Justice: Denied -- The Magazine for the Wrongly Convicted
Why Are Innocent People Sentenced to Death?
SnapShot by Kira Caywood
Since the U.S. reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, 82 death row convicts have been exonerated. During that period, 566 Americans were executed -- showing that for every seven persons put to death, one is found to be innocent.
Undoubtedly, more innocent people have been and will be executed. The structural flaws that threaten the legitimacy of the death penalty today should disturb even its most fervent supporters.
Police, prosecutors, trial judges and appeals court judges feel pressured to impose the death penalty, especially for the most brutal crimes. The political climate rewards fast conviction and tough sentencing. In many cases, the result is serious misconduct.
Prosecutors offer a deal, such as a reduced sentence, in exchange for testimony. Often, the person given the deal is actually the one guilty of the crime.
Prosecutors withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense. The law requires that the prosecution turn over all relevant evidence to the defense. When this law is ignored, appeals courts often refuse to order new trials, calling the violation a "harmless error."
Judges purposely appoint incompetent counsel to the defendant to increase the chances of a conviction and death sentence.
Courts can limit the appeal process for gratuitous reasons. For example, Roger Coleman was executed in Virginia in 1992 despite evidence of his innocence, because his lawyers missed an appeal deadline by one day.
Executions are reserved for the poor, most of whom have inadequate legal counsel. Many poor defendants receive less than inadequate representation -- they receive virtually none. Despite the havoc wreaked by low-paid lawyers who fail to prepare for trials or interview witnesses, and even sleep through trials, the courts have upheld many death sentences with rationalizations like the one given by Judge Doug Shaver of Texas:
"The Constitution says that everyone is entitled to an attorney of their choice. But the Constitution does not say that the lawyer has to be awake."
Of course, defendants have no choice when their only option is court-appointed counsel.
Notable racial bias exists in the administration of the death penalty. Defendants accused of killing whites are much more likely to be condemned to death than those accused of killing blacks. This bias not only implies that our society values white life over black life, but also adds to black community distrust of the criminal justice system.
Source: About.com, Inc.
Life in Prison to Stardom With No Regrets
By Phyllis A. Lincoln
Rubin Carter was on his way to becoming a boxing legend when he was arrested, wrongly accused, and convicted of a triple homicide. With the release of "The Hurricane," a powerful movie about his life, Rubin has been thrust into the limelight once more.
During a NY Times Magazine interview, as well as a recent episode of the Larry King Live show, Rubin had much to say about life, forgiveness, family, friends and the many people who have helped him.
Rubin commented on how miraculous his life is. After spending 20 years in prison, labeled as a triple murderer, he is meeting with the President of the United States and addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations.
When asked if he had forgiven all of the people who contributed to his wrongful imprisonment, Rubin said that he was alive, healthy and happy, and had nothing against anybody. During Larry King's show, he said that once he understood that it was the law, not individuals, that put him in prison, he turned the prison into an unnatural laboratory of the human spirit. Gerry Spence, a defense lawyer also on the show, commented that the injustices faced by the wrongly convicted generally don't produce hatred in the individual, but forgiveness. He said Rubin is an excellent example of this.
When questioned about what he thought of the $8 million settlement that was awarded the survivors of Attica, Rubin Carter replied that it demonstrates how cheaply we regard life. He pointed out that the $8 million, if divided up among the victims and their families, would equal about $10,000 a piece, which is not enough to even pay the lawyers who filed the suit.
Next, Rubin was asked if he thinks any amount of money might compensate him adequately for what he has been through. Rubin said that going to prison ended up as a virtue, not as a punishment. "If I had the money that I think the state of New Jersey and the United States government owes me for doing what they did to my family, to me, to my career, and all of that, I think that they would have to owe me over a billion dollars. But I would pay them for doing what they did. For making me go through what I had to go through to find myself. And what a discovery that is."
Recently, a Philadelphia Daily News article accused Rubin Carter of remaining silent and not coming to the aid of his son, Raheem Carter, who is charged with aggravated assault for causing his pregnant girlfriend to miscarry by kicking her in the abdomen, then robbing and threatening to kill her.
However, according to his lawyer, Raheem is innocent of the charges, and is baffled by his father's willingness to write him off so soon.
