Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hilary Swank Nominated for SAG Award

Hilary Swank's portrayal of Betty Anne Waters in Conviction has earned her a SAG Award nomination for Best Actress. Swank said she was honored to be nominated by a group of her peers. She said, "I have to say, the real payoff in a movie like this is that Betty Anne Waters looks at you and says, ‘You did justice to my story.' When you go to the premiere and she looks over at you and has a sparkle in her eye and wells up and says, ‘Thank you,’ that’s the real honor. That’s the experience and the reason why I’m an actor. It’s to tell the stories."

The SAG Awards air Sunday, January 30th on TBS and TNT.
To see the full list of nominees, click here.

Kaufman, Amy. "SAG Nominations: Hilary Swank on 'Conviction'."

Monday, November 29, 2010

NEIP Board Member Featured in BU Law Webcast

Stanley Fisher, a NEIP board member and law professor at Boston University Law School, was featured with two of his former students in a short video. Check it out to hear him talk about the Innocence Project!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

James Hebshie Released on Bail in Time for Thanksgiving

After spending more than four years in prison, James Hebshie left the federal courthouse with his family today after US District Court Judge Nancy Gertner granted his Emergency Motion for Bail and released him on personal recognizance. After a 5 day hearing last July, Mr. Hebshie's conviction was vacated by Judge Gertner last week. Gertner wrote, "this Court recognizes the importance of finality in criminal cases, particularly after time and resources have gone into the trial, and after a jury has pronounced guilt. But finality cannot trump fairness or justice."

The government did not oppose Hebshie's motion. Mr. Hebshie, in a brief but moving speech, thanked the Court and those who worked to help him gain his freedom. "I never thought I'd live to see this day," Mr. Hebshie said.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NEIP Thanks Jeanne Kempthorne & John Lentini

James Hebshie's case would most likely have been another wrongful conviction that never came to light without the help of Jeanne Kempthorne and John Lentini. Ms. Kempthorne took on Mr. Hebshie's case for appeal and, believing in his innocence, refused to give up after losing in the first circuit. She enlisted the help of NEIP for the habeas petition. Kempthorne was a U.S. attorney for ten years before opening her own firm. She focuses on appellate and post-conviction practice in state and federal court.

John Lentini, one of the nation's most prominent fire scientists, testified on Hebshie's behalf at the evidentiary hearing granted by Judge Gertner in this case. Lentini has testified in over 200 cases (both civil and criminal) and has conducted over 2,000 fire scene investigations. Lentini pointed out the shortcomings in the government's case, including the "scientific" testimony relating to the fire. Judge Gertner relied heavily on Lentini's testimony when issuing her order earlier this week.

James Hebshie's Conviction Vacated

On November 15th, Judge Nancy Gertner issued a 69-page ruling granting James Hebshie's habeas petition. Mr. Hebshie was convicted of starting a fire that destroyed an office building in Taunton, MA. The fire occurred in 2001, Mr. Hebshie was convicted in 2006. Mr. Hebshie ran a convenience store within the office building. The government's theory was that Hebshie burned his store to get $5,000 worth of insurance money. The government put on the following witnesses to tell their story:

1. David Domingos: (Cause-and-Origin Investigator) Domingos testified that the left-side wall in Hebshie's store was the most damaged (even though other parts of the store had collapsed). Domingos centered in on the store very early on in the investigation. Judge Gertner points out, "Domingos discounted the theory that the fire was an electrical fire starting in the basement, even though, as noted, his written report did not mention the basement at all."

2. Sergeant Lynch: (Canine Handler) Lynch testified at length about the "accelerant-detection" dog, Billy. Lynch discusses Billy's personality, his emotional attachment to the dog, and "the way her eyes shifted," "the way her ears shifted when she located stuff." Lynch vouched for the dog as 97% accurate, an assertion that was not corroborated by any evidence. Lynch only brought Billy into Hebshie's store, where she alerted the presence of a substance later classified as light petroleum distillate (LPD). When Billy alerted, Lynch took only one carpet sample; no control samples were taken. LPD is a substance that could have come from any number of sources, including the chemical makeup of the carpet itself. When asked why no control samples were taken, Lynch and Domingos both pointed the finger at each other.

