Innocent Jack McCullough will be released from prison today

April 15, 2016

Jack McCullough will be released from prison in Illinois today after serving four years of a life sentence for kidnapping and murdering 7-year-old Maria Ridulph. The crime was committed on December 3, 1957, but no one was prosecuted until 2012, when DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell convicted McCullough.

Campbell’s successor, DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack reviewed the case after defeating Campbell in an election. He concluded that McCullough could not have committed the crime because he was 40 miles from the scene of the crime when it was committed. According to Illinois Bell telephone records McCullough called his family collect from an Air Force recruiting office in Rockford, Illinois at 6:57 pm. Maria Ridulph disappeared between 6:45 p.m. and 6:55 p.m.

Schmack also challenged the accuracy and reliability of an eyewitness identification of McCullogh by Maria’s friend with whom she had been playing in the snow when a young man offered to give Maria a ride on his shoulders. First, she identified McCullogh more than 50 years after the incident. Second, the photo was unnecessarily suggestive since McCullough’s photo stood out from the others in a photo array of six photographs because they were professional yearbook photographs and each person was wearing a suit coat.

Yet another example of the unreliability of eyewitness identifications.

Fortunately, an honest and ethical prosecutor corrected the wrongful conviction.

Read more here.


Is Oklahoma about to execute an innocent man?

September 13, 2015

Richard Glossip is scheduled to be executed by the State of Oklahoma on Wednesday. He was convicted of killing his boss, Barry Van Treese, who was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat at a Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City that Van Treese owned. The only witness against him was the person who confessed to the murder, a 19-year-old named Justin Sneed who worked as a maintenance man at the motel. The Guardian reports,

There is no DNA or nor any fingerprints linking him to the 1997 murder of Van Treese in the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. His lawyers this week noted that the prosecutors themselves admitted in 2004 that “the physical evidence doesn’t directly implicate Mr Glossip”.

Rather, Glossip was convicted based on the testimony of Justin Sneed, a 19-year-old maintenance worker who, at various points during his police interrogation a week after the murder, said he didn’t know Van Treese, then that he didn’t kill van Treese, then that he had killed him accidentally, and then that he had killed him intentionally, under Glossip’s instruction. Eventually, Sneed agreed to a plea deal in which he would testify against Glossip to save himself from the death penalty.

Transcripts of the police interrogation show Sneed first denied any knowledge of the murder. “I don’t really know what to say about it,” he told investigators, stumbling over a story about his brother before admitting that he robbed Van Treese but “I only meant to knock him out”.

“The thing about it is, Justin, we think – we know that this involves more than just you, okay?” Detective Bob Bemo said to Sneed, later introducing Glossip as a snitch. “You know Rich is under arrest don’t you?… [H]e’s putting it on you the worst.”

Sneed’s story shifted.

“Actually, Rich asked me to kill Barry, that’s what he’d done,” Sneed said, and investigators took the conversation off-camera, where Sneed signed a plea deal.

This is an excellent example of how an innocent person can be wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. A few days ago, Barry Scheck, the co-director of the Innocence Project, wrote a letter to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin asking her to stop his execution. He asked the right question,

Why would anybody trust this testimony, given by a man like Sneed under the circumstances in which he gave it? But if Sneed was lying about Glossip’s involvement — as he unquestionably lied in his various contradictory statements–then Oklahoma is about to execute an innocent man.

The Death Penalty Information Center has the following update on Richard Glossip:

Former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (pictured), former Oklahoma Sooners and Dallas Cowboys football coach Barry Switzer, and John W. Raley, Jr., the former chief federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, have joined with innocence advocates Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, and Samuel Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, in a letter to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin urging her to stay the execution of Richard Glossip.

I have long argued that no conviction that is based solely on the uncorroborated testimony of a codefendant or jailhouse snitch should stand. Such a rule is a necessary part of any meaningful criminal justice reform.


Anthony Ray Hinton is free at last after 30 years on death row

April 4, 2015

Anthony Ray Hinton is free at last after 30 years on death row. The Washington Post reports,

Anthony Ray Hinton was one of Alabama’s longest-serving death row inmates, having spent more than half his life incarcerated. Now, after three decades of insisting that he is innocent in the 1985 murders of two men, the 58-year-old Hinton is finally a free man.

“The sun does shine,” Hinton said just after his release from jail on Friday, according to AL.com.

His freedom came down to the same four bullets that put him in jail to begin with.

