Entries in Innocent (4)


Study Questions Execution of Possibly-Innocent Texas Man

Carlos Hernandez (L), and Carlos De Luna (R). (Corpus Christi Police Department)(NEW YORK) -- A brutal murder, two similar-looking suspects, and a death sentence.  For Jim Liebman, these three ingredients became the catalyst for exposing one of the judicial system's greatest risks: executing an innocent person.

In a new book-length study written by Liebman, a Columbia law professor, and six of his students, and published in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, the decision to execute Carlos De Luna for the 1983 murder of a Corpus Christi gas station attendant is called into question again and again.

"This case, because it is such an everyday case, a very commonplace case, an 'everycase' if you've got problems in this kind of case that no one was paying attention to.  It contributes to the wider debate about what the risks [of the death penalty] are to human life," Liebman told ABC News.

De Luna was arrested in 1983 for the murder of Wanda Lopez, a brutal killing in which Lopez was stabbed to death by a Hispanic man shopping in the convenience store where she worked.  But throughout his arrest, trial and time on death row, De Luna insisted it was Carlos Hernandez, a friend of his from Corpus Christi, who looked uncannily similar to De Luna, who'd actually killed Lopez.

Liebman, who set out to examine whether the judicial system had put seemingly-innocent criminals to death, spent five years investigating the details of the De Luna case.  He and his team of investigators and students talked to more than 100 witnesses, combed through 20 feet of documents and compiled a 400-plus page narrative case study of the Lopez murder.  To back up their assertions, the team put the study online, with hundreds of footnotes and links to original documents and primary source materials so that people could come to their own conclusions about the two Carloses.

Liebman's students arranged to have the study published in a special issue of the Human Rights Law Review, which will be devoted entirely to the De Luna narrative.  The decision to publish their findings as a nonfiction narrative story, rather than as an academic paper, was made to try to bring a more general readership to the story of Carlos De Luna.

"My hope is that this will bring more readers to the story and potentially a broader category of readers, including college students around country and even the public," Liebman said.

During its investigation, the team found a mountain of evidence that convinced them De Luna was innocent.  They talked to Hernandez's family and friends, who made it seem as if it was "common knowledge" in Corpus Christi that Hernandez had bragged about making De Luna his "fall guy," Liebman said.

While prosecutors pushed forward with the case against De Luna, Hernandez allegedly confessed multiple times, including just weeks after Lopez's death.

Liebman and his students also found glaring mistakes about how police and prosecutors had treated the case, including contamination of the crime scene by investigators.

De Luna maintained his innocence throughout his trial, his time on death row and in his last words before he was executed in 1989.

Hernandez went on to be arrested more than a dozen times, including for the murder of a different woman, killed by a knife similar to the one used in Lopez's killing.  The charges were dropped because of prosecutorial delay, according to Liebman's study.

Hernandez died in prison in 1999 of liver disease, and the case will never be reopened, Liebman acknowledged.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Convictions of Three Men Overturned in 1991 Rape and Murder

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Three men imprisoned for nearly 20 years for the 1991 rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl will be freed this week after DNA testing linked a different man to the crime.

Robert Taylor, one of the exonerated men, walked out of Illinois’ Stateville Correctional Center on Thursday a free man, while two others also wrongfully convicted in the case will have their convictions vacated, prosecutors said Thursday.

The three men serving time, along with two others, were convicted in the November 1991 death of Cateresa Matthews.  The 14-year-old girl was last seen at her grandmother’s house and was found dead by a highway near Dixmoor, which is about 20 miles south of Chicago.

The details of this wrongful conviction story have made it stand out, and defense attorneys have been seeking new DNA testing since 2009.  The young men accused of the assault of Matthews and her murder by a single gunshot to the mouth were young teenagers at the time -- three were 14, two were 16.

The treatment which the young men received at the hands of investigators one year later when brought in for questioning was also dubious, as they were held in custody and interrogated for hours before some signed confessions.

Although DNA evidence recovered from the girl’s body did not match any of the five defendants, and even though the confessions were questionable, prosecutors moved forward with the case against them.

The group came to be known as “The Dixmoor Five.”  Defense attorneys claim at least one of the teens was told that they could see their parents if they signed confessions during a marathon questioning.