The article claimed that Carter has neither visited nor called his son, and fails to mention him in speeches. It also stated that Rubin has made no attempt to pay his son's bail. Rubin Carter had a different story to tell on the Larry King show. He said that he sent the bail bondsman to put up a $75,000 bail, but the jail wouldn't release his son because they claimed to have another, no-bail charge on him. When asked if he was concerned that he had a son in jail, Rubin replied that he was concerned that he had a mother, father, former wife, children and grandchildren all living in Patterson, New Jersey. He said he refuses to go to Patterson, because that's where it all began.
Convicted along with Rubin Carter was John Artis, whose story is every bit as remarkable as Rubin's. Only 19 at the time, with no arrest record and a sports scholarship to college, John's crime was asking the wrong man for a ride home that fateful night. On Larry King's show, Rubin referred to him as his hero, and said he owes his life to John.
John Artis' integrity was tested to the limit. At any time, he could have gained freedom by telling the police that Rubin was guilty, but he refused to do so.
Rubin told a very touching story that attests to John's remarkable character.
Every single year, the governor of New Jersey took John out of prison, brought him home, and placed him in front of his mother, father, brothers and sisters. The governor then promised John that he would be released to his family that day -- if he gave an incriminating statement against Rubin
Carter. John always answered, "My mother and father didn't teach me to lie; they taught me to tell the truth." In view of the media's lack of focus on John, Rubin Carter referred to him as "the forgotten man."
Society dealt a severe blow to both of these men by taking away so many years of their lives and failing to compensate their loss. However, they are not bitter or angry. Both Rubin Carter and John Artis have learned and grown from their experiences, and are giving back to the society that took so much from them. We can learn much from their remarkable strength, integrity and forgiveness.
Sources: The NY Times Magazine, Philadelphia Daily News, Larry King Live
SnapShot Writer, Barbara Jean McAtlin
Delay of execution ordered by U.S. Circuit Court
Late Tuesday, March 7, 2000, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ordered a federal judge to issue a 90-day stay of execution for Oklahoma County killer Loyd LaFevers. LaFevers execution by lethal injection had been set to take place in the early morning hours of Thursday, March 9. Mere hours before his scheduled death, the Oklahoma inmate received the stay when it was decided that new DNA findings raised questions about the blood evidence that was used by prosecutors at LeFever's trial.
LaFevers and co-defendant, Randall Cannon, were convicted of the 1985 murder of eighty-four year old Oklahoma City resident, Addie Hawley. Hawley was kidnapped from her home, seriously beaten and set on fire. Although she had been found alive, she died a short time later. LaFevers has been convicted twice and sentenced to die for the crime both times. Cannon remains on death row.
Claiming that it was not in his jurisdiction, U.S. District Judge Timothy Leonard of the Western District in Oklahoma City had refused to issue a stay for LaFevers at the beginning of March. After this refusal, LaFevers attorney, assistant federal public defender, Patrick J. Ehlers, Jr. appealed to the 10th Circuit Court. Ehlers was appointed after another attorney who had been representing LaFevers missed a U.S. Supreme Court appeals deadline.
This oversight allowed the execution date to be set. A three-judge panel unanimously ordered Judge Leonard to issue the stay to allow Ehlers, Jr. ample time to prepare an appeal. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the stay and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson that had sought to vacate the stay order and allow the execution to take place.
Shortly after he was appointed on January 7, 2000, Ehlers was granted permission to do DNA testing on a pair of jeans that the prosecution said LaFevers was wearing when Hawley was beaten. The prosecution claimed that the jeans belonged to LaFevers and the blood on them was that of the victim.
Because of the DNA testing debates, LaFevers' original trial attorneys had declined to test the jeans. The tests showed that the blood was actually that of co-defendant Cannon, not LaFevers. Ehlers also said that the new DNA test results destroy the prosecution's theory that LaFevers was directly involved in Hawley's murder. LaFevers' clemency hearing status now hinges on whatever actions, or inaction, the U.S. Supreme Court decides to take.
Attorney General Edmondson said there is a substantial amount of evidence linking LaFevers to the murder. He says that LaFevers was an active participant or, at a minimum, aided and abetted in the crime. The maximum sentence for conviction in either of these would be a death sentence.
