Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Daniel Lee (RIP), Wesley Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken and Keith Nelson: All facing the U.S. federal death penalty thanks to self-styled 'Law and Order' President Donald Trump and his sycophantic hired Gun U.S. Attorney General William Barr: The Federal Death Penalty has the veneer of respectability. But it’s just as flawed as the states’ killing machines. And 'junk science' is one of those flaws: An important commentary by death penalty lawyer Ben Cohen, published by 'The Appeal.'


UPDATE: "Just after publication on July 13, a U.S. district court judge ordered the Department of Justice to delay the executions of Daniel Lee, Wesley Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken, and Keith Nelson until further order of the court. After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in his case, Lee was executed at approximately 2 a.m. on July 14. 
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PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Donald Trump - America's self-styled 'Law and Order' president - has been given another gift by his Attorney General sycophantic (join the crowd)  hired-gun William Barr - his first execution - Daniel Lee. Although Trump may puff up his chest and bask in the unthinking applause of his idiotic base, death penalty lawyer Ben Cohen reminds us that while  the federal death penalty has the veneer of respectability, it is just as flawed as the state's killing machine - and that one of those common flaws is the role played by junk science in their processes.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "A pervasive myth is that the federal death penalty is ‘the gold standard’ of capital punishment systems,” Lee’s attorney said in a June 29 statement. “This is false. The federal death penalty is arbitrary, racially-biased, and rife with poor lawyering and junk science. Problems unique to the federal death penalty include over-federalization of traditionally state crimes and restricted judicial review.”

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COMMENTARY: "The Federal Death Penalty Has The Veneer Of Respectability. But It's Just As Flawed As the States' Killing Machines," by death penalty  lawyer Ben Cohen,  published by 'The Appeal' on July 13, 2020. (Ben Cohen is of counsel at the Promise of Justice Initiative, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that works to create positive change for people in the criminal legal system. Ben has been involved in four cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including the landmark decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana, foreclosing the expansion of the death penalty to non-homicide offenses, and Ramos v. Louisiana, guaranteeing the right to trial by jury.) I admire Ben Cohen as well  for his successful battle to help free Rodricus Crawford, an innocent young black man  from death row in Louisiana - the subject of many posts on this Blog. Kudos  to 'The Appeal' for publishing this insightful commentary. HL.

SUB-HEADING:  "Bill Barr has scheduled executions for four people in July and August. That's more  federal executions in one month than in the entire modern history of  the death penalty."

