Innocence Claims To Watch

ALASKA

Gregory Marino

  • The Alaska Innocence Project has been working on Marino’s case for more than 6 years.  Gregory Marino was convicted of murder and attempted murder in 1994 and has spent 16 years in prison.  Back before his trial even started, Marino was excluded as the source of all the prints collected at the crime scene and DNA testing was inconclusive.  The state is currently working on entering the fingerprints and palm prints into the database to see if they match any known offenders or anyone else included.  After these results come back, the state has agreed to make evidence available for testing, but has declined to pay for it.  The testing will cost $20,000, which is currently trying to be fundraised by the project.

CALIFORNIA

William Richards (Member of the California Twelve)

  • On August 10, 1993, Pamela Richards was strangled and severely beaten with rocks.  The couple lived in San Bernardino, California, but were in the process of moving.  Earlier in the day, neighbors reported seeing Bill and Pamela walking down the street, holding hands.  Co-workers reported that Bill acted normally at work.  Bill clocked out at his usual time and filled up his ice chest using the ice machine at work (the couple didn’t have a running refrigerator at the time).  He headed home.  He got home just after midnight and noticed there were no lights on.  He went to check the generator (the couple didn’t have electricity at the time).  He restarted it and then went to ask Pamela why the generator was off.  He tripped over her half-naked lifeless body outside.  He called 911, but no one came.  He had to call 911 two more times before someone responded.  Detectives didn’t process the crime scene for an additional 5 hours and didn’t secure it either.  During the night, dogs partially buried the body.  With no evidence left, the police charged Bill.  It took 3 trials for a jury to be convinced and convict him.  Bite mark evidence was presented at his third trial (bite mark science used at the time has since been debunked as junk science), sealing his fate.  He was sentenced to 25 years to life.  Police did not take DNA swabs of the bite mark, but they did swab the murder weapon, items covered in blood, and hairs found in Pamela’s hand.  None of these items matched Bill or Pamela when testing was completed in 2001.  Two of the experts who testified against Bill now say that he would be excluded as the source of the bite mark using current technological advances.  This evidence led to a reversal of his conviction, but when the state appealed, the California Court of Appeal reversed the decision and the California Supreme Court upheld his conviction, 4-3.  Bill was recently diagnosed with cancer and prisons often give substandard medical care compared to care found outside prisons.  In response to the ruling by the court, a law was passed stating that discredited forensic evidence amounts to false evidence and can be in and of itself grounds for a new trial.  The California Supreme Court agreed to rehear Richards’ case in March of 2015.  Bill has served 15 years.

Alan Gimenez (Member of the California Twelve)

  •  On June 25, 1991, after an emergency C-section, Alan Gimenez and his wife became the parents of a daughter, Priscilla.  She was a very sick child.  Doctors believed this was caused by the unusually long birthing process.  She swallowed amniotic fluid that was contaminated during birth and contracted pneumonia.  Doctors ordered extensive testing and and saw that her chest was retaining fluid and she had a fractured rib.  The doctors could not identify a specific cause.  After release, within weeks, Priscilla’s condition worsened.  She began suffering seizures, but the doctors did not testing.  They instructed the couple to feed her less.  Priscilla’s health continued to decline and in the summer of 1991, Alan called 911.  Doctors found that Priscilla had anemia, a yeast infection, a clotting problem, and possibly Hepatitis A.  The doctors still could not determine what was wrong and released Priscilla 3 days later.  Just hours afterwards, Priscilla began to seize and Alan administered phenobarbital as instructed by the doctors.  The couple took her to the emergency room and a doctor noted for the first time that she had bleeding on the brain.  She died at just 49 days old.  Alan was charged using the controversial diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome.  He was convicted of 2nd degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life.  All 3 symptoms of SBS were found:  blood on the brain, bleeding behind the eyes, and swelling.  These symptoms are known as the Triad.  Most of Priscilla’s medical problems were kept from the jury by Alan’s ineffective counsel and the prosecutor.  In fact, the hospital had tissue slides proving that Priscilla had bleeding behind the eyes during one of her previous visits.  Alan’s appeals have been exhausted and he is unlikely to get parole.  The parole board refuses to review new evidence in his case.  Even though it is not officially a requirement to admit guilt, rarely are people who assert innocence paroled.  They are viewed as un-remorseful or not rehabilitated.  He has served 20 years.

Kimberly Long (Member of the California Twelve)

  • In 2003, Ozzy Conde was murdered in the house he shared with his girlfriend Kim Long.  Kim was eventually charged and convicted of Conde’s murder.  She was sentenced to 15 years to life.  She has served 4 years.  The day of Conde’s murder, they were bar hopping with their friend Jeff Dills.  At around 11:00 p.m., the group returned to the house.  Kim and Ozzy got into an argument and Kim left the house with Dills.  At about 2:00 a.m., Kim returned home and found Ozzy on the couch with blunt force wounds to his head.  He had been hit 3 to 8 times with a long object.  He had been dead for more than 1 hour according to the state of his body.  Police found that there was blood all over the living room, but none on Kim.  They also noted that none of the drains in the house were wet indicating that Kim could not have cleaned up.  Despite this, prosecutors presented at trial that Long committed the murder and cleaned up.  The jury believed it.  The police began to suspect Kim when Jeff indicated that he had dropped her off at 1:30 not at 2:00.  Sadly, Jeff died in a motorcycle accident a short time later and he could not elaborate on his testimony.  Kim was tried twice because jurors in the first trial were deadlocked at 9-3 in favor of acquittal.  In her second trial, she was convicted, but both the judge and alternate jurors said they would have acquitted her.  DNA testing on a cigarette butt found at the crime scene does not match Kim or Ozzy.  Other suspects include Ozzy’s ex-girlfriend against whom he had a restraining order.

Rodney Patrick McNeal (Member of the California Twelve)

  • On March 10, 1997, Rodney McNeal, a San Bernadino County probation officer, arrived home just before 12:30 p.m. to take his wife, Debra, to the doctor’s.  He discovered his 6 months pregnant wife submerged in the bathtub of their master bathroom.  Patrick could not life her out of the tub and could not find the phone, so he ran to a neighbor’s to call 911.  When police arrived, they discovered the house had been tossed, furniture destroyed, shelves knocked down, and a trial of blood.  Police determined that Debra and her unborn child had been beaten and stabbed, ultimately killed by strangulation.  The police arrested Patrick for the murder because the couple reportedly had a volatile marriage and police had responded to the home for domestic disputes in the past.  The police theorized that Patrick and Debra argued when he arrived to take her to the doctor’s and he killed her in a fit of rage.  Based upon phone records and eyewitness testimony, there wasn’t enough time between when he arrived home just before 12:30 p.m. and when the 911 call was placed.  The first police officers arrived at 12:32 p.m.  Patrick also had no blood on him.  There were also unidentified hairs and fibers found on Debra.  The jury convicted Patrick anyway and sentenced him to 30 years to life.  Is it really possible that Patrick fought with his wife, beat her, stabbed her, strangled her, cleaned himself up, and ransacked the house in just under 2 minutes?  The California Innocence Project subsequently uncovered witnesses who claim that Patrick’s brother Jeff confessed to the murder.  Jeff was later convicted of other murders committed in a similar manner.  Patrick has served more than 15 years in prison.  Jeff has pled the 5th.

Kiera Newsome (Member of the California Twelve)

  • On April 16, 2001, around 11:30 a.m. a car with 3 young African American women stopped in front of a group of men, members of the Block Crips gang, standing outside of a home at 1435 West 113th St.  One of the women got out of the car and knocked on the door of the house.  No one answered.  The woman asked the men if they knew where “Nakia” lived.  The men said no.  The woman walked back to the car and suddenly turned firing a handgun into the group of men.  Christian Henton was killed.  All 3 women fled the scene.  As the fled, they also shot and wounded Shawntaye Allen.  The shooter was described as having a “lazy eye”, a tattoo of a name on her upper right thigh, wearing all-red:  red tube top, red corduroy shorts, and red visor.  At the same exact time, Kiera Newsome was in class at Crenshaw SEA Charter School 13 miles away.  She was suffering from anxiety-issues resulting from the murder of her boyfriend Marquell Norman just a few months before.  She planned to finish high school and move on with her life.  The charter school had a very rigid policy, small classes, continuous supervision, attendance was taken several times a day, and students always had to wear black pants and a white polo shirt.  Despite all of this, in 2003, Newsome was convicted of 1st degree murder with a weapons enhancement.  Her co-defendant was acquitted.  One of the victims identified a completely different suspect than Newsome.  In addition, the defense presented Kiera’s teacher, who verified her presence at school as well as dated assignments.  The prosecution presented the theory that Newsome signed into class, slipped out the back way, changed clothes, met up with the others, committed the crime, changed back and appeared back in class for the next head count.  Despite the strength of Kiera’s alibi, she remains imprisoned.  She has served 12 years.  Her teacher had no reason to lie and no connection outside of the classroom has been found between her and Kiera.  Recently, Kiera’s teacher walked 20 miles as part of the Innocence March to bring awareness to the case.

