Tag Archives: false conviction

Innocent Man Framed For Murder by LVMPD Detectives and Las Vegas Prosecutors Freed After 22 Years in Prison

Demarlo Berry Released From Prison Innocence ProjectLast week, Demarlo Berry was released from a Nevada prison after serving 22 years for a murder he didn’t commit. He had been sentenced to life without parole in prison for a 1994 robbery at a Las Vegas Carl’s Jr. and the murder of Charles Burkes, the manager.

Based on media reports of his release, you would think that the Clark County District Attorney’s Office had supported and even played a significant role in his exoneration. That’s far from the truth, though.

Via the Las Vegas Review Journal:

For years, Berry’s legal team has asserted that incredible trial testimony, as well as a written confession from another man in 2013, proves their client was wrongly convicted.

A Clark County judge on Wednesday signed the order of dismissal that secures the release. The Clark County district attorney’s office had agreed to dismiss the case Tuesday, following a monthslong (sic) investigation by members of the office’s newly formed conviction review unit.

Prosecutors for years had fought Berry’s claims of innocence with assertions of his guilt, but on Thursday they hailed the case as the first release resulting from the review unit established in October.

“They’ve finally done what we think they should have done all along,” (lawyer Craig) Coburn said.

For years, Coburn along with the Rocky Mountain Innocence Project had been fighting to prove he had been falsely convicted. However, Las Vegas prosecutors had fought just as hard against his release. That includes even after the real killer confessed all the way back in 2013.

Steven Jackson, who has been in prison in California for a separate murder since 1996, had voluntarily confessed and in the process provided details only the person who had committed the crime could possibly know. In addition, a woman provided an independent statement that Jackson had confessed to her shortly after the murder occurred.

In fact, the reality is that district attorneys, along with police officers from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, manufactured witness testimony against Berry to ensure his conviction. As can be heard in the audio file embedded below (at approx. 6:30), that witness later recanted his claim that Berry had made a jailhouse confession.

In the process, Richard Iden also stated that detectives from the LVMPD coached him on what to say and provided him with details of the crime to bolster his testimony. As reward for that false testimony, Iden was given a favorable plea deal. He was also paid off with free plane tickets home to Ohio to visit his family, a free hotel room during the trial, and cash “per diem” payments.

Of course, while District Attorney Steve Wolfson is busy patting himself on the back for “causing the release of Demarlo Berry from prison after 22 years,” there’s been no mention whatsoever of any sort of accountability for the prosecutors and detectives who illegally manufactured evidence in order to put him there. Nor is there any mention of why it took four years after the real killer had admitted his own guilt before they finally decided to stop fighting that release.

And BTW, Nevada is one of eighteen states in the country that don’t provide any sort of compensation to people who have been exonerated after false convictions. So, unlike the guy the prosecutors paid off to provide false testimony at his trial, Berry will get nothing from the State of Nevada for the decades he was wrongfully imprisoned.

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Denver Police Sued by Man Coerced Into Murder Confession at Age of Fourteen

When he was just fourteen years old Lawrence Lorenzo Montoya, was arrested on suspicion of having committed a murder. Initially, he continually insisted that he was innocent and other evidence also indicated that was the case.

In spite of that, Denver detectives concealed the evidence that would exonerate him and eventually bullied and coerced him into a confession. Montoya subsequently was convicted based on that false confession and ended up spending thirteen years in prison before his innocence was proven by DNA evidence and he was released.

Now he’s filed a $30 million dollar lawsuit against the Denver Police Department, as well as the city and county of Denver over the life sentence he received for the wrongful conviction in the murder of Emily Johnson, a Denver teacher, on New Years Day 2000.

Via Fox 31 Denver:

Denver homicide detectives grilled Montoya for 2 1/2 hours, most of the time without even a parent present.

Attorney Lisa Polansky said they were, “Yelling and screaming in his face, making up evidence, banging on the table and cornering him against the wall. Telling him he’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison and should say goodbye to his mother.”

Lawrence Lorenzo Montoya Denver DetectiveThe police interrogation tape shows detectives lying to Montoya about the evidence and statement from other teens. Montoya told police that he was joy-riding in the stolen car the next day but did not commit the crime, wasn’t there when it happened and did not know anything about it.

According to the lawsuit, at least 65 times Montoya told police he did not have anything to do with the death. Finally, sobbing, he told police what they wanted to hear.

“I without a doubt believe he was coerced,” Polansky said.

“He ends up being convicted of a crime because the police coerced him to confess,” attorney David Fisher said.

According to the lawsuit, the interrogation tape shows detectives coaching Montoya through the false confession. It accuses police of ignoring or lying about other evidence that cleared Montoya.

Montoya was charged as an adult, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.  He spent 13 years, seven months and 13 days behind bars until a judge vacated the conviction in 2014 after new DNA testing exonerated him.