GIST: "This week, the federal government will resume executions for the first time in 17 years.  The federal government has set execution dates this week for Daniel Lee, Wesley Purkey and Dustin Lee Honken, and a fourth for Keith Nelson in August. The execution of Daniel Lee, set for today, was stayed on Friday by a federal judge who cited coronavirus-related health concerns by the victim’s family who were supposed to attend.  Lee’s attorneys said that “the trial judge, the lead prosecutor, and the victims’ family all oppose executing Danny Lee and believe a life sentence is appropriate.” Attorney General William Barr appealed the court’s grant of a stay opposing the motion by the victim’s family to intervene, filed because they were selected to attend his execution amidst “an exploding pandemic” and “are in an untenable position because they cannot exercise their rights as witnesses without putting their own lives in danger.”  On Sunday, at Barr’s request, a federal appeals court overturned the stay, allowing Lee’s execution to go forward.   
Purkey’s attorneys say he has schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia, and can’t comprehend why the federal government plans to execute him. Honken’s death sentence was imposed for murders committed in Iowa, which abolished the death penalty in 1965, and which could have prosecuted him noncapitally in state court.
These cases demonstrate that the federal death penalty is just as troubled as when it is administered in the states. “A pervasive myth is that the federal death penalty is ‘the gold standard’ of capital punishment systems,” Lee’s attorney said in a June 29 statement. “This is false. The federal death penalty is arbitrary, racially-biased, and rife with poor lawyering and junk science. Problems unique to the federal death penalty include over-federalization of traditionally state crimes and restricted judicial review.” 
Indeed, throughout the federal death penalty’s history, profound concerns over its lottery-like features and the troubling specter of racial, ethnic, and geographic disparities abound. Instead of providing a universal standard for death penalty cases, the federal death penalty exhibits all of the flaws of the states’ death penalty systems—under a veneer of Department of Justice respectability.
Since Congress passed the modern federal death penalty in 1988, 82 people have been sentenced to death. Three have been executed, two have received clemency, and one died while on death row. Fourteen people have been removed from the row. There are currently 63 people on federal death row, according to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Center.      
In 2010, I co-authored a study with Rob Smith (Smith is the Executive Director of the Justice Collaborative; The Appeal is an editorially independent project of the Justice Collaborative) called The Racial Geography of the Federal Death Penalty for the Washington Law Review. We found that seven federal districts were responsible for 40 percent of the people on federal death row. We noted how districts like the Western District of Missouri and the Eastern District of Missouri had highly disproportionate death sentencing rates compared to other districts with much larger populations, and many more murders. 
Reviewing these and many other statistics in 2015, U.S Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed concern over the widespread geographic arbitrariness in the application of the death penalty, and called for the court to consider its constitutionality. They wrote: “Thus, whether one looks at research indicating that irrelevant or improper factors—such as race, gender, local geography, and resources—do significantly determine who receives the death penalty, or whether one looks at research indicating that proper factors—such as ‘egregiousness’—do not determine who receives the death penalty, the legal conclusion must be the same: The research strongly suggests that the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily.”
In the aftermath of botched lethal injections in Oklahoma in 2014, concerns about the execution of innocent people, and the persistence of racism in the application of the death penalty, then-President Barack Obama said he was instructing the Department of Justice to examine the federal protocol for executions. Attorney General Barr said the review was completed last year, but it’s unclear if the results have been publicly disseminated.  
Since we last examined the federal death penalty 10 years ago, geographic and racial arbitrariness appear even more pernicious. While there are 94 federal districts and 11 circuits, only 39 districts have ever returned a federal death sentence. Three districts—including the Western District of Missouri—are together responsible for more than one quarter of death sentences. Just 10 districts are responsible for over half of federal death sentences.   
Although there are 11 federal circuit courts of appeal, 54 of 82 defendants sentenced to death have been from the Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Circuits.  
This is more true today than ever: All four of the warrants signed for execution are from the Eighth Circuit (two from the Western District of Missouri). And the victims in each case are white.   
There is no hiding from the racist history of the federal death penalty. More than half of the 82 people sentenced to death have been Black or Hispanic; in 48 instances, the case involves white victims.  Indeed, only two white defendants have been sentenced to death for killing a Black person, whereas 13 Black people have been sentenced to death for killing white people. And while it is unclear why  Attorney General Bill Barr selected four white defendants set for execution this summer, had he proceeded chronologically by date of sentence, nearly all of them would have been Black.    
Since the early 1970s, Congress, state legislatures, and the courts have unsuccessfully attempted to revise the administration of the death penalty to ensure that it is reserved for the most culpable people guilty of the most aggravated offenses—and that arbitrary factors like race, bias, and geography play no role.   
But less than 1 percent of the more than 800,000 murders between 1970 and today have been prosecuted federally, and, of those murders, juries have imposed death sentences on just 82 individuals.  The small number of federal death sentences might lead the public to imagine that the federal death penalty is reserved only for mass murderers, serial killers, terrorists, and drug-kingpin-murderers, but that is not the case. Because Congress has expanded the federal death penalty to reach almost any imaginable murder, arbitrariness based upon race of defendant, race of victim, and resourceshas increased.
Of the more than 5,000 eligible cases that have been prosecuted in federal court, seven judges are responsible for more than 30 percent of the death sentences. One judge has sentenced six people to death; another has sentenced five people. Two of the cases under warrant were sentenced to death by the same judge. A single assistant U.S. attorney is responsible for five death sentences across two separate jurisdictions. As well, the quality of defense counsel for people sentenced to death is often poor and constitutionally ineffective: Three defense attorneys in Missouri and Texas are responsible for about 10 percent of the defendants on death row, one of whom is scheduled for execution this month. 
We don’t yet have a national consensus on the death penalty, but it is a geographically narrow, personality-driven punishment. We have a Missouri and Texas federal death penalty or an Eighth and Fifth Circuit death penalty. This is not because there are more federal crimes in those jurisdictions—nearly any offense involving a gun and a robbery or drug deal can be a federal offense—but rather because of a sordid combination of local prosecutorial political expediency or gamesmanship, systemic deficiencies in defense counsel, and judicial indifference or outright antagonism to these systemic deficiencies.   
We don’t really have federal death penalty—just a national disgrace."
The entire commentary can be read at:
https://theappeal.org/federal-death-penalty-returns/

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Read the post by  Ohio lawyer Jeff Gamso of 'Gamso for the defence' - one of the most persuasive commentators on the death penalty in America (and anywhere else), at the link below: (The post contains a statement from Ruth Friedman, attorney for Daniel Lee who was executed this morning.)

