commission hired renowned arson expert Craig Beyler to review all of the evidence in the case. In August 2009, Beyler submitted his report to the commission, finding that the forensic analysis used to convict Willingham was wrong - and that experts who testified at Willingham's trial should have known it was wrong at the time.
The state Forensic Science Commission is reviewing that report and has said it will issue a report with its conclusions on the case in 2010. Meanwhile, an investigative report in the September 7, 2009 issue of the New Yorker deconstructs every facet of the state's case against Willingham. The 16,000-word report by David Grann shows that all of the evidence used against Willingham was invalid, including the forensic analysis, the informant's testimony, other witness testimony and additional circumstantial evidence.
The wrongful execution of Cameron Todd Willingham
A Cesspool of Fraud in Mississippi
In 1992, Kennedy Brewer was convicted and sentenced to death in Noxubee County Mississippi. He was accused of raping and killing a 3-year-old girl. Levon Brooks, was sentenced to life in prison for a separate but similar crime, the rape and murder of another 3-year old child. The Noxubee County Sheriff flippantly stated that a possible DNA match could not be sought on either case due to Mississippi’s lack of a DNA database -- this revelation was news to Mississippi’s crime lab director.
Ten years passed before both men were cleared of any involvement in the crimes. The actual perpetrator, Albert Johnson, confessed to both homicides. To top it off, DNA evidence supported Johnson’s confession. Despite the confession and the new evidence, and in defiance of all common rationality, both men spent an additional 5 years awaiting retrial in local jails. This was due to the fact that Forrest Allgood, the Noxubee County prosecutor, was anxious to bring back his star witnesses, medical examiner Steven Hayne, and forensic odontologist Dr. Michael West.
For two decades, Hayne has been responsible for about 80% of the autopsies conducted in the state of Mississippi. On April 8, 2008, the Innocence Project and the Mississippi Innocence Project collaborated on a formal allegation calling for the revocation of Haynes license to continue practicing medicine. The 1000-page document cited evidence of misconduct and fraudulent testimony that has sent an undetermined number of innocent people to prison, and in some cases, death row.
By many accounts, Michael West is even worse than Hayne. His bite mark testimony has already been disproven by DNA in various instances other than the Brewer and Brooks cases. Consequently, West resigned from professional odontology groups in order to avoid sanctions and possible expulsion.
In an unprecedented move, under pressure from The Innocence Project, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood revoked the county’s prosecutorial authority and paved the way for the exonerations of Brewer (February 2008) and Brooks (March 2008). Speaking for The Innocence Project, Peter Neufeld stated, "In two decades of working on these cases, we have never seen a more stark and troubling example of a rush to judgment at the hands of notorious forensic analysts who conspired to commit fraud."
Railroaded by forensic experts, freed by DNA
Exonerated: Murder of a 3 - year child
The evil dentist
October 15, 2008: At age 33, Arthur Johnson was convicted by a Sunflower County Mississippi jury of a sexual assault he did not commit. After the jury ignored the testimony of several alibi witnesses, Judge Ashley Hines sentenced Johnson to 55 years in prison. The man had no criminal record, and there was no physical evidence tying him to the crime.
Emily Maw, Johnson’s Innocence Project Attorney, was stonewalled by Mississippi officials from 2005 to 2007, in response to her efforts to utilize modern DNA technology. In November 2007, results from the DNA analysis conclusively established Johnson’s innocence. Oblivious to all standards of common decency, Sunflower District Attorney Dewayne Richardson insisted upon further delays by pursuing a retrial.
When Mississippi officials were shamed into running the DNA results through the convicted offender DNA database, the truth was finally revealed. Sixteen years after Johnson’s wrongful conviction, the actual perpetrator was identified. Richardson had no choice but to drop all charges against the man he had persecuted 16 years ealier. It was too late. The guilty rapist was already serving time in a Colorado for a 2002 sexual assault. A woman in Colorado was brutalized as a consequence of the collaborative buffoonery of Mississippi officials and Mississippi jury members.
Arthur Johnson is the fourth Mississippi man exonerated by DNA evidence since 2006.