Edmondson also claims that LaFevers bought the gasoline that was used to set Hawley and her car on fire and that he gave the victim's rings to an exotic dancer just hours after the crime.
Edmondson, Ehlers and Hawley's nephew, Colorado State Senator Ken Chlouber were all in McAlester, Oklahoma for the Pardon and Parole Board meeting. Chlouber had flown in from Colorado on Tuesday night fully planning to witness LaFevers' execution. He accused Edmondson's office of being unprepared for these latest developments and called the stay an absolute insult to everyone in Oklahoma, particularly elderly women. He chastised the courts for allowing LaFevers' additional time to prove his innocence, but LaFevers' original attorney Catherine Burton, said that introducing the new DNA evidence was not a stalling tactic but a search for truth and justice and about representing the correct evidence.
Source: Tulsa World
SPOTLIGHT ON INJUSTICE LAPD Rampart Scandal opens questions about citywide corruption.
AS MORE L.A.P.D. MISCONDUCT IS REVEALED, 32 DIRTY CONVICTIONS ARE OVERTURNED, MANY MORE TO FOLLOW.
By Linda Cordero, and Gil Contreras, JD California Correspondents
In the wake of the latest and worst scandal to rock the Los Angeles Police Department, corruption investigators continue to interview victims of the dangerous CRASH unit.
Disgraced former officer Rafael Perez is a member of CRASH, an anti-gang unit of the L.A.P.D. based at Rampart Division. He has identified at least 57 cases in which he personally fabricated evidence or in which his perjury on the witness stand resulted in an innocent person's conviction.
Perez is cooperating with the corruption probe in exchange for lighter sentences of his own. He faced his second trial on drug-theft charges last year. The scandal came to light last September, when he was arrested for stealing cocaine that was evidence in a pending case from a police locker.
His drug-theft charges, however, were just the beginning. The ex-cop's arrest and subsequent cooperation have led to an investigation resulting in suspension or resignation of 29 LAPD officers so far. Only 3 of those officers will be prosecuted. Some 2,000 pages of transcripts implicate more than 70 officers for either committing crimes or knowing of them and helping to cover them up.
Estimates are that people wrongly prosecuted by police may number more than 200, and the cost of the scandal from lawsuits may rise to $300 million or more, threatening city services for years to come.
Admitting to a "lack of faith" in the discredited prosecutions, Police Chief Bernard Parks instructed the district attorney to review cases involving close to 100 people. If Parks has his way, all the convictions of 52 victims interviewed so far will be thrown out. Many prisoners have already been freed, and dozens of convictions overturned. The District Attorney's office will seek many more reversals since this atrocity is far from over. A spokesperson for the District Attorney has said the cases will number in the hundreds.
Paul Thompson had his conviction for possessing a firearm overturned. Ex-officer Perez admitted to having perjured himself at Thompson's trial. After serving three years, Thompson was ordered immediately released from prison. He plans to sue, but remains wary of the LAPD. Octavio Davalos' drug conviction was also reversed. Perez has admitted to falsifying the arrest report, which could have cost Davalos three years of his life. He had served 91 days, and received an apology from the court.
Unfortunately, other victims of former officer Perez are not so fortunate. One is dead, 16 have been deported, two cannot be located, and eight have Perez-related felony warrants over their heads.
Perjury and corruption travel far and reach wide. The Police Department's internal investigation now includes 46 detectives and is entering a new phase, focusing on other officers who worked with Perez. Since September, when the scandal broke, over 29 officers were relieved of duty, suspended, quit or been fired, and dozens of criminal convictions have been overturned.
The investigation has led them to potentially innocent victims in all of California's prisons and to several countries in South America.
High-ranking U.S. Justice Department officials have told Los Angeles police and city leaders they will intensify their civil rights investigation of the LAPD, expressing concern that the department failed to implement key reforms that may have prevented the Rampart Division corruption scandal. As the LAPD Rampart scandal has unfolded, it is fair to ask how many other divisions of the LAPD may be infected with the same problems on a smaller scale. LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks told the City Council that investigators have found "telltale signs" that could point to corruption at other LAPD stations.
The latest development is that DA Gil Garcetti has publicly blasted Chief Bernard C. Parks for shutting him out of the probe and the chief is accusing Garcetti of making "totally untrue" statements.
