Why Has the Civil Rights Community Never Embraced the Wrongfully Convicted?

Are the wrongfully convicted invisible? The press all gathers when they get released, but generally ignores our struggle when we are imprisoned. This issue has been gnawing at me all the years I have worked on wrongful convictions: Why has the civil rights community ignored the wrongfully convicted?

Talking with a small group of men who had served a hundred years in New York State prisons as a result of the Brooklyn DA and Det. Louis Scarcella- Families of the Wrongfully Convicted, – a New York Times reporter asked us if we have received support from the civil rights community, Black Lives Matter, NAACP, criminal justice reform groups? We looked at each other and of course said NO!…Never have any of us received a note, a mention or anything else from progressive civil rights groups, and we began by discussing why.

Sure all progressives  support criminal justice reform, changes in federal sentencing guidelines, etc., but rarely do they utter a word about wrongful convictions. Is it not a civil rights issue? Are we the untouchables of the progressive civil rights movement? Is it because we are not all people of color, although the great majority of us are? Is it that deep inside, people don’t really understand how innocent, poor people of color get railroaded into false confessions, long prison terms, etc.?

It is not just the civil rights community, it is the progressive movement. When was the last time an elected official like Mayor Bill De Blasio or Governor Andrew Cuomo mentioned the wrongfully convicted or enacted reforms to the NYPD or state police to prevent wrongful conviction. We have been holding press conferences on the steps of NY City Hall for years and never has the mayor acknowledged our plight. Granted when he came into office he facilitated the settlement with the Central Park 5, but simple reforms to police procedures like mandating custodial interrogations to prevent false confessions or live -blind police line-ups to prevent witness misidentification could be mandated today. But only silence.

Help me understand why the civil rights community shuns us? The wrongfully convicted are poor and struggling, some  have prior records and most never get their convictions overturned. Most are eventually released on parole after decades in prison only to continue to suffer. Maybe deep down progressives feel like the rest of society, “there must be a good reason they are in prison.” Yes there is, ask the prosecutors, judges and police.

lonnie soury

 

Families of Wrongfully Convicted Call on NY Mayor to Reform NYPD Policies

In a Letter to Mayor de Blasio and a rally at New York’s City Hall, victims of infamous Brooklyn detective Louis Scarcella, including some men who have been recently released after decades in prison, joined families of the wrongfully convicted to ask Mayor Bill de Blasio to immediately institute reforms that could help prevent wrongful convictions in New York City.

Families called on the NYPD to institute universally accepted methods to help prevent wrongful convictions by recording all interrogations and conduct “double blind” procedures in live police lineups and photo arrays. These practices have been endorsed by the International Association of Police Chiefs. It is the law in 22 states including New Jersey and Connecticut. The New York State Senate passed reforms in last session for the first time in years, but the State Assembly failed to act.It was a moving tribute to all those wrongfully convicted.

We were joined by Henry McCollum, who spent 30 years on death row. He gave a moving talk about how he and his brother, who were visiting NC from Jersey City , as young teens, were essentially kidnapped by police and coerced into a false confession. He talked about his disabled brother who was tortured into confessing, and how he watched 42 men go to their deaths while they were on death row. They were exonerated last year, but are damaged for life. If ever there was a testament to the need to reform NYPD procedures for recording interrogations, this was it.

Families also asked the NY City Council and NY State Legislature to establish an independent Innocence Commission, provide oversight of the five District Attorneys offices by establishing disciplinary procedures for ADA’s and police who engage in obtaining coerced confessions, withholding evidence and falsely identifying suspects. These practices were employed by notorious Brooklyn detective Louis Scarcella who, with the complicity of former DA Charles Hynes, engaged in actions that led to wrongful convictions and the imprisonment of scores of men for decades. Dozens of cases are still under review in Brooklyn while many remain incarcerated. As a result of Scacella and other cases, New York City has recently paid in excess of $100 million to wrongfully convicted victims.

They highlighted recent “conviction reviews” that were deeply flawed and resulted in maintaining the wrongful convictions including Manhattan DA Cy Vance’s 18-month review of Jon-Adrian Velazquez’s case, John Giuca’s case in Brooklyn and former Nassau DA Kathleen Rice’s three year review of Jesse Friedman’s case, made famous by the film, Capturing the Friedmans. In all of these cases, the conviction reviews were rejected by prosecutors with little or no transparency.

According to the Innocence Project

In NYC, 11 real perpetrators identified went on to commit five murders and three rapes

52% of New York’s DNA exonerations involved eyewitness misidentification, 48% of New York’s DNA exonerations involved a false confession.

