Northern California Innocence Project, Morrison & Foerster, LLP and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP Win Release for Innocent Man

George Souliotes Exonerated of Arson and Triple Murder; Walks Free After 16 Years in Prison

Wrongful Conviction Was Based on Faulty Fire Science

George Souliotes walked into the arms of  his sister, Aleka Pantazis, who fought for his freedom for 16 years.

George Souliotes walked into the arms of his sister, Aleka Pantazis, who fought for his freedom for 16 years.

SANTA CLARA, Calif., July 2, 2013 –The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) at Santa Clara University School of Law, Morrison & Foerster, LLP and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP announced that George Souliotes, 72, will be released from a California prison after his attorneys successfully negotiated an agreement to secure his immediate freedom following 16 years of wrongful incarceration.  Souliotes was wrongfully convicted of arson and triple murder in 2000 and sentenced to three life terms without parole.  This agreement confirms his exoneration of arson and murder.  Souliotes is expected to be released from custody today.

In 2012, two federal judges found Souliotes “actually innocent” and concluded that his conviction was based on faulty fire science. Earlier this year, the same federal court also found Souliotes had received ineffective assistance of counsel at his trial and ordered him released within 30 days unless the State took concrete and substantial steps to retry him before July 10, 2013.  The State announced it would retry Souliotes, and a retrial had been set to begin on July 8.

Under the terms of the agreement announced today, Souliotes pled no contest to three counts of involuntary manslaughter for failure to maintain a working smoke alarm as required by the California Health and Safety Code. “Mr. Souliotes and his defense team maintain his absolute innocence and his decision to plead no contest to failure to maintain smoke alarms does not change that,” said Linda Starr, NCIP’s Legal Director.  “He chose to resolve the case before the retrial scheduled for next month, so that he may return home to his family and friends immediately.”

“Mr. Souliotes’ retrial reached a turning point in recent weeks when a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge excluded the prosecution’s key witness, as well as their forensic evidence, after determining both pieces of evidence were unreliable,” said Jim Brosnahan, lead defense attorney from Morrison & Foerster.  “First, the judge excluded the testimony of a highly unreliable prosecution witness and second, he excluded the outdated and faulty fire science introduced at the original trial.  Without this false evidence the truth was revealed that there was simply nothing linking Mr. Souliotes to this tragic fire.”

“The plea agreement exonerates Mr. Souliotes of the arson and murder charges he was wrongfully convicted of and further confirms the federal court’s finding that he is completely innocent of those crimes,” said Jimmy McBirney, Souliotes’ lead attorney in the federal habeas proceedings from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. “This case should not have proceeded in state court at all, and we hope those responsible for ensuring justice will take greater care in examining other convictions based on outdated and discredited scientific evidence.”

Background

On January 15, 1997, a rental property owned by Souliotes in Modesto, California, burned to the ground in the middle of the night and three tenants died in the fire.

The prosecution’s case against Souliotes was based almost entirely on two forensic pieces of evidence that new developments in fire science have since discredited. First, investigators based their arson determination on certain indicators that were long believed to be evidence of arson — but developments in modern fire science have shown these indicators are just as consistent with accidental fires or any fire where the temperature reaches “flashover” conditions.

 Second, forensic tests revealed a chemical compound known as a medium petroleum distillate, or “MPD,” was found at the fire scene and on Souliotes’ shoes. MPDs are a chemical compound that exist in some ignitable liquids such as lighter fluid, but are also now known to exist in many household products and consumer goods, including the solvents in glues and adhesives used in floor coverings and footwear. The prosecution had repeatedly argued to the jury that the “shoes tell the tale” in implicating Souliotes.

Souliotes was tried twice before being convicted of arson and triple murder in 2000.  His first trial resulted in a hung jury after his defense counsel provided a vigorous defense and called expert witnesses to rebut the prosecution.  At his second trial, however, Souliotes’ defense counsel failed to present a case, called no expert witnesses to rebut the prosecution and called none of the other fact witnesses who established Souliotes’ complete lack of motive at the first trial.

In earlier proceedings, the California Attorney General conceded that all of these purported arson indicators were equally consistent with an accidental fire, and that there was no scientific evidence the fire was caused by arson.  The Attorney General also conceded that the MPDs found on Souliotes’ shoes are chemically distinguishable from those found at the fire scene, and thus provide no link between Souliotes and the fire.  Based on these facts, a federal judge found Souliotes “actually innocent” which cleared the way for future proceedings resulting in the previously scheduled July 8 retrial.

NCIP has represented Souliotes for over ten years with the pro bono assistance of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.  After a federal court judge ordered a retrial, an experienced trial team from Morrison & Foerster, led by Jim Brosnahan, volunteered to provide Souliotes’ defense and ultimately negotiated his release.  The Morrison & Foerster trial team was supported in the state court proceedings by NCIP and the Orrick team that secured Souliotes’ federal habeas victory.

This is NCIP’s 17th victory since its creation in 2001.

About the Northern California Innocence Project
The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) at Santa Clara University School of Law is a pro bono legal clinical program where law students, attorneys, pro bono counsel, and volunteers work to free wrongfully convicted prisoners. For more information, please visit ncip.scu.edu.

About Santa Clara University School of Law
Santa Clara University School of Law, one of the nation’s most diverse law schools, is dedicated to educating lawyers who lead with a commitment to excellence, ethics, and social justice. For more information, see law.scu.edu.

CONTACTS

For NCIP:
Audrey Redmond |(408) 554-4790 | alredmond@scu.edu
Lindsay Andrews | (415) 618-8750 | landrews@sardverb.com

For Santa Clara University:
Deborah Lohse | (408) 554-5121 | dlohse@scu.edu


April 16, 2013

Northern California Innocence Project Wins Release for Innocent Man Wrongly Convicted of Arson and Triple Murder Based on Faulty Fire Science

Federal Court Judge Orders George Souliotes Be Released After 16 Years in Prison

SANTA CLARA, Calif., April 16, 2013 –The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) at Santa Clara University School of Law and Orrick, Herrington, & Sutcliffe, LLP announced that on April 12, a California federal district court judge overturned the wrongful conviction of George Souliotes for arson and triple murder. Souliotes, 72, has served 16 years of his sentence of three life terms without parole.

In granting his release, District Judge Anthony W. Ishii found Souliotes had received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. That finding came a year after his attorneys persuaded the judge of Souliotes’ “actual innocence,” successfully arguing his conviction was based on faulty fire science and that no reasonable juror today would convict him.

The judge ordered his release unless the State of California not only notifies the court that it intends to retry Souliotes, but also takes concrete and substantial steps to do so within 30 days. The order does not specify when he is to be released, but his attorneys expect it to be within 30 days.

“After more than 10 years of fighting for Mr. Souliotes’ freedom we are gratified that the court has found him innocent and ordered his release,” said Linda Starr, NCIP’s legal director. “Mr. Souliotes’ conviction was a tragedy, and we now know it was based on faulty fire science that has since been discredited. We hope the California Attorney General will honor the judge’s ruling and not take any further action that might needlessly delay Mr. Souliotes’ long overdue return home. ”

Background

On January 15, 1997, a rental property owned by Souliotes in Modesto, Calif., burned to the ground in the middle of the night and three tenants died in the fire.

The prosecution’s case against Souliotes was based almost entirely on two forensic pieces of evidence that new developments in fire science have since discredited: First, investigators based their arson determination on certain indicators that were long believed to be evidence of arson — but developments in modern fire science have shown these indicators are just as consistent with accidental fires or any fire where the temperature reaches “flashover” conditions.

Second, forensic tests revealed a chemical compound known as a medium petroleum distillate, or “MPD,” was found at the fire scene and on Souliotes’ shoes. MPDs are a chemical compound that exist in some ignitable liquids such as lighter fluid, but are also now known to exist in many household products and consumer goods, including the solvents in glues and adhesives used in floor coverings and footwear. The prosecution had repeatedly argued to the jury that the “shoes tell the tale” in implicating Souliotes.

Souliotes was tried twice before being convicted of arson and triple murder in 2000. His first trial resulted in a hung jury after his defense counsel provided a vigorous defense and called expert witnesses to rebut the prosecution. At his second trial, however, Souliotes’ defense counsel failed to present a case, called no expert witnesses to rebut the prosecution and called none of the other fact witnesses who established Souliotes’ complete lack of motive at the first trial.

In earlier proceedings, the California Attorney General conceded that all of these purported arson indicators were equally consistent with an accidental fire, and that there was no scientific evidence the fire was caused by arson. The Attorney General also conceded that the MPDs found on Souliotes’ shoes are chemically distinguishable from those found at the fire scene, and thus provide no link between Souliotes and the fire. These facts persuaded Judge Ishii that Souliotes had satisfied the “actual innocence” standard and was entitled to proceed with his ineffective assistance of counsel claims, which were otherwise barred by procedural restrictions.

“It has been an incredibly long road, but we are very happy to be nearing the end of it,” said Jimmy McBirney, Souliotes’ attorney from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. “Mr. Souliotes has always maintained his innocence, and the evidence has now proven it. There is absolutely no basis for a retrial, and we look forward to seeing him set free.”

This is the third innocent person NCIP has exonerated in 2013, and its 17th victory since its creation in 2001.

About the Northern California Innocence Project
The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) at Santa Clara University School of Law is a pro bono legal clinical program where law students, attorneys, pro bono counsel, and volunteers work to free wrongfully convicted prisoners. NCIP promotes substantive legislative and policy reform through data-driven research and policy recommendations aimed at ensuring the integrity of our justice system. For more information, please visit http://law.scu.edu/ncip/.

About Santa Clara University School of Law
Santa Clara University School of Law, one of the nation’s most diverse law schools, is dedicated to educating lawyers who lead with a commitment to excellence, ethics, and social justice. For more information, see law.scu.edu.

CONTACTS

For NCIP:
Audrey Redmond |(408) 554-4790 |alredmond@scu.edu
Lindsay Andrews | (415) 618-8750 |landrews@sardverb.com

For Santa Clara University:
Deborah Lohse | (408) 554-5121 | dlohse@scu.edu


March 28, 2013

Tammerlin Drummond: Setting the wrongly convicted free

Great story in the Oakland Tribune recently about NCIP, our DNA project and our two recent exonerations. Tammerlin, thanks for shedding light on the need for more resources to help all clients waiting for justice. Read it here.


March 11, 2013

Northern California Innocence Project Successfully Exonerates Innocent Man of Sex Crimes He Did Not Commit


Judge Overturns Conviction After DNA Evidence Proves Johnny Williams’ Innocence

Oakland, CA, March 11, 2013 –The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) and the California DNA Project (CDP) at Santa Clara University School of Law announced that on March 8, the Alameda County Superior Court overturned the wrongful conviction of Johnny Williams for sex crimes after new DNA evidence proved his innocence. Mr. Williams served 14 years in prison.

“We are thrilled the state has recognized Johnny’s innocence and cleared his name,” said Linda Starr, NCIP’s Legal Director. “Additionally, we are grateful to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office for their cooperation. Of the 303 innocent people exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing, nearly 75 percent involved eyewitness misidentification. Thus, in cases relying almost exclusively on eyewitnesses, we’ve learned that DNA evidence is the only way to conclusively prove innocence.”

Johnny WilliamsBackground

On September 28, 1998, a man who called himself “Johnny” sexually accosted a nine-year-old girl as she walked home from school. The next day, while walking in the same area, the same man attempted to rape her. Mr. Williams was a former neighbor of the victim and familiar with her family. When the victim first reported the assault she did not say she knew the attacker, thus suggesting a stranger. However, individuals close to the victim suggested to police that “Johnny” may be Mr. Williams. One week after the attack the Oakland Police Department collected the clothes the victim was wearing during the assault. Forensic tests at the time of trial were unable to confirm biological evidence and no DNA testing was performed. On June 8, 2000, Mr. Williams was convicted of two counts of forcible lewd conduct against a child and one count of attempted rape.

In 2012, NCIP, with the assistance of CDP, re-tested the victim’s t-shirt and found enough biological material to yield a complete male DNA profile that conclusively excluded Mr. Williams as the perpetrator.

“To be convicted of such a terrible crime and spend 14 years in prison, labeled a sex offender, is a nightmare most people could never imagine,” said Melissa Dague O’Connell, Mr. Williams’ lead attorney with CDP. “Without DNA evidence, we would not have been able to prove his innocence.”

Mr. Williams’ exoneration was made possible by a grant which created CDP and paid for the costs of retesting. However, that funding will expire in September.

“Something terrible happened to that little girl and I hope they find the person who did it. I am thankful people finally know the truth about me so that I can rebuild my life,” Mr. Williams said after the ruling.

This is the second innocent person NCIP has exonerated in 2013, and its 16th victory since its creation in 2001.

 


February 22, 2013

Keker & Van Nest LLP and The Northern California Innocence Project Successfully Exonerate Innocent Man Ronald Ross

Ronald Ross Exonerated of Attempted Murder Charge After Serving Nearly Seven Years of 25-to-Life Sentence

Defense Attorneys Persuade Alameda County District Attorney to Agree to Overturn Conviction and Dismiss Case

Oakland, CA, February 22, 2013 –Keker & Van Nest LLP and the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law today announced they have successfully petitioned the Alameda County Superior Court to overturn the wrongful conviction of their client, Ronald Ross, for premeditated attempted murder. Mr. Ross’s attorneys argued that newly discovered evidence and proof of false testimony at his original 2006 trial entitled him to a new trial. After three days of evidentiary hearings, the Alameda District Attorney Nancy O’Malley joined Mr. Ross’s petition asking the Court to set aside Mr. Ross’s conviction. On February 20, 2013, Alameda Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson signed an order granting Mr. Ross’s habeas petition and vacating the prior convictions and sentence. On February 22, 2013, the Alameda District Attorney formally dismissed the charges, after which the court ordered Mr. Ross’s release from custody. Mr. Ross served nearly seven years of a 25 years to life sentence.

Mr. Ross was represented jointly by pro bono attorneys Elliot Peters, Jo Golub, Reid Mullen and David Rizk of Keker & Van Nest LLP and Linda Starr and Seth Flagsberg of the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law. Keith McArthur of McArthur Investigations led the team’s factual investigation of the case and made the key evidentiary discoveries that led to Mr. Ross’s exoneration.

“We are tremendously grateful that Ronald is coming home,” said Elliot Peters, partner at Keker & Van Nest LLP. “He is truly innocent. And we express our gratitude to District Attorney O’Malley for agreeing with us that Ronald should be freed, and for her dedication to fairness and the pursuit of justice.”

“We are thrilled to celebrate Ronald’s freedom,” added Linda Starr, Legal Director of the Northern California Innocence Project. “Eyewitness misidentification is a leading reason for the wrongful convictions of innocent people. With the wrong man behind bars, the true perpetrator was able to continue his violent attacks. Ronald’s case is yet another example of the tragic ramifications mistaken identifications can have for both individuals and the community as a whole. We hope that Mr. Ross’s case will highlight the great need for reform of eyewitness identification practices. ”

On November 8, 2006, Mr. Ross was convicted of the attempted murder of Renardo Williams, who was shot on the front porch of his West Oakland apartment on April 15, 2006. The previous day, Williams had confronted a neighbor, Nikisha Stuart, about an alleged fight between Stuart’s 14-year old son, Steven Embrey, Jr, and Mr. Williams’s daughter. Ms. Stuart told Mr. Williams she would “send her man” to talk to him. The next evening, two men, accompanied by Mr. Embrey, Jr., came to Mr. Williams’ apartment. After a brief confrontation, one of the men shot Mr. Williams in the ribs and they fled.

Mr. Ross lived in the Oakland neighborhood where the shooting occurred, but had never met Mr. Williams or Mr. Embrey, Sr., and no physical evidence linked him to the crime. Mr. Ross was drawn into the investigation, however, when Oakland Police included his picture in a routine photographic line-up shown to witnesses, who identified him as the shooter. At the time, Oakland Police did not believe Mr. Ross was involved in the shooting, and included him in the line-up merely because his mother had once lived in the same apartment building as Ms. Stuart. Police never investigated Mr. Embrey, Sr.

Through more than four years of investigation, Mr. Ross’s legal defense team uncovered evidence of false testimony by key trial witnesses, including the victim, and tracked down exculpatory evidence from several new witnesses. Keker & Van Nest LLP attorneys presented this evidence and the case for Mr. Ross’s innocence to the Alameda County District Attorney and the Alameda County Superior Court over three days of hearings.

During those proceedings, Mr. Embrey, Jr. recanted his trial testimony and identified his father, Steven Embrey, Sr. as the shooter, explaining that he feared repercussions from his father, who was known to be violent and had a criminal history. Mr. Williams testified that he could not be certain about his trial identification of Mr. Ross as the shooter and apologized to Mr. Ross for implicating him. Mr. Embrey, Sr., who is currently facing attempted murder charges for an unrelated shooting in Oakland, admitted in an interview with Mr. Ross’s legal defense team that he was present at the shooting, and acknowledged Mr. Ross was not there and had nothing to do with the incident. Other witnesses located by Mr. Ross’s team corroborated Mr. Embrey, Jr.’s account of the shooting.

Keker & Van Nest LLP and NCIP will host a press conference on Monday, February 25, 2013 at 11 a.m. at the offices of Keker & Van Nest LLP, located at 633 Battery Street, San Francisco, California. For those unable to attend, the press conference will be available live via conference call at:

Toll-free: (877) 699-4804
Passcode: 780142


October 18, 2012

Friends Wrongfully Imprisoned Until NCIP and CIP Won Their Freedom

Great story in LA Weekly about NCIP exoneree Obie Anthony & CIP exoneree Reggie Cole. Read it here.


October 12, 2012

Report Prompts Panel on Failures of Criminal Justice System

Mercury News reported on the Prosecutorial Oversight Panel that took place at Santa Clara University on October 11, 2012. The panel was spurred in part by the release of NCIP’s annual report documenting the failure of the justice system in 2011 to hold prosecutors accountable for putting innocent people in prison. Panelists included NCIP’s Kathleen “Cookie” Ridolfi, District Attorney Jeff Rosen, Special Assistant District Attorney David Angel, NCIP’s exoneree Obie Anthony, exoneree John Thompson, CalBar’s Robin Brune, retired Judge James Emerson, and Palo Alto Defense Attorney Tom Nolan. The panel covered these issues within the criminal justice system and also suggested future solutions, such as critical monitoring by the courts, district attorneys working with groups such as NCIP, and more accountability by prosecutors in general.

Read full story here.


May 20, 2012

National Study Tracks Number of People Falsely Convicted of Crime

A new national report on the number of people falsely convicted of a serious crime reveals a baffling statistic about the Bay Area — 10 people have been exonerated in Santa Clara County since 1989, while none have in Alameda County.

bit.ly/Lb0ity


May 8, 2012

Man Wrongly Convicted In SF Murder Questions Police Lineups

CBS aired a piece last night about NCIP exoneree Maurice Caldwell and the need for law enforcement to use best practices in their eyewitness identification procedures. This could help reduce the number of wrongful convictions like Maurice’s.

cbsloc.al/IO8Auv

Sign our petition here to help adopt best practices for eyewitness identification procedures statewide.


September 30, 2011

Judge Overturns Conviction and Vacates Life Sentence of Northern California Innocence Project Client

In a case representing a record third exoneration in one year, NCIP lawyers assist in getting a Los Angeles man’s murder and attempted robbery convictions set aside by uncovering new evidence of innocence

Team Obie

NCIP legal director Linda Starr, Obie Anthony, and NCIP supervising attorney Paige Kaneb at the evidentiary hearing September 2011.

LOS ANGELES and SANTA CLARA, CA – September 30, 2011 – A Los Angeles County superior court judge today threw out the 1995 murder and attempted robbery convictions of Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) client Obie Anthony.

Judge Kelvin Filer granted the habeas petition on the basis of the cumulative harm of prosecutorial misconduct, specifically the trial prosecutor’s failure to correct the false testimony of its key witness, and the prosecution’s failure to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense, specifically the fact that the prosecution’s key witness received a “sweetheart deal” in exchange for his testimony against Mr. Anthony.

In overturning the conviction, Judge Filer said that the prosecution’s chief witness, around whom the entire case for trial was built, “will say almost anything to avoid consequences to himself . . . in an earlier proceeding, he lied about the death of his own mother.”

Judge Filer issued the order after lawyers for NCIP at Santa Clara University School of Law, who have represented Anthony for three years, along with lawyers from Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent, presented evidence of his innocence during an 11-day evidentiary hearing earlier this month.

During the hearing Anthony’s lawyers demonstrated the prosecution’s key witness had lied repeatedly at trial and that the prosecution knew of his lies but failed to correct them for the jury. They also presented evidence that the prosecution suppressed evidence that impeached its witnesses, that Anthony is actually innocent, and that Anthony’s defense attorney at trial failed to investigate and present information that suggested Jones was the actual killer.

Mr. Anthony’s team of lawyers was comprised of NCIP lawyers Paige Kaneb, Linda Starr and Seth Flagsberg, Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent lawyers Adam Grant and Laurie Levenson, and Federal Public Defender Investigator Deborah Crawford. Law students from Santa Clara University School of Law and Loyola Law School also assisted.

“This conviction should have never happened,” said NCIP Legal Director Linda Starr. “Police purposely ignored and hid evidence that did not support their theory, and manipulated the witnesses to create evidence to support their misguided tunnel vision. The prosecution falsely denied that they granted their star witness a deal for his cooperation and failed to correct his lies at trial. And Mr. Anthony’s own attorney failed to investigate the case. For their failures, Mr. Anthony has spent 17 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit – and the actual murderer has remained free. This cannot be considered justice.”

“Obie Anthony is an innocent man who has survived this ordeal with grace and courage,” said NCIP attorney Paige Kaneb. “Even now, Mr. Anthony is not angry. Instead, he just wants to start his life as a free man, go to college, and then devote his time to helping others.”

The Crime
Anthony was convicted of the March 27, 1994 attempted robbery and murder of Felipe Gonzales primarily based on the testimony of one star witness, John Jones, a pimp with a prior manslaughter conviction.

Shortly before midnight that evening, Felipe Gonzales, Victor Trejo, and Luis Jimenez drove to a house of prostitution in Los Angeles on the corner of 49th Street and Figueroa Street. Gonzales got out to solicit the services of one of the prostitutes, while the others remained in the vehicle. Security guards employed by John Jones–who operated the house of prostitution–informed Gonzales that the woman he asked about was unavailable and that he should return the next day. As he walked back to the car, three or four men surrounded him and the car, demanding money.

According to the victims, one of the robbers opened the passenger door and began shooting at the occupants, at which point Trejo drove away. Trejo saw Gonzales running, and as the car turned the corner he heard more shots, but saw nothing more.

Gonzales’ body was found on the corner of 49th and Figueroa.

Police had no leads on the crime, until one month later, when Elliot Santana falsely claimed to have been carjacked at gunpoint by three men, and identified Anthony and two of his friends, Reggie Cole and Michael Miller, as those men. Police proceeded to put photographs of Anthony, Cole and Miller into photographic lineups and showed the lineups to witnesses to the Gonzales murder.

Of the seven people shown the photographs, only one, John Jones, positively identified Anthony and Cole. No one identified Miller. Based on Jones’ identifications, Anthony and Cole were arrested and charged with the murder of Gonzales and related offenses. Police then conducted a live lineup and again, Jones was the sole person to positively identify Anthony.

The prosecution’s case at trial rested entirely on eyewitness testimony. The fingerprints lifted from the car did not match Anthony or Cole, nor did shoeprints taken from the scene. Detectives found no murder weapon or clothing that matched the descriptions provided by witnesses. In fact, no physical evidence ever connected either man to the crime. Both Anthony and Cole presented numerous alibi witnesses who testified that the two men were home on the night of the murder. Despite this, both were convicted and received prison sentences of life without the possibility of parole.

The carjacking counts for which Anthony and Cole were originally identified, were dismissed when Santana revealed prior to his testimony—but after opening statements in which the jury heard about both crimes—that he had fabricated the allegation because he didn’t want his wife to find out he had been with a prostitute. The jury was informed only that the charges were dismissed and they were not to speculate why.

Re-investigation Uncovers Evidence of Innocence
An NCIP team, along with a Loyola Law School team and Federal Public Defender Investigator Deborah Crawford, conducted an exhaustive re-investigation of the case. They uncovered new evidence that the prosecution had concealed from the defense that John Jones was rewarded for his testimony and lied about it at trial.

Jones also signed a declaration swearing that he never actually saw the perpetrators well enough to identify them. He explained at the hearing that he had obtained descriptions of the perpetrators from others and that the detectives had indicated which photographs they expected him to select, and then fed him false information that gave him confidence in his identifications of Anthony and Cole, including information that one of them had been shot.

Further, Anthony’s attorneys uncovered and presented numerous witnesses who say that Jones employed armed security to protect his building, that Jones always carried a gun and fired at people to protect his business, that Jones was on the roof that night, and that the ballistics evidence shows that the fatal shot was more likely to have come from the roof than from the ground.