"Daniel Lewis Lee was killed early this morning at the federal prison in Terra Haute, Indiana, by agents of the federal government. It was the first federal execution in 17 years.  

The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote declaring that Lee had almost no chance of showing that the method of execution would violate the Eighth Amendment, cheered it on.  It was, the court majority  said, its "responsibility" to ensure that Lee got killed.  And so he did.
The following is a statement from Ruth Friedman, attorney for Daniel Lee who was executed this morning:
It is important for everyone to understand exactly what happened last night to our client, Daniel Lewis Lee. At 2 AM on July 14, while the country was sleeping, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision vacating the injunction that had been in place against the first federal execution in 17 years.  Within minutes, the Department of Justice moved to re-set Danny Lee's execution--for 4 AM, summoning media and witnesses back to the prison in the very middle of the night.  When it was brought to the government's attention that a court stay still remained in place, the DOJ first maintained that that stay presented no legal impediment to executing Danny Lee, but then filed an "emergency" motion to lift the stay.  
Over the four hours it took for this reckless and relentless government to pursue these ends, Daniel Lewis Lee remained strapped to a gurney:  a mere 31 minutes after a court of appeals lifted the last impediment to his execution at the federal government's urging, while multiple motions remained pending, and without notice to counsel, he was executed. 
It is shameful that the government saw fit to carry out this execution during a pandemic.  It is shameful that the government saw fit to carry out this execution when counsel for Danny Lee could not be present with him, and when the judges in his case and even the family of his victims urged against it.  And it is beyond shameful that the government, in the end, carried out this execution in haste, in the middle of the night, while the country was sleeping.  We hope that upon awakening, the country will be as outraged as we are.
 -- Ruth Friedman, attorney for Daniel Lee and Director, Federal Capital Habeas Project--July 14, 2020
Amen." (That's how Jeff Gamso ends his post."
http://gamso-forthedefense.blogspot.com/2020/07/on-murder-of-daniel-lee.html

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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com.  Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;
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FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."
Lawyer Radha Natarajan:
Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;
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Lydell Grant: Texas: (Part One): Great question posed by Arizona State University Prof. Laura Smalarz: "How did sIx eyewitnesses identify the wrong man in a murder? As she notes: "It’s a fact that eyewitnesses make mistakes. There have been hundreds of cases in which mistaken eyewitness identification testimony led to the conviction of innocent people. The puzzling question in this case, though, is why did six eyewitnesses independently identify Lydell Grant as the killer and then confidently testify in court?" Read on for her response. HL.


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "As an experimental psychologist who conducts research on eyewitness identification, I’ve seen hundreds of examples of highly confident yet mistaken eyewitnesses – both in the laboratory and in actual court cases. My review of the transcripts from Grant’s trial suggests a simple explanation for these high-confidence mistakes: The police did not use scientific best practices for collecting the eyewitness identification evidence.  Scientific best practices for conducting eyewitness lineups require that the person administering the lineup not know who the police suspect. Just as double-blind clinical trials in medical studies are intended to prevent patients’ and doctors’ expectations from affecting outcomes of the clinical trial, double-blind lineups aim to prevent witnesses’ and administrators’ expectations from influencing the outcomes of the identification procedure."

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STORY: "How did six eyewitnesses identify the wrong man in a murder," by Laura  Smalarz, published by The  Daily Beast on July 11, 2020. (Laura Smalarz is an assistant professor of psychology, at Arizona State University.)

PHOTO CAPTION: "Lydell Grant picked out of lineup doesn't even look like the man who eventually confessed to the crime."

GIST:  "On the strength of six eyewitnesses’ lineup identifications, Lydell Grant was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 for the murder of a young Texas man, Aaron Scheerhoorn, who was stabbed to death outside a Houston nightclub in 2010.


All six of those eyewitnesses were wrong.

New DNA testing on biological material collected from underneath the victim’s fingernails cleared Grant and implicated another man, Jermarico Carter, who police said confessed to the killing. Carter has now been indicted for the murder by a grand jury, and Lydell Grant was released from prison. But his name has not been cleared.

Faith in eyewitnesses runs so deep that despite the overwhelming proof of Grant’s innocence, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused his exoneration request. Instead, the court wants the six eyewitnesses who originally testified against Grant to respond to his claims of innocence.

It’s a fact that eyewitnesses make mistakes. There have been hundreds of cases in which mistaken eyewitness identification testimony led to the conviction of innocent people.

The puzzling question in this case, though, is why did six eyewitnesses independently identify Lydell Grant as the killer and then confidently testify in court?