Of the 330 DNA exonerations, 150 actual perpetrators were identified and went on to commit 70 sexual assaults, 30 murders and 25 other violent crimes

Families of the Wrongfully Convicted was started by exoneree Derrick Hamilton when he called me on the phone from prison with Shabak Shakur, exonerated this year,  Danny Rincon, and Nelson Cruz, both still serving life terms, innocently.

Jesse Friedman to get new judge to preside in innocence hearing

Nassau County Court Judge Teresa Corrigan, who was presiding over the actual innocence hearing of Jesse Friedman, has recused herself as judge and asked to have the case reassigned.

“Mr. Friedman deserves his day in court. The public deserves the right to believe that the case is being decided without concerns of impartiality from the court. There is now a potential appearance that the court’s impartiality could be questioned. As such, I hereby recuse myself from this matter. This case is being returned to the Clerk’s office for re-assignment.” See decision http://bit.ly/1K8jxGe .

 Friedman’s team which includes filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, attorney Ron Kuby, and others, believe Judge Corrigan realized that the appearance of impartiality was too overwhelming to continue in  her role…She was tied tightly former Nassau DA Kathleen Rice, as well as current acting DA Madeline Singas,  and even supervised, when she herself worked in the DA’s office, the original Friedman prosecutor, Joe Onorato.  We are now hopeful that the new judge assigned to Jesse Friedman’s case will review the evidence of his innocence on its merits, free of the biases displayed by the District Attorney’s office in their recent court filings, as well as the three-year conviction review process that was found to be seriously flawed.

The decision by Judge Corrigan comes after Friedman filed a second motion asking the judge to remove herself from the case in March 2015. Corrigan had denied the first motion in October 2014, but acceded to the second request, which included an affidavit by Professor Bruce Green, one of the country’s leading experts on judicial ethics and Director of the Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University School of Law. He had cited the close association of the judge with four key players in Friedman case, all of whom worked with her while she was at the Nassau District Attorney’s office prior to her election to the bench.See Green Affirmation, http://bit.ly/1EvA715.

Background

In 1988, in the midst of a national hysteria regarding false allegations of child sexual abuse in schools and day care centers (epitomized by the now-overturned McMartin Preschool case), police alleged that Jesse Friedman, his father Arnold, and three other teenagers had violently abused hundreds of children attending after-school computer classes at the Friedmans’ Great Neck home, though over a period of five years, no child or parent had ever complained, and no medical or physical evidence was ever produced.

Eighteen year-old Jesse Friedman, then a freshman studying music and psychology at SUNY Purchase, was charged with 243 counts of child sexual abuse, and forced to plead guilty after being threatened with life in prison by Judge Abigail Boklan who, despite having heard no evidence in the case, was convinced of Jesse Friedman’s guilt. Friedman served 13 years in maximum-security prisons and remains branded as a Level III “violent sexual predator.”

After Friedman fought for decades to clear his name, in 2010 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an extraordinary opinion, concluding that there was a reasonable likelihood Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted.”

Part of the mountain of new evidence discovered or brought forward by Friedman’s legal team, is a complete recantation from Ross Goldstein, the prosecution’s only adult witness, and more than thirty eyewitnesses to the computer classes stating that no abuse occurred – despite prosecution claims that children were raped in “plain view” of the entire class.Goldstein, who was charged with 118 counts of sexual abuse of children, now says that: 

“…Every single thing found in my testimony was untrue and said by me at the time to avoid a trial. I never saw Jesse or Arnold Friedman abuse any children, nor did I ever sexually abuse any children.”  

“I did not witness Jesse or anyone else commit any crimes in the Friedman home with any computer student. My testimony before the grand jury was a result of tremendous and unrelenting pressure and intimidation by the police and district attorney’s office in which I was eventually coerced to lie about crimes taking place in order to try to save myself and be granted the YO [Youthful Offender] status deal that was being offered to me.”

After the DA’s three-year review of the case by DA Rice’s office, said to have been supervised by an outside Advisory Panel, Barry Scheck, the most prominent member of the Panel and co-founder of the Innocence Project, broke ranks to reveal that the panel members had not been shown the vast majority of evidence in the case and had not even interviewed most witnesses, but instead had been asked to rely only on the DA’s distillations of that material. Scheck submitted an affidavit with Judge Corrigan asking the Court to undertake a “full evidentiary hearing” and release to Friedman’s lawyers the original case files that have been kept secret by the DA for over 27 years.

In Scheck’s words: “I believe it would be desirable for the court and the parties, utilizing whatever procedural mechanisms the court deems suitable, to review materials not available to the Advisory Panel, such as grand jury minutes, the original case file, and the results of the re-investigation to aid in finally resolving, to the extent possible the issue of Jesse Friedman’s guilt or innocence.”

