Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Abortion of Justice Suffered by Innocent Prisoners

The following opinion by Lorenzo Johnson was published by the Huffington Post on March 20, 2016.

Is society surprised that, for the third straight year, a record number of exonerations have occurred—166 in 2016? Or have innocent prisoners become the norm? It’s great that some of us are being exonerated, but what does this say about our criminal justice system as a whole—and therefore about how many innocent prisoners are not being exonerated?

Once again, another record has been set in dealing with official misconduct. The sad thing is, society has no inkling of how the same prosecutors who are responsible for these wrongful convictions fight so hard to maintain their false convictions knowingly and intentionally. Take note, in these exonerations, of how many (if any) of these prosecutors admitted to their wrongdoing or apologized to the innocent prisoner.

Since 2011, the numbers for exonerations have steadily climbed higher and higher each year. As a matter of fact, the record number of exonerations in 2016 doubled the number in 2011. The National Registry of Exonerations stated in their 2016 Report:

The exonerations in 2016 set several other records as well. They include more cases than any previous year in which: Government Officials committed Misconduct; The convictions were based on Guilty Pleas; No crime actually occurred; or a prosecutorial Conviction Integrity Unit worked on the exoneration.

As an innocent prisoner, my wrongful conviction stemmed and continues from official misconduct, ranging from police threatening/pressuring witnesses to prosecutors withholding exculpatory evidence of my innocence. My appeal has been “slow walked” because I’ve been vocal about my injustice. I guess they wanted me to sit in this cell and be quiet and serve a life sentence for a crime I never committed? Not going to happen.

In 2016 it was an average of three innocent prisoners being exonerated every week. But, in reality, these numbers do not scratch the surface of us innocent prisoners waiting to be freed. The only way to help seriously curb our injustices is to hold the officials criminally responsible once they’re found guilty of knowingly and intentionally convicting an innocent person.

A day in prison for an innocent prisoner is too long. But it takes an average of 13½-15 years for exonerees to get their freedom. I ask society, please help change our current reality.

Lorenzo Johnson served 16 and a half years of a life-without-parole sentence until 2012, when the Third Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled there was legally insufficient evidence for his conviction. He remained free for four months, after which the US Supreme Court unanimously reinstated the conviction and ordered him back to prison to resume the sentence. With the support of The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, he is continuing to fight for his freedom. Though he does not have internet access himself, you can email his campaign, make a donation, or sign his petition and learn more at: http://www.freelorenzojohnson.org/sign-the-petition.html.

Monday, March 20, 2017

CYA rules for Wayne County. Michigan prosecutor

The following column by Nolan Finley was published by the Detroit News on March 18, 2017.

Covering your fanny is a natural instinct. No one is crazy about admitting to a big, awful mistake.

But when that error costs someone his freedom, and you’ve sworn yourself to getting justice right, not being able to say “I got it wrong” is more than just a character flaw; it puts you on the wrong side of morality.

That’s where too many prosecutors stand in Michigan, and particularly in Wayne County.

Yet another case is in the news of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office clawing to suppress evidence that might exonerate a man convicted of murder and locked up since 1992.

Desmond Ricks contends Detroit police framed him by switching out the bullets found in the murder victim. The ballistics expert who testified against him now concurs, and the University of Michigan’s Innocence Clinic found the evidence compelling enough to take the case.

I don’t know if Ricks is innocent. But I do know that when presented with the credible evidence that he might be, the response from Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy should have been to take a hard look with an open mind. Instead, Worthy’s office dismissed the claim outright, according to the Associated Press, as “ingeniously imaginative.”

That might be acceptable were it not for Worthy’s track record. The wrongful conviction claim by Ricks is not a one-off. At least six times in recent years inmates prosecuted by Wayne County have had their convictions overturned after serving long sentences. And in every case Worthy battled till the end to keep them imprisoned.

I asked David Moran, director of the Innocence Clinic, if Wayne County ever admits it made a mistake. “Not to us,” he said.

Moran says some Michigan prosecutors are responsive when a wrongful conviction claim is raised, will look at the evidence and in many cases seek to corroborate it with their own investigation.

He cited as an example former Ionia County Prosecutor Ron Shafer, who, when presented with evidence that a man convicted of killing his wife and two daughters in an arson fire did not commit the crime, signed an order of release that very day.

But that’s not the norm.

“In many prosecutor’s offices, there’s a denialism that a mistake was made,” Moran says. “They are more worried about how the office might look than they are about justice.”

In a highly publicized case last fall, Davontae Sanford, who was locked up at age 14 for murders everyone had to know he didn’t do, won his release. But in an epic example of obstinacy, Worthy still has not charged the person whom the evidence suggests is responsible.

The Innocence Clinic has a dozen more wrongful conviction claims pending in Wayne County. Moran cites the case of Lamarr Monson, who was convicted of murdering a 12-year-old girl in 1996.

Under interrogation, Monson admitted to killing the girl with a knife. Big problem: She was bludgeoned to death with a ceramic toilet tank cover. But Monson was locked up anyway. Police lifted bloody fingerprints from the lid, but couldn’t identify them at the time. Now they can, and they belong to a Pennsylvania man.

“It’s hard to believe (Worthy’s office) wouldn’t be holding a press conference demanding the governor of Pennsylvania extradite him,” Moran says.

Instead, Worthy is hunkering down again, fighting to keep Monson in a cell. “They don’t want to admit they made a mistake 21 years ago,” Moran says.

I don’t know what motivates such stubbornness. But it sure ain’t justice.

nfinley@detroitnews.com

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Can the President “Destroy” Criminal-justice Reformers?

The following article by Sarah Stillman was published in The New Yorker on February 11, 2017.

On Tuesday, President Trump hosted a group of county sheriffs at the White House, where he spurred a now-infamous exchange with a lawman from Texas. The back-and-forth went like this: Trump asked the sheriffs if they had any ideas on “how we can bring about law enforcement in a very good, civil, lovely way,” in order to “stop crime.” Sheriff Harold Eavenson, of Rockwall County, Texas, fired first. “Asset forfeiture!” he called out. “We’ve got a state senator in Texas that was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we could receive that forfeiture money.”

“Can you believe that?” Trump interjected.

“And I told him,” the sheriff continued, “that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed.” Trump was eager for details. “Who’s the state senator?” he asked. “Do you want to give his name?”

The sheriff shrugged. He wore the conflicted smile of a child who’d just tattled on a sibling, only to realize, upon dad’s approach with a belt, the stakes of what he’d unleashed. Trump pushed on, saying, of the senator, “We’ll destroy his career.” Obsequious laughter flowed.

If some dismissed the President’s threat as a joke—however cruel or misguided—the issue it referenced can’t be dismissed so easily. In what appeared to be an act of improvisation on a major public policy, the President endorsed the sheriff’s comments on the alleged evils of civil-asset-forfeiture reform. And this matters, because Eavenson’s characterization of the practice obscured a significant truth. Civil forfeiture—the practice of authorities seizing goods they believe are the fruits of crime—is far less frequently used against bona-fide cartel kingpins than it is against individuals who’ve not been proved guilty of crimes. Often, it’s used against people who haven’t even been accused of any wrongdoing. And, though Trump’s “we’ll destroy his career” comment quickly drew widespread criticism, the remark was only the coda of an equally unnerving conversation with the sheriffs that went largely unremarked upon.

A transcript of the full event reveals how little Trump seems to grasp civil forfeiture’s meaning. “So, in other words, they have a huge stash of drugs,” the President told the group, shortly before the exchange with Eavenson. “So, in the old days, you take it. Now we’re criticized if we take it.” The President appeared unaware of the distinction between contraband itself and the proceeds that may flow from it; no policymaker, to my knowledge, has ever contested cops’ right to seize drugs or other direct contraband, and forfeiture isn’t required—or even called upon—to do so. (Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, did not respond to my request for clarification on the President’s official forfeiture stance, nor for comment on Trump’s broader remarks.) What makes civil forfeiture so legally unique is that a case can be brought directly against otherwise legal goods if they are deemed “fruit of the poisonous tree”—the proceeds of crime. In many states, the burden of proof for civil forfeiture is strikingly low, and the cost to contest a case is often high. At the White House, one Kentucky sheriff voiced frustration with Congress, where a push to amend the lack of due process in forfeiture laws has found some bipartisan support. The sheriff complained to the President that forfeiture’s opponents “make up stories.”

In 2013, I embarked on an in-depth investigation of civil asset forfeiture for this magazine. I travelled the country, documenting more than a hundred cases in which people’s property was seized on mere “suspicion” of wrongdoing, or through other arguably unconstitutional or unfair means. In Philadelphia, I met an elderly couple whose home of four decades was placed in forfeiture proceedings after the couple’s son was charged with selling sixty dollars’ worth of marijuana to a confidential informant on the porch. (That the house belonged to the parents apparently didn’t matter to the local district attorney’s office, which planned to seize it, auction it off, and keep the proceeds.) In Washington, D.C., I spent time with a janitor who’d lost her car after her son, who had borrowed it, got pulled over for a minor traffic infraction and then was charged for unlawful possession of a handgun. (To seek the right to have her Honda returned, the mother learned, she would have to pay a “penal sum” of a thousand and twenty dollars, or else the vehicle would be swiftly auctioned off, or reappropriated for use by police. A car, unlike a person, does not have a right to a lawyer.) And, most chillingly, I travelled to Sheriff Eavenson’s own state of Texas, where, in the small town of Tenaha, dozens of drivers—almost all of them black and Latino—had been pulled over by local authorities and stripped of their cash, jewelry, DVD players, cell phones, and other valuables. The deputy city marshal claimed that the goods were suspect, even absent evidence of contraband. In some cases, he cited the presence of junk-food wrappers and energy drinks in drivers’ vehicles as a sign of drug trafficking, and noted that drivers’ kids might be “decoys.”

One victim of the Tenaha scheme, a waitress named Jennifer Boatright, was pulled over while passing through the town with her boyfriend and two kids; they were en route, with cash, to buy a used car. Authorities told Boatright that a large sum of cash was surely criminal, and that if she didn’t sign it over to the local district attorney, they’d confiscate her kids and charge her with money laundering. “Where are we?” Boatright recalled thinking, when I interviewed her in 2013. “Is this some kind of foreign country, where they’re selling people’s kids off?”

But the legal landscape has shifted since then. Most notably, a small but growing group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers, at both the state and federal levels, have come together to insist on forfeiture reforms that aid due process. At this week’s roundtable, Trump expressed dismay that civil forfeiture had grown “political,” and claimed that the only individuals who could possibly want reforms were “bad people.” It was unclear if he recognized how much of America he’d just condemned: according to a study by the Cato Institute, eighty-four per cent of U.S. residents oppose the use of civil forfeiture. Coverage of the once obscure practice has become commonplace. In 2014, the Washington Post did its own investigation, which, among other things, documented how hundreds of police departments and task forces now rely on seized assets for twenty per cent or more of their annual budgets.

The issue, remarkably, has become a steppingstone for bipartisan criminal-justice-reform collaborations in nearly every corner of the country. According to the Institute for Justice, some twenty states have enacted forfeiture reforms since 2014, including Florida, California, and New Mexico. In Texas, two state Senators—a Republican named Konni Burton, and a Democrat named Juan (Chuy) Hinojosa—have championed far-reaching forfeiture reforms that were the apparent target of Sheriff Eavenson’s comments to Trump. (One suggested change would require a criminal conviction before a person’s property can be seized.)

But here’s the most urgent question that Trump’s meeting with the sheriffs raised: How much power does the President actually have to “destroy” criminal-justice reformers? Does the White House have the capacity to thwart not just forfeiture fixes but also, more broadly, the emergent bipartisan push for a system-wide overhaul? Unlikely partnerships to address asset-forfeiture abuses have, in recent years, lent strength to a much larger cross-party push: to roll back mandatory minimum sentences; to address the injustices of the money-bail system; to curb soaring rates of criminal-justice debt; and to address other drivers of mass incarceration, many of which trace back to profiteering. What will become of these movements, under Trump?

On the campaign trail, Trump offered a criminal-justice platform ripped from the nineteen-eighties. Since entering the White House, Trump’s flurry of actions—the refugee ban, the botched Yemen raid, a Supreme Court nominee—have limited press scrutiny of his criminal-justice agenda. But, this week, the country finally got a glimpse of what lies ahead. On Wednesday, a day after Trump had the sheriffs to the White House, Jeff Sessions, a major proponent of civil forfeiture and other controversial drug-war tactics, was confirmed by the Senate as Attorney General. And, on Thursday, Trump signed three new executive orders on crime, confirming that an old-school law-and-order approach will prevail in his White House. The domestic battle over the future of criminal-justice reform has officially commenced.

Here, then, is a comfort: Presidents have never controlled all the critical levers of American justice, or injustice. The current push to end mass incarceration and to uphold due process emerged largely from cities, counties, towns, and municipalities. Its progress has been aided, at times, by state lawmakers, and, at last, by Congress and the courts. Families who’ve borne the brunt of the system have proved crucial to raising the issue’s visibility and making the case for action.

