Category Archives: News – Exoneration

Fairbanks Four Freed

The Fairbanks Four are free as of 5:15 p.m. Thursday evening under terms of a negotiated settlement.
The four men, who’ve long fought their conviction for the 1997 killing of Fairbanks teenager John Hartman, had their murder convictions erased under a deal that’s similar but not identical to one proposed last week.
Marvin Roberts was released on parole earlier this year, but the other three men — George Frese, Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent — had been in jail since their arrests in October 1997.
After a final hearing at the Rabinowitz Courthouse on Thursday they went to Fairbanks Correctional Center one final time before they were released. The men went immediately to a celebration at the David Salmon Tribal Hall.
Terms of the deal
The settlement came after a six-hour closed-door negotiation Thursday on the fifth floor of the Rabinowitz Courthouse with retired Superior Court Judge Niesje Steinkruger, who presided over Frese’s 1999 trial in Anchorage.
Friends, family members and supporters of the men began assembling outside the locked courtroom by mid-morning Thursday, taking turns to peek through a crack in the door to look into the court. The doors to the courtroom opened to the public at about 4 p.m.
Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle, who presided over a five-week evidentiary hearing in the case this fall, explained the terms of the deal in a 20-minute public hearing. The settlement cuts short what would have been an eight-month wait for Lyle make rulings based on the evidentiary hearing.
Under the deal, Lyle granted the men a new trial, based on an understanding from both sides that there was enough new evidence in the case that he might have ordered a new trial if he were to eventually rule in the evidentiary hearing.
The state then agreed to dismiss charges and Lyle ordered the men’s “immediate and unconditional release.”

Barry Beach granted clemency

Gov. Steve Bullock on Friday granted clemency for Barry Beach, who has served more than 30 years in prison for a murder he claims he did not commit.

The order issued Friday directs Beach’s sentence to time served, with an additional 10 years suspended. Additional requirements contained within the order direct Beach to serve the suspended portion of the sentence on probation under the supervision of the Department of Corrections.

The governor made the decision through House Bill 43, a law that gives him the power to grant clemency that kicked in Oct. 1. The law was inspired by Beach who has been denied parole four times despite growing public support and the backing of a bipartisan coalition of current and former state and federal officials.


Russ Faria Not Guilty

A judge in Missouri has found Russ Faria not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 death of his wife.

After Judge Steven Ohmer of St. Louis Circuit Court delivered his verdict, Faria fell into the arms of one of his defense attorneys as his family began to cry in the courtroom.

Judge Ohmer called the investigation into the case “disturbing.”

A jury had convicted Faria of first degree murder in 2013. His wife Betsy was found stabbed 55 times on December 27th, 2011 in the couple’s home just outside Troy, Missouri.

After serving more than two years in prison, a judge granted Faria a new trial this past June, citing new evidence not presented at the first trial that could have changed the jurors’ minds, including information about Pamela Hupp, who the defense contended was a possible alternate suspect.

Hupp was reportedly the last person to see Betsy alive. She collected $150,000 in life insurance after becoming Betsy’s beneficiary several days before the killing. Hupp has denied any involvement in Betsy’s death.

In the retrial, neither side called Hupp, though she had testified at the first trial. In a bizarre twist, a detective testified Thursday that Hupp told police for the first time this summer that she and Betsy had been lovers.

Other evidence presented included a pair of Faria’s slippers, which were found in a closet the night of the murder with Betsy’s blood on them, and a note found on a laptop stating the author, purportedly Betsy, was “afraid” of her husband. The defense maintains both were being used to frame Faria and could have easily been planted by the real killer.

Four alibi witnesses testified that Faria was with them, miles away from his and Betsy’s home, during the time she likely died.

Faria has always maintained his innocence, telling Keith Morrison in a 2014 Dateline report, “I know that I didn’t do it. I love my wife and I didn’t kill her.”


Alton Dandridge – Exoneration report

Beniah Alton Dandridge was released on October 1st, 2015 after Equal Justice Initiative presented evidence showing that he was innocent of the murder for which he spent 20 years in prison.

On May 5, 1995, Beniah Dandridge was charged with capital murder in the killing of Riley Manning Sr. in Montgomery, Alabama, based exclusively on the Alabama Bureau of Investigation’s assertion that bloody fingerprints found at the crime scene matched Mr. Dandridge. No other physical evidence connected Mr. Dandridge to the crime.

