Category Archives: Prosecutorial Misconduct

Who Polices The Prosecutors?

From the NYtimes.com

I SPENT 18 years in prison for robbery and murder, 14 of them on death row. I’ve been free since 2003, exonerated after evidence covered up by prosecutors surfaced just weeks before my execution date. Those prosecutors were never punished. Last month, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 to overturn a case I’d won against them and the district attorney who oversaw my case, ruling that they were not liable for the failure to turn over that evidence — which included proof that blood at the robbery scene wasn’t mine.

Because of that, prosecutors are free to do the same thing to someone else today.

I was arrested in January 1985 in New Orleans. I remember the police coming to my grandmother’s house — we all knew it was the cops because of how hard they banged on the door before kicking it in. My grandmother and my mom were there, along with my little brother and sister, my two sons — John Jr., 4, and Dedric, 6 — my girlfriend and me. The officers had guns drawn and were yelling. I guess they thought they were coming for a murderer. All the children were scared and crying. I was 22.

They took me to the homicide division, and played a cassette tape on which a man I knew named Kevin Freeman accused me of shooting a man. He had also been arrested as a suspect in the murder. A few weeks earlier he had sold me a ring and a gun; it turned out that the ring belonged to the victim and the gun was the murder weapon.

My picture was on the news, and a man called in to report that I looked like someone who had recently tried to rob his children. Suddenly I was accused of that crime, too. I was tried for the robbery first. My lawyers never knew there was blood evidence at the scene, and I was convicted based on the victims’ identification.

After that, my lawyers thought it was best if I didn’t testify at the murder trial. So I never defended myself, or got to explain that I got the ring and the gun from Kevin Freeman. And now that I officially had a history of violent crime because of the robbery conviction, the prosecutors used it to get the death penalty.

I remember the judge telling the courtroom the number of volts of electricity they would put into my body. If the first attempt didn’t kill me, he said, they’d put more volts in.

On Sept. 1, 1987, I arrived on death row in the Louisiana State Penitentiary — the infamous Angola prison. I was put in a dead man’s cell. His things were still there; he had been executed only a few days before. That past summer they had executed eight men at Angola. I received my first execution date right before I arrived. I would end up knowing 12 men who were executed there.

Over the years, I was given six execution dates, but all of them were delayed until finally my appeals were exhausted. The seventh — and last — date was set for May 20, 1999. My lawyers had been with me for 11 years by then; they flew in from Philadelphia to give me the news. They didn’t want me to hear it from the prison officials. They said it would take a miracle to avoid this execution. I told them it was fine — I was innocent, but it was time to give up.

But then I remembered something about May 20. I had just finished reading a letter from my younger son about how he wanted to go on his senior class trip. I’d been thinking about how I could find a way to pay for it by selling my typewriter and radio. “Oh, no, hold on,” I said, “that’s the day before John Jr. is graduating from high school.” I begged them to get it delayed; I knew it would hurt him.

To make things worse, the next day, when John Jr. was at school, his teacher read the whole class an article from the newspaper about my execution. She didn’t know I was John Jr.’s dad; she was just trying to teach them a lesson about making bad choices. So he learned that his father was going to be killed from his teacher, reading the newspaper aloud. I panicked. I needed to talk to him, reassure him.

Amazingly, I got a miracle. The same day that my lawyers visited, an investigator they had hired to look through the evidence one last time found, on some forgotten microfiche, a report sent to the prosecutors on the blood type of the perpetrator of the armed robbery. It didn’t match mine; the report, hidden for 15 years, had never been turned over to my lawyers. The investigator later found the names of witnesses and police reports from the murder case that hadn’t been turned over either.

As a result, the armed robbery conviction was thrown out in 1999, and I was taken off death row. Then, in 2002, my murder conviction was thrown out. At a retrial the following year, the jury took only 35 minutes to acquit me.

The prosecutors involved in my two cases, from the office of the Orleans Parish district attorney, Harry Connick Sr., helped to cover up 10 separate pieces of evidence. And most of them are still able to practice law today.

Why weren’t they punished for what they did? When the hidden evidence first surfaced, Mr. Connick announced that his office would hold a grand jury investigation. But once it became clear how many people had been involved, he called it off.

In 2005, I sued the prosecutors and the district attorney’s office for what they did to me. The jurors heard testimony from the special prosecutor who had been assigned by Mr. Connick’s office to the canceled investigation, who told them, “We should have indicted these guys, but they didn’t and it was wrong.” The jury awarded me $14 million in damages — $1 million for every year on death row — which would have been paid by the district attorney’s office. That jury verdict is what the Supreme Court has just overturned.

I don’t care about the money. I just want to know why the prosecutors who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn’t do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves. There were no ethics charges against them, no criminal charges, no one was fired and now, according to the Supreme Court, no one can be sued.

Worst of all, I wasn’t the only person they played dirty with. Of the six men one of my prosecutors got sentenced to death, five eventually had their convictions reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct. Because we were sentenced to death, the courts had to appoint us lawyers to fight our appeals. I was lucky, and got lawyers who went to extraordinary lengths. But there are more than 4,000 people serving life without parole in Louisiana, almost none of whom have lawyers after their convictions are final. Someone needs to look at those cases to see how many others might be innocent.

If a private investigator hired by a generous law firm hadn’t found the blood evidence, I’d be dead today. No doubt about it.

A crime was definitely committed in this case, but not by me.

John Thompson is the director of Resurrection After Exoneration, a support group for exonerated inmates.

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Ex-Detroit Prosecutor Allowed Lies On Stand: Sentenced To 6 Months In Jail

From ClickonDetroit.com

DETROIT — The Detroit-area’s former top drug prosecutor pleaded guilty Wednesday to misconduct in office and agreed to a six-month jail sentence for covering up the role of a paid police informant in a major cocaine bust.

Karen Plants’ guilty plea follows deals with two former Inkster police officers, leaving a retired Wayne County judge to face trial in May.

Plants, who led the drug unit at the Wayne County prosecutor’s office, has acknowledged allowing an informant and others to lie at a 2005 trial about a 103-pound cocaine seizure. She said it was to protect the man’s safety but conceded in 2006 that “allowing false statements is wrong.”

“This was a case where if one person had done the right thing, we wouldn’t be standing here now,” said Plants’ attorney, Ben Gonek. “The police, the prosecutor, the judge, anyone could have corrected this but didn’t. It was a snowball effect of the large quantity of cocaine, the reputation of the target of the investigation as a large dealer with the potential for violence.”

The man charged in the cocaine case, Alexander Aceval, pleaded guilty after a jury couldn’t reach a verdict at his first trial.

Aceval is in prison until at least 2015. He has been trying to wipe out his guilty plea, arguing that misconduct poisoned the entire legal process, but higher courts have not granted him relief.

The informant, Chad Povish, was paid $4,500 and had hoped to get thousands more. He tipped Inkster police to the big stash and was arrested with Aceval to further cover up his role. But when Aceval went to trial, it was never disclosed to the defense or jury.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said she would not comment on Plants’ guilty plea until after former Judge Mary Waterstone’s trial. The state attorney general’s office is in charge of the case.

“Jail time was a requirement for us because she was the ringleader in a case that has permanently scarred our criminal justice system,” said John Sellek, spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. “This should send the message that no one is above the law, especially those charged with upholding our laws.”

How do you feel about this story? Is this another sign of corruption in Detroit and the way they handle cases?  Our experience with the Detroit Prosecutors Office in the Reginald Burks case was not very good.  We felt Robert A. Stevens did not seek the truth or care about the evidence.  What do you think?

Holly@ambroselawgroup.com

www.thelegendofreginaldburks.com

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Filed under Holly Valente, Police Brutality, Prosecutorial Misconduct