(TOTAL EST. COST TO CALIFORNIA TAXPAYERS FOR THE CA12 =  $8.6 MILLION)

FLORIDA

Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarquin (DEATH ROW)

  • Aguirre-Jarquin was convicted of the 2004 murder of Cheryl Williams and Carol Bareis and sentenced to death.  Williams and Bareis were a mother and daughter found stabbed to death in their home in Seminole County on June 17, 2004.  Aguirre, an undocumented Honduran, lied to police when first questioned about being at the home, but later admitted that he went to the home to hang out at about 6 a.m. and found the bodies.  He thought the murderer was still present so he grabbed the nearest weapon, a knife.  When he found Bareis’ body, he fled the scene.  The knife turned out to be the murder weapon.  He said that he didn’t call 911 because he was afraid of being deported.  Williams’ home was known as a local hangout.  No testing was conducted on the 150 bloodstains found at the scene.  Aguirre’s attorney never retained any expert to examine the 197 pieces of evidence.  The prosecution presented the fact that Aguirre had blood on his clothing as evidence of his involvement, but none of the evidence presented was inconsistent with his version of events.  With both the defense and prosecution on board, DNA testing was performed in 2001 on 84 pieces of evidence, none of which matched Aguirre.  Most matched the victims, but two bloodstains matched Williams’ daughter (Bareis’ granddaughter) Samantha Williams.  However, when the defense requested additional testing, the prosecution objected.  The court overruled their objection and again none of the items matched Aguirre, but an additional 6 bloodstains matched Samantha Williams.  These bloodstains were spread over 4 rooms and each were near the bloodstains of the 2 victims.  Samantha Williams testified at trial that she caught Aguirre in the family’s home at night without permission.  The night of the murders, Samantha Williams was staying over at her boyfriend’s house.

MISSISSIPPI

Jeffrey Havard (DEATH ROW)

  • Jeffrey Havard was convicted of sexually assaulting and beating to death his girlfriend’s 6-month-old daughter, Chloe Britt.  He was sentenced to death just 10 months after the incident.  Havard maintains that he dropped Britt the night of her death and it was an accident.  The Medical Examiner used in the Havard case, Dr. Steven Hayne, was subsequently discredited in multiple cases and no longer performs autopsies for the state.  The defense was blocked by the judge from presenting their own expert to rebut Dr. Hayne’s testimony because the court refused to approve payment for one.  On his first set of appeals, he was denied because the court’s found he should have presented his own expert (even though he wasn’t financially capable).  Since his conviction, Dr. James Lauridson, a former Medical Examiner for the state of Alabama and famed pathologist Dr. Michael Baden have agreed that Britt’s injuries are consistent with Havard’s claim of an accident.Dr. Hayne has repeatedly asserted that he no longer believes that Havard sexually assaulted the victim.

TEXAS

Larry Swearingen (DEATH ROW)

  • Swearingen was sentenced to death in 2000 for the 1998 abduction, sexual assault, and murder of Melissa Trotter, 19.  DNA testing on two separate specimens have excluded Swearing as the assailant and in fact, prison records show Swearingen was incarcerated at the time for an outstanding traffic warrant.  Trotter’s body was found in the Sam Houston National Forest.  Trotter was last seen alive on Dec. 8, 1998, she was abducted and her body was dumped in the woods after Dec. 23, 1998.  Her body was found on Jan. 2, 1999 by hunters.  Swearingen was arrested on Dec. 11, 1998 and never released. All of Swearingen’s appeals were denied, however on Jan. 30, 2013, Judge Kelly Case issued an indefinite stay of execution stating that we should seek “certainty over finality” and ordered additional DNA testing on at least 5 occasions.  Each time, the prosecution has appealed.  Swearingen’s case is currently sitting before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.  He has survived 4 execution dates.

