Category Archives: Featured Case

Elwood Jones

Elwood Jones was sentenced to death after being convicted for the 1994 murder of Rhoda Nathan, a guest at the hotel where he worked as a custodian. He has always maintained his innocence and absolutely denied involvement in Ms. Nathan’s death.

Ms. Nathan was found unconscious on the floor of the hotel suite she occupied at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Blue Ash, Ohio, on September 3, 1994. She had been badly beaten and two of her teeth had been knocked out. Blood was found in several places in the room. Ms. Nathan was also without a necklace that family and friends said she wore constantly. No one witnessed the attack.

Elwood Jones had been working in the hotel on that day, and he voluntarily submitted to police questioning. Several other employees reported seeing Elwood working that day and remembered him being clean and acting normally. A cut on Elwood’s hand that he received while taking out trash on the morning of Ms. Nathan’s death later became infected, and he sought treatment and workers compensation for his injury. After police learned about Elwood’s cut, they focused on him as a suspect. Police searched Elwood’s car, and his and a friend’s residences, and questioned him at the station. But none of the blood, fingerprint, or trace evidence collected from the scene of the crime, nor from Elwood’s car, clothing, or other possessions, matched him with the crime scene or the victim. To this day, zero forensic evidence ties Elwood to Ms. Nathan’s homicide.

Source : December 2013 memorandum in opposition to the State’s motion to set execution date.

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Jason David Sadowski

Update: see Jason Sadowski is Innocent for full case details.

cropped2Jason David Sadowski was convicted in 2014 of assaulting and torturing Angel Paris  and Becky Bressette at Jason’s gym in July 2013. The conviction was overturned in December 2015, a retrial has been set for March 6, 2017.

Angel, a drug addict and admitted thief, and Becky gave conflicting, changing and incredible accounts of what occurred. According to the ruling  overturning the conviction “Although the police officers gave testimony regarding their observations, the prosecution highlights nothing from their testimony that disproves Sadowski’s rendition beyond a reasonable doubt. The victims also had many discrepancies in their account of the night and crimes.”

At the time  Angel was on parole/probation. She was also in drug court and had an open CPS case. She had warrants out for her arrest for bail jumping. So, on the night in question, she had been out drinking and using drugs, she had her violated her probation, parole and drug court conditions,  and was due in drug court in the morning for testing. She admitted to stealing money. She had also stolen jewelry and marijuana.

Becky was also a drug addict, who died of a methadone overdose between the preliminary hearing and trial. She was with Angel on the night she died.

What happened is this:

Jason wanted his money back ( the amount of stolen items totaled over $1,000 and would have been a grand theft charge ). When Jason said he was calling the cops Angel begged and pleaded for him not to. She turned on Becky, trying to shift blame. Angel was intent on getting the money back so Jason would not call the cops. She had plenty of motive to shift blame, and was fighting with Becky. Eventually, Angel persuaded another man present, Charles Leroy Cope, to help her tie Becky up to a pole with duct tape, to force her to say where the stolen items were. Then, bizarrely she started taping herself to another pole, apparently in an attempt to make it look as though she was a victim. When Jason came into the room, Angel told Jason no one was leaving until Jason recovered the remainder of his money. Shortly afterwards, Angel called 911, and eventually claimed that she and Becky were victims.

Charles gave statements to police consistent with Jason’s account. He was repeatedly asked if Jason ever touched, hit or threatened Angel or Becky, and responded that did not happen. However at trial, Charles’ attorney argued a “duress” defense consistent with the prosecution theory of events. Charles’ attorney failed to consult at all with his client before the preliminary hearing. Charles’ attorney later  told Jason’s attorney if he had known Jason had witnesses and evidence to rebut the prosecution case, he would not have offered a duress defense. Charles had issues from heavy drinking and drug use for years, and was battling with dementia and Alzheimer’s and did not testify. During proceedings he was seen shaking his head,  telling the assistant next to him no, that isn’t what happened, and that isn’t what he said.

At sentencing, Charles said he did not believe Jason could have done what he was convicted of, he never saw Jason hit either woman while they were all in the basement where he was living at the time. “I wasn’t upstairs, I don’t know, but I can’t believe him beating on those women,” he said. “Downstairs … that’s all I know, he never touched ’em downstairs. I never seen him hurt ’em.” He didn’t know what happened upstairs, he was sorry for it and said Jason was a good man who had helped him.

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News

Friday March 17, 2017 Sadowski found not guilty on all seven counts

The 8th and H thirteen

On October 1, 1984, in a rain-soaked alley in Washington, D.C., a street vendor found a tiny woman lying dead on the floor of a garage. She was Catherine Fuller, a mother of six, who left home to run a quick errand and never came back. She had been beaten, sexually assaulted and killed all within sight of a busy public street.

Thirteen individuals were indicted. Harry Bennett and Calvin Alston, pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the government. Bennett pleaded guilty to manslaughter and robbery, Alston to second-degree murder. James Campbell, whose case was severed for trial after his attorney became ill, eventually pleaded guilty as well.  In 1985, after a jury trial, Alphonzo Harris and Felicia Ruffin were found not guilty, Charles S. Turner, Christopher D. Turner, Russell L. Overton, Levy Rouse, Clifton E. Yarborough, Kelvin D. Smith, Timothy Catlett and Steven Webb were convicted. Webb died in prison, the other seven appealed in 2012 after the discovery of favorable “Brady” evidence withheld by the government. Overton, Smith, Christopher Turner, Charles Turner, and Rouse put on alibi defenses.

