This Week in Innocence

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Stories pulled from the Innocence blog the last few weeks:

  • Nice plug and gift for Mississippi’s Innocence Project. Director Tucker Carrington is doing terrific work down there. If you’re looking for a place to write a check that will make a difference on the issues and many of the cases you read about on this site, you can’t do much better than the Mississippi IP.
  • Another exoneration in Dallas (see my interview with Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins here).
  • DNA testing finally exonerates a Texas man for a rape he always said he didn’t commit. Unfortunately, Tim Cole died in a Texas prison nine years ago. Another man confessed to the rape in 1995, but authorities ignored him. It’s likely that Cole’s wrongful conviction came with a death sentence. A lifelong asthmatic, he’d been able to treat the condition by the time he got to college. Not so in prison. He died of an asthmatic attack in 1999.
  • Meanwhile in Tennessee, a stubborn prosecutor may finally back down after years of pursuing the wrong man for a 1985 murder, despite the fact that DNA evidence has cleared the man of the rape the same prosecutor said was the motive for the murder. The U.S. Supreme Court has actually heard this case, tossing the conviction on the grounds that no reasonable juror could have convicted the man given the new evidence. Money quote: "Why, after all this evidence has poured in that House is innocent of the crime, does the state continue to so zealously defend the situation? The reason is because state prosecutors typically never admit error." That’s from the federal district court judge in Nashville. Paul House spent 23 years in prison, most of them on death row.
  • DNA testing exposes another wrongful murder conviction, this one in New Mexico. It’s also another example in how police can extract false confessions, particularly from the mentally disabled.
  • Reuters looks at how lax evidence preservation laws are hampering efforts to look for other wrongful convictions.
  • Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (unconvincingly) explains why he’s opposed to post-conviction DNA testing in capital cases.
  • South Carolina is one of just a few states that don’t give post-conviction inmates a path to DNA testing in cases where it could prove their innocence. The state legislature passed a bill to correct the problem, and Gov. Mark Sanford was set to sign it. Unfortunately, the legislature then tacked on an 11th-hour poison pill amendment allowing police to take DNA samples from everyone arrested for a serious crime (not just those convicted) for inclusion in a statewide database. To his credit, Sanford had already vetoed a similar bill, and was forced to veto this one. Unfortunately, that means South Carolina still doesn’t allow for DNA testing to determine innocence, either.
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    8 Responses to “This Week in Innocence”

    1. #1 |  Adam | 

      I love this quote from Riley –

      “Too often, especially when it takes 20, 25 years for one of these sentences to be carried out, to ask for the DNA only in the last hour, when it could have some ramifications, I don’t think that’s fair to the system (or) the family,” he told me.

      Not “fair to the system”? Holy shit – apparently it’s more important to be fair to the system than to make sure that the guy the system’s about to execute is actually guilty.

    2. #2 |  Wesley | 

      … it’s not fair to the family to not kill an innocent man? What?!?

      That’s one of the most horrible and dumb things I’ve heard seriously mentioned by a politician regarding our criminal justice system. “Exonerating an innocent man who the system convicted is unfair in the system.” What is the “system” and why does it care? Will its feelings get hurt? What is the whole POINT of the system existing beyond punishing the guilty and NOT punishing the innocent?

    3. #3 |  Matt Moore | 

      That Riley quote is mind blowing. He does know that they waited until the “last hour” to ask for the DNA because there was no such thing as DNA testing during their original trial, right?

    4. #4 |  Thomas Blair | 

      This was the quote from Riley that left me seeing red:

      “There was a preponderance of evidence, physical evidence and confessions, that led to that decision, and a DNA test could not have possibly changed it.”

      Perhaps he just misspoke, but the standard for criminal conviction is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. The evidentiary standard for civil cases is the “preponderance of evidence” or “more likely than not”.

    5. #5 |  La Rana | 

      Thomas, its Alabama.

    6. #6 |  Highway | 

      How can people go through life with so little thought. Essentially, he’s saying the same thing as “It’s good if we kill a person who’s innocent, because it preserves the system and makes the family feel better.”

      Words really cannot express the despair I feel at seeing that ANYONE could make this statement. And with such a prominent position occupied by the speaker, it just further solidifies my thoughts that government is entirely useless and broken. That people who are that thoughtless, that stupid, and that self-absorbed are allowed anywhere near the government (and I’d add *in the human race*) is just so vile and disgusting that it makes my brain shut down.

    7. #7 |  Thomas Blair | 

      La Rana: Right, I live in Huntsville. I think he probably just heard that phrase on Judge Joe Brown and thought that’s the legal jargon for “guilty”. If it’s not misspoken, it betrays a level of ignorance I fear coming from someone signing the death warrant.

    8. #8 |  jkw | 

      Paul House has been released from prison. He has MS, is confined to a wheelchair (I believe) and is now house-bound at his mother’s until they decide how to handle this poor man’s fate.