This quarter’s wrongful conviction roundup is equal parts tragic and infuriating. Once again, it includes years of lives wasted in prison, stories of blatant official misconduct, and devastating miscarriages of justice in the name of the people.
First, Loevy & Loevy client Jermaine Walker won a Certificate of Innocence in April, after a Cook County judge agreed that he spent a decade in prison for a drug crime he did not commit. Mr. Walker told the criminal court that there was video surveillance in the alley where he was arrested that would prove the cops framed him. At a traffic stop, Mr. Walker was not sufficiently submissive, so the officers beat him and planted drugs on him to accuse him of selling drugs, and this all occurred in front of the surveillance camera. But an investigator from the prosecutor’s office distorted photographs of the scene to make it appear that there was no video surveillance in the alley where the beating/frame-up took place. The investigator and the officers all testified falsely at Mr. Walker’s trial, denying that there was a surveillance camera. To its credit, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office finally moved to vacate the conviction when faced with irrefutable proof that there was indeed a surveillance camera and that the officers and investigator had perjured themselves. Mr. Walker, who was on a full college scholarship at the time of his arrest, served ten years on this wrongful conviction.
In April, Keith Harward was released after wrongfully serving 33 years in prison for the beating death of a Virginia man and the vicious rape of the man’s wife. DNA testing exonerates Mr. Harward and identifies the actual culprit, a man who died in prison a decade ago. Mr. Harward spent more than half his life in prison for the wrongful conviction (and the guilty man remained free to commit other crimes) as the result of shoddy and manipulative techniques that we at Loevy & Loevy see all too often in wrongful convictions cases. First, junk science was key to the conviction: experts claimed that bite marks on the rape victim’s leg matched Mr. Harward’s teeth. For years, however, the National Academy of Sciences has asserted that matching bite marks to people’s teeth is entirely subjective and has no scientific basis. Second, the prosecution withheld crucial evidence. Mr. Harward’s conviction was secured after the only two witnesses affirmatively changed their allegations as the result of being hypnotized, but the prosecution did not tell the defense about using hypnosis to change the testimony. Between presenting junk science, hypnotizing witnesses to alter their accounts, and failing to reveal that manipulation, the prosecution unfairly stacked the deck against Keith Harward, costing him over three decades in prison.
And finally, Jerome Morgan was wrongfully imprisoned at the age of 17 and spent the next twenty years in Louisiana’s notorious Angola Prison. Mr. Morgan was serving life without parole for a shooting death at a party. Like Mr. Harward’s false conviction, Mr. Morgan’s wrongful conviction was obtained using familiar duplicitous methods. The police targeted Morgan as the culprit, so they worked backwards, confidently telling two witnesses that Mr. Morgan committed the crime and coercing them to identify him as the shooter. Eventually, the court granted a new trial when it came to light that the 911 transcripts showed the police had lied about the timing of the events (to make it possible for Morgan to have been the shooter), and the two eyewitnesses both claimed that the police pressured them into naming Morgan. In an attempt to exert even further pressure, the prosecution filed perjury charges against the recanting witnesses. This is a crafty way of trying to silence witnesses who fall victim to police coercion and want to come forward to correct the injustice. Fortunately, the Louisiana Supreme Court held that the witnesses’ original (now recanted) trial testimony could not be admitted at a new trial unless they chose to testify, forcing the State’s hand. The State dropped charges against Mr. Morgan, and he was released in May.
There’s an obvious theme to this quarter’s roundup. When police don’t play by the rules, wrongful convictions and wasted lives in prison are the result.