In 2011, Barry Pollack, lawyer for Christopher Turner said “The jury did not know that there was substantial medical and forensic evidence that the crime was committed by a single assailant, and compelling evidence that the perpetrator was someone who was never charged.”

At trial in 1985, William Freeman, the street vendor who discovered Fuller’s body, testified that as he waited for the police to come, he saw two men run into the alley from 9th Street and stand very close to the garage for a few minutes. Freeman earlier had seen the two men walking up and down 8th Street. One of the men appeared to be concealing an object under his coat. When the police arrived, the two men ran away up the alley towards I Street. However the government did not disclose the identity of the two men. Freeman identified them to the police as James McMillan and Gerald Merkerson. It was McMillan who appeared to be hiding something under his coat.

Two other witnesses, not disclosed to the defense, told police they saw him at the alley at the same time Freeman did, and they confirmed Freeman’s observations of his suspicious behavior. In addition, the police knew that McMillan lived on 8th Street about three doors down from the alley and that he had violently assaulted and robbed two other middle-aged women walking in the vicinity three weeks after Fuller’s death.

McMillan committed the first of these robberies on October 24, 1984, in an alley behind the 1100 block of K Street Northeast. He approached the victim from behind, knocked her to the ground, grabbed her purse and fled. The next day, McMillan and a companion assaulted a woman in the 600 block of 12th Street Northeast. One of the two struck her in the face, breaking her nose, and stole the bag she was carrying.

At a hearing in 2012, the defense presented information about McMillan’s subsequent activities following his conviction of the two robberies that he committed in October 1984. McMillan was sentenced to serve eight to twenty-five years in prison. Two months after he was released from prison in July 1992, he killed a 22-year-old woman (“A.M.”) in an alley behind the 500 block of 8th Street Northeast, only a few blocks from where Fuller was murdered. This crime had some striking similarities to the attack on Fuller: McMillan abducted A.M. as she walked down the street and dragged her to a secluded spot in the alley, ransacking her personal belongings and leaving them strewn along the path of abduction. After forcing A.M. into a narrow space behind a parked car, McMillan stripped off her underwear, beat her ferociously, and sodomized her. A.M. suffered grievous injuries and died three days later. McMillan was convicted of her murder and remains incarcerated.

At the same 2012 hearing, the defense called two experts. Dr. Richard Callery, a forensic pathologist, testified that the cause of death for both Fuller and A.M. was blunt force trauma to the head and torso, and that each victim had suffered a traumatic anal sodomization resulting in severe internal injuries. Dr. Callery testified that, in his experience, anal sodomy with an object occurred in considerably less than one percent of homicide cases. In addition to Dr. Callery’s testimony, the defense presented a stipulation that, if he were called, an expert in sexual dysfunctions would testify that someone who commits an act of violent anal sodomy is likely to commit the act more than once.

The second witness was Larry McCann, an experienced homicide investigator who testified as an expert in violent crime analysis and crime scene reconstruction. It was McCann’s opinion, based on the autopsy report, crime scene photos and other investigation records, that the attack on Fuller was more likely committed by a single offender than by a large group of individuals acting together. Had there been multiple offenders, McCann testified, he would have expected to see the victim’s clothing stretched, torn, or ripped, grab marks or abrasions on her ankles, legs, and wrists, more injuries, and multiple sexual assaults rather than the one. McCann conceded that, even in a group attack, some assailants might only strike minor glancing blows.

The prosecution case

No fingerprint, DNA, or other forensic evidence implicated any defendant. Yarborough gave a confession, subsequently retracted. Although Bennett and Alston told similar stories, while Bennett testified that Yarborough did not accompany the group into the alley, Alston recalled that Yarborough actively participated in kicking Fuller as she lay on the ground there,while Bennett remembered that Alston and defendant Webb held Fuller’s legs as Rouse sodomized her, Alston thought defendants Overton and Charles Turner did so. In addition, Bennett and Alston each had made prior inconsistent statements to the police and the grand jury regarding who was present in the park and who participated in attacking Fuller.

Both Bennett and Alson subsequently recanted. To support the credibility of Alston’s and Bennett’s recantations, the defense called other witnesses who testified to the detectives’ heavy-handed interrogation tactics. In addition, over the government’s objection, appellants called an expert on the subject of false confessions. Dr. Richard Leo, opined that certain features of the interrogations of Alston and Bennett, such as the detectives’ use of deception, yelling, and threats or promises, were associated with a heightened risk of inducing false confessions. According to Dr. Leo, the errors and incongruities in the confessions of Alston and Bennett could be taken as “indicia of unreliability.”

The government did not disclose grand jury testimony supporting the alibi of a man named Lamont Bobbit, who Alston testified was present in the park and in the alley when Fuller was murdered. Bobbitt told the police he was elsewhere that evening, and in testimony before the grand jury, six witnesses corroborated his alibi. The prosecutors did not believe the alibi because of contradictions in the testimony, but they decided they nonetheless lacked sufficient evidence to charge Bobbitt with Fuller’s murder.