One might assume that Grant was the murderer’s unlucky doppelganger. But a comparison of the pair’s mugshots reveals that they bear little physical resemblance to one another beyond both being Black men.

As an experimental psychologist who conducts research on eyewitness identification, I’ve seen hundreds of examples of highly confident yet mistaken eyewitnesses – both in the laboratory and in actual court cases. My review of the transcripts from Grant’s trial suggests a simple explanation for these high-confidence mistakes: The police did not use scientific best practices for collecting the eyewitness identification evidence.

Scientific best practices for conducting eyewitness lineups require that the person administering the lineup not know who the police suspect. Just as double-blind clinical trials in medical studies are intended to prevent patients’ and doctors’ expectations from affecting outcomes of the clinical trial, double-blind lineups aim to prevent witnesses’ and administrators’ expectations from influencing the outcomes of the identification procedure.

The transcript from Lydell Grant’s trial revealed that the homicide detective in charge of investigating the case administered the lineup to the eyewitnesses. Of course, he knew that Lydell Grant was the one under suspicion.

Psychological experiments have shown that lineup administrators who know who the suspect is end up cuing witnesses toward that person. Compared to administrators conducting double-blind lineups, these informed administrators are more likely to ask witnesses about the suspect and smile when witnesses are looking at the suspect rather than at another person in the lineup.

Such behaviors are often inadvertent; neither lineup administrators nor eyewitnesses may be consciously aware that they’re happening. Nevertheless, these subtle behavioral cues affect eyewitnesses’ decisions by making them more likely to choose the suspect.

But if the six eyewitnesses chose Lydell Grant from the lineup only because they were cued to do so by the case detective, why were they so confident in their identifications? According to the trial transcript, most of the eyewitnesses testified to having been positive when they picked Grant out of the lineup. One reported that he had identified Grant without doubt or hesitation. Another stated that the killer’s face was “burned into [her] memory immediately.”
  • The witnesses’ trial testimony reveals a simple explanation for these high-confidence errors: All of the eyewitnesses received confirmatory feedback following their identification of Grant.
Three of the eyewitnesses reported that the detective told them that they had picked the same person other people had, though the detective himself denied having made such statements. Two other eyewitnesses, a couple, remembered discussing their selection with one another and confirming each other’s decisions. One eyewitness couldn’t recall whether the detective had told him anything after he identified Grant, but the detective acknowledged telling that particular eyewitness “good job” following the identification. The detective also admitted making a similar comment to at least one other witness.

Research has repeatedly demonstrated that simple confirming comments such as these have dramatic effects on eyewitnesses’ testimony. Not only do such statements inflate eyewitnesses’ confidence in the accuracy of their identification, but they lead them to falsely remember having been that confident all along.

As a result, witnesses who have received confirmatory feedback provide testimony that is highly persuasive to jurors.

In one study, people playing the role of jurors were able to reliably distinguish between accurate and mistaken eyewitnesses when the witnesses had not received any confirmatory feedback.

But when the witnesses had received a simple reinforcing comment following their identification (“Good job, you got the guy”), the mock jurors could no longer tell the difference between accurate and mistaken eyewitnesses. In other words, the confirmatory remark made the mistaken eyewitnesses just as persuasive as the accurate ones.

Witnesses aren’t able to tell whether their testimony was influenced in this way. 
Moreover, confirmatory feedback can alter witnesses’ memories of the original crime, making them less able to recognize the actual perpetrator when they see him again. So, there is little to be gained from speaking to the original eyewitnesses from Lydell Grant’s case.
  • The processes at play in Lydell Grant’s case are predictable and unfortunately common. The way to avoid these problems with eyewitness testimony is for police to adopt best practices based on the psychological research.
In addition to implementing double-blind lineup procedures, it’s essential that lineup administrators document eyewitnesses’ confidence immediately following an identification. Confidence collected at the time of an identification during a double-blind lineup procedure is informative regarding the eyewitness’s accuracy. Confidence reported at trial after the eyewitness has received confirmatory feedback is not.
To date, 24 states have adopted these core procedural reforms, including Texas in 2011, one year after the investigation of Aaron Scheerhoorn’s murder. Unfortunately for Lydell Grant, these reforms came a year too late. The remaining 26 states should act swiftly to prevent additional miscarriages of justice, and Lydell Grant should be exonerated."
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The entire story can be read at:

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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com.  Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;
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FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."
Lawyer Radha Natarajan:
Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;
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Monday, July 13, 2020