3. Lieutenant Myers: Myers was the first firefighter on the scene. He testified to the thermal imaging. After the initial fire had been extinguished, the imaging camera showed "hot spots" along all four walls. Myers believed that this merely meant that the walls were hot from the fire that had been extinguished. In fact, the fire was inside the walls and continuing to spread.

Hebshie's counsel, John and Jay Spinale, did not challenge any of the aforementioned "scientific" evidence, despite the Court repeatedly asking them if they'd like to have a Daubert hearing. The Spinales also failed to object to the lengthy, and as Gertner puts it "mystical account," of the dog-sniff evidence.

These, coupled with numerous other deficiencies, caused Judge Gertner to order a new trial for James Hebshie. The conclusion of her opinion sums it up best:

As Larry A. Hammond, past president of the American Judicature Society, noted: "By routinely allowing into evidence expert testimony that we know should have been excluded, and by closing courthouse doors to claims for redress after conviction, the courts have contributed to the problems we face today." Larry A. Hammond, The Failure of Forensic Science Reform in Arizona, 93 Judicature 227, 2 (2010).

In fact, he suggested, one thing that each of the cases in which there have been wrongful convictions necessarily have in common is that each were presided over by a judge, an appellate court, and typically had post conviction habeas review. And then he concluded:

"One would hope that with the announcement of every exoneration, the judges across whose desks these cases passed would pause to ask, ‘what can we do to make sure that this doesn’t happen again?"

This Court recognizes the importance of finality in criminal cases, particularly after time and resources have gone into the trial, and after a jury has pronounced guilt. But finality cannot trump fairness or justice. If Hebshie’s defense of serious charges was fatally undermined by ineffective counsel, I am duty bound to say so. Therefore, Hebshie’s habeas petition is GRANTED.

For the first news article breaking the story, click here.
See below for Judge Gertner's full order.

US v. Hebshie

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Exoneree Dies Months after Being Released From Prison

Bobby Ray Dixon spent more than 30 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit. Dixon was convicted in 1979 along with two other men who were eventually exonerated. The Innocence Project New Orleans worked on Dixon's case. His guilty plea was finally set aside on September 16th, 2010.

Sadly, Dixon passed away this week after battling lung and brain cancer. He was 53. Dixon's younger brother, Jerry, said that he was happy his older brother lived to see his name cleared. Emily Maw, director of the Innocence Project New Orleans said, "I think there are times when the wheels of justice grind slowly in a lot of cases. The fact that they did so slowly in this case is particularly sad."

Dixon was exonerated after DNA was tested in the case. The DNA matched Andrew Harris, a man already in prison for rape. IPNO is also working to exonerate another man convicted in the case, Larry Ruffin, who died while in prison.

Byrd, Sheila. "Man dies weeks after being cleared in 1979 killing." November 9, 2010.

Friday, October 22, 2010

NY Exoneree Awarded $18 Million

Alan Newton was arrested in 1985 for rape and robbery. He was convicted based on eyewitness testimony, and spent more than twenty years in prison. Four years ago, he was exonerated. This week, Newton was awarded $18 million in his civil suit against the city.

Newton and his lawyers spent five years trying to locate the rape kit to send for more extensive DNA testing. The sample was finally tested in 2006, leading to Newton's exoneration.

The jury found that Newton's constitutional rights were violated, and found two police officers liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress by not producing the rape kit sooner. John F. Shutty III, Newton's lawyer, argued that the system in place for tracking post-conviction evidence was unacceptable and violated his client's constitutional rights.

Since his release from prison, Newton has attended college and now works for the Black Male Initiative of the City University of New York to ensure that students graduate. Newton also took the law school admissions test and plans to apply to law school.
“I want to work with people that really need that legal assistance that’s just not there for them,” he said. “There are so many issues where people need competent counsel, and it’s just not out there. I think I’ll jump into it with both arms.”

