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DNA frees 3 convicts after 17-year incarcerations.
June 12, 2003 11:14 AM   Subscribe

DNA frees 3 convicts after 17-year incarcerations --Barry Scheck and The Innocence Project have struck again. Thus far, they have used DNA to free 128 wrongly convicted people. Read Frontline's interview with Scheck. Learn about a sister organization, Northwestern's Center on Wrongful Convictions, which has freed nine Illinois men who were once sentenced to death. For those sentenced to time in the can, prison can be a rough place. How can we prevent innocent people from being put to death? Or fates worse than death?
posted by trharlan (39 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
From the prison rape story ('fate worse than death'): "As a result of a swelling inmate population ... prison rape has actually gotten much worse."

Groan...
posted by kfury at 11:20 AM on June 12, 2003


The mere possibility of being raped represents a serious form of torture for nearly all inmates and a prison punk's daily reality is not something that any civilized nation should wish on even its most wayward citizen.

I dunno, I read a book by Charles Manson's prison counselor that Manson was made a punk almost immediately after arriving at San Quentin for the Tate murders. I'd be lying if I said it cost me a miilisecond's sleep.
posted by jonmc at 11:25 AM on June 12, 2003


trharlan asks, "How can we prevent innocent people from being put to death?"

Blue Stone answers, "Abolish murder by the State."
posted by Blue Stone at 11:33 AM on June 12, 2003


I recall a tale from a hundred-odd years ago, where London burglars wore special gloves that had the fingerprints of dead men on them. Such creativity! And how very easy it would be to borrow someone else's DNA and liberally sprinkle it around a crime scene.
An irony, I suppose. Will it become illegal to carry around a small container of someone else's DNA?
posted by kablam at 11:35 AM on June 12, 2003


Blue Stone answers, "Abolish murder by the State."


Turn the rhetoric down a notch. DNA is actually going to be the death penalty (which I support)'s best freind. Freeing the innocent is admirable, that dosen't mean I don't think the guilty, and there are plenty of them, don't richly fucking deserve it.
posted by jonmc at 11:40 AM on June 12, 2003


I'm not anti-death penalty, I'd support it if judges, juries and lawyers were perfectly omniscient. I say restrict it to cases where there is actual DNA evidence and unrefutable proof. If for some reason that can't fly then abolish it.
posted by substrate at 12:04 PM on June 12, 2003


I think that somebody in a position of responsibility (wardens, guards, politicians) should start being held accountable for prison rape.
posted by callmejay at 12:19 PM on June 12, 2003


"Turn the rhetoric down a notch."
...
"...don't richly fucking deserve it."

Irony. It's good for the blood.
posted by Fezboy! at 12:25 PM on June 12, 2003 [1 favorite]


It makes me wonder about cases where there is no DNA evidence, innocent people are probably incarcerated just as often.

I also wonder how many murderers are walking around because their crime got pinned on someone else.

And how very easy it would be to borrow someone else's DNA and liberally sprinkle it around a crime scene.

Remember to carefully dispose of condoms, like who knows where the heck that stuff might wind up.
posted by bobo123 at 12:29 PM on June 12, 2003


Since 1992, the combination of effective policing and long sentences for wrongdoers has made the United States the safest large Western nation.
Has anybody got stats on this? I'd swear I'm a lot safer where I am. How large is large?
posted by Zootoon at 12:31 PM on June 12, 2003


As a proponent of the death penalty, I continue to applaud the use of DNA to exonerate - or convict - those who would face the ultimate punishment. There would be nothing worse for those who support the death penalty than to have an innocent man executed.

That said, two things: as jonmc points out, there are still crimes that are so heinous, such affronts to society, that in my opinion the only real punishment is death, and I think the list of those crimes could stand to be expanded (having worked with rape victims at one time, and seen the damage done, I think rape should be a death penalty crime). Second, I would like to point out that in ALL the innocence-project style cases I've seen, where death row inmates have their sentences commuted and/or revoked, NOT ONCE have I seen a case where the convict could be irrefutably found innocent. I've seen lack of DNA, I've seen witnesses changing their stories, I've seen evidence lost and/or ruined, I've seen technical judicial issues - but not once a case where it was determined that it wasn't THIS guy, it was THIS guy instead. I can understand and appreciate the sense of mercy that drives those who support and participate in the anti-capital punishment movement. But I would like to see some definitive innocence found, not just verdicts set aside, or technically driven not-guilty's.

