Exoneration, Compensation & Reforms

From Jackie with the Florida Innocence Project:

It’s no new trial in 20-year-old rape case and the first exoneration for Hawaii Innocence Project. Lila Fujimoto of The Maui News reports it was high fives all around as charges were dismissed against a wrongfully convicted man. Alvin Francis Jardine III served 20 years for the 1990 knife-point rape of a woman in her Haiku home until newly tested DNA evidence showed otherwise.

Said one of Jardine’s attorneys, William Harrison, “Everybody was ecstatic. Obviously, Alvin is overjoyed over the dismissal, as well as the whole Innocence Project. We have put a lot of time in this case because of Alvin, because we believe in him and believed in his cause. We believe it is a case of actual innocence.”

First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rivera, however, is not so sure.”We do not feel that the DNA evidence in any way exonerates the defendant,” he said. Rivera asserted that the prosecutor’s office decided to seek the dismissal after talking with the victim. “We did meet with her a couple of times,” Rivera said. “She, in turn, consulted with her own family. We made the determination that it would be in the best interests of the victim not to go forward and retraumatize her through a fourth trial 20 years after he’s already been convicted.

Florida’s James Bain currently holds a record no one would want. He served more time behind bars as an innocent man than any other wrongfully convicted exoneree…35 years for the rape and kidnapping of a nine-year-old boy until DNA evidence proved he didn’t commit the crime. Released in 2009, Bain refuses to let his time in prison hinder his enjoyment of the rest of his life.

Florida Innocence Project Executive Director Seth Miller notes that Bain has adjusted “remarkably well” to his new unconfined life although … “he will always have a lot of catching up to do.”

Bain recently got a boost to that enjoyment having recently received $1.75 million in compensation from Florida for his wrongful conviction. Bain said that, while there’s not enough money in the world to pay him back for time lost, it will help his future. He’s working to earn his GED so he can find work according to Ray Reyes in The Tampa Tribune.

“It will never be enough,” Bain said. “But what I do have at my disposal helps a lot when it comes to taking care of me and my family.”

Bain has purchased a brand new home and plans to wed his girlfriend in September with the added opportunity of being a stepfather to her young daughter reports Jason Geary at NewsChief.com.

Kudos to the Massachusetts State Senate for taking on court reorganization and DNA testing reforms.

On court reforms. TheDailyLeicester.com quotes State Senator Michael Moore. “The Senate last week addressed a number of vital issues that had been lingering for some time,” Moore said. “The court reorganization will generate cost-savings and ensure equity and transparency in the hiring of court personnel. Finally, critical progress was made by the Senate regarding… the use of DNA evidence.”

The article notes, “The court reorganization legislation establishes a civilian court administrator to run the general administration of the Trial Court and brings transparency to hiring and promotion practices at the Department of Probation. Under the legislation, the civilian Court Administrator will be responsible for the general administration of the Trial Court, including reviewing and approving the hiring of non-judicial employees, administering appropriations and expenditures, negotiating contracts and leases, and any other inherently non-judicial administrative functions.

The Court Administrator will also be required to identify core administrative functions and create cost-savings and efficiencies by consolidating certain administrative activities of the various departments of the Trial Court.

On DNA. Finally, Massachusetts became the 49th state to allow defendants to obtain and test evidence after conviction for use in seeking a new trial. The bill, which was developed with the input of current and former prosecutors, police officials, defense attorneys and judges, would help exonerate wrongfully-convicted people and convict individuals who have gone free for decades. The bill would allow individuals who have been convicted of a crime to file a motion with the courts requesting access to evidence for forensic testing that could prove their innocence. The bill requires evidence to be kept for the duration of a defendant’s sentence.”

Present in the Massachusetts Senate chamber to watch passage of this historic legislation was Betty Anne Waters, the sister of exoneree Kenneth Waters. Ms. Waters worked for 18 years (including earning a bachelor’s, masters, and law degrees) to finally secure freedom for her brother with the help of the Innocence Project. Her story is the subject of the movie Conviction in which Hillary Swank portrays the main character.

State Senator Katherine Clark reports on the website Malden that the new DNA statute will also “help secure convictions of individuals who have gone free for decades.”

Ms. Waters joined Massachusetts State Senators on the chamber floor in a rare show of emotion. Unfortunately, her brother enjoyed just six months of freedom when he died in a tragic accident; but the wrongly convicted will continue to benefit from this legislation for many years to come.

21 years after convicting the wrong man, Hartford officials finally get it right. David Cameron reports in the Hartford Courant that Pedro Miranda was recently convicted of the 1988 murder of Carmen Lopez. The caveat to this case is that Miguel Roman spent over 20 years in prison wrongfully convicted of the same crime before he was exonerated in 2009. Why? Roman was the victim of a mishandled police investigation, a lying jailhouse snitch, and a prosecutor who in his zeal chose to ignore testimony at Miranda’s trial from an FBI analyst that the victim’s body contained DNA that was not a match to Roman.

Police and prosecutors honed in on Roman even though both Miranda and Roman had been at the victim’s apartment and were suspects. The testimony from the jailhouse informant (who was facing up to 20 years for larceny and burglary charges) sealed the deal. After he testified, he was sentenced to time served and released. This article notes that:

“The Innocence Project reports that in more than 15 percent of the 272 wrongful convictions overturned with DNA evidence an informant or jailhouse snitch testified falsely against an innocent defendant.”

Says Cameron,” The man who murdered Carmen Lopez has finally been arrested, convicted and sentenced. But there is one last piece of unfinished business in this tragic case. The state can’t return the 20 years that were taken away from Miguel Roman. But it can at least provide some compensation as it did to James Tillman for his wrongful conviction and long incarceration.”

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