Monday, August 15, 2011

Researchers seeking dismissals, acquittals to compare with exonerations

Researchers at American University are seeking to compile a list of innocence cases beyond the usual roster of DNA exonerations, and asked if I'd solicit Grits readers' help. The research is:
"funded by the National Institute for Justice and led by Dr. Jon Gould (author of The Innocence Commission and chairman of the Innocence Commission for Virginia) of American University. Our research seeks to understand how the criminal justice system avoids wrongful convictions by comparing felony cases that ended in an official exoneration with those in which defendants had charges dismissed before trial or were acquitted on the basis of their factual innocence. To date, we have researched over 250 wrongful conviction cases. We are now in the process of collecting dismissals and acquittals and need help reaching our goal of 250 cases.
"Since acquittals and dismissals happen for a number of procedural reasons, we do have a strict set of guidelines for cases to be considered. Foremost, nominated individuals must be demonstratively innocent. For our purposes, innocence can be shown through:
"1)      A statement of innocence issued by a prosecutor, judge, elected official (such as a governor), or jury. In the case of a jury, at least one juror believed the defendant to be innocent.  A “not guilty” verdict is not sufficient since it just acknowledges reasonable doubt existed.
"2)        And , a demonstration that the defendant did not commit the crime through one of the following ways:
a.      Forensic evidence illustrating that a crime was not actually committed. For example, a number of 'shaken baby' cases have been overturned since new technology has shown that these infants died from untreated infections and not blunt force trauma.
b.      Forensic evidence eliminates the defendant as the perpetrator. For example, DNA from a rape kit does not match the defendant.
c.      The true perpetrator comes forward or is apprehended.
"Additionally, cases should involve a violent felony, have occurred since 1980, and resulted in an acquittal or dismissal.

"Interested parties can nominate a case by going to our website (

"Finally, Iʼn like to emphasize that in obtaining funding from the National Institute of Justice, the researchers have secured a privacy certificate. Under federal law, nothing told to the research team will ever be released publicly, even if subpoenaed, and the identity of anyone nominating a case will remain confidential at all times. The research team is also bound by human subjects protections from American University offering similar assurances.

"Please let me know if you would be able to help us gather cases. I am more than happy to answer any questions or concerns that you may have and look forward to hearing from you soon."
Katie Jares
Research Assistant 
Preventing Wrongful Convictions Project American University, School of Public Affairs
4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C.  20016
Phone: (202) 885-6421
Fax: (202) 885-6536 
Acquittals and dismissals in Texas would have to include Anthony Graves, defendants in the Tulia case (whose convictions were overturned on direct appeal), defendants whose cases were dismissed in the Hearne drug stings (portrayed in the feature film, American Violet), exonerated defendants from the Dallas fake-drug stings who were deported instead of prosecuted, the Mexican nationals who just lost their civil suit in Lubbock, and a long list of others. Indeed acquittals and dismissals are much more common than post-conviction exonerations. It shouldn't be too hard for them to come up with such a list.


Chris Halkides said...

Do you think that the case of Timothy Cole would fall within their purview?

jareskat said...

Hi Chris! Without knowing more about the case, i can't say for sure, but please feel free to send us some information on the case! From there we can certainly decide if it fits or not.


Katie Jares

Chris Halkides said...

Timothy Cole died in prison from complications from asthma, but was exonerated later. Here is a link which also links to a CNN story.

Chris Halkides said...


I have already submitted the cases of Patricia Stallings, convicted of murdering her son Ryan by ethylene glycol, and the Duke lacrosse case to your website directly. Neither has a Texas connection, however.

Chris Halkides said...


Our host has also blogged on Timothy Cole

Audrey said...

There is a case discussed in the Dallas Morning News today. The man's name is Billy Frederick Allen, spent 26 years in prison, appellate court found him innocent as a result of ineffective council. Apellate Court granted him a new trial but Dallas County says they do not have enough to proceed at this time. This may fit your criteria. It is a non-DNA case, seems there was some confusion with another person who has a similar name (different middle name). Jury asked twice for name clarification while dliberating and was nable to get clear, convicted him anyway.

jareskat said...

Hi Audrey and Chris!

Thank you again for your help! One note--at this point, we are looking for people who were NOT convicted, based on evidence. So people who ended up being exonerated after a long period of incarceration do not fit in this second part of our study.

Also, Audrey, we LOVE non-DNA cases, so if you come across any acquittals or dismissals for similar reasons, please do send them our way!

Thank you again so much!

Audrey said...

I guess the inclusion of Anthony Graves, where the conviction was overturned (last paragraph of Scott's) is a little confusing then. The case I just mentioned would be similar to Anthony Graves.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Graves case was overturned on direct appeal, fwiw, as were the Tulia cases. That's the difference between those and the Billy Allen case.

BTW, I'd mentioned a couple such cases last week here and another here. Also, last year the CCA ordered an acquittal in a dog scent lineup case on direct appeal. On arson cases, the Ernest Willis case (which was investigated by the Forensic Science Commission along with the Willingham case) was resulted in an acquittal and would fit the criteria.

Chris Halkides said...

With respect to police interrogations,
has mentioned the case of Frank Esposito, a seventeen year old, who thought he was confessing to accidently starting a fire, but was instead charged with arson in New Jersey. He allegedly failed a polygraph test. The reason for starting the fire was given at one point to be amusement, but at another was to get back at his girlfriend. The fact that phone records showed he was elsewhere was not enough to keep the prosecutor from continuing with the case. He was acquited, athough I don't know whether or not the prosecutor conceded that he was innocent. I think probably not.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, weee! Another cherry picker to add to the pile. Hell yea, I'll be the first to agree that it's better than nothing as it brings a few cases to the attention of students in a far away land.

But here we go again, for some reason 'researchers' only want to look at innocence case acquittals and dismissals that fall into a category of innocence cases beyond the usual roster of DNA exonerations. See exceptions in GFB Post above.

I can't wait till someone seeking a grade & a pay check decides to look into and research the non-DNA claims of innocence without excluding those convictions obtained via; *plea bargain at lunch recess with those on probation vs dropping charges, *eyewitness descriptions not matching suspects and the *suspects descriptions not matching the Police Incident Reports. *Of course it would be nice to see cases icluded where the jugde is shown not allowing favorbale evidence or allowing evidence in having nothing to do with the case. All of this info. is located in police reports, case files & mug shot photos. Thanks.

PS. Despite my frigin thoughts, good luck in your endeavors, I doubt it'll prevent anything. But after graduation, I'd like to speak to a few of you.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Audrey, if time allows, you might consider sending them the Susanne Means case out of Allen, Tx. DMN 08/06/11, along with the additional cases Grits mentioned in the last paragraph via their link. Thanks.

L. Roth said...

The case of Kerry Max Cook that he wrote about in his book "CHASING JUSTICE, My Story of Freeing Myself After Two Decades on Death Row for a crime I didn't Commit" is just about the most horrible internment I have yet read about. His case may fall into the area of study. I do think it shows how justice can be hard to find in Texas sometimes!

L. Roth said...

The unbridled use of the plea bargin is something that concerns me a lot. I wish someone would do a study on those cases.

jareskat said...

Hi Thomas,

I'm happy to speak about the project in more detail. I'm not sure I understand all of your concerns, but we do actually include plea deals in our exoneration cases. We're mostly concerned with a statement of innocence though, which while more difficult to find in cases were plea was entered is not impossible.

Similarly, we also include non-DNA cases (those based on mistaken eye witness testimony, mistaken COD, etc.)-- indeed, we've worked very hard to make sure they are represented in this study. Our overall goal is to get a large sample that is representative of how all wrongful convictions occur.

And thank you for your case suggestions! Keep them coming and we'll keep looking into them.

Katie Jares

Phillip Baker said...

I thought the request was only for violent felonies. That would knock out Tulia and the rest you proposed, Grits.

But I do agree with all the suggestions for research into the results of our criminal "justice" system here in Texas. Aside from rapists and murders who were exonerated, there are many, many cases of non-violent crimes falsely charged,convicted, and sentenced , leaving a lot of innocent men serving and having served prison time. But they do not get a parade. Not even mention.

Anonymous said...

If we bankrupt some of these podunk Texas towns and counties we will get their attention. Take their tax money and they get the point.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Katie, thanks for the clarification.

My personal concerns relate directly to the abundance of universities embarking on research & rescue missions from coast to coast that have avoided the following for decades -

*Claims of innocence regarding Closed/Cleared cases having absolutely nothing to do with DNA or Death Row where suspects had favorable evidence withheld by ADAs in order to obtain indictments or faked/planted evidence entered by the ADAs as State’s Exhibits (firearms or drugs) having nothing to do with the case.

*Convictions obtained via Plea Bargain Abuse where the subject possess a Police Incident Report, Certified Case Files & Police Photo showing everyone knew of his/her innocence (Judge, ADA, Attorney, Police, Exhibit Clerk , Court Reporter & Victim) but ignored it due to suspects being on Probation at time of arrest.

*The Texas Board of Pardons & Paroles Clemency Section's - Practice, Policy and Pattern of requiring applicants seeking consideration for a Full Pardon - for innocence to obtain an unanimous agreement from (the very individuals having no incentives to cooperate) the original three trial officials; Judge, Prosecutor & Sheriff.

*Divorce, Will, Real Estate Attorneys being allowed to dabble in Criminal Law by taking Felony Cases to Trial, pleading out at lunch, shredding files after 5 years and walking away with no consequences.

While I'm happy to see someone doing something, it's just sad to see it being done at a University level that will not conclude in the prevention of one single false arrest or wrongful conviction. Thanks.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Katie, a Team member out of Williamson County asked me to include the following as being overlooked & avoided by funded projects -

*District Attorneys and their Assistants having the power to cover up any potential wrongdoings by police & prosecutors by denying post conviction DNA testing and/or filing Motions to deny Full Pardon consideration.

Re: Your introduction -
"Our research seeks to understand how the criminal justice system avoids wrongful convictions…

Since you reached out to ‘Texas’, let it be known that the answers are already known and understood clearly here. Now, we need to implement workable solutions to end the enabling of false arrests that lead to wrongful convictions & promotions. Not sure if you are new to GFB or not but the Archives are chocked full of Mr. Henson’s (Grits’) ideas & solutions to the problems. Starting with statewide recording of; arrests, interrogations and Grand Jury procedures. Mandating that suspects along with their qualified and verifiable CDLs be required to be present at Grand Jury Procedures and ‘All’ evidence be entered and recorded.

Re: Your strict set of guidelines -
Good luck getting “Statements of Innocence” from Texas.

FWIW – Class, cases get dismissed due to allowing defendants to rot in a cell for months and years, while evidence is either lost or someone says that it's way too weak to take to trial. (Those on probation will always get offered 5 or 10 years in prison and jump at the chance get out of the county.)

The small amount that go to a jury trial and having Real CDLs (not Divorce or Will specialist acting like CDLs for the day) that refuse to plea bargain at lunch & take it all the way to verdict, win Acquittals. Sorry so long but you needed clarification. Class dismissed. Thanks.