Taking these guys off death row on the DNA is the right thing to do. But the next step for prosecutors should be to start again and find out what these people know about the crime. Much as the media makes of the "innocent man saved!" story, the likelihood is that these guys either participated or knew who participated in this crime. SOMEONE did it, and I for one would like to see who did face the appropriate punishment. It may very well NOT be these guys - but it IS someone. And they do, despite the irony, richly deserve to receive an appropropriate punishment, be it capital or no.
posted by UncleFes at 12:33 PM on June 12, 2003


Much as the media makes of the "innocent man saved!" story, the likelihood is that these guys either participated or knew who participated in this crime.

I assume you have a source for this claim?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 12:35 PM on June 12, 2003


Much as the media makes of the "innocent man saved!" story, the likelihood is that these guys either participated or knew who participated in this crime.

UncleFes, you sound like most of the people on the juries i've gotten kicked off of.

"if they got arrested, they must have done something wrong!"
posted by mrgrimm at 12:39 PM on June 12, 2003


The shame of our prisons
posted by homunculus at 12:51 PM on June 12, 2003


Anybody who rejoices over, approves or condones of somebody being raped, regardless of their guilt of another crime, is demented.
posted by substrate at 1:07 PM on June 12, 2003 [1 favorite]


UncleFes:

Here's an episode of This American Life describing the exoneration of three convicted murderers via DNA evidence, followed by the arrest and conviction of the actual murderers. So there you go.

This episode also has a great segment on how police coerce confessions: it contains actual audio of a confession being coerced. In this case, as with the previous case, the suspect who confessed was later exonerated and the actual murderer found.

Also, and I really shouldn't have to point this out to a group of intelligent people like you all, it's probably safe to assume that the police/prosecutorial error rate has been historically similar in cases with and without DNA evidence. In the cases without DNA evidence, however, wrongfully convicted defendants have no chance for exoneration 15 years later. These innocent people remain on death row, and they will be executed. Without serious reform of the justice system and policing practices, the current error rate makes the death penalty untenable policy.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:28 PM on June 12, 2003 [1 favorite]


(having worked with rape victims at one time, and seen the damage done, I think rape should be a death penalty crime).

UncleFes- the reason rape was removed as a crime worthy of the death penalty was the insanely large bias in the courts towards black men accused of raping white women. Perhaps this is based on the fact that only two generations ago a black man could be beaten to death for even looking at a white woman the wrong way. I would recommend the book "No Equal Justice" by David Cole for all the statistics on how the legal system, especially the application of the death penalty, discriminates towards black-criminal/white-victim crime.

Second, I would like to point out that in ALL the innocence-project style cases I've seen, where death row inmates have their sentences commuted and/or revoked, NOT ONCE have I seen a case where the convict could be irrefutably found innocent.

A criminal is innocent by definition until proven irrefutably guilty, not the other way around.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:35 PM on June 12, 2003 [1 favorite]


NOT ONCE have I seen a case where the convict could be irrefutably found innocent. I've seen lack of DNA, I've seen witnesses changing their stories, I've seen evidence lost and/or ruined, I've seen technical judicial issues.....But I would like to see some definitive innocence found....

Well. I would like to see some definitive info on who the fucking alien beings were who drugged me to sleep (I think it was during the Reagan administration...I vaguely remember being surrounded by empty but beguiling lights....), transported me through the SubEtha from an America I used to know into the pages of a certain Kafka novel, and awakened me to odious swill about people being guilty unless definitive proof exists of their innocence.

After a death sentence, a life sentence and ten and a half years in an Arizona prison, Ray Krone has today walked free:

Originally sentenced to death following his 1992 conviction - overturned on a technicality - Krone received a life sentence when a 1996 jury preferred the prosecution evidence given by forensic orthodontist and Republican Senator Raymond Rawson over claims by the defence that the match was 'junk science'.

But earlier this month Krone was finally granted his request for DNA testing of saliva and blood found on the victim. The results exonerated Krone and implicated another Arizona prisoner currently serving a sentence for sexual assault - making Ray Krone the 100th death row prisoner set free in the last 25 years.

"For 10 years I felt less than human," he told Phoenix TV station KPNX-TV, "This is certainly a strange feeling, and I think it'll take a while for it to set in."

"How do you make it up to a guy who has been in custody for 10 1/2 years?" defense attorney Alan Simpson asked. "Do you just pat him on the back and say 'oops' and send him on his way?"

But Krone's conviction has not been quashed. In a typical example of a pit-bull prosecutor unable to let go of his victim, Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley has reversed the onus of proof, saying he will not ask for the case against him to be dismissed unless 'additional evidence' showed he wasn't involved.


Ya know, Fes? This lawyer guy Romley sounds like your (and maybe George Orwell's) kind of guy.

And who knows....innocent or not, maybe Krone got good and raped in prison, too. That'll teach him to go around without definitive proof of his innocence at all times, here in Amerikafka.

I wouldn't lose any sleep over it....
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 1:44 PM on June 12, 2003


I assume you have a source for this claim?

Other than my own common sense? No. It is my opinion, based on having worked with cops, cons, lawyers and my own experience in and with the law enforcement and judicial systems, which is not entirely insubstantial. I also am aware of how lengthy and particular a capital case can be. These guys were found guilty by a jury AND sentenced to death by a jury, Then they (apparently) failed the automatic appeal as well. That indicates to me that there was at least some evidence that they were involved and/or committed the crime.

As you are almost certainly well aware, there could not possible exist such statistics one way or another on this particular statement. I could easily ask you to source the opposite view! But I won't.

"if they got arrested, they must have done something wrong!"

Obviously, that's incorrect :) These guys weren't just arrested, as I pointed earlier out - they went through a long, exhaustive trial process, plus appeal. As I also mentioned earlier, they may be innocent - but the likelihood exists that they know something of the crime (likelihood - not certainty).

Here's an episode of This American Life describing the exoneration of three convicted murderers via DNA evidence, followed by the arrest and conviction of the actual murderers. So there you go.

I'll be damned. Thank you! I had seriously not heard of a single incidence. Well, I stand corrected, although in the main, I stand behind my statements generally. I would like to see far more of these and far less of the other.

I really shouldn't have to point this out to a group of intelligent people like you all,

Now, now, let's not get snippy :)

it's probably safe to assume that the police/prosecutorial error rate has been historically similar in cases with and without DNA evidence.

I'm not sure how safe it is to assume anything, in light of Mr. Shanks' statements. It's certainly an opinion that might very well be correct, though, I'll concede that.

the reason rape was removed as a crime worthy of the death penalty was the insanely large bias in the courts towards black men accused of raping white women.

Conceeded. I would hope that today those biases would be gone, and I imagine I would be wrong. My feelings that rape - all rape, including substrate's example, with which I agree - should carry the death penalty are unrealistic. Personally, I think that public opinion is swaying against the death penalty in general, and I could easily see it being banned inside a decade.

A criminal is innocent by definition until proven irrefutably guilty, not the other way around.


Not to parse the terms to finely ("criminals" are by definition guilty), but "irrefutably" should be replaced with "beyond a reasonable doubt." Many things that are can be refuted, after all. If absolute certainty were the requirement, no one would ever be convicted of anything.

Ya know, Fes? This lawyer guy Romley sounds like your (and maybe George Orwell's) kind of guy.

If he's innocent, and it looks like he is, he should go free. I want the death penalty applied to the guilty, not to the innocent.

Have a nice thread. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm late for Two Minutes Hate.

~wink~
posted by UncleFes at 1:51 PM on June 12, 2003


As a proponent of the death penalty, I continue to applaud the use of DNA to exonerate - or convict - those who would face the ultimate punishment.

Just a small aside that DNA fingerprinting is not 100% full-proof. Its done be sequencing lengths of "useless" pieces of DNA (introns), but different people can and do have the same lengths of sequences that are tested for currently. In the end, DNA fingerprinting is still a percent and is not irrefutable evidence. I could go into more technical info if anyone wants me to via e-mail.
posted by jmd82 at 2:01 PM on June 12, 2003


As you are almost certainly well aware, there could not possible exist such statistics one way or another on this particular statement. I could easily ask you to source the opposite view! But I won't.

I don't *need* to source the opposite view. That's the whole point of "innocent until proven guilty".
posted by Armitage Shanks at 2:06 PM on June 12, 2003


Personally, I think that public opinion is swaying against the death penalty in general, and I could easily see it being banned inside a decade.

That happened before and then it swung right back. And It'll happen again.
posted by jonmc at 2:09 PM on June 12, 2003


Let's not ignore the irony that tens of thousands more men are raped every year than women.

...and people love to laugh about it.

Meanwhile, there are apparently still liberals who support the death penalty for some reason. What a country.
posted by dgaicun at 2:11 PM on June 12, 2003


I don't *need* to source the opposite view. That's the whole point of "innocent until proven guilty".

How convenient for you, and how clever to use it as a Queen's gambit against me! But please remember, I said "likely," not "for absolute sure."