O'Connor, Anahad. "$18 Million to Man Wrongfully Imprisoned." October 18, 2010.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

NEIP Hosts Conviction Screening

This week, NEIP and Fox Searchlight hosted an advanced, pre-screening of Conviction, a major motion picture about the life of Betty Anne Waters and her brother, Kenny. Conviction chronicles Betty Anne's journey to proving Kenny's innocence after he is incarcerated for a murder he did not commit.

Tony Goldwyn, the director of the film, was joined by Sam Rockwell (who plays Kenny) and Betty Anne Waters. After the screening, they answered questions from the audience. The event was mediated by Scott Feinberg, a prominent film and Oscar blogger. Click here to see Scott's summary of the event, including videos of the Q&A following the film.

Two exonerees attended the event and spoke during the Q&A. Dennis Maher, a NEIP exoneree was in attendance, along with Fernando Bermudez, who was exonerated by the Innocence Project in New York.

The movie opens in theaters nationwide on October 15th. Click here to view the trailer!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Texas Forensic Science Commission Discusses Willingham Case

After nearly two years, the Texas Forensic Science Commission (TFSC) has still yet to reach a decision about the Cameron Todd Willingham case, which has been pending since 2008. In 1992, Willingham was convicted of setting a fire in his home that caused the death of his two daughters. Willingham never stopped proclaiming his innocence. He was executed in 2004.

Members of the commission were reluctant to adopt the findings of the draft report, which states that the fire investigators were not negligent because they used fire investigation standards that existed at the time. One member, Sarah Kerrigan, thinks there is a disconnect between the standards used in the investigation and the ones widely accepted now. Another member, Garry Adams, said he was “not completely convinced that the science wasn’t available to the analysts” at the time of the Willingham investigation.

The commission will meet again on November 19th to hear expert testimony about the investigation standards then and now.

Click here to see video of Barry Scheck speaking in front of the TFSC last week.

Smith, Morgan. Forensic Science Commission Takes up Willingham.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New England Exoneree Featured at Maine's Red Mass

NEIP exoneree Dennis Maher will be speaking at this year's Red Mass, an annual event for the legal community in Maine. The Red Mass is held for all those involved in the administration of justice.

Maher was convicted in 1984 of two counts of sexual assault and one count attempted sexual assault in Ayer, MA. He spent 19 years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him. Maher was an army sergeant before his arrest. He had a clean criminal record and was convicted without any physical evidence linking him to the crime. Maher was finally exonerated in 2003. He now lives in Tewksbery with his wife and two children.

Maher's speech will be a departure from the normal Red Mass speakers, who are usually judges or prominent attorneys.

Harrison, Judy. "Wrongfully convicted man to speak after Red Mass."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Arson Convictions in Massachusetts Coming Under Fire

In the past few months, three different arson convictions in Massachusetts have been challenged by nationally recognized fire scientists. These scientists point out that certain patterns thought to be present only in intentionally set fires are now known to occur in accidental fires as well.

In 1991, a scientific manual was published that pointed out these misconceptions. Ever since, the number of fires determined to be arson steadily declined in Massachusetts. Between 1984 and 2001, the number of fires ruled arson declined by 70%,while the total number of fires stayed relatively the same.

State Fire Marshall Stephen D. Coan credits this noticeable decrease to better fire science education and increased visibility of law enforcement.

John Lentini, one of the nation's most prominent fire scientists, says "there were a lot of accidental fires determined to be arson that weren't. I don't know any other way to interpret this dramatic decline."

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, has urged prosecutors to go back and examine their old arson cases. Sheck believes that this obligation arises from knowing about the unreliabitliy of arson science. However, Coan says such reviews would be unnecessary.

One of the cases currently being questioned is the Lowell fire of 1982, for which Victor Rosario is serving a life sentence. NEIP has previously posted a blog detailing the problems with Rosario's conviction.

