Wrongful Convictions

The case of Clint Broden’s client Michael Arena, who walked out of prison on June 1, 2012, almost 13 years into a 20-year prison sentence, was a high profile example in Texas of a wrongful conviction.

But according to a new registry of wrongful convictions compiled by the University of Michigan Law School in a joint project with Northwestern University Law School, it is far from an isolated case. The registry includes more than 2,000 wrongful convictions.

Our client was incarcerated for molesting a young cousin who later said the incident never happened.

We see many miscarriages of justice in Texas. In some cases later evidence has even pointed to the wrong person receiving the ultimate sanction of the death penalty for a crime they did not commit.

The erroneous convictions in the National Registry of Exonerations range from drug crimes to child sex abuse cases. The cases span many decades and include male and female suspects of all races. There are 36 cases listed in Dallas alone.

“Most of the convictions came from falsified crime scenes, eyewitness mistakes and misconduct by authorities including both police officers and prosecutors,” NBC news reported.

The media highlighted the alarming conviction of Thomas Kennedy, who was 31 when he was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2001 after he was accused by his teenage daughter of raping her at their home in Washington.

Kennedy was freed this year. In January his daughter Cassandra, told police she invented the rape story because she wanted he father to “go away,” because he drank alcohol and smoked marijuana.

The 22 year old told authorities, key evidence of trauma to her genitals resulted from sexual encounters with a boy in her class.
The case is alarming because of the apparent strength of the evidence against Kennedy that included his daughter demonstrating her ordeal using stuffed animals as props in the court room.

In other cases investigators were to blame. David Lee Gavitt of Michigan was sentenced to life without parole for arson and murder in 1986, after escaping a home fire that killed his wife and two young daughters.

On June 5, 2012, he was exonerated after a new analysis of the evidence from the blaze that found “no proof that it was deliberately set. Experts concluded that the original investigators had relied on a mix of junk science and ‘arson myths,’ and that one investigator misread the results of the tests he performed,” states the registry report.

Another high profile miscarriage of justice was the case of Edward Baker who spent 24 years in prison after he was accused of a killing by a convicted felon and schizophrenic with a drug habit in Philadelphia.

Barker received a life sentence for the murder of a man in 1974. He told police he was at a wake in another part of town at the time of the murder. His attorney failed to challenge witnesses. The conviction was overturned in 2000.

The registry documents more than 2,000 wrongful convictions in the United States since 1989.

These sad cases in which men and women have spent often considerable amounts of time behind bars for crimes they never committed illustrates how evidence in criminal trials should never be taken at face value. It also highlights the need for effective criminal defense attorneys.

Mick Mickelsen is a nationally recognized criminal trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience defending people charged with white-collar crimes, drug offenses, sex crimes, murder, and other serious state and federal offenses.