Now, really, I must go, I am super SUPER late for Hate. It only lasts two minutes, you know.
posted by UncleFes at 2:14 PM on June 12, 2003


I also am aware of how lengthy and particular a capital case can be. These guys were found guilty by a jury AND sentenced to death by a jury, Then they (apparently) failed the automatic appeal as well. That indicates to me that there was at least some evidence that they were involved and/or committed the crime.

Hmm. I bet Rubin Carter, David Milgaard, and many others would disagree with this ridiculous statement.
posted by dobbs at 2:17 PM on June 12, 2003


Perhaps the overall level of vindictiveness in American culture will decline as the belief in authoritarian Christian dogma declines. That's what seems to have happened in other western countries.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 2:19 PM on June 12, 2003


UncleFes: Second, I would like to point out that in ALL the innocence-project style cases I've seen, where death row inmates have their sentences commuted and/or revoked, NOT ONCE have I seen a case where the convict could be irrefutably found innocent.

In five minutes or less, here you go:

from ACLU list of exonerations:

2. Johnny Ross -- Louisiana Convicted: 1975 Released: 1981 Sentenced to death for rape. He was released when his blood type was found to be inconsistent with that of the rapist.
--not DNA evidence per se, but the same de facto

5. Kirk Bloodsworth -- Maryland Convicted: 1984 Released: 1993 Convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a young girl. Years later, a new volunteer lawyer had the girl's underwear tested with a new DNA testing technique that was not available at the original trial. The tests showed that the semen stains on the underwear could not have come from Bloodsworth.

10. Alejandro Hernandez -- Illinois Convicted: 1985 Released: 1995 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.

12. Verneal Jimerson -- Illinois Convicted: 1985 Released: 1996 Jimerson was sentenced to death in 1985 for a murder that occurred in 1978. The chief witness against him was Paula Gray, who did not mention Jimerson in her original story to the police. Then she added his name to her account, along with three other names, including Dennis Williams (see below). She later recanted her entire testimony, saying the police had forced her to lie. The original charges against Jimerson were dismissed, but they were resurrected seven years later when the police offered to drop some charges against Gray if she would implicate Jimerson. Gray's 50-year sentence was converted to two years’ probation. In 1995, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously reversed Jimerson's conviction, in part due to DNA evidence demonstrating that he was not involved in the crime. Jimerson was released on bond in early 1996, and charges against him were subsequently dropped.

13. Dennis Williams -- Illinois Convicted: 1979 Released: 1996 Convicted in 1979 for murder and rape. Williams spent 17 years on death row until his release in 1996 when DNA evidence cleared him of charges.

15. Robert Lee Miller, Jr.-- Oklahoma Convicted: 1988 Released: 1998 Miller was convicted of the rape and murder of two elderly women in 1988. However, recent DNA evidence points to another defendant who was already incarcerated on similar charges. Oklahoma County Special Judge Larry Jones dismissed the charges against Miller in February, 1997, saying that there was not enough evidence to justify his continued imprisonment. Miller's original conviction was overturned in 1995, and he was granted a new trial. The prosecution is appealing Judge Jones's ruling.

16. Ronald Williamson -- Oklahoma Convicted: 1988 Released: 1999 Ronald Williamson and Dennis Fritz were charged with the murder and rape of Deborah Sue Carter, which occurred in 1982. They were arrested four years after the crime. Both were convicted and Williamson was sentenced to death. In 1997, a federal appeals court overturned Williamson's conviction on the basis of "ineffectiveness of counsel." The court noted that the lawyer had failed to investigate and present to the jury the fact that another man had confessed to the crime. Recently, DNA tests from the crime scene did not match either Williamson or Fritz, but did implicate Glen Gore, a former suspect in the case. All charges against the two defendants were dismissed on April 15, 1999 and they were released.

17. Ronald Jones -- Illinois Convicted: 1989 Released: 1999 Jones was convicted for the rape and murder of a mother of three. After spending ten years on death row, he was released when DNA evidence proved he was not guilty.

from Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

22. Frank Lee Smith Florida Convicted 1985 - Cleared 2000

Frank Lee Smith, who had been convicted of a 1985 rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl, and who died of cancer in January 2000 while still on death row, was cleared of these charges by DNA testing, according to an aide to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. After the trial, the chief eyewitness recanted her testimony. Nevertheless, Smith was scheduled for execution in 1990, but received a stay. Prosecutor Carolyn McCann was told by the FBI lab which conducted the DNA tests that: "He has been excluded. He didn't do it." Another man, who is currently in a psychiatric facility, is now the main suspect. (Washington Post, 12/15/00 (AP))


Rolando Cruz, Gary Gauger, Steven Linscott

Ray Krone

Earl Washington

All available in the first 10 Google results for death penalty overturned exonerated DNA evidence
posted by Fezboy! at 2:25 PM on June 12, 2003 [1 favorite]


Amazing stories on this topic here [Real Audio].
posted by scarabic at 2:37 PM on June 12, 2003


Why does no one advocate segregating AIDS patients from the regular prison population? There is no reason any inmate should be exposed to a fatal disease. They quarantine tuberculosis cases.

