Crime Magazine is about true crime: organized crime, celebrity crime, serial killers, corruption, sex crimes, capital punishment, prisons, assassinations, justice issues, crime books, crime films and crime studies.
Pictured: Daryl Hunt
Darryl Hunt, exonerated of murder after serving nearly 20 years behind bars, will see his younger sister, Doris, for the first time in 40 years. The siblings were nine and three-years-old when they were separated following the death of their mother. Hunt was exonerated through DNA evidence in 2004.
Doris, who now lives in Atlanta, didn't remember having siblings until she reached adulthood and found documentation indicating that her mother also gave birth to two boys, reported The Herald Sun.
Hunt talked about the anticipation leading up to their reunion and compared his excitement to being freed from prison. The Herald Sun reports:
Hunt, who was only 19 years old at the time, was convicted of first-degree murder based on the testimony of eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen him with the victim. He was sentenced to life in prison, but his conviction was overturned by the North Carolina Supreme Court. In 1989, Hunt was retried before an all-white jury and again convicted of first-degree murder. Although DNA testing on crime scene evidence pointed to Hunt's innocence in 1994, it took another decade and numerous unsuccessful appeals before the DNA profile from the crime scene was run in the state database at the request of Hunt's attorneys. The results conclusively exonerated Hunt and pointed to another man who has since pled guilty to the murder.
In the years following his release, Hunt established The Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people after their release from prison.
Read the full article.
More on Hunt's case.
A new article in The Atlantic reflects on how the criminal justice system has been impacted by the United States Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright fifty years later. In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a trial lawyer to every criminal defendant in a felony trial. Though everyone is entitled to counsel, far too often the attorneys they receive are ineffective, leading to wrongful convictions.
In an effort to fix the problem, the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association urged Congress to establish a federally funded Center for Indigent Defense Services. And lawyers and judges in the American Bar Association are working on a proposal called National Indigent Defense Reform in an attempt to return meaning to the promise of Gideon, according to The Atlantic.In the end, 50 years after one of the most glorious chapters in the history of the Supreme Court, we tell ourselves that we are a nation of laws, and we praise ourselves for rulings like Gideon, and we extol the virtues of the Constitution in theory, but the truth is we are just lying to ourselves and each other when we pretend that there is equal justice in America. Either there is a right to counsel or there isn't. And if there is such a right, we all have an obligation to ensure it is recognized -- not just in the history books, and not just in a television movie, and not just in a dusty law book, but in the everyday lives of our fellow citizens.
Read the full article.
Read more about how ineffective assistance has contributed to wrongful convictions.
A Virginia man who was convicted of a 1976 abduction of a woman and her two children was exonerated Friday when his writ of actual innocence was granted by the Virginia Supreme Court after DNA testing excluded him from evidence found on the woman's clothing.
The DNA evidence that proved Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project client Garry Diamond's innocence was uncovered by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science's ongoing review of old case files that contain biological evidence, reported the Associated Press.
According to Armbrust, the state's review of old cases has now led to eight overturned convictions. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli office supported Diamond's petition for a writ of actual innocence.
Read the full article.
Read more about Virginia DNA exonerations.
Johnny Williams with his attorney, Melissa Dague O'Connell
A California man who was convicted of raping a nine-year-old girl in 1998 was exonerated Friday after new DNA testing secured by the Northern California Innocence Project and the California DNA Project proved his innocence.
A previously undetected DNA sample on a T-shirt the girl was wearing at the time of the assault excluded Johnny Williams who was paroled in January after serving 14 years behind bars, reported the Oakland Tribune. In light of the new evidence, the District Attorney's Office agreed to drop charges against Williams, and the Alameda County Superior Court Judge agreed to overturn the conviction. During the investigation, both the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County District Attorney's Office were unable to pull DNA samples from the girl's clothing.
Williams was convicted largely based on the victim's identification which was made at the suggestion of her mother. The victim said her attacker was named Johnny and Williams was the only Johnny she knew from the neighborhood. Following his conviction, Williams wrote a letter to the Northern California Innocence Project seeking assistance, and in 2000, the project began an investigation through its sister organization, the California DNA Project.