Parks has expressed lack of confidence in the ability of the DA's office to deal with the case, but insists that will not stop his people from cooperating, saying they will never deny any information to Garcetti in spite of their frustration.
The clash between Parks and Garcetti is over the chief's alleged refusal to provide information to deputy district attorneys assigned to the Rampart investigation.
Chief Parks said accusations Garcetti made in The Times and during a televised news conference about being refused access to investigative information were untrue, and questioned whether they were politically motivated. Garcetti is running for reelection. Not only do the two agencies represented by Parks and Garcetti have a history of clashes, but the elements of clashing personalities, a politically and legally charged confrontation is fanning the flames. Parks, accused of overreaching has outraged many of the city's political leaders after hearing reports that Parks effectively cut off the district attorney's office from files and reports related to the Rampart police scandal.
Another JD Correspondent in California, Gil Contreras, tells us that not only is this illegal, but the very attitude from which the LAPD in general operates, and the reason we have a "Rampart Scandal" in the first place.
Contreras calls this the LAPD's "above-the-law culture" dating back to William Parker. Garcetti's office also has a history of declining to prosecute cops, even when they had a rollout team. Citing the slow pace at which the DA's office has moved so far on Rampart, Contreras and others believe some cops could have been prosecuted by now.
To balance the view of the tension between Garcetti and Parks, Gil Contreras tells us that although Parks was wrong in trying to cut Garcetti out of the loop, his frustration is, at least, understandable from a police perspective.
"The flip side of that coin, however," says Contreras, "is that it appears Parks would like to shut down the investigation as soon as possible, hoping to keep the inquiry out of other divisions. It is well known in police circles that the tactics used by Rampart CRASH were used, and probably continue to be used in other "hot" divisions, i.e., 77th, Southeast, Hollenbeck, Newton, Harbor and in the Northeast Valley."
Internal battles aside, the true problem here is what the Rampart scandal tells us about our justice system nationwide. The cost in human lives of wrongly convicting innocent people staggers the imagination. Even a small percentage of error affects large numbers of people. If only 1 per cent of all convictions were unmerited, approximately 20,000 people would be wrongly incarcerated, and another 40,000 would be on probation or parole for crimes they didn't do. These figures don't even take into consideration the execution of innocent people. Rampart foreshadows our worst nightmares about an entire criminal justice system run amok. These abuses were committed with the knowledge of many officials, including prosecutors and others in high places.
Tainted Investigation Convicted Manuel Hidalgo-Rodriguez, not even in Washington at the time of the crimes.
By Sheila C. Eaken, Justice Denied Staff
Editor's note: According to our sources, Manuel Hidalgo Rodriguez could technically be free of prison now, but might be deported, so his attorneys are looking for ways to avoid this.
Nearly 6 years after the Wenatchee, Washington Sex Ring investigation, the whole truth is not yet known. One by one, guilty verdicts are being overturned, in [REST OF TEXT MISSING]
An Innocent Minor on Death Row, and Everyone Seems to Know It.
By Frank McEvoy
Larry Osborne, now 20, sits on death row for killing no one.
On Kentucky's Death Row in Eddyville, Kentucky, sits Larry Osborne, 20, who when 17 committed the gross offense of having his mother call 911 because he suspected something may have been going on at the Davenport's house. On December 13, 1997, when the bodies of Sam Davenport, 82, and his wife, Lillian, 76, were discovered in their burned house, suspicion fell on Osborne, even though there was no hard evidence to link him to the crime.
The police eventually settled on the testimony of a friend of Osborne's, 15-year-old John Reid, who was promised immunity for his testimony. This testimony is odd for a number of reasons. The first is that the police videotape has Reid asking, "Is this going to get me out of all this stuff?" So we have a focus of Reid's interest.
Second, Reid, in his thirst for the truth, said Osborne left the house after torching it through the back door. Logical, except that the back door had a dead bolt lock, with a double key. No one went through it that night.
Third, Reid drowned after he sang to the Grand Jury, but the judge admitted the testimony. So much for cross-examination. This item is a major focus of Osborne's appeal.
Many Kentucky activists and legal authorities are convinced of Osborne's innocence (as I am, because Larry Osborne is a friend). Some are not, i.e., the DA, the judge, and the surviving Davenport family, one of whom may be the murderer, with a reasonable motive.
