Here's a link to a Behind the Lines I wrote in our current issue on Richard LaFuente, who's been in a federal prison for more than 25 years for a murder he didn't commit on a North Dakota Indian reservation. http://www.texasmonthly.com/2012-01-01/btl.php I try to make the case that, compared to the fed criminal justice system, the state one is all sweetness and light--or at least it responds to veritable cases of injustice. Not like the feds. Here's a link to a longer story I did on LaFuente in October 2006: http://www.texasmonthly.com/2006-10-01/feature2.php Thanks, and have a great Christmas.
I hadn't heard of this one. According to Hall:
Like [Michael] Morton and [Anthony] Graves, LaFuente is innocent. I’ve been convinced of this since 2006, when I spent four months reporting a story about his case. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. The murder victim’s own mother, brother, and sister have testified to parole officials that LaFuente didn’t kill their son and brother. Two federal courts ruled that LaFuente’s trial was unfair and recommended he get a new one (they were each later overruled, a turn of events one judge labeled a “gross miscarriage of justice”). The newspaper that covered the trial 26 years ago recently called the verdict “scandalous.”
So, asks Hall:
Why have Morton and Graves found justice while LaFuente has not? It’s simple, really. The first two were convicted in Texas state courts; LaFuente is in the federal system. The Texas criminal justice system, despite its reputation for being harsh, can be quite responsive to criticism. In part, this is because it is run by elected politicians or—in the case of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles—political appointees who are subject to, and sometimes swayed by, public opinion. If enough attention is drawn to an injustice, something eventually gets done. After Morton’s case became front-page news, not only did district attorney John Bradley dismiss the charges, but the attorney general launched an investigation into what happened.
Interesting comparison. Certainly Texas state courts have created fairly good mechanisms at least for defendants with access to exonerating DNA evidence, though on any other type of innocence claim it's still pretty tough to prevail. But it probably is true the feds are more immune to media scrutiny. I don't know enough about innocence cases in the federal system to judge which is the more difficult row to hoe - it's not quick or easy, much less "sweetness and light" for any innocent person, anywhere to be exonerated, has been my observation.