Free Leon Benson: Truth never dies, it is only rediscovered!

Leon Benson: sentenced to life in prison in 1999, for a crime he did not commit. We need some more attention to his case, and you can help by reaching out, spreading the word, listening to Leon’s story. Thank you for caring about the truth.

Please visit the website to learn more: Freeleonbenson.org

Advocates for Judicial Reform to Prevent Wrongful Convictions, Seek Congressional Inquiry into Missing Transcript in the IRP6 Case

This was reblogged from here. May 7th 2013

Six executives of IRP Solutions appeal their criminal case, where they are convicted of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States of America (Free-Press-Release.com) May 7, 2013 — A Just Cause and Friends of Justice have been investigating a Colorado federal criminal case involving six businessmen believed to have been wrongly convicted. “This is a case involving six executives of a software development company called IRP Solutions Corporation,” says Sam Thurman of A Just Cause. “A Just Cause, Friends of Justice and other advocates for the defendants refer to the case as the IRP6 (http://www.freetheirp6.org),” adds Thurman. Court records show defendants as Kendrick Barnes, Gary L. Walker, Demetrius K. Harper, Clinton A. Stewart, David A. Zirpolo and David A. Banks.

After reviewing court records, A Just Cause and Friends of Justice are convinced that this case represents the dark side of our justice system. “This is a story about how prosecutorial tunnel vision created a tragic communication failure,” says Dr. Alan Bean, Executive Director, Friends of Justice.

“Anyone that looks at this case says that it should have been handled as a civil matter from the very beginning. We trust that the appellate process works to give justice to the IRP6,” says Thurman. “Court documents even show an FBI letter dated August 8, 2005 from Supervisory Special Agent Jean Andersen, Denver Division, replying to an alleged victim of the IRP case, that it was a civil matter and there was no basis for criminal action,” adds Thurman. But, Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Kirsch pursued prosecuting the case. According to a 2005 search warrant affidavit, the men were accused of mail and wire fraud. The indictment did not come until June, 2009. Trial and conviction occurred in 2011.

According to court documents, the six Colorado businessmen developed software which could be used by law enforcement agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the New York City Police Department.

Trial records show that the men defended themselves pro se. “Our court appointed attorneys were not doing their job to put together a viable defense,” says Gary Walker, CEO, IRP Solutions Corporation. “They wanted us to do a plea deal,” Walker adds. The case is currently under appeal based on Fifth Amendment Prohibition of Compulsory Testimony, Sixth Amendment Right to Present a Defense and Speedy Trial Act Violation.

The prosecution rested its case nearly a week and a half earlier than anticipated. As a result, defense witnesses were not available to testify. During a sidebar discussion, Judge Christine M. Arguello stated that the defendants would need to take the stand or she would rest their case for them. “If we didn’t take the stand and the judge rested our case, it would have eliminated any opportunity to present a complete defense,” recalls David Banks, COO IRP Solutions Corporation.

When the defendants requested the transcripts for the date of October 11, 2011, they discovered the sidebar discussion was missing. “That short sidebar discussion implicates Judge Arguello making statements that violated our Fifth Amendment right against being compelled to testify in a criminal trial,” says Banks. “We had absolutely no intention of testifying. We were forced to either testify or kiss our defense goodbye,” Banks adds. “This makes you step back and say, ‘What? In America? This happens in America?'”

“The Court Reporters Act, 28 U.S.C.A 753(b) makes it mandatory by Congress, that a court reporter shall record all proceedings verbatim in criminal cases held in open court which includes sidebars”, says Attorney Gwendolyn Solomon (attorney for five of the six defendants). According to Solomon the statute reads, “…all original notes are required to be preserved and available in the clerk’s office. The reporter or other individual designated to produce the record shall attach his official certificate to the original shorthand notes or other original records so taken and promptly file them with the clerk who shall preserve them in the public records of the court for not less than ten years.”

Court records show repeated motions and requests by defendants to Judge Arguello for the unedited version of the sidebar transcripts, but all requests were denied by the court. Subsequently, multiple post-trial motions were filed by attorneys requesting a hearing to resolve the transcript issue with the court reporter, but those requests were also denied by Judge Arguello. “I made several attempts to obtain the transcripts from the clerk’s office, but have been continually told by the court reporter and the clerk’s office that the sidebar portion is unavailable,” says Ethel Lopez of A Just Cause. “We believe that this critical piece of the transcript was deliberately destroyed or purposely not being provided to protect the Judge,” adds Lopez.

“Mr. Dorschner (Public Relations Officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver) told me that we should file a lawsuit against court reporter Darlene Martinez,” says Tanique Wright of A Just Cause.