“I shouldn’t have (sat) on death row for 30 years,” he told reporters according to CNN. “All they had to do was to test the gun.”

He added: “Everybody that played a part in sending me to death row, you will answer to God.”

Hinton was convicted of two separate killings of restaurant workers — the Feb. 25, 1985, slaying of John Davidson, and the July 2, 1985, killing of Thomas Vason — even though there were no eyewitnesses linking Hinton to the crimes, no fingerprints linking him to the scene, and no other physical evidence except for the questionable link between a set of bullets and a gun found in Hinton’s home.

Subsequent tests of the only physical evidence in the case raised serious doubts about whether the weapon in Hinton’s home had fired those bullets — and it even called into question whether the bullets were all fired from the same gun.

Why was he convicted, you ask? His lawyer thought he was limited to spending $1,000 to hire an expert, so he hired a civil engineer who was blind in one eye, could not handle a microscope and did not know much about ballistics. Needless to say, he did not fare well on cross examination.

The United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) unanimously vacated his conviction and death sentence last year and remanded the case to the trial court to hold a hearing to determine if his lawyer’s failure to provide effective assistance of counsel prejudiced his defense. He was granted a new trial and on Wednesday prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss the case on the ground that three ballistics experts could not link the bullets to the gun.

Thanks to one of my heroes, Bryan Stevenson, Anthony Ray Hinton is free at last.


Yet another egregious example to justify revoking the rule that prosecutors are immune from liability

November 11, 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Good afternoon:

Today I write about an egregious miscarriage of justice that provides yet another reason to revoke the rule that prosecutors are absolutely immune from liability.

The State of Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham, an innocent man, on February 17, 2004 for murdering his three daughters on December 23, 1991 by setting his house on fire. This wrongful conviction was caused by prosecutorial misconduct, forensic incompetence, ineffective assistance of counsel and jailhouse snitch testimony.

Wikipedia summarizes the forensic issue.

Willingham’s case gained renewed attention in 2009 when an investigative report by David Grann in The New Yorker, drawing upon arson investigation experts and advances in fire science since the 1992 investigation, suggested that the evidence for arson was unconvincing and, had this information been available at the time of trial, would have provided grounds for Willingham’s acquittal.

According to an August 2009 investigative report by an expert hired by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, the original claims of arson were doubtful. The Corsicana Fire Department disputes the findings, stating that the report overlooked several key points in the record. The case has been further complicated by allegations that Texas Governor Rick Perry impeded the investigation by replacing three of the nine commission members in an attempt to change the commission’s findings; Perry denies the allegations.

(footnotes omitted)

The arson investigators testified that the fire was set by someone who used an accelerant to spread the fire. The alleged motive was that he had sexually molested his daughhters and murdered them to prevent them from accusing him. However, there was no evidence that he had molested. His wife and mother of the three girls, Stacy Kuykendall, told prosecutors that he loved them and would never have harmed them.

Wikipedia describes what happened after Willingham was convicted and sentenced to death.

Long after the original conviction, in 2004 Gerald Hurst, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry, examined the arson evidence compiled by Manuel Vasquez, the state deputy fire marshal. Hurst said that Vasquez was incorrect when he said that the extreme heat of the fire (as evidenced by a melted aluminum threshold) indicated that an accelerant was used, and said that experiments prove that wood and liquid accelerant fires can burn with equal heat. Hurst’s own experiments showed that burning with an accelerant does not leave the kind of brown stains that Vasquez claimed were created that way. Hurst also said that the crazed glass that Vasquez said was caused by a liquid accelerant had been found as a result of brush fires elsewhere. Experiments showed that crazed glass was caused not by rapid heating but by cooling, and that glass cooled by water from a fire hose was more likely to have a crazed or cracked pattern. A $20,000 experimental house fire set without an accelerant created the same pour patterns and V shaped pattern that Vasquez attributed to the use of a liquid accelerant. Vasquez thought that Willingham lied when he said he escaped without burning his feet, because he thought that an accelerant was used that would spread fire along the floor. However, since no accelerant was needed to create the results found, Willingham could well have been telling the truth when he said that he ran out without burning his feet, presuming he left before the fire achieved flashover.

