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Chemistry helping innocent people proven guilty

PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 20, 2012 — Should Lady Justice, that centuries-old personification of truth and fairness in the legal system, cast off her ancient Roman robe, sword and scales and instead embrace 21st century symbols of justice meted out objectively without fear or favor? A scientist’s laboratory jacket, perhaps? And a spiral strand of the genetic material DNA?

An unusual symposium that might beg such a question – showcasing chemistry’s role in righting some of the highest-profile cases of innocent people proven guilty – unfolds today at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). It features presentations by forensic scientists, attorneys and others who used science to right wrongs, freeing innocent people and saving the lives of prisoners on death row.

Justin J. McShane, J.D., co-chair of the ACS Division of Chemistry and the Law – Forensic Science, noted that the session also will include exonerated people who spent time behind bars for crimes they did not commit.

“This combination of people will make this gathering a unique event, one never before done at such a level,” said McShane, who is chairman and CEO of the McShane Firm, Harrisburg, Pa. “It showcases chemistry’s critical, but often-hidden role in protecting the innocent through collection and accurate analysis of crime-scene and other evidence.”

Participants in the event, entitled “Forensic Chemistry, Science and the Law Presents: Innocence! The Work of the Innocence Project,” include Fred Whitehurst, the FBI agent who forced reform of the FBI Crime Lab and was almost fired for doing so; John Lentini, a premier fire investigator whose evidence showed that the State of Texas executed an innocent man; Greg Hampikian, one of the DNA test experts who got Amanda Knox freed after she was convicted of murder in Italy; and Barry Scheck from the O. J. Simpson “Dream Team” defense and co-founder of The Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.

The symposium is among the special presidential events here sponsored by ACS President Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D., who has called on the society’s 164,000 members to work as scientist-citizens in solving great global challenges of the 21st century.

“We face challenges such as surging population growth, limited natural resources, malnutrition, disease, climate change, violence and war, and the denial of basic human rights,” Shakhashiri explained. “The speakers in this symposium exemplify forensic chemistry in addressing the denial of basic human rights when people are innocent, yet convicted of crimes.”

The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and to reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. So far, the project has been instrumental in the exoneration of 292 people in the U.S., including 17 who served time on death row. They served an average of 13 years in prison before being released.

The presentations include:

 

  • Forensic science: Struggles from the past, in the present and into the future Frederic Whitehurst, Ph.D., J.D., an FBI supervisory agent working in the famed FBI laboratory, asked basic questions concerning the validity of the underlying science the laboratory was performing. He was ostracized and transferred for his whistle-blowing, but ultimately his efforts led to 40 different major reforms within the FBI laboratory.
  • Fire debris and explosive investigation: Cameron Todd Willingham and other cases of innocence John J. Lentini, Scientific Fire Analysis, Big Pine Key, Fla., is a world-renowned expert in chemistry and forensic science in fire and explosive debris investigations. His most famous case involves Cameron Todd Willingham of Texas. Using modern forensic fire science, Lentini showed that the state of Texas had executed an innocent man.
  • Amanda Knox, and other cases of innocence Greg Hampikian, Ph.D., Boise State University, Department of Biology, Science/Nursing, is a geneticist and expert in DNA testing, whose analysis was critical in the release of the American student Amanda Knox, who was convicted by an Italian Court of murder. He has been involved in numerous other cases involving wrongful convictions and exonerations across the globe.
  • Running an innocence project: Selecting, investigating, vetting and litigating claims of actual factual innocence Marissa Boyers Bluestine, J.D., Pennsylvania Innocence Project, Temple University Beasley School of Law, will discuss the workings of the national litigation and policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully accused persons through DNA evidence. She will speak about the process of selecting, investigating, vetting and litigating claims of actual factual innocence.
  • The Innocence Project and exonerations Barry Scheck, J.D., co-founder of the Innocence Project, New York City, was part of the “dream team” that defended O.J. Simpson in his murder trial, where he exposed the flaws surrounding the collection and interpretation of the DNA evidence. He will discuss how the organization was created and describe some of his most notable cases.
  • 40-minute case study of exoneree Ray Krone Ray Krone, Innocence Project, New York City, was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent 10 years in prison, including two years on death row. He will talk about how he won a new trial on appeal, but was convicted again. Ultimately, Krone was released from prison after DNA evidence proved that he did not murder the victim.
  • 40-minute case study of exoneree Raymond Santana Raymond Santana, Innocence Project, New York City, was one of five men convicted in New York City’s highly publicized Central Park Jogger Case, which involved an assault and rape. After spending 12 years in prison, he and the others were exonerated when another man claimed to have committed the crime alone and DNA evidence confirmed he committed the rape.
  • 40-minute case study of exoneree Steven Barnes Steven Barnes was convicted and sentenced to 25 to life, spending 19.5 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. His trial featured some truly bizarre scientific testimony of non-validated science. Eventually, he was freed when the non-validated nature of the science was revealed.