Texas exoneree and Innocence Project client Michael Morton was married on Saturday in Kilgore, Texas. Morton was released from prison in October 2011 after spending nearly 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife and moved to Kilgore to be near his parents. He met his new wife, Cynthia May Chessman, one night in January 2012 at First Baptist Church Liberty City, where he had been attending with his parents since his release.
A few days later, Chessman decided she would take Morton up on an offer he made to the congregation about going for coffee to talk more about his experience behind bars.
A few days before the one-year anniversary of their first coffee date, Morton proposed. They were married Saturday at the same church where they met. In lieu of gifts, the couple asked invited guests to make donations to the Innocence Project.
Read the full article.
Learn more about Morton's case.
Read about a documentary featuring Morton's case.
Legislation that would award Colorado's wrongfully convicted $70,000 for each year of incarceration was unanimously passed by the House Judiciary Committee Thursday and now moves to the House Appropriations Committee, where it faces a vote that could bring it before the House floor.
One proponent of the compensation bill, HB 1230, is Timothy Masters, whose wrongful conviction cost him nearly a decade of his life and left him broke upon his release. Masters would not personally benefit from the bill. The Coloradoan reports:
Masters was convicted in 1999 of the 1987 murder of a 37-year-old woman in Fort Collins, Colorado. He was 15 when the crime was committed. He was released in 2008 with only the money he earned working for minimum wage in the saddle shop at Buena Vista Correctional Facility and no state assistance. Two years later, Masters received a $10 million settlement from the city of Fort Collins and Larimer County. However, most exonerees are not able to win a lawsuit because of the challenges of proving that their wrongful conviction resulted from intentional misconduct.
The bill, proposed by Reps. Angela Williams and Dan Pabon, both Denver Democrats, would entitle death row prisoners to an additional $50,000 for each year served, and wrongfully convicted people would be eligible for $25,000 for each year they were on parole. Those wrongfully imprisoned for at least three years would be eligible for college tuition, compensation for child support they were unable to pay while incarcerated, attorney fees and fines and other costs associated with their court cases. About half of the states have a compensation law on the books, though the awards vary greatly and are often insufficient for rebuilding a life. If HB 1230 becomes law, it would rank among the nation's best.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers testified in support of the bill. And although Masters was unable to attend the committee hearing, Innocence Project client Robert Dewey, who was exonerated of murder in Colorado last year after serving 17 years in prison, was on hand to give testimony about the challenges faced once released.
In honor of International Women's Day, the Innocence Blog reviews a new book by Audrey Edmunds about her wrongful conviction, It Happened to Audrey: A Terrifying Journey from Loving Mom to Accused Baby Killer
, which was co-written by Jill Wellington.
Women, often the primary caregivers of both the young and old, are especially vulnerable to false accusations of abuse. A common pattern in women's wrongful conviction cases begins with the accidental death of a child or family member and ends with a murder conviction.
For Audrey Edmunds, such an accusation cost her 11 years of her life in prison-for which she may never be compensated-the chance to raise her three daughters, her marriage, and her livelihood as a family care provider to young children. Her nightmare began when seven-month-old Natalie Beard inexplicably fell unconscious one morning while in her care, making Edmunds the victim of a cultural phenomenon-a rash of "shaken baby syndrome" convictions. It Happened to Audrey, which Edmunds started writing while she was still behind bars, is the first account of its kind to convey the personal struggle and loss of an "accused baby killer."
She writes: These feelings were deep and impossible for another person to understand, yet I clung to the hope that someone would grasp how shocked and horrified I was with the entire situation-because I was innocent!
The terminology that medical experts have used to describe the force of the shaking-similar to a fall from a three-story building or the impact of a car crash-has helped to enable guilty verdicts in these cases with almost no corroborating evidence. Edmunds had dozens of supporters who testified to her loving care of children; she had no history of violence and no criminal history, yet she was convicted and sentenced to serve 18 years in prison.
Natalie, though she had no external injuries and no bone fractures, was deemed "shaken" because she had the classic triage of symptoms: subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhage and cerebral edema. Medical experts are now converging around a more holistic approach to diagnosing shaken baby syndrome that includes a closer examination of the child's medical history and other factors.
Edmunds was finally exonerated in 2008, one of a wave of similar convictions that are being overturned due to growing doubts within the medical community about the over-diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome. She is one of 72 women who have been exonerated nationwide since 1989 after years or decades of wrongful imprisonment.
