Saturday, March 16, 2013

Documented Innocence: Two new films portray flawed convictions of innocent men

See coverage of two new documentary movies about actual innocence cases: At Texas Monthly, Pamela Colloff interviewed documentarian Al Reinert on his new film about Micheal Morton, "An Unreal Dream." (See Grits interview with Colloff on the case from last fall.)

Meanwhile, the Dallas News brings word of a forthcoming documentary about a federal prisoner from Texas who was convicted of murdering a police officer on a North Dakota Indian reservation, a case ably chronicled by Texas Monthly's Michael Hall six years ago, and again last fall in the New York Times, but whose path to exoneration is much tougher because he was convicted in federal court. Wrote Miles Moffeit:
Faulty eyewitness testimony. Lack of physical evidence. Witness coercion. In case after case in state courts, lawyers continue to expose how such problems spawned wrongful convictions, freeing scores of prisoners. The Legislature’s tribute this week to exoneree Michael Morton, as well as lawmakers’ pledges to pursue more legal safeguards for the innocent, are the latest reminders that the state system is evolving.

The fate of Texas prisoner Richard LaFuente, on the other hand, rests in a tougher arena – the federal system. So far, it has barely budged for the 55-year-old inmate serving out a life sentence in the Fort Worth Federal Correctional Institution – despite the classic hallmarks of a questionable conviction, according to LaFuente’s growing advocacy team.

Todd Trotter, a graduate of Southern Methodist University’s film school and a Los Angeles television writer, has been collecting evidence for a documentary he hopes will finally persuade federal officials to free LaFuente. And LaFuente’s lawyer, Julie Ann Jonas, managing attorney of the Innocence Project of Minnesota, told me she is preparing a last-ditch petition for executive clemency in the next month. A federal court has twice ruled that LaFuente of Plainview didn’t receive a fair trial and should be granted a new one; those decisions were later overruled
Though unlike Morton, LaFuente has not been finally cleared, the headline to this item refers to "innocent men" because, based on Hall's reporting, I've little doubt he was framed, just like the other nine men convicted in the episode whose convictions were overturned. Even the victim's mother thinks so. LaFuente's only hope now is a pardon for actual innocence but given the Obama Administration's crappy clemency record, it's hard to see that happening.. The President may have campaigned on "Hope," but his record issuing pardons offers scant little of it for innocent people convicted in the federal system.

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