According to Hurst, when a fire reaches the flashover threshold, it is impossible to visually identify accelerant patterns. While the prosecutor thought that the “bizarre” path of the flame indicated that an accelerant was used, Hurst said that the path of the fire followed a post-flashover pattern of going in the direction of ventilation. Although Willingham was accused of using an accelerant in three different places, the front porch was the only place where an accelerant was verified by laboratory tests, and a photograph taken of the house before the fire showed that a charcoal grill was there. The family confirmed that lighter fluid was by the grill used for family barbecues. Water sprayed by firefighters likely spread the lighter fluid from the melted container. All twenty of the indications listed by Vasquez of an accelerant being used were rebutted by Hurst.


(footnotes omitted)

On July 25, 2014 a group of Texas lawyers and the Innocence Project in New York City filed a bar complaint against John Jackson, the lead prosecutor in Willinghams’s trial. The Open File describes the complaint.

It alleges that a “pillar” of Jackson’s case against Willingham was disingenuously built on the incentivized testimony of a jailhouse informant.

Jackson, who later became a state district judge, allegedly covered up a deal he struck with a key witness in the case, Johnny Webb. Jackson allegedly told Webb he would reduce the charges in a pending robbery case against Webb in exchange for his testimony in the Willingham case. Webb testified at trial that while he and Willingham were housed in the same jail, Willingham confessed to setting the fire that killed his children. Jackson used this confession to prop up the arson evidence in the case (which has since been widely discredited by experts in forensic science. Read submissions from experts to the Texas Forensic Science Commission here.)

Failing to disclose a deal with a witness in a criminal case has long been held to be a violation of a defendant’s right to due process. In Giglio v. United States (1972) the Supreme Court ruled that the state is obligated to disclose to the defense any promise or expectation of leniency it offered to a witness. In Napue v. Illinois (1959) the Court made clear that a prosecutor’s failure to correct the testimony of a witness who falsely testifies that they have no expectation of leniency from the state is also a violation of due process.

But the allegations in the bar complaint against Jackson go much further than even these serious violations: the complainants suggest that Jackson has actively covered up the deal he made with Webb “to this day”, going so far as to “deceive” the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Governor, and submitting false evidence in the form of an affidavit to a 2010 Court of Inquiry.

Webb has since denied that Willingham confessed to him in jail.

The matter is pending.


David McCallum is free at last after serving 29 years for a murder he did not commit

October 15, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Good afternoon:

David McCallum is free at last after serving 29 years for a murder he did not commit. He and Willie Stuckey were wrongfully convicted in 1984 for the kidnapping and murder of 20-year-old Nathan Blenner and sentenced to 25 years to life. Unfortunately, Stuckey will not taste freedom. He died in 2001.

Their wrongful convictions resulted from false confessions. They were 16-years-old when they were arrested and interrogated by police.

The New York Daily News has the story.

Brooklyn’s top lawman announced Wednesday he will throw out the 1985 convictions against two men, slamming his predecessor for leaving a mess of injustice.

“I inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful convictions,” District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said when making it official that David McCallum, 45, will be freed after 29 years and the name of codefendant Willie Stuckey, who died in 2001, will be cleared.

As the Daily News first reported, McCallum’s release came after an advocacy drive, including an open letter by famed boxer Rubin (Hurricane) Carter that was published weeks before he died last April.

Carter, who served 19 years in a New Jersey prison for a triple murder he didn’t commit, became involved with innocence advocacy after his release.

Thompson said there “is not a single piece of evidence” that connected the two 16-year-old suspects to the crime — except for their brief confessions, which prosecutors have now concluded were false.

During their interrogations, police provided information to McCallum and Stuckey about the kidnapping and murder eventually ‘persuading’ them to agree that they committed the crime.

When the crimes were reinvestigated by Thompson’s office, they discovered that DNA evidence in the victim’s vehicle matched other men and “a witness who claimed he supplied Stuckey the gun through his aunt was lying, with the aunt contradicting his account.”


Glen Ford is free at last after 30 years on death row

March 12, 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2013

Good morning:

Glen Ford, 64, is a free man today after spending 30 years on death row in Louisiana for a murder he did not commit.

This awful case features police and prosecutorial misconduct, forensic fraud, lying witnesses and ineffective assistance of counsel.

The victim was Isadore Rozeman, 56, a watchmaker in Shreveport who was found shot to death behind the counter in his store. Mr. Ford worked for him occasionally doing yard work.

Police arrested Mr. Ford in November 1983 for possession of property stolen from Rozeman’s store. He was charged with the murder the following February together with George Starks, Henry Robinson and Jake Robinson.

