Category Archives: News

Casmer Volk – case update

According to the appeal ruling overturning Casmer Volk’s conviction, on April 28, 2011, Thomas and Sarah Hart left their four-year-old son Larry (names changed) in the care of their friend and daycare provider Diedre Cleary, while they vacationed in Oregon. Diedre lived with her boyfriend, now husband, Casmer Volk.

On April 30, Diedre took Larry to hospital, where a physician prescribed an antibiotic for a recurring ear infection. Larry soon suffered diarrhea, a common side-effect from the antibiotic.  On May 1, Casmer Volk, by himself, cared for Larry for two hours.

Larry’s parents returned later on May 1, and Diedre and Casmer returned Larry to his home. The next morning, May 2, Larry complained of soreness, and according to his mother when questioned stated “Cas hurt me” and Casmer “put his pee-pee in my bum”.

However when examined at hospital, there was no sign of rectal bleeding. Moreover, when questioned the child equivocated on whether he was telling the truth or not. On hearing the equivocation, his mother indicated that Larry had been offered a reward for repeating the accusation, and repeated the offer of a reward.

Larry’s underwear was submitted for forensic testing ( even though it is unknown if it was the underwear he was wearing on the date of the alleged rape ). It tested positive for p30, a presumptive test for sperm, however no sperm was found.

Note that a presumptive test is a test that does not prove the substance tested for exists in the sample, it merely indicates that the substance MAY exist. A confirmatory test is needed to confirm the result.

The prosecution argued that only Casmer could be responsible for the p30 result, as he had not fathered any children, so (the prosecution speculated) his sperm count might be low.  In fact the p30 could come from other sources, and according to forensic expert Greg Hampikian it is unlikely it came from semen.

At the first trial, there was a hung jury. At a second trial, Casmer was convicted and sentenced to 28 years to life. However, the defense failed to submit scientific evidence that Casmer has normal levels of sperm, and also failed to explain to the jury that the detected p30 may not have come from sperm.

Thus Casmer was convicted even though the prosecution’s forensic case was entirely false, and even contradicted by the hospital examination, which detected no rectal bleeding or trauma.

In February 2018, the conviction was overturned, on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, and according to the Facebook support page “Casmer Volk is Innocent” at a hearing on November 12, attended by 12 supporters, a retrial date was set for December 4, 2018.

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Antonio Williams, Kendrick Gillum, and Demarco T. Wilson

On February 1, 1997, Charles Newsome was shot in the back and arm while driving in West Memphis, Arkansas, and bled to death. Antonio Williams, Kendrick Gillum, and Demarco T. Wilson (WGW) were subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

The key witness was Frederick Ellis, who was a passenger in the car. In his first statement to police, he could not give the names of the shooters, but then a few hours later he identified Williams and Gillum, then five days later he identified Wilson and another person, who it transpired was in Kentucky at the time. Ellis testified that he had known WGW “pretty much” his entire life.

However Ellis and another witness Kevin Johnson, the only witnesses who identified WGW as the shooters, gave statements which were contradictory and also conflicted with other trial testimony – a defense witness testified the shooters were in another car and not on foot, whereas the State’s witnesses testified the shooters were on foot. In addition, Johnson did not did not give his statement until nine days after the shooting, when he could have talked to Ellis. Ellis and Johnson were both convicted felons, this was the  third Capital Murder trial where Ellis testified that year and after his testimony implicating WGW, the West Memphis Police Department dropped seven charges against him.

In summary the evidence suggests Ellis lied about who shot the victim, and named people in order to curry favour with the police, and perhaps to absolve himself from wrongdoing.

Discussion| Proposal Post

 

 

 

 

 

PART I: 16 Years of Lost Time, The Jeffrey Descovic Story

happyvalleycitizen

I spent nearly two hours on the phone with Jeff, yet it felt like no time went by.

I was on the edge of my seat.

With his thick, throaty New York accent, he is a naturally flowing conversationalist and born storyteller who is warm, engaging, feisty and funny. His intelligence seethes out through his words, quite easily. He told me over Facebook messenger, before we spoke in person, that he would be “easy to talk to.”

