2007 was a year of big highs (Travis Hayes is officially exonerated and Marty Tankleff is freed!) and big lows (Barry Beach and Richard LaPointe are not). It was a year where the momentum in the effort to pass legislation to require law enforcement to electronically record police interrogations slowed (only North Carolina enacted legislation, although California and Rhode Island again came close). But it was also a year when the issue of false confessions and recording interrogations penetrated the public consciousness with stories about the Justice Department's firing of US Attorney Paul Charlton, the CIA's destruction of interrogation tapes, the CIA's torture of detainees and the resulting false confessions, and even the Senator Larry Craig fiasco. 2008 has already started with a bang -- Barack Obama, who championed the electronic recording of homicide interrogations in Illinois, is off to a great start in his run for President -- and Marty Tankleff will be officially exonerated in mid-January. I also expect that there will be significant developments in the cases of John Spirko, the West Memphis Three, Juan Rivera, Bruce Lisker, Billy Wayne Cope and other cases of false confessors for whom justice has been denied for many years. Stay tuned. 2008 should be every bit as exciting as 2007.
JANUARY • Mississippi Sup. Ct reverses murder conviction of Tyler Edmonds who at 13 confessed to assisting his half-sister in killing her husband • Marty Tankleff's defense team files its appeal of Judge Braslow's denial of a new trial; 31 former federal prosecutors, numerous exonerated false confessors, Marty's former classmates, and others file amicus briefs in support • Dr. Phil show on Tankleff case and other false confession cases airs • DNA clears Matthew Fields, a Lousville man, who falsely confessed to breaking into a woman's home and raping her • After serving ten years in prison, Travis Hayes of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, is formally exonerated of a murder to which he had confessed and which had landed his co-defendant, Ryan Matthews, on Louisiana's death row • Ozem Goldwire, a Brooklyn man jailed for over a year after police coerced him into falsely confessing to the murder of his sister, is exonerated by prosecutors •
FEBRUARY • Northwestern Law School hosts meeting between Robert Wilson, exonerated after serving nine years in prison for a knife attack, and June Siler, the victim who had erroneously identified Wilson (who also falsely confessed) as her attacker • Almost four years after DNA pointed to another killer, Queens, NY prosecutors drop charges against Lourdes Torres, a 31 year old illiterate Mexican immigrant, who had falsely confessed to stabbing her lover • In aftermath of a botched rape case, Madison, WI police department issues new guidelines calling on its officer to use deception only as a last resort when interrogating rape victims • Daniel Gladden, subject of an investigation by Pete Shellem of the Harrisburg Patriot News, is freed after serving 12 years in prison for a murder now believed to have been committed by a known serial killer; in exonerating Gladden, prosecutors must renounce confession of James Carson, who falsely confessed and implicated Gladden •
MARCH • For 3rd year in a row, Rhode Island Senate passed bill requiring electronic recording of murder interrogations (once again bill fails to become law).
APRIL • DNA exonerations reach 200! • 8 Million Dollar settlement paid to Larry Ollins and Omar Saunders, two of four Illinois teenagers wrongfully convicted of murdering medical student Lori Roscetti • Justice Department's internal debate over whether to require federal agents to record interrogations surfaces in connection with dismissal of eight U.S. Attorneys, after fired Arizona U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton links his firing to his insistence in Arizona that interviews be recorded •
MAY • Byron Halsey, who served two decades in a New Jersey prison after he falsely confessed to the murder and rape of two children, is exonerated by DNA evidence which also identifies the true perpetrator • James Owens, imprisoned for nearly 20 years for a rape-murder in Baltimore, MD, is granted a new trial after DNA evidence excludes him and his co-defendant James Thompson (who falsely confessed) • Cook County, IL. prosecutors, in trial of Juan Luna for the murders of seven people in a Brown's Chicken in 1993, shred false confession of earlier suspect John Simonek • Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission release Postion Paper on False Confessions • Kenzi Snider, a former Marshall University student, who was accused of killing another student in Seoul, South Korea in 2001, files suit against FBI agents who allegedly coerced who into falsely confessing •
JUNE • Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reverses murder convictions of Michael Scott, one of several defendants charged in the deaths of four teenage girls in the "Yogurt Shop" murders of 1991 in Austin, TX. • Barry Beach, imprisoned for more than two decades for the murder of Kimberly Ann Nees, presents his case for clemency based on actual innocence to the Montana Board of Pardons and Paroles • Broward County Sheriff's Office pays $2.7 million to settle claims of three men who were wrongfully incarcerated for sixteen months based on false confession • Sacramento DA drops conspiracy charges against teens in non-existent revenge plot at McLatchy High School, admitting that law enforcement officers obtained two false confessions from fourteen year olds •