In 2014, California passed a ballot measure known as Proposition 47, which reclassified a range of felonies as misdemeanors and invoked the voices of crime victims to prioritize drug treatment over incarceration. In Ferguson, Missouri, community advocates and civil-rights litigators challenged profiteering laws around criminal-justice fees and fines. And in Oklahoma, in November, voters who resoundingly backed Trump also approved Republican-backed ballot initiatives to reduce the state’s prison population. These calls for change unfolding around the country are the strongest rebuke to a threat-making President. What frustrates many about the country’s justice system—its patchwork nature, which resists sweeping, cohesive fixes to its many flaws—may now prove an unexpected grace. Already, reformers in both parties have echoed Texas State Senator Konni Burton, an apparent target of Trump’s threat this week, who issued a statement in response to the news: “I will not be discouraged,” she wrote, “or deterred.”

Friday, February 10, 2017

RIP, Billy Wayne Cope

by Steve Drizin, Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions and Youth, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois - February 10, 2016.

People sometimes ask me -- which is the worst miscarriage of justice you have been a part of? Without hesitation -- and I've seen more injustice as a lawyer in my lifetime than anyone should have to see -- I say: "Nothing compares to what the State of South Carolina -- York County prosecutors, a trial court judge, a jury, and a bevy of appellate court judges and state Supreme Court judges -- did to my client Billy Wayne Cope." 

Billy Wayne Cope died today at the age of 53. His legal team -- which has more than tripled in size since James Morton, Michael Smith and Phil Baity represented him at trial, released the following statement:

"In the years we represented Billy, he was unfailingly polite, optimistic, and full of faith, and he maintained these qualities in the long years that followed his conviction. Our inability to save him from this fate is one of the deepest disappointments of our lives and careers.

Billy’s death marks a sad end to a horrible miscarriage of justice. Billy confessed to a dreadful crime he did not commit. When DNA later proved the actual killer was a career burglar and serial rapist named James Sanders, who had just been released from prison in North Carolina, law enforcement should have faced up to the truth and admitted they obtained a false confession from the grieving and psychologically vulnerable father of a murdered child. Instead, the prosecution concocted a fantastic new theory that Billy must have cooperated with Sanders -- a man he never met -- in raping and murdering his own daughter in his own home. The State, then, succeeded in convicting both, the real killer and Billy, of a crime only one person actually committed. Billy Cope lost everything -- the last 15 years of his life, his family, and now any chance that this legal atrocity will ever be set right. This is a dark day for justice in South Carolina."

I've been fortunate in my line of work to experience the great joy of walking innocent clients out of prison and back into the arms of their loved ones. In fact, less than 24 hours before learning of Billy's death, I was on Cloud 9 after learning that the Cook County State's Attorney's Office had agreed to drop charges against my client (and three other Chicago teens who falsely confessed to a double murder in 1995). If you do this work long enough, you learn a sobering lesson. The wins are wonderful. You never forget them. But it's the losses, especially the cases of Unrequited Innocence, that will haunt you until your dying days. RIP BWC.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Innocence Project director calls for higher ethical standard in court system

The following article written by Taylor W. Anderson was published in the Salt Lake Tribune on February 9, 2017.

Nearly 350 innocent people spent an average of 14 years in prison before the Innocence Project helped set them free. Barry Scheck has some ideas on how to keep more people from needing his group's help.

Moving toward DNA evidence instead of other forensic evidence that can be flawed can help keep innocent people out of prison, said Scheck, director of the group that works to identify and free wrongfully convicted prisoners.

But if everyone involved in the criminal justice system was held to high ethical standards through rules and laws, the system would be more sound, Scheck said in his Tanner Lecture on Human Values at the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law.

"Good people," he said, "do bad things." 

That can include any player in the criminal justice system, Scheck said as he spoke to an audience that included law students and defense attorneys, as well as Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby.

He also pointed to the center of Moot Courtroom, where Brandon Moon, a Utah man who was convicted of three counts of rape in Texas, sat.

Moon served 17 years of a 75-year prison sentence — much of it fighting his conviction — before he was exonerated by DNA evidence with the help of the Innocence Project.

"I think that the biggest problem that we have is ethics," Moon told The Salt Lake Tribune after the speech. When we're willing to bend the rules a little bit to get a conviction, instead of looking for the truth, always looking for the truth."