The Death Penalty Information Center is reporting,

Prosecutors said they recently received “credible evidence” that Ford “was neither present at, nor a participant in, the robbery and murder” of which he was convicted in 1984. Ford, who has always maintained his innocence, was tried and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. One of the witnesses against him said at trial that police had helped her make up her story. A state “expert” who testified about the victim’s time of death had not even examined the body. Ford’s lead trial attorney had never tried a jury case before. A second attorney, two years out of law school, worked at an insurance defense firm. They failed to hire any experts to rebut the prosecution’s case because they believed they would have to pay for the experts themselves. The Louisiana Supreme Court earlier said it had “serious questions” about the outcome of the trial, but did not reverse Ford’s conviction. Ford may have been involved in trying to pawn jewelry from the victim that he received from one of the original codefendants.

USA Today is reporting,

Movement in Ford’s decades-old case began last year when Caddo Parish prosecutors began filing motions in federal court indicating someone other than Ford had confessed to being Rozeman’s killer. The court documents indicate a confidential informant questioned in an unrelated homicide identified Jake Robinson, one of four men initially charged in Rozeman’s murder, as the triggerman, not Ford.

Few other details were provided until Thursday, when the motion spurring Ford’s release plainly stated that if the new evidence had been known when Ford went to trial the outcome would have been different. “Indeed, if the information had been within the knowledge of the state, Glenn Ford might not even have been arrested or indicted for this offense,” the motion states

There were no eyewitnesses to the crime and the murder weapon was never found. The prosecution’s most important witness was a woman named Marvella Brown. The Atlantic reports,

With all signs pointing to the Robinsons, and with police under the impression that the one or both of the brothers still possessed the murder weapon, Ford was not immediately charged with Rozeman’s murder. He and the two Robinsons were instead charged three months later—only after Jake Robinson’s girlfriend, Marvella Brown, incriminated them by telling the police that Ford was with the Robinsons, and in the possession of a firearm, on the day of Rozeman’s murder.

/snip/

Under cross-examination, however, she told jurors that the police had helped her make up the story she had told about Ford. When Ford’s attorneys later called her to the witness stand, she told jurors that a bullet left from an old gunshot wound to her head had affected her thinking. “I did lie to the Court… I lied about it all,” she said in court.

The all-white jury took less than 3 hours to convict Mr. Ford and it subsequently recommended a death sentence.

There were no blacks on the jury because the prosecution used a peremptory challenge to strike the only one from the jury, a practice condemned by the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).

Pursuant to Louisiana law, Mr. Ford will receive some financial compensation for being incarcerated for 30 years. The law requires the state to pay $25,000 per year of wrongful incarceration up to a maximum of $250,000 plus up to $80,000 for loss of life opportunities.

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This is our 930th post and donations are lagging. We work hard to keep you informed by filling in the blanks between the lines. After 30 years in the trenches, I am familiar with all of the rules and strategies prosecutors and defense counsel utilize. Experience counts and most of my predictions have been accurate.

Adjusting and fine tuning to dial in the white fear and racist corruption frequencies in the Florida courts took some doing, but I am on track now.

If you appreciate what we do, please make a donation.

We cannot pay our bills without your support.

Fred


Over Easy: Do you know anything about Morgellons?

November 13, 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Good afternoon:

Ryan Ferguson is a free man today. He walked out of a Missouri penitentiary this morning after the Missouri Attorney General’s Office decided not to retry him for the murder of Ken Heitholt. He served 10 years of a 40-year sentence. The only evidence that linked him to the murder was the testimony of an eyewitness who said he saw Ferguson around 2 am standing in a parking lot near the location where the victim’s body was found and the testimony of his codefendant who pled guilty to the murder after providing police with a false confession to the murder. Both witnesses recanted their testimony after Ferguson was convicted and sentenced to prison.

I wrote about the circumstances of this wrongful conviction of an innocent man and the decision by the Missouri Court of Appeals reversing his conviction and sentence on the ground that the prosecution withheld material exculpatory evidence from the defense, which is a violation of the Brady rule.

I write today to encourage discussion and to solicit ideas regarding a vexing problem that Crane and I have been dealing with for the past week. During a routine house cleaning session, she discovered several fungus-like growths on kitchen counters and cabinets. When she first saw them, she thought they were bread crumbs or spilled food. However, they seemed to be attached to the surface and had to be pried loose. She got a closer look, saw black and white hair-like fibers and whitish larvae and thought she was dealing with some type of insect. I disagreed and told her that I thought it was a fungus.

