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Forum Post: 300th prisoner in US exonerated based on DNA

Posted 1 year ago on Sept. 28, 2012, 4:32 p.m. EST by ericweiss (575)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

why you should vote for the party that ( generally ) hates the death penalty
[ hint - its not rick perry's party ]

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14 Comments


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[-] 1 points by LeoYo (4859) 1 year ago

Judge exonerates former LA gang member of murder

By LINDA DEUTSCH | Associated Press – 11 hrs ago

http://news.yahoo.com/judge-exonerates-former-la-gang-member-murder-225332190.html

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A courtroom erupted in applause, cheers and shouts of "We love you" as a former gang member imprisoned for 19 years for a murder he didn't commit was exonerated and set free Monday.

John Edward Smith, who was still in jail clothing when he appeared in court, smiled broadly, acknowledging his excited family and friends.

Adding to the Hollywood-style courtroom drama, those applauding for Smith included pop star Chris Brown, who was in the same courtroom for his probation hearing involving the 2009 beating of his then-girlfriend Rihanna.

Outside court, Smith's lawyer Deirdre O'Connor said Brown shook her hand and congratulated her.

"Thank you for your enthusiasm," Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg told the crowd as she vacated Smith's convictions for murder and attempted murder in a gang-related drive-by shooting. Prosecutors told her they were convinced that the lone eyewitness to the 1993 incident had lied at Smith's trial, naming him as the shooter. Smith always maintained he was at his grandmother's house when the shooting occurred several blocks away.

"Thank you for the opportunity to do justice," the judge told lawyers for both sides after she announced her ruling.

Smith, wearing glasses and a tan striped polo shirt, was released from a Los Angeles County jail at about 8:30 p.m. He was greeted by a host of TV cameras.

"I had good days and bad days, I stayed hopeful and that's all I could do," he told the media gathered outside the downtown jail. "I'm not bitter at all, because that ain't going to get me nowhere. I've got to move on."

He said he was looking forward to "going home and seeing my grandmother," who raised him. Family members drove him to her house, which she had mortgaged to pay for his initial defense, O'Connor said.

The grandmother, 79-year-old Laura Neal, used a walker to attend the hearing earlier in the day, and wept when Schnegg announced her decision.

"I always knew he didn't do it," Neal told reporters after court. "I'm happy and sad. But the part of me that was in there with him — I'm free now too."

She said it was difficult to wait through the weekend after Smith's hearing was delayed Friday.

"It was hell," Neal said. "Friday was a big disappointment."

Smith's lawyer, O'Connor, explained, "The closer you get to freedom, the harder it is to wait another day."

The 37-year-old Smith was 18 when he went to prison. He maintained he was at his grandmother's house with family when the shooting took place Sept. 9, 1993, in a gang-infested area.

He said he knew nothing about the crime until his mother called to tell him about it.

The only eyewitness — a victim who was shot and survived — said police pressured him to identify Smith as the shooter.

Prosecutors told the judge they now believe he lied, and Schnegg found the conviction was based on perjured testimony.

Smith's exoneration was pursued by Innocence Matters, a public interest law firm in Torrance.

The eyewitness, Landu Mvuemba, met with Innocence Matters representatives in 2010 and immediately blurted out that he had lied at the trial, said O'Connor, who heads the group.

"Within the first two minutes of the interview, Mvuemba recanted," O'Connor said. Mvuemba was 16 at the time of the shooting.

He told representatives of Innocence Matters, "The police told me they knew who did it," a defense motion stated.

O'Connor said Smith wept when she called him with the news about Mvuemba. "He said, 'Why did he do it? Why did he lie?'" O'Connor recalled.

Mvuemba said police pointed to Smith, whom he had known in elementary school, and told him other witnesses had identified Smith as the shooter. Mvuemba said he also was shown a photo of his friend DeAnthony Williams, who died in the shooting. "I felt a lot of pressure to go along with it," Mvuemba said.

The two victims had been on the street examining the scene of another shooting the night before when a car pulled up and someone opened fire.

Mvuemba said he tried three times to tell authorities that he didn't see enough to testify, but his pleas were ignored.

"Mvuemba knew it was wrong to identify Mr. Smith as the man who shot him," according to the defense motion. "But when he saw his deceased friend's crying mother in the courtroom, he felt as if he had no other choice."

Mvuemba is currently imprisoned on a rape conviction.

Judge Schnegg said she held many meetings with the defense and prosecution in the year since the recanting was disclosed.

She told Smith in court: "You had a very committed attorney, and you had a prosecution team that did the right thing."

Schnegg also said lacked sufficient information to declare Smith factually innocent, but she vacated his convictions for murder and attempted murder, and ordered him released.

O'Connor said Smith's trial was undermined by ineffective assistance of attorneys who failed to investigate the case properly at trial and on appeal. She said lawyers and police often take "shortcuts" in gang cases.

"Mr. Smith was not the shooter," the motion said. "He was not at the scene of the crime."

Smith's sister, Tiana Goodman, 25, said he would be meeting nieces and nephews who were born while he was in prison.

"This is a big day for our family," she said, tears running down her cheeks. "He kept his faith and never gave up."

[-] 1 points by Toba (4) 1 year ago

I will vote for them; because I think that they are the bomb! And if I happen to get in trouble they will help me.

[-] -1 points by MsStacy (1035) 1 year ago

Was that a prisoner under a death sentence or simply a prisoner? Three hundred exonerated out of something like 2.2 million prisoners total isn't that big a deal. It is more serious if you're talking about what would be a 10% error rate among death row inmates.

[-] 2 points by ericweiss (575) 1 year ago

When the state blocks DNA testing because it is too expensive - 1 not guilty man is too many

[-] 2 points by hchc (3297) from Tampa, FL 1 year ago

They have plenty of money to blow holes in the ME and Africa, but no money to make sure the Americans they send to their death are not innocent. That is total bullshit. This entire system is total bullshit.

[-] 0 points by MsStacy (1035) 1 year ago

Errors are regrettable, but they are going to happen. A justice system that seems to properly convict over 99.9% percent of the time isn't exactly treading all over people's rights.

[-] 2 points by ericweiss (575) 1 year ago

unless its your innocent brother who is executed

[-] 1 points by MsStacy (1035) 1 year ago

That touches on my original point, I asked if these 300 individuals were from the general prison population or death row inmates. There are a little over 3000 people awaiting execution currently in the US. A 10% error rate would be another compelling argument to end the death penalty.

I don't mean to be heartless, but there will never be a perfect justice system as long as it involves people. We can't simply ignore crime and when we attempt to judge people there will be mistakes.

[-] 1 points by ericweiss (575) 1 year ago

Yes there are mistakes.

Killing one innocent man is too many
Not using DNA because it is too expensive to free one man is unacceptable.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (4859) 1 year ago

Errors are regrettable only when they're unavoidable. Many has been the case of systematic neglegence and even out right corruption on the part of cops and prosecutors. These cases are only known because someone continues to push for the truth beyond a verdict. At the moment, no one really knows just how far this situation may truly go.

[-] 1 points by MsStacy (1035) 1 year ago

So because we don't know, you assume it's far worse then what we see? It's difficult to get an accurate picture with most convicted felons claiming innocence. The justice system is already weighted in favor of the accused, but it involves human beings and there will always be errors. What do you propose we switch to an honor system? I don't see a viable alternative to the present justice system.

That was part of the reason for my initial question. If this were a matter of errors involving the death penalty we could always simply eliminate that penalty. If the errors occur in regular cases then there is little we can change.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (4859) 1 year ago

Like I said before,

"At the moment, no one really knows just how far this situation may truly go."

So, I don't know how you can conclude

"So because we don't know, you assume it's far worse then what we see?"

Please hold me to what I actually say.

http://news.yahoo.com/judge-exonerates-former-la-gang-member-murder-225332190.html "The only eyewitness — a victim who was shot and survived — said police pressured him to identify Smith as the shooter."

This is just one example of the so-called errors that are actually a result of corruption. Sometimes it's just police corruption, other times it's prosecutor corruption, and of course there are times of both police and prosecutor corruption.

[-] 1 points by MsStacy (1035) 1 year ago

The question mark at the end indicated I was questioning what you meant. Currently we know of about 300 convictions overturned based on DNA, that is an insignificant percentage of actual inmates. Make the error rate one hundred times larger and we might manage to get to 1%.

People in the justice system are going to be what they are; noble, corrupt, over zealous, lazy. Errors are going to happen, it's regrettable, but until something better is developed there isn't a lot we can do.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (4859) 1 year ago

Whether or not the number is 300, I don't know as I never saw any reference to a source claiming this. All I know is that from years of seeing articles about wrongly convicted people, the fault has mainly been prosecutor corruption in supressing evidence to win a case or appealing to legal technicalities to keep a conviction from being overturned. This corruption is apart of a trend of weighing the law against the accused that goes back at least to around the 1830s when plea barganing came into legal popularity to avoid the time and resources in having a person tried by a jury of peers by having the accused witness against himself by pleading guilty to avoid the threat of a heavier sentence regardless of actual innocence. The result is a legal system that openly recognizes that many innocent people can easily be found guilty by the dishonest practices of the prosecution influencing many into pleading guilty for a lighter sentence. So we have these people in addition to innocent people who refuse to plea bargain yet are found guilty. It's not so much that something better needs to be developed as it is that certain corrupting legal practices need to be ended.