Lawrence Lorenzo Montoya Denver False ConvictionFisher said it’s hard to understand why an innocent person would confess, but points out 44 percent of juveniles exonerated by DNA were coerced into false confessions.

“To me there’s nothing worse than a kid who at 14 years old went into an adult prison facility.  It could be avoided and it needs to be avoided,” he said.

Added Polansky: “The district attorneys need to admit their mistake and I think it’s more than a mistake. Their intentional conduct in fabricating and continuing this injustice.”

Not surprisingly, Montoya’s lawyer says that he is having a hard time readjusting to society after those Heroes from the Denver PD purposely cost him roughly half of his life up to this point, in spite of the fact they knew he wasn’t guilty of the murder and had evidence to show that.

And of course, regardless of what amount the taxpayers will be forced to pay Montoya once the lawsuit settles, they will not be punished in any way whatsoever for their intentional acts.

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Cop’s Lies Sent 14 Year Old to Prison for 9 Years, Even Though Real Killer Confessed Weeks After Sentencing

Davontae Sanford James Tolbert Detroit
On Tuesday, a Detroit man who had been in prison since the age of fourteen, due to false testimony by a Detroit police deputy, had his conviction overturned.

Davontae Sanford had received a sentence of 37 to 90 years in prison after being advised by the attorney that originally represented him to plead guilty to four counts of second degree murder for a quadruple homicide in 2007.

Just two weeks after Sanford was sentenced for the murders, the real killer confessed to those murders, along with eight others. In spite of that confession, Sanford remained in prison until his current age of 23. Vincent Smothers, a professional hitman, also signed an affidavit detailing his confession and stating that Sanford was in no way involved in the crime.

Now that his innocence has finally been established, the (unnamed) lawyer who advised him to plead guilty has been suspended from practicing law.

Also, Detroit Police Deputy Chief James Tolbert, whose false testimony was largely responsible for Sanford being charged in the case, was fired. Prior to that, he had been hired as the police chief in Flint, Michigan.

Via USA Today:

Davontae SanfordThe announcement of Sanford’s release comes after Michigan State Police launched an investigation into the killings last year and submitted their findings to (Prosecutor Kym) Worthy’s office last month.

That report included a recorded interview with Detroit Police Deputy Chief James Tolbert in which the cop contradicted testimony that Sanford had drawn a detailed diagram of the crime scene, including location of the victims’ bodies, when the boy was questioned by police in 2007, according to the prosecutor’s office.

“This called into question Tolbert’s credibility in the case,” the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement.

Tolbert, who went to serve as the Flint, Mich., police department chief in 2013, was fired from that position earlier this year.

Sanford — who was assisted in his legal battle by Dykema Gossett, the Michigan Innocence Clinic, the Northwestern Center for the Wrongful Convictions of Youth, and Michigan’s State Appellate Defender’s Office — could be released from prison as early as Wednesday.

James TolbertIncidentally, Tolbert was a subject of controversy almost immediately after he was hired as the police chief in Flint in 2013. At the time, he was being sued by a Detroit detective who claimed he had blocked his efforts to investigate the killing of a stripper.

The stripper, Tamara Greene, was supposedly murdered to help cover up a scandal involving a party at former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s home. The lawsuit claimed that Tolbert and other Detroit police officials prevented Odell Godbold from doing a full investigation of the murder in order to protect Kilpatrick.

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2015 Was a Record Year For Exonerations of Wrongfully Convicted Prisoners

As originally reported by Mother Jones, a report from the University of Michigan Law School has declared that 2015 set a new record for the highest amount of people that have been freed after it was proven that they were wrongfully convicted. As detailed in the report, there were several reasons why innocent people ended up behind bars. that ranged from outright misconduct by prosecutors and police to those pressured into taking a plea bargain even though they were actually innocent.

Shockingly, there were actually 75 total cases in which no actual crime (even victimless ones) were even committed in the first place. Also, included within the 149 people released were five individuals awaiting the death penalty. Pointed out within the report is the fact that a combination of those two factors led to the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in Texas, in spite of a wide range of evidence that the fire his three children died in was accidental and not a case of arson, for which he was convicted and subsequently killed.

It’s also worth noting that the vast majority of those wrongfully convicted resulted from the War On (Some) Drugs, many of which even if they had been valid would have involved non-violent victimless “crimes” in the first place.

Included below is the MotherJones.com article detailing the report and its conclusions:

Call it the Serial effect. According to a new report from the University of Michigan Law School’s National Registry of Exonerations, 2015 set a record for the number of wrongly convicted Americans who finally found justice. There were 149 people last year who were either declared innocent or otherwise cleared of the consequences of their convictions or guilty pleas. Many had served some lengthy prison time—the average exoneree had served nearly 15 years—for crimes they did not commit.

