Yet another egregious example to justify revoking the rule that prosecutors are immune from liability

November 11, 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Good afternoon:

Today I write about an egregious miscarriage of justice that provides yet another reason to revoke the rule that prosecutors are absolutely immune from liability.

The State of Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham, an innocent man, on February 17, 2004 for murdering his three daughters on December 23, 1991 by setting his house on fire. This wrongful conviction was caused by prosecutorial misconduct, forensic incompetence, ineffective assistance of counsel and jailhouse snitch testimony.

Wikipedia summarizes the forensic issue.

Willingham’s case gained renewed attention in 2009 when an investigative report by David Grann in The New Yorker, drawing upon arson investigation experts and advances in fire science since the 1992 investigation, suggested that the evidence for arson was unconvincing and, had this information been available at the time of trial, would have provided grounds for Willingham’s acquittal.

According to an August 2009 investigative report by an expert hired by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, the original claims of arson were doubtful. The Corsicana Fire Department disputes the findings, stating that the report overlooked several key points in the record. The case has been further complicated by allegations that Texas Governor Rick Perry impeded the investigation by replacing three of the nine commission members in an attempt to change the commission’s findings; Perry denies the allegations.

(footnotes omitted)

The arson investigators testified that the fire was set by someone who used an accelerant to spread the fire. The alleged motive was that he had sexually molested his daughhters and murdered them to prevent them from accusing him. However, there was no evidence that he had molested. His wife and mother of the three girls, Stacy Kuykendall, told prosecutors that he loved them and would never have harmed them.

Wikipedia describes what happened after Willingham was convicted and sentenced to death.

Long after the original conviction, in 2004 Gerald Hurst, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry, examined the arson evidence compiled by Manuel Vasquez, the state deputy fire marshal. Hurst said that Vasquez was incorrect when he said that the extreme heat of the fire (as evidenced by a melted aluminum threshold) indicated that an accelerant was used, and said that experiments prove that wood and liquid accelerant fires can burn with equal heat. Hurst’s own experiments showed that burning with an accelerant does not leave the kind of brown stains that Vasquez claimed were created that way. Hurst also said that the crazed glass that Vasquez said was caused by a liquid accelerant had been found as a result of brush fires elsewhere. Experiments showed that crazed glass was caused not by rapid heating but by cooling, and that glass cooled by water from a fire hose was more likely to have a crazed or cracked pattern. A $20,000 experimental house fire set without an accelerant created the same pour patterns and V shaped pattern that Vasquez attributed to the use of a liquid accelerant. Vasquez thought that Willingham lied when he said he escaped without burning his feet, because he thought that an accelerant was used that would spread fire along the floor. However, since no accelerant was needed to create the results found, Willingham could well have been telling the truth when he said that he ran out without burning his feet, presuming he left before the fire achieved flashover.

According to Hurst, when a fire reaches the flashover threshold, it is impossible to visually identify accelerant patterns. While the prosecutor thought that the “bizarre” path of the flame indicated that an accelerant was used, Hurst said that the path of the fire followed a post-flashover pattern of going in the direction of ventilation. Although Willingham was accused of using an accelerant in three different places, the front porch was the only place where an accelerant was verified by laboratory tests, and a photograph taken of the house before the fire showed that a charcoal grill was there. The family confirmed that lighter fluid was by the grill used for family barbecues. Water sprayed by firefighters likely spread the lighter fluid from the melted container. All twenty of the indications listed by Vasquez of an accelerant being used were rebutted by Hurst.


(footnotes omitted)

On July 25, 2014 a group of Texas lawyers and the Innocence Project in New York City filed a bar complaint against John Jackson, the lead prosecutor in Willinghams’s trial. The Open File describes the complaint.

It alleges that a “pillar” of Jackson’s case against Willingham was disingenuously built on the incentivized testimony of a jailhouse informant.

Jackson, who later became a state district judge, allegedly covered up a deal he struck with a key witness in the case, Johnny Webb. Jackson allegedly told Webb he would reduce the charges in a pending robbery case against Webb in exchange for his testimony in the Willingham case. Webb testified at trial that while he and Willingham were housed in the same jail, Willingham confessed to setting the fire that killed his children. Jackson used this confession to prop up the arson evidence in the case (which has since been widely discredited by experts in forensic science. Read submissions from experts to the Texas Forensic Science Commission here.)