Scheck joined a chorus of other respected voices in criminal justice in requesting the disclosure of these files:

  • In 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision stating there was a “reasonable likelihood Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted” and calling for the case files to be opened and the evidence presented at a new hearing. DA Rice refused.
  • In 2013, N. Scott Banks, the former law secretary for the Judge who convicted Jesse, wrote a letter of support requesting that Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Winslow “grant Mr. Friedman’s application, and direct the District Attorney to disclose this extremely relevant evidence to his attorneys and provide a level of transparency very much needed in this matter.”
  • In 2013, after reviewing the documents and holding multiple hearings on the issue, Nassau County Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow conveyed from the bench his grave concerns about the exculpatory nature of the materials withheld from Friedman, and ordered the disclosure of “every piece of paper” with Friedman’s name on it. DA Rice appealed the decision to the Appellate Court, Second Department. Oral arguments were held in the case February 10, 2015. A decision in the case is expected shortly.

see  www.freejesse.net.

 

 

Judge in Jesse Friedman’s Innocence Case Should Recuse Herself

Judge Teresa Corrigan, who practiced law with Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice when they were colleagues in the Brooklyn DA’s office, and was later hired by Rice when Rice was elected Nassau DA in 2006, has been asked to recuse herself as presiding judge in Jesse Friedman’s case.

Judge Teresa Corrigan has been a protégé of DA Rice since the two practiced law together in the Brooklyn DA’s office over two decades ago, and Corrigan has been an ‘insider’ in DA Kathleen Rice’s office. The judge was handpicked by Rice in 2006 as an Assistant DA, and then, it is believed she was  personally recommended to a judgeship by DA Rice in 2012.

According to the motion to recuse, “The black-letter law of 22 NYCRR 100.3(E)(1)(b)(ii) is unambiguous and mandatory: a judge shall disqualify herself in a proceeding in which ‘a lawyer with whom the judge previously practiced law served during such association as a lawyer concerning the matter.’”

The basis of this motion, and the fundamental issue that suggests to any even casual observer that the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, is that she is an ‘insider’ rather than an “outsider. For six of the last eight years, Judge Corrigan was employed by DA Rice as a top Assistant District Attorney in the same office in which Friedman was originally prosecuted. During those years, the DA’s office assiduously opposed all efforts by Friedman and his supporters to have the case reviewed or evidence disclosed.

According to state law governing judicial impartiality (NY Code of Regs, section> 100.3(E)): “A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to instances where: the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party; or the judge has personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding;”

There should be no question of judicial impartiality in reviewing the evidence in Jesse Friedman’s motion seeking to overturn his conviction. From the moment the police began the harsh and unrelenting questioning of scores of young children who attended computer classes in the Friedman home in the late 1980s, the ability for Jesse Friedman to have a fair hearing of the evidence was compromised. As he appeared before a judge in 1989, who stated that she was “convinced of his guilt” without hearing any evidence at trial, and who told his attorney “if convicted she would sentence Jesse Friedman to consecutive prison terms,” the constitutional requirement for unbiased review of the facts was forever abrogated.

Today, Friedman seeks a fair and impartial hearing of the facts in his case. That can only be accomplished in an evidentiary hearing where evidence can be presented before an unbiased judge, where Friedman has access to the investigatory files, and where eyewitnesses can be questioned under oath.

Full press release and motion also available on www.freejesse.net

Barry Scheck Urges New York Court to Reopen Jesse Friedman’s 1989 Mass Sex Abuse Conviction

Barry Scheck, the most prominent member of District Attorney Kathleen Rice’s “Friedman Case Advisory Panel” and co-founder of The Innocence Project, submitted a sworn statement  asking the Nassau County Court to undertake a “full evidentiary hearing” and release to Friedman’s lawyers the original case files that have been kept secret by the DA for over 25 years. He joins a chorus of other respected voices in criminal justice in requesting the disclosure of the investigative files that were not made available to the Advisory Panel.

“I believe it would be desirable for the court and the parties, utilizing whatever procedural mechanisms the court deems suitable, to review materials not available to the Advisory Panel, such as grand jury minutes, the original case file, and the results of the re-investigation to aid in finally resolving, to the extent possible the issue of Jesse Friedman’s guilt or innocence.”