Four witnesses corroborated Bennett and Alston’s account. Two of them, Carrie Eleby and Linda Jacobs had significant credibility problems. Both were PCP users. Eleby contradicted herself, could not keep names and dates straight, and claimed she did not remember anything she had told the police or the grand jury. Jacobs contradicted herself on the stand and had trouble answering questions. Moreover, each witness’s account was impeached or contradicted by other testimony.

The third witness Melvin Montgomery only saw the group, not any crime, leaving the State’s case reliant on fourteen-year-old Maurice Thomas. Thomas testified that he passed the alley and saw a group of people surrounding and assaulting a woman. The prosecution did not disclose to the defense  evidence that could have been used to impeach Thomas. At trial, Thomas testified that after he witnessed the attack in the alley, he ran home and told his aunt “Barbara” what he had seen. He claimed that Barbara told him not to say anything to anyone else. The police interviewed Barbara (whose real name was Dorothy Harris), and she said that she did not recall Thomas ever telling her anything about the attack.

Source: June 2015 Ruling and various news articles.

In December 2016, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear arguments.

Briefs are available here including amicus briefs submitted by the Innocence Network and a group of former prosecutors.

Featured case #159Discussion | Proposal Post

March 22, 2017 Article : Harmless Errors ( Marshall Project )

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Hooman Ashkan Panah

md081-e1427320714142Hooman Ashkan Panah was convicted in 1995 of  sexually assaulting and murdering an 8-year-old girl, and sentenced to death.

The victim was found in a suitcase in Hooman’s closet, in his apartment which was shared by Hooman, his mother and a guest, Ahmed Seihoon, who was the last person to see the victim before she went missing.

The conviction was based on pathology and serological evidence, however this evidence was false, being inconsistent with DNA evidence which was collected but not presented at trial, in fact his attorney has claimed that the DNA proves Hooman to be innocent.

An independent pathologist has stated that the victim likely died much later than Hooman was present at the apartment, meaning he could not have committed the crime.

Multiple searches of the apartment were conducted by the police, which failed to discover the body, suggesting that it was brought into the apartment after Hooman was arrested.

The guest, Ahmed Seihoon, had the opportunity both to commit the crime and return the body to the apartment in a suitcase. In addition, according to Hooman’s mother, he lied to police to give the impression he had an alibi.

The latest brief, filed in March 2016, is available from http://freehooman.com/.

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Walif Smith

slebgpgozfyuaqt-800x450-nopadWalif Smith was convicted in 1994 for a 1990 murder he did not commit.  Walif was convicted solely on the testimony of one witness.  The witness has given written affidavits and taken a polygraph saying  that his original testimonies were false.  Thus there is now no witness, no physical evidence, no DNA, no motive, in fact nothing tying him to the crime.  Yet Walif is currently serving a 30-year to life sentence for a crime he had no part in.

Walif was aged just 14 at the time of the alleged murder.  Walif was arrested three years later.  Police stated that that the gun that was used in the murder was found in North Carolina.  The gun was used in another murder in North Carolina by an older man who lived in the same neighborhood as Walif at the time of the murder.

Exculpatory  evidence was not presented at Walif’s trial. There is new evidence in the case the main witness has recanted saying that he made false statements to get a reduced sentence.

Source: Petition at change.org

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George Powell

George Powell III was convicted of armed robbery in 2009, and sentenced to 28 years in prison.

A jailhouse informant who claimed Powell confessed to him has recanted, admitting that everything he said was a lie.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission, a state agency that reinvestigated — and called into question — the key piece of evidence against Powell. Powell’s conviction hinged on a dispute over the height of the robber. The clerk at the 7-Eleven told police that the man wearing sunglasses and a ball cap who pointed a gun at her was about 5-foot-6. Powell, however, stands 6-foot-3.

To account for the discrepancy, prosecutors called to the stand an expert who examined video footage of the robber as he walked past the height-measurement strip next to the store exit. Michael Knox, introduced as an expert in forensic video analysis, testified that the 7-Eleven surveillance video showed a suspect at least 6-foot-1.

Although Knox “had never before estimated height based on photos or videos,” the appeal said, jurors convicted Powell of aggravated robbery.

In 2014, however, the Texas Forensic Science Commission voted to examine Knox’s determination as part of its role in helping judges, prosecutors and lawyers better use forensic evidence at trial.

The commission hired a national leader in forensic video analysis who — using industry-standard methods that Knox did not, including three-dimensional laser scanning and measurement scale analysis — determined that the robber was no taller than 5-foot-9, and could have been as short as 5-foot-6.

In its report on the Powell case, the commission concluded that Knox’s analysis was flawed and that his determination about the robber’s height was “unsupportable,” Powell’s appeals said.

Add it all up, defense lawyer Mike Ware said, and “this is an obvious case where they simply arrested and convicted the wrong man”.

Source: “Was the conviction of a Central Texas man built on bad science, lies?” American-Statesman, Nov. 18, 2016

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Patrick Pursley

Patrick Pursley was convicted of a 1993 murder, based on unreliable key witness testimony, jailhouse informants, and faulty forensic science.

