Posts Tagged ‘Exoneration’

The Marshall Project has a new article written by Lorea Gillespie, an investigator with The New England Innocence Project.  She talks about what it takes to hunt down witnesses for a case 23 years old.

As I virtually pass by each house on Google Maps Street View, I grow increasingly disheartened.

I’ve been in Orlando for almost two days now, and I’m worried that I’m not going to find this witness — and this witness is huge. She’s the only person who may have seen the 1989 murder I’m working on.

I’m an investigator with The New England Innocence Project, and we believe that our client, JIMMY1, is innocent, even though he was convicted 23 years ago.

I’ve spent hours driving back and forth across this city, trying dozens of addresses. Each time, I run back to my hotel room, get on the computer, and use my locations program to find more options. I try old neighbors, old roommates, old friends — anyone I can find.

No matter who I talk to, though, no one can help me. “Yeah, so-and-so lived here about a year ago, but I don’t know where she’s at now.”

Another door closes in my face.

Read the rest here.

 

Shawn Whirl who served 25 years in prison for a murder he said he was forced to confess to, walked out of prison October 14th.  Whirl, now 45, was convicted of shooting and killing taxi driver Billy Williams in 1990.  Whirl said former Chicago Police Detective James Pienta tortured him until he confessed.  Whirl was stepped on, slapped, and Pienta yelled racial slurs at him.  Pienta allegedly forced Whirl to confess when Whirl professed his innocence.  Pienta also stabbed Whirl in the legs with his keys.  Whirl’s girlfriend was also at the police station and reported hearing him screaming out.  Police questioned Whirl because his fingerprints were found in the taxi.  Whirl told police that two days before he had hopped in the taxi to escape gang members who were trying to rob him.  Whirl’s lawyers advised him to plead guilty because he confessed and the state planned to pursue the death penalty.  Whirl was sentenced to 60 years.

Using Whirl’s false confession, prosecutors formulated the motive for the crime.  Whirl was having financial issues and struggling to pay his rent so he robbed Williams.

An appeals court overturned Whirl’s conviction in August.  Whirl was the first defendant given a new trial as the result of the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission investigations.  The commission was founded in 2009 to correct wrongful convictions of people who were tortured by the police especially under Police Commander Jon Burge.  The cases span 3 decades, from the 1970s through the 1990s.  Burge and his detectives are suspected of torturing 200 men.

Tara Thompson, Whirl’s lawyer and a member of the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project said, “I think that Shawn’s case is proof that it’s not too late for those of us that are making sure people who were tortured into giving confessions can still have their day in court…I hope Shawn’s case brings hope to other people…”

The Exoneration Project is a non-profit organization at the University of Chicago, where law students work to help prisoners who profess their innocence.  Whirl could pursue a certificate of innocence, which will expunge and seal his records, or he could file a wrongful conviction and torture lawsuit, but any damages would be capped at $200,000.

Whirl has served half of his life in prison and said he knows that it will be hard to adjust, “God is not through with me yet and he hasn’t brought me this far for no reason…I don’t hold any bitterness, or anger, or animosity because I don’t have room for it…I think I’ll be OK.”

Sources:  AFRO

The U.S. Supreme Court has put police stations all around the country on notice: if you withhold evidence you can be sued.  The court let stand a civil jury verdict against two LAPD detectives who concealed evidence that kept an innocent man in jail for more than 2 years awaiting trial.  The justices turned down an appeal from the LA city attorney who contended that because the man was freed before trial, the police officers could not be sued for hiding evidence.

Michael Walker, who is now deceased, was standing in a store in the Crenshaw neighborhood of LA in August of 2005 when a store clerk thought he looked like a middle-aged black man who had robbed the store a few days earlier. Police were called and Walker was arrested. He agreed to be interviewed and have his belongings searched.

No evidence was ever discovered linking him to the robbery, but detectives saw him as a prime suspect in not just one robbery, but more than a dozen in the area. Each time, the thief gave the clerk or cashier a handwritten note demanding money. Usually the note misspelled the word “start” as in “start shooting.”

Walker maintained his innocence. Two detectives, Steven Moody and Robert Pulido still believed they had the right man. They held Walker in jail pending investigation. To justify his detention and $1 million bail, they filed a report telling prosecutors that, “Since the arrest of Walker, the crime spree caused by the ‘Demand Note Robber’ has ceased.”

This was in fact untrue.

Two days after Walker was arrested, a man matching the description robbed the Golden Bird restaurant presenting a note to the cashier. Later that same day, a Burger King was robbed in the same manner. The notes both misspelled “start”.

The detectives later admitted under oath that they knew the robberies continued and didn’t tell anyone, including prosecutors. In other words, that Walker couldn’t have committed them. So why did they lie to keep an innocent man in jail? That may never be known.

When attorneys representing Walker learned that his fingerprints were not found at the store where he was arrested, they asked the LAPD for information on other robberies. The LAPD refused saying it was too burdensome to the department.

Later, a judge ordered the information to be disclosed. That is when defense attorneys learned that another man matching the description had been apprehended fleeing a robbery and that his fingerprints were found at the scene of the store Walker was arrested in.  When prosecutors learned of this, they dropped the charges against Walker.

A judge later pronounced him innocent of the crimes. Walker sued the LAPD and the detectives for violations of his constitutional rights and deprivation of his liberty without due process. A jury awarded him $106,000.  The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict, ruling that the Constitution protects suspects from “prolonged” pre-trial detention when concealed evidence could have demonstrated their innocence.

The city attorney’s office appealed to the Supreme Court. They argued that the constitutional ruling involving withheld evidence should only apply to a right to a fair trial not to arrest or pretrial detention.

The high court simply denied their appeal (Moody v. Tatum) without comment or dissent.  Mary Tatum is the administrator of Walker’s estate.

Walker died in 2011 from alcohol-related health problems. John C. Burton, who represented Walker in the civil rights case, said Walker’s health deteriorated after his release from jail. At one point, Walker became homeless. Burton said the jury award, which did not include any punitive damages, was relatively low because Walker was poor and could not show he suffered major economic loss.

The award is expected to be inherited by his mother.