Friedman, whose wrongful conviction was chronicled in the Oscar nominated film, Capturing the Friedmans, today, June 13, 2014, filed a motion with the Nassau County Court asking to overturn his conviction and dismiss the charges on the grounds of actual innocence, and that unlawfully coerced testimony was presented before the grand jury in 1988. Friedman was charged with 243 counts of child sexual abuse and sodomy, and forced to plead guilty after being threatened with life in prison by Judge Abigail Boklan who, despite hearing no evidence in the case, was convinced of Jesse Friedman’s guilt. Friedman served 13 years in maximum-security prisons and remains branded as a Level III sex offender.

In 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an extraordinary opinion, concluding that there was a “reasonable likelihood Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted.” The justices called for the Nassau DA to allow for an evidentiary hearing, but she chose instead to conduct a “conviction review.”

The filing comes a year after Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice rejected Friedman’s innocence claims after a 2 1/2 year “conviction integrity review.” Rice, who is now running for congress, issued a scathing and gratuitous report  that revealed  that her office had no intention of following the Second Circuit’s request to honestly reinvestigate the case.

Recantation of Chief Prosecution Witness

Friedman cites evidence of his innocence including a complete recantation from Ross Goldstein, the only adult witness against him, and over twenty-five statements from eyewitnesses to the computer classes stating that no abuse occurred – despite prosecution claims that children were raped in “plain view.” The new evidence includes recantations by five of the 14 original children, now adults, whom police stated were sexually abused and appeared before a grand jury, who now attest they were coerced by investigators into alleging sexual abuse that never occurred.

Ross Goldstein recanted his original testimony implicating Friedman,  in which he falsely confessed to numerous charges of sexual abuse to avoid a long prison sentence. He broke his 25-year silence and supplied an affidavit in which he says his earlier testimony had been false and coerced – and that no abuse of children had ever occurred. Goldstein says he felt he had no alternative but to falsely admit guilt and implicate Jesse Friedman.

Goldstein, who was charged with 118 counts of sexual abuse of children, stated that:
“…Every single thing found in my testimony was untrue and said by me at the time to avoid a trial. I never saw Jesse or Arnold Friedman abuse any children, nor did I ever sexually abuse any children.”
“I did not witness Jesse or anyone else commit any crimes in the Friedman home with any computer student. My testimony before the grand jury was a result of tremendous and unrelenting pressure and intimidation by the police and district attorney’s office in which I was eventually coerced to lie about crimes taking place in order to try to save myself and be granted the YO status deal that was being offered to me.”

” In the weeks leading up to my grand jury appearance, I was coached, rehearsed and directed by the prosecutor and Detective William Hatch for hours on end. I was told that it was my role to confirm what the complainants had said when they testified about what had happened to them during the computer classes.

Children, Now Adults, Have Recanted

Scores of witnesses who have spoken to the defense cite highly coercive techniques that were used by the police against computer students in an effort to obtain false allegations against Jesse Friedman. After interviewing 100 children, the police were able to coerce 14 into making false statements. Now, some of those 14 admit that they were not sexually abused, saw no abuse take place, and, in some cases, did not even know what they were saying nor believe their comments were integral to the case.

One of the key complainants against Friedman, Barry Doe, who was responsible for numerous charges of sexual abuse, now states:

“As God is my witness, and on my two children’s lives, I was never raped or sodomized…I remember the cops coming to my house, and the cops being aggressive, and people wanting you to say almost what they wanted to hear. And, and I, I’ll tell you I never said I was sodomized or, you know, I was never raped or, you know, molested. And I can’t honestly tell you what other things I might have said….I never saw a kid get sodomized or molested. I was never sodomized or molested. And if I said it, it was not because it happened. It was because someone else put those words in my mouth.”

The filing includes a recantation by Kenneth Doe who was the original complaining witness whose allegations made up the charges to which Friedman was coerced into pleading guilty. He came forward in 2013, and has provided a statement in which he candidly discusses the disastrous consequences of the techniques that were used to obtain his false testimony:

“I recall clearly that police investigators came to my home repeatedly to question me about what had happened in the computer classes. The police repeatedly told me that they knew something had happened, and they would not leave me alone until I told them. As a result, I guess I just folded so they would leave me alone. I recall being taken somewhere and being videotaped while I repeated these untruthful statements. After the film Capturing the Friedmans came out, I went to see it with my wife, who is a psychotherapist. The description given about the police tactics used to extract statements rang true for me.”

Of the original fourteen complainants in the case, five have already given detailed recantations of their accusations, stating that they were bullied by police into admitting acts that never took place. Seven more complainants have been unable or unwilling to substantiate their charges.

In the words of one student who provided an affidavit:

“During the time that I was present in computer classes, I did not observe Arnold or Jesse Friedman engage in anything even remotely akin to sexual conduct, and I have no reason to believe such events occurred. I recall clearly that police investigators came to my home repeatedly to question me about what had happened in the computer classes. The police repeatedly told me that they knew something had happened, and they would not leave until I told them. As a result, I guess I just folded so they would leave me alone.”

