National Exoneration Registry Reports on the Wrongly Convicted

GeorgiaLeeLang009In 2012 the University of Michigan Law School initiated a project in conjunction with the Centre on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law to compile detailed information on every known exoneration in the United States commencing in 1989. The criteria for inclusion in the registry consists of cases in which a person was wrongfully convicted of a crime and later cleared of all charges, based on new evidence of innocence.

Scanning the list, it is immediately apparent that many of the  persons with overturned convictions are black males. To read the details of each exoneration is to make one angry over the unchecked corruption of police, prosecutors, and witnesses in the criminal justice system, leading to grave injustices visited upon powerless people.

Here are a few of the worst cases:

  1. RANDOLPH WILLIAMS State: New York
    Date of Exoneration: 3/15/2016
    In 2008, Randolph Williams was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for a murder in Brooklyn, New York. He was acquitted at a re-trial in 2016 after witnesses admitted they were coerced by police to falsely identify Williams as the gunman.
  2. LUTHER JONES JR. State: California
    Date of Exoneration: 2/17/2016
    In 1998, in Lake County, California, Luther Jones, Jr. was sentenced to 27 years in prison for sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend’s 10-year-old daughter. He was exonerated in 2016 when the complainant admitted that her mother forced her to lie about the assault in order to keep Jones from getting custody of a child he and the mother had together.
  3. BEN BAKER State: Illinois
    Date of Exoneration: 1/14/2016
    In 2006, Ben Baker was sentenced to 18 years for possession of cocaine and heroin in Chicago. He was exonerated in 2016 after the police officer in charge of his case was convicted of framing suspected drug dealers and forcing people to pay bribes to avoid false arrest.
  4. SHAWN WHIRL State: Illinois
    Date of Exoneration: 10/13/2015
    In 1991, Shawn Whirl was sentenced to 60 years in prison after falsely confessing to murdering a cab driver in Chicago. He was exonerated in 2015 based on evidence that his confession was the result of physical torture by police.
  5. QUENTIN CARTER State: Michigan
    Date of Exoneration: 6/25/2015
    In 1992, 17-year-old Quentin Carter was convicted of raping a 10-year-old girl in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Carter was exonerated in 2015, after serving nearly 17 years in prison, when the victim testified that she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend who then beat her until she falsely accused Carter.
  6. HANNAH OVERTON State: Texas
    Date of Exoneration: 4/8/2015
    In 2007, in Corpus Christi, Texas, Hannah Overton was sentenced to life in prison without parole for forcing her 4-year-old foster son to consume a lethal dose of salt. She was exonerated in 2015 when medical evidence that had been concealed by the prosecution showed the boy’s salt level was not lethal at the time he was brought to the hospital.
  7. JOHNNIE SAVORY State: Illinois
    Date of Exoneration: 1/12/2015
    Johnnie Savory was sentenced to 50 to 100 years in prison after falsely confessing to a double murder in Peoria in 1977, when he was 14 years old. He was paroled in 2006, but continued to fight for exoneration. He was pardoned by Governor Pat Quinn in January 2015 and shortly thereafter, DNA test results were disclosed showing he was not the killer.
  8. GLENN FORD State: Louisiana
    Date of Exoneration: 3/11/2014
    Glenn Ford was sentenced to death for murdering a shopkeeper in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1984 in a case riddled with prosecutor misconduct, misleading forensic evidence, perjury, and inadequate legal defense. He was exonerated years after these flaws were exposed, when an informant told law enforcement that the real killer—one of the original suspects—had confessed to the killing.
  9. DAVID CAMM State: Indiana
    Date of Exoneration: 10/24/2013
    In 2002 and again in 2006, David Camm was convicted of the 2000 murder of his wife and two children in southern Indiana, and sentenced to life in prison. He was acquitted in a third trial in 2013 after the defense presented DNA evidence that another man had committed the crime and tried to blame it on Camm.
  10. DANIEL TAYLOR State: Illinois
    Date of Exoneration: 6/28/2013
    Arrested at age 17, Daniel Taylor was sentenced to life without parole for a 1992 double murder in Chicago. Investigations by the Chicago Tribune, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the Center on Wrongful Convictions revealed that police and prosecutors lied and concealed evidence that Taylor was in police custody at the time of the murders.

To date there have been 1,740 exonerations reported, made up of 476 sex crimes, 756 murder/manslaughter, 163 drugs, 94 robbery, and 251 classified as “other”. The race of the victims of wrongful conviction is 692 Caucasian, 811 Black, 200 Hispanic and 360 “other”.