At trial, prosecutors relied on the ABI examiner’s testimony that the fingerprints definitely matched Mr. Dandridge. The only other evidence presented was the testimony of a jailhouse informant who, in exchange for a reduced sentence in a pending case, said Mr. Dandridge told him he was involved in the crime.

Mr. Dandridge testified that he had nothing to do with the murder and presented evidence, corroborated by other witnesses, that he was elsewhere at the time of the crime. The jury convicted him of the lesser offense of intentional murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

In state postconviction proceedings, David Suddeth, who was also charged with killing Mr. Manning and pleaded guilty to capital murder to avoid the death penalty, provided a sworn statement that Mr. Dandridge was not present when Mr. Manning was killed. The jailhouse informant also said in a sworn affidavit that he testified falsely against Mr. Dandridge to obtain a reduced sentence.

The trial judge nonetheless denied relief, and state and federal courts affirmed that decision on appeal, relying on the fingerprint match to reject Mr. Dandridge’s innocence claim. Despite the evidence that he had been wrongly convicted, and his impeccable conduct in prison, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Mr. Dandridge parole twice.

EJI took on Mr. Dandridge’s case and filed a new challenge to his conviction in November 2014. In those proceedings, EJI presented evidence from independent forensic experts who testified that their examination of the fingerprint evidence conclusively excluded Mr. Dandridge.

The ABI’s examiner had used unreliable procedures to compare the fingerprints and had ignored obvious differences that clearly showed the prints did not belong to Mr. Dandridge. Excluding Mr. Dandridge, the experts found that the fingerprints instead matched the victim’s son, eliminating the State’s most significant evidence against Mr. Dandridge.

From – see full story there.

Montez Spradley – Exonerated

Montez Spradley was wrongly convicted of the 2004 murder of a 58-year old white woman in Birmingham.

He spent nine years behind bars — including three-and-a-half years on Alabama’s death row.

The prosecution relied on tainted and inconsistent testimony of his disgruntled ex-girlfriend as well as a jailhouse snitch, who both claimed he had confessed to them.

The ex-girlfriend wanted to back out, and was paid $10,000 for her testimony.

Neither the police nor the prosecutors ever disclosed the payments to the defense.  Judge Bahakel, before sentencing Montez to death, had signed off on a payment herself. Yet she never told Montez’s trial lawyers about it, and her order authorizing the payment never made it into the court file.

Read more here


Mark Weiner – Exonerated

A Virginia judge on Tuesday vacated the conviction of a Montgomery County native who has long maintained he was innocent of abducting a woman in Charlottesville and taking her to an abandoned home in 2012.

Mark Weiner, 54, walked away from jail a free man after the Albemarle County prosecutor took the unusual step of siding with the defense in calling for the 2013 verdict to be thrown out. Weiner was serving an eight-year sentence.


Benjamin said an analysis of cellular data showed that during the course of the alleged abduction, Steiniger’s cellphone was pinging off a cell tower near her mother’s home and never accessed one that was close to the abandoned home.

Read full report here, Washington Post, Jul 14, 2015

or report

“Some prosecutors would call that sort of thing exculpatory information that must legally be turned over to the defense. Lunsford thanked the officer for stopping by and said she would no longer be needing his testimony after all. (This officer would later call the defense attorney and tell him what had transpired.) The second law enforcement officer offered up the same conclusion. He didn’t get to testify, either.”

or Discussion here.

Byron Halsey settles for $12.5m

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty against Halsey, who maintained his innocence through the one-month 1988 trial, but a holdout on the jury spared his life.

Halsey was exonerated after a 2006 DNA test showed he was not the killer. The charges against him were dropped a year later.

When State Police ran the DNA results against its database, it matched a convicted rapist, Clifton Hall, a neighbor of Halsey who prosecutors had used as a trial witness.

In February 2013, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought on Halsey’s behalf against the city of Plainfield and two police officers, ruling there was no proof the officers committed misconduct. In April 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit reversed the dismissal and sent the case back for trial, saying: “Except when an innocent defendant is executed, we hardly can conceive of a worse miscarriage of justice.”

In July 2015, the lawsuit was settled for $12.5 million.

News report here | Exoneration Report 

Quentin Carter Exonerated

It’s common for authorities to be reluctant to re-investigate after a wrongful conviction. I have attempted to persuade Texas police to investigate a cold case with an obvious suspect ( the prosecution star witness ) with no success ( ).