Another case is the conviction of James Hebshie in 2001. Hebshie ran a convenience store within an office building in Taunton, Massachusetts. After a fire consumed the whole building, Hebshie was convicted of the crime. Lentini has reviewed Hebshie's case and believes that the fire investigator got it wrong. He points out that Trooper David Domingos's determination that the fire started in Hebshie's store is inconsistent with the fact that the fire was blazing behind the walls on the opposite side of where the fire allegedly started. Lentini states, “The methodology used to determine the [fire’s] origin was outdated.’’

NEIP attorneys worked in conjunction with Hebshie's private counsel on his motion for a new trial, which is currently awaiting a decision in US District Court.

Nicas, Jack. "Scientists challenge Massachusetts arson convictions." September 8, 2010.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Connecticut Supreme Court Declines to Rule on Important Innocence Issue

This week, the Connecticut Supreme Court unanimously upheld J'Veil Outing's 2005 murder conviction. Outing was linked to the murder by two eyewitnesses, who have both since recanted. No scientific or ballistic evidence links Outing to the crime.

Outing wanted to introduce expert testimony about the unreliability of eyewitness identifications. The testimony would have focused on recent scientific studies pointing out why witnesses sometimes erroneously identify the wrong people as suspects.

The four-justice majority believes that this case is not the right one to introduce such testimony, because other factors were more important to the verdict. The court said the exclusion of the testimony was "harmless error", because the jury could use their common sense to make the determinations themselves about the unreliability of the eyewitness. The majority relied on a 25-year old precedent holding that such testimony is not mandatory.

Three justices challenged the majority's view, claiming that relying on such an old ruling was potentially prejudicial to defendants. Justice Flemming Norcott Jr. wrote, "I simply do not think it appropriate or wise to wait for the 'right' record to come before us before we act to correct this dangerously outmoded body of case law."

The unreliability of eyewitness testimony has recently been gaining media attention. Some attorneys believe the Supreme Court will address this issue sometime in the near future.

Reitz, Stephanie. "Conn. high court upholds murder conviction"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

NEIP Board Member Discusses Wrongful Convictions

This week Stanley Z. Fisher, a NEIP founding member and trustee, participated in a Boston University Law School/Legal Talk Network Podcast. Fisher, a professor at BU law, teaches classes on criminal law and wrongful convictions. Listen below to hear him speak about the causes of wrongful convictions, specific cases in New England, and what can be done to help reform the justice system.

Listen to the podcast here!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Incarcerated but Free

Last Friday, Victor Rosario became one of the first Massachusetts inmates to be ordained as a minister while incarcerated.

Rosario is serving a life sentence for arson in connection to a 1982 Lowell fire that killed 8 people. Rosario was present at the scene of the fire and heard cries for help coming from the burning building. He was 24 years old at the time and had abused alcohol for most of his life. Just hours after the horrible fire, Rosario sought the help of a local minister. “When he was praying for me, I went down to the ground, and I felt this kind of peace in myself,’’ Rosario said in an April prison interview. “Like a Christian person, … you’re reborn, I felt that peace in me and I went back with the Bible thinking Sunday I would be in church.’’

Rosario, however, was in jail by Sunday and has remained behind bars ever since. During his incarceration, Rosario has run marathons, mentored fellow prisoners, and married. While still physically incarcerated, Rosario says he is mentally free from drugs and alcohol. Rosario writes, “I believe that God has called me to prison ministry. I also believe that one day I will be a free man and able to minister both inside and outside these walls that currently confine me.’’

Two weeks ago, a Boston Globe article highlighted numerous shortcomings in the investigation that raise serious questions about the validity of Rosario's conviction. Rosario's legal team is expected to file a motion for a new trial later this summer.