In 2013 Texas topped the state-by-state breakdown  of wrongfully convicted, with 13 exonerations followed by Illinois, New York, Washington, California, Michigan and Missouri.

The average number of years lost is 9.04 and the total years lost by the entire list is 15,732. These are shameful statistics…

So much for Lord William Blackstone’s admonition in the 1760’s from his “Commentary on the Laws of England” that “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”. The National Registry reveals suffering that is beyond belief.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

The Ghomeshi Verdict: Part 4

GeorgiaLeeLang100Ghomeshi kept trophies to manipulate and prevent women from going to the police.”

You know how some people keep everything they ever got? They call them packrats, and that’s one reason why former CBC golden boy, Jian Ghomeshi, was able to beat the sexual assault charges in late March.

Jesse Brown, the Canadian journalist who first broke the story about Ghomeshi’s dismissal from CBC, has compiled and interviewed an interesting group of additional Ghomeshi victims.

Many of the successful challenges to the alleged victims/witnesses’ evidence at his recent trial were based on Mr. Ghomeshi’s retention of letters and emails from the women in his life.

For example, former actress Lucy DeCoutere’s courtroom downfall was due in part to a letter from her to  Mr. Ghomeshi that he retained for 13 years; a letter that contradicted her evidence at trial. Why would Ghomeshi keep this letter from a woman who was not his girlfriend and whom he had no sexual relationship?

Mr. Brown believes that he kept files on women in case they would later accuse him of violence… a shocking suggestion, but one based on multiple candid interviews conducted by him.

In 2013 Mr. Ghomeshi sent a letter to a woman, 20 years his junior, after she confronted him about non-consensual violence during their sexual tryst. He wrote:

“Dear _______, ….it IS about sex. it WAS…..i have text messages from you saying you want this…the ‘rough sex’…was something you were very interested in…you WANTED it to continue the next day and in subsequent messages and notes…reread our texts and re-examine our conversations if you wish… i wish for good karma into 2013. yours, jian”

When Mr. Brown interviewed the young woman he asked her what had occurred on their date. She described being slammed against a wall, choked from behind, and repeatedly punched in the head. When asked if she expected this behaviour from Ghomeshi she said there had been an online flirtation concerning rough sex and submission, but she had no idea what she was in for. She said, “I didn’t know men hit women like that during sex.”

The pain was so bad she considered going to the hospital, but Mr. Ghomeshi pleaded with her to give him another chance. He also admitted he was raised in a violent family. She spent another evening with him where he “behaved”, but later she accused him of manipulating her. That’s when he aggressively responded “I have text messages…you WANTED it.”

Investigative reporter Jesse Brown confirmed that he spoke to 23 victims in total and at least three of them described similar scenarios. Ghomeshi would engage in email conversations with his “dates” about BSM (bondage, sadism and masochism) but suggest it was all fantasy. He told them that sexual experimentation was healthy and when they resisted, taunted them as not being “ready” for a guy like him. He asked for nude photos demanding explicit, pornographic poses.

Mr. Ghomeshi kept emails and photos as “trophies”, evidence he would rely on if needed. Mr. Brown reports that his tactics have effectively muted many of the women who would like to speak out, but will not.

Ghomeshi has another trial in June 2016 with another victim. Let’s hope justice prevails….

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

The Ghomeshi Verdict: Part 3

GeorgiaLeeLang016While some have tried to characterize this decision as gender discrimination, the truth is these witnesses can blame no one but themselves for the Court’s devastating critique of their characters.”

The allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi came from three witnesses, each of whom was thoroughly discredited. That the Crown did not abort their case mid-trial is astonishing to me. I can only imagine the conversations between the Crown lawyers and their embarrassment as they presented their case.

The third witness/victim was referred to as S.D. She was a professional dancer and met Mr. Ghomeshi after a performance in Toronto. They had one dinner date and then met after one of her shows and took a walk to a local park. S.D. told the police that it was after dark when they sat on a park bench and kissed. She said she felt his hands and teeth on her neck. She said it was “not right”, “rough”, and unwelcome. She socialized with Mr. Ghomeshi at public events two or three times after that evening and then had no further relationship with him.

Her evidence at trial was problematic. It was imprecise and inconsistent. An excerpt from the trial illustrates this:

“ He had his hand-it was sort of-it was sort of his hands were on my shoulders, kind of my arms here, and then it was-and then I felt his teeth and his hands around my neck…It was rough but-yeah, it was rough.”

Question: “Were his hands open, were they closed?

Answer: “It’s really hard for me to say, but it was just-I felt his hands around my neck, all around my neck…And I –I think I tried to-I tried to get out of it and then his hand was on my mouth, sort of smothering me.”