Today, she lives in Wisconsin near her three daughters, is recently remarried, and has become a strong advocate for criminal justice reform. Her book, It Happened to Audrey, drives home the point that no one is safe from injustice and provides a heartbreaking glimpse into the experience of wrongful imprisonment for a woman and a mother.
For a list of other books about wrongful conviction, see our reading list.
Purchase a copy of the book.
On Monday, March 11th, An Unreal Dream, a documentary about the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton will have its premiere at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, at 7 p.m. at the Topfer Theatre at Zach Scott.
Morton served 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife, Christine, before he was finally exonerated by DNA evidence in 2011. His Innocence Project lawyers discovered that the prosecution failed to turn over numerous pieces of evidence pointing to his innocence, including statements from Morton's three-year-old son who witnessed the murder and said that his father wasn't the attacker. After a week-long hearing earlier this year, a Texas court is deciding whether criminal charges should be filed against the prosecutor Ken Anderson for withholding the evidence.
The documentary details Morton's nightmare of trying to grieve his wife's death while also being accused of and ultimately wrongly convicted for her murder. The film also examines his six-year legal battle to get access to the DNA evidence that ultimately proved his innocence and pointed to the real perpetrator (who will soon face trial for the murder).
Additional screenings will be held on March 13 at 6:30 p.m. at Alamo Village and on March 16 at 4:00 p.m. at the Topfer Theatre. Tickets are available at the box offices.
The St. Paul crime lab faces more controversy, two federal agencies release a guidebook for preservation of biological evidence, and forensic experts discuss the limitations of certain forensic techniques in the Austin-American Statesman. Here's this week's round up of forensic news:
Though consultants to the troubled St. Paul crime lab have recommended that civilian scientists be hired to run the lab, the St. Paul Police Federation opposes this change, arguing that it clashes with the union's terms and conditions of employment.
In Washington, D.C., the lab director of a new, independent crime lab faced questions from his critics at his first ever annual oversight hearing.
After several years of meetings, a working group co-sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) will release "The Biological Evidence Preservation Handbook: Best Practices for Evidence Handlers." It will be a definitive guide for how law enforcement agencies should handle and store biological evidence.
The Ohio Department of Health warned hospitals that some sexual assault evidence kits might be contaminated with DNA by those who assembled the kits. When the provider first started assembling kits, small traces of DNA from handling could not be detected, though advances in DNA technology now make this is possible.
In a recent Austin American-Statesman article, Cliff Spiegelman and William Tobin discuss how certain forensic techniques that might be useful during investigations are problematic in court. These techniques, which include firearm and tool mark analysis and facial reconstruction, involve subjectivity and do not have strong validation studies.
The Maryland Senate voted to repeal the state's death penalty this morning, passing a bill sponsored by Gov. Martin O'Malley, which will now go to the Maryland House of Delegates. If it passes, Maryland could become the sixth state in as many years to abolish the death penalty, and one of 18 states without capital punishment on the books. The Washington Post reports:
Maryland is also home to the nation's first death row DNA exoneree, Kirk Bloodsworth, whose advocacy for the abolition of the death penalty has helped focus the debate on the danger of executing an innocent person. Bloodsworth watched today's debate from the Senate gallery.
Of the 303 DNA exoneration cases nationwide, 18 served time on death row. Read more about their cases.
Read the full article.
Send a message of support to Gov. O'Malley.
Read a recent New York Times profile about Bloodsworth and his fight to end capital punishment in his state.
Wednesday afternoon at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, Fernando Bermudez will speak about his 18 years of wrongful imprisonment and the eyewitness misidentification that lead to his wrongful conviction for murder. Innocence Project Director of State Policy Reform Rebecca Brown will join him, speaking about how the Innocence Project works to reform the criminal justice system to prevent wrongful convictions.
For more information about the event.
For information about the Innocence Project Exoneree Speakers Bureau.
Read an article about Fernando Bermudez and other exonerees' public speaking.
A new report issued on Friday by the Oklahoma Justice Commission made recommendations to improve the criminal justice system and prevent wrongful convictions.