After that discovery, we began noticing similar clumps all over the apartment, as if they had spontaneously sprouted into existence in the blink of an eye.

Then they began to appear as lesions on her hands, arms and face. During the past 48 hours, they have spread into her mouth and nose. This alarming development is the reason why you have not seen an article from either of us for the past several days.

We have not been able to determine what caused the lesions and we are asking for your assistance in identifying it.

Anti-fungal ointment keeps the outbreak from spreading and reduces the size of each infected site, but the stuff spreads quickly and appears to tunnel into the skin.

No, this is not a joke.

We’ve never heard of this thing, so we’ve spent a lot of time on the internet attempting to identify it. With the exception of it spreading to object, the symptoms are similar to Morgellons.

However, the CDC published a paper last year reporting the results of an extensive multi-year study of Morgellons and they concluded that it’s a delusional parasitosis. In other words, it’s an imagined condition.

That’s not helpful and it isn’t going to heal the open sores on her skin.

Have any of you heard about the raging controversy regarding Morgellons or have any experience with it?

We are searching for clues.

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This worrisome development is not helping our financial situation. We really do need your assistance.

Fred


Missouri Court of Appeals reverses murder conviction for withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense

November 5, 2013

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Good afternoon:

Big news out of Missouri this morning: The Missouri Court of Appeals reversed Ryan Ferguson’s conviction for the 2001 murder of sports editor Kent Heitholt of the Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, MO.

Basis for the ruling: Prosecutorial misconduct for withholding material exculpatory evidence from the defense.

48 Hours covered this case.

Kent Heitholt, the sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune, was beaten and strangled to death with his belt in a parking lot outside the building where he worked. Two janitors discovered his body and called the police. They told the police that they first noticed two men in their twenties standing next to Heitholt’s car and then saw Heitholt’s body on the ground nearby. Neither of them were able to provide police with a detailed description of either of the two men.

One witness worked with a sketch artist, however, who eventually produced some sketches of the two suspects.

Ryan Ferguson and his friend Chuck Erickson were drinking in a nearby bar. Ferguson was the driver and late that night he dropped Erickson off at Erickson’s house and then he drove home and went to bed

When Erickson got up the next day, he could not remember much about the events of the previous evening. After reading about Heitholt’s murder, he began to wonder if maybe he might have been one of the two young men reportedly seen by the two janitors.

Several years later after looking at the sketches in the news, he really began to worry about whether he might have been involved and he expressed his concern to several friends, including Ferguson.

Ferguson laughed at him and assured him that he had an intact memory of that evening and they had nothing to do with Heitholt’s death.

One of Erickson’s friends called the police and they decided to subject him to a custodial interrogation. Unfortunately, nothing he said matched any of the evidence at the crime scene, but instead of letting him go, they began to provide him with snippets of information that only the killers would know. In this way, they eventually succeeded in getting him to sign a confession. He named his friend Ryan Ferguson as his accomplice.

Ferguson denied committing the crime and police did not find any evidence at the crime scene implicating either of them.

Erickson ended up pleading guilty and testified against Ferguson in exchange for a reduced sentence.

The other janitor, who did not participate in the sketch effort because he told police that he could not recall anything about the two young men in the parking lot, suddenly contacted the prosecutor just before trial and announced that he had recovered his memory and could positively identify Erickson and Ferguson as the two young men he saw.

When asked to explain the miraculous recovery, which happened when he was in prison serving a sentence on an unrelated matter, he said his wife sent him a package wrapped in newspaper. As luck would have it, a photograph of Erickson just happened to be the first thing he saw when he glanced at the newspaper. Voila! He instantly recognized Erickson and then Ferguson.

The jury found Ferguson guilty.

The janitor and Erickson subsequently recanted their trial testimony.

The newspaper-jogged-my-memory was a false story and, not surprisingly, the wife had no recollection of sending it to him.

The defense subsequently discovered that the prosecutor who tried the case had interviewed the janitor in prison just before the janitor contacted police and told them about the miraculous recovery of his memory.

The prosecutor did not take any notes and did not inform the defense about that meeting. He also did not disclose to the defense that the janitor’s wife did not recall sending a newspaper to her husband.