More Negligence in Mississippi
Sent to Death Row By a Dentist
Ray Krone, the man who came to be known as the “Snaggletooth Killer”, spent ten years in prison for a homicide he did not commit. The victim, a Phoenix cocktail waitress named Kim Ancona, had been stabbed eleven times and bitten on the neck and left breast. Krone had no criminal record. The totality of evidence against him was sparsely more than the fact that Krone and Ancona were socially acquainted. When Dr. Raymond Rawson, a forensic odontologist reported a match between Krone’s teeth and the bite marks on the deceased woman, Krone’s claims of innocence were ignored. In 1992, he was sentenced to death by an Arizona jury.
In 1996, Ray Krone was able to obtain a new trial. Dr. Rawson was every bit as dazzling in the second trial as he was in the 1992 fiasco. Once again, the jury embraced the prosecution’s weak circumstantial case. Defying all sensibility, they chose to ignore nine forensic odontologists who openly contradicted Dr. Rawson’s testimony. Superior Court Judge James McDougall sensed their misjudgment, reduced Krone’s death sentence to life imprisonment, and wrote the following: "The court is left with a residual or lingering doubt about the clear identity of the killer."
When the Phoenix police and the Maricopa County prosecutors were finally compelled into releasing the ten-year-old case evidence, DNA testing cleared Krone of any involvement in the crime. The wrongfully imprisoned “Snaggletooth Killer” was released from prison on April 8, 2002.
In a 2005 interview, Krone lamented, “….if it was just a series of mistakes, and these guys would have stood up and apologized, I think I could completely get over it. But that's not what happened. They grabbed me and then built a case out of nothing, and then they covered it up.” Freed by DNA, Ray Krone was awarded a multimillion dollar settlement from the city and the county for the wrongful imprisonment.
Phoenix juries get it wrong, …BOTH TIMES
Nine Days Away from Execution
Earl Washington Jr. came within nine days of being executed for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Rebecca Williams, a crime he did not commit. Washington, a Virginia man with mental retardation, spent nearly 18 years in prison, including nine on death row, before DNA testing led to his exoneration on February 12, 2001.
Saved by DNA
March 6, 2009: In 1984, Joseph Fears Jr. was convicted of two sexual assaults in separate jury trials. He was labeled a sexual predator, with a judge noting that "his denial of guilt made it unlikely he would benefit from programs to lessen his chances of re-offending."
Fears spent over 25 years in an Ohio prison for crimes he could not have committed. Fourteen years ago, Fears began requesting DNA testing. Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien opposed it. Eventually, Fears was told that his case evidence was ‘missing’.
Would you be angry? After forfeiting the prime of his life, from age 35 to 61, Fears FINALLY became the 233rd person in the U.S. to be exonerated by DNA testing. Understandably furious, Fears lashed out, "My reaction to this is: I think it's a bunch of bull and this was a cover-up. Ron O'Brien doesn't deserve any credit. I first asked for a DNA test in 1995, and they never did anything. Then they tell me my evidence is gone." Although relieved that he has been released from prison, Fears will hire an attorney and pursue compensation from the state of Ohio.
Things started to turn around for Fears when Robert McClendon was released from an Ohio prison in August, 2008 after serving 18 years for a child rape that DNA testing showed the he didn't commit. Like the Fears case, McClendon's efforts to obtain DNA testing had been ignored for years. A recent evidence search ordered by Ron O’Brien uncovered microscope slides from one of Fears alleged rape victims. DNA from the slides didn't match the convict. Male DNA from the slides was used to conduct a search of the national DNA database-CODIS. The DNA type matched a deceased convict from Michigan-a man confirmed to be in Columbus, Ohio at the time of the sexual assault.
Underpants from the other alleged victim were also located. The state crime lab in Ohio didn't detect any male DNA on it. This finding was consistent with Fears contention that the woman fabricated the sexual assault in the first place.
The Joseph Fears Jr. Story
February 6, 2009: Timothy Cole was a student at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. In 1985, he was arrested and accused of being a campus serial rapist. The young African-American man had virtually NO criminal record. Despite this fact, he was convicted largely on the testimony of ONE eye witness. In 1986, Cole was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The real rapist, Jerry Wayne Johnson, waited for the statute of limitations to toll in 1995 and began repeatedly writing his confessions to the courts. These communications were ignored by the judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials who wrongfully obtained Cole’s conviction. Presumably, it would have been a bad career move to admit their errors-nearly a decade after the fact.