Myon Burrell: Minnesota: (Jailhouse informant case I have been following. HL): Major Development: Independent panel of national legal experts to reviewthe conviction of an African American teenager who was sentenced to life in prison nearly two decades ago for the murder of a little girl, struck by a stray bullet while studying in her south Minneapolis home..."Myon Burrell’s case captured headlines, first at the time of his 2002 arrest, and again this year after Sen. Amy Klobuchar touted it during her run for the U.S. presidency. She used it as an example of how — when she was the top prosecutor in Hennepin County — she helped find justice for the African American community outraged by gun violence and the senseless death of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards, who was also Black. After the Associated Press highlighted flaws in the investigation that pointed to a possible wrongful conviction, Klobuchar called for a review of the case, saying justice is not only about punishing the guilty but protecting the innocent. She also said she supported the formation of a Conviction Integrity Unit and a Sentencing Review Board to look into other potentially flawed cases."


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: "Jailhouse informants have probably been around for as long as there have been jails and inmates willing to trade information for a favor or two — including more privileges or a shorter sentence. “Incentivized informants” is the legal term of art, but too often they also have “a strong incentive to lie,” said Michelle Feldman, state campaigns director for the Innocence Project. That explains why, according to the project’s figures, 16 percent of DNA exonerations involved false testimony by informants. Broader studies of wrongful convictions put the figure as high as 46 percent. Innocent people have spent decades in prison while the guilty remained free, and often the victims of those informants never see justice either — a lose-lose-lose for the criminal justice system."
Boston Globe Editorial:  February 15, 2020.
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PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "Burrell, 16 at the time of Tyesha’s killing, has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence saying he was not even at he scene. A yearlong AP investigation found there was no hard evidence — no gun, fingerprints, DNA — linking him to the crime. Surveillance tape that Burrell told police would clear him was never pulled from Cup Food, a store just a few hundred yards from Tyesha’s house. Much of the state’s case relied on jailhouse informants, several of whom have since recanted. And another man has admitted to the shooting, saying Burrell was not even present."

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PASSAGE TWO OF THE DAY: "Nirider, a Minnesota native, who represents juveniles who were wrongfully convicted of crimes, including Brendan Dassey, subject of the Netflix Global series Making a Murderer, said the panel is filled with some of the country’s top legal minds, including a former state Attorney General, the leader of one of the first Conviction Integrity Units in the country, and the past president of the national Innocence Network. It also includes several state and national experts on race, sentencing, and the criminal justice system, she said. The death of George Floyd — killed by police in May at a south Minneapolis corner store just three blocks from where Tyesha was shot — has put a spotlight on Minnesota and its long history of racial injustice."

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STORY: "Legal experts review Black Minnesota teen's life sentence," Associated Press, publishes by CBS Minnesota on July 13, 2020.

GIST: "An independent panel of national legal experts will review the conviction of an African American teenager who was sentenced to life in prison nearly two decades ago for the murder of a little girl, struck by a stray bullet while studying in her south Minneapolis home, Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and the New York-based Innocence Project announced Monday.
Myon Burrell’s case captured headlines, first at the time of his 2002 arrest, and again this year after Sen. Amy Klobuchar touted it during her run for the U.S. presidency. She used it as an example of how — when she was the top prosecutor in Hennepin County — she helped find justice for the African American community outraged by gun violence and the senseless death of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards, who was also Black.
After the Associated Press highlighted flaws in the investigation that pointed to a possible wrongful conviction, Klobuchar called for a review of the case, saying justice is not only about punishing the guilty but protecting the innocent. She also said she supported the formation of a Conviction Integrity Unit and a Sentencing Review Board to look into other potentially flawed cases.

