Monday, December 9, 2019

Conviction Integrity Units: (Darrel Siggers): New York Times story by Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Farah Stockman writes about prosecutors like Baltimore's Marilyn Mosby and others across the USA who have traditionally focused on sending people to prison but now are also working to get wrongly convicted people out of jail. Darrell Siggers - whose case this Blog has been following - is part of this story: HL:

STORY: "Prosecutors Usually Send People to Prison. These Are Getting Them Out," by reporters Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Farah Stockman,  published by The New York Times on November 28 2019.

SUB-HEADING: "Prisoners who fought for years to prove their innocence couldn’t win in court, no matter how much evidence they amassed. Then the offices that put them away got involved."

GIST: "After Aaron Salter was convicted of murdering a man he had never met, he immediately began trying to track down the real killer from behind bars. When another inmate described the crime in detail, Mr. Salter began investigating him. Eventually that other man signed an affidavit swearing that Mr. Salter was innocent. Then, last year, his lawyers sent his file back to the Wayne County prosecutor in Detroit — the same office that had sent him away for life without parole in 2004. This time, the file landed in the hands of the office’s new conviction integrity unit, which determined that the case against Mr. Salter had been based on mistaken identification by the prosecution’s only witness. “Three months later, I was free,” Mr. Salter said.The unit that exonerated him is part of a major shift in the role of some of the nation’s district attorneys, who have traditionally focused on sending people to prison. Now, a growing number of prosecutors are also working to get wrongly convicted people out. Their efforts have provided an unflattering look at a system focused on winning convictions, sometimes with little apparent regard for a suspect’s actual guilt. In some instances, re-examining old cases has forced prosecutors to go up against their predecessors or their city’s police force, accusing them of wrongdoing or negligence. Almost 60 local prosecutors across the country have created special units like the one in Detroit to review questionable convictions, including the state’s attorney in Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby, who on Monday persuaded a judge to exonerate three men convicted of murdering a fellow student when they were teenagers. They had spent 36 years behind bars. Half of these units are less than four years old, and the pace at which they are being created has accelerated in recent years, tracking an increase in reform-minded prosecutors winning election in mid-size and large cities. The units have helped clear almost 400 people over the past dozen years, and they helped win releases in more than a third of the 165 exonerations recorded in 2018, according to a national registry maintained by three universities. The exonerated were largely African-American men convicted of crimes like murder, robbery and drug offenses. Their prosecutions were found in many cases to have been marred by perjury, false accusations or misconduct by police officers or prosecutors..................................................................................

“Courts are not designed to investigate cases the way this unit is,” said Darrell Siggers, who spent 34 years in prison before Ms. Newman’s unit won his release last year. He was convicted based on erroneous testimony from a police officer who said that a bullet in the victim’s body matched one found in Mr. Siggers’s apartment building.

Continue reading thMr. Siggers was able to disprove that after a law professor at the University of Michigan helped him pay for his own ballistics analysis. Indeed, the firearms unit at the Detroit crime lab was so riddled with errors that it was shut down in 2008. Yet judges still refused to grant Mr. Siggers a new trial.
“Courts are confined to procedural errors,” said Mr. Siggers, who now runs a company that helps prisoners file requests for public records about their cases. “But the conviction integrity’s unit’s main purpose is the truth.”

Read the National Registry of Exonerations entry on Darrell   Siggers  by Maurice Possley at the link below:
Shortly before midnight on February 16, 1984, 25-year-old James Montgomery was gunned down as he walked with two friends on Phillips Street on the east side of Detroit, Michigan.

Montgomery’s friends—Derrick Lawson and Ranard Jackson—told police they recognized the gunman as 20-year-old Darrell Siggers, whom they had seen earlier in the evening at a gathering at the home of Christine Hooks, the mother of Siggers’s two children. Montgomery, Lawson, and Jackson came to the gathering, but were kicked out because they were highly intoxicated.

On February 22, 1984, Siggers was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

In July 1984, Siggers went to trial in Recorder’s Court in Detroit. Lawson and Jackson identified him as the gunman—although both admitted they were as much as 100 feet away from the gunman, the lighting was poor, and they had been drinking and taking drugs.

Detroit Police Sgt. Claude Houseworth, a ballistics analyst, testified that seven shell casings found at the scene had been fired from the same weapon—likely a rifle. He said that a bullet found at the scene, as well as shell casings and a bullet that had been recovered from wood molding in an apartment across the hall from Siggers’s apartment, came from the same weapon. The murder weapon was never recovered.

On July 19, 1984, the jury convicted Siggers and he was sentenced to life in prison.

In 1987, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld his conviction and the Michigan Supreme Court denied him leave to appeal in June 1988.

In 1989, Siggers filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, but that was denied. In 1996, Siggers filed another federal petition for habeas corpus, but that was denied as well. In 1998, Siggers made an additional federal filing, which was denied in 1999.

In March 2004, Siggers filed a motion for a new trial in Wayne County Circuit Court alleging that newly discovered evidence established his innocence.

At an evidentiary hearing, Darryl Dulin testified that he was on the street on the night of the murder and that he saw a man named Toby Red shoot Montgomery. In addition, Richard Braxton testified that he later heard Toby Red admit that he shot Montgomery.

Siggers also presented a sworn affidavit from Bruce Spearman saying that Ranard Jackson, his cousin and one of the witnesses at Siggers’s trial, admitted that he falsely identified Siggers after police threatened to arrest him.

Another witness, Jack Fuqua, testified that Toby Red came to his house carrying a rifle and admitted that he just shot someone. Fuqua said he told police about the conversation, but he never told anyone else about it after police threatened to arrest him.

William Arnold testified that he heard Toby Red come to Fuqua’s door on the night of the murder and admit to having shot someone. Arnold said he did not volunteer this evidence at the time of the trial because police threatened to have public benefits withheld from his sister and her children.

The judge ruled that the witnesses were not credible and denied the motion for a new trial. The denial was upheld on appeal.

In 2008, the Detroit police crime lab was shut down after an audit performed by the Michigan State Police exposed widespread errors in ballistics testing.

Siggers subsequently contacted Claudia Whitman, founder of the National Capital Crime Assistance Network, a nonprofit organization that provides services to the incarcerated, including investigating cases of wrongful conviction. Whitman connected Siggers to David Townshend, a ballistics expert who had concluded that Detroit police ballistics testimony in the prosecution of Desmond Ricks had been false. Ricks was exonerated of murder in 2017.

Townshend reviewed the testimony from Siggers’s trial. In 2015, he issued a report severely criticizing Sgt. Houseworth’s testimony linking the shell casings to bullets found at the scene and at the apartment across the hall from Siggers’s apartment. Townshend said Houseworth’s testimony was “unbelievable.” He said, “It is highly unlikely that a positive identification of the three bullets…would have been possible” even if the police had recovered the actual weapon used in the shooting.

Townshend’s report noted that Houseworth testified about comparing bullets that weren’t even logged in the original reports of evidence recovered from the scene of the shooting and the apartment across the hall from where Siggers lived.

Ultimately, Siggers wrote to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office requesting that the conviction integrity unit review his case. Whitman also arranged for David Balash, a retired Michigan State Police firearms examiner to review the ballistics evidence. Balash concluded Houseworth’s testimony was “both confusing and at times totally inaccurate.”

The original evidence in the case was destroyed years earlier and so could not be retested or re-examined.

On July 19, 2018, Siggers’s lawyer and the prosecution presented a joint motion to vacate Siggers’s conviction. Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Shannon Walker granted the motion. On August 30, 2018, Siggers was released after spending more than 34 years in custody.

On October 19, 2018, the prosecution dismissed the charges. In August 2019, Siggers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages for his wrongful conviction.
Continue reading the main sto

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic"  section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:  Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog; 

  • After Aaron Salter was convicted of murdering a man he had never met, he immediately began trying to track down the real killer from behind bars. When another inmate described the crime in detail, Mr. Salter began investigating him. Eventually that other man signed an affidavit swearing that Mr. Salter was innocent.