Another so-called victim, Steven Doe, said this about his false testimony:

“I felt that they would be unsatisfied with any response other than my concurring with their view that sex abuse had taken place in the Friedman computer classes…After many sessions in which the police appeared unsatisfied by my negative responses, I became frustrated at the persistent questioning…I remember finally telling the police officers that I had seen Jesse chase after a kid and hit him. I remember saying that not because it was true, but instead because I thought it would get them off my back. This statement was not accurate but at the time – being 8 years old – I felt that saying this would allow me to avoid the unpleasant experience of being questioned repeatedly by the police.”

Now, with Barry Scheck “petitioning” the court to reopen the Friedman case, joined by the original trial judge’s law secretary, Scott Banks, Supreme Court Judge F. Dana Winslow, as well as the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, it is hopeful that Jesse Friedman just may see his day in court.

The fact is that there was never any mass sexual abuse of children in the Friedman home, just a police induced hysteria that, similar to 72 wrongful prosecutions in the years 1984-94, led to a young man spending 13 years in prison and his lifetime now regarded as a level III violent sexual predator. The DA in Nassau County should not oppose a full evidentiary hearing and allow this case to move forward. Let an impartial judge hear from those child “victims,” now adults about their experiences in 1988.

Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice Sued for Defamation By Jesse Friedman

Jesse Friedman, who was wrongfully convicted for child sexual abuse in a mass hysteria case in 1988, chronicled in the Oscar nominated film, Capturing the Friedmans, filed a defamation suit against Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice for knowingly publishing false and defamatory statements in a report summarizing her review of Friedman’s 1988 conviction. The suit names Kathleen Rice, in her official capacity as Nassau DA and individually, as well as her public information officers John Byrne and Shams Tarek.

Rice’s Report and the accompanying press release issued in June 2013, included dozens of false statements. In one example, DA Rice made the fabricated  claim that Jesse Friedman, “wrote, possessed and distributed” shocking pornography involving incest, bestiality, and child rape while in prison, and was punished for it.  The DA provided as proof a printout of a series of shocking pornographic stories. The report was widely distributed to the public and leaked to the tabloid media by her office. The DA’s report also includes a false psychological evaluation by a discredited psychologist.

The DA’s office did not merely publish the defamatory material in the report, but highlighted it in press releases to poison the well against Jesse Friedman.  Within a few days of releasing the report, the DA’s publicity officer John Byrne distributed copies of the alleged stories to the New York media causing sensational headlines.

Rice directed her subordinates to supply the text of these materials to, at least, the New York Times and the New York Post.  In response to receipt of these materials, the New York Post published a series news stories under the headlines:

— Jailbird Perv a Smut Writer  

— Convicted Child Molester Jesse Friedman Wrote Porno Stories During His Time In Prison

— DA: Convicted child molester Jesse Friedman found with porno stories during his time in prison.”

The stories provided details of the pornography and stated that Friedman “was disciplined in July 2000 after prison guards found the stomach-churning smut in his cell.”  That same day, at least fourteen other publications with the headline “Perv was a ‘Horny’ Jailbird Smut Writer,” published variations of the story, each linking to the New York Post. The Associated Press, which reaches news outlets in hundreds of markets across the United States, also ran a story sourcing the material falsely released by DA Kathleen Rice.

A standard Google search of any of the text attributed to Jesse Friedman reveals instantly that it is material available on the Internet, written by and credited to someone else, whose email address appears at the bottom with an invitation to contact her.  As the DA was well aware, Jesse Friedman was incarcerated at a maximum-security prison, and had no access to the Internet for downloading such stories, nor did he have an email address.  Jesse Friedman did not “write,” “pen,” “possess,” nor “distribute” this material.

According to the defamation suit: “This claim arises from acts or omissions of the defendants, and alleges multiple false and defamatory statements that were designed to, and did, harm Friedman in his reputation, enjoyment of life, quality of life, and economic interests.  These acts and omissions include publishing statements that Friedman was punished while in prison for writing and distributing horrific pornography that described acts similar to those for which Friedman was convicted, and statements alleging that Friedman was a psychopath.  These were false and defamatory statements of material fact, and Rice and her agents knew, or it is highly likely that they knew, that these statements were false.  The purpose of such statements, as noted by the Hon. Justice F. Dana Winslow, J.S.C., was to portray Friedman publicly as a “‘bad guy.’”