The prosecution did not and that the prosecutor had met with the janitor just before he recovered his memory.

The Court of Appeals was not the least bit amused, noting that the only evidence implicating Ferguson was two in-court identifications of extremely suspicious provenance that had subsequently been recanted.

The Court of Appeals held:

We conclude that Ferguson has established the gateway of cause and prejudice,
permitting review of his procedurally defaulted claim that the State violated Brady v.
Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) by withholding material, favorable evidence of an
interview with Barbara Trump, the wife of Jerry Trump, one of the State’s key witnesses
at trial. The undisclosed evidence was favorable because it impeached Jerry Trump’s
explanation for his ability to identify Ferguson. The undisclosed evidence was material
because of the importance of Jerry Trump’s eyewitness identification to the State’s ability
to convict Ferguson, because the evidence would have permitted Ferguson to discover
other evidence that could have impacted the admissibility or the credibility of Jerry
Trump’s testimony, and because of the cumulative effect of the nondisclosure when
considered with other information the State did not disclose. The undisclosed evidence
renders Ferguson’s verdict not worthy of confidence.

The prosecutor who manufactured the case against Ferguson and withheld material exculpatory evidence from his attorney is now a Boone County Circuit Court judge.

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We have reached that time of the month when we ask our readers to consider making a donation. We cannot maintain this blog without your assistance.

Thank you,

Fred


The Decision From Hell (Part 3)

December 29, 2011

In Part 1 of this series of posts about the decision from hell, as I have come to call it, I criticized the first part of the Kentucky State Court of Appeals decision in Crane Station’s case.

That part affirmed the circuit court’s pretrial and supplementary post trial decision denying her motion to suppress evidence. In so doing, the Court of Appeals ignored binding legal precedent by United States Supreme Court and Kentucky State Supreme Court cases interpreting the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Appeals, in effect, established a new rule that trial courts may consider evidence acquired after an investigatory stop without the requisite reasonable suspicion in determining whether a police officer had a reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop. In other words, an otherwise unlawful investigatory stop becomes lawful, if the officer discovers evidence of a crime!

In Part 2, I criticized the Court of Appeals decision that, even if the circuit court improperly restricted her from cross examining the arresting officer, the error was harmless and the conviction should be affirmed. I pointed out there is no question that (1) the trial judge improperly restricted the cross examination and (2) the error violated her Sixth Amendment right to present a defense. Further, because the error involved a constitutional right, the Court of Appeals had applied the wrong rule in determining whether the error was harmless.

If the Court of Appeals had applied the correct rule in Crane’s case, it should have reversed her conviction. Why? Because the correct rule would have required it to conclude that the error affected the outcome of the trial, unless the prosecution could have satisfied it beyond a reasonable doubt that it did not. I demonstrated how that was an impossible in Crane’s case.

Now, let us proceed to take a look at, believe it or not, the most egregious error committed by the Court of Appeals.

After the prosecution rested its case, the defense asked the trial judge to enter a judgment of acquittal on the DUI charge. The trial judge denied the request and the jury subsequently convicted Crane of DUI. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s denial of her request.

The problem with this decision is that it ignores the results of two scientific tests of Crane’s blood sample by analysts at the Kentucky State Crime Laboratory that conclusively established to a reasonable scientific certainty that she had no alcohol and no drugs in her blood.

KRS 189A.010, which defines the crime of DUI, required the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Crane operated her motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or any other substance or combination of substances which impairs one’s driving ability.

The Court of Appeals said,

The evidence elicited at trial established that Leatherman admitted to Deputy McGuire that she was taking three prescription medications, including Clonazepam, which contains a warning regarding driving while on that medication. Deputy McGuire also testified to his observations of Leatherman’s behavior, including the results of the HGN test showing intoxication.

Furthermore, Mr. Wilkey (the 911 caller) testified at trial that Leatherman and her husband visited him several months after the incident regarding his upcoming testimony. He reported that Leatherman told him that she was unable to remember what they discussed because she was “whacked out.” This evidence is more than a mere scintilla and is of sufficient substance to permit the question of guilt to go to the jury. (citation omitted)

Putting aside for the moment that I was there, she did not say that or anything like it, I told her lawyer that she did not say that, I asked him to call me as a witness, and he failed to call me as a witness,

The simple fact remains that two scientific tests established to a reasonable scientific certainty that she had no alcohol and no drugs in her blood.

