New Forensics Chairman Tackles Willingham Case
It has been three years since the Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed to review the science used to convict Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for the arson murder of his three daughters. During that time, the leadership of the commission has changed three times.
New board chairman Dr. Nizam Peerwani will resume the board’s work on the case, reported the Texas Tribune last week.
Federal Judge Overturns Virginia Death Sentence
Justin Wolfe has been on Virginia’s death row for nearly a decade for a murder he says he didn’t commit. His attorneys at the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia School of Law presented proof that prosecutors suppressed evidence of Wolfe’s innocence, and a federal judge tossed out his conviction this month.
Ohio Man Is Home At Last
The Cleveland Scene this month profiled Innocence Project client Thomas Siller, who was freed from prison this spring after 13 years behind bars for a murder DNA evidence shows he didn’t commit.
Iowa Adopts Arson Reforms
The Iowa State Fire Marshal announced this month that the state had adopted new policies aimed at reducing wrongful convictions in arson cases. Several states have been reviewing arson investigation policies in the wake of prominent cases where innocent people have been convicted based on faulty fire investigations.
What You’re Saying
A roundup of some of the great conversations happening on social networks this month.
Holly J., via Facebook: Change starts with just one person wanting to make a difference, and the number grows from there. We need to encourage people to believe in the power of change, educate people on the flaws of the justice system, write letters to state and local representatives and make ourselves heard, etc.
@skaygrissom,via Twitter: Dewey (Bozella’s) story is what makes me want to be a lawyer #ESPYs @innocenceblog
Nancy K.,via Facebook: What a great cause. I respect all who give voice to the poor and innocent. Can't get any better than that.
@CharneJade,via Twitter: Conviction, with Hilary Swank. I'd do that for my brothers. Unconditional love.
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NY Exoneree Receives ESPY Courage Award
Dewey Bozella served nearly three decades in New York prisons for a crime he didn’t commit before he was exonerated in 2009. Earlier this month, he stood on stage at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, before a TV audience of 2 million people, to accept the 2011 ESPY Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
The Arthur Ashe Award is given annually to individuals whose inspiration and determination transcend sports. Bozella was chosen because he took up boxing while in prison and now trains young people in the sport. Previous recipients include Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King.
"It took close to 32 years of battling to get where I am today, and by no means is the struggle over," Bozella told the crowd at the ESPYs. "My dream is to open my own gym and teach boys and girls the discipline of boxing."
The Innocence Project assisted Bozella’s attorneys at WilmerHale in bringing about Bozella’s exoneration. Watch his ESPY acceptance speech and learn more about his case here.
Full Virginia Appeals Court to Hear Man’s Bid for Exoneration
Thomas Haynesworth served 26 years in Virginia prisons before he was freed on parole in March of this year. His fight for full exoneration continues, however. Rather than issue a decision in his case, this month the panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals that heard his appeal referred the case to the full Virginia Court of Appeals and requested additional briefing. Oral arguments before the full Court of Appeals will likely take place later this year. The Innocence Project represents Haynesworth, in conjunction with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and attorneys at Hogan Lovells US LLP.
Haynesworth was convicted of three sexual assaults committed within a few weeks of each other in Richmond in 1984. Similar attacks continued in the area in the months after he was arrested, however, and another man, Leon Davis, was eventually convicted of at least three of them. DNA testing obtained in the case by the Innocence Project and partners proved that biological evidence left by the perpetrators in one the attacks for which Haynesworth was convicted actually came from Davis. Prosecutors now agree that Haynesworth is innocent of the other two crimes as well, and support his petition for a writ of actual innocence. The state Appeals Court is expected to take up the case this fall.
Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld told the Associated Press last week that he expected Haynesworth to be fully cleared when the court heard all the evidence.
"We are very confident that in a case where both commonwealth's attorneys and the state attorney general support his writ of actual innocence — because they all believe that Thomas is innocent — we will prevail in the court of appeals."
Send Haynesworth a letter of support and read more about his case.
Q&A: How to Prevent False Confessions
The new summer edition of The Innocence Project in Print features a Q&A with false confession expert Richard Leo (pictured), along with articles on prosecutorial misconduct, Haynesworth’s long fight for freedom in Virginia and some startling numbers on ineffective defense and wrongful conviction. Read the full issue here.
In the Q&A, Leo explains that "electronically recording the entire interrogation is the most important reform. Non-public details (that are not publicly known by anyone other than the true perpetrator and the police) can be intentionally or unintentionally imputed to the suspect. They make the confession seem persuasive. Recording captures the contamination process from start to finish. If a case were to go to trial, the defense attorney can show how the details never were known by the person being accused, and how they were fed at every step of the way."
Read the full Q&A here,
Why I Give: A Donor Profile
I am profoundly inspired by the hard, life-saving work that is done by the staff at the Innocence Project. My contribution is one way of supporting their vital work.
As a social worker, I’ve had some experience working with prisoners. I’ve felt the isolation and despair in prison and jails, and I can’t begin to imagine what it must feel like to be locked in a cell for a crime I didn’t commit. Prisoners rarely have the resources to fight their convictions, and I support the Innocence Project because they provide the vital bridge to appeal injustices using modern science.
The Innocence Project doesn’t only work to correct past injustices, either. It’s critical that we learn the lessons of wrongful conviction and fix the imbalance of resources in our criminal justice system. We need to do a better job of ensuring adequate legal defense for people who can’t afford their own lawyers. I’ve seen too many cases where court-appointed attorneys are overworked with too many cases and only enough time for a Band-Aid defense. This is a recipe for wrongful conviction, and I’m glad the Innocence Project is working to improve public defense systems across the country.
I recently set up a $10 monthly donation to support the Innocence Project’s work, because I want them to know they can rely on my support — and it’s a good way to manage my own budget as well. I have urged friends to join me in support the great work of this organization, because every little bit counts. If 100 people donate $10 a month, the Innocence Project can rely on an extra $1,000 a month to fight for justice. It really makes a difference.
Will you join me by setting up a $10 monthly donation today?