Posts Tagged ‘wrongful conviction causes’

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…



Zachary Handley, 21, was finally exonerated after District Attorney John Morganelli declined to retry him for a 2007 fire that left 4 families homeless.  Handley served a year and a half in juvenile detention for the arson and owed $625,000 in restitution until a judge overturned his conviction realizing that his accuser was a serial arsonist.

In 2007, Handley was just 14 and in 8th grade when police came knocking at his home wanting to question him at the station.  Handley was accused by Karla Ann Dewey of setting a fire that gutted local row houses including Dewey’s three weeks before.  Dewey told police that she witnessed the kid standing on her porch with two other youths the night of the fire.  She also accused him of participating in a fire set at a local restaurant weeks before that.

Handley was interrogated for 90 minutes when his parents – at the urging of a detective – told him to confess.  He listened to his parents even though he was innocent.  It was almost Christmas and he was under the impression that he would be home for the holidays.  Soon after realizing that wasn’t true, he recanted.

Handley was convicted of two arsons and sentenced to 47 days in juvenile detention with an additional year at a boot camp for youth arsonists.  At the boot camp, he insisted he was innocent, but realized that if he didn’t admit false guilt he would never go home.

Handley was eventually able to return home, but not without a criminal record, an enormous debt, and a life changing label.

Eight years later, Judge Anthony Beltrami was assigned to several arson cases against Karla Dewey, the woman who accused Handley when he was a kid.  Dewey pled guilty in 2012 to burning down her rental home – endangering a toddler – as well as several attached homes and trying to set fire to the church she attended.  While reviewing her case, Judge Beltrami realized that he had serious concerns about her accusations against Handley.

Judge Beltrami conducted an investigation himself and concluded that the youth was falsely accused and his confession coerced.  Judge Beltrami believes that Dewey was responsible for the 2007 fire and “witnessed” Handley acting suspiciously to get away with it.

Judge Beltrami called Dewey a “serial arsonist”.

She is currently serving 11 years in prison for arson and child endangerment, but cannot be charged with the 2007 row house fire because the statute of limitations has expired.

Handley and his father, John, are grateful to the judge for looking into the case, “Without that attention to detail…being so compassionate and having a conscience, this probably would have never happened,” John Handley said, “He took a stand on it. He didn’t have to.”

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…)