Nicas, Jack. "Behind bars, convict's spirit is free."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

New Jersey at the Forefront of Eyewitness Misidentification Reform

Over 10 years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling requiring judges to instruct juries about the reliability problems with cross-racial identifications when the identification is not corroborated by other evidence. This ruling came after McKinley Cromedy was exonerated through DNA testing. Cromedy spent five years in prison for a rape he did not commit. The only hard evidence presented at his trial was the victim’s testimony identifying him as her attacker.

Last month the Special Master appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court in State v. Henderson released a report calling for a major overhaul of the legal standards used by courts to determine the admissibility of eyewitness identification evidence. Geoffrey Gaulkin, a retired appellate judge, submitted the report after extensive hearings on the state of the law and science of eyewitness identification. The report recognized the major scientific developments in the area of eyewitness identification and concluded that the widely-used Manson test and procedures are not “valid and appropriate in light of recent scientific and other evidence.” The Special Master made numerous findings to support his conclusion, including the following: suggestive procedures can falsely inflate the reliability of eyewitness testimony; eyewitness memory is more like physical trace evidence than a videotape recording and can be mishandled, contaminated, or degraded; non law enforcement actors can contaminate a witness’s memory. The report recommended that the reliability inquiry be expanded to include “all the variables left unaddressed” by Manson, that at least an initial burden be placed on the prosecution to produce evidence of the reliability of the eyewitness identification evidence, and that judges and juries be informed of and guided by the scientific findings regarding eyewitness identification.

"A new framework is urgently needed to address what the science has told us," said Ezekiel R. Edwards, a lawyer with the Innocence Project in New York who participated in the New Jersey investigation on the issue.

Many factors have been found to affect the reliability of an identification. The way lineups and photo arrays are administered drastically affects the dependability of an identification. New Jersey has guidelines for police officers administering lineups. These guidelines include telling the witness that the perpetrator may not be present and showing photos sequentially rather than simultaneously. Such procedures have been found to reduce the risk of misidentification.

According to the Innocence Project, eyewitness misidentification was a contributing factor in over 75 percent of US convictions later overturned by DNA evidence.

Lounsberry, Emilie. "New Jersey is a leader in addressing problems with eyewitness testimony." The Pennsyvania Inquirer. June 28, 2010.

See Also: Special Master Report. State v. Henderson.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Boston Globe Article Shines Light on Injustice in Massachusetts

March 5, 1982: the deadliest fire in Lowell, MA's history takes the lives of 8 people.
March 7, 1982: Victor Rosario, a 24 year old bystander, was named the prime suspect. Hours after that, Rosario signed a confession stating he and two others threw Molotov cocktails into the building, starting the blaze.

A recent Boston Globe article focuses on the shortcomings of the prosecution's case against Rosario.

Although Rosario signed a confession, the translator who assisted with the interrogation now says that Rosario was delusional at the time. Dr. Judith Edershiem, a forensic psychiatrist who reviewed with the case, opined that Rosario was suffering from alcohol withdrawal, resulting in delirium tremens ("DT's"). An examination revealed that Rosario had severe liver damage; at the time of the interrogation he had gone 48 hours without a drink. Dr. Alison Fife, a forensic psychiatrist who examined all the evidence from the interrogation, claims that the interview should have been stopped. Fife observed that Rosario was not making sense and seemed "out of control."

There are also shortcomings with the fire science used in Rosario's case. Even though he "confessed" to using Molotov cocktails, no accelerant was found at the scene of the fire. John Lentini, a prominent fire scientist, stated that if Molotov cocktails were used, there would be physical evidence of them. “It’s hard to break a beer bottle; the neck almost never breaks because it’s small and compact, and the bottom is usually in one piece,’’ said Lentini. “If they were there, they would’ve found them.’’

Arson experts who reexamined the evidence believe that the fire could have been started accidentally. The police experts cited the fire's speed, two points of origin, and certain patterns of charring as evidence of arson. But fire experts today and the National Fire Protection Association 921 Manual both state that the evidence cited is consistent with an accidental fire.

The new fire investigators say it's possible that a space heater could have been the cause of the fire. The heater was located between three rooms that had the most burn damage.

The Globe article also points out other significant shortcomings in Rosario's case, including suspect eyewitness testimony and problems with Rosario's defense attorney.

Victor Rosario, 52, has now spent more of his life in jail than out. He has filed two unsuccessful appeals. The New England Innocence Project and The CPCS Innocence Program have joined together to support Boston attorneys Andrea Petersen and Esther Horwitz in challenging this conviction.

To read the entire Globe article, go here:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Conviction Movie

Conviction, a movie based on the incredible true story of NEIP exoneree Kenny Waters and his sister Betty Anne, is set to be released October 15, 2010. The movie stars Hilary Swank as Betty Anne Waters. After her brother was wrongly convicted of murder and robbery, sentenced to life in prison, and had exhausted all of his appeals, Betty Anne determined it was up to her to save her brother. A mother of two small boys, Betty Anne worked tirelessly for her brother's cause, earning her GED, Bachelor's Degree, and finally a law degree in the hopes of exonerating Kenny. She worked with Innocence Project and NEIP attorneys to prove Kenny's innocence.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Questioning the Validity of Arson Science

The well accepted fire science that convicted George Souliotes in 1997 is now coming under question. Souliotes, a Greek immigrant, was convicted of arson that killed three people including two children in Modesto, CA. He was the landlord of the building.

Arson investigations have recently come to the forefront after the execution of Todd Willingham in Texas in 2004. The fire deemed arson in Willingham's case seems now to be probably accidental. Because of this, many fire scientists have begun to review old cases to see if questionable science is convicting innocent people.

The science started to unravel because of the1992 groundbreaking guide by the National Fire Protection Association. The report is now widely embraced, but some experts still retain their old beliefs. The report shows that some assumptions about arson science are now known to be false. For example, conditions thought only to be present in arson cases have now been confirmed as typical in accidental cases, too: including melted steel and glass etched tiny cracks.

John Lentini, a prominent fire scientist who testified for Souliotes', says that a sizable number of experts still "don't want to admit they were doing it wrong."

Souliotes' fate rests on the forthcoming decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which will soon decide whether to reexamine the case. The Northern California Innocence Project has taken on Souliotes' case. Souliotes' sister, Aleka Pantazis, 63 has also helped to bring attention to his case. Souliotes' lawyers argue that arson investigators misinterpreted the evidence at the scene.

The prosecution claimed that substance on Souliotes' shoes matched the compound that started the fire. But, Lentini says they do not have a common origin, and now the prosecutors are not disputing this.

In the meantime, all Soulites and his sister can do is wait for the decision to be handed down. Pantazis says, "what I live for is to see the day my brother will walk out. Whatever years he has left, at least he will be free."

Dolan, Maura. "13 Years Later, an Arson Case Begins to Unravel" Los Angeles Times. May, 31 2010.,0,2851484,full.story

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rhode Island Legislators Propose Improved Eyewitness Identification Methods

A recent article published in the The Providence Journal discusses the importance of legislation that would improve eyewitness identification methods in the state of Rhode Island. In the wake of a 2007-2008 survey conducted by the Rhode Island Office of the Public Defender, which reported that there have been at least seven cases of wrongful convictions as a result of faulty eyewitness IDs, Rhode Island legislators have proposed a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to follow more stringent eyewitness identification policies. Out of the 42 law enforcement agencies that responded to the survey, only 3 have written policies outlining proper eyewitness ID procedures. The legislation proposes a statewide standard for proper procedures. One of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Harold M. Metts, (D-Providence) believes law enforcement agencies should implement best practices. “Anything to enhance the process, that’s what we need to do,” Metts said.

Both law enforcement agencies and attorneys understand the persuasive force of eyewitness testimony in the courtroom. Many social scientists, however, are skeptical of such evidence. According to the article, “Social scientists say stress, gaps in memory or the desire to make an identification at all costs can lead to mistakes.” With these factors in mind, the proposed legislation would mandate certain practices, such as live and photo lineups that include “fillers” who fit the suspects general characteristics.

The article also examines the experience of Brown University student Reade Seligmann. In 2006, Seligmann learned the consequences of misidentification firsthand when he and two Duke lacrosse teammates were wrongfully accused of raping an exotic dancer who picked them out of a faulty photo array made up of only Duke lacrosse players. According to data compiled by the New York based Innocence Project, 79 percent of the 252 people exonerated through DNA evidence were convicted on the basis of faulty eyewitness identification. “When you have your life taken out of your hands, it’s terrifying,” said Seligmann.

Monday, May 17, 2010

DNA Access Law Passed in Alaska

Today, the Alaska State Legislature passed legislation granting access to post conviction DNA testing. Additionally, the law will require the preservation of evidence following a conviction. This milestone legislation is a significant step forward for inmates seeking post conviction relief through DNA testing, many of whom did not have the technology available at the time of their trial. The success in Alaska leaves only two states without such laws, Massachusetts and Oklahoma. A link to the legislation is provided below.

Monday, May 3, 2010

NEIP Exoneree to speak before the Boston Rotary Club

NEIP exoneree Dennis Maher will be speaking before the Boston Rotary Club to discuss the many issues involved with wrongful convictions as well as his own 1984 wrongful conviction. Additionally, Mr. Maher is expected to address the problem of Massachusetts’ DNA access laws and the importance of the legislation. The event will be taking place at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel on Wednesday, May 12th from 6 to 7:30.

Dennis Maher was convicted in two separate trials of attacks on three women. In March 1984, he was found guilty of the rape and assault of two women in Lowell on consecutive evenings in November 1983. In April 1984, he was convicted of the August 1983 rape of another woman in Ayer. After the second trial, Maher was sentenced to life in prison. Under Massachusetts law in effect at the time of his convictions, he was also civilly committed to Bridgewater Treatment Center. Maher, a U.S. Army sergeant at the time of his arrest, had always asserted his innocence and wrote to The Innocence Project for help. The Innocence Project tried repeatedly to gain access to the biological evidence collected from the victims, but was told that the evidence couldn’t be found. In 2001, NEIP located long-misplaced evidence from the Lowell trial in the basement of the Middlesex Superior Court. In December 2002, DNA test results excluded Dennis Maher as the source of semen on the evidence. After Maher was excluded as the source of semen in the Lowell case, in February 2003, the Middlesex District Attorney's Office located at the Ayer Police station a slide prepared from the rape kit of the Ayer rape victim. This slide was submitted for DNA testing and Maher was again excluded as the source of semen. Dennis Maher was exonerated in April 2003 after 19 years in prison. He was represented by NEIP attorneys and by the Innocence Project in New York.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New England Innocence Project Exoneree Dennis Maher Calls for Massachusetts to Pass Crucial DNA Laws

Dennis Maher was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for committing three rapes in 1983. In 2003, after spending 19 years behind bars, Dennis was freed because DNA tests proved that he was innocent of the crimes. In a recent editorial in The Patriot Ledger, Maher emphasizes the importance of access to DNA testing for inmates with claims of actual innocence. In Maher's case, it took an extra six years to get the DNA tested because Massachusetts is one of only three states that lack a post-conviction DNA access law. Maher says, "That needs to change this year."

Maher also refers to a report released by the Boston Bar Association Task Force to Prevent Wrongful Convictions in December 2009, which is entitled "Getting it Right: Improving the Accuracy and Reliability of the Criminal Justice System in Massachusetts." The Task Force was composed of police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and former judges, including four New England Innocence Project board members. Along with a variety of other recommendations for increasing the accuracy and reliability of the results the criminal justice system produces in Massachusetts, the Task Force calls for the creation of a statute providing defendants with claims of factual innocence with post-conviction access to and testing of forensic evidence and biological material (and for preservation of biological material).

Link to Maher's op-ed:

Boston Bar task force report: