How Two Newspaper Reporters Helped Free an Innocent Man
September 3, 2013 10:01 AM   Subscribe

I had never been so confident of a convicted defendant’s innocence. And I never imagined nearly 12 years would pass before Cook County prosecutors would admit the truth and dismiss his conviction. But it finally happened. On June 28, 2013, Daniel, who was arrested at age 17, was released at age 38, having spent more than 20 years behind bars.

The original piece from December, 2001. The whole series, "Cops and Confessions". Longform.org's wrongful convictions archive. Previously on metafilter.
posted by AceRock (33 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Better a thousand innocent men get locked away forever than let one guilty man go free.

Or something.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:23 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Are there any professional sanctions/legal repercussions for prosecutors that willfully ignore overwhelming evidence like this?
posted by bfranklin at 10:23 AM on September 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


And yet, where's the compensation for twenty years? Where's the punishment for the cops? It is wonderful that he's exonerated, but people acted with malice in order to convict him and they took two decades of his life, permanently altered his employment prospects, caused him great suffering - when will they be accountable? We'd have a damn sight fewer coerced confessions and false convictions if the people responsible for them faced some real consequences.

And of course, why does anyone grow up in such a situation that they can be treated this way by the cops? Even if the kid knew not to confess to cops when they tell you "oh, we just need a confession for procedural reasons", how would he have accessed a lawyer? Would he have believed that the cops would give him his rights if he requested them? Would the cops have given him his rights, or would they just have beaten him?
posted by Frowner at 10:24 AM on September 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


I used to prosecute. Before closing argument, I would ask myself seriously if I had ANY doubt that the defendant I was trying was guilty.

There must be a special place in hell for the prosecutors in this case, who knew just the opposite. That they violated their constitutional obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence is nothing compared to the moral stain on their souls for sending an innocent man to prison.
posted by bearwife at 10:26 AM on September 3, 2013 [28 favorites]


Better a thousand innocent black men get locked away forever than let one guilty man go free.
FTFY.
posted by Talez at 10:28 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


for every innocent man locked away, there is 1 or more guilty that walk free.
posted by Jaelma24 at 10:33 AM on September 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


bearwife: I would ask myself seriously if I had ANY doubt that the defendant I was trying was guilty.

What would you do if you did?
posted by Gyan at 10:37 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are there any professional sanctions/legal repercussions for prosecutors that willfully ignore overwhelming evidence like this?

Sometimes. In a particularly glaring case in Williamson County, Texas, Prosecutor Ken Anderson (now a district judge) is slated for a December trial for willfully hiding evidence from the defense. in the Michael Morton case. It took some time and Anderson is still fighting it (as he fought to prevent the overturn of Morton's conviction).

From Wikipedia:
On April 19, 2013, the court of inquiry ordered Anderson to be arrested, saying “This court cannot think of a more intentionally harmful act than a prosecutor’s conscious choice to hide mitigating evidence so as to create an uneven playing field for a defendant facing a murder charge and a life sentence.” The subsequent trial tentatively has been scheduled to begin in December of 2013. Anderson has responded by claiming immunity from any prosecution under the expiry of applicable statutes of limitation.
posted by Mad_Carew at 10:39 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Some look for justice. But if you're a soulless asswipe more worried about your own rep than justice or decency or anything else, you'll settle for 'closure.' And fight like hell for the status quo so you won't look bad

The police/military/security apparatus is a gathering place for brutal, self-centered scum. Same as it ever was...
posted by umberto at 10:41 AM on September 3, 2013


for every innocent man locked away, there is 1 or more guilty that walk free

I love it when people blithely say things like that. But I also wonder what they would say if they were innocent and also locked up.
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:42 AM on September 3, 2013


I love it when people blithely say things like that. But I also wonder what they would say if they were innocent and also locked up.

I think the implication is that by imprisoning the innocent, the actual perpetrator(s) is free.
posted by bfranklin at 10:44 AM on September 3, 2013 [20 favorites]


Prosecutor Ken Anderson (now a district judge) is slated for a December trial for willfully hiding evidence from the defense.

It's good to see that the court takes this seriously, but it is amazingly depressing that a prosecutor can drag heels for years on such a thing and then try to claim statute of limitations. "Oh, I just need to keep this bullshit conviction hidden for 3 more years and I'm in the clear!"
posted by bfranklin at 10:46 AM on September 3, 2013


bfranklin: It's very late at night here. Evidently, I need to close the computer down and make my way to bed.

Anyway, thanks for setting me straight.
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:48 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


And yet, where's the compensation for twenty years? Where's the punishment for the cops? It is wonderful that he's exonerated, but people acted with malice in order to convict him and they took two decades of his life, permanently altered his employment prospects, caused him great suffering - when will they be accountable?

As others have pointed out, on top of all of that, they let the guilty party go free.

Perhaps those who knowingly collude in bogus convictions should be tried as accessories after the fact.
posted by Gelatin at 10:49 AM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


The police/military/security apparatus is a gathering place for brutal, self-centered scum. Same as it ever was...

It's less that than human nature.

