May 18, 2007

New York Law Makers Aim To Ease Convicts’ Access To DNA Evidence

Four New York assemblymen last week introduced legislation aimed at making it easier for convicted criminals to use DNA evidence to prove their innocence, according to an article in the New York Sun.

The proposed laws - eight in all - could also help solve crimes by increasing standards for evidence preservation. A request for proposals to update the New York Police Department’s evidence storage system was sent out late last year after the city’s police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, appointed a working group to review procedures.

The bills that he and his colleagues are introducing would make it easier for prisoners to get DNA tests after they’ve been convicted, as well as set up a state “Innocence Commission” that would investigate exonerations and make recommendations to prevent future wrongful incarcerations, the Sun article said.

“DNA can convict the guilty, but it's for protecting the innocent,” said Joseph Lentol, chairman of the Assembly’s Codes Committee. “By protecting the innocent, we give the public a sense of fairness and justices that exists in the system.”

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May 17, 2007

Jury Acquits Spanaway Man of Bestiality Charge

A Tacoma, Wash. jury on May 9 acquitted a man accused of having sex with the family dog, according to an Associated Press news report posted on KIRO TV’s Website.

Michael Patrick McPhail, 26, of Spanaway, was found not guilty in Pierce County Superior Court of first-degree animal cruelty, a felony. Assistant Pierce County Prosecutor Karen Watson said last fall that McPhail was the first person charged in the county under a new state law that made bestiality a felony.

McPhail held that his wife made up the story because she was seeking to end their marriage.

“I'm glad that justice was able to see it wasn't an action of my doing,” McPhail told reporters as he left the court building.

According to the Associated Press report, his wife, Jesika McPhail, contacted police and told officials that she had caught her husband engaged in sexual intercourse with their pit bull, Sara, last October. The case generated outrage among animal welfare advocates across the globe, many of whom called for McPhail to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

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May 16, 2007

Riverside County Ordered to Pay Wrongly Convicted Man

Finding that a sheriff's detective had falsified evidence, a federal jury in Los Angeles earlier this month ordered Riverside County on Monday to pay $2 million to a man exonerated by DNA evidence after serving 12 years in prison for rape, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

The verdict came almost 19 years after Herman Atkins was sentenced to 45 years in prison for a 1986 rape and robbery in Lake Elsinore. Atkins steadfastly maintained his innocence. In 2000, DNA tests conducted by Richmond, Calif., forensic scientist Edward Blake, and later confirmed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, eliminated Atkins as a source of semen found on the victim’s sweater. The actual rapist was never identified.

Two years later, Atkins filed a civil damage suit alleging, among other things, that sheriff’s Det. Danny Miller had fabricated evidence and withheld information that raised doubts about whether he committed the crime. Specifically, the attorneys said Miller submitted a statement attributed to a man named Eric Ingram, who reportedly told Miller that he knew Atkins as a gang member in the Lake Elsinore area in early April 1986. The rape in question occurred on April 8, 1986. Miller reportedly included Ingram’s statement in papers seeking Atkins’ arrest warrant.

Sixteen years later, after Atkins had been released from prison, a private investigator tracked down Ingram, who signed a sworn statement saying he did not know Atkins and had not told Miller he had seen Atkins in the vicinity of the crime. Atkins was represented in his fight to overturn his conviction by lawyers from the Innocence Project at Cardozo School of Law in New York. His civil lawyers, Peter Neufeld and Deborah Cornwall contended that evidence of the fabrication could have persuaded the jury to acquit their client. The six-woman, two-man federal jury agreed, responding, “Yes” to a question on the official verdict form:

“Did Atkins prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Miller failed to disclose favorable information to the prosecutor; specifically that he fabricated the Ingram statement?”

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May 15, 2007

Convicted Sex Offender Found Not Guilty of Raping Girls

A jury recently found a convicted sex offender accused of raping two teen girls in an underground bunker not guilty of kidnapping, sex crimes and assault with intent to kill, according to an article posted on the Fox News Website. The article said jurors took four hours to arrive at the verdict.

Prosecutors accused Kenneth Glenn Hinson of kidnapping the 17-year-old girls from their bedroom last year. They said Hinson then dragged them one at a time to the underground room hidden beneath a tool shed, where he raped and bound them with duct tape. Officials said Hinson expected the girls to die because the room had no air supply.

However, Hinson testified during the six-day trial that the girls had consensual sex with him. He said they made up the story so they would be able to take drugs from the underground room, which he used to store marijuana. The two young women were not in the courtroom when Hinson was acquitted. Their mothers and other relatives wept. Hinson also reportedly became emotional after the verdict announcing his acquittal was read.

If convicted, Hinson faced a mandatory life sentence without parole under the state's two-strikes law because he was convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl in 1991.

Hinson testified in his defense that he built the underground room, which was about the length and width of a mid-sized car with a ceiling about 4 1/2 feet high, behind the trailer where he lived. Hinson’s attorney picked apart inconsistencies in the teens’ testimony including how long it took them to call 911 after their alleged escape and whether they saw Hinson with a gun. But prosecutors argued that any discrepancies in the girls’ stories might have been a result of the trauma the teens went through.

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