Barry Scheck, co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project and one of the first proponents for Conviction Integrity Units nationwide, called the review of Burrell’s case an important first step. Scheck was one of O.J. Simpson’s defense attorneys.
He and Laura Nirider — co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, who led efforts to identify and select prospective panel members — will act as advisors as the team looks at the evidence that led to Burrell’s conviction and the appropriateness of his sentence.
“A conviction integrity review is a non-adversarial process that seeks cooperation from prosecutors, defenders and police,” said Scheck, who is an expert in best practices in conviction integrity and will guide the panel on the process. “Best practices today include consideration of excessive sentences as well as a review of guilt or innocence and the fairness of the trial.”
“In the end, CIUs often ask the question after reviewing all the evidence, ‘if we had known all of this at the time we charged the defendant, would we have arrested him in the first place?’”
Nirider, a Minnesota native, who represents juveniles who were wrongfully convicted of crimes, including Brendan Dassey, subject of the Netflix Global series Making a Murderer, said the panel is filled with some of the country’s top legal minds, including a former state Attorney General, the leader of one of the first Conviction Integrity Units in the country, and the past president of the national Innocence Network.
It also includes several state and national experts on race, sentencing, and the criminal justice system, she said.
The death of George Floyd — killed by police in May at a south Minneapolis corner store just three blocks from where Tyesha was shot — has put a spotlight on Minnesota and its long history of racial injustice.
Many members of the state’s African American community feel the system is stacked against them, from the time of their arrest to the charges and the courts, to the length of their sentences.
The 1990s and 2000s were some of the worst for young Black men in America.
A largely discredited theory about a remorseless, teen criminals — dubbed “superpredators” — resulted in a tripling of the number of youths thrown in adult facilities, thousands of them sentenced to life. The vast majority were African American. While the pendulum has plainly started to swing back, without reforms, many of those young men will likely die in prison.
Perry Moriearty, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, said the state has long prided itself on having a progressive penal system, but that is clearly not true when it comes to the punishment of young Black males.
“Black juveniles in Minnesota are eight times more likely to be prosecuted as adults than white juveniles, and we subject them to extraordinarily harsh sentences,” she said. “Even as states across the country are abandoning life sentences for adolescents, we continue to permit life without parole or its equivalent. We are on our way to becoming an outlier.”
Burrell, 16 at the time of Tyesha’s killing, has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence saying he was not even at he scene.
A yearlong AP investigation found there was no hard evidence — no gun, fingerprints, DNA — linking him to the crime.
Surveillance tape that Burrell told police would clear him was never pulled from Cup Food, a store just a few hundred yards from Tyesha’s house. Much of the state’s case relied on jailhouse informants, several of whom have since recanted. And another man has admitted to the shooting, saying Burrell was not even present.
The panel reviewing Burrell’s case has the support of several Minnesota organizations, including the Minneapolis NAACP, the Innocence Project of Minnesota, and the ACLU of Minnesota and panel members, Nirider said.
The panel hopes to release its findings in the next four to five months."
The entire story can be read at:
https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2020/07/13/legal-experts-review-black-minnesota-teens-life-sentence/


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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com.  Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;
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FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."
Lawyer Radha Natarajan:
Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;
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Walter Ogrod: Pennsylvania: The false confession and more - in his own shocking words, thanks to 'Injustice Watch.'..."Ogrod was one of 25 people profiled in Injustice Watch’s “Unrequited Innocence” series, which examined cases where people who were likely innocent were sentenced to death and have not been exonerated. Ogrod is so far the only subject of that series to be exonerated. In one of his first interviews since he was released, he spoke with Injustice Watch about his interrogation, his experience in prison, and his new life as a free man.'


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "We took a break around midnight. They gave me some food. We took a couple flights upstairs to the room equipped to take fingerprints. They take five, six sets of fingerprints. They kept throwing pictures of her body in my face. “You’re sick, we want to get you help,” they said. Toward the end, toward the signing, I say I want an attorney. They were trying to get me to sign a paper waiving my rights. They said they’d get me an attorney but you gotta sign this first. They were messing with my head real bad. They said, “If you don’t sign this confession, we’re going to take you downstairs and put you with a bunch of n****** and say you killed a bunch of n***** children, and see what happens.” A few times I had managed to try to get out to try to use the phone but they grabbed me. I’m so out of it and all, I’m just, by that time I must have been up 48 hours straight. They kept on badgering, badgering. They kinda had me believing it. My autism, my Asperger’s, I had no sleep. I did not get out until 7 the next morning. I was thrown in the holding cells."

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PASSAGE TWO OF THE DAY: "I want to do advocacy, to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania. It needs to be done, especially in Pennsylvania. After 28 years, you have no idea how much is still burning in me. I want to see everyone connected to my case, the detectives, especially the DAs and the coroner, I want to see them punished. I want to go after everyone that had a part in this. I want to make it so expensive for the city that this has to change. It’s painful, but I gotta use this pain to help other people."

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PUBLISHER'S NOTE: This Blog is interested in false confessions because of the disturbing number of exonerations in the USA, Canada and multiple other jurisdictions throughout the world, where, in the absence of incriminating forensic evidence the conviction is based on self-incrimination – and because of the growing body of  scientific research showing how vulnerable suspects are to widely used interrogation methods  such as  the notorious ‘Reid Technique.’ As  all too many of this Blog's post have shown, I also recognize that pressure for false confessions can take many forms, up to and including physical violence, even physical and mental torture.