“A Just Cause is planning to assist with any lawsuit that is filed against Ms. Martinez,” Thurman adds. “A Just Cause feels that destruction of court records is a criminal act to obstruct justice and we will continue to seek relief from the Department of Justice,” says Thurman.

“It seems that there is no accountability when something like this happens (court records missing) so A Just Cause has sought assistance from both Congressman Doug Lamborn (R- Colorado , 5th Congressional District) and Senator Mark Udall (D – Colorado) to inquire into this matter,” Thurman concludes. A Just Cause has also made request of the United States Attorney John Walsh (Denver) to investigate the matter regarding missing transcripts, but those requests have been denied.
For more information about the story of the IRP6 or for copies of the legal filings go to http://www.freetheirp6.org . For more information on the ongoing appeal or A Just Cause, contact Sam Thurman at (877) 573-5554 or visithttp://www.a-justcause.com.
Related story: Racial Bias Is the Foundation for a Federal Criminal Case Against African American Businessmen in Colorado http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/5/prweb10693207.htm

(Case of the IRP 6 is currently under appeal – US District Court for the District of Colorado, Honorable Christine M. Arguello, D. Ct. No. 1:09-CR-00266-CMA; Case Nos: NO. 11-1487, Case Nos. 11-1488, 11-1489, 11-1490, 11-1491 and 11-1492)

Note: A Just Cause is collaborating with Jabar International on the development of documentary telling the IRP Story – “What Color Is The American Dream? The IRP6 Story: An American Dream Turned Nightmare” (available on YouTube).

See for the IRP 6: http://www.a-justcause.com/#!irp6—the-irp-solutions-story/c1im3

On death row now for over a decade, Jeffrey Havard fights wrongful conviction and death sentence by Mississippi state

This is reblogged from Lockup Reform:
April 22nd 2013

The 2002 conviction of Jeffrey Havard reeks of WRONGFUL in a really bad, alarming sort of way. The kind of way that caused me to wonder if at this moment I was somehow involved in some sort of freak situation that could earn me a wrongful conviction, landing me in solitary confinement on death row for years on end, all due to some outrageous misinterpretation or spinning of facts as they occurred—all completely out of my control.

I was not familiar with Havard’s case until a colleague and friend, Lori Howard (@LoriHoward16), who is a relentless advocate for the wrongfully convicted (she’s got a one-track mind and a drive I envy, which she claims materialized after coming this close to catching a serious wrongful conviction case of her own five years ago), started sharing bits and pieces of his story with me. Her devotion to freeing Havard inspired me to examine the facts for myself, so guided by Lori, I started reading and reading on the case.

I advocate for criminal justice reform and prisoners’ rights in my own work, but really focus my efforts on people held in prolonged solitary confinement, so this was new territory for me. But as I started processing the information, the facts and the countless stories on Havard, I was appalled. If you’re not familiar with Jeffrey Havard’s case, Bruce Fischer provides a good background on GroundReport. Or here’s the real quick and dirty of it (as posted on the official Free Jeffrey Havard Facebook page):


Backtracking to 2002 when Havard was convicted, it’s important to note two important details, each of which unquestionably impacted the outcome of his case, facilitating Mississippi state’s determination that he is no longer worthy of life. As reported in a recent story on WAPT News:

Former state Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz said Hayne’s testimony that Havard shook the baby to death went unchallenged because the public defender couldn’t afford a second exam. 

He was denied the use of his own expert in that case, but they allowed the state to proffer Dr. Hayne as an expert for the state,” said Diaz, who served on the Mississippi Supreme Court from 2000 to 2008.

With these injustices in mind, new information and details have continued to surface in connection with the original evidence incriminating Havard, which has from the start been perceived by many as dubious at best (not even). Recently there has been increased media attention to the already well known, controversial case, including a story published yesterday by The Clarion-Ledger, from which I quote liberally throughout this post:

Mississippi death row inmate Jeffrey Havard recently filed a petition in federal court requesting relief from his capital murder conviction and death sentence, claiming they are a “violation of numerous of constitutional rights.”

Havard was convicted in [2002] in Natchez for sexual battery and murder of his then girlfriend’s daughter, 6-month-old Chloe Britt. He admits accidentally dropping her but denies sexually abusing and killing her…

Attached to Havard’s petition is an appendix including 10 media reports by The Clarion-Ledger’s Jerry Mitchell, The New York Times, Huffington Post, CNN, InjusticeAnywhere.com and others.

