An Epidemic of Wrongful Convictions

Posted by Bob Lord

A few weeks ago, I posted on the Debra Milke case. Her murder conviction, based almost exclusively on the testimony of a dishonest cop, was thrown out. The prosecution had concealed exculpatory evidence. 

Today, I read in the Phoenix New Times how a 77 year-old man, wrongly convicted of murder in 1975, was just released. Another man had confessed to the murder, but the prosecution wanted the confession suppressed. The judge agreed.

Yesterday, I read Amy Goodman's account of Herman Wallace, freed after 42 years in solitary, for a murder he didn't commit. Wallace has but weeks to live. He's dying of liver cancer.

Years ago, a co-worker told me how her friend Ray Krone had been convicted wrongly. Turned out, he had. His conviction, based on contrived testimony of a supposed expert, was overturned. Ultimately, Krone received millions in damages, and rightly so.

The Innocence Project has freed over a hundred wrongly convicted prisoners. Its affiliates, like the Justice Project here in Arizona, have freed hundreds more. 

I could go on. I could cite statistics on how connected your odds of conviction are to the color of your skin. 

And the juries behind those wrongful convictions all concluded, unanimously, that the defendants were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. How could jurors unanimously blow it so badly so often?

Ideally, the public discussion of this travesty would be front and center. Instead, it's relegated to the pages of the New Times and blog sites like Truthdig. The mainstream media and the illiterate majority, could care less.   

5 responses to “An Epidemic of Wrongful Convictions

  1. Jim Hutchinson

    Mr. Lord:

    Assuming Debra Milke will be formally declared innocent — either by a directed verdict by Judge Mroz or by a jury in a trial if things get that far — can you speculate what monetary awards she is likely to receive for the criminal behavior of the Phoenix PD and the Maricopa County’s DA? That is, What civil suit vulnerabilities are the biased judge, Noah Levy, Armando Saldate, and the Phoenix PD exposed to? I understand that judges and prosecutors are normally immune, but are they immune if they engaged in criminal behavior such as the kangaroo court that convicted Milke in the first place?

  2. Jim Hutchinson

    I looked up the situation regarding a former woman cop on death row in Louisiana. the following is an extract of her bio and conviction:

    Antoinette Frank | Age 41 | On Death Row Since Oct. 1995 | Before Antoinette Frank became a convicted killer on Louisiana’s death row, she was a police officer. In hindsight, anyone involved in hiring her would say Antoinette should never have been allowed in the New Orleans Police Department. Her troubled youth had led to psychological problems, about which she lied on screening forms. She failed two psychiatric evaluations and was flat-out told that she wouldn’t be hired. But, the chronically understaffed department eventually brought her on board.

    Antoinette spent only two years on the force before the night that would land her on death row. On March 4, Antoinette and Rogers LaCaze, a drug dealer she’d met while performing police duties, entered Kim Anh, a family-run Vietnamese restaurant. Antoinette and Rogers began demanding money. When the four siblings working at the restaurant wouldn’t tell them where the money was hidden, they shot and killed two of them–Ha and Cuong Vu. Also killed was Ronald Williams, an NOPD officer working night security at the restaurant.

    In other words, she murdered one of her own.

    Louisiana is a funny place when it comes to law in enforcement. Remember when Edwin Evers ran against David Duke (of the KKK) after being released from prison? New Orleans bumper stickers read: “Vote for the crook! It’s important!” In a television interview, a reporter (I think it was a young lady), asked the former governor and felon if there anything that could keep a man from successfully running for governor in Louisiana. His reply has become a classic. He told her that there were only two things that would keep a man from successfully running — he could not be caught in bed with a live boy or a dead woman.

    Sorry I was wordy but I hope it provided insights.

  3. Jim Hutchinson

    I understand your comments regarding the pressure on the county attorney and police chief, but we are just as relieved if the guilty party is a member of law enforcement, maybe even more so.

    Look at the recent motorcycle mob beating in NYC. It did not take the NYPD and DA long to arrest an “undercover cop” who had beaten on the SUV with his helmet.

    It seems that some police departments and county attorneys let the chips fall where they may (i.e., if the guilty party is a cop, so be it! The will prosecute him). Others circle the wagons to defend their own.

    New Orleans, Louisiana is rather famous for crooked and even murderous cops. I believe that a former New Orleans woman cop is even now on death row for murder (I will look it up).

    I am no lawyer but I slugged through the court documents on-line concerning Debra Milke and cannot understand why the DA (Bill Montgomery) feels like he needs to defend former prosecutors in Maricopa County. Most likely, he has committed similar crimes as Noah Levy and is counting on future DA’s to protect him in a culture where the DA can do no wrong.

  4. I doubt this is unique to Maricopa. One of the cases to which I referred was a Louisiana case.

    I’m not an expert on this subject, so there are better people out there to answer the questions you raise. That said, we’ve created a system where there is incredible pressure on police and prosecutors to solve crimes and convict criminals. When we read about a high profile crime being solved, we feel safer. So, if you’re the county attorney or the police chief, is your goal going to be to see that justice is done, or to see to it that you keep your job?

  5. Jim Hutchinson

    Question regards “the epidemic of wrongful convictions”: To what can you attribute this epidemic?

    Please not that I generally followed the trial of Jodi Arias. I believe that enough evidence was presented that T. Alexander was at least a psychological woman abuser with pedophile tendencies.

    Also, I think that Arias’ behavior was bizarre enough that I think she should have had a PET or CT scan for brain anomalies. She was not behaving normally. You would think that the DA should have worked with the defense to get her head looked at — or are convictions not the truth are the goals of the AZ DA?

    Mr. Lord, if this is happening in Maricopa County, can injustice and wrongful convictions really be that unique to that location? Could it be nation-wide?