 

NEW: Hash ‘presumed innocent’ in Scroggins murder

By: Allison Brophy Champion | Culpeper Star-Exponent
Published: August 20, 2012

Pam and Jeff Hash talking to reporters

Pam and Jeff Hash (right) wipe away tears while talking about the ordeal their son Michael Wayne Hash (left) endured. Michael Hash was in prison for 12 years after being convicted in the murder of Thelma Scroggins, of Lignum, in 1996. Hash’s case was declared “nolle prosequi” Monday morning by special prosecutor Raymond Morrogh, meaning evidence does not exist to convict him in the Scroggins’ murder.

CULPEPER, Va. —

No physical evidence – then or now – ever tied Michael Wayne Hash to the 1996 murder of Thelma Scroggins in her Lignum home. And yet the then 19-year-old Culpeper County man spent 12 years in prison for a crime he seemingly did not commit because of apparent lies and misconduct in the Culpeper County criminal justice system.

Monday morning in Culpeper County Circuit Court – in the same courtroom where a jury in 2001 found Hash guilty of murder – a special prosecutor freed the now 31-year-old.

“Absolutely wonderful,” Hash said after, asked how he felt.

In less than a minute, special prosecutor Raymond Morrogh, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, spoke the words that undid what took Hash and his family more than a decade to untangle. Before a packed courtroom with Judge Susan Whitlock on the bench, Morrogh nolle prossed the capital murder charge against Hash, meaning it was dropped.

“We’ve interviewed upwards of 40 people and continue to seek out evidence in the case, but at this point we have insufficient evidence to try Mr. Hash or anyone on these charges so at this point … we will release Mr. Hash and continue our investigation,” said the special prosecutor.

Outside the courtroom, Morrogh confirmed Hash could potentially again face charges in the murder if enough evidence against him ever surfaced, but the special prosecutor added, “I am not suggesting that he is ever going to be tried. He is completely free, presumed innocent – a totally free individual.”

In February, Morrogh was assigned to reinvestigate the Scroggins’ murder after Senior U.S. District Court Judge James Turk overturned the murder conviction against Hash, ordering prosecutors to retry the case against him or set him free.

In his scathing 65-page memo, Turk said the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office and Commonwealth’s Attorney Office engaged in a pattern of nondisclosure and deception in prosecuting and investigating the murder charge against Hash, arrested May 2000 in the shooting death of Scroggins, a 74-year-old church organist and retired mail carrier. Among other things, Turk said authorities relied on the testimony of witnesses known to be lying, fed witnesses information about the murder and orchestrated an elaborate transfer of Hash to a jail in Charlottesville so as to expose him to a prolific jailhouse snitch, who also lied in court.

Turk gave authorities six months to retry Hash or set him free. Hash was let out of jail in March, pending that decision, and has been living with his parents in Crozet. The habeas relief granted Hash by Turk followed several appeals denied at the local and state level, spanning many years.

Sitting next to his mother, Pam, in a courthouse conference room following Monday’s declaration of innocence, Michael Hash said the decision to nolle prosse the murder charge, although “not the best possible outcome” validated “what we said all along, and that is there’s never been any credible evidence to point to me or anyone else.”

Hash said he could not hold just one person responsible for how the case was mismanaged.

“It’s a failure on numerous people’s parts – both directly and indirectly – but it’s the actions of the Culpeper officials who initially brought the case and their actions in mishandling the case, failure to do things and doing things they shouldn’t have done, led to what happened,” he said.

At one point in time, Hash said he was angry at the Culpeper authorities for locking him up.

“I’ve gotten over the being mad part. It does no good to be mad at these people. The only thing I can ask for out of the situation is that they be held accountable for their actions,” Hash said. “They have a public of people they are supposed to serve and represent and it’s not right that this community is being misled by these people to believe a certain set of facts. When these people are telling lies it’s directly against the truth. I think the people they represent should know that.”

As for pursuing civil action against Culpeper authorities involved in the case, Hash said, “It’s not even crossed my mind at this point.”

But his attorney Matthew Bosher, partner at Hunton & Williams, said, “He’s considering all his options.”

Hash said he no idea why local authorities did what they did.

“I will say there is probably people in this county who had ulterior motives and those ulterior motives drove them to do what they did,” he said.

Hash said he “absolutely” believed corruption still existed in the Culpeper justice system.

Pam Hash said it was “politics” that put her son away for more than a decade, but that she never gave up hope so sure was she of his innocence.