Eyewitness misidentification and unvalidated or improper forensic science contributed to Moon's wrongful conviction, which he said routinely occurs across the country.

The Innocence Project, Scheck said, is also working to increase the use of videotaped interrogations, prevent the use of informants who have an incentive to provide testimony against a suspect, and ensure that suspects receive adequate attorney representation.

He told of a case in Texas, where Michael Morton spent 24 years in prison for his wife's slaying before he was exonerated in 2011 by DNA that identified the true killer. 

Defense attorneys had asked the judge in the case to look through the investigative report for potential evidence that could have prevented Morton's conviction. The judge looked and found none. 

After Morton was exonerated, the Innocence Project received the report through a public records request and found that evidence that could have helped Morton during his trial wasn't included in the file given to the judge. A court later found probable cause that the former prosecutor concealed evidence during the trial.

The Innocence Project, Scheck said, has worked to enforce rules for attorneys, on both sides of a case, that require prosecutors to hand over evidence that could be helpful to a suspect standing trial.

"It could happen to anybody," Scheck said of a wrongful conviction. "That's really the truth."

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Editorial: New York State continues its shameful refusal to act against wrongful convictions

The following editorial was published by The Buffalo News on December 30, 2016.

Nearly 10 years after two Buffalo residents were exonerated of crimes they did not commit, but for which they served decades in prison, New York State lawmakers remain indifferent to the problem of wrongful conviction.

It’s a dereliction of duty and a moral crime against the people of the state, those who remain wrongfully imprisoned and those other innocents who will be incarcerated because of the state’s willful inaction.

Anthony Capozzi served almost 22 years in prison for rapes he did not commit. He was utterly and completely innocent. While he and his family suffered all those years, the actual rapist, Altemio Sanchez, graduated to murder. It’s what can happen when the law gets it wrong and lawmakers don’t act.

Lynn DeJac spent more than 13 years in prison after being convicted of murdering her daughter, Crystallyn Girard, 13.

DeJac’s boyfriend at the time of the death, Dennis Donohue, was initially a suspect but later testified against her. DeJac was exonerated when DNA on the victim’s body was found to be from Donohue. After DeJac was exonerated, Donohue was convicted of murdering Joan Giambra in 1993, only seven months after the death of Crystallyn.

DeJac – released from prison in 2007 and exonerated in 2008 – died of cancer in 2014.

They were two of many. The National Registry of Exonerations lists over 200 people exonerated in New York alone. That’s more than 10 percent of the 1,945 shown to have been innocent nationwide. (The registry is a project of the University of California, Irvine Newkirk Center for Science and Society, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law.)

One of those recently exonerated is a Town of Tonawanda native, just released after spending 21 years in a Texas prison for a sexual assault he did not commit. Brian E. Franklin had been a police officer in Fort Worth, but in 1995, he was convicted of criminal sexual assault of a child and sentenced to 30 years in prison, based on a false accusation by the alleged victim.

Since then, Texas has acted to change procedures that can lead to wrongful conviction. Although it can do more, it has already done more than New York.

It’s important to note that these aren’t people who were freed because of a legal technicality or because they somehow beat the system. To the contrary, the system beat them. It ground them up. These were innocent people.

Perhaps most infamous of the New York cases is that of the Central Park Five, teenagers wrongfully convicted of raping a jogger and leaving her in a coma. They, too, were innocent.

The five young men were convicted based on false confessions. They were kept from their parents, threatened and misled until police got what they wanted.

False confession is a strange phenomenon, but it’s one of the most common causes of wrongful conviction. It is often associated with drug addiction, mental illness and other factors allowing suspects to be easily manipulated. And to that point: A prison inmate later confessed to the assault on the jogger, and his DNA left at the crime scene clinched it. In 2014, New York City paid $41 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the wrongfully convicted men.

The other most common cause of wrongful conviction is witness misidentification. That’s what happened to Capozzi who, at the time of the crimes, bore an unfortunate resemblance to Sanchez. Still, he was significantly heavier than the description offered by the victims and bore a scar that none of them reported. The system beat him.

There are ways to fix these issues, but New York legislators can’t bring themselves to act on them, any more than they can on the state’s own chronic corruption. But other states have responded and, in doing so, have strengthened law enforcement.

Changes in lineup procedures have been shown to diminish the chances of misidentification. Video recordings of interrogations limit the chances of false confession, which can even be obtained unintentionally. These are both doable actions. They aren’t impossible and they don’t unduly burden law enforcement agencies. They serve the public, as the families of the women Sanchez murdered while Capozzi sat in jail might readily agree.