Finally, in 2007, a confession letter from Johnson reached Cole’s mother. It was too late. In 1999, Timothy Cole died in prison, the victim of an asthma attack. Recent DNA testing confirmed that Cole had told the truth all along. Once DNA proved Cole’s innocence, signs began to accumulate that the investigation was mishandled from the beginning. Witnesses to Cole's alibi were ignored. The lack of physical evidence tying him to the attack was also ignored. Incredibly, investigators ignored the comment from the rape victim that her attacker was “A chain smoker.” A chain smoking, asmatic suspect, ….sounds promising. Prosecutors and investigators developed tunnel vision and molded their case around poorly acquired accounts of events.
"The investigation goes from trying to solve a case to trying to make a case against an individual that the police have started to focus on," said Mike Ware, head of Dallas County's conviction integrity unit. Prior to a recent hearing designed to once-and-for-all clear Timothy Cole’s name, Cole’s family had yet to hear directly from any Lubbock County official, past or present. The Innocence Project’s Jeff Blackburn angrily commented before the hearing, "They're cowards."
Failure to 'own up' in Lubbock: 80's serial rapist walks free
January 9, 2009: Chaunte D. Ott, a 35-year old Milwaukee man, wrongfully accused of homicide, has been released from prison. This development came as a result of assistance provided by the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which began working on Ott’s case in 2000.
After serving over thirteen years of a life sentence, recent DNA tests have pointed to an unknown male assailant. In addition to the 1995 tragic death of the murder victim, 16 year-old Jessica Payne, the unknown murderer has apparently killed again, ….twice. In June 1997, the same male DNA found on Payne’s body was also recovered from 41 year-old Milwaukee homicide victim, Joyce Mims. In 2007, only a short distance away from the two previous homicides, blood from the same male perpetrator was found on the body of 30 year-old Ouithreaun Stokes.
Two of Ott’s associates, Richard Gwin and Sam Hadaway, testified against Ott. Gwin was murdered in 1997. Hadaway later recanted his testimony. None of the three men provided a DNA match to that which was found on Jessica Payne’s body.
Wrongful conviction allows killer to strike again, ......twice
November 13, 2008: Perhaps you noticed the sudden jump in DNA-based exonerations from 221 to 227. Rather than a flurry of activity from the Innocence Project, the rescue of six innocent individuals involved reinvestigation of one case, yes ONE CASE, spearheaded by the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office. Good for them. This case sets a new national record for the number of wrongfully-convicted people cleared by DNA, ....in one case. In 1989, Joseph "Lobo" White, Thomas Winslow, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Deb Shelden, Kathy Gonzalez and James Dean were all wrongfully imprisoned for a 1985 rape/homicide that occurred in Beatrice, Nebraska. The victim was a 68-year old woman named Helen Wilson.
This 'mass exoneration' begs the question: How could six people be wrongfully convicted, including five who pleaded either guilty or no contest to parts of the crime?
The initial investigation went cold and wasn't revived until 1987, when a former Beatrice police officer, Bert Searcey, came forward with confidential informants. Searcey was hired by the Gage County Sheriff's Office and took over the investigation, focusing on White, Taylor, and a group of friends who consumed drugs and alcohol together. Investigators relied on idiotic, recklessly-conceived interview tactics centering on witnesses whose foggy memories were haunted by chronic substance abuse and psychiatric problems. As the interviews spawned a growing number of alleged perpetrators, more and more inconsistencies needed to be ignored. Glaring examples were as follows:
• How did seven people (including the victim) squeeze into her tiny residence without any outside bystanders hearing or noticing them?
• Why would any perpetrator of a sexual assault bring along ‘five friends’ to witness his crime?
• If robbery was a motive, as was alleged by the investigators, how did all six suspects overlook the victim's purse sitting in plain sight on a kitchen stool? The purse just happened to contain $1,300!
Recent DNA tests identified the real killer as Bruce Smith, a drifter from Oklahoma City, who has been walking free for 23 years. The DNA evidence showed no indication that any of the six exonerated individuals were ever at the crime scene.
The Attorney General's Office is now is helping to gain six pardons.
A foul odor in Nebraska
THE FOLLOWING ARE LINKS TO ADDITIONAL FASCINATING CRIMINAL CASES:
All it took was one simple phone call
Authorities ignore facts in Houston: Child molester roams free
Innocence Project vs. stubborn New Jersey justice system
23rd exoneration in New York
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