At trial, the State’s expert concluded that the bullets and cartridges recovered from the crime scene were fired from a gun linked to Pursley “to the exclusion of all other firearms.” However the State’s expert has now admitted that he was wrong, and a defense expert has found that neither the cartridges nor the bullets recovered from the crime came from the gun linked to Pursley. On April 19, 2016 Pursley was granted an evidentiary hearing.

Sources:

http://www.law.northwestern.edu/legalclinic/wrongfulconvictions/exonerations/waiting-for-justice/

http://www.jiwc.org/our-cases/patrick-pursley/

Featured case #154Proposal Post

News

March 3, 2017 New trial granted

 

 

Rodricus Crawford

Rodricus Crawford was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death.

On February 16, 2012, something truly terrible happened that could only be described as any parent’s worst nightmare. Rodricus Crawford, a young father in Caddo Parish, Louisiana woke up and noticed that his son, Roderius, who had just turned one a week earlier, was lifeless.

Rodricus, who was sleeping on the pullout couch, immediately yelled out for help. An uncle called 911. Various family members took turns performing CPR and it seemed like nothing they were doing was making one bit of difference.

When the EMTs showed up, they refused to allow Rodricus to get in the ambulance with the baby and were slow to leave. It had already taken far too long for them to get there. They were so disrespectful to the family that it caused a stir there in the community. Within minutes, police arrived. Thinking they might take Rodricus to the hospital, they instead arrested him and took him to the jail. His only son had died and instead of comforting him as the grieving father that he was, he was interrogated and harassed.

Not a single soul in his family believed Rodricus Crawford killed his son. When police called in the boy’s mother, who lived a few doors down, for questioning, she didn’t believe it either. Rodricus loved the boy with his whole heart — everybody in the community knew that. No motive existed.

Over the next year, what unfolded in Louisiana, under the leadership of its then-Acting District Attorney Dale Cox, was like a bad movie. With no motive and no witnesses, Rodricus Crawford was charged and convicted of murdering his son. Black jurors were routinely struck from the jury pool. Even though an expert testified that the young boy likely died of complications to undiagnosed sepsis and pneumonia, which the family thought was just a small cold, Cox was convinced, in part due to a pathologist’s report, that Rodricus had deliberately smothered him to death.

A cut on the boy’s lip, which multiple family members testified was caused by a recent fall in the bathroom, was used as the justification of the smothering claim. Anybody who has ever had children knows far too well how often kids fall and hurt themselves, but it was completely ignored.

Crawford’s first appeal was denied by the Supreme Court of Louisiana on November 14, 2014. In November 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court overturned the conviction. Four medical experts submitted reports indicating that his son had died of pneumonia. The baby’s blood had tested positive for sepsis, which can be fatal for young children. One judge wrote: “No rational trier of fact could have concluded that the State presented sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had the specific intent to kill his one-year-old son,”

Sources: New York Daily News, November 18, 2016The New Yorker, November 23, 2016

Featured case #153Proposal Post

 

Trevin Gamble

Wrongfully Convicted Of Murder Although His Mother & Siblings Swear He Was At Home With Them Doing Time Of Shooting Incident That Took A Young Girls Life

My name is Trevin Gamble. I was wrongfully accused of being involved in a shooting back in 1993 that resulted in a young girl’s life being taken.  The shooting was triggered by a gang rivalry between kids from my neighborhood and the neighborhood several blocks away.

Trevin on a visit with his mother at South Correctional Center

 

I have always maintained my innocence.  I had no involvement in the crime that took place that I have been convicted of, nor did I have any foreknowledge that the events were going to take place.  I was home with my mother and siblings the night of this incident.

I was arrested with 3 older guys from my neighborhood and accused to have been with them when the shooting took place.  Each of my co-defendants were older than I but I believe, because the state did not have a good case against my co-defendants, their plan all along was to use me against them.  One of my co-defendant’s, Kevin Smith, was nearly 20 years old, had served several years in the penitentiary already, and since his release…had been implicated in a number of crimes including murder.  Kevin was who they really wanted.  The police had been wanting to send Kevin back to prison since his release.

There was no physical evidence connecting me to the shooting.  The shooting incident happened at nearly midnight.  I was at home with my mother and siblings, and no where near where the crime I am locked up for took place.  My family members who were present that night all attested to the fact I had not been gone away from the house during the time the shooting allegedly occurred.

The primary evidence used to connect me to the crime was the testimony of a witness that knew me from the neighborhood.  The incident occurred during the wee hours of the night. It was pitch dark and there was bad lighting.  The shooters were allegedly shooting from the shadows of a dark vacant lot which sat approximately 50-60 ft from where the victim was struck.  I am a very dark-skinned individual – there is no way someone could positively identify me from 50 fee away at midnight!  There were approximately 20 people lingering around the street when the shots were fired and none of the witnesses positively identified me as the shooter but the one girl who misidentified me.  Moreover, there were numerous individuals standing out with the victim when the shots were fired.  People that knew me personally, yet none of them placed me on the crime scene.

I have served 22 years of a JLWOP sentence.  Recently the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole has to allow juveniles sentenced to life parole eligibility after serving 25 years.  Recently, the Governor signed this new legislation into law.  As a result of this, I do have some hope of maybe regaining my freedom in the not too distant future.

Nevertheless, I am innocent!!!  I was not involved in the crime I was accused and ultimately convicted of.   I have exhausted my appeals, but not my resolve of proving my innocence.  Currently, I do not have legal representation and my family no longer has funds to help me retain an lawyer.  I am seeking “pro bono” assistance to challenge my case on the basis that I am innocent!

Source

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Vanessa Cameron

Vanessa Cameron was convicted of murder of her son’s father in 2012. She was sentenced to 70 years. There was no physical evidence. Just a false confession from Vanessa and the testimony of the co-defendant Lakisha Brown. The alleged shooter was acquitted of murder. The real shooter plead guilty and received 25 years. The real shooter is Vanessa’s older sister Susan Sutton. All facts of the case can be read on www.freevanessa.com.

Featured case #152Proposal Post

 

Lamonte McIntyre

17 year old Lamonte McIntyre was wrongfully imprisoned for a 1994 double murder. Attorney Cheryl Pilate is fighting to exonerate Lamonte with the help of Centurion Ministries, a national innocence project that fights to free the wrongfully convicted.

At trial, there was no gun, no motive, no evidence that McIntyre knew the victims. No fingerprints from the shotgun shell casings left at the scene. No blood-spattered shoes, socks, pants or shirt. No physical evidence of any kind linking McIntyre to the crime.

There were two eyewitnesses to the murder. Ruby Mitchell told police she thought it was “Lamonte something” – who would come by to talk to her niece. This led the police to Lamonte Mcintyre, however he was not the person she was referring to. When Mitchell informed the prosecutor, he threatened to have her children taken away.

The other witness Niko Quinn has now signed an affidavit stating that McIntyre was not the killer.

Pilate, in her recently filed motion, maintains that lead detective Golubski manipulated facts and witnesses leading to the false identification of McIntyre. She maintains that throughout the investigation and trial, two chief players — the lead detective and an assistant Wyandotte County prosecutor — not only “failed to seek the truth” but also “consistently subverted and concealed the truth — manufacturing evidence and presenting testimony that they knew to be false.”

More than 15 affidavits — from criminals and their cronies to police — point to the detective, Roger Golubski, who retired as a captain in 2010 after 35 years on the force. Using terms like “crooked” and “dirty,” the sworn statements speak of a detective who preyed on black women, some of them prostitutes, using his access to illegal drugs and the power of his badge.

Full Article and Video  Here Oct 25, 2016

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Sonny Bharadia

In 2001, a woman walked in on a man who was in the process of burglarizing her Savannah, Georgia home. The man sexually assaulted the woman at knifepoint, then fled with some of her belongings. Before the woman was assaulted, she noticed that the man was wearing blue and white gloves.

Sandeep “Sonny” Bharadia was in Stone Mountain 255 miles away from Savannah working on a friend’s car on the day the victim was attacked.  A witness supports his alibi.  Days after the assault, Sonny called the police to report that Sterling Flint, an acquaintance of Sonny’s, had stolen Sonny’s car. When the police investigated Flint for stealing the car, they found the sexual assault victim’s stolen items along with a pair of blue and white gloves in a bag in Flint’s girlfriend’s house. When the sexual assault victim was shown a photo lineup, she identified Sterling Flint as her attacker.

Now implicated in a sexual assault, Sterling Flint claimed that the stolen items found in his possession actually belonged to Sonny Bharadia.  So police then gave the victim a second photo lineup and, this time, she identified Sonny Bharadia as her attacker.

Flint pled guilty to theft by receiving stolen property and, in exchange for not being prosecuted for a sex crime, Flint testified against Sonny Bharadia.  Flint’s testimony, along with the victim’s revised eyewitness identification, formed the backbone of the prosecution’s case against Sonny. In 2003, with no physical evidence to tie him to the crime, Sonny Bharadia was convicted of aggravated sodomy, burglary, and aggravated sexual battery. He was sentenced to life without parole plus 40 years.

Ever since he learned he was a suspect, Sonny Bharadia has broadcast his innocence.  GIP listened.  In 2012, DNA testing initiated by the Georgia Innocence Project revealed that the attacker’s blue and white gloves had been worn by Sterling Flint, not Sonny Bharadia.  Despite proof of his innocence, Georgia courts denied Sonny’s request for a new trial, ruling that because the blue and white glove could have been tested for DNA before Sonny’s first trial, it is not new evidence and therefore Sonny is not entitled to relief.

Source: Georgia Innocence Project

See also News article. May 2015

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Sarah Jo Pender

During the night of October 24th, 2000, around 11.30 pm in Indianapolis, Sarah Jo’s former boyfriend, Richard Hull, killed their roommates, Andrew Cataldi and Patricia Nordman.  Cataldi and Nordman were fugitives from Nevada.  To commit the murder, he used a gun Sarah Jo had legally purchased on that very morning as a mean of self defense.  The shooting occurred during a heated argument between Hull and Cataldi, while Sarah Jo was gone from the house to take a walk.  Cataldi, Nordman and Hull were three drug dealers.  Sarah Jo was the only one who held a regular job.   She had only dated Richard Hull for two months.  It was him who had introduced Cataldi and Nordmann to her.
By the time Sarah Jo came back, Richard Hull had already wrapped the bodies in blankets and loaded them in a pick up truck he had borrowed from a friend.  Finding herself in the middle of a bloody crime scene, Sarah Jo, disoriented, accompanied him to a place located four blocks away where he got rid of the bodies, throwing them in a dumpster.  Richard Hull then drove a car-wash to clean the pick up.  The couple then came back to the house.  Sarah Jo refused to sleep there so where they picked up a few personal belongings and went to Lapel, Indiana, where they slept briefly at a friend’s place.
They came back the following morning.  Hull tried cleaned up the house while Sarah Jo went to work. The bodies were discovered on October 25, 2000 and the couple was arrested in Noblesville on October 26, 2000.
Sarah Jo later explained : “After he committed these murders, I did not call the police, but instead stayed with him out of love, fear,loyalty and sheer stupidity.”

David Shelton

David Shelton has been in prison for more than 23 years for crimes that he did not commit, sentenced to 40-60 years for two counts of breaking and three counts of criminal sexual conduct.

The jury never saw evidence that proves David, aged 27 at the time, could not have committed the crimes.

1. DNA evidence found in one victims’s home and found in the mask that both victims said the criminal wore rules out all African-American men, including David.

2. Neither victim could identify David out of a lineup.

3. One victim originally stated that perpetrator was a white man, but later said it was a  black man. DNA evidence proves that her first description was correct.

4. The Michigan State Police who did the testing were never called to testify about the lab reports that prove David innocent.

5. The lead detective, Robert Aeileo only turned over 3 pages of the lab report, including a cover sheet, while 10 pages were concealed.

6. Head Deputy Cecil Dawson fabricated  a confession which David never made to obtain the conviction.

7. Cecil Dawson and Sergeant Christine Bursey who were in charge of the case were later both sent to prison for selling drugs, and the police department was shut down due to corruption ( see extract from news report below ).

8. David’s defense lawyer has been reprimanded and suspended numerous times.

David’s son has made two videos explaining the above points in more detail:

In 2004, the Innocence Project took on the case, and re-opened it in 2012, however so far all appeals have been denied.

Proposal Post | Petition

From a 2013 news report:

Last year former Township Supervisor William Morgan pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy in federal court and admitted to conspiring to accept a $10,000 bribe, defrauding the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Renewal and making a false statement in violation of the federal Clean Air Act. Morgan admitted taking the bribe in an attempt to steer a HUD demolition contract to the man who gave him the bribe.
While Gatewood was police chief in the late 1990s, his deputy chief, Cecil Dawson, was sentenced to seven years in prison for protecting drug houses in the township.
The Dawson case caused many in the community to vote against continuing with their own police department and in favor of sheriff’s patrols.
After 14 years, the sheriff’s department terminated its contract with the township this month over $300,000 in unpaid police service bills. Sheriff Michael Bouchard said funds from a voter-approved millage to support sheriff patrols weren’t making it to his department.
His cooperation with the DEA, FBI and other law enforcement agencies eventually led to charges against more’ than 25 people, including the former deputy chief of the Royal Oak Township Police Department and one of the township’s former officers, and two Highland Park public safety officers. For federal prosecutors in Detroit, Rodriguez, who was sentenced this fall to more than 17 years in prison, was a rare find, being so well connected with major drug traders. By the time Rodriguez’s reign ended, the federal government had agreed to pay more than $150,000 to move 40 of his relatives from Colombia and California to unknown locations in the United States. Rodriguez has expressed hope his cooperation will lead to a shorter sentence.
Rodriguez certainly changed the lives of the four metro Detroit officers. Three of the four pleaded guilty to charges related to cocaine trafficking. A fourth stood trial and was convicted. Former Royal Oak Township Deputy Chief Cecil Dawson, 49, of South-field was sentenced Dec. 8 to 10 years in prison; former Highland Park officer Albert Bursey, 47, was Sentenced to the same term Dec. 17. Krwin Heard, 46, a former Highland Park officer, was sentenced in May to 15 months in federal prison. Albert Bursey’s wife, Christine Bursey, 47, a former Royal Oak Township police officer, stood trial, was convicted and was sentenced Dec. 17 to 15 years and eight months in prison. lawyers for Dawson and Christine Bursey could not be reached for comment recently. But Dawson apologized at his sentencing.

Arturo Reyes and Gabriel Solache

Imprisoned since 2000, Arturo Reyes and Gabriel Solache are serving life sentences stemming from a bizarre case in which a couple was murdered and their two young children abducted. Reyes and Solache were arrested when they brought the children to a police station after learning their identities from a news broadcast. They were held for two days, one arm handcuffed to a wall.

Their housemate, Adriana Mejia, pled guilty to the crimes (she’s also serving a life sentence) after the victims’ blood was found on her shoes, and under questioning from Guevara she implicated Reyes, who then named Solache as an accomplice.

No physical evidence linked Reyes or Solache to the crime.

Both Reyes and Solache testified at their trial that they confessed only after sustained beatings by Guevara. Reyes said the detective would slap him every time he didn’t like an answer Reyes gave; Solache said beatings to his head caused him to lose his hearing in one ear. In a pretrial hearing, Mejia testified that she saw Guevara slap Solache; Guevara denied any physical abuse took place.

In 2003 the two men filed post-conviction petitions which were dismissed by the trial judge, but in 2006 an appeals court reversed that decision, ruling that new evidence of a pattern of abuse by Guevera added credibility to their claims of coerced confessions.

An amended petition filed in 2008 on Solache’s behalf by Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions laid out dozens of cases of misconduct by Guevara that had come to light in the intervening years, including a distinct pattern of manipulating witnesses and coercing confessions to win convictions in murder cases where no physical evidence existed.  The state moved to dismiss the petition, and another round of legal wrangling took place.

Finally in February 2013 an evidentiary hearing began (it stretched over two years) on their petition for post-conviction relief.  The defense presented witnesses and testimony from other cases spelling out 20 instances of Guevara’s misconduct, including the testimony of a retired detective who said he told his supervisor that Guevara had manipulated a photo array.  A murder charge in that case was subsequently dropped.

Guevara was called to the stand but refused to testify, taking the Fifth Amendment dozens of times.  That’s a problem, as Circuit Court Judge James M. Obbish noted in his June 29 ruling, since it left every credible allegation against him unrebutted.

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Jerome Morgan

Jerome Morgan was convicted of a 1993 murder, and was granted a new trial in 2014, due to two witnesses being pressured into identifying him as the killer. The director of the Innocence Project New Orleans, which represents Morgan,  says “there is no evidence against him and only evidence that he is innocent.”

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In a ruling that could severely hamstring Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office in its bid to retry a 23-year-old murder case, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled Friday that the trial testimony of two key witnesses who have since recanted their identifications of the alleged killer can’t be used at his new trial.

Jerome Morgan, 40, is slated to stand trial again June 13, two decades after a jury convicted him of murder in the 1993 slaying of 16-year-old Clarence Landry during a birthday party at a Gentilly motel ballroom.

Criminal District Court Judge Darryl Derbigny overturned Morgan’s conviction and life sentence and granted him a new trial in early 2014. Derbigny said he believed the claims of the two witnesses, Hakim Shabazz and Kevin Johnson, that New Orleans Police Department detectives pressured them to identify Morgan as Landry’s killer.

Since then, Cannizzaro’s office has charged Shabazz and Johnson with perjury for their conflicting statements, rendering them silent as a new trial for Morgan approaches.

Both men, fearing additional charges, are invoking their Fifth Amendment right and refusing to take the witness stand, in what Morgan’s attorneys argue was a calculated move by prosecutors to keep them from testifying.

In lieu of their testimony, Judge Franz Zibilich, who will preside over the new trial, ruled that the jury could read transcripts of both their original testimony, identifying Morgan, and their recantations in 2013.

Assistant District Attorney Donna Andrieu has acknowledged that how the jury views those conflicting accounts stands at the heart of the case against Morgan. In court, Andrieu has claimed that Innocence Project New Orleans attorneys coerced false recantations from the two men.

The state’s high court ruled Friday that Zibilich was correct in barring from the trial the men’s initial identifications of Morgan to police butmistaken in allowing their 1996 trial testimony to be read at the new trial.
The ruling came on a 4-2 vote, with Justices Marcus Clark and Scott Crichton dissenting and Chief Justice Bernette Johnson not voting.

The Supreme Court vacated Zibilich’s ruling, though it said the judge could revisit the admissibility of their statements — both to police and to the jury that convicted Morgan — “if these witnesses testify at the retrial.”

Emily Maw, director of the Innocence Project New Orleans, which represents Morgan, hailed the ruling Saturday, saying she hoped it would prod Cannizzaro “to finally dismiss the charges against Jerome Morgan, because there is no evidence against him and only evidence that he is innocent.”

She said Morgan “has been fighting to clear his name since the moment he was arrested by police. He has never wavered from that fight, and it has been a long, hard ordeal for Jerome Morgan, and a long ordeal for the Landry family. It’s time to end it.”

Morgan was 16 when he was arrested and charged with the killing.

A spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office did not immediately comment on the high court’s ruling. The office has a policy against discussing open cases.

Shabazz and Johnson had been with Landry at a May 22, 1993, birthday party in the ballroom at the Howard Johnson motel on Old Gentilly Road. A fight broke out between two groups, and someone pulled a gun and opened fire. Landry was hit in the neck and shoulder, Shabazz in the side and another youth in the thigh.

When police arrived at the party, Morgan was there. Prosecutors alleged at his initial trial that he had managed to run away, hop a fence, stash the gun and return before police arrived.

The jury in the 1994 trial never heard evidence that police reached the scene just six minutes after the shooting started and locked down the ballroom. Instead, the jury heard that it took more than a half-hour for police to arrive. Morgan’s attorneys with the Innocence Project argued that prosecutors withheld the evidence of a quick arrival.

Johnson had testified that he chased the shooter out the door and down an alley. In 2013, he took the stand again, saying Landry had been his best friend and that he was pressured by police to identify Morgan as the shooter.

He first dismissed Morgan’s picture from a photo lineup and did so again seven months later, but he said a detective then pushed the picture back into the mix.

“Are you sure it’s not this guy right here?” the detective asked him, according to an affidavit Johnson signed.

He said the detective told him the photo was of Morgan. Johnson said he figured everybody else must be right, so he fingered Morgan as the killer.

Shabazz spent 10 days in the hospital recovering from his wounds, then got a call from a detective who asked him if he knew who had shot him. Shabazz said he didn’t. According to Shabazz, the detective then said, “Jerome shot you,” and asked Shabazz to come to the station to give a statement.

There, the detective pressured him to point out Morgan and made him feel he would be doing a public service if he did so, Shabazz said in 2013. “It’s almost like they painted this picture for me, that it was him,” he said on the witness stand, adding that he’d been wracked with guilt for years. “What I did, it just wasn’t right.”

Derbigny ruled that the “evidence presented before this court is wrought with deception, manipulation and coercion” by the NOPD.

Soon afterward, prosecutors filed perjury charges against Shabazz and Johnson. The law doesn’t require Cannizzaro’s office to prove on which occasion — in 1994 or in their recantations two decades later — the two men lied on the witness stand.

Cannizzaro’s office, meanwhile, has accused Maw, IPNO attorney Kristin Wenstrom and an investigator of coercing the recantations from Shabazz and Johnson, though no charges have been filed against the lawyers.

In postponing a May 2 trial date to let the higher courts rule, Zibilich pledged to stick to the June 13 trial date.

From Louisiana Supreme Court deals blow to prosecutors with key ruling on upcoming retrial for 1993 teen killing May 14, 2016

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Case dismissed May 31, 2016

Manuel Ortiz

Sister Helen Prejean writes:

Manuel Ortiz has been on death row at Angola, Louisiana’s State Penitentiary, for 22 years. Manuel, originally from El Salvador, was convicted in 1994 of hiring someone to kill his wife, Tracie Williams, and of the murder of Tracie’s friend, Cheryl Mallory.

Manuel’s legal team believes he is innocent of these crimes. I am certain he is.

What makes me so sure? The case against him was riddled with inconsistencies, plagued by prosecutorial double dealing and built upon the testimony of one man, an FBI informant, who later confessed to the crime.

I have been visiting Manuel for a decade and a half and have grown to know him well. Rose Vines, who works with me at the Ministry Against the Death Penalty, has also been visiting Manuel for over a decade. Recently, Rose did an interview for Death: The Podcast, where she talked at length about visiting Manuel. Her account is simply told and both moving and profound. I encourage you to listen so you may learn something about this man who is such an important part of our work and our lives.

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McKinley Phipps

 

Huffpost Crime reports that in 2000, Phipps was a 22-year-old rising star from New Orleans, signed to Master P’s No Limit Records, when he was arrested for shooting and killing Barron Victor Jr., 19, at a concert at Club Mercedes in Slidell, Louisiana. Phipps, also known by his stage name, Mac the Camouflage Assassin, was charged with first-degree murder, although there was no forensic evidence to support the charge. He was eventually convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

From day one, the case against Phipps has been riddled with controversy. Along with no forensic evidence, prosecutors failed to perform ballistics on what could have possibly been the real murder weapon. Instead, they focused on gathering up witnesses, many of which later said they were bullied into providing false testimony.

The star witness, Yulon James, who was at the club the night of the shooting, testified that she saw Phipps pull the trigger, something she later recanted. She admitted that the only reason she lied was because the parish district attorney’s office, headed by DA Walter Reed, continuously bullied and threatened her.

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Stephen Newman

On July 23, 2011, fire officers arrived at a garage in Selly Oak, Birmingham, and found two men crouching outside with severe burns, and a burning propane cylinder inside.

Mr Wilding, 41, had suffered fatal burns to half his body. Mr Cotterill, then 34, endured terrible injuries, spent 48 days in intensive care and lost all his fingers.

Stephen Newman, who admitted being present, was convicted in 2012 of deliberately directing  the flame from the cylinder at the two men, and sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Mr Wilding and Mr Cotterill had found the disused garage off an alleyway and turned it into a squat. Stephen and others visited the building the day before and the three had been drinking heavily.

Stephen says he did not light the cannister, and it was was activated by Mr Wilding in an attempt to dry damp trousers belonging to another individual. He heard the cannister hiss, and residents near the garage heard the same noise, believed an explosion was imminent and urged those inside to flee. CCTV footage shows him exiting the scene alone.

A local newspaper after  viewing witness statements and conducting interviews has concluded that there are, at the very least, significant questions that remain unanswered.

In January 2013,  Mr Cotterill stated: “I did not see Stephen light that gas cannister. I didn’t see what happened.”

There was no motive or reason for Stephen to attack the men, and his brother has said: “Stephen was placid, really. He would not harm a fly. Even if he tried, he couldn’t. He would not be capable of using a gas bottle to attack these people because that was not his character.”

After losing an appeal against his conviction, Stephen has been on hunger-strike, and has not eaten for three weeks.

Source: Birmingham Mail, April 21, 2016

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