From the prosecutors perspective, this is probably the motivation :
There was a lot at stake for the detectives, who said all eight defendants had confessed. Because all of them had implicated Daniel in the murders, if Daniel’s confession were to fall apart, the rest of the case would be in jeopardy.
The case was built around his confession. Without that, all of it falls apart and the cops and the prosecutors look bad. So, to save face and - this is important - put the guilty away, they have to railroad an innocent guy or two. A guy who was in jail for fighting and probably had a rap sheet already, so it's not like he's some saint, and he's probably headed for a lockup sooner rather than later anyway.

So, in the fuzzy, messy world, where corners get cut and metrics get gamed, this is the outcome. I'd like to say I would never make a decision like the prosecutors did. But you can see how one gets there from here - maybe I would fail like that, too.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:51 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


As others have pointed out, on top of all of that, they let the guilty party go free.

That's explicitly an issue in the Anderson case. The man now thought to be guilty (allegedly) killed another woman whose survivors blame Anderson for focusing on Morton and not catching the real killer.
posted by Mad_Carew at 10:54 AM on September 3, 2013


The subsequent trial tentatively has been scheduled to begin in December of 2013. Anderson has responded by claiming immunity from any prosecution under the expiry of applicable statutes of limitation.

There is no statue of limitation on murder, so the abuse of the justice system in a murder case should not hold a statue of limitations, either.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:08 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Still, there wasn't nearly as much at stake for the detectives in hard reality (as opposed to in whatever imaginary worlds of speculation the prosecutors and police might have had in their heads at the time) as for the guy who spent 20 years of his life locked up for a crime he didn't commit. That should probably count for something in any fair analysis. And it would probably be helpful for our entire system if there were some built-in mechanisms for discouraging officials from screwing up and covering up their mistakes, as it doesn't seem we currently do that very effectively in a lot of areas.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:10 AM on September 3, 2013


That's explicitly an issue in the Anderson case. The man now thought to be guilty (allegedly) killed another woman whose survivors blame Anderson for focusing on Morton and not catching the real killer.

Which is one reason I'm serious about the accessories-after-the-fact thing. If I knowingly help someone escape justice by driving a getaway car or helping them stash evidence, I'd clearly be subject to charges. And if I clearly benefit from doing so, I'd be all the more culpable.

Why not, then, someone who knowingly prosecutes, or helps prosecute, an innocent person? They're also abetting someone's escape from justice, and often for personal gain, be it "closing" a high profile case or cultivating a "tough on crime" image for the next election.
posted by Gelatin at 11:16 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


What would you do if you did?

Dismiss. Seriously. There was a division of opinion amongst us as to whether a prosecutor who really questioned the strength of their case should leave it to a jury to figure out if there was enough reason to doubt, or use their power to simply dismiss. I did get in some serious hot water later when I refused to take a homicide case (in which there was real question about whether the victim died as a result of friendly fire, among other things) to trial. But hey, prosecutors are supposed to uphold the law and do justice.
posted by bearwife at 11:17 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sure, he spent twenty years in prison, but what about the crimes he might have committed if he were free for those twenty years? Will no one think of the victims of the perpatratorless crimes?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:39 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


disclose exculpatory evidence is nothing compared to the moral stain on their souls for sending an innocent man to prison.

Unfortunately, a moral stain on their souls isn't going to make up for the 20 years this guy wrongly spent in prison. They should be harshly punished for their failure to disclose exculpatory evidence since, depending upon your beliefs, a moral stain upon their soul isn't an actual real punishment and is highly unlikely to deter further behavior of the sort.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:07 PM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I agree, IvoShandor. I wasn't referring to what potential punishment there should be, but to the appalling behavior. Saying that someone committed a particularly heinous offense doesn't mean that condemnation should be the only consequence.
posted by bearwife at 12:23 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


This looks like a case where the prosecutors pretty much knew they were railroading an innocent guy, so that puts it into a pretty rarefied sphere of assholery. More common are the cases where they just latch onto a narrative and refuse to consider alternatives or pay attention to the pieces that don't fit. I always find that one of the most curious aspects of these wrongful conviction cases, above all among the victims of the crime and the victim's survivors in the case of murder. You almost never seem to hear people saying "well, obviously the thing I really want is to make sure that the guy who actually committed this crime is the one who gets punished, so in the light of this disturbing evidence that they've locked up the wrong guy I'm going to join those who clamor for his release and for reopening the investigation." Instead, you always seem to get this deep emotional attachment to the prosecution narrative that is almost completely immune to contradictory evidence and an unshakeable conviction that anyone trying to free the wrongfully convicted person doesn't want to see anyone punished for the crime.

I think it must be one of those things where our sense of "how the world works" is badly shaken by the crime itself and the only thing that restores a sense of order to the world is the prosecution narrative, so you become deeply invested in it as a kind of underpinning for the way you reconstruct your sense of self and your sense of how you relate to the world in the aftermath of the trauma of the crime. It always strikes me as similar to the deep investment people have in particular narratives about illness which can be similarly resistant to evidence (vaccinations and autism, for example). Having a story that "makes sense" of your experience is a powerful thing--more powerful than an abstract desire for "the truth."
posted by yoink at 12:40 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Man oh man, that original piece from 2001 linked to in the post is an absolute masterpiece of police reportage. It avoids all the stupid, pointless mistakes people often make with such reportage, while drilling right down to the essentials.

Most significantly – at least to me – it is not an article about Daniel Taylor. It doesn't indulge in long, sad stories about the unfortunate life he's had, like some human-interest puff piece, because that doesn't matter. It's not an article about him – it's an article about the system that convicted him, an innocent man. It is precise, it is careful, it lists dates and places and times and full names of officers and judges and everyone complicit in this miscarriage of justice. And it gives us that information immediately and upfront; it doesn't shy away from pointing a finger directly at Detective Kenneth Boudreau and detailing his career of problematic interrogations. It's well-researched, but that research is rendered down into an excellent summation of the facts that is as stunning as it is damning.

This is the kind of reportage, in other words, that actually changes things. It probably doesn't sell as many papers as a nice, touching sob story about a family broken by an unjust system, but it is thousands of times more effective.
posted by koeselitz at 1:13 PM on September 3, 2013 [11 favorites]


There absolutely must be dire consequences when those people who are charged with safeguarding order and equity in our society decide that they will instead thwart and pervert the course of justice in order to give a boost to their own careers. And until there are serious ramifications for such gross negligence, the sort of thing that befell Daniel Taylor will continue happening over and over again.

If a prosecutor (or a police officer who aided in the effort) decides to eschew their sacred responsibility to uphold and honor the law and sends a known innocent to prison for life, is it really any different than attempted murder? Or manslaughter? Or kidnapping?

It just infuriates me that these sociopaths in positions of power can deprive other humans of their rights, their dignity, their family and their freedom and suffer no punitive actions whatsoever.
posted by Alonzo T. Calm at 1:20 PM on September 3, 2013


(Incidentally, I notice now that AceRock actually linked the wrong story in the original series. The original story on Daniel Taylor is actually here.)
posted by koeselitz at 1:27 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are there any professional sanctions/legal repercussions for prosecutors that willfully ignore overwhelming evidence like this?

A DuPage County, Illinois prosecutor and four sheriff's officers were acquitted by a county judge and jury June 4 of charges that they conspired to frame up and convict Rolando Cruz for murder, rape and kidnapping.

If they had been convicted, it would have marked the first time in American history that a prosecutor was convicted of felony charges for intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence or knowingly using false evidence to incriminate a defendant. However, as has happened in every previous case where prosecutors have been brought to trial on these charges, the so-called DuPage 7 were not convicted. -- WSWS, 1999


Background: In 1985, Cruz and Hernandez were jointly tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico. In September 1995, DNA tests showed that neither Cruz nor Hernandez was the source of the semen found at the crime scene. On November 3, 1995, a DuPage County judge acquitted Cruz on the basis of a recanted testimony (by a sheriff's department lieutenant) and the DNA evidence. Hernandez's case was also dismissed. [previously]

This was the infamous "dream vision" confession. Given how the 1995 retrial was pretty much one of the top Illinois stories of the 1990s, it's hard to imagine that the prosecutors in the Taylor case just a few years later were unaware of the consequences of what they were doing. Or lack thereof.
posted by dhartung at 1:38 PM on September 3, 2013


Looks like the police inspector on the case, Kenneth Boudreau, is still on the job.

It is rare the prosecutors or police face consequences (being charged with contempt, facing disciplinary or disbarment proceedings) for lying, fabricating evidence, or not following procedures.
posted by larrybob at 1:48 PM on September 3, 2013


As much as I think that the prosecutors who tried this case should loose their legal licenses immediately and probably be up on charges, the mind constructs elaborate defenses to keep a point of view alive. Daniel Taylor had confessed, therefore he was guilty. Everything else that pointed to a mistake must be wrong. Another person by the same name, a misfiled date, etc.

If this sort of behavior was actually punished, we might see a change in this behavior, but given that it is consequence free, this sort of thought process is encouraged. But constructing a narrative to fit a previous conviction (in both senses, I suppose) is part of human nature.
posted by Hactar at 1:56 PM on September 3, 2013


Better a thousand innocent black men get locked away forever than let one guilty man go free.

Really. I mean i might be overly cynical, but as i was clicking the link i was like "so it's a black kid right? and in a state that is, or is bordering right up against one of the like serious core of american racism zones?"

Yep and Yep.
posted by emptythought at 4:34 PM on September 3, 2013


Really. I mean i might be overly cynical, but as i was clicking the link i was like "so it's a black kid right? and in a state that is, or is bordering right up against one of the like serious core of american racism zones?"

It's not cynicism. Race is often a factor in empathy. Which means that the "reasonable doubt" goalposts shift with the amount of black blood in you.
posted by Talez at 5:20 PM on September 3, 2013


[Comment deleted. We don't do the doxing/vigilante mob action thing here. ]
posted by taz at 6:38 AM on September 4, 2013


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