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Wrongful Convictions

November 28, 2012 | By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times
NEW YORK - They were five men - boys, really - accused of a violent rape. They were prosecuted aggressively by district attorneys and vilified by a tabloid press, then sent to prison for as many as 13 years. In 1989, the case of the Central Park Five, as the attack on a 28-year-old white investment banker in uptown Manhattan has come to be known, roiled the country, touching on race and class and fears about crime. But the defendants - all black or Latino, none older than 16 - didn't commit the attack on the Central Park jogger.
October 25, 2012 | By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
Relatives of Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man executed eight years ago for the arson deaths of his three young daughters, are petitioning the state to hold a public hearing, issue a posthumous pardon and clear his name. The pardon request comes as state officials are collaborating with the Lubbock-based Innocence Project of Texas on an unprecedented review of closed arson cases statewide, looking for scientific errors that may have contributed to wrongful  convictions. The inquiry, the first of its kind in the country, is expected to change the way fire investigations are conducted.
October 23, 2012 | By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
HOUSTON -- An outside review of Texas arson convictions  has  uncovered suspect cases that are expected to be presented to a panel of state fire experts in January.  Advocacy groups say the review could help overturn wrongful convictions. Those leading the inquiry at the Lubbock-based Innocence Project of Texas are reviewing cases in which  investigators relied on  “junk science,” since-discredited approaches to analyzing crime-scene evidence and to determining whether fires were intentionally set. They plan to bring their findings to a panel of fire experts assembled by Texas Fire Marshal Chris Connealy.
September 24, 2012 | By Harriet Ryan, Los Angeles Times
A Los Angeles man serving a life sentence for murder was released Monday after prosecutors conceded that their star witness had perjured himself. During 19 years behind bars, John Edward Smith, a 37-year-old former gang member, adamantly maintained his innocence in the drive-by shooting, insisting that he was miles away at his grandmother's house at the time of the crime. His claims went unheard until three years ago, when a fledgling wrongful convictions group, Innocence Matters, took his case and identified problems with the testimony of the lone witness to identify him as the killer.
September 24, 2012 | By Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times
A Los Angeles man who spent 19 years in prison for murders he did not commit will be able to sue the LAPD, a panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Monday. Harold C. Hall should be permitted to amend his complaint against the city to allege that officers coerced his confession, which the court said was made as a result of "desperation, fear and fatigue," in possible violation of the 5th Amendment. The majority in the 2-1 decision said "the extraordinary circumstances" of Hall's conviction justified the court's unusual action "to prevent a woefully unjust result.
September 21, 2012
Re "The case for 'blind' lineups," Opinion, Sept. 17 As Barry C. Scheck and Karen A. Newirth described, numerous studies have shown that using double-blind show-up procedures greatly reduce the risk of an erroneous identification. Los Angeles County has had its share of wrongful convictions. So I am surprised that the district attorney's office persuaded the Los Angeles Police Department not to participate in a pilot project, recommended by the Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice to improve the reliability of the eyewitness procedures, out of a concern that other departments that failed to adopt this best practice would be criticized.
August 25, 2012 | By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
HOUSTON - In what's becoming a familiar scenario in Texas, a man has been freed after spending years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. David Lee Wiggins, 48, of Fort Worth was imprisoned in 1989 for rape, largely because the 14-year-old victim picked him out of photo and live lineups. His fingerprints did not match any at the crime scene. Still, he was sentenced to life in prison. But this month DNA testing excluded Wiggins, and on Friday, State District Judge Louis Sturns in Fort Worth approved a motion overturning his conviction and freed him. Before Wiggins is officially exonerated, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must accept the judge's recommendation or the governor must grant a pardon.
July 31, 2012 | By Nicole Sperling
Ken Burns, Alex Gibney and Julien Temple headline the Toronto International Film Festival's documentary lineup this year, a program that also features work by Marina Zenovich and Matthew Cooke. Fans of nonfiction film can take in movies on everything from wrongful convictions in the U.S. justice system to Middle East relations and the continuing saga of Roman Polanski. Gibney, the Oscar-winning director best known for his U.S. military torture expose "Taxi to the Dark Side," focuses his attention on the child abuse scandal and cover-up within the Roman Catholic Church in his new film, "Mea Maxima Culpa.
May 20, 2012 | By David G. Savage, Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - More than 2,000 people have been freed from prison since 1989 after they were found to have been wrongly convicted of serious crimes, according to a new National Registry of Exonerations compiled by University of Michigan Law School and Northwestern University. Its sponsors say it is by far the largest database of such cases, and they hope it will help reveal why the criminal justice system sometimes misfires, prosecuting and convicting the innocent. "The more we learn about false convictions, the better we'll be at preventing them," said Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor.
May 8, 2012 | By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times
DALLAS - On the way to witness his first execution in the town known as the "Execution Capital of the World," the Dallas County district attorney stopped at the prison cemetery to find his great-grandfather's grave. Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery in Huntsville is the final resting place of inmates whose families could not afford burial anywhere else. Tall pines guard the grassy expanse nicknamed "Peckerwood Hill," where many gravestones bear prison identification numbers, not names.
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