Ultimately two of the five young men received shorter sentences for testimony implicating the other three.  Robert Lee Veal, now 34, and Shainne Sharp, now 36, received reduced 20-year prison sentences in exchange for their testimonies.

According to records, both Veal and Sharp served approximately 10 years each.

Now, recent tests have identified a serial rapist as the source of the DNA, a man who was 33 at the time of the murder.  That man is serving prison time in Cook County for a drug offense and is currently under investigation for Matthews’ murder.

“It’s truly unexplainable,” said Taylor’s attorney Josh Tepfer.  “It’s one of the most tragic injustices in this state’s history.  It’s five kids who were wrongfully convicted…while a true perpetrator went on and lived a criminal lifestyle.”

The other two exonerated men, Jonathan Barr, 34, and James Harden, 36, who are brothers, should be released on Friday once paperwork is completed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Innocent Man Denied $14 Million in Damages After Years on Death Row

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Fourteen might not be John Thompson's lucky number.

He spent 14 years on death row in Louisiana until a stunning revelation came to light: the prosecution had failed to turn over a police crime lab report that would eventually prove his innocence.

As a free man, Thompson went on to win a $14 million award after a jury found that the Louisiana district attorney for Orleans Parish had failed to train his prosecutors about their legal obligation to turn over favorable evidence to the defense.  But on Tuesday, Thompson was stripped of the award by a divided Supreme Court.

Thompson says that since he became a free man, not much can make him angry.

"If I wasn't shaken by the seven execution dates I got, or watching my friends on death row die, I can't be shaken by what the world has to offer out here," he said in a recent interview.

But he says that he is angry that the Supreme Court ruling means no one will be held accountable for his years on death row, or his near execution.

"It's not about $14 million, because that was never my money anyway," he said.  "People should be worried about what it means: there is no accountability.  We just gave prosecutors permission to kill.  That's the reality. "

Thompson's odyssey began in 1985 when he was convicted of murder and, in a separate case, attempted armed robbery.  He was sentenced to death.  However, just weeks before the execution, Thompson's attorneys discovered that during the trial the prosecution had learned the blood type of the perpetrator.  The information was never made available to the defense.

Once Thompson's lawyers discovered the report, they knew he would be found innocent because the blood type of the perpetrator did not match Thompson's.

As a free man, Thompson eventually sued the district attorney's office, run by Harry Connick Sr. (the father of the famous singer).  He won $14 million in a civil rights judgment based on the jury's finding that Mr. Connick had been "deliberately indifferent" to the need to train his prosecutors about their legal obligation to turn over evidence that could be favorable to the defense.  An appeals court affirmed the district court's ruling.

But lawyers for Connick appealed the case to the Supreme Court, arguing that a single incident could not prove that a district attorney failed to train prosecutors on the obligations to turn over evidence.  The Supreme Court agreed, with the majority of the justices finding that Connick's office could not be held liable.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


After 30 Years Behind Bars, Inmate's Conviction Is Overturned

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(DALLAS) -- Cornelius Dupree, Jr. is free for the first time in 30 years.

Since DNA testing was first instituted in 2001, Texas has led the nation in releasing wrongly convicted prisoners.  Dupree was the 41st to be sprung from a state prison after being exonerated by DNA testing.

In 1979, Dupree and another man were arrested and convicted of robbing a couple they allegedly took hostage.  The woman also told police that both men had raped her.

Dupree and co-defendant Anthony Massingill were each sentenced to 75 years in prison.  Dupree insisted from the onset that he was innocent of the crime, claiming he was the victim of mistaken identity.

Dupree had opportunities before now for early release, providing he admitted to his alleged crime.  He refused.

Earlier this year, DNA evidence proved Dupree’s innocence and on Tuesday, a judge in Dallas officially overturned the conviction, meaning Dupree has no criminal record.

Now 51, Dupree said Tuesday, “I must admit there is a bit of anger, but there is also joy, and the joy overrides the anger.  I'm just so overwhelmed with the joy of being free.”

Defense attorney say that if procedures regularly used today were available when Dupree was arrested three decades ago, his case would have never gone to trial.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio