Friday, June 14, 2013

Meet the Exonerated From Death Row Updates Alabama through Louisiana

Daniel Wade Moore [Alabama Conviction: 2002, Acquitted: 2009]  spent six years on death row for a crime he did not commit.  He was acquitted of all charges by a jury in Alabama on May 14. .

Moore was originally found guilty of the murder and sexual assault of Karen Tipton in 2002. The judge overruled the jury’s recommendation of a life sentence and instead sentenced him to death in January 2003, calling the murder one of the worst ever in the county.

A new trial was ordered in 2003 because of evidence withheld by the prosecution. (See State V. Moore, No. CR-04--0805, Ala. Ct. of Crim. App. (2206) (providing procedural summary at pp.2-3; the circuit judge's order for a new trial was upheld by the Ala. Supreme Court, State v. Moore, No. Ms. 1030218, Nov. 6, 2003)). A second trial in 2008 ended in a mistrial with the jury deadlocked at 8-4 for acquittal.

Judge Glenn Thompson, who originally sentenced Moore to death, ordered a retrial upon discovery that the prosecution had withheld important evidence. "Orders were entered in any capital case, that whatever the state has, whatever the prosecutor has, whatever the investigation has they should provide that to the defendant," said Judge Thompson. The evidence missing was a 256-page F.B.I. report.
The prosecution, Mr. Valeska specifically, looked me in the eye and said, quote, 'there ain't no such thing as an F.B.I. report.' Well, there probably wasn't a report, but there were 256 pages of information collected by Decatur police officers that were sent to the F.B.I.," -- Judge Thompson
According to Judge Thompson, Assistant Attorney General Don Valeska later came to him confessing there was withheld information. "Mr. Valeska came forward with the information after the conviction," said Judge Thompson. “Clearly, the only remedy was to grant him a new trial and I did," he said. "It frustrated and angered me that he would be willing to lie to the court," he continued.

Meanwhile, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ordered Judge Thompson to stand down from the trial and continued to let Valeska prosecute Moore. Upon hearing the jury’s not guilty verdict, Judge Thompson responded, "I felt like it was the only conclusion that a jury could reach if they actually followed the law." Thompson also said that the problems with the prosecution withholding evidence continued throughout the 10 years of the case. Just days before the current trial started, the prosecution called the defense saying they had just found new evidence from the victim's home computer.

Seth Penalver, [Florida conviction: 1999, Acquitted: 2012] spent 13 years in prison, seven of which were on death row.

On December 21, Seth Penalver was acquitted of all charges and will be freed from Florida's death row, 13 years after being sentenced to death. He was originally charged with a triple murder and armed robbery that occurred in Broward County in 1994. His first trial ended with a deadlocked jury. At his second trial in 1999, he was convicted and sentenced to death. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court (Penalver v. Florida, No. SC00-1602, Feb. 2, 2006) overturned his conviction because the prosecution had introduced improper evidence at his trial. A co-defendant, Pablo Ibar, was also sentenced to death and remains on death row. A video from the crime scene helped convict Ibar, but images showing another suspect were inconclusive. Penalver has always maintained his innocence. At Penalver's most recent trial, which began 5 months ago, the jury was deadlocked 10-2, and both the prosecution and defense agreed to replace two jurors with alternates who had attended the proceedings. The newly constituted jury began deliberations afresh and found Penalver not guilty of all charges. Penalver is the 142nd person to be exonerated and freed from death row since 1973, and the 24th such person in Florida, the most of any state.

Nathson Fields [Illinois Conviction: 1986, Acquitted: 2009] spent nearly two decades behind bars, including more than 11.5 years on Death Row for a crime he did not commit.

 Nathson Fields,  and a co-defendant were sentenced to death for the 1984 murders of two rival gang members. The original trial, however, was marred by corruption, as the the judge in the case, Circuit Judge Thomas Maloney, accepted a $10,000 bribe during the trial.

Thomas Maloney, who died in 2008, was ultimately convicted and spent 13 years in prison for fixing murder trials. As a result, Fields and co-defendant Earl Hawkins were granted new trials in 1998. Hawkins, who had admitted to killing 15 to 20 people, testified against Fields in exchange for a lesser sentence. However, at Fields' retrial, Judge Vincent Gaughan found Hawkins "incredible," saying that "If someone has such disregard for human life, what regard will he have for his oath?"

Fields spent almost twenty years in prison, including 11.5 years on death row. He was released on bond in 2003 while awaiting retrial and has been residing outside of Chicago. This is the 19th exoneration from death row in Illinois since 1973, which is second only to Florida in the number of exonerations.

Following the not guilty verdict handed down by Judge Gaughan, Fields said,
I feel like my prayers have been answered...It's been 24 years of this ordeal for my family and my friends, and now with it coming to an end, it's like a dream come true." -- Nathson Fields
(M. Walberg, “23 years after judicial misconduct, ex-gang leader freed," Chicago Tribune, April 9, 2009). (R. Hussain, Man formerly on death row acquitted in retrial,” Chicago Sun-Times, April 8, 2009). See also People v. Hawkins, et al., 181 Ill.2d 41 (January 29, 1998) (upholding a circuit court's reversal of Fields' and Hawkins' convictions).

Damon Thibodeaux [Louisiana conviction: 1997, Charges dismissed: 2012] spent 15 years on death row convicted for a crime he did not commit.

On September 28 2012, Damon Thibodeaux was freed from death row in Louisiana after an extensive investigation, including DNA testing and the cooperation of Jefferson Parrish District Attorney Paul Connick. Thibodeaux was sentenced to death for the 1996 rape and murder of his cousin. He at first confessed to the attack after a nine-hour interrogation by detectives. He recanted a few hours later and claimed his confession was coerced. In releasing Thibodeaux, Connick said, "I have concluded that the primary evidence in this case, the confession, is unreliable. Without the confession the conviction can't stand, and therefore in the interest of justice, it must be vacated."

Thibodeaux spent 15 years on death row in Angola. The reinvestigation of the case cost more than $500,000, an expense shared by the defense and prosecution. Regarding his early statement to the police, Thibodeaux noted, "They look for vulnerable points where they can manipulate you, and if you’re sleep-deprived or panicked, or you’re on something or drunk, it makes it that much easier to accomplish what they want to accomplish.... I was willing to tell them anything they wanted me to tell them if it would get me out of that interrogation room.”


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