“I made him a promise at the start that I was going to see him come home. That I would fix it,” Mrs. Hash said Monday. “It hurt for the longest time because parents are supposed to be able to fix everything that goes wrong and at first I couldn’t fix it, so it made me fight that much harder. I was determined. I wasn’t going to be made a liar. I made him a promise and I was going to keep it.”

Science Friday

Science Friday LIVE!

Ira Flatow is coming to Boise for a LIVE broadcast of his popular public radio program “Science Friday.” With topics on  science, technology, health, space and the environment; the discussion is sure to be lively and informative. Don’t miss your opportunity to be a part of the show!

Event Info:
Friday, September 28, 2012
Noon – 2 p.m.
Location: Boise State University Student Union Building
Tickets are available August 6 at idahotickets.com

Idaho Innocence Project study cited in Sunday Boston Globe Cover Story

Idaho Innocence Project/Innocence Project study cited in Sunday Boston Globe cover story on DNA testing  law

Massachusetts is one of only two states in the country without a law granting prison inmates the right to test DNA evidence that might prove their innocence. A lingering, long- contested bill may finally change that.

On DNA rules for convicts, Massachusetts lags behind

By Alan Wirzbicki

Massachusetts has seen its share of wrongful convictions. But when it comes to keeping the innocent out of jail, advocates say, the Commonwealth lags far behind.

In response to hundreds of cases nationwide of prisoners winning exoneration after spending years in prison, virtually every state has passed laws guaranteeing convicts access to DNA testing that might prove their innocence. The quality of DNA tests is constantly improving, so about half of states go a step futher, requiring officials to keep evidence indefinitely for future testing.
PX00131_9.jpg

Massachusetts, however, does neither.

In fact, according to the Innocence Project’s state-by-state comparison, Massachusetts has some of the poorest safeguards against wrongful conviction in the nation. Officials aren’t required to keep evidence indefinitely, and the Commonwealth is one of only two states that doesn’t guarantee access to DNA testing (Oklahoma is the other).

As a practical matter, convicts in Massachusetts get access to tests anyway, as the Globe noted in a 2009 editorial. And evidence is supposed to be preserved.

But to advocates of DNA testing, assurances aren’t good enough.

Getting access to DNA tests in the Massachusetts system, said Brandon L. Garrett, professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law and author of Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, “depends on prosecutors volunteering to do it.” Instead, Garrett recommends a law with teeth, requiring the preservation of evidence for a wide variety of crimes, and imposing penalties if evidence is destroyed.

The importance of DNA testing was underscored in Garrett’s article in this week’s Ideas section, which documented widespread problems in traditional eyewitness testimony that often contributes to wrongful convictions. Massachusetts has hardly been immune from such problems — which suggests it shouldn’t be so reluctant to embrace solutions.

Globe file photo: Anthony Powell leaves Suffolk Superior Court in 2004 after new DNA evidence cleared him of a rape conviction.

Michael Hash, Freedom Expected March 13, 2013

IIP Assisted in the Michael Hash Case, Freedom Expected March 13, 2013

Hash family hugging

_______

In 2005 Pamela and Jeff  Hash approached DNA expert Dr. Greg Hampikian at the end of the Innocence Network Conference in DC.  They were looking for someone to examine the forensic issues in their son’s murder conviction.  They stayed late to discuss the case, and Dr. Hampikian agreed to work  on the DNA issues pro bono as part of the nascent  Idaho Innocence Project (IIP) at Boise State University.

Michael Hash has now served 12 years for capital murder, but is expected to be released on Wednesday, March 13, 2012.  While new DNA testing is still being considered, Micheal’s legal team and investigators turned up evidence of  misconduct that led directly to his expected release Wednesday.  On March 12, Prosecutor Close announced his resignation effective March 13.

The Idaho Innocence Project believes that there is still evidence that will lead to the true murderer.  In 1996, Michael Hash was 15 when his 74 year old neighbor was murdered, and this second tragedy began.

Mr. Hash’s legal team includes Matthew Bosher and the team at Hunton & Williams, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project’s Executive Director Shawn Armbrust, the University of Virginia Law School Innocence Project Clinic, and investigator Stanley Lapekas. The Idaho Innocence Project worked with Dr. Michael F. Reiders on the case concerning biological evidence.  The staff and volunteers at the IIP are celebrating Judge James C. Turk’s decision.

 

read more at-www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/16/michael-hash_n_1349990.html

(1)http://www2.starexponent.com/news/2012/mar/11/how-investigation-offended-sense-justice-ar-1756545/

(2)http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/a-couple-waits-for-their-son-to-return-home/2012/03/10/gIQAHhvm3R_gallery.html#photo=10

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