The errors uncovered in an investigation into flawed forensic hair analysis by the FBI's crime lab may be far more numerous than originally thought. Hundreds of convictions may have been affected by examiners who testified that they could match hairs to specific defendants using practices that the Department of Justice now says "exceeded the limits of science." The investigation was halted in August 2013. It was restarted recently after the department's Inspector General issued a report stating that in some cases the delays in the review process may have caused "irreversible harm."
Michael Phillips will soon be the first innocent defendant in the country to be exonerated by a program of systematic DNA testing by a prosecutor's office even though he was not asserting his innocence or asking for DNA testing. His exoneration is the work of the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Dallas DA's Office - the first such unit in the country, founded by DA Craig Watkins in 2007. The Systematic DNA Testing Project was suggested by Registry Editor Sam Gross, who worked on it with the Dallas DA's Office. A copy of the Unit's Report on the Phillips case can be found here.
It took the FBI nearly five years to identify more than 60 death-row defendants whose cases included evidence from one or more of 13 FBI crime lab examiners whose work was found to be flawed, according to a report by the Inspector General of the United States Department of Justice. As a result, at least three defendants were put to death before their cases were identified for further review.
Twenty years after Anthony Graves was convicted and sentenced death - and four years after he was exonerated - the Texas State Bar recently determined that there is "just cause" to believe that Charles Sebesta, former District Attorney of Burleson County, Texas, engaged in misconduct by presenting false testimony and hiding exculpatory evidence at Graves' trial. This finding initiates a formal investigation by the state bar. Last year former Williamson County Texas Prosecutor Ken Anderson pled no contest to felony charges and served a ten day sentence in Texas for withholding evidence in the 1987 murder trial of Michael Morton, who was exonerated in 2011.
The Registry has released two new dynamic graphs that show the proportions of exonerations with each of five factors that contribute to wrongful conviction, and the relationship between type of crime and contributing factors. For example, the graphs show - contrary to popular impression - that eyewitness misidentification is not the leading cause of false convictions for all exonerations, but is for sexual assaults. Like the other graphs on our website, they update automatically to reflect current data.
The City of New York agreed to pay $40 million dollars to settle a civil rights lawsuit by the falsely convicted defendants known as the Central Park 5. In 1989, these five African American and Hispanic teenagers falsely confessed to raping and nearly killing a female jogger in Central Park; they were exonerated in 2002. The settlement has to be approved by the comptroller as well as a federal district court judge in order to become final.
Seventeen states have enacted statutes that allow the wrongly convicted to apply for fixed payments for each year spent wrongfully imprisoned. The fixed payments that exonerees are eligible for vary widely from state to state, with Texas on the high end at 80,000 per year, and Wisconsin on the low end at $5,000 per year. Exonerees can also sometimes sue for compensation, but many never receive any payments, or are tied up for years in expensive legal proceedings, and if they do get paid, the amount is often inadequate and the road to compensation is often a long one.
As the Brooklyn DA's Conviction Integrity Unit continues to uncover new errors in murder investigations from the 1980s and 1990s, New York Police Department's Chief of Detectives, Robert Boyce, is working to make sure current murder investigations are not plagued by similar mistakes. A group of senior homicide detectives will meet every Thursday to review all pending murder investigations. Detective Boyce says the group will follow up on underdeveloped leads, examine the tactics used, and verify that evidence does not point to another suspect.
The Brooklyn DA's Conviction Integrity Unit is dealing with an extraordinary volume of work. The Unit is reviewing more than 50 cases that discredited Detective Louis Scarcella worked on as well as numerous other questionable convictions from the 1980s and 1990s. The office has retained a Harvard Law professor as a consultant, and hired a panel of three independent attorneys who receive reports from the Unit and make recommendations to the District Attorney, Kenneth Thompson. So far this year, seven people have been exonerated by the Unit, including Alvena Jennette, and Roger Logan who was exonerated on June 3.
The Michael Morton Act, signed into law by Texas Gov. Rick Perry (left with Michael Morton) requires Texas prosecutors to provide all “exculpatory” evidence — information that could prove a defendant’s innocence — to defense attorneys before trial. The Texas Tribune reports that some prosecutors say the law results in higher costs for copying and document storage and delivery. The law was prompted by the discovery that the prosecutor in Michael Morton's murder trial concealed evidence that another man committed the crime. Morton was exonerated of murder in 2011.