October 29, 2020

FBI admits forensic evidence errors in hundreds of cases

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_72748851_72748850From BBC
The FBI admitted errors made in statements regarding hair analysis
The FBI has admitted “errors” in evidence provided by its forensics laboratory to US courts to help secure convictions, including in death penalty cases, over more than 20 years.
A report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) noted “irregularities” in the hair analysis unit.
More detail on the cases affected is expected later from campaign groups.
Flawed forensics were used in at least 60 capital punishment cases, the OIG report found.
Fourteen defendants were either executed or died in prison, says the Washington Post, which first reported the story at the weekend.
_71007719_texas_williamscounty2013.cmpThe review of cases was prompted by the Post’s 2012 story that three men were wrongly placed at the scene of violent crimes by the unit’s hair analysts, raising the possibility of hundreds of unsafe convictions.
A general view of the backs of two forensics workers
In 2012 it was found three men were previously wrongly placed at the scene of crimes
In a statement, the FBI admitted “errors made in statements by FBI examiners regarding microscopic hair analysis in the context of testimony or laboratory reports”.
It added: “Such statements are no longer being made by the FBI.”
The statement added the FBI was “committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance”.
_82430348_87222809The OIG’s report criticised “the use of scientifically unsupportable analysis and overstated testimony by FBI lab examiners in criminal prosecutions”.
The Washington Post reported that of 28 examiners within the microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favoured prosecutors in more than 95% percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far.
The paper cited data compiled by the National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers and the Innocence Project, which seeks to free inmates convicted on the basis of faulty evidence.
The two groups are expected to release a report later providing more information on the errors which could lead to hundreds of appeals.
IMAGE: An exterior shot of part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) crime laboratory
For more: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-32380051

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Study: Record number of US convicts cleared in 2013
From BBC
Gerard Richardson (foreground centre) was in prison for 19 years on murder charges before he was exonerated in December 2013
The number of US convicts cleared of their alleged crimes reached a record high in 2013, a new study reports.
The National Registry of Exonerations said 87 people were cleared last year. It has recorded 1,281 exonerations in the US since 1989.
The previous annual high came in 2009, with 83, but the registry continues to add past data.
The report put the rise down to a growing responsiveness among authorities to claims of innocence.
The state of Texas led the US with 13 exonerated cases, the report said.
Illinois and New York also had a high number of people exonerated of crimes for which they had spent time in prison.
Guilty pleas
The 2013 report from the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University law schools, noted those who were cleared last year were convicted on average more than 12 years ago.
A senior researcher at the registry, Maurice Possley, told the BBC the large number of cases in which DNA helped win exonerations has lent credibility to convicts’ claims of innocence in the eyes of the courts and the prosecutors.
“DNA has given us this window into the criminal justice system and what can go wrong,” he said. Now, claims of innocence are less likely to be dismissed “out of hand”.
“It’s a more level playing field,” he said.
The report found 17% of those cleared had pleaded guilty to the alleged crimes, likely under pressure from prosecutors who threatened to pursue more aggressive charges with longer sentences if defendants went to trial.
However, the report noted those who pleaded guilty despite their innocence were far less likely to receive assistance in contesting their cases later on.
Of the cases reported by the project, 47% were for homicide, including one exoneration of a defendant who had been sentenced to death.
And almost a third of the people cleared were convicted in cases in which no crime in fact had been committed, the researchers found.
A little more than a third of the exonerations happened with the initiative or co-operation of law enforcement.
“Police and prosecutors appear to be taking increasingly active roles in reinvestigating possible false convictions, and to be more responsive to claims of innocence from convicted defendants,” the authors wrote.
The exonerated convicts were pardoned, had charges dismissed by the courts, were acquitted on retrial, or were issued “certificates of innocence” or the like by a court.
Among the more than eighty cases of exoneration in 2013:
In 2012, Adam Tatum was wrongfully convicted of assault on a police officer and of possession of marijuana. He pleaded guilty but he was exonerated after CCTV footage showed he was beaten by police officers.
David Ranta was convicted in 1991 of murdering an esteemed rabbi in Brooklyn, New York. He was exonerated 22 years later after a new investigation found detectives pressured and bribed witnesses to testify against him.
Eight years after her conviction for killing her four-year-old son Jacquari, who was found asphyxiated by an elastic band in 2005, Nicole Harris was exonerated after evidence was presented that police coerced her into confessing and that the boy’s brother saw him wrap the band around his neck while he was playing Spiderman. The brother, then six, had been ruled incompetent to testify by a judge.
Gerard Richardson served 19 years in a New Jersey prison for the murder of teenager Monica Reyes. He was convicted largely on bite-mark evidence taken from the victim’s back, but new testing showed the bite mark contained another man’s DNA.
IMAGE: Gerard Richardson is hugged by Vanessa Potkin senior attorney at the Innocence Project, moments after Richardson was exonerated in Somerville, New Jersey 17 December 2013
For more on this story go to: http://www.bbc.com/news/26037120

Texas prosecutor Ken Anderson jailed for convicting innocent man
From BBC
A map of Williamson County, Texas
A former prosecutor in the US state of Texas has been sentenced to jail for his role in the wrongful conviction of an innocent man 26 years ago.
Ken Anderson agreed a plea deal that will see him serve 10 days in jail, perform 500 hours of community service and be disbarred.
He was charged with tampering with evidence in the 1987 murder trial of Michael Morton.
Morton spent 25 years in prison only to be exonerated by DNA evidence.
Anderson, also a former state judge, agreed a deal on Friday in the same Texas courthouse in which he used to preside.
He faced criminal charges and a civil lawsuit for allegedly withholding key evidence and making false statements to the court during Morton’s trial in the beating death of his wife, Christine.
‘Resolve the tragedy’
Lawyers for Morton said Anderson withheld a transcript of a police interview with Morton’s mother-in-law and reports from neighbours saying they had seen a man in a green van parked in front of the Morton home several times before the crime, according to the Texas Tribune.
Morton was sentenced to life in prison for the murder but was freed in 2011 after DNA evidence tied the crime to another man. That suspect, Mark Alan Norwood, was found guilty earlier this year.
“I don’t know if satisfying is the right word,” Morton said following Anderson’s court appearance on Friday.
“When it began, I was asked what I wanted. I said, ‘The only thing that I want, as a baseline, is for Ken Anderson to be off the bench and no longer practice law,'” Morton told the Texas Tribune. “Both of those things have happened and more.”
Anderson reportedly apologised to Morton for “failures in the system” but said he did not believe there was any misconduct, according to media reports.
“In a case like this, sometimes it’s hard to say what meets the ends of justice and what doesn’t,” presiding District Judge Kelly Moore said on Friday.
“There’s no way that anything we can do today will resolve the tragedy that occurred related to these matters.”
For more on this story go to: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-24876145

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