VIRGINIA

Justin Wolfe (DEATH ROW)

  • At 20, Justin Wolfe was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of Danny Petrole, a drug dealer.  On March 15, 2001, Owen Barber, a rival dealer, shot and killed victim.  That night, Barber went to Petrole’s home and shot him 9 times.  Barber confessed, but in exchange for immunity from capital punishment he pointed the finger at Wolfe.  Barber claimed that Wolfe hired him.  Barber took a plea deal, contingent on his testimony against Wolfe, and while Wolfe received the death penalty, Barber received 38 years in prison.  In 2007, Barber admitted that he invented Wolfe’s involvement to avoid a harsher sentence.  Wolfe’s original trial lawyer, John H. Partridge, who had never handled a capital case except for Wolfe’s, was subsequently disbarred for mishandling cases.

WISCONSIN

Samuel Hadaway

  • After being held in jail for several days and after three intensive rounds of interrogation, Samuel Hadaway confessed.  In 1995, he told detectives that he saw his friend, Chaunte Ott, rape and murder Jessica Payne, 16.  Hadaway, who suffers from cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and brain damage, including memory issues said that he robbed Payne and then Ott raped her and killed her.  Hadaway was found at least once by police running through the streets nude hitting cars with his fists.  He was never given a psychological evaluation before testifying in the case.  He has been repeatedly described as a psychologically vulnerable person who is easily pressured.  Hadaway later admitted that it was all a lie that he told to avoid going to prison.  He said that he repeated what police told him.  Based largely upon Hadaway’s testimony and that of another informant who also struck a deal in an unrelated case to avoid prosecution, got Ott convicted in 1996 and sentenced to life in prison.  Hadaway received 5 years for robbery.  Assistant District Attorney Mark Williams said, “This case…appeared to be going nowhere and the detectives in this case built this case out of absolutely nothing…”  Informants are consistently seen as a weak piece of evidence, used too often, which is a leading source of wrongful convictions.  Wisconsin has no specific laws regarding the use of informants.  Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School, said, “A state that has no protections against witnesses who are compensated for their testimony is inviting wrongful convictions.  We are beyond the day when we can close our eyes to the injustices…”  At least 10 states have taken some steps toward regulating incentivized testimony.  DNA evidence later excluded both Ott and Hadaway.  The DNA sample in the case actually matched serial killer Walter Ellis, who strangled at least 7 women between 1986 and 2007.  Two of Ellis’ victims were found in the same area as Payne’s body was found.  Ott was released in 2009 after serving 12 years.  He was given $25,000, the maximum allowed under law for the wrongfully convicted.  Hadaway’s conviction currently stands.
Comments
  1. Lori Howard says:

    As an advocate for wrongfully convicted persons, every single one of these case accounts horrified me. How can any state play so fast and loose with the truth? Yet they do, over and over again.

    This country needs to permanently end blanket immunity for prosecutors.

    Regarding two of the cases that I am very familiar with;

    Jeffrey Havard in Mississippi was convicted of murder (Shaken Baby Syndrome) during the course of sexual battery, not beating the child. The prosecutor told the jury that “shaking alone” caused her death, though the evidence was of a fall.

    Also, Dr. Hayne was never of the opinion that a sexual battery occurred, but the state withheld that exonerating evidence. The autopsy report makes no mention of sexual battery. The state did not introduce the autopsy report at trial and the defense never spoke to anyone with any medical expertise, not even Dr. Hayne. Yet, unbelievably, the MS Supreme Court has denied that Havard’s counsel was ineffective.

    Dr. Hayne’s change of opinion is that due to advances in science, the original cause of death, SBS, is “probably not correct”.

    Additionally, Justin Wolfe of Virginia had his death sentence vacated more than three years ago, due to horrendous prosecutorial misconduct, yet he remains in prison in limbo. The Commonwealth, 13 years after the fact is trying to charge him as a “kingpin” so he can once again be charged with a death penalty eligible crime. That is not the truth, the “kingpin” was Petrole, the victim, son of a Secret Service Agent.

    Both Havard and Wolfe were convicted in 2002 and have lost too much of their lives due to the failures of our “judicial system”.

    Like

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