Posts Tagged ‘convicting the innocent’

Phil Locke of the Ohio Innocence Project and Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic on how the justice system frequently ignores guilt or innocence, Comment on the Nature and State of the (US) Justice System.

Also a great read, the story of Lorinda Swain who was recently exonerated after spending more than 7 years in jail.  She was freed 6 years after a judge said that there was a “significant probability” she was innocent.

Finally cleared, years after judge first ruled her guilt was dubious…



Abreham Zemedagegehu has filed a federal lawsuit against the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office because he said they neglected to meet the standards in the Americans with Disabilities Act when they refused to give him a sign language interpreter.  Abreham spent six weeks in jail.  Abreham, a homeless man, was sleeping at the Reagan National Airport when he was arrested by the Airport Authority after someone accused him of stealing an iPad.  Abreham requested a sign interpreter because he didn’t understand what was happening or why he was arrested.  Instead, the jail refused to provide him any help, they carted him off to the county jail and processed him.  Abreham said that the sheriff’s office performed a medical examination during which he was asked to sign forms that he didn’t understand.  English is not his first language.  Abreham was also given a shot that he suffered a severe reaction to.

A spokesperson for the jail said that they did their best to communicate with him using a TTY or text telephone, but Abreham said that besides the fact that the device is obsolete, he doesn’t speak English very well.  It wasn’t until two days after his arrest that he was allowed to see an interpreter, during a court hearing.  Abreham was finally told what he was arrested for.  He pled guilty and was released.  His lawyer said that he’s innocent and didn’t steal the iPad.  He has filed a motion to have the guilty plea withdrawn.  The victim actually found the “stolen” iPad prior to Abreham pleading guilty, he had reportedly misplaced it.  A judge refused to rule on the motion, instead dismissing it, because it missed the deadline.

Abreham said he is astounded that the justice system could not accommodate him.

“They’re doing this 25 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed,” he said.

20140306_083600_coldcolors[Known Gypsy Hill murder victims – Top row:  Left to right:  Ronnie Cascio, Tanya Marie Blackwell, Paula Baxter.  Bottom row:  Left to right:  Michelle Mitchell, Carol Lee Booth, Denise Lampe]

Cathy Woods spent 35 years in prison for a crime she did not commit.

Prosecutors announced Friday that they would not seek a retrial in the stabbing death of 19-year-old Michelle Mitchell at the University of Nevada, Reno campus in 1976.  A judge tossed Woods’ conviction in September based upon new DNA tests that linked the Reno crime to an inmate, who is facing charges in California for a series of murders that took place around the same time.

Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks said he didn’t fault earlier police, prosecutors and juries for sending Woods to prison, “Whenever we hear about these…cases where convicted individuals are later exonerated by DNA, it is a circumstance that upsets our society, rightly so.  It is also depicted as a strike against our modern day criminal justice system.  I would suggest otherwise.  These exonerations…who how improved our criminal justice system has become.  So as tragic and difficult as this case continues to be, the one shining light is that it shows our…system is working.”

Woods’ public defender, Maizie Pusich said, “I wish it (Woods’ exoneration) happened a long time ago, but at least it happened now when she’s in relatively good health.  As time goes by, there will be innocent people in prison who slip through the cracks because they won’t survive [imprisonment]…”

Woods, now 64, will live with her brother and his wife in California.  She remains under mental health treatment and is “doing well.” She was convicted in 1980, but got a retrial shortly afterwards.  In 1985, she was convicted at her retrial.  Both convictions were based upon a confession she made in 1979 at a psychiatric hospital in Louisiana while under going mental health treatments.  She was involuntarily committed by her mother.  She does not remember the confession. The FBI says that DNA found on Marlboro cigarettes found at the Reno crime scene suggest that Rodney Halbower, a former Oregon inmate recently charged in the deaths of two women who are among the five “Gypsy Hill” murders in California around the same time that Mitchell was killed.

Woods is “very lucky”, according to her attorney, that Halbower was required to submit a DNA sample by a law passed in 2013 after he was paroled in Nevada for a conviction of a 1975 rape and transferred to Oregon to serve a 30 year sentence for attempted murder. Woods is also lucky that a fellow female inmate helped her get DNA testing and initiate the appropriate paperwork.

“It (DNA testing) only happened because he was transferred from Nevada to Oregon,” Pusich said, “Before that, we knew the DNA on the cigarette butt wasn’t hers. But the DNA test proved it was definitely his.”

Halbower, 66, was serving the sentence in Oregon when he was extradited to California to face murders charges for the 1976 deaths of Paula Louise Baxter and Veronica Anne Cascio.  Halbower had been arrested for the rape of a 33-year-old woman in Reno in 1975 and was released on bail.  Barely a month later, the Gypsy Hill murders began.  Cascio’s body was found on January 8, 1976 and Baxter’s on February 4th.  Mitchell’s body was discovered on February 24th. (more…)