The Oklahoma Innocence Project worked closely with the 33-member Justice Commission on a two-year study of wrongful convictions. According to the Oklahoma Innocence Project, more than a dozen people were exonerated last year in the state for crimes they didn't commit, several after a decade or more of prison time.
The commission's suggestions include allowing post-conviction access to DNA testing. Oklahoma is the only state in the nation without a DNA testing law, but a bill authored by State Rep. Lee Denney (R-Cushing) has already been approved by the House and goes to the Senate to await a committee hearing. Other recommendations include videotaping interrogations, police lineup reform, training for all criminal justice professionals and post-release services for the exonerated.
Drew Edmondson, a former Oklahoma attorney general and the commission's chairman, said that although many of the recommendations could be voluntarily adopted by police departments and courts, the report pushes for legislative reform. Most of all, the report underscored the benefits the recommendations could have for both the public and law enforcement.
Read the full article.
The Black Academy of Arts and Letters presents "TESTED... How Twelve Wrongly Imprisoned Men Held Onto Hope," Saturday, March 2 as part of its Roundtable Writers' Breakfast at the Dallas Convention Center Theater Complex. "TESTED..., " by Peyton Budd and Dorothy Budd reveals how twelve Texas DNA exonerees kept their faith and sanity intact despite years of wrongful imprisonment. Their stories illuminate the shortcomings of the criminal justice system and the virtue of hope.
The event begins at 10 a.m. and includes breakfast and discussion.
For more information, visit The Black Academy of Arts and Letters.
Read more about the book.
A Vermont crime lab questions its blood alcohol testing results, a massive case review will be delayed in St. Paul, and recent lab problems in Massachusetts affect the state budget. Here's this week's round up of forensic news:
Blood alcohol testing machines in a Vermont state crime lab were not properly maintained or calibrated, leading to inaccurate results. In a recent trial, two lab analysts testified about submitting complaints about the faulty testing equipment to the lab supervisor.
Thousands of past drug convictions are still pending review in St. Paul after a judge delayed her decision in a related case. The hearing is now rescheduled for May 3. The lab's drug testing unit has been shuttered.
City Council members allocated money to hire more staff for the Austin, Texas Police Department crime lab to deal with a serious backlog of cases. Criminal judges and defense attorneys are urging the lab to hire more staff immediately.
At a recent state budget hearing in Massachusetts, lawmakers discussed how two recent scandals affected the backlog of crime lab testing. These cases, specifically the one at Hinton State Lab, significantly impact nearly every budget within the criminal justice sector.
The disagreement between the Denver district attorney and the police chief over lab personnel became a public sparring match recently. Accusations over a lack of professionalism have criminal justice experts wondering if the departments can still work together effectively.
Saturday's episode of the CBS investigative show '48 Hours' reexamined a Missouri man's fight for freedom. Ryan Ferguson was convicted in 2005 of committing a 2001 murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison after being implicated by former classmate Charles Erickson who testified against him and pled guilty to his part in the murder. Erickson had read a newspaper article about the crime and allegedly had a dream about possibly killing the victim. Four years after Ferguson was convicted, Erickson said he lied, and Ferguson didn't commit the murder.
Ferguson remains behind bars despite an absence of witnesses and a lack of physical evidence connecting him to the crime. His father started a petition with Change.org that will be delivered to the Governor and Attorney General seeking a new trial. According to '48 Hours,' it will be Ferguson's 13th attempt to overturn his conviction.
Watch the full episode.
Sign the Change.org petition asking for a new trial.
A Virginia man who plead guilty in juvenile court to a 2007 rape and breaking and entering charge on the advice of a court-appointed lawyer will have a chance to clear his name at a hearing in July to determine if the lawyer violated his right to effective defense.
The Free Lance Star reports that on June 4, 2007, 15-year-old Edgar Coker had consensual sexual relations with his 14-year-old neighbor in the girl's bedroom. At the time, the girl claimed rape to avoid getting into trouble with her mother. But two months after Coker was sent to juvenile detention, she admitted the fabrication. Now, both families want to clear Coker's record.
Now 21, Coker was released from custody three years ago, but was required to register as a sex offender. Since then, a team of attorneys, including the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia Law School, has been trying to get his name removed from the registry.
The hearing is scheduled for July 16 and 17.
Read the full article.
Read more about bad lawyering.