Failing to disclose a deal with a witness in a criminal case has long been held to be a violation of a defendant’s right to due process. In Giglio v. United States (1972) the Supreme Court ruled that the state is obligated to disclose to the defense any promise or expectation of leniency it offered to a witness. In Napue v. Illinois (1959) the Court made clear that a prosecutor’s failure to correct the testimony of a witness who falsely testifies that they have no expectation of leniency from the state is also a violation of due process.

But the allegations in the bar complaint against Jackson go much further than even these serious violations: the complainants suggest that Jackson has actively covered up the deal he made with Webb “to this day”, going so far as to “deceive” the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Governor, and submitting false evidence in the form of an affidavit to a 2010 Court of Inquiry.

Webb has since denied that Willingham confessed to him in jail.

The matter is pending.


Glen Ford is free at last after 30 years on death row

March 12, 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2013

Good morning:

Glen Ford, 64, is a free man today after spending 30 years on death row in Louisiana for a murder he did not commit.

This awful case features police and prosecutorial misconduct, forensic fraud, lying witnesses and ineffective assistance of counsel.

The victim was Isadore Rozeman, 56, a watchmaker in Shreveport who was found shot to death behind the counter in his store. Mr. Ford worked for him occasionally doing yard work.

Police arrested Mr. Ford in November 1983 for possession of property stolen from Rozeman’s store. He was charged with the murder the following February together with George Starks, Henry Robinson and Jake Robinson.

The Death Penalty Information Center is reporting,

Prosecutors said they recently received “credible evidence” that Ford “was neither present at, nor a participant in, the robbery and murder” of which he was convicted in 1984. Ford, who has always maintained his innocence, was tried and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. One of the witnesses against him said at trial that police had helped her make up her story. A state “expert” who testified about the victim’s time of death had not even examined the body. Ford’s lead trial attorney had never tried a jury case before. A second attorney, two years out of law school, worked at an insurance defense firm. They failed to hire any experts to rebut the prosecution’s case because they believed they would have to pay for the experts themselves. The Louisiana Supreme Court earlier said it had “serious questions” about the outcome of the trial, but did not reverse Ford’s conviction. Ford may have been involved in trying to pawn jewelry from the victim that he received from one of the original codefendants.

USA Today is reporting,

Movement in Ford’s decades-old case began last year when Caddo Parish prosecutors began filing motions in federal court indicating someone other than Ford had confessed to being Rozeman’s killer. The court documents indicate a confidential informant questioned in an unrelated homicide identified Jake Robinson, one of four men initially charged in Rozeman’s murder, as the triggerman, not Ford.

Few other details were provided until Thursday, when the motion spurring Ford’s release plainly stated that if the new evidence had been known when Ford went to trial the outcome would have been different. “Indeed, if the information had been within the knowledge of the state, Glenn Ford might not even have been arrested or indicted for this offense,” the motion states

There were no eyewitnesses to the crime and the murder weapon was never found. The prosecution’s most important witness was a woman named Marvella Brown. The Atlantic reports,

With all signs pointing to the Robinsons, and with police under the impression that the one or both of the brothers still possessed the murder weapon, Ford was not immediately charged with Rozeman’s murder. He and the two Robinsons were instead charged three months later—only after Jake Robinson’s girlfriend, Marvella Brown, incriminated them by telling the police that Ford was with the Robinsons, and in the possession of a firearm, on the day of Rozeman’s murder.

/snip/

Under cross-examination, however, she told jurors that the police had helped her make up the story she had told about Ford. When Ford’s attorneys later called her to the witness stand, she told jurors that a bullet left from an old gunshot wound to her head had affected her thinking. “I did lie to the Court… I lied about it all,” she said in court.

The all-white jury took less than 3 hours to convict Mr. Ford and it subsequently recommended a death sentence.

There were no blacks on the jury because the prosecution used a peremptory challenge to strike the only one from the jury, a practice condemned by the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).

Pursuant to Louisiana law, Mr. Ford will receive some financial compensation for being incarcerated for 30 years. The law requires the state to pay $25,000 per year of wrongful incarceration up to a maximum of $250,000 plus up to $80,000 for loss of life opportunities.

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This is our 930th post and donations are lagging. We work hard to keep you informed by filling in the blanks between the lines. After 30 years in the trenches, I am familiar with all of the rules and strategies prosecutors and defense counsel utilize. Experience counts and most of my predictions have been accurate.

Adjusting and fine tuning to dial in the white fear and racist corruption frequencies in the Florida courts took some doing, but I am on track now.

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Fred


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