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Witness to Innocence Members Present at the 12th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty

WitnessToInnocence.org

Ron Keine: Along with three other co-defendants, Ron Keine was convicted of the kidnappying and murder of University of New Mexico student William Velten in 1974. He was sentenced to death in New Mexico.

Harold Wilson: After 16 years and a total of three death sentences, DNA evidence led to the acquittal of Harold WIlson on November 15, 2005. He was the nation’s 122nd person to be freed from death row.

Greg Wilhoit: Greg’s wife Kathy was found brutally murdered in her apartment on June 1, 1985. This left Greg alone to raise his daughters Kimberly and Kristen, ages four and fourteen months at the time. Almost a year later he was arrested and charged with Kathy’s murder. The case against him was based on the statements of so-called dental experts – barely out of dental school – claiming that a bite mark found on Kathy’s body matched Greg’s teeth.

Gary Drinkard: Gary Drinkard was sentenced to death in 1995 for the robbery and murder of a 65-year-old automotive junk dealer in Decatur, Alabama. He was assigned two court-appointed lawyers; one specialized in collections and commercial work and another represented creditors in foreclosures and bankruptcy cases. These lawyers failed to present two witnesses: physicians who would have testified that Gary’s recent back injury made committing the crime a physical impossibility. Despite being home at the time of the murders, Gary was convicted and given the death sentence

Randy Steidl: When questioned about the 1986 murders of newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads, Randy assumed the police were questioning many people in the area. He did not know either of the victims but cooperated with the police and gave a corroborated alibi for the night of the murders. It was a shock when he and a friend were arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death within 90 days. Randy had poor representation, no DNA evidence against him, and witnesses who fabricated testimony against him due to police misconduct. He spent 12 years on death row trying to prove his innocence.

Jeremy Sheets: Jeremy Sheets was released after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a Nebraska Supreme Court decision overturning his conviction. Prosecutors then dropped the charges against him. Jeremy Sheets is the 95th Death Row exoneree of 138 in the United States since the reinactment of the Death Penalty in the 70’s.

Sabrina Porter:  She is the only female death row exoneree in the country. Porter was convicted of killing her 9-month-old child when she was 19 years old. She already had two other children by two men, was unmarried, was not well educated, was black, was on welfare, and lived in a very racially impacted small town in Mississippi, according Carol Turowski, co-director of the law school’s Innocence and Justice Clinic. Only a few months before the death of her child, Mississippi passed a new felony child abuse law that allowed prosecutors to pursue the death penalty for any child death that resulted from child abuse. Porter was eventually acquitted at a retrial when the medical examiner changed his original opinion, stating that the child died of an internal kidney malady.

 

Ray Krone: His world was turned upside down in 1991 when Kim Ancona was murdered in a Phoenix bar where Ray was an occasional customer. Ray was convicted. The case against him was based largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a supposedly “expert” witness who claimed bite marks found on the victim matched Ray’s teeth. In 1992, he was sentenced to death.

Nathon Fields: When James Suggs, an eyewitness to the robbery and murder of a Cincinnati bartender, was shown photo arrays of suspects by police, he identified two men—but neither of them was Derrick Jamison.  There were also multiple contradictions between physical descriptions of the perpetrators given by witnesses and Derrick’s actual appearance. This information was withheld from Jamison’s trial, and as a result, an innocent man spent nearly 20 years on Ohio’s death row for a crime he did not commit.

Clarence Brandley: Clarence Brandley was working as a high school custodian in Conroe, Texas, in 1980, when police arrested him for the murder of Cheryl Fergeson, a 16-year-old student.  In an all-too familiar scenario, the murder of an attractive blonde woman was reflexively blamed on an African-American man. Though the entire school’s custodial staff would have been equally suspect in terms of motive, opportunity, and means of committing the crime, Clarence was the only black man on staff. When his white co-workers voiced suspicion of Clarence, he was quickly arrested and charged.

While the police interviewed Brandley and one of his white co-workers, an interrogator proclaimed that, “One of you two is going to hang for this,” and told Clarence, “Since you’re the nigger, you’re elected.” In his first trial he faced an all-white jury. One juror refused to convict, causing a hung jury, and was met with a constant barrage of harassment and threats after the trial ended, ridiculed for being a “nigger-lover.” Clarence’s second all-white jury convicted him, and in 1981 he was sentenced to death.

Delbert Tibbs: His his story became the basis for tremendous community support. Such celebrities as Angela Davis and Pete Seeger- who wrote a ballad, “Ode to Delbert Tibbs” – became involved and raised money for the Delbert Tibbs Defense Committee. Through this support, Delbert was able to hire lawyers and after two years, the Florida state supreme court overturned his conviction by a 4-3 vote. It was 1982 before the District Attorney finally dropped the case.

Kirk Bloodsworth: He was convicted in March of 1985 for the brutal killing and sexual assault of a nine year old girl. The victim was found dead in July of 1984. Bloodsworth was released from prison in June 1993 and pardoned in December 1993. He had spent over eight years in prison, two of those years facing execution. Bloodsworth also became the first person to be exonerated from death row through postconviction DNA testing.

Shujaa Graham: Shujaa was framed in the 1973 murder of a prison guard at the Deul Vocational Institute in Stockton, California. Despite the local community’s involvement and support, Shujaa and his co-defendant Eugene Allen were sent to San Quentin’s death row in 1976. Because the district attorney had systematically excluded all African-American jurors, in 1979 the California Supreme Court overturned the death conviction. After three years on death row, Shujaa and his co-defendant continued to fight for their innocence. Their third trial ended in a hung jury, and it was not until after a fourth trial that they were found innocent. Rather than being protected by the United States’ criminal justice system, Shujaa often points out that he won his freedom and affirmed his innocence “in spite of the system.”

Dave Keaton: David Keaton was arrested in 1971 for the murder of an off-duty police officer at a Florida convenience store. After three days of relentless interrogation – with threats, lies, and beatings – investigators coerced a confession from him. Although details of the number of participants in the crime, the weapons used, and the location of the “getaway car” differed sharply from the state’s evidence, an all-white jury convicted David and he was sentenced to death. He was 18 years old.

Lawyer Johnson: Johnson, a black man was sentenced to death by an all white jury for the murder of a white victim. In 1982, the charges were dropped when a previously silent eyewitness came forward and identified the state’s chief witness as the actual killer. In 1983, a bill was filed to obtain compensation for Johnson’s wrongful conviction.

Derrick Jamison: When James Suggs, an eyewitness to the robbery and murder of a Cincinnati bartender, was shown photo arrays of suspects by police, he identified two men—but neither of them was Derrick Jamison.  There were also multiple contradictions between physical descriptions of the perpetrators given by witnesses and Derrick’s actual appearance. This information was withheld from Jamison’s trial, and as a result, an innocent man spent nearly 20 years on Ohio’s death row for a crime he did not commit.

Dan Bright: Dan Bright spent nine years in prison, four of which were on death row, for a 1995 Orleans Parish murder that he did not commit. Mr. Bright suffered from a staggering series of injustices during his trial. First, his attorney did not investigate the case and was drunk during the trial, violating Mr. Bright’s constitutional right to effective counsel. Second, the district attorney’s office withheld crucial information about the States’ primary witness which seriously undermined the witness’ credibility. The witness had a criminal record and was on probation at the time of the murder, making him more susceptible to pressure by the police to cooperate.

Herman Lindsey: July 9, 2009, the Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Herman Lindsey be acquitted and released from Death Row. The court said that “the state had failed to produce any evidence in this case placing Lindsey at the scene of the crime at the time of the murder,” and that the evidence presented was “equally consistent with a reasonable hypothesis of innocence.” Lindsey became the 135th person to be exonerated from U.S. Death Rows since the Death Penalty was reinstated. )

Albert Burrell: After spending 13 years on death row, Albert Burrell was released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola on January 3, 2001, shortly after the Louisiana Attorney General dismissed charges against him and his co-defendant, Michael Graham. They had been sentenced to death in 1987 for the murder of an elderly couple. Their convictions were thrown out because of a lack of physical evidence and suspect witness testimony used at trial. Albert came within 17 days of a scheduled execution in 1996 before his attorneys won a stay. Prosecutor Dan Grady acknowledged that the case was weak and “should never have been brought to [the] grand jury” to begin with.

Juan Melendez: Juan Roberto Meléndez-Colón spent seventeen years, eight months and one day on Florida’s death row for a crime he did not commit.   His story highlights the many problems that plague the death penalty system, including its high risk and inevitability of being imposed on the innocent, its unfair application on the basis of race and ethnicity and its almost exclusive imposition on our most vulnerable members of society—the poor.

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Scott Cobb

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