Tag Archive | Innocence Project

Series of Articles Alleging Prosecutorial Misconduct alleged Capital Cases

Prosecutorial misconduct alleged in half of capital cases

Part 1 of 4

Noel Levy was Arizona Prosecutor of the Year in 1990 when he convinced a jury to convict Debra Milke of first-degree murder for allegedly helping to plan the murder of her 4-year-old son.

A year later, he convinced a judge to send her to death row.

It was a scandalous case: Prosecutors charged that in December 1989, Milke asked her roommate and erstwhile suitor to kill the child.

The roommate and a friend told the boy he was going to the mall to see Santa Claus. Instead, they took him to the desert in northwest Phoenix and shot him in the head.

But neither man would agree to testify against Milke, and the state’s case depended on a supposed confession Milke made to a Phoenix police detective.

Milke denied confessing.

The detective had not recorded the interview, and there were no witnesses to the confession.

When Milke’s defense attorneys tried to obtain the detective’s personnel record to show that he was an unreliable witness with what a federal court called a “history of misconduct, court orders and disciplinary action,” the state got the judge to quash the subpoena.

“I really thought the detective was a straight shooter, and I had no idea about all the stuff that allegedly came out,” Levy recently told The Arizona Republic.

But in March of this year, after Milke, now 49, had spent nearly 24 years in custody, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out her conviction and sentence because of the state’s failure to turn over the detective’s personnel record so that Milke’s defense team could challenge the questionable confession.

The 9th Circuit put the onus on the prosecution.

“(T)he Constitution requires a fair trial,” the ruling said, “and one essential element of fairness is the prosecution’s obligation to turn over exculpatory evidence.”

The 9th Circuit judges ordered that Milke be retried within 90 days or be released.

The chief circuit judge referred the case to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office to investigate civil-rights infringements. Under the 9th Circuit order, prosecutors must allow the detective’s personnel record into evidence if they use the contested confession.

Prosecutors are responsible for the testimony of the law-enforcement officers investigating their cases. Cops and prosecutors are the good guys. They put criminals in prison, sometimes on death row. Juries tend to believe them when they say someone is guilty. They don’t expect them to exaggerate or withhold evidence. They don’t expect their witnesses to present false testimony.

Yet The Arizona Republic found that, when the stakes are highest — when a trial involves a possible death sentence — that’s exactly what can happen.

In half of all capital cases in Arizona since 2002, prosecutorial misconduct was alleged by appellate attorneys. Those allegations ranged in seriousness from being over emotional to encouraging perjury.

Nearly half those allegations were validated by the Arizona Supreme Court.

Only two death sentences were thrown out — one for a prosecutor’s tactics that were considered overreaching but not actual misconduct because a judge had allowed him to do it.

Two prosecutors were punished, one with disbarment, the other with a short suspension.

There seldom are consequences for prosecutors, regardless of whether the miscarriage of justice occurred because of ineptness or misconduct.

In fact, they are often congratulated.

Since 1990, six different prosecutors who were named prosecutor of the year by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Committee also were later found by appeals courts to have engaged in misconduct or inappropriate behavior during death-penalty trials, according to The Republic’s examination of court documents.

And when prosecutors push the limits during criminal trials, whether crossing the line into misconduct or just walking up to it, there are risks: Convictions like Milke’s get overturned, even if it takes 24 years, and innocent people, like Ray Krone, go to prison.

See more stories at:
http://www.azcentral.com/news/arizona/articles/20131027milke-krone-prosecutors-conduct-day1.html?nclick_check=1

DNA evidence frees Texas man convicted in ’81 stabbing death

AP/ February 11, 2013, 5:32 PM

 

CORSICANA, TEXASA 58-year-old Texas man was allowed to walk free Monday after spending half his life behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit — the repeated stabbing of a woman whose body was found on a dirt road in rural North Texas.

Randolph Arledge, left, speaks to one of his attorneys, Innocence Project co-director Barry Scheck, before a court hearing in Corsicana, Texas, Feb. 11, 2013. / AP

Randolph Arledge was sentenced to 99 years in prison in 1984 for killing Carolyn Armstrong. But a state district judge in Corsicana, about 50 miles southeast of Dallas, agreed with prosecutors and Arledge’s attorneys that he could no longer be considered guilty after new DNA tests tied someone else to the crime.

Judge James Lagomarsino agreed to release Arledge while the process of overturning his conviction is pending. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must accept Lagomarsino’s recommendation for the conviction to be formally overturned, a process that is considered a formality.

Arledge was wearing shackles around his wrists and ankles at the start of the hearing. He later was taken into a back room by two deputies to have the shackles removed. When he returned, Arledge hugged his two children. His daughter was 4 years old and his son 7 when he was sent to prison.

Armstrong’s body was found in August 1981 on a rural dirt road in Navarro County, according to a court filing by Arledge’s attorneys. She had been stripped naked from the waist down and stabbed more than 40 times.

Her abandoned car was found miles away with several pieces of evidence, including a black hairnet on the left side of the driver’s seat. Hair taken from that net was preserved for three decades. In 2011, more advanced DNA testing linked a hair sample to someone else.

Armstrong’s relatives declined to comment Monday.

Like many wrongfully convicted inmates, Arledge was sent to prison with the help of faulty eyewitness testimony. Two co-conspirators in an armed robbery testified at his trial that he had admitted to stabbing someone in Corsicana and that he had blood on his clothes and knife, according to the filing by Arledge’s attorneys.

One of those witnesses has since admitted to lying about Arledge due to a personal dispute, the filing said.

Arledge became the 118th person in Texas state courts to have his conviction overturned, according to the University of Michigan’s national registry of exonerations.

State lawmakers have passed several measures to try to prevent wrongful convictions. Texas now has a law allowing all inmates convicted of a crime to seek new DNA testing. It also has the nation’s most generous law for ex-inmates who have proven their innocence, providing a lump-sum payment of $80,000 for each year someone wrongly spent behind bars, as well as an annuity and other benefits.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

DNA evidence frees Texas man convicted in ’81 stabbing death

Texas opens court of inquiry into claims of prosecutor misconduct

 

Texas opens court of inquiry into claims of prosecutor misconductMichael Morton, left, was exonerated in the beating death of his wife after 25 years. Monday he attended a Texas court of inquiry focused on the prosecutor in his case. (Ricardo B. Brazziell / Statesman.com / February 4, 2013)
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

February 4, 2013, 6:58 p.m.

GEORGETOWN, Texas — In emotional testimony Monday, a Texas man told a judge how it felt spending 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

“Brutal,” Michael Morton said. “But after a couple decades, I got used to it.”

Morton, 58, who grew up in Los Angeles, was convicted in the 1986 beating death of his wife, Christine, at their home. He was exonerated and released almost a year and a half ago after DNA tests confirmed his innocence. Another man has since been charged in connection with the killing.

Now the man who prosecuted Morton, Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson, faces an unprecedented “court of inquiry” about 30 miles north of Austin in which a judge will decide whether the then-district attorney lied and concealed evidence that could have cleared Morton.

It is the first time the state has convened such a hearing for prosecutorial misconduct. Although part of Texas law since 1965, the court of inquiry has typically been used to consider allegations against elected officials. Some hope this week’s hearing will lead to a greater examination of alleged misconduct by prosecutors not just in Texas, but nationwide.

“This is going to be a significant case for prosecutorial misconduct. It could lead to judges giving more specific orders about turning over evidence,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, who attended Monday’s hearing.

Texas District Judge Louis Sturns, who is presiding over the court of inquiry, must determine whether state laws were broken in Anderson’s prosecution of Morton. If so, the judge must issue an arrest warrant, potentially leading to a criminal trial.

Morton’s attorneys — including several from the Innocence Project — appealed for the court of inquiry after uncovering evidence they believe should have been disclosed under the landmark 1963U.S. Supreme Court decision Brady vs. Maryland, which requires prosecutors to share evidence favorable to the accused with defense lawyers.

Rusty Hardin, the special prosecutor appointed for the court of inquiry, asked Morton on Monday how he felt when he learned that information that could have cleared him was not shared with his attorneys during his 1987 trial.

That evidence, Hardin said, included an interview the lead investigator conducted with Morton’s mother-in-law in which she recounted how his 3-year-old son, Eric, at home at the time of the murder, claimed his father wasn’t there but that he saw a “monster … hurt Mommy.”

“I was stunned,” Morton said. “All those years … the primary thing that kept hitting me was why? What purpose, what motivation?”

On the stand Monday, Morton occasionally choked up, but remained mostly composed, at times smiling.

He sat facing Anderson, who appeared impassive. Anderson has apologized, but also denied wrongdoing in the case.

Last fall, the State Bar of Texas filed a lawsuit accusing Anderson of professional misconduct in Morton’s prosecution. A date has yet to be set for that civil trial.

Anderson’s attorney, Eric Nichols, a former prosecutor with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, focused his questions Monday on what the trial judge, who has since died, ordered Anderson to turn over.

He argued that Morton’s lawyers ruled out relying on his son as a witness before his trial and emphasized that Innocence Project lawyers, not Morton, have been pursuing charges against Anderson. Nichols noted that two Innocence Project claims about concealed evidence that could have cleared Morton were recently found to be false.

“You are not interested in seeing someone prosecuted on insufficient evidence?” Nichols said.

“Correct,” Morton said.

Hardin argued that even if the evidence couldn’t have cleared Morton, it should still have been turned over before trial.

Morton said he’s not out for revenge, just accountability.

“I don’t want anything ill for Judge Anderson,” Morton said, tearing up, “But there are consequences for our actions. There needs to be accountability, because without that, everything else falls apart.”

Some said they hope the inquiry leads to increased oversight of prosecutors.

“There is no doubt that the eyes of Texas are going to be on this proceeding,” said Kathryn Kase, executive director of Texas Defender Service, a nonprofit that trains and assists lawyers who represent death row inmates. “Bad forensic science is not the only reason people get wrongfully imprisoned, and we have to be dedicated to trying to stop that.”

Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, has proposed legislation to create an “innocence commission” in Texas like some other states to systematically investigate wrongful convictions. Ellis attended Monday’s hearing and said it showed the need for such a commission to find solutions to prevent future mistakes, especially for poor defendants who cannot afford the “firepower” of the high-caliber lawyers that filled the courtroom Monday.

“It’s really hard to get to the real problem of what went wrong” with prosecutorial misconduct, Ellis said. “You ought to have a system, a way in which hard questions are asked.”

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

Unbelievable – Texas Leads U.S. in Executions, Payments to Exonerated Inmates

By Tim Stelloh – Jan 31, 2013 4:00 PM CT

In 2006, after serving 19 years and 11 months in a Texas prison for a rape he didn’t commit, Billy Smith was exonerated of all charges and set free. He was 54. Despite clearing his name, he’s never been able to find a job.

“Who wants to hire someone who’s 61 years old and who’s an ex-convict?” Smith said. “Even though I’m exonerated, people don’t consider that, because I was in prison for 20 years.”

Texas is well known for its prodigious use of the death penalty: On Halloween, it carried out its 250th execution under Republican Governor Rick Perry’s 12-year tenure. It’s also the most generous state in the nation when it comes to showing remorse for locking up the wrong man, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Feb. 4 issue. Under a law Perry signed in 2009, Texas will pay Smith about $80,000 a year for the rest of his life. He’s also eligible for the same health-care insurance as employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Money can’t replace his lost years, Smith says, but he’s now married and owns a home. The activists who persuaded Perry to support the cash settlements are lobbying Texas lawmakers to expand the law to include health coverage for ex-prisoners’ families.

Twenty-seven states and Washington, D.C., provide some form of compensation to the wrongfully convicted. Vermont gives them a one-time payment of between $30,000 and $60,000 for each year they were locked up. Wisconsin pays $25,000 total, regardless of how long a person was incarcerated. So far Texas has paid 88 former prisoners, including two released from death row, a total of nearly $60 million, according to R.J. DeSilva, spokesman for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. A dozen former inmates were added to the rolls in 2012.

Wrongly Convicted

Perry endorsed the reparations under pressure from falsely convicted men and their families. In 1986, Timothy Cole, an Army veteran, was found guilty of raping a classmate at Texas Tech University. He died of a heart attack in prison in 1999. On Mother’s Day nine years later, Cole’s mother, Ruby Cole Session, received a letter from the real rapist, who confessed. As Cole Session and her family lobbied the governor to clear Timothy Cole’s name, several other men who’d been wrongfully convicted in Dallas, including Smith, were suing the city for tens of millions of dollars.

Freedom Money

They agreed to drop their lawsuits if the legislature increased the small payments that Texas then provided. At one meeting, Cole Session grabbed the governor’s hand and said, “I need this bill passed for these gentlemen,” recalls her son, Cory Session, who was there. Session says Perry told his mother, “If it gets to my desk, I’ll sign it.” (A Perry spokesman could not confirm the anecdote.) Perry called the Tim Cole Act a “significant step for justice,” and the men withdrew their lawsuits.

The law provides exonerees with a lump sum based on how many years they spent behind bars, plus the $80,000 annuity. The state also agreed to pay for 120 hours of college credit and $10,000 for job training. Cory Session, who’s now policy director of the Innocence Project of Texas, which helps identify and free falsely convicted prisoners, says even the application process was made simple: Freed prisoners submit a few documents, and about six to eight weeks later the first check arrives. “In most states,” he says, “you need a lawyer.”

Prison State

The Innocence Project, which is funded by private donations and is currently reviewing 14 more claims of false conviction, has become a savvy lobbying force in Austin, in part because Texas courts have locked up so many innocent people and their stories are hard for politicians to ignore. (Texas ranks No. 3 nationally in wrongful convictions over the last 24 years, behind Illinois and New York, according to a 2012 study by the University of Michigan and Northwestern University law schools.)

On Jan. 10, Session led a group of exonerated men to the Capitol in Austin, where they were greeted warmly. Afterward, they pressed a list of new demands in meetings with lawmakers. The legislature is now considering at least six of their proposals, including a change to the state’s habeas corpus rules that would allow challenges to convictions based on shoddy science; a requirement that police record all interrogations of people charged with serious felonies; and funding to help the state’s four public law schools investigate claims of false convictions.

The key to winning over legislators, Session says, is letting the innocent men who lost years in prison do the talking. “I was able to get all the attention just on them.”

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Josh Tyrangiel at jtyrangiel@bloomberg.net

Texas Leads U.S. in Executions, Payments to Exonerated Inmates