Such was certainly the case.

As a boy, Jeffrey Mark Deskovic could swim the length of a pool underwater without coming up for air. On sultry days at the Elmira Correctional Facility, where he spent most of his 16 years behind bars for a rape and murder he did not commit, Mr. Deskovic would close his eyes under a row of outdoor showers and imagine himself swimming. For months after his release in September…

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Charles Ajoloko Awaits Post-Conviction Relief &Waits & Waits…..

An update on Charles Ajokolo.

justiceformyson2

On May 25, 2017, a Motion for Post-Conviction was filed by an attorney who did the Motion pro se..Image result for slow justice is not justice

We are still awaiting the judges response to the Motion.

We know that the wheels of justice turns slowly. We just do not want the wheels to come to a complete halt.

The following are two of the arguments in the Post Conviction Relief Motion. There’s more.

Trial Counsel Failed to Impeach Jen***, (the victim) Through Cross—Examination of Deputy Ma ***’s 911 Call Into Evidence.

Mr. Ajoloko’ s primary defense at trial was that he was not the individual who robbed Jen***. Despite that fact, trial counsel failed to use evidence which reflected Ms . Jen***’s inability to identify the perpetrator. Failure to impeach a victim about her ability to identify the defendant as the perpetrator may constitute ineffective assistance of counsel. See e.g. Rutledge v. State, 786 So.2d 1199…

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Man found not guilty at retrial of setting ’95 Naperville fire that killed mother-in-law

Wrongful Convictions Blog

A former Naperville resident who spent two decades imprisoned for arson and murder in the death of his mother-in-law was acquitted of those crimes Wednesday by a DuPage County judge who called the case “fatally compromised.”

As Judge Liam Brennan was finishing reading his ruling in the retrial of William Amor, the defendant — aware he was about to be found not guilty — let his head drop and took off his glasses a moment later to wipe away tears. Lauren Kaeseberg, one Amor’s attorneys from the Illinois Innocence Project, who was seated next to Amor, quietly placed her hand on his back.

“I’ve always been hopeful. I’ve always thought essentially that the system would do the right thing,” Amor, 62, said afterward. “It’s unfortunate it took 22 years.”

Amor thanked Brennan, who vacated Amor’s 1997 murder conviction last year in the wake of advances in fire science that undercut…

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Daubert’s Failure

Forensics Forum

A wonderful new piece forthcoming in Case Western Reserve Law Review, from Paul Giannelli.  Here is a link and the abstract is below:

In 2015, a federal judge noted that “[m]any defendants have been convicted and spent countless years in prison based on evidence by arson experts who were later shown to be little better than witch doctors.” In the same year, a White House science advisor observed: “Suggesting that bite marks [should] still be a seriously used technology is not based on science, on measurement, on something that has standards, but more of a gut-level reaction.” According to another judge “[a]s matters currently stand, a certainty statement regarding toolmark pattern matching has the same probative value as the vision of a psychic.” A recent New York Times editorial echoed these sentiments: “And the courts have only made the problem worse by purporting to be scientifically literate, and allowing in…

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Looking at wrongful convictions and the politics of US incarceration

FORENSICS and LAW in FOCUS @ CSIDDS | News and Trends

A time line on the growing trends for future increase of innocents being convicted. Police forensics clearly has a hand in this.  Racial targeting is another. 

Although Gross says there’s no way to know an exact number, “at least tens of thousands of people who are in prison are likely to be innocent,” he said. If just 1 percent of the prison population were exonerated that would be upward of 20,000 people. For context, a study published in 2014 made “a conservative estimate” that 4.1 percent of those sentenced to death are innocent.

Salon

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Book Review: “Forensic Science Reform – Protecting the Innocent”

Wrongful Convictions Blog

bower-book

For the last 8 1/2 years, I have been working to ‘help’ overcome the devastating effects that incorrect, bogus, and non-scientific forensics has had on our justice system in producing wrongful convictions.  And I’ve also been writing about it on this blog since its inception.

