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.