Wrongful Convictions Blog

Quentin Carter, 40, maintained his innocence throughout nearly 17 years in prison following his conviction of the 1991 rape of a 10-year old child. He was likely denied parole numerous times because he would not express remorse for a crime he didn’t commit.

Carter was 16 when convicted. He was released in 2008 but was registered as a sex offender with all the restrictions this designation carries.

Kent County (MI) Prosecutor William Forsyth was instrumental in vacating Carter’s wrongful conviction, which occurred by order of a judge last Thursday.

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South African Constitutional Court Orders Immediate Release of Wrongfully Imprisoned Man

The word of a criminal with a motive to lie should not be trusted.

Wrongful Convictions Blog

With help from the Wits Justice Project, South African  Thembekile Molaudzi was released from prison last week after serving 11 years for the 2002 murder of Dingaan Makuna, a Mothutlung policeman. The only evidence implicating Molaudzi was the confession of another man also accused of the crime. After a long battle, the Constitutional Court overturned Molaudzi’s conviction, issuing him a Warrant of Liberation that called for his immediate release.

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Alfred Dwayne Brown

Alfred Dwayne Brown, whose conviction and death sentence in a case involving the fatal shooting of a Houston police officer was thrown out, will not be retried, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Monday.

The Court of Criminal Appeals last year threw out Brown’s 2005 conviction and death sentence after ruling that his defense team was not given evidence that could have supported his alibi at trial. The evidence was a copy of a telephone record, found last year by an investigator who was part of the case.

DA drops charges against Alfred Brown

EJI exoneration report

No physical evidence tied Mr. Brown to the crime. Mr. Brown’s girlfriend was aggressively interrogated and threatened with perjury by the grand jury foreman, who was a police officer, and she was jailed for seven weeks until she changed her testimony to implicate Mr. Brown. She has since recanted that testimony.

Mr. Brown’s attorneys have uncovered compelling evidence that the murder was committed by another man with a history of robbery and connections to the co-defendants in the crime. They filed a motion in 2008 to test the alternate suspect’s DNA, but no test has been carried out.


Supreme Court Justice’s perfect capital-punishment case – exonerated

A little over two decades ago, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was dismissive of then-Justice Harry Blackmun’s concerns about the death penalty. In fact, Scalia had a case study in mind that demonstrated exactly why the system of capital punishment has value.
As regular readers may recall, Scalia specifically pointed to a convicted killer named Henry Lee McCollum as an obvious example of a man who deserved to be put to death. “For example, the case of an 11-year-old girl raped by four men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat,” Scalia wrote in a 1994 ruling. “How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that!”
For Scalia, McCollum was the perfect example – a murderer whose actions were so heinous that his crimes stood as a testament to the merit of capital punishment itself.
Yesterday, McCollum was pardoned. Scalia’s perfect example of a man who deserved to be killed by the state was innocent.

Top Wrongful Convictions – #3 Hannah Overton

Hannah Overton – Charges dropped April 8 2015.

Trial by Media

hannahfreeThis is the third in a series of short posts, my personal “top” wrongful convictions.

The purpose is to explain that “you may be wrong”.

Remember that in every wrongful conviction, a jury is fooled into believing the accused person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Every wrongful conviction has a cause, sometimes there are multiple causes.

I have chosen the case of Hannah Overton as #3.

Hannah was (thankfully!) exonerated on April 8th, 2015.

My view of the causes:

  • Medical staff mistook the effects of salt poisoning for neglect
  • The prosecutor was an alcoholic, with a “win at all costs” attitude
  • Exculpatory evidence was suppressed
  • The judge was negligent

For more see here, here and here.

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George Stinney Exonerated

A 14-year-old South Carolina boy who was quickly convicted of murder and then executed in 1944 has been posthumously exonerated.

Judge Carmen Tevis Mullen vacated George Stinney, Jr.’s conviction on Wednesday, stating that the boy’s prosecution was marked by “fundamental, Constitutional violations of due process.”

Frances Newton should be next.

News Report

Full Report by NCADP

Shrien Dewani found Not Guilty

Overwhelming evidence that Tongo implicated Dewani to get a shorter sentence.

A judge has dismissed the case against Shrien Dewani, who was accused of arranging the murder of his wife Anni in South Africa.

Judge Jeanette Traverso said the evidence presented by the prosecution fell “far below the threshold” of what a reasonable court could convict on.

The end.

An adopted case : see Shrien Dewani