I am not talking about any kind of "camp" -- or anything vaguely reminiscent of Soviet Russia.

Just a separate wing of the prison, in which no uninfected inmate will be placed in danger, and Corrections personnel will be aware of which inmate might put them at risk for infection. There are strict rules in place at hospitals, and prisons are much bloodier places than hospitals.
posted by son_of_minya at 2:40 PM on June 12, 2003


I also heard about the innocense project on TAL and waned to help. They havent repsonded to my email to volunteer yet.
posted by MrLint at 2:45 PM on June 12, 2003


I don't care how many appeals courts you have, the justice system will always make mistakes. And while the convict is alive, he can be compensated and given the best life possible on the outside. If he has been killed, as so many innocent people have been, there is no possibility of compensation.

No-one in Britain even talks about the death penalty any more.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:33 PM on June 12, 2003


NOT ONCE have I seen a case where the convict could be irrefutably found innocent.

Jesus. I hope you have someone around you at all times to verify your whereabouts whenever someone within 100 miles of you commits a felony.
posted by yerfatma at 3:41 PM on June 12, 2003


MrLint - remember from the TAL episode that they have 11 months of unopened mail in their office! I'm sure they need help, even if only in screening their communications. Let me know if you ever get through.

For now, the increased forensic capability offered by DNA has served to reveal gross miscarriages of justice. But this is hardly the end-all, be-all vehicle of ultimate truth.

I think it's only a matter of time before a case arises where it's proven that DNA evidence was either falsely interpreted or deliberately falsified somehow. Technology marches on, but it's still subject to the human failings (including corruption) of those who apply it.

The justice system should never be considered fair/accurate enough to make life or death decisions.
posted by scarabic at 3:55 PM on June 12, 2003


Actually, the UK does talk about it.
posted by punilux at 5:26 PM on June 12, 2003


It's scary that one of the recurring themes in those stories, Fezboy, is that major problems exist in the system. Police coercing witnesses, evidence being ignored, confessions being ignored. On the whole, it seems all too common that prosecutors are interested in trying to convict someone, anyone of the crime, rather than trying to convice the right one. Until the process can be improved (and scientific advances like DNA offer hope), then no, the justice system has no right to make life and death decisions.
posted by Jimbob at 7:25 PM on June 12, 2003


I would like people to remember and recognize that George Orwell tried to warn against the kind of society he portrayed in 1984. He certainly didn't advocate for it, and the term "Orwellian" should be used with more discrimination. Thank you for your consideration.
posted by cookie-k at 2:25 AM on June 13, 2003


Y'know, the idea about verifying my whereabouts makes me think about voluntary having a GPS-enabled Lo-Jack on my person which is recorded by a 3rd-party database, so that if I'm ever questioned or something, I've got a solid alibi as to where I was...

...watching TV at home with my wife.
posted by TeamBilly at 10:59 AM on June 13, 2003


Just a small aside that DNA fingerprinting is not 100% full-proof. Its done be sequencing lengths of "useless" pieces of DNA (introns), but different people can and do have the same lengths of sequences that are tested for currently. In the end, DNA fingerprinting is still a percent and is not irrefutable evidence.
posted by jmd82


It's not proof that the DNA sample came from you, there's always that 1 in large number chance someone in the world has the same useless bits. It can prove that that a sample did not come from you, if those useless bits don't match your useless bits you didn't leave the sample. In a rape case that'll usually mean your good to go.

Same as how blood tests can eliminate a man as a father but not prove the man is the father.
posted by Mitheral at 11:08 AM on June 13, 2003


Jimbob: Sorry to be so late in responding, but yes, you are entirely right. It is really freakin scary. I think that this is a direct result of folks who profess UncleFes's POV on the matter where the overriding concern is that a crime goes punished, not necessarily that the right person be identifed and punished.

I'd also go a step further and argue that the state never has the right to make life or death decisions in this arena. This is merely my opinion though.
posted by Fezboy! at 2:01 PM on June 13, 2003


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