Two years ago, the Legislature seemed prepared to act, having finally won the support of the state’s prosecutors. But it didn’t act, in effect deciding that it was better to risk sending more innocent people to prison.

This needs to be high on the Legislature’s agenda in 2017, especially that of the Senate, which has been especially recalcitrant. There, Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, a former Erie County sheriff and chairman of the Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections, can make a lasting difference by helping his colleagues see that the issues are critical, resolvable and, ultimately, make for better law enforcement.

No solution will be perfect. Reliable and well-considered systems can restrain the influences of human fallibility, not eliminate them. But it can do that much, diminishing the chances that innocent people will forfeit years of their lives and that others will be murdered while criminals continue to roam the streets.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

It's time to exonerate Ethel Rosenberg

The following opinion was published by the Daily Hampshire Gazette on December 5, 2016.

Sixty-three years ago, Robert and Michael Meeropol made their first trip to the White House seeking to save their parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, from execution as Communist spies.

The boys, then ages 6 and 10, are seen in a photo standing at a gate in front of the White House on June 14, 1953, attempting to hand-deliver a letter to then-president Dwight D. Eisenhower in which Michael wrote: “Please let my mommy and daddy go and not let anything happen to them.” The plea failed and the Rosenbergs were executed on June 19, 1953.

Last Thursday, the brothers reenacted their visit to the White House, this time seeking a proclamation from President Barack Obama exonerating their mother by declaring that she was not a spy for the Soviet Union and that she was unjustly convicted and executed. Michael, 73, who lives in New York, and Robert, 69, of Easthampton, have spent some four decades trying to clear their mother’s name.

It is past time for the U.S. government to acknowledge this grievous wrong that was committed during the “Red Scare” of the 1950s. While many people were victimized by the anti-Communist hysteria fueled by demagogues such as U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Ethel Rosenberg, who was a Communist, stands atop the list because she paid with her life after being accused with her husband Julius of committing the “crime of the century” by passing secrets about the atomic bomb to the Soviets.

 By issuing the proclamation, Obama would make a powerful, cautionary statement not only about the the Cold War-era of the 1950s, but also about fears stoked by the anti-Muslim rhetoric of president-elect Donald Trump. That message should be to reject guilt by association and sweeping generalizations – whether it be labeling all Communists as un-American 60 years ago, or all Muslims as terrorists today.

The documents available today show that Julius Rosenberg was part of one of several spy rings run by the Soviet Union in the United States after World War II, although the nature of the information he passed on during his espionage is disputed. His sons maintain that he did not give up secrets about the atomic bomb.

The Rosenbergs were convicted largely as the result of testimony by Ethel’s brother Army Sgt. David Greenglass, who worked as a machinist at the Los Alamos, New Mexico, headquarters of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. Greenglass and his wife Ruth testified during Ethel Rosenberg’s trial that she had been present at two meetings in 1945 with her husband and the Greenglasses. According to the Greenglasses’ testimony, at one of those meetings David gave Julius a sketch of the atomic bomb, while Ethel typed notes.

However, David Greenglass, who  was indicted as a co-conspirator and sentenced to 10 years in prison, gave different testimony to a grand jury before the trial. Documents released in 2015, a year after his death, had no mention in his grand jury testimony of Ethel Rosenberg’s presence at either meeting. Instead, Greenglass told the grand jury: “I never spoke to my sister about this at all.”

The Meeropol brothers contend that Greenglass fabricated his testimony at Ethel Rosenberg’s trial after reaching a deal with prosecutors to reduce his sentence.

In addition to delivering documents supporting their case to the White House last week, the Meeropols have an online petition (www.rfc.org/ethel) seeking exoneration for Ethel Rosenberg. As of Monday afternoon, it had been signed by 44,336 people.

In an accompanying statement, the Meeropols write that “our parents’ execution helped fuel a dangerous climate of fear and intolerance in our country which permitted political opportunists like Senator Joseph McCarthy to poison our society. Today we face a similar climate of hatred which targets immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQI individuals and others.”

Congressman James P. McGovern of Worcester last week wrote a letter to Obama urging him to issue a proclamation acknowledging the politically motivated injustice in Ethel Rosenberg’s execution. “By so doing, you can send a clear message to the American people that our government’s actions must be just, humane and accountable,” McGovern told the president.

That would be fitting as one of Obama’s final acts before he leaves office in January.