Two Brooklyn Men Finally Exonerated of 1992 Murder
Everton Wagstaffe and Reginald Connor, two Brooklyn men found guilty of kidnapping in 1993, were finally fully exonerated on July 27th after an intermediate New York appeals court denied the state’s motion to reargue an earlier decision reversing their convictions and dismissing the indictments against them based on prosecutorial misconduct. Connor served 15 years in prison and Wagstaffe served 23 years. The Innocence Project assisted Myron Beldock, Irving Cohen and Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP in the case.
Wagstaffe and Connor were convicted of the kidnapping of a teenage girl based almost exclusively on the testimony of a police informant with a substance abuse problem who claimed to have seen Wagstaffe abduct the girl and force her into a car driven by Connor. DNA testing of foreign hairs recovered from the body excluded both Wagstaffe and Connor, but the most probative physical evidence had been destroyed. Wagstaffe himself uncovered computer records showing that the police had targeted the two men a day before they even spoke with the informant. The prosecution had buried this evidence in a pile of other documents that were turned over on the eve of trial. In September 2014, the intermediate appeals court reversed the convictions based on the prosecution’s failure to timely disclose the records and dismissed the indictment because the informant is now deceased. In June, New York’s highest court refused to grant the Brooklyn District Attorney’s leave to appeal. This week the intermediate court denied the District Attorney’s motion to reargue, finally ending Wagstaffe’s and Connor’s more than two decade fight for justice.
You can read more about the case here.
Rhode Island Judge Reverses Murder Conviction of Raymond Tempest
Earlier this month, a Rhode Island judge reversed the murder conviction of Raymond Tempest, Jr., who has served 23 years for the 1982 crime. The court based its ruling on the failure of police and prosecutors to turn over multiple pieces of evidence pointing to the defendant’s innocence and improper interviewing tactics by the police that compromised the evidence.
Controversy about the investigation has followed the case for years. The murder had gone unsolved for nearly a decade before Tempest became a suspect in the case based on a tip from an informant who had been arrested by the defendant’s brother. There was no physical evidence linking Tempest to the crime. He was convicted based on the testimony of four people, vulnerable to police pressure because of their involvement with drugs or prostitution, who claimed that he confessed.
The Innocence Project and Betty Anne Waters, who inspired the movie Conviction through her heroic acts of putting herself through law school to exonerate her brother Kenny, are supporting the efforts of lawyers at of McDermott, Will & Emery in representing Tempest. The case was adjourned to August 4th for the court to conduct a hearing to determine whether to release Tempest on bail while the District Attorney appeals the decision.
Read more about the case here.
New Court Rulings Help Protect the Innocent
A string of recent court decisions will help protect against wrongful convictions. In Commonwealth v. Bastaldo, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that in order to prevent eyewitness misidentifications, one of the leading cause of wrongful convictions, judges should instruct jurors about the dangers of cross-racial and cross-ethnic identifications.
In Maryland v. Norton, the Maryland Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution’s confrontation clause requires that the prosecution call as a witness the expert who actually conducted the forensic test rather than simply relying on his or her supervisor. According to Chris Fabricant, Director of the Innocence Project’s Strategic Litigation Unit, “This decision helps ensure that defendants will be able to challenge incompetent or fraudulent forensic evidence through cross-examination of the expert who actually conducted the test.”
In a case brought by the Rocky Mountain Innocence Project, a panel for the Federal Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in U.S. v. Watson that defendants should have access to the latest techniques in DNA testing and results from such techniques that point to innocence would constitute newly discovered evidence. The court’s ruling will hopefully help to provide easier access to new DNA testing in cases that depend on it and allow a greater number of people to pursue innocence claims.
The Innocence Project, either independently or in conjunction with the Innocence Network, filed friend-of-the-court briefs in all three of the cases.