DNA Testing FINALLY frees Larry Youngblood
By Stormy Thoming-Gale
In 1983, Larry Youngblood was convicted of child molestation. The Pima County Attorney's Office said that Larry Youngblood was convicted based on the testimony of the victim, collaborating evidence and the technology available at the time.
The Arizona Court of Appeals briefly overturned Larry's conviction on grounds that due process was violated by the failure to safeguard evidence. Police failed to handle an important piece of evidence properly, making it impossible to determine whether semen was evident on Larry's clothing.
In 1988, the Supreme Court reversed that ruling. In a 6 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court held that a defendant's rights were not denied unless the authorities were acting maliciously and knew the evidence could prove innocence.
Dr. Edward Blake, a forensic scientist with expertise in DNA, said that due to its recent ruling, the Supreme Court had established a flawed legal precedent that will lower the standards of evidence collection. The 1988 ruling undermined what were once progressive mandates that put the onus on the government to collect, maintain and properly preserve evidence.
The Arizona Court of Appeals AGAIN set aside Larry Youngblood's conviction in 1990, arguing that the state's constitution was broader than the federal government's.
In 1993, the State Supreme Court AGAIN reinstated Mr. Youngblood's conviction.
Larry Youngblood returned to prison to serve out his sentence.
Summer of 1999, Larry's lawyers requested new DNA tests that were not available in 1983. Although the test results took several months, they completely exonerated Larry Youngblood.
A representative from the Pima County Attorney's Office has publicly apologized for the wrongful conviction. To be sure, he told the public it was an accident and that the office "acted in good faith" but he said the office regretted what had happened and feels bad that Larry was incarcerated.
Larry Youngblood, spent 17 years knowing he was innocent, never confessing, never taking a plea for less time and is understandably bitter.
Justice Denied wishes Mr. Youngblood the very best and hopes that the State of Arizona will take the initiative and offer compensation for the years lost by Mr. Youngblood.
Source: NY Times
Grease the Skids
By Frank McEvoy, Justice Denied Staff
Florida and California try to speed up the death chamber assembly line.
What's a state to do? Lots of litigious convicted murderers, all costing the state thousands of tax dollars, each one searching for better lawyers for countless appeals, clogging the state courts. A cacophony of cries of innocence from lots of the convicts, to boot. Well, Florida and California have found an answer: speed up the process!
In Tallahassee, attorneys for 59 death row inmates have formally requested that the law Governor Jeb Bush signed be struck down by the Florida Supreme Court. This law will speed up their road to the death chamber. The state-funded agency that represents death row inmates brought the suit, asking the Supreme Court to stop the law until the justices decide if it is constitutional or not.
Ironically, the Legislature approved the Death Penalty Reform (the term is here used loosely) Act of 2000 on January 7 during a three-day special session that also permitted lethal injection as an alternate execution method. Until Governor Bush signed this bill, Florida was one of the last four states to use the electric chair (a.k.a. "Old Sparky") as its only execution method.
But this death streamlining was, as one would imagine, the most argumentative part of the bill, a part that Governor Bush smiled upon. Presently, it takes a man 14 years to get to the death chamber; the new law promises to slash that period to five.
Those arguing against the bill contend that cutting back the appeals process is unconstitutional, denying the death row prisoners due process. It also is read to be unjust to prisoners using Public Defenders (a sizable number), since the law lets Florida stop paying those lawyers spending too much time on appeals, something that can have a chilling effect on private attorneys of death row clients. Third, the plaintiffs say that law lets the state map deadlines for judges to follow through the appeals process, something the Supreme Court should establish.
In its zest to reform the system, the lawsuits says that the "Legislature has abdicated its constitutional responsibilities."
There is bizarre patina to all this. According to Todd Scher, litigation director for the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel office for South Florida, the Legislature sloughed off warnings from its own staff, judges, and defense attorneys that much of the law was unconstitutional. Scher stated, "I know [the high court] will look at this more seriously than the Legislature did when it passed the law."
However, the counterpoint was given by Marty Moore, the Attorney General's chief aide. He noted that many objections to parts of the bill were worked out in debate. He noted the suit was "typical whining by CCRC lawyers." (One could say Mr. Moore's view was typical insensitivity by right-wing rich guys.) According to Mr. Moore, the state will hold the suit should have been filed in circuit court, where both sides could interview witnesses and present testimony to a judge. As it now stands, attorneys will present legal arguments to the seven Supreme Court justices.