The data in the report paints a disturbing portrait of a criminal justice system riven with errors and official misconduct. Among the lowlights:

  • Innocent but pleaded guilty: An extraordinary number of the exonerations came in cases in which the defendants had pleaded guilty (65 out of 149), more than in any previous year since the registry started in 1989. These were mostly drug cases but also included eight homicides. Those who pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit tended to be mentally ill, intellectually disabled, or under the threat of an even longer prison sentence should they try to go to trial.
  • No-crime crimes: Seventy-five exonerations came in cases where it turned out no crime had even been committed. A number of these were old murder cases involving arson. They brought to mind the sad story of Cameron Todd Willingham, whom Texas executed in 2004 for allegedly murdering his three children through arson, despite significant evidence that the forensic arson investigation that led to his conviction was mostly bogus. Those same sorts of bogus fire investigations played a role in five of six of the homicide cases that led to exonerations last year in cases where officials ruled that no crime had been committed. In those cases, the defendants were luckier than Willingham: The fires that led to their murder convictions were shown to be accidents, not arson, and their convictions were vacated.
  • False confessions: In 27 of the exonerations in 2015, including 22 homicide cases, the defendants confessed to crimes they hadn’t committed. Many of these people were juveniles, mentally ill, or intellectually disabled—precisely the folks currently overrepresented on death row.
  • Official misconduct: Prosecutors and cops don’t come out looking good in the new report. Official misconduct was a factor in 75 percent of the homicide exonerations, a number that’s even bigger in the cases where there were false confessions. Eighty-two percent of those were the product of misconduct by cops or prosecutors.
  • Death penalty errors: Five of the exonerees in 2015 were death row inmates, three of whom had been there more than 20 years—more evidence of serious flaws in the capital punishment system.

National Registry of Exonerations

The exonerations were clustered in jurisdictions where local prosecutors had made significant efforts to reform their practices to prevent wrongful convictions. The largest number came from Harris County, Texas, where a new assistant district attorney in the post-conviction review section discovered that a lot of the cases coming through her office involved defendants who’d pleaded guilty to a drug crime, only to have lab work come back months later showing that the stuff cops had seized from the defendants wasn’t actually a controlled substance.

Washington Post columnist Radley Balko has dug into this issue and found that Harris County isn’t the only place with the problem. The field tests cops use to test for drugs are notoriously unreliable, and they’ve mistaken everything from chocolate chip cookies to cheese and tortilla dough for drugs. Nonetheless, the false guilty pleas—usually made under pressure and the threat of even longer prison sentences from a jury trial—often aren’t thrown out when later testing finds an absence of drugs. In 2014, the Harris County district attorney’s office launched a Conviction Integrity Unit to try addressing such problems. The result is a startling number of drug crime exonerations just from that one office—73 of them so far.

Such units within prosecutors’ offices offer hope for reforms to the criminal justice system. But the new report suggests they have a mixed record that can depend largely on the drive of an individual prosecutor rather than systemic support. Harris County has shown lots of promise, as has a unit in Brooklyn, which has been responsible for the exoneration of 16 murder defendants in the past two years. A more discouraging example came in New Orleans, which launched a Conviction Integrity Unit during the district attorney’s reelection campaign, in partnership with the local Innocence Project. According to the report, the unit kicked off in January 2015, worked on a single exoneration, and gave it up a year later.

Media accounts and shows like Serial and Making a Murderer have raised awareness about the problems with the criminal justice system and the prevalence of wrongful convictions, but the report urges caution before declaring victory. “As with climate change, the significance of the issue of false convictions is now widely acknowledged, despite committed doubters,” the authors write. “In other respects, we are far behind. We have no measure of the magnitude of the problem, no general plan for how to address it, and certainly no general commitment to do so. We’ve made a start, but that’s all.”

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A Small Town Injustice

The following post was submitted by Jedediah Mountz, via the CopBlock.org submissions page.

Date of Incident: December 1, 2014
Officer Involved: Officer Pitts – Badge Number 1064
Department Involved: Virginia State Police
Department Phone Number: (757) 253-4923

On Dec. 1st 2014, I was at night school after a long day off work like I would do five times a week. I go to school in Norfolk, VA at Advance Technology Institute. My classes are normally from 5:45 to 10:45, Monday thru Thursday. My friend and I usually ride our bikes to class and ride home together because honestly it is safer that way.

We left class early that night around 10:20 and we had to make a stop in Portsmouth, VA to let the dog of a friend, who was out of town, out. Then we left Portsmouth around 11:10, got on Interstate 264, and traveled along Interstate 664 through the Monitor and Merrimac Tunnel. Once we got to Mercury Blvd. and Interstate 64, we parted ways because he lives near Ft. Eustis and I live In Smithfield, VA. That was at about 11:30.

I then traveled, like I normally do, all the way across the James River Bridge (JRB) into Smithfeild. I made it all the way to my road, which is Scott’s Factory Road, where I came upon a road block. As soon as I came to the road block, I stopped my bike, took my helmet off, and shut my bike off because I could see lights ahead of the roadblock. Then an Isle of Wight sheriff‘s deputy started questioning me about where I had been and where I was going.

I had nothing to hide, so I recounted my story and told him I am just going home because I was tired. I was literally less then a half a mile from my house. He said he was investigating a motorcycle running from the cops on the JRB. I said what http://www.isleofwightsheriffsoffice.com/is the description of the rider you are looking for and he said just a dark colored motorcycle. I told him as you can see I am riding a bright red 2003 Kawasaki 636. So obviously that couldn’t be me.

Next thing I know, another cop pulled up behind me. This second cop was Officer Pitts. He never saw my face before he said I was the person he was chasing. Then I was arrested and booked for felony evading and reckless driving. So, after I got bonded out of jail for this offense, I started working on my case. I ended up hiring a lawyer by the name of Shawn Cline (757-209-2328) I was confident by the way he talked about what he could do for me so I payed him his fee of 5000 dollars.

When preliminary court came I was told not to testify and that only Officer Pitts could testify. There was a court reporter there recording everything that was said. When asked questions about the case by the lawyer during cross examination, a lot of Officer Pitts answers were “I don’t know” and ” I didn’t take any notes.” So, at this point, I am like wow, how can you not know and take any notes but still want to convict me for something I didn’t do?

When the final court date happened on October 21, 2015, I had all my witnesses and all my evidence ready to show to the judge to prove my innocence. Officer Pitts testified that he was heading toward Newport News, VA on the JRB when he clocked a motorcycle traveling 136 mph going toward Smithfield on the other sided of the bridge. From where he clocked the bike, the rider had less than a mile left till the end of the bridge.

Officer Pitts testified that he was able to go to the drawbridge, which was close to a mile ahead of him, turn around, and catch up to the bike before the bike got off the bridge. How is that physically possible since the cop car he was in tops out at 145 mph? At that speed, it would have take the bike 20 seconds to reach the end of the bridge. Meanwhile, the cop car would have taken close to 50 seconds to travel that distance.

He then testified that after he caught up the bike he was able to get within five feet of the bike. He could still not identify what the rider was wearing, the license plate number, or anything other than that it was a dark colored bike. He chased the rider until he got to the intersection of Scott’s Factory Road and Turner Drive. He then lost sight of the rider and called off the chase, but stayed in the area to try and locate the rider.

Around 1138, as this rider was traveling at high rate of speed, he passed my house and the reason I know this is because my girlfriend was outside because she heard a bike coming and wanted to see if it was me. She testified in court that it was a black bike and the rider was wearing all black. After that, he ran into a police road block at the intersection of Scott’s Factory Road and Rt 258. He then turned around and yet again headed toward my house, as my girlfriend was waiting outside. If it was me, why wouldn’t I have just pulled into my driveway either time passing my house, since there were no cops in sight?

During the time the cops were chasing this guy, one of the cops lost control of their vehicle and rode into the woods. They then set up a road block, so they could get their fellow officer out of the trees. From the time Officer Pitts called off the chase until the time I came to the road block was about 40 minutes. A lot can happen in forty minutes.

10422603_966495986694064_4637221018326062907_nThat night was I wearing some very noticeable clothes. I had an American flag helmet that during the court preceding no cop identified that as being what the rider was wearing. I was also wearing a black motorcycle vest with a large red duct tape “P” on the back. In addition, my license plate was personalized ” jedbke.” If you’re a cop and you’re right behind someone, you’re definitely going to notice these things.

I also want to point out that the chase started at 11:20 and I was riding with someone until 11:30, miles away from where the chase started . So how could I be somewhere else? However, when the judge returned the verdict he said why would three cops make up a story and that me and all my witnesses must be liars. After I was convicted my lawyer told me he doesn’t do appeals, which I think is really shady that he couldn’t he tell me that before. It was like all he wanted was his money.

A little about myself: I have been in the Navy for 12 years and I have three kids. I have never ran from the cops, have never been in trouble like this before, and am terrified what is going to happen at sentencing on January 20, 2016. I know I didn’t do this, but I have been out of work for so long because of this that I have no way to defend myself against something I really didn’t do. I have all the evidence to prove my innocence, but I believe I got an unfair trial. If I go jail, my family won’t be able to make the rent and then they will be homeless. Please post this and get the word out that I am innocent

– Jedediah Mountz

Editor’s Note: According to the Virginia Courts website, Mountz was found guilty and sentenced to 3 years with 2 years and 5 months suspended for felony eluding police and also a 12-month suspended sentence for misdemeanor reckless driving. He has already begun serving the 7 months that were not suspended.  He has a GoFundMe set up to assist with an appeal.

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