When asked about her report to the police and the lack of detail she said she was still “trying to figure it out”. When asked if she had spoken to one of the other witnesses before providing her evidence to the police she said she had not. However, under cross-examination she admitted that she had.

Most damaging to S.D. were the Court’s findings that she and witness Lucy DeCoutere had joined forces to bring Mr. Ghomeshi “down”. S.D. and Ms. DeCoutere had exchanged 5,000 emails in a 12-month period. The Court described the strong bond forged between the two women as they discussed witnesses, court dates, and meetings with the Crown. They initially hired the same lawyer and shared a “publicist”, an unusual professional adjunct for a sexual assault victim.

S.D. was adamant that she cut off all further contact with Mr. Ghomeshi and tried to “keep her distance”. What she failed to disclose until the trial was that she and Mr. Ghomeshi had another date at her home where she admitted they “messed around”, describing the sexual acts she engaged in on that occasion. She was forced to admit she had deliberately lied and tried to conceal her continuing relationship with him.

She explained she didn’t think it was important and invoked the Bill Clinton defence “we did not have sexual relations”.  It didn’t work for Bill and clearly undermined her testimony.

The Court also learned that six months after the alleged assault she sent Mr. Ghomeshi an email inquiring whether he “still wanted to have that drink sometime?” Not exactly the sentiment of someone trying to keep their distance from an alleged sexual offender.

Of course we know that Mr. Ghomeshi was acquitted of all charges, thanks to the tenacity of his lawyer, Marie Henein. The Court commented on her skillful cross-examination of the three witnesses:

“The cross-examination dramatically demonstrated that each complainant was less then full, frank and forthcoming in the information they provided to the media, to the police, to Crown Counsel and to this Court.”

The sad truth is that once a witness perjures her or himself their credibility is lost. The Court said the “volume of serious deficiencies in the evidence left the Court with reasonable doubt.”

While some have tried to characterize this decision as gender discrimination, the truth is these witnesses can blame no one but themselves for the Court’s devastating critique of their characters.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

The Ghomeshi Verdict: Part 2

GeorgiaLeeLang025Mr. Justice Horkins reviewed the definition of “sexual assault” in the Criminal Code, and remarked that it covered a broad spectrum of offensive activity from uninvited sexual touching through to vaginal penetration. The Court acknowledged that based on the descriptions of events recounted by each witness, taken at face value, their circumstances fell within the broad definition of sexual assault.

The second complainant was Lucy DeCoutere, a sometime actress whose credits included episodes of the television series, “Trailer Park Boys”. She met Mr. Ghomeshi in 2003 at the Banff Film Festival. They hit it off and agreed to meet again later in Toronto. Ms. DeCoutere described an enjoyable dinner date that ended at Mr. Ghomeshi’s home. What happened next formed the basis for two charges against Mr. Ghomeshi.

After Mr. Ghomeshi showed Ms. DeCoutere around his pristine apartment he suddenly kissed her, pushed her against the wall, and with his hand around her throat, choked her and then slapped her. She said she was shocked but tried to pretend she was not alarmed or frightened. She stayed a while longer as he played his guitar and they listened to music…. and then he kissed her good night and she left.

They spent more time together that weekend and when she returned home to Halifax she sent him flowers, thanking him for being such a good host. She also sent him a handwritten “love letter” that read, “What on earth could be better than lying with you, listening to music and having peace?” She also said she wished they had spent the night together and that she “loved his hands”, an odd statement from a woman who had had been choked with those hands.

They connected next in June 2004, again at the Banff Film Festival and sang karaoke together, a duet of Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time”. Ms. DeCourtere said it was “hilarious”, but the irony did not escape the Court’s attention. She failed to mention to the police investigators that after the Banff Festival she sent a photograph to Ghomeshi of herself and him singing, with the caption” “Proof that you can’t live without me.”

Curiously, in her police interviews and in the 19 media interviews she did, she never mentioned that she and Ghomeshi had been kissing before and after the alleged assault. The first time she reported this was at the trial. She was adamant in her report to the police that she had no further relationship with Mr. Ghomeshi, admitting that she did see him in “passing” at industry events, but kept her distance.

But there was more… a lot more. Before travelling to Banff in 2004 she emailed Ghomeshi telling him she wanted to “play” with him in Banff and that perhaps they would have a “chance encounter in a broom closet”. Mr. Ghomeshi was decidedly non-committal, responding, “I’d love to hang but can’t promise much.” Ms. DeCoutere was insistent, writing that she would “beat the crap out of him” if they didn’t hang together in Banff.