Florida has a February 8 deadline to respond to the complaint. Everyone should be interested in the outcome, most of all the 366 prisoners on Florida's death row.
A Federal Appeals Court in San Francisco refused for the second time to put appeals on a "fast track." Among other items, this would have given prisoners a six-month limit on making appeals. Appellate judges would have been required to make such cases their first priority, and they would have six months to issue their rulings.
California is trying to implement a 1996 federal law that allowed states to speed up appeals in capital cases, though with the caveat that the state establish binding standards for the appointment, competency, and reasonable payment of lawyers for the condemned after their initial appeals. These second level appeals, the famous writs of habeas corpus (usually the best chances the condemned have to reverse their convictions), usually assert that the condemned's attorney was incompetent. No state has yet qualified for this federal criterion. According to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, California didn't demonstrate that it had any binding standards for its court-appointed defense attorneys.
Prisoners on California's death row now can languish for up to four years before getting a lawyer. Because of this, a California law took effect in January 1998 that increased money for capital case attorneys, opened a new office to train these lawyers, and tightened competency standards.
The court, however, failed to say if this 1998 law would qualify the state for the fast track it sought. Nor is it probable that it will say anything in the near future; cases governed by the new provisions are still inching their way toward federal courts. Defense attorney Michael Laurence, who represents a Sacramento man who became the test case for this law, seems to feel this decision will end the question: "Hopefully, this decision will end the needless litigation over this question."[top]
Clyde Charles -- "He Knew All Along He Was Innocent."
By Kay Ryder-Echols, JD Staff
"The State of Louisiana didn't send Clyde Charles to Prison. His brother sent him there and I think they're trying to make a mockery of the criminal justice system. That's the bottom line," said Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter.
Sheriff Larpenter was the lead investigator of the rape of a 26-year-old woman whose car had a flat tire on the side of a road in 1981. Brothers Clyde and Marlo Charles had been out drinking together at a bar on the same road that night and had gone their separate ways by hitchhiking when the young woman was raped. Although Clyde and Marlo were dressed similarly that night and there was a strong resemblance between the two brothers, the victim identified Clyde Charles as her attacker. Clyde was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
At the trial, Marlo took the stand in defense of his brother, but was not asked if he committed the rape by either defense or prosecution. Clyde's defense attorney, Cleo Fields of Baton Rouge, filed an affidavit during the 1982 trial stating that he believed Marlo to be the rapist. Clyde began requesting DNA testing in the early 1990's but prosecutors allegedly blocked these requests for years. Clyde Charles finally won his freedom after 19 years in the Louisiana State Prison at Angola on December 17, 1999, one month after DNA testing proved his innocence.
His case had caught the attention of the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law, New York. Barry Scheck, famed O.J. Simpson defense attorney, and Peter Neufeld head the Innocence Project and have helped free over 35 wrongly convicted people in the United States since 1992. PBS showcased Clyde Charles in its Frontline television program that aired in January.
Marlo Charles was arrested Friday in Hampton, VA after his DNA matched genetic evidence from semen collected from the rape 19 years earlier. Marlo's DNA has been in Virginia's databank since a 1992 maiming conviction. He is charged with aggravated rape and is being held on $1 million bond pending extradition to Louisiana.
Defense attorney Fields maintains that Larpenter helped send an innocent man to prison for 19 years and should be embarrassed. He has stated that he may file a defamation of character lawsuit against the sheriff for accusing one brother of covering for the other. He has already filed a federal lawsuit on Clyde's behalf against prosecutors for allegedly blocking his requests for testing these past years.
Sheriff Larpenter says he feels good for both the victim and the public, now that the truth is known. He accuses the brothers of trying to fool the judicial system. "They were playing a mockery, in my opinion, with the court system."
Clyde Charles has no comment, according to his attorney, "he knew all along he was innocent and all he wanted was evidence that he got." Nineteen years later.
Source: Richard Zitrin, APBnews.com [top]
Arkansas Lawyer goes the distance for Robbie Dale Tubbs, now out of jail pending DNA tests
By Alana Merritt Mahaffey
Tubbs misses trial by a hair
Fletcher Long thought he had the case solved and he was prepared to prosecute Robbie Dale Tubbs, 39, for the murder of 9-year-old Christina Pipkin. The entire case against Tubbs hinged on one strand of hair that belonged to Pipkin, allegedly found in Tubbs' truck, and which would have connected Tubbs to her murder.
DNA testing reportedly showed that one strand did, indeed, belong to Pipkin, who was found drowned in a ditch in Jackson County, AR, in 1991. That hair would have been used to convict and imprison Tubbs were it not for the scrutiny of Tubbs' attorney, Martin Lilly. In the second day of testimony this week, both the prosecutor and the judge had been swayed by Lilly's allegations that the strand of hair had been mishandled and possibly mislabeled in careless preparation of evidence against Tubbs. Apparently, the hair was first misidentified when evidence was transported from the state Crime Lab in Little Rock, AR, to a private testing facility located in Metarie, LA, then to an FBI lab in Virginia.
The prosecutor in the Tubbs case admitted Wednesday that the two hairs taken from Christina at her autopsy had accidentally been compared to each other, not with any hair taken from Tubbs' vehicle. The actual hair found in his vehicle was never tested and was relocated in a sealed package at the crime lab late Wednesday.
"The hair's that important. If it comes back with a DNA match, he's guilty," Long said. "Without the hair, you have a reasonable doubt and you can't convict."
Tubbs, the father of five children, lost twenty pounds while he sat in jail for six months awaiting trial. He was released on $100,000 bond on Wednesday and the judge has issued a two-month continuance in the trial, allowing prosecutors time to study the case further and order additional DNA tests. Tubbs believes the new DNA testing will exonerate him.
Sources: Arkansas news stories and television reports, compiled by our Arkansas Correspondent, Alana Merritt Mahaffey. [top]
Rodney Woidtke: Almost Free at Last
By David C.N. Swanson
Rodney Woidtke, 39, has spent nearly 12 years in prison for a murder that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says "almost no one familiar with his case now believes he committed." He may be freed as early as May 18, depending on what action St. Clair County, Ill., state's attorney Robert Haida takes.
Woidtke was a mentally ill drifter from California who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time: the grounds of a high school on June 26, 1988, the day [that] the body of Audrey Cardenas, a young reporter intern at the Belleville News-Democrat, was discovered there.
Illinois State Police investigators arrested Woidtke and questioned him for three days, producing three confessions, none of which was consistent with the evidence in the case. On the basis of those confessions, then-state's attorney John Baricevic charged Woidtke with first-degree murder. Brian Trentman, a lawyer with one year's experience, was appointed to defend him.
Trentman waived Woidtke's right to a jury trial and pleaded his case before Judge Richard Aguirre. In cross-examining Investigator D. Wayne Heil, Trentman never asked if he thought the evidence showed Woidtke to be guilty. Heil has said that he would have answered no. Aguirre took only a few minutes to arrive at a guilty verdict.
Woidtke did not know his lawyer was also representing Dale Anderson, another suspect in the same crime. A few weeks later, Anderson murdered a pregnant woman and her 3-year-old son.
Heil quit his state police job to help prove Woidtke's innocence. Heil got a confession from Anderson, but Trentman refused to call a hearing on Woidtke's appeal.
Aguirre finally reviewed his case last year, refused to acknowledge the new evidence and upheld his original verdict.
The Illinois 5th District Court of Appeals recently overturned Woidtke's conviction and ordered a new trial, ruling that Trentman had had a conflict of interest and that there was evidence that Anderson committed the crime. The Court ruled against Aguirre's decision not to examine new evidence and described the behavior of Belleville's 20th Judicial Circuit Court as "unconscionable."
The Court of Appeals noted that a clinical psychologist who testified for the prosecution has said he believes Woidtke was a paranoid schizophrenic and homophobe who believed he had to confess to prove he was not gay.
The judges also cited evidence that Anderson had been stalking News-Democrat reporters, had killed again solely to frame his former bosses with the Cardenas murder and had been claiming to investigate that murder.
Haida, the prosecutor, has three choices. He can appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which could delay Woidtke's release a year. He can grant a new trial, at which Heil says he will testify for the defense. Or he can set Woidtke free at last.
Source: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch [top]