That simple fact also establishes to a reasonable scientific certainty that the deputy and the 911 caller were mistaken or lying when they testified that she appeared to be intoxicated. Further, the HGN test is just a non invasive screening test that indicates possible alcohol or drug impairment that needs to be confirmed by a breath or blood test. Here, the blood test did not confirm impairment and the HGN was not even administered in the proper fashion.

This is a very dangerous precedent, if it is allowed to stand, because it basically says that mistaken and unreliable eyewitness testimony can trump scientific test results that establish innocence to a reasonable scientific certainty.

So much for exculpatory DNA testing . . .

I guess this is the Kentucky Court of Appeals solution to ‘solving’ the alarming, embarrassing, and escalating number of wrongful convictions of innocent people, including many people on death row, as conclusively established by post conviction DNA testing.

Do not attempt to reform the system because that would involve admitting something is wrong. Instead, just disappear wrongful convictions altogether by setting up a false equivalence that a scientific test result is not more accurate and reliable than a lay witness’s opinion and let a jury decide which to believe.

Will the Kentucky State Supreme Court deny Crane’s motion for discretionary review and allow this case to rewrite federal and state constitutional law and ‘solve’ the wrongful conviction problem by ignoring and disappearing it?

Stay tuned.


The Decision From Hell (Part 2)

December 28, 2011

Yesterday, in Part 1 of this post, I critiqued the first part of the Court of Appeals decision affirming the trial court’s denial of her pretrial motion to suppress evidence.

I concluded that the Court of Appeals erred because it improperly relied on evidence (1) obtained after the deputy stopped Crane Station and (2) facts invented by the trial court. The Court of Appeals also (3) erroneously claimed that her appellate lawyer had failed to challenge any of the trial court’s findings of fact. I provided links to the decision by the Court of Appeals and Crane’s Opening Brief on Appeal and her Reply Brief.

In a related post today entitled How Could Judge Taylor Forget Garcia v. Commonwealth, I discussed a decision he wrote reaching the opposite conclusion on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. You may find that to be an interesting and helpful follow-up to Part 1 since he is one the three judges who decided her case. I also referenced Crane’s Petition for Rehearing of the decision by the Court of Appeals just so there is no misunderstanding or confusion regarding whether her lawyer challenged the findings of fact.

This first part of the decision by the Court of Appeals stands for the proposition that a motion to suppress based on an argument that a police officer lacked a reasonable suspicion to stop someone can be decided on the basis of information he acquires after the stop. Likewise an argument that a police officer lacked probable cause to arrest can be decided on the basis of evidence that turns up after the arrest. Both principles are contrary to long established federal and state case law and eviscerate the Fourth Amendment.

Therefore, the Kentucky State Supreme Court must grant discretionary review and reverse the Court of Appeals. If it does not, trial courts across the state will create havoc by following the decision by the Court of Appeals and denying motions to suppress in violation of a long line of state and federal cases. Eventually, the Supreme Court would have to grant review in one of those cases and overrule the Court of Appeals in the Leatherman case.

That is why it is necessary to grant discretionary review.

Today, I will critique that part of the decision that deals with Crane’s statement that her watch had fallen behind the seat during the ride to the hospital and her request for the deputy’s assistance to retrieve her watch for her.

Tomorrow in Part 3, I will deal with the final issue; namely, the decision by the Court of Appeals that the trial court properly denied her motion for a directed verdict of acquittal on the DUI charge. Due to the length of today’s article, I have decided that I should discuss the latter issue in a separate post.

When Deputy McGuire assisted Crane to get out of the back seat of his patrol vehicle at the hospital (because she was handcuffed with her hands behind her back), she told him that her watch had fallen off her wrist and dropped behind the rear seat during the ride. She asked him to please retrieve it for her. That is undisputed.

At the preliminary hearing, McGuire testified that, after they returned to his vehicle following the blood draw, he pulled the seat back, saw the watch and the suspected controlled substance near it, and seized both of them. When her lawyer asked him if he could see the two items before he pulled the seat back, he said. “No.” However, at the suppression hearing, he testified that he saw both items in “plain view” sitting at the top of the seatbelt crack next to where she was sitting when he opened the door to assist her to get out of his vehicle at the hospital.

Those two statements are mutually exclusive. They cannot both be true and there is no question that Crane’s lawyer was entitled to challenge the deputy’s credibility at trial by impeaching him with his prior inconsistent statement under oath at the preliminary hearing. Nevertheless, the trial judge sustained an improper objection by the prosecutor to that line of inquiry preventing him from eliciting the inconsistent statement.