C.M. (Mike) Bowers has teamed up with Wendy Koen to produce a definitive work addressing many of these issues. Mike is forensic dentist who has been at the forefront of debunking the junk science of bite mark analysis. Wendy Koen is a former attorney with the California Innocence Project. Mike also maintains the website CSIDDS dedicated to promoting truth, reason, logic, and actual science in the discipline of forensics.

The data below from the National Registry of Exonerations shows that false or misleading forensic evidence is a contributing factor in 24% of all the wrongful convictions logged by the registry to date.

nat-reg-exon

This book provides…

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A science-based blast at Prosecutors’ belief in alchemy, voodoo and bitemarks

FORENSICS and LAW in FOCUS @ CSIDDS | News and Trends

The Current Issue

Oxford University Press’  Journal of Law and the Biosciences just published an amicus curiae (i.e. friend of the court) anti-bitemark treatise which empirically debunks the recent PCAST deniers such as the National DA Association, the IAI, a ‘congress’ of crime labs, the US Department of Justice and the FBI.

The treatise does a complete look into skin-pattern-matching origins, early case law of its acceptance, judicial scientific mis-conceptions about validity, self-serving assumptions, dozens of exonerations, and ruinous failures in proficiency testing. The parallels to alchemy and voodoo are striking. Recent research into the impossibility of bitemarkers possessing ‘medical certainty’ in court gets special attention.

NOTE: the use of ’empirical’ should be considered facts, peer-reviewed studies, failed reliability testing and data underscoring the false beliefs advertised by the bitemark dentists belonging to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Read about the ‘Bullshit Factor about Bitemarks.’

Here…

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Alternative suspects

The case of Russ Faria (exonerated November 2015 after a retrial) and Pamela Hupp is in the public eye, with Dateline showing an update on the case yesterday. Hupp has been charged with another murder, and according to officials, the serial number on a $100 bill in Pamela Hupp’s bedroom dresser was sequential with numbers on four $100 bills found on a man she said was a stranger who she killed as an intruder.

During the Faria’s first trial, Judge Chris Kunza Mennemeyer ruled against the defense and they could not introduce the details about Pamela Hupp because it was not direct evidence ( see Russ Faria Found Not Guilty – Or When Pigs Really Fly , November 8, 2015 by Lise LaSalle ).

The point : In another Missouri case, Michael Amick faces a retrial set for Monday November 28, 2016. However, once again the jury will not hear evidence on alternative suspects : a prison confession by David Youngblood, 52, who is serving life without parole for the death of four older adults who were killed in two separate incidents in 2010. Those victims were burned, some of them shot, in their homes about 30 minutes from where Vaughan died, a crime very similar to the one for which Amick stands accused.

Is this a level playing field?

 

 

 

Thank You, Judge Kozinski

Lawyers on Strike

…for taking to the pages of the Wall Street Journal, not only to point out the perils of junk science in the courtroom, but also to succinctly highlight the enormous difficulty of righting our justice system once it has gone wrong and convicted someone who is innocent, and noting the obvious, if unheeded, moral obligation the country has to right these wrongs:

Preventing the incarceration and execution of innocent persons is as good a use of tax dollars as any…As for past convictions obtained through discredited methods, the outlook remains grim… Setting aside wrongful convictions has become exceedingly difficult under a 1996 law called the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which severely limits the ability of federal courts to review state-court decisions. Congress should amend the legislation to authorize swift federal relief to prisoners who make a convincing showing that they were convicted with false or overstated expert…

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Nothing to Smile About: Bite Mark Evidence Blasted Again

Wrongful Convictions Blog

Your smile could cost you your freedom.

Just ask Crystal Weimer from Pennsylvania, or William Richards from California.  Weimer and Richards don’t know each other, but their fates were eerily and tragically similar.

Both were tried and convicted of murder in unrelated cases.  Both of their convictions were based on testimony by so-called bite mark experts, who claimed to have matched marks found on victims with each of the defendant’s “bite mark.”  In both cases, the prosecution relied heavily on the “matching” bite marks as proof of the defendants’ guilt.  In both cases, the bite mark evidence was just plain nonsense.

A new report released this week by the President’s Counsel of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST), offered yet another devastating critique of bite mark evidence:

available scientific evidence strongly suggests that [bite mark] examiners not only cannot identify the source of bite mark with reasonable accuracy, they cannot…

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Brendan Dassey conviction overturned

Brendan Dassey‘s conviction has been overturned. An extract from the Order:

Consequently, the court finds that the confession Dassey gave to the police on March 1, 2006 was so clearly involuntary in a constitutional sense that the court of appeals’ decision to the contrary was an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.

The court does not reach this conclusion lightly. The present decision is made in full appreciation of the limited nature of the habeas remedy under AEDPA and mindful of the principles of comity and federalism that restrain federal intervention in this arena.

However, the high standard imposed by AEDPA is not a complete bar to relief. Cockrell, 537 U.S. at 340. While the circumstances for relief may be rare, even extraordinary, it is the conclusion of the court that this case represents the sort of “extreme malfunction[] in the state criminal justice system[]” that federal habeas corpus relief exists to correct.

New interrogation techniques taking hold

Wrongful Convictions Blog

The good cop-bad cop Reid Technique of interrogations, which has caused numerous false confessions and wrongful convictions, may be finally on the way out.

The Marshall Project reports here about how “a radical new interrogation technique is transforming the art of detective work: Shut up and let the suspect do the talking.”

The new technique is also discussed in former homicide detective Jim Trainum’s soon-to-be released book, How the Police Generate False Confessions: An Inside Look at the Interrogation Room. Steve Drizin of the Center on Wrongful Convictions says Trainum’s book “puts a lie to so many myths about police interrogations that I lost count of them all. But it does so much more. Det. Trainum is not just a critic; he is a reformer, charting a course for the proper way for police officers to investigate cases, interview suspects, witnesses and informants and to obtain reliable information from them.” You can read…

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For shame : the public humiliation of prosecutors by judges to correct wrongful convictions

Wrongful Convictions Blog

29 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 305 Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics Spring, 2016

Lara Bazelon

ABSTRACT

Shaming sanctions have a long history in the United States. In the colonial era, judges routinely subjected criminal offenders to a variety of public humiliations that included branding and even maiming. These punishments were designed to exact retribution, deter future misdeeds, and to impress upon the offender the importance of adhering to community norms. Shaming sanctions largely disappeared in the early 1800s with the rise of the prison industrial complex, only to reappear in courtrooms across the country in the early 1990s, when trial judges began to demand that offenders write public apologies, mop streets they had desecrated, and wear signs proclaiming their offenses to the world.

Now, a new shame sanction is on the horizon with a wholly unexpected cast of characters. The shamers are federal appellate judges; the shamed are prosecutors who…

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Comment on the Nature and State of the (US) Justice System

Wrongful Convictions Blog

While writing the latest post about Jack McCullough‘s exoneration, and while reading Courtney Bisbee‘s latest filing with the US District Court for Arizona, I got to reflecting on my experiences with the justice system over the past eight years, and I thought I would share some of my (unvarnished) observations. Clearly, this will be very editorial. It will probably help to understand my comments to know that I am not an attorney. I am an engineer by training, and that’s what I did for my entire working career – until I started doing innocence work pro bono. So I see the justice system with the naivete’ of someone who is an “outsider” and is not a functionary of the system; but I do see the system as someone who has spent his entire life founded in objective truth and logic and fact. Again, this article will be…

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The Human Toll of Antonin Scalia’s Time on the Court

Blacks, Latinos, and poor whites suffered because of his draconian approach to criminal punishment.

In the days since Antonin Scalia’s death, he has been duly recognized as one of the most impactful justices in the Supreme Court’s history. A critical part of his troubling legacy has long been staring us in the face, although it finally started receiving the public scrutiny it deserves in recent years. As draconian punishments became the norm over the last three decades, the Supreme Court largely rubber-stamped these practices. Justice Scalia played a key role in this process, as his hardline stances on criminal punishment significantly contributed to mass incarceration, numerous executions, and systemic racial discrimination. Scalia was an outspoken supporter of harsh punishments and wanted the court to take an even more hands-off attitude toward so-called “tough on crime” laws.

See here for full article at Slate.com