Friedman’s attorney, Ronald L. Kuby, said, “The DA falsely accused Jesse of having written bizarre pornography celebrating the very kinds of crimes of which he had been accused.  And she timed the false claims so they appeared in the press at a time when they would have the greatest negative impact on Jesse – while all eyes in Long Island and elsewhere were watching for the DA’s three-year-delayed verdict in her so-called “unbiased review” of the Jesse Friedman case.  The fact that they also showed these false materials to the members of a panel charged with overseeing the DA’s investigation, reveals the DA’s desire to undermine any fair re-evaluation of this case.”

When challenged on the statement in a later court hearing, rather than admit the mistake, the DA’s office accused Friedman’s counsel of forging the documents that disproved it. Days later,  the DA’s office  conceded that Friedman did not possess the pornography, could not possibly have penned the pornography, and was never punished for it in prison.

Denying Jesse Friedman’s request to overturn his wrongful conviction was tragically unfortunate, it is quite another to double down and distribute the most horrible lies and innuendos to the public, the New York Times and New York Post. The New York Times refused to publish the lies. The New York Post apparently did not care to check facts and contributed to this travesty…Lonnie Soury

 

Victims of Brooklyn Detective Scarcella Call For Justice

Victims of infamous Brooklyn detective Louis Scarcella, including some men who have been recently released after decades in prison, joined families of the wrongfully convicted at a news conference on the steps of New York City Hall to ask new Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson to hasten his review of the Scarcella related cases and other questionable convictions by former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes. Derrick Hamilton (21 years), Sundhe Moses (18 years), Kevin Smith  (27 years), all recently released, claim they were wrongfully convicted based upon false evidence obtained by Detective Louis Scarcella and used by prosecutors.

Derrick Hamilton was sentenced to life in prison after Detective Scarcella coerced an eyewitness to change her testimony to implicate him in a murder. Although the woman recanted, Brooklyn prosecutors hid the fact. Paroled, Hamilton recently won a landmark appellate ruling reopening his case based upon an actual innocence claim.  Hamilton said, “There is tremendous frustration among those wrongfully convicted. While some of us have been released, we are still on parole and continue to suffer as we begin to rebuild our lives. Prosecutorial and police misconduct is not only a serious problem in Brooklyn, it happen in every district attorneys office in the city.”

 The Need for an Independent Commission to Review Wrongful Convictions

Many believe only a truly  independent conviction review process can be effective as there is little faith that New York City’s district attorneys can effectively review their own cases.  Recent “conviction reviews” that were deeply flawed and resulted in maintaining the wrongful convictions include Manhattan DA Cy Vance’s 18-month review of Jon-Adrian Velazquez’s case and Nassau DA Kathleen Rice’s three year review of Jesse Friedman’s case, made famous by the film, Capturing the Friedmans. In both of these cases, the conviction reviews were conducted by prosecutors with little input from defense attorneys and no transparency.  “When the Federal Appeals Court for the Second Circuit stated that I was ‘likely wrongfully convicted’ and asked DA Rice to conduct a reinvestigation I was thrilled. I turned over tremendous evidence of my innocence including victim recantations, all my thousands of case files and gave the DA approval to contact anyone involved in my case. To my and my attorneys shock, the DA spent three years trying every which way to undermine my innocence, and she succeeded,” Friedman said.

Experts recommend the Brooklyn DA establish a Conviction Review process modeled on one currently in place in the Dallas District Attorney’s office by DA Craig Watkins. The Dallas CIU has helped to overturn approximately 44 wrongful convictions.“The most important aspect of these relationships is information sharing: the petitioner seeking relief presents evidence of innocence or due process claims to the Dallas CIU and the CIU, in turn, gives complete access to the prosecution file. There are open, cooperative discussions as to which witnesses will be interviewed and by whom. The results of witness interviews and forensic testing are shared.” 

In an article by investigative journalist Hella Winston, defense attorney Ron Kuby who has worked with CIU in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Nassau County, said, “The Dallas model is far superior. Number one, [in Dallas there is] complete transparency. Both sides share all of their information. We get everything in their file, they get everything in our file, except certain privileged communications. And, second, the investigation is undertaken in a collaborative way. We sit down together and we discuss witnesses. And we discuss…what would be the best side to approach this witness. Should we do it together? Should the defense pursue this witness because frequently the defense is able to win trust where the police don’t, or should the police pursue this particular witness?”

