Thursday, December 17, 2009

James Bain Exonerated After 35 Years of Wrongful Incarceration

This morning Christmas came early for James (Jamie) Bain when a judge in Polk County vacated his conviction and dropped all charges against him. Jamie had been in prison for 35 years for a crime that DNA testing proved he didn't commit. He was only 19 years old when he went into prison and today he walks out a 54-year-old man.

Jamie submitted handwritten motions four times seeking DNA testing, but he was denied each time. He was denied the fifth time, too, but an appeals court overturned that denial. The Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) stepped in to assist Mr. Bain, and he was finally able to get the DNA testing he'd wanted for so many years, and which ultimately proved his innocence.

Jamie Bain is looking forward to seeing his mother in Tampa, and spending the holidays as a free man with his family. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

Watch CNN video of the press conference immediately following Jamie's release.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

New Website and Blog for the Innocence Project of Florida!

It's a good day at the Innocence Project of Florida, because I get to announce the launch of our brand new website and branding!

Our new logo features prominently the state of Florida with a dawning sun; the blue and yellow represent freedom, hope, optimism and light.

Our new website has launched over at and our redesigned blog can be found at

This represents the culmination of a lot of hard work on our part, we're absolutely ecstatic that we get to introduce you all to our new site, and we know that it will help us deliver information to the public, rally readers to the cause, and, ultimately, better accomplish our goal of freeing innocent people from Florida prisons.

Make sure you update your bookmarks for our blog, as this is the last post that we will put here on Blogspot. The old posts and comments have been moved over to the new website, and this blog is being mothballed.

Thanks for being a reader. We hope you enjoy our new site. Make sure to drop us a line if you have a comment or a question!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Alan Crotzer to Testify Before Congressional Subcommittee on Indigent Defense

Alan Crotzer to Testify Before Congressional Subcommittee on Indigent Defense
Florida Man Spent 24 Years in Prison for Someone Else’s Crime

On Thursday, June 4, Alan Crotzer will join two other members of the National Committee on the Right to Counsel when he testifies before the Congressional House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security about the crisis facing indigent defense in America. Mr. Crotzer was wrongfully convicted and served 24 and a half years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit due to a lackluster effort by his court-appointed defense counsel.

Mr. Crotzer was arrested in 1981 in St. Petersburg and charged with several crimes stemming from a double-kidnapping and rape that took place in Tampa. An eyewitness ID from a suggestive photo lineup was the trigger that set in motion a chain of events, from arrest to conviction to incarceration, that Mr. Crotzer said “profoundly affected [his] life in unimaginable ways.” In a prepared statement, he thanked two lawyers from New York, David Menschel and Sam Roberts, who “put their lives on hold” and spent thousands of dollars to prove his innocence with DNA testing. Their performance, he said, stands in stark contrast to that of his appointed counsel.

In his statement, Mr. Crotzer listed the failings of his defense attorney – including ignoring his innocence claim and encouraging him to accept a plea to 25 years, meeting with Mr. Crotzer on only a few occasions before trial, failing to subpoena and interview alibi witnesses, and failing to sever his case from a co-defendant, whose disastrous self-representation at trial likely served to incriminate Mr. Crotzer by association. Mr. Crotzer says this confluence of feckless actions made his wrongful conviction “not only possible, but probable.”

Public defenders’ offices around the country have seen their funding slashed in recent years and faced dire straits even before the current national recession. According to a recent report by the Constitution Project titled Justice Denied, the State of Florida, where Mr. Crotzer was convicted, has seen its county budgets for defense counsel cut by millions of dollars. Some counties have resorted to charging convicts – many of them indigent – special fees to cover the costs of their trials. Several public defenders’ offices in Florida have chosen to outright refuse to take new cases, citing their inability to fulfill their constitutional obligation to provide an adequate defense.

Mr. Crotzer now works with at-risk youth as an Intervention Specialist at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and with the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF), where he raises awareness of criminal justice issues. He hopes his testimony will be the beginning of a real interest by Congress in reforming America’s system of indigent defense so that stories like his “will become infrequent, rather than a constant refrain.”

The Innocence Project of Florida is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to finding and freeing innocent people from Florida prisons. Alan Crotzer is a member of IPF’s Board of Directors.

The National Committee on the Right to Counsel is a bipartisan committee of independent experts representing all segments of America’s justice system created by the Constitution Project and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. The Committee examines whether poor defendants are being provided with competent, experienced lawyers who have the necessary resources to defend them, and to create consensus recommendations for any necessary reforms. Their report
Justice Denied can be found online at Alan Crotzer is a member of the National Committee on the Right to Counsel.

# # #

Information about the Hearing:
Indigent Representation: A Growing National Crisis
House Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security
Thursday, June 4, 2009 9:30 AM
2141 Rayburn House Office Building

Visit IPF's Website by clicking here; sign up to volunteer by clicking here; contribute to our work by clicking here.

Troy Davis waits in limbo

Troy Davis was granted a stay by the 11th circuit which ran out almost two weeks ago. He has filed a petition with the Supreme Court of the United States, but there is no telling whether they will take the case, and if they do, which way they will rule. It could be weeks or months before they make a move. In the mean time, Troy Davis waits in a prison cell, put there for a crime he almost certainly didn't commit. Seven of the nine witnesses who testified against him – the nine witnesses that composed the entirety of the prosecution's case – have since recanted or contradicted their previous testimony. Still, Troy struggles in vain to have this new evidence heard in a court.

As Troy's case continues to draw attention, eyes are focusing on the new District Attorney in Savannah, Larry Chisolm, Chatham county's first black DA. This article from the Los Angeles Times plays up the racial implications and tensions running through Troy's case now that Chisolm is in power. (Troy, a black man, was convicted of shooting an off-duty white police officer in 1989.)

Though the compelling nature of the evidence that entitles Troy to a new trial transcends racial boundaries, the LA Times does not overlook the complications stemming from Chisolm's race. The article quickly moves, however, to its main focus, which is whether DA Chisolm would have the power to intervene, should the Supreme Court render the expected denial.

[Chisolm] could ask the state parole board to postpone the execution and open a new investigation, as Davis' attorneys have requested. That would be a bold move for a rookie elected official: Both the Georgia Supreme Court and the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Davis a new trial, in part because courts view recantations as inherently suspect.
Chisolm finds himself in a difficult place, likely to anger blacks with nonintervention but irk conservatives and whites should he interpose himself and intervene. The world waits on tenterhooks for Chisolm – or less likely, the Supreme Court – to do the right thing.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bill Dillon on TV: Talking About Compensation

As it turns out, after the Florida Today story came out (Ryan blogged it earlier), many in the media rightfully realized that Bill Dillon's struggle to get compensated is an important story.

Bill Dillon will appear on local Orlando/Space Coast TV news tonight:

Channels 2 & 6 at 6:00pm; and
Channel 33 at 10:00pm.

Check it out!

Dillon won't be paid for time spent in prison

That is the title of this article from Florida Today that was just published. The gist of the article is this: because Flrodia's Victims of Wrongful Incarceration statute, passed last year, has a "clean hands" provision, barring anyone with prior felonies from being awarded compensation, William Dillon will not be paid by the state for his 27 years of wrongful incarceration. If it sounds obviously unjust to you, that's because it is.

What the state is in essence saying is that Dillon is not entitled to, or does not deserve, the money because of his prior felony conviction, which was a DUI and possession of a controlled substance in 1979. Dillon plead to that crime, did his time and paid the fine. He ought to stand redeemed in the eyes of the state vis-à-vis that crime.

"It's a shame that a nonviolent drug conviction from when Mr. Dillon was 19 years old would bar him from being compensated under the new Victims of Wrongful Incarceration statute," attorney Melissa Montle of the Innocence Project of Florida said. "He now has to file a claims bill during a recession in order to be rightfully compensated for the 27 years he spent in prison for a crime he did not commit."
Several of the comments on the article make good points, albeit blunt and somewhat inelegant. Most are rightfully angry at the state for what is clearly an injustice. Most say things like, "The state made a mistake, time to pay up." That's a sentiment I can get behind 100%, mostly because it's absolutely correct. I like this one from Augnoz especially, because it sounds like something I would exclaim when not speaking in an official capacity for this organization: "Dillon got the shaft, correct this travesty."

But one comment is so dangerously false that it merits my correction. earthwateruser says, among other things, that "A compensation bill for wrongful imprisonment for 27 years shouldn't be a difficult thing to accomplish [this legislative session]," and points to the number of compensation bills that get passed each year. This is simply not true. Out of Florida's 10 DNA exonerees, only two have been compensated. Under this new bill, the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration statute, it is not clear that a single person has been awarded compensation. It is not easy. It is not common.

GenPop also chimes in and Courtney makes a good point when she asks, "Is [this] not then a continuation of the punishment for a minor drug offense 30 years after the fact?" It could easily be seen as a punishment in the philosophical sense, since it is an adverse treatment or harm – treatment that would not otherwise be acceptable – in light of some transgression. You might also think that, by letting his wrongful incarceration go unremedied, the state is refusing to admit wrongdoing, and letting it stand as an acceptable act of punishment against his previous offense.

Monday, June 1, 2009

CBLA conviction overturned in Colorado

After the FBI in 2005 abandoned a faulty scientific procedure called comparative bullet lead analysis, by which they claimed they could match bullets from a crime scene to a specific box of bullets found somewhere else, a joint task force was created consisting of national organizations such as the Innocence Project in New York and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The Innocence Project of Florida was appointed as the "point office" for issues related to CBLA in Florida.

Last Sunday, the Associated Press wrote an article about Tim Kennedy, a Colorado man whose conviction has been thrown out, partly because of comparative bullet lead analysis. (You'll recall that Jimmy Ates, a client of the Innocence Project of Florida, was the first person in the nation to have his conviction thrown due to the FBI's disavowal of CBLA.)

During an interview Thursday at the Limon Correctional Facility on the Eastern Plains about 95 miles east of Denver, Kennedy cherished the thought of being a free man. Apart from spending time with his sister and brother, one of the first things Kennedy would do if he is freed is get a steak dinner...

At trial, the only physical evidence linking Kennedy to the crime was the FBI's comparative bullet lead analysis, which purported to be able to trace a bullet from a crime scene to a box of bullets in a suspect's possession. That technique has since been discredited as "exceeding the limits of science" and the FBI stopped the analysis in 2005.
Tragically, both of Kennedy's parents died within the last four years, so they will not get to rejoice in his release. But Kennedy has fond memories and nothing but gratitude for his parents' solidarity and support: "There are times when it brings you to tears when you think about how lucky you are, how things have worked out, how your family stayed with you... You know, I'll never forget my parents. They spent their life savings (on his defense). Even after that you know, they stuck with me through the rest of their lives."