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:

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.