Articles Posted in Wrongful Convictions

Last week, the Detroit Free Press published an important editorial concerning the problems with eye witness testimony and the serious flaws that occur that may lead to innocent people being sent to jail for sex crimes and other criminal acts they didn’t commit. As explained by David Moran, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Innocence Clinic, “Of the more than 250 people exonerated by DNA evidence in the last 20 years, 75% had been erroneously identified by eyewitnesses.”

As an example, the article pointed to Ken Wyniemko who spent 14 years in a Macomb County jail for a rape he didn’t commit after the victim identified him in a lineup. Wyniemko was eventually cleared by DNA evidence and a man who looked nothing like Wyniemko was charged. The man implicated by DNA evidence was 17-years-younger, taller and significiantly heavier.

A recent New Jersey Supreme Court Case, State v. Henderson, recognized the dangers of eyewitness testimony as unreliable and often subject to suggestive influences that may alter his of her mental image of the perpetrator to match the defendant. As noted in the editorial, the landmark New Jersey Supreme Court decision states “We are convinced from the scientific evidence in the record that memory is malleable, and that an array of variable can affect and dilute the memory and lead to misidentifications.”

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Over the last few weeks the Detroit Free Press has published a series of articles detailing the tumultuous and horrific struggles endured by the Wendrow family as the result of a misguided sexual assault investigation.

The incident arose out of a criminal sexual assault investigation beginning in 2007 with the use of “facilitated communication.” While at school, an assistant facilitator claimed that the Wendrow’s autistic and mute daughter had alleged that the father had been sexually abusing her. Despite the questionable validity of this testing method – law enforcement and police officers aggressively prosecuted the case, locking Julian Wendrow up in the Oakland county jail, placing his wife Thal on house arrest and forbidding the parents from speaking to their other children.

Along the way, several horrible instances of misconduct occurred, including police officers lying to the family’s son about evidence they had of his father’s raping his sister. The case was ultimately dropped, but not without significant hardship to the family -the parents, siblings and child involved.

As stated by a family representative “At every possible opportunity, law enforcement — when they should have been doing their job and seeking the truth – they did just the opposite … they chose to assume – without any evidence of any kind – to assume right off the bat that this had literally occurred, even though there was nothing to support it, the search warrant didn’t support it, the medical exam didn’t support it. Even the people who reported it didn’t believe that (the child) had been abused.”

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Grand Rapids news reports that the Michigan Supreme Court will review the trial of a man convicted of a raping a woman at gun-point. In 2002, a Kent County jury convicted Ramon Bryant for an alleged rape and armed robbery he committed at age 16.

However, as the result of computer glitch the jury pool only included one black. The constitution guarantees individuals the right to trial by a jury of your peers. Here, the Supreme Court will consider whether the disproportionate number of non-black jurors to black jurors deprived Bryant of this right.

If you have been charged with a Michigan sex crime, it is important to contact an experienced Michigan sex crimes defense lawyer to provide a vigorous defense and protect your constitutional rights.

The computer glitch occurred between 2001 and 2002. A juror selection program identified too few jurors from certain zip codes that had high minority populations. Although no one has the right to have the jury made up of one particular group, the jury must represent a fair cross section of the community. The glitch – even if unintentional – may have created an unfair jury pool, resulting in an unfair conviction.

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The Wayne County prosecutors office is opposing a new trial request for a man wrongfully convicted of rape who has spent more than 25 years in jail. The Detroit Free-Press reports that the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic has asked the Michigan Court of Appeals to grant Karl Vinson a new trial in the rape of a 9-year-old Detroit girl because “the scientific evidence conclusively proves that this man is innocent.”

The Innocence Clinic explains that Vinson is the victim of flawed forensic testing and that he has been ruled out as a suspect by recent scientific testing. Despite exculpatory scientific evidence, the prosecutor’s office opposes the trial stating, “science does not trump the testimony of individuals.”

Several questionable calls have been made in this case – including the revelation that police officers destroyed crime scene evidence. Further, when the girl could not recall who raped her, her mother suggested Vinson was the attacker. Despite his parents’ testimony that Vinson was home during the criminal sexual assault, a jury convicted him and he was sentenced to 10-50 years in prison.

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The West Bloomfield Police recently settled a wrongful prosecution lawsuit with the family of an autistic girl. The girl’s parents – Julian and Thal Wendrow – had been arrested in 2008. A former Oakland County prosecutor charged Julian with first-degree sexual assault, alleging that he had repeatedly raped his severely autistic daughter. His wife was arrested for failure to protect the child. These charges are extremely serious, with penalties including substantial jail time and long-term placement of your name on the Michigan sex-crimes registry as well as significant damage to your reputation in the community.

The charges filed were based solely on the “statements” of the girl who does not speak and functions on the level of a 2-year-old. No physical evidence was collected, but through the use of a method known as “Facilitated Communication,” the girl typed the allegations with a teacher’s aide guiding her hand. This method has been denounced by experts as conveying the aide’s thoughts – not the patient’s.

Despite the unreliable nature of these statements, the parents suffered the nightmare of being charged for sex crimes, having their children taken away and placed in foster care, and being jailed.

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An accused rapist was set free earlier this week after DNA evidence cleared his name. The Texas man – Cornelius Dupree Jr. – was declared innocent after spending 30 years in prison for a 1979 rape and robbery he didn’t commit.

Over the years he had been given two chances to make parole and be released, but only if he would admit to being a sex offender. Dupree Jr. refused to do so, steadfastly maintaining his innocence. Nationally, only two other people have been exonerated by DNA evidence after spending more time in jail.

Imprisoned as a young adult, the now 51-year-old Dupree stated, “It’s a joy to be free again.”

In Michigan, DNA analysis has exonerated two men over the last year of sex crimes they didn’t commit. It is unknown how many other innocent men and women sit in jail for crimes they didn’t commit, often waiting on DNA evidence that will prove their innocence. Unfortunately, a significant backlog of untested DNA evidence exists in Michigan and around the country.

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Earlier this week a 39-year-old Dallas,Texas man – Stephen Brodie – was exonerated
of the rape of a 5-year-old girl after a judge determined he was innocent. He was released the next day, and his dad was there to greet him as he exited the jail.

On Monday, a judge ruled Brodie had been wrongly prosecuted despite a lack of physical evidence. In many states, including Michigan, individuals may be convicted of criminal sexual conduct without any physical evidence of an assault or any other supporting evidence. Here, not only was there no evidence, but prosecutors had contradictory hair and finger print evidence that conclusively excluded Brodie as the perpetrator, yet they failed to turn this evidence over to his defense attorney. Police officers also knew that a fingerprint found at the victim’s home did not match Brodie’s.

The Dallas County District Attorney’s office issued an apology this week.

Deaf since childhood, Brodie’s imprisonment was largely a result of a confession he gave after being questioned for hours without an interpreter. Studies by the Innocence Project show that in many cases, innocent people confess during police interrogation as a result of duress, coercion, diminished capacity, and ignorance of the law. Brodie later told The Associated Press he had felt scared and pressured. The judge admitted the confession, and believing it the best option, Brodie pleaded guilty to assault and accepted a five-year sentence. He then served two additional sentences for failure to register as a sex offender. Now that he has been exonerated, Brodie no longer needs to place his name of the sex crimes registry.

Tragically, Brodie spent 10 years of his life behind bars as the result of a crime he didn’t commit. Experts estimate that nearly 5,000 wrongfully convicted men and woman are locked up today in Michigan’s prisons.

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In a resolution reached last week, a Lansing man – Claude McCollum – received $2 million after spending 3 years in jail for a rape and murder he didn’t commit. In addition to the 3 years spent behind bars, the family spent 2 ½ years litigating how he should be compensated.

In Michigan, no law provides compensation to the wrongfully convicted. However, a bill is currently pending in the House of Representatives – H.B. 4790 – that would provide $40,000 for each year a person is wrongfully incarcerated if the conviction is later vacated or the individual is determined not guilty.

The family states, “It’s a relief that we know he can go on with his life like we go on with our lives.” “It will give him peace of mind.”

Although the exact number is unknown, experts estimate that as many as 5,000 wrongfully convicted men and women are sitting in Michigan’s prisons. Unfortunately, over-zealous police and prosecutors often push to make arrests and convictions, tragically impacting the innocent. In McCollum’s case, a civil lawsuit was filed alleging a Lansing Community College police detective hid evidence of McCollum’s innocence. Charges were also brought against Ingham County prosecutors, although they were ultimately dismissed.

Despite the settlement, McCollum’s life has been irrevocably changed. Hopefully the compensation will allow McCollum to get his life on track and go back to where he was before the conviction – taking classes and finishing school.

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