Tag Archives: evidence

Wisconsin Innocence Project client freed after 24 years in prison

Daryl Dwayne Holloway walked out of Green Bay Correctional Institution a free man Oct. 5 after serving 24 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit.

Holloway was accompanied by his attorney, Keith Findley, and a team of law students from the Wisconsin Innocence Project who worked on his case, according to a news release from UW-Madison.

A Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge signed the order freeing Holloway on Oct. 4.

Prosecutors in the Milwaukee district attorney’s office had agreed that exculpatory DNA results warranted the reversal of Holloway’s convictions in a 1992 sexual assault case.

“This case represents one example of the power of post-conviction DNA testing to help us achieve justice and of a prosecutor’s office recognizing that power and working with defense attorneys to find the truth, rather than just protect old convictions,” said Findley, a University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor and co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project.

Findley said Holloway’s case received renewed interest in April 2015, when now-retired Assistant District Attorney Norm Gahn conducted a review of the case file.

Gahn discovered conflicting DNA reports issued by separate labs that had previously analyzed evidence in the case. The conflicting reports meant that at least one of the labs made an error in its analysis.

Gahn contacted Holloway’s attorney, who reached out to the Wisconsin Innocence Project for help.

Findley and a team of law students reviewed the file and convinced prosecutors that remaining evidence from the case should be analyzed by an independent third-party laboratory.

The new DNA report identified numerous errors in the previous testing and identified the presence of male DNA from an unknown third party. Test results conclusively excluded Holloway as the perpetrator of the crime for which he spent more than two decades in prison.

The Milwaukee County district attorney’s office cooperated with the Wisconsin Innocence Project to draft a stipulation of facts with a joint recommendation to Judge Jeffrey Wagner to vacate Holloway’s conviction.

Wagner, who presided over the wrongful conviction in 1993, ordered the conviction vacated and dismissed all charges.

“This is a remarkable example of a prosecutor doing the right thing, motivated by the search for justice. The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office deserves tremendous credit for this exoneration,” Findley said in the release.

‘Making a Murderer’ attorney asks state for evidence to exonerate Avery

The attorney for a Wisconsin inmate featured in the hit Netflix series Making a Murderer filed a motion Friday seeking permission to perform extensive testing on evidence she believes will show that Steven Avery is innocent.

Steven Avery was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison in the death of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach, who disappeared after a visit to the Avery family’s Manitowoc County salvage yard in 2005. Avery has argued he was framed.

His attorney, Kathleen Zellner, told reporters awaiting her filing outside the Manitowoc County courthouse that she wants to date blood and DNA found at the scene to see if it was planted. She promised the results will show that Avery isn’t guilty and that someone else killed Halbach.

Her motion notes that forensic science has advanced dramatically since Avery was convicted. It asks for testing and re-testing on an extensive list of evidence, including Halbach’s vehicle key, which was found in Avery’s room with his DNA on it; Avery’s blood found in the vehicle; and a pair of women’s underwear found in the yard to see if they belonged to Halbach and contain male DNA.

“The most reassuring thing is that we are going to get to the bottom of who killed Teresa Halbach,” Zellner said. “And we firmly believe that we will establish it was not Steven Avery.”

The Wisconsin Department of Justice is handling post-conviction activity in Avery’s case on behalf of county prosecutors.

Avery, now 54, was charged in November 2005 with sexually assaulting and killing Halbach, who disappeared that Halloween after traveling to the salvage yard to shoot photos for a car magazine. Investigators found her charred remains in a burn pit in the yard.

Avery and his then 16-year-old nephew, Brendan Dassey, lived on the property. A jury in 2007 convicted Avery of being a party to first-degree intentional homicide and a judge sentenced him to life in prison.

Later that year, a separate jury convicted Dassey of being party to first-degree intentional homicide, mutilating a corpse and sexual assault. He, too, was sentenced to life.

The case fascinated the public. Two years before Halbach’s death, Avery had been released from prison after spending 18 years behind bars for rape that a DNA test later showed he didn’t commit.

Avery contended police framed him for Halbach’s death because the rape exoneration embarrassed them and he had a $36 million wrongful conviction lawsuit pending against Manitowoc County. That lawsuit collapsed when he was arrested in Halbach’s death.

He has alleged that investigators planted blood taken from him during the rape case and planted Halbach’s DNA at the scene.

He argued in an appeal that he should have been allowed to blame others for Halbach’s death, that police illegally searched his trailer and that a judge improperly replaced a juror during deliberations. A state appeals court rejected those arguments in 2011.

Avery and Dassey burst back into the public consciousness late last year after Netflix aired Making a Murderer. The series raised questions about investigators’ integrity in the Halbach case. Prosecutors insisted the show was one-sided but it still created a national groundswell of support for Avery and Dassey.

A federal magistrate judge overturned Dassey’s conviction this month, ruling investigators coerced him into confessing. The state Justice Department has 90 days to appeal or decide whether to retry him. If the agency chooses to do nothing, he will go free.

See also Netflix series shines spotlight on Steve Avery murder case

Judge tosses out nephew’s conviction in ‘Making a Murderer’ case

U.S. court backs Native American families in ACLU suit

A federal court has dealt another blow to defendants in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit over the rights of Native American families in South Dakota.

Chief Judge Jeffrey Viken denied government officials’ motions for reconsideration of his order to them last March to stop violating the rights of Native American parents and tribes in state child custody proceedings.

“Once again the court has ruled that Native American children, their parents, and their tribes are entitled to fair procedures whenever the state seeks to remove children from their homes, as required by federal law,” Stephen Pevar, an attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, said in a news release.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and Rapid City attorney Dana Hanna on behalf of two South Dakota tribes — the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe — and Native American parents who suffered the loss of their children at the hands of the state.

The lawsuit in part charges that Native American children are being removed from their homes in hearings that lasted as little as 60 seconds, and that parents have no chance to present evidence. Last March, the court agreed with seven of the ACLU’s claims, and ordered the state to:

• Provide parents with adequate notice prior to emergency removal hearings.

• Allow parents to testify at those hearings and present evidence.

• Appoint attorneys to assist parents in these removal  proceedings.

• Allow parents to cross-examine the state’s witnesses in the hearings.

• Require state courts to base their decisions on evidence presented during these hearings.

The court also found that the state violated the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law designed to ensure the security and integrity of Native American tribes and families. Late Friday, Viken issued a ruling rejecting defendants’ motions to reconsider; one final outstanding claim concerns whether the state Department of Social Services is returning Native American children in foster care to their homes as quickly as federal law requires.

The defendants are state Judge Jeff Davis, Pennington County prosecutor Mark Vargo, state director of the Department of Social Services Lynne Valenti and Pennington County DSS employee Luann Van Hunnik.

The lawsuit, Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Van Hunnik, was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota in Rapid City.

New Mexico lawmaker wants to prosecute rape survivors who get abortions

A New Mexico legislator has introduced a measure that would make it a crime for a woman to terminate a pregnancy that resulted from rape.

State Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, said abortion after a rape is tampering with evidence. If her bill became law, it would be a third-degree felony punishable by three years in prison to abort a pregnancy that resulted from rape.

The provision in Brown’s bill states, “Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.”

ACLU of New Mexico executive director Peter Simonson responded to the Brown’s proposal: “This bill criminalizes rape survivors who seek to have an abortion. It would force a rape survivor to choose between cooperating in the prosecution of her abuser and terminating an unwanted pregnancy that was forced upon her. Most New Mexicans agree that we should not punish survivors of sexual assault for the crime that was perpetrated upon them. Rape survivors need care and support, not a felony charge.”

ACLU of New Mexico legal director Laura Schauer Ives said, “Forcing someone else to destroy evidence of sexual assault is already a crime under the current tampering with evidence statute. This bill can only serve to criminalize rape survivors who seek abortions.”

The bill is not likely to advance in either chamber, given that both the New Mexico House and New Mexico Senate have Democratic majorities.