Why did the trial judge do that?

Before jury selection, the trial judge granted the prosecutor’s motion in limine (i.e., at the beginning) for an order preventing the defense from introducing Crane’s statement about her watch and her request for his assistance in retrieving it on the ground that her statement was inadmissible hearsay.

I have addressed this issue previously in Hearsay, Part Deaux.

The judge’s ruling was improper because the statement was not hearsay, since it was not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. It was offered to show that, as a result of something she said (and it really does not matter what it was, which is why it was not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted), he pulled the seat back to look for her watch and found both the watch and the suspected controlled substance in proximity to each other.

There is nothing misleading or improper about allowing the jury to hear that evidence because that is the way it happened, according to the deputy’s testimony at the preliminary hearing.

Instead, the jury only heard the deputy’s trial version of his discovery, which was that he found her watch and the suspected controlled substance in plain view on top of the rear seat in the seatbelt crack right next to where she was sitting. To make matters worse, in his final summation the prosecutor said the proximity of her watch to the suspected controlled substance in plain view amounted to her “autograph” on the controlled substance and she had not offered any explanation for how they happened to be in plain view together in the seatbelt crack right next to her.

It’s not surprising in the least that the jury found her guilty of possession and evidence tampering for attempting to conceal the rock of crack. Would the jury have convicted her if they knew that the deputy found the rock not in plain view, but under his back seat because she asked him to retrieve her watch from under the seat?

I do not believe the jury would have convicted her because who would ask a police officer to retrieve their watch from under the seat, if they had lost the watch while attempting to slough a controlled substance?

That was her defense, but the trial judge took it away from her with his ruling in limine.

The Court of Appeals did not decide whether her statement about her watch and request for his assistance to find her watch was inadmissible hearsay. Instead, it dodged the issue by saying the error, if any, was harmless because she could have testified about her statement and request. Indeed, the Court of Appeals noted that the trial judge told her that she could testify about it.

Why does this not make any sense?

(1) If the statement were hearsay, it is not admissible, whether or not she testifies. That is the law and the trial judge cannot create an exception that does not exist.

(2) She had a constitutional right under the Fifth Amendment not to testify and a right to have the judge instruct the jury that it cannot hold her silence against her. In other words, silence is not evidence of guilt.

(3) The judge’s unlawful exception was a manipulative and coercive effort to force her to testify against her will in violation of her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and not have her silence held against her.

(4) If she had testified, the jury would have been presented with a classic he-said-she-said controversy in which he said he found her watch and the rock together in plain view at the top of the seatbelt crack on the seat right next to her, and she said he found it under the seat after she asked him to look for her watch. Not even the longest long shot Louie at Hialeah would put a fin on her fate in such a swearing contest.

(5) Who could deny that the odds on the outcome of that he-said-she-said swearing contest would change dramatically, if the jury found out that the deputy had previously testified under oath at the preliminary hearing, about a week after her arrest, confirming her statement. The suppression hearing was five months after her arrest and the trial was 18 months after her arrest, by the way. There can be little doubt that the jury would have believed her and disbelieved his plain-view testimony. Then their whole case falls apart.

(6) That is why her lawyer’s attempt to cross examine the deputy by impeaching him with his prior inconsistent statement under oath at the preliminary hearing was proper and legitimate.

To call this error harmless is disingenuous and absurd. But guess what? That is not even the right test. Why is it not the right test?

The trial judge’s order in limine and his ruling preventing her lawyer from impeaching the deputy with the deputy’s prior inconsistent statement under oath at the preliminary hearing took away her defense.

A defendant in a criminal case has a constitutional right to put on a defense and her right to do that was denied to her by the trial judge’s rulings and aggravated by the prosecutor’s closing argument in which he commented on her silence, which is forbidden by the Fifth Amendment. He also attempted to switch the burden of proof over to her to prove her innocence, which is a denial of due process of law under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

When the court and a prosecutor violate a defendant’s constitutional rights, the test presumes the error affected the outcome of the trial and the prosecution must rebut that presumption by proof beyond a reasonable doubt that it did not.That is a far different test from the one employed by the Court of Appeals.

There is no way the prosecution can meet its burden in this case. Therefore, the Court of Appeals must be reversed on this issue.

Until tomorrow . . .


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