Now the flimsy evidence used to build a case against Havard—the same evidence on which the great state of Mississippi based its conviction and death sentence of a young man—has been further discredited. As stated by The Clarion-Ledger:

Since the conviction, questions about the autopsy and testimony of pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne, who performed the autopsy, have been brought to light by a number of local and national media outlets…

At trial Hayne testified the death was a homicide, consistent with shaken baby syndrome, and that an anal contusion was “consistent with penetration of the rectum with an object.”
But Hayne has since acknowledged to Havard’s attorneys the contusion was found in an area easily injured and a rectal thermometer like the one used in the emergency room to check the child’s temperature could cause such a contusion but that he did not think it was likely.

Hayne conducted autopsies for the state from the late 1980s and the late 2000s. He was removed from a list of approved forensic pathologists in 2008.

And now I give props to the good people at The Clarion-Ledger for their huge show of support and efforts to finally get Havard the trial he should have had over a decade ago:

At The Clarion-Ledger’s request, world-renowned pathologist Dr. Michael Baden examined Hayne’s autopsy report and photographs and concluded there was no evidence of sexual abuse – or even of a homicide.

The outcome of the new examination? I was very pleased but not surprised at Baden’s conclusions:

The injuries described at autopsy were consistent with “the baby being accidentally dropped and striking her head on the toilet tank as the father described,” Baden said.
The anal abrasion described in the autopsy can be the result of common causes, such as constipation, diarrhea, toilet paper or even rubbing against a diaper, he said.

Wrapping up, The Clarion-Ledger concludes:

Havard‘s 169-page petition and request for a speedy trial was filed March 29. Havard told The Natchez Democrat the trial unfairly asked him to testify about the dilation of the child’s body [which, according to Havard intermediary Lori Howard, put the burden of proof to explain the dilation on Havard].
“The burden [of proof] was improperly placed on me to explain their predicate for why they thought there was sexual battery,” Havard told Reporter Vershal Hogan in a phone interview from the Mississippi State Penitentiary.

Havard also reportedly said the hospital personnel were not qualified under the law to speak about sexual abuse.

“The (emergency room) staffs were allowed to say things that were expert opinions. The only person who was tendered to give expert opinion – (Hayne) – was never asked to give his opinion,” Havard said.

Adams County District Attorney Ronnie Harper told The Democrat he thought the testimony of the hospital personnel was based on personal observations, and they did not have to be tendered as experts.

In his latest petition, Havard asks the court for relief of the original conviction and sentence, also requesting “at the very least,” permission to produce evidence raised in the petition during a proposed evidenciary hearing in federal court. I’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to deny his hard-earned requests, already paid for in full by Havard personally with over a decade of his life, wasted in the bowels of Mississippi’s penal system—in solitary confinement and on death row, likely wondering if his only ticket out of the hellhole in which Mississippi currently holds him is his own death.

To stay current on unfolding developments in Jeffrey Havard’s fight for his life and freedom from the clenches of Mississippi’s penal system and death row:

1) Periodically check Free Jeffrey Havard and Jeffrey Havard’s blog
2) Follow @FreeJeffKHavar on Twitter  and “Like” https://www.facebook.com/FreeJeffreyHavard on Facebook
If you support Jeffrey Havard, think he should be granted a new trial and want to see his face added to the Faces of Innocence collage below, please be sure to sign the Change.org petition calling on  United States District Judge Keith Starrett to Grant Jeffrey Havard a New Trial! 

Study reveals 10 factors in wrongful conviction cases

The Report by Jon Gould is readable here: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/241389.pdf

From: EurekAlert

Public release date: 13-Mar-2013

Contact: J. Paul Johnson
jjohnson@american.edu
202-885-5943
American University

Study reveals 10 factors in wrongful conviction cases

Why do innocent people go to jail in the United States every year for violent crimes they did not commit? It’s a serious question representing the ultimate miscarriage of justice—taking away the freedom of a factually innocent person while also allowing the guilty person to remain free. The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) wanted to learn answers to prevent wrongful convictions in the first place.

Jon B. Gould, J.D., Ph.D., a professor and the director of the Washington Institute for Public and International Affairs Research at American University and his team of researchers conducted a three year, first of its kind, large-scale empirical study Predicting Erroneous Convictions: A Social Science Approach to Miscarriages of Justice employing social scientific methods.

It was funded by NIJ, and an NIJ video features Gould discussing wrongful convictions. After identifying 460 cases employing sophisticated analytical methods matched with a qualitative review of the cases from a panel of experts, 10 statistically significant factors were identified that distinguish a wrongful conviction from a “near miss” (a case in which an innocent defendant was acquitted or had charges dismissed before trial).

 “Surprisingly unlike airplane crashes or near midair collisions where the National Transportation Safety Board moves in to investigate and reconstruct events in an effort to prevent future catastrophes, wrongful convictions have rarely been investigated beyond a specific case study,” says Gould. “This is especially troubling since our criminal legal system is predicated on finding defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before imprisoning them.”

10 Factors Identified in Wrongful Convictions

  • State death penalty culture/state punitiveness
  • Strength of prosecution’s case
  • Prosecution withheld evidence (Brady violation)
  • Forensic evidence errors
  • Strength of defendant’s case
  • Age of defendant
  • Criminal history of defendant
  • Intentional misidentification
  • Lying by non-eyewitness
  • Family witness testified on behalf of defendant

The resulting 10 factor model applied by Gould and his team can be used to accurately predict an erroneous conviction versus a “near miss” nearly 91 percent of the time and is a useful tool for jurisdictions around the country to adopt remedies to address the 10 weaknesses with little cost according to Gould. The biggest investment is time, training and the acknowledgement that there is room for improvement from police, prosecutors and defense interests. A key to the model’s development was the unprecedented cooperation of an expert panel composed of stakeholders from the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Police Foundation, National Innocence Project and National District Attorneys Association.

From the quantitative and qualitative analysis, Gould and his team determined that prevention begins at the police station starting with the interrogation and investigation of alibis. This is followed by several opportunities along the way to identify the innocent before they are wrongfully convicted. For example, if forensic testing was conducted earlier and the results became available sooner to investigators innocent suspects could be freed. But faulty identifications, absence of early forensic test results, and inadequate investigation of alibis leads to what Gould characterizes as a “perfect storm” of errors made worse by collective tunnel vision. It should be noted much of this is unintentional.

The 10 factors in various combinations create this tunnel vision where a prosecutor with a weak case focuses on an accused even more intently rather than considering alternative suspects precisely because tunnel vision has set in – in other words the case seems to add up from the investigation but is sufficiently weak relying on perhaps a misidentification.

For Gould this was the most surprising result of his research because he and his team expected strong prosecutorial cases to result in wrongful convictions since the evidence was compelling for the prosecutor to seek conviction but instead the study revealed the contrary. This led the team to look at weak defense counsel, poor explanation/presentation of forensic evidence, and police practices that could trigger the course of events spiraling out of control to a wrongful conviction because the weak prosecution case in turn is not adequately challenged by the defense attorney and the prosecution for one reason or the other may fail to disclose exculpatory evidence- a Brady violation.

Finally, the wrongfully convicted skew toward young suspects as well as those who have a prior criminal record. In other words, the defendants are not in a strong position to demand more from prosecutors or even their own defense counsel because they do not have the wherewithal to challenge the charges.

The study concludes that the social science approach is valid and effective in studying miscarriages of justice and should continue. Gould especially is interested in more research on the “near miss” cases to better learn how the criminal justice system can “get it right” when confronted with an innocent defendant. In the coming weeks, Gould will present his research in Seattle, Miami, New York City, Albany, NY, and North Carolina.

###

American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the United States and nearly 140 countries. Located in Washington, D.C., the university provides opportunities for academic excellence, public service, and internships in the nation’s capital and around the world.

New website launched for Doneale Feazell’s case

We are glad that Doneale gets some more attention with his case. We need much more openness into how the prosecution runs its investigations. There are more cases for innocence in Nevada we have not even begun to dig into. We are thankful that Kirsten Lobato‘s case has caught on in the public eye. Now let’s do it with Doneale, Lerlene, Richard, Marritte and others as well!

From: Nevada Innocence Network:

A new website was launched to promote the case of Doneale Feazell: Donealefeazell.com.

Steve Barket has launched this site to find out and publish the true story on this new website.
We have known Doneale for a few years and we know his case is very much worth investigating.

We hope the truth will be revealed to all.

Inside the Prison Journal of West Memphis Three’s Damien Echols

From: The Daily Beast
Dec. 31st 2012

In the new documentary ‘West of Memphis,’ Damien Echols tells the story of how he was wrongly convicted of a heinous murder. Here, he shares how 18 years in prison changed his approach to life. 

Speaking about my experience is torturous and psychologically traumatizing. It’s near impossible to heal when you must incessantly relive the worst time in your life and continuously tear open the wounds. However, it’s necessary and critical in our continued fight for justice.

West of Memphis, directed by Amy Berg—the documentary my wife, Lorri Davis, and I coproduced with Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh—gave me the opportunity to tell my own story in my own words. As a producer with a hand in the process, for the first time I could participate in my story. For the first time, it was told from the inside instead of the outside looking in.

Read the rest here.

A video for Brett Hartmann

Brett has an execution date of Nov. 13th, you can still help to save his life by signing the petition:

http://www.change.org/petitions/governor-of-the-state-of-ohio-commute-the-death-sentence-of-brett-hartmann#

Thank you