JULY • McKinney, TX officers forced to admit that James Jones, who falsely confessed to a quadruple murder, is innocent after new charges are brought against unrelated suspects • REPORT issued in Jeffrey Deskovic (Peekskill, NY) case lays blame on all parties -- police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges -- but takes police to task for selectively recording parts of the interrogations and for interrogating Deskovic "in a manner that exploited his youth, naivete, and psychological vulnerability" • Madison County, NY Judge Biagio DiStefano, vacates rape conviction of Dan Lackey (despite fact that Lackey confessed) when new evidence surfaces calling into question the credibility of the victim • Robert Wilson files lawsuit against City of Chicago and Cook County, alleging, among other things, that Chicago police officers coerced him into falsely confessing to the assault of June Siler • James Lee Cox, who confessed to the 20 year old unsolved rape-murder of Karen Weber in Prairie City, Iowa, is released from jail after six months, when prosecutors acknowledge that his confession was false • Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio grants John Spirko, a death row inmate convicted on the basis of false inculpatory statements, a record-setting seventh reprieve so that extensive DNA testing on items recovered from the crime scenes can be finished; Spirko's execution date is moved to January 2008.
AUGUST • North Carolina becomes the 8th state to require electronic recording of interrogations (in homicide cases) • Trial court judge dismisses post-conviction petition for a new trial of Richard LaPointe, a man many believe falsely confessed to the murder of his wife's grandmother in 1987 • Montana Board of Pardons and Paroles rejects Barry Beach's petition for a pardon or parole, preventing him from receiving any relief from the Governor • Prosecutors in Detroit drop murder charges against Devin Plummer, a 17 year old who confessed to a shooting, after gun residue tests show he could not have fired a gun •
SEPTEMBER • Jeffrey Deskovic, who spent 16 years in prison for a murder which DNA later proved was committed by another man, files lawsuit against Peekskill Police officers who coerced him into falsely confessing • Historic conference in El Paso, TX, sponsored by University of Texas El-Paso and Ohio University, gathers together over 200 psychologists, criminologists, lawyers, police officers, interrogation trainers and others, to discuss research on false confessions and police interrogations • In Fort Worth, toxicology tests clear Brittany Hart, who had confessed to killing Bruce Therens in a motel room • United States Senator from Idaho Larry Craig refuses to resign as planned, choosing instead to recant his guilty plea • Questions begin to surface about the conviction of Claude McCollum of Lansing, Michigan for the murder of a Lansing Community College professor Carolyn Kronenberg in 2005 after police arrest an alleged serial killer (Matthew Macon) in connection with numerous unsolved slayings of women in Lansing • McCollum is later exonerated of the murder after new evidence shows McCollum was in another school building at the time that he claimed (hypothetically) to be assaulting Kronenberg and Matthew Macon purportedly confessed to the killing •
OCTOBER • The same DNA evidence which led a trial court to grant a new trial to James Thompson, Jr. in his 20 plus year old conviction for a rape-murder in Baltimore, MD does not result in a new trial for his co-defendant James Owens (who confessed) • Appeals court hears oral arguments in Marty Tankleff case • Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoes bill to require California law enforcement agents to electronically record stationhouse interrogations of suspects • United States Court of Appeals for Second Circuit reinstates lawsuit of Abdullah Higazy against FBI agent who coerced him into implicating himself in the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Towers • Powerful new evidence of actual innocence is submitted in a federal court in Arkansas in the case of the West Memphis Three; extensive DNA testing does not implicate the three teens convicted of murdering three small boys in a satanic ritual but does lidentify a found on the shoelaces used to bind the boys to the stepfather of one of the victims to the crime scene •
DECEMBER • City of Chicago announces it is prepared to settle lawsuits for $19.8 million of four men who were pardoned by Governor George Ryan on ground of actual innocence after evidence showed that the men had been tortured by former Police Commander Jon Burge and men acting under his command • Court rules that lawsuit of Central Park Jogger defendants may proceed against the city of New York • Kevin Fox, the Wilmington, IL. man who was coerced by Will County detectives into confessing to killing his daughter Riley, wins civil judgement of $15.5 million against Will County • Marty Tankleff is granted a new trial by New York appeals court (within two weeks, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota announces that he will not try Tankleff, effectively ending Tankleff's long ordeal to be vindicated in the murder of his parents).