In addition, Luis Jimenez, one of the surviving victims who was never interviewed by defense counsel and did not testify at trial, testified at the evidentiary hearing that the shooters were not teenagers and were at least 25-30 years old. Anthony and Cole were teenagers at the time. Jimenez also testified that he had studied the people in the six-packs and live lineups, wanting to make identification because the police said they had caught the perpetrators, but he simply did not recognize anyone.

The court ordered Anthony released on his own recognizance, pending the completion of release paperwork.

Paige Kanab and Obie Anthony

Paige Kaneb with client Obie Anthony


October 27, 2011

Veritas Initiative, Innocence Project, Innocence Project New Orleans and Voices of Innocence Will Embark on Nationwide Tour Seeking Policy Reforms to Prevent Prosecutorial Misconduct
Death Row Exoneree John Thompson, Who Was Stripped of His $14 Million Civil Award for Prosecutorial Misconduct by the U.S. Supreme Court, Will Headline Events

Contact: Audrey Redmond, 408-554-4790, cell 408-396-1360, alredmond@scu.edu
Paul Cates, 212-364-5346, cell 917-566-1294, pcates@innocenceproject.org

(Washington, D.C. – October 27, 2011) Today the Northern California Innocence Project’s Veritas Initiative, the Innocence Project, the Innocence Project New Orleans, and Voices of Innocence announced plans to conduct a nationwide tour, “Prosecutorial Oversight: A National Dialogue in the Wake of Connick v. Thompson,” to explore policy reforms to prevent prosecutorial misconduct. John Thompson, who lost his appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 and was stripped of his $14 million civil award for the intentional misconduct that caused his wrongful murder conviction and near execution, will headline forums across the country with policy makers and prosecutors to spark a national dialogue on possible solutions.

“As someone who came within days of being put to death because of the intentional misconduct of prosecutors at the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office, I’m all too familiar with what can go wrong when the enormous power of prosecutors goes unchecked,” said Thompson, Founder and Director of Resurrection After Exoneration and Voices of Innocence; “My case was not an isolated incident. Of the six men who received the death penalty at the hands of one of my prosecutors, five had their convictions reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct. I know that most prosecutors are as bothered by this behavior as I am, and I call on them to help us find a way to make prosecutors’ offices more accountable.”

The tour, which will include stops in Arizona, California, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, will bring together participants from all aspects of the criminal justice system including legal ethics professors, members of bar disciplinary committees, prosecutors and judges. At the end of the tour, the groups will prepare a report with recommendations for reform.

“We recognize that this is a complex problem. It is not easy to develop internal systems in prosecutors’ offices that effectively distinguish between error and misconduct nor independent institutions outside of their offices that can adequately investigate and remedy misconduct when it occurs. A serious, thoughtful, constructive discussion of this issue, conducted without posturing or finger pointing, is an appropriate response to John Thompson’s case, which makes it clear that civil suits against prosecutors are virtually impossible,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.

Kathleen Ridolfi, professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and Executive Director of the Northern California Innocence Project and the Veritas Initiative, added, “Allowing this type of misconduct to persist undercuts public trust and undermines prosecutors who do their jobs properly. Prosecutors – who are no doubt just as concerned about misconduct as we are – are in an excellent position to help identify and correct improper prosecutorial actions. Their input will be invaluable as we move forward with collaborative discussions focused on solving this problem.”

At each stop on the tour, the groups will release new state specific research illustrating the scope of the problem. This research will mirror research that was released last year in California by the Veritas Initiative in Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997-2009, which documented 707 instances where an appellate court found misconduct during the 13 year period, but found that only 7 prosecutors were disciplined.

“There’s no question that prosecutors have tremendous responsibility to protect our safety, but everyone suffers when prosecutors put their zeal for winning above finding the truth. We’ve seen too many situations where the innocent are unjustly punished because of prosecutorial misconduct. The current mechanisms of accountability are not working. These forums are an important step towards reform that is long overdue,” said Angela Davis, professor of law at American University’s Washington College of Law and author of Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor.

Questions that panelists will discuss at the forums will include:

• What are the systems we rely upon to ensure prosecutorial accountability?
• What does research-based evidence tell us about how well those systems are working?
• What improvements should be made to these systems to ensure quality and accountability?

A video of today’s press conference and additional information about “Prosecutorial Oversight: A National Dialogue in the Wake of Connick v. Thompson” is available at www.prosecutorialoversight.org.