Don't You Hate it When a Witness Does That?
Define That Term #104

Not So Guilty After All

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Here are two "feel good" stories that highlight the importance of the Innocence Project.

In the first, the New York Times reports that a Rochester man is expected to be released from prison after serving 10 years for a murder that he did not commit.  Douglas Arthur Warney was originally charged with capital murder, but was ultimately convicted of murder in the second degree and sentenced to 25 years for allegedly stabbing a prominent community activist to death. 

Until very recently, prosecutors had maintained that his confession proved his guilt.  However, recent DNA tests established his innocence: 

Today, however, Mr. Warney is due to appear in a Rochester courtroom — he uses a wheelchair — and prosecutors have agreed that his conviction should be dismissed. A series of DNA tests, which prosecutors at first tried to block, have linked blood found at the scene to another man, who is in prison for a different killing and three other stabbings.

That man, Eldred L. Johnson Jr., told investigators last Thursday that he was the sole killer and that he did not know Mr. Warney, the prosecutors said in a letter to Mr. Warney's lawyers. The prosecutors have agreed to his immediate release.

But, there were glaring holes in the prosecution's case from the start:

According to testimony, Mr. Warney told the detective he had driven to the victim's house in his brother's car, although the brother had not owned the car for six years before the murder; he said he disposed of his bloody clothes after the murder in a garbage can, but none were found in a search of the can, which had been buried in snow from the day of the crime; he also said he had an accomplice, naming a relative who, it turned out, was in a secure rehabilitation center.

Perhaps the most contentious issue of all was blood found at the scene that had not been spilled by the victim. Drops of a second person's blood were found on a floor leading to a bathroom and on a towel. Basic serology tests showed that the blood was not Mr. Warney's. In addition, other blood was found under the victim's fingernails, but not enough to test.

One of Mr. Warney's attorneys, Rochester attorney Don Thompson, was also involved in Betty Tyson's release, a similar case that made national headlines. 

And, as reported here, Christopher Ochoa, another man who was exonerated by the Innocence Project after serving 12 years in prison for a murder that he didn't commit, recently graduated from law school.  In 2001, Ochoa and his co-defendant were exonerated as a result of DNA tests after being wrongfully convicted based upon a coerced confession.  In the article, Ochoa described the night that resulted in his "confession":

Ochoa said he still has nightmares about detectives, stemming from the stop-and-start, two-day interrogation that led to his confession. He said detectives threatened him with the death penalty. At one point a detective threw a chair across the room, narrowly missing his head, he said. When he finally gave up and gave them what they wanted, they had to fill in details in his statement themselves, he said.

The newly graduated Ochoa plans to become a prosecutor:

Last summer, Ochoa served as an assistant prosecutor in the Green County district attorney's office. He said he would love to have that job so he can tell the police to do a better job before charging someone.

"You don't want to push an innocent man into prison to further your political career," he said.

Amen.  Couldn't have said it better myself.

UPDATE:  As reported here, Douglas Warney was released from prison today by Hon. Thomas Van Strydonck.

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