NYPD Should Record All Interrogations and Conduct “Double Blind”  Live Police Lineups

Families are asking NYPD to institute universally recognized methods of preventing wrongful convictions,  by recording all custodial interrogations of suspects and witnesses to prevent false confessions and false testimony. They also want  “double blind” procedures in live police lineups and photo arrays, to prevent witness misidentification. These practices have been endorsed by the International Association of Police Chiefs. Both New Jersey and Connecticut routinely video record interrogations and use “double blind” live witness identification procedures successfully. Marty Tankleff, who recently settled with the New York State Attorney General in his wrongful conviction, said, “There is no reason that police departments across the city and state should not immediately begin recording all interrogations and witness interviews. It could go a long way to curtailing false confessions and false testimony, and reduce the incidence of wrongful convictions like mine. It is universally recognized as a benefit to both police and defendants alike.”

Louis Scarcella is a symptom of a broken system that continues today. There is no Scarcella without a Brooklyn District Attorney who was complicit in encouraging and condoning his actions, and a judiciary that allowed tainted evidence before jury after jury after jury. This happens not only in Brooklyn, but in every borough in this city. It has to stop, and it will only stop when those responsible are held accountable.

There are changes that can be made today that can help prevent wrongful convictions. If custodial interrogations were recorded it is likely that Anthony Yarborough’s false confession would not have happened, nor Sundhe Moses or Marty Tankleff, nor dozens more in New York City and hundreds from around the country.

Another Scarcella/Vecchione Case:NY Court Rules Actual Innocence

The New York State Appellate Court for the Second Department made a groundbreaking ruling in the case of Derrick Hamilton, allowing judges to rule on actual innocence claims in ordering a new hearing for Hamilton.

Derrick Hamilton was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years to life for a crime he did not commit. Although he was in New Haven, CT, at the time of the murder of a drug dealer in Brooklyn’s Bed Stuy neighborhood, notorious Brooklyn detective Louis Scarcella was able to “convince” a young drug addict to testify against Hamilton even though she had told cops at the scene she was nowhere near the murder. The judge in the 1991 case held off sentencing Hamilton for close to a year as he became aware of police and prosecutorial misconduct. That was until infamous Brooklyn prosecutor Michael Vecchione entered the courtroom.

Hamilton served over 20 years. While in prison he became a jailhouse lawyer and even received a paralegal certificate. He helped many men with their cases and helped free many others. He also filed a number of appeals on his own behalf based upon evidence of police misconduct, new witnesses, and even strong alibi witnesses including a decorated New Haven, CT policewoman. All to no avail.

Derrick contacted me from Auburn Correctional Faciilty in upstate New York after he read about my work in the Marty Tankleff and Damien Echols (WM3) cases. He asked me to review all the evidence and to help free him. I told him I could not take his case unless he was able to pay, as I had exhausted my ability to work pro bono on these matters. A few days later I received a $500 check from the Auburn Correctional Facility Commissary account…imagine my embarrassment. Derrick is a man you cannot say no to. Derrick was a street kid from Brooklyn with a record and he needed legal help and the resources of a large law firm. Unfortunately, although we tried, even those firms who profess their commitment to pro bono representation are not anxious to represent a Black man from Bed Stuy with a record. Luckily he found an excellent attorney, Jonathan Edelstein, who did take Hamiton’s case pro bono.

Although denied parole on numerous occasions, Derrick maintained his innocence and finally convinced the parole board in 2011 they should consider his innocence as well. Although he was free, Hamilton did not give up his fight to overturn his conviction. Now, this compelling man will have the opportunity to prove his innocence without the procedural bars numerous judges have used to prevent him from having a full review of his case. And along the way, he just might have helped an untold number of men and women in New York prisons who reside there innocently.

 

 

 

Marty Tankleff Settles Wrongful Conviction Suit for over $3 Million

While the settlement of the civil case is good news, it does not begin to repair the damage to Marty Tankleff from his false imprisonment and the murder of his parents, Arline and Seymour. Those responsible for the murders still remain free. In fact, Jerry Steuerman, the man most believe was behind the double murder, took the fifth 140 times in a recent deposition. Until there is justice, only then will Marty gain a measure of peace.

On September 7, 1988, on the first day of his senior year in high school, Marty awoke to find his mother brutally murdered and his father clinging to life. Marty was taken from his home by Suffolk County detectives who told him his father had awoken from a coma to implicate him in the attack. It was the first of many lies. A coerced confession, police and prosecutorial misconduct and a judge anxious for notoriety resulted in his wrongful conviction and a 50-year to life sentence

Marty Tankleff has always been innocent. Ten years ago a retired Suffolk County judge said, “That kid is innocent and everyone in Suffolk County knows it. But, he will never get a fair trial here. He will win in the Appellate Court.”

And, that is exactly what happened in December 2007.

Lonnie Soury, led public campaign to free Marty Tankleff

Innocent of Murder of Brother, Serving Life Without Parole

Pennsylvania has approximately 500 juveniles sentenced to life without the possibility of parole residing in their prisons. That represents 25% of all the juveniles incarcerated for life without parole in the United States. What does that say about Pennsylvania”s judicial system? Nothing good. As I once said about Suffolk County, Long Island in the Martin Tankleff case:  Suffolk County is like Selma, Alabama was during the civil rights movement, only Selma changed. Well, Alabama may have changed, but not Pennsylvania.

Zach Witman was once a juvenile, but after 15 years imprisoned he is approaching his 30th birthday. Zach may one day be released now that the Supreme Court has ruled these sentences unconstitutional, although, like other states, Pennsylvania”s Supreme Court has yet to really deal with the guidelines for resentencing. Exactly what are they waiting for is a mystery.

The story of Zach and his brother Gregory is as tragic as they come. Gregory Witman, a 13 year-old child was brutally murdered as he returned home from school on October 2, 1998. Gregory was attacked from behind at the front door of his home in New Freedom, Pennsylvania. He did not even have time to remove his backpack, suffering approximately 100 stab wounds. See www.zachwitman.com.

His 15 year-old brother, Zach, home sick and in his parent’s upstairs bedroom at the time of the attack, was arrested a few days later and charged with the first degree murder of his younger brother. He was tried almost five years later, convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He has served almost 15 years in prison and has always maintained his innocence.

Police at the time conducted a very limited investigation and contaminated the crime scene, preventing the collection of credible forensic evidence. There was no motive as the two boys were very close, and loved and protected one another according to friends, family members and neighbors. There was no blood trail inside or outside of the home that was linked to Zachary, and no blood found on towels or in the drains. Police found bloody gloves and a knife buried outside of the house in a mound of dirt, approximately 10 hours after they arrived at the crime scene. Greg’s blood was found on both the penknife and gloves, but there was none of Zach’s blood, DNA or fingerprints on either when tested by the state of Pennsylvania.  In fact, every item of evidence collected excluded Zachary as a source of DNA. Zachary was never in any trouble at home or at school. He was tested for drugs, alcohol and mental illness by authorities; all of which proved negative. Nevertheless, police concluded immediately that Zach was the perpetrator.

Attorneys for the defense shockingly introduced no forensic experts at trial to dispute the state’s “experts” who introduced highly questionable forensic evidence. According to a comprehensive forensic science review of the case, “…findings indicate that no conclusive scientific evidence exists which signify Zachary committed this crime.”

Enter private investigator and former NYPD homicide detective Jay Salpeter who  has helped solve a number of high profile wrongful convictions including that of Martin Tankleff in New York. Salpeter also helped in the West Memphis 3 case in Arkansas, gaining very powerful evidence after establishing a confidential tip line in that case.

He is now beginning to reinvestigate the murder of Gregory Witman, along with a former detective and Pennsylvania private investigator. “In every wrongful conviction there is information that someone in the community possesses that can prove crucial. People do not realize that what they observed, heard or noticed may be very helpful in the investigation. We have a double tragedy, the murder of a youngster and a lifetime in prison for his older brother. We owe it to the Witman family to reinvestigate this case, bring Zach home and offer them some measure of peace and justice,” said Salpeter.

An anonymous donor is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the real killer(s). Salpeter asks anyone who might have information that can shed light on the murder of Greg Witman or the investigation, to please contact him via the confidential tip line717-819-6006.

According to legal filings, police failed to cover their shoes or hands while walking through the house and allowed non-police personnel into the house. “At least twenty-five people trooped in and out of the house on the evening of the murder, without wearing protective clothing to preserve the integrity of the crime scene.” The crux of the States case was the result of luminol testing which they said led to where the knife and gloves were buried. According to testimony by Dr. Henry Lee, famed forensic scientist, “an expert in Luminol would discredit any testimony about the ‘sock print’ trail…” The police failed to effectively canvass the neighborhood, contacting only 12 of 92 homes in the blocks surrounding the crime scene.

Zach”s mom, Sue Witman said, “I have lost both my children. One was brutally taken from us by a murderer, and my other child was taken by a tragic failure of our criminal justice system. The police settled on Zach immediately and, as a result, conducted no credible investigation into who killed my little boy, Greg.  My son Zach has continually maintained his innocence. He could have pleaded guilty and served virtually no time in prison, but he did not kill his little brother, he loved his brother. As a result, he was sentenced to life without parole and our suffering has never ended. Our hope is that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will see what has happened in this case and grant Zach a new trial, and that the public will help us find new evidence about the murder of Greg.”