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog:

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BACKGROUND: "Four years after the naked and battered body of Barbara Jean Horn was found in a trash bag in Philadelphia, the police had made no arrests despite having a series of suspects. Ogrod was not considered a suspect in the 1988 murder of 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn until three years after her body was found. He had no criminal record and didn’t match the physical description of the man seen carrying the box Horn was found in. There were no signs of sexual assault on her body. Ogrod was described by acquaintances as unable to make decisions for himself and easily manipulated due to a mental disability. He confessed to the murder and attempted assault after an unrecorded interrogation by detectives Martin Devlin and Paul Worrell, who obtained false confessions that led to exonerations in at least two other cases. His retrial (the first ended in a mistrial) included a notorious jailhouse informant known as “the Monsignor” due to his apparent knack for hearing confessions. Ogrod was convicted and sentenced to death in 1996.  (Patricia) Cummings (Supervisor Conviction Integrity Unit)  wrote Saturday that Devlin and Worrell “utilized inherently coercive tactics and inaccurate information to obtain a false and unreliable confession from Ogrod; and jailhouse informants colluded to provide false and unreliable testimony against Ogrod in an effort to procure favorable treatment in their own criminal prosecutions.” No credible evidence remains that can prove Ogrod killed Horn, which means Horn’s real murderer remains unknown and may have committed other crimes, Cummings wrote.

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STORY: "Exoneree Walter Ogrod in his own words," by John Seasley, published by Injustice Watch on July 9, 2020. (John Seasly (reporter) has served as a reporter on the investigative team at The Record in North Jersey, a staff writer at the Dubois County Herald in southern Indiana and a graduate fellow at Medill Watchdog. At Watchdog, John was part of the team that produced the award-winning multimedia series "Harsh Treatment," the most comprehensive look ever at youth residential treatment in America, done in collaboration with the Chicago Tribune.)

GIST: "Walter Ogrod walked out of prison on June 5. Ogrod, 56, spent nearly a quarter-century on death row for the 1988 killing of 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn, which remains unsolved. His trial involved a false confession, jailhouse informants and evidence withheld from his defense attorney. Ogrod was one of 25 people profiled in Injustice Watch’s “Unrequited Innocence” series, which examined cases where people who were likely innocent were sentenced to death and have not been exonerated. Ogrod is so far the only subject of that series to be exonerated. In one of his first interviews since he was released, he spoke with Injustice Watch about his interrogation, his experience in prison, and his new life as a free man.

On the police interrogation that ended in a false confession:
I had been up since 8 [a.m.] that Saturday. Maybe just before noon on Sunday I called the detectives–see they came to my house a few days earlier. The landlord got the card from them. They said it was only going to take an hour. I got there at 1:30 [p.m.], they told me to sit in the little waiting area. I must have been waiting there at least an hour. I start drifting off. I say I’m going, that I’m sleepy and I don’t want to crash on my way home. They put me in the interrogation room, detectives Martin Devlin and Paul Worrell. They start, at least for the next hour, asking for basic information. Where I live, why’d you move. They asked me what did I remember about the case, what did I remember happening that day. [This was almost four years after Barbara Jean’s body was found.] I told them I came back from work, I didn’t see no kids. I see Mrs. Green who lived there. I asked why it was so quiet. She said the older kids, they took all the young kids to the local rec center for the pool out there, which they usually do. I told them I went to the store, came back. Some time later, I seen Mr. Fahy come to the door asking if I’d seen Barbara Jean. He was in a panic. He said maybe she was at a friend’s house. They asked a lot about her stepfather, how he was to the mother and the child. I thought he was her actual father, I didn’t know. They said they heard she didn’t want her daughter coming to the house. The Greens were like vagabonds, they were unkempt, they were selling drugs.They asked what did we hear. I told them we heard about the box being found, but they’re not sure if the child was her. Later on that night we heard it was her. Then they start asking what do you remember reading in papers and on TV. Something seemed unusual, but then again, they wanted to know what was going on, what I had known. I got a weird feeling, but it wasn’t until after they said the interview was done, I go for the door, and they slam it shut on me. They said, “We believe you done it. We’re keeping you here all night.” They kept locking the door. They handcuffed me to the chair. I asked for a phone call for a lawyer. I said I have a right to a phone call, they said no, no, we’ll get to it later. It went all night like that. They started putting pictures of her body in front of my face. They didn’t go like in order, they kept skipping from one part to another. Devlin, he was the creative one. Worrell was sometimes making suggestions, like “How could this happen when you said this earlier?” I’m dozing off all the time. They shake me awake, give me coffee. They made a sketch of the alley to my house [near where Barbara Jean’s body was found.] “The person was supposed to go this way,” he said. He takes my hand, goes straight down the alley and makes a right. “This is the way.” If they’d seen me, why not arrest my ass earlier? Devlin was getting mad. “Then you went down this way.” I was so dead tired I didn’t know what was going on. Then they were asking questions about the body, or how I got it in the house. Mrs. Green was in the house, then she wasn’t. “You can’t decide whether someone’s in the house or not,” they said. They asked me what’d I do with the blood. There was no blood spatter in that house. They claimed I wanted to take her downstairs and wanted to play doctor with her. In those homes out there, you could easily hear everything. You could hear every sound through the vents. They said I made her kneel so she could give me a blowjob. They said she started crying so I took this weight bar and swung it. Impossible. If you put your arm up, you’d hit the rafters an inch above your wrist. There’s no way I could have swung a bar going down the way they have it. No possible way. Even if I’m on the first floor, I still couldn’t do it there. We took a break around midnight. They gave me some food. We took a couple flights upstairs to the room equipped to take fingerprints. They take five, six sets of fingerprints. They kept throwing pictures of her body in my face. “You’re sick, we want to get you help,” they said. Toward the end, toward the signing, I say I want an attorney. They were trying to get me to sign a paper waiving my rights. They said they’d get me an attorney but you gotta sign this first. They were messing with my head real bad. They said, “If you don’t sign this confession, we’re going to take you downstairs and put you with a bunch of n****** and say you killed a bunch of n***** children, and see what happens.” A few times I had managed to try to get out to try to use the phone but they grabbed me. I’m so out of it and all, I’m just, by that time I must have been up 48 hours straight. They kept on badgering, badgering. They kinda had me believing it. My autism, my Asperger’s, I had no sleep. I did not get out until 7 the next morning. I was thrown in the holding cells."

On hearing the jury sentence him to death:
When they said death I kind of like, just froze there holding the table, thinking I was going to fall over. It hit me, but I didn’t feel nothing. It took me awhile. Then I thought, just get it over with. I don’t feel like waiting 20-something years like some of these people who lose their appeal.

On life on death row at State Correctional Institution – Greene:
Over the years, different superintendents always take out their frustrations on us. In ’98 we called it ‘the massacre of ourselves.’ One superintendent had us strip ourselves of everything. All our legal work was shipped off or destroyed. You’re in your cell 22 hours a day. You get two hours out Monday through Friday. A dog kennel gets more space than what we got for exercise. The guards were complete assholes. There were some decent ones, but mostly complete assholes. Charles Graner, [who was convicted of war crimes at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq] he was a guard at Greene. He beat prisoners.

On the long wait of his appeal:
I thought, if anything is going to happen, I thought I was going to get life. Some attorneys, they just want to get you life and that’s it, for their resume. It’s too slow. You sit in your cell doing nothing. You just go nuts. It feels like the walls are closing in on you. At the time making a phone call, the charge was outrageous and to reverse charges it’s double that. My friend had a $5,000 phone bill.

On the June 5 hearing that led to his release and exoneration:
When [assistant district attorney Carrie Wood] started crying, that kind of got to me. She got my case the day she was hired there and she’s been on it since day one. To hear it like that… When she was continuing to cry it just felt weird. I can’t even really describe it, to hear a DA crying to any exoneree. I don’t think any DA has ever done anything like that. That wasn’t some phony thing. She was really, it was getting to her, all the stuff she’s seen. How dare they do this to an innocent man, how dare they do this to this mother. I just wanted to talk to her and tell her to calm down and all.

On walking out of prison:
I loved it. I loved it. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I just had to get out of there. After the hearing, I went back to my cell on my block. The superintendent had called down and told them to get me the fuck out of there. I had an hour and a half. I had to rush. I tried to leave some stuff for someone to use, a typewriter. I’m still getting used to this iPhone, that’s for sure. I’m way behind putting stuff on my Facebook. I’m behind. I got a bum leg. If I walk for a while the pain goes into the other leg. A lot of the pain went away when I got the bed I’m sleeping on. I want to get rid of [the pain] so I can enjoy what’s left of the summer. I want to do advocacy, to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania. It needs to be done, especially in Pennsylvania. After 28 years, you have no idea how much is still burning in me. I want to see everyone connected to my case, the detectives, especially the DAs and the coroner, I want to see them punished. I want to go after everyone that had a part in this. I want to make it so expensive for the city that this has to change.
It’s painful, but I gotta use this pain to help other people."

The entire story can be read at:
https://www.injusticewatch.org/news/2020/exoneree-walter-ogrod-in-his-own-words/

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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com.  Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;
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FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."
Lawyer Radha Natarajan:
Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;
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