Ms. DeCoutere only approached the police with her story after she heard that Mr. Ghomeshi had been fired from CBC, but it appeared she was more interested in publicity than justice. She engaged the services of a publicist and the hash tag “ibelievelucy” became very popular, even attracting the attention of actress Mia Farrow. She confided in a friend saying, the trial was going to be “theatre at its best”…”Dude, with my background I literally feel like I was prepped to take this on, no shit”….”this does not freak me out. I invite the media shit.”

She also engaged in a flurry of email traffic with another of the complainants, expressing strong disdain and animosity for Mr. Ghomeshi, stating that she wanted to see him “f______’ decimated and that it was time to “flush him”.

Her deception and suppression of evidence under oath concerned the trial judge who opined, “It is difficult to have trust in a witness who engages in the selective withholding of relevant information.”

Ms. DeCoutere clearly did not expect that 13 years later, Mr. Ghomeshi would produce the “love letter” she wrote him after the allegedly violent encounter of 2003.   Part 3 of the Ghomeshi Verdict will review the evidence of the third victim, while Part 4 will explore why Mr. Ghomeshi retained letters and emails from a dozen or more women who were captivated by his charm…and celebrity.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ghomeshi Verdict: Part 1

BarristerIn the aftermath of ex-CBC celebrity Jian Ghomeshi’s acquittal on sexual assault charges, you could feel sympathy for the misunderstood victims and their placard-waving supporters. Yes, you could…but you shouldn’t.

The ever-changing testimony of the three women who alleged that Mr. Ghomeshi assaulted them presented a field day for any lawyer with a rudimentary ability to cross-examine. For Mr. Ghomeshi’s highly skilled advocate, Marie Henein, it was “easy pickings” and here’s why.

The witness referred to as L.R. met Mr. Ghomeshi at the CBC Christmas party in 2002 where she was hired as a waitress. After a brief flirtation, he invited her to come to the CBC studio to see him tape his show. She attended several times alone and their sexual interaction was limited to kissing. One time as they sat in his car, he suddenly “pulled her hair”, which puzzled her, but did not impact their continuing relationship.  On the last occasion she came to the studio with a girlfriend. The three of them went out for drinks after the show, and later Mr. Ghomeshi suggested they go to his home. L.R. agreed, while her girlfriend declined.

L.R. and Mr. Ghomeshi were in the living room when suddenly “out of the blue” he came up behind her, grabbed her hair and pulled it.

He then punched her in the head several times and pulled her to her knees. The force of the blow was significant. She said it felt like walking into a pole or hitting her head on the pavement. L.R. thought she might pass out. She testified that as quickly as the violence started, Mr. Ghomeshi’s apparent rage subsided and he told her he would call her a taxi to take her home. L.R. admitted that she felt that he threw her out “like trash.”

Unfortunately for L.R., her evidence at trial contradicted what she told the police, recorded in a written witness statement, and did not jive with her media interviews before the trial. The discrepancies included:

L.R. said that Mr. Ghomeshi’s cute, bright yellow Volkswagen “bug” gave her a sense of comfort that he was a kind, nice guy. The only problem was that he did not purchase the vehicle until seven months after their “relationship” ended. And yet she was “so sure”.

The day after L.R.’s police interview, she called the investigating officer to let them know that she had now remembered that the assault in the car was not just hair pulling.  She said he also slammed her head against the car window. At trial she reversed herself, and denied she acted out the head-slamming scene for the police. A police video played in court proved otherwise.

In her initial police interview she did not tell the police that before the alleged assault at Mr. Ghomeshi’s home, they were kissing, a fact she revealed at trial. The import of this additional evidence served to turn an assault into a more serious sexual assault.

L.R. was adamant that after the second incident she ceased all contact with Mr. Ghomeshi. But it simply wasn’t true. She sent him multiple emails and a photograph of herself wearing a red string bikini. She never mentioned any of this to the police or the prosecution and was ambushed at trial with her glaring omissions.

Not surprisingly, L.R.’s evidence was rejected by the trial judge, William B. Horkins, who wrote in his Reasons:

“L.R. has been exposed as a witness willing to withhold relevant information from the police, from the Crown and from the Court. It is clear that she deliberately breached her oath to tell the truth. Her value as a reliable witness is diminished accordingly.”

However, L.R.’s difficulty with telling the truth, the whole truth, is eclipsed by the evidence of the two other women, whose evidence will be the subject of Parts 2 and 3 of The Ghomseshi Verdict.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Florida Man Sentenced to 33 Years for Fatal DUI

GeorgiaLeeLang032Kenneth Jenkins, age 33, of Florida just received the stiffest sentence possible for driving drunk in 2008, a drive that ended with the death of three persons. His response? He blames his lawyers.

Jenkins was driving his car on I-95 freeway when he collided head on with a Mercedes carrying Boris Rappaport, age 54, Rappaport’s mother, Renee, age 78, Renee’s boyfriend, Robert Rutman, age 83, and Angelina Pagliuca, age 58. Ms. Pagliuca survived the crash.

His blood alcohol reading was .182, more than twice Florida’s legal limit. Despite evidence that he was the wrong-way driver, his lawyers attempted to prove that it was the Mercedes that was in the wrong. During the sentencing hearing last week, Jenkins told the court that he wanted to accept the blame but his lawyers pursued that strategy and that he trusted his lawyers. He testified that he had no memory of the accident.

But Jenkins’ “nail in the coffin” was a video taken by a private investigator hired by one of the deceased’s relatives, handed over to the court, and viewed by the judge reviewing the sentence imposed at the urging of Jenkins’ new lawyers. The video was taken just before the sentencing hearing and showed Jenkins, out on bail, playing “beer pong” at a local bar. Judge Charles Burton said:

” engaging in a drinking game on the eve of sentencing is a slap in the face and an affront to the victims and their survivors and friends.”

Jenkins’ lawyers suggested to the Court that if it were not for his previous lawyers delaying the resolution of his case, he would not have had an opportunity to play beer pong and that by not pursuing an early guilty plea, they prejudiced Mr. Jenkins.

Judge Burton was not impressed with the suggestion that Jenkins had been let down by his previous counsel saying:

“the trial lawyers conducted themselves professionally and competently by investigating the case, especially in light of the fact that there were two witnesses who suggested that the victims were going in the wrong direction.”

Florida State sentencing guidelines call for a minimum of 32 years, 10 1/2 months in prison and a maximum life term.  Judge Richard Oftedal, the original sentencing judge, could have justified a sentence going below the minimum but declined.

The Florida Department of Corrections reports that inmates typically serve about 85% of their sentence before they are paroled.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Should Taxpayers Be on the Hook for Sexual Reassignment Surgery?

BarristerWith “transgenderism” definitively out of the closet, the question remains, “How common is transgenderism?” While early research suggests it is an infrequent occurrence, more recent studies conducted by Lynn Conway, an American academic and scholar, who underwent surgery to transition from male to female in 1968, posits that it could be as prevalent as one in every 500 to 1,000 people. Conway reports that between 800 and 1,000 operations are conducted annually in the United States and hundreds more occur in Britain, Australia and Thailand.

While the myth that transgenderism is linked to mental illness or emotional dysfunction has been tabooed, the stereotype of a transgendered inmate transitioning while in custody has been featured in several popular TV shows including “Orange is the New Black” and the Australian production of “Wentworth”.

There have been several recent cases of prison inmates suing the American government alleging that to refuse them sexual reassignment surgery is a breach of their constitutional rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

The first case was brought in 2012 by Michelle Kosilek who was serving a life sentence for murdering her wife, Cheryl McCaul, in 1990 when he was known as Robert. At trial Judge Mark L. Wolf ordered the surgery finding that the State of Massachusetts’ failure to provide it violated the 8th Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. However, in December 2014 the US Court of Appeal in a 3-2 ruling overturned the trial decision, finding that the trial judge erred by substituting his own opinion that the surgery was medically essential despite the lack of consensus between experts. The appeal court also rejected the trial judge’s circumvention of prison safety and security concerns post-surgery.

Kosilek had been transitioning when he entered prison and officials had already provided therapy, hormone treatment, permanent facial hair removal and female attire and personal effects.

More recently in California a judge in San Francisco ruled that Michelle-Lael Norsworthy was entitled to have the State pay for her surgery based on her diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

Ms. Norsworthy was convicted as a man of second-degree murder after a fatal bar fight. She was scheduled to have the surgery, which costs as much as $100,000, in July 2015, however, the State filed an appeal that put a hold on the operation, and subsequently, the California Board of Parole granted her parole after serving 30 years. However, that was not the end of it.

While her release from prison relieved the State of paying for the expensive surgery, Ms. Norsworthy filed a civil rights suit for damages advancing evidence of gang rape by nine male inmates in 2009 which led to her acquiring hepatitis C.

This month the lawsuit was settled with California agreeing not to appeal the San Francisco judge’s ruling that the State must fund medically necessary reassignment surgery and paying $500,000 to Ms. Norsworthy, who now lives in a California halfway house.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang