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Issue One

The July 2009 SSQQ Newsletter  - Issue One
Written by Rick Archer

dON'T FORGET, SSQQ WILL BE CLOSED NEXT WEEK SO WE CAN REFINISH THE FLOORS.

OUR NEW JuLY Dance Classes begin on Sunday, JULY 5

http://www.ssqq.com/ssqq/schedule.htm

...............

A NOTE FROM DARYL ARMSTRONG

"Well, this crowd sure likes to chat...My new email address has been very busy indeed!

Everyone gives you and SSQQ high marks for all of the wonderful years.

People are spotting buildings and parking lots all over town - sooner or later the right place will pop up.

As Jo Anne (my wife) and I drive around looking at places, it occurs to me that someone at the studio might want to partner with us and use the studio during the day.  After all, the SSQQ operation doesn't really kick in until 6 pm.  Anyone with a 9 to 5 business would be a perfect fit.

The benefits would be terrific....

1 - share the rent.
2 - a huge built-in clientele to market services to.  A computer store or a law office would be front and center to everyone who walked by.
3 - increased security for both businesses.  We watch his/her back at night, they watch our back during the day.

Since we have some time before your lease expires, maybe someone out there might be able to plan ahead and join us.

Daryl
(
danceideas@yahoo.com )
................

 

A NARRATIVE ON BLIND JUSTICE
By Rick Archer

RICK ARCHER'S NOTE:  Every now and then I have a rant.  This week's rant is 18 pages long.  I can assure you it has nothing to do with dance.  It is a narrative on a concept known as "Blind Justice".  I worked hard on the article; I hope you will at least read a page or so rather than click out immediately.

THE FUGITIVE

Lately I have been curious about the topic of "Blind Justice"... people who wrongly convicted of something they didn't do.

While I was poking my nose around Amazon recently, I noticed that the first two seasons of David Janssen's "The Fugitive" had been released on DVD.  It took less than a second to hit 'add to cart'.

"The Fugitive" was hands down my favorite TV show back in the Sixties.  As a high school teenager, all homework took a backseat when "The Fugitive" was on.  I doubt I ever missed an episode.  Indeed, while watching the reruns I am fascinated to realize I actually remember some of the episodes.

Of course everyone my age remembers "The Fugitive", but for those youngsters who are unfamiliar, a well respected Chicago surgeon Dr. Richard Kimble comes home to discover that his wife has been murdered.  The police discover Kimble hovering over the victim and accuse him of the murder.  Kimble is tried, convicted, and sentenced to death based on a perfect storm of circumstantial evidence.  Except that he is innocent. 

On his way to Death Row, a train wreck freed Kimble who is now forced to spend his life on the run. 

 "The Fugitive" ran for four years from 1963 to 1967.  Each episode was riveting.  I notice the show won an award as the Best Dramatic Series of the Sixties.  Personally speaking, I think "The Fugitive" is arguably the finest dramatic show ever to appear on television.  Each of the 120 episodes had a unique plot, often complex and showing great creativity.  For one thing, the show was very entertaining.  At times, the tension was absolutely gripping (especially when Gerard was around!).  Furthermore, "The Fugitive" did a terrific job of making you actually think about justice, crime and punishment in the same way that "Law and Order" does today. 

As I have been taking my trip down Memory Lane, my favorite episode so far was "A Corner of Hell". 

At the start of the story, as usual, the police were hot on Kimble's trail. Kimble jumped from a moving truck and ran into the heavily forested countryside.  Lt. Gerard, his relentless pursuer, saw Kimble jump. Gerard was shocked when the local police refused to help him chase Kimble into the woods.  They hesitated because this is moonshine country.  It is much too dangerous to enter without a virtual army.  No telling what the hillbillies might do to them.

Sure enough, the moonshiners hate all outsiders.  They even rough Kimble up a bit.  But they ultimately warm up to Kimble when he saves the life of Cody who has suffered an accident.

Meanwhile Gerard has elected to pursue Kimble on his own.  Soon after he enters the forest, he is captured and harassed by the lawless moonshine group. 

Cody and a pretty Moonshine girl are left alone to keep an eye on Gerard.  That is when the girl notices Gerard's jacket is one the ground.  She steals his wallet and finds $300.  Cody decides to fight the pretty girl over possession of Gerard's money.  During the wrestling match, the girl trips and hits her head on a rock.  Now she slips into unconsciousness.  Cody runs off just as Gerard appears in an attempt to locate his missing wallet.  He spots the unconscious girl and gets down on his knees to check her condition.

Seconds later, the moonshine group shows up to find out what the commotion is.  They see Gerard leaning over the helpless limp body of the girl. As an outsider, a cop, and a man wearing a store-bought suit, Gerard already has three strikes against him.  Now they take the law into their own hands, wrongly accuse Gerard, and plan to lynch him.  Here comes the noose. 

Gerard is in deep trouble because he could not prove he saw a man running from the scene of the crime (does that ring a bell?)  Now he is forced to turn to Kimble for help.  Gerard sputters to Kimble, "But I am innocent!   There were no witnesses!   These backwoods hillbillies should at least be smart enough to see I had no intention of hurting that girl!"

At this point, I was grinning head to toe.  What a hoot!  In case you haven't been following the bouncing ball, this twist was a total role reversal of the usual Kimble-Gerard interplay.  Now that the shoe was on the other foot, Gerard doesn't even realize he is repeating Kimble's same protests of innocence practically line for line.  The irony was wonderful fun.

After the show was over, I began to think about how easy it is to jump to conclusions.  It was this episode that made me begin to wonder just how good our American Justice system really is.

By coincidence, the next day I happened to run across this news item in the Chronicle's City and State section.

...............

 

Raul Ornelas

 

Wrongly suspected kidnapper struggles to move on

 

The Associated Press

June 20, 2009, 3:56PM

 

PHARR, Texas -- Wrongly suspected in the high-profile disappearance of a 4-year-old girl last month, a former bus driver says the unfair scrutiny in his small Texas town has torn his life apart.

 

Raul Ornelas, 40, was questioned and detained by the FBI in May after someone snatched the girl whom he playfully told months ago: "You're so pretty, I'm going to take you."

 

It seems that Ornelas drove the bus to the Head Start program the girl attended.

 

After being identified as a suspect, Ornelas' name and description were published on an Amber Alert -- even though he was already in custody.

 

Later that day, another man was charged with the little girl's kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault.

 

Ornelas said despite being cleared, the damage to his reputation had been done. Parents pulled their children from his wife's day care in Hidalgo, forcing the family business that opened in 1997 to shut down.

 

Ornelas said he is still looking for a job.

 

"It has devastated our family," Ornelas' wife, Leticia, told The Monitor of McAllen.

 

John Johnson, who heads the FBI's McAllen office, told the newspaper that authorities regret any negative consequences from the investigation.

 

"Of course, in hindsight we know he had nothing to do with it," Johnson said. "But at the time, we didn't know what we had. ... We're talking about the life of a little girl, so we weren't going to stop."

 

It was pointed out to Johnson that Ornelas had already been located when his name was published as a suspect on the updated Amber Alert.   Johnson said as the hours passed that day, investigators' primary focus was on the search for the little girl and not on publicizing updates on the status of the investigation.

 

"There were some delays in the information getting out" to the public," Johnson said. "But in all fairness, I was completely invested in the effort to find her."

 

Ornelas didn't look like the man who girl's sister said had taken the 4-year-old. There was also no connection between Ornelas and the pickup truck witnesses said she was thrown into, the newspaper reported.

 

Ornelas said his attorneys have told him he has little recourse. He said he has thought about moving his wife and three children elsewhere for a fresh start.

 

"I just want my life back the way it was before," he said.

....................

 

RICK ARCHER'S COMMENT ON ORNELAS

This man's plight reminded me of a strange incident that happened to me 15 years ago.  On the advice of a lady who was taking dance classes here, I enrolled my daughter Sam at Duchesne Academy, a private girl's school in Memorial.  It was a program called "Pre-Kindergarten".  Sam was only 4 years old.

Soon after her pre-K class started, Sam was invited to a birthday party.  The girls were a delight.  I had a ball chasing them, scaring them, letting them chase me, playing keep-away and so on.  A group of 10 girls and I played for a good hour and a half.  That is when I looked up and noticed three women were staring darts at me.  They each had their arms crossed, they each had frowns, and they were clearly united in their disapproval. 

Whoa.  Believe me, I got the message.  I stopped playing with the girls on the spot. 

A few months down the road, I learned of some birthday parties Sam hadn't been invited to.  I remember feeling a little hurt for my daughter's sake, but there wasn't anything I could do about it. 

About a year later, one day I gave Sam a ride to visit a school friend.  The kid's mother invited me in for coffee.  The woman mentioned she had heard a rumor from another mother that I was under suspicion.  My eyes grew large.

She added the woman had told her I hadn't actually done anything wrong, but some of the mothers were 'worried about me'.   I was flabbergasted.  My mind immediately flashed back to the three women who were the likely source of the rumor.  I turned crimson with embarrassment.  I was a suspected pervert.  I was really upset.  Bitter too.

Later on I mentioned the incident to my friend Tom.  He nodded his head in sympathy.  Tom said, "Out here in Suburbia, people have nothing better to do than talk.  One guy got on their S-list. He ended up moving because he couldn't figure out a way to stop the whispers.  It drove him crazy.  Since then I am terrified of rumors.  I won't even drive the babysitter home alone.  I make my wife drive her home just because I don't want to take a chance."

Well, that's how I learned my lesson.  My days of playing with kids were over.  For the past fifteen years, I treat kids like rattlesnakes - I don't go anywhere near them!   

But then maybe I didn't learn my lesson after all.

When I read the story about Ornelas whose life was ruined over a stupid joke... "You're so pretty, I'm going to take you"... I felt sick to my stomach. 

You see, I have said the exact same thing!   My cleaning lady brings her grandson James with her to my house on Tuesdays during the summer.  Her 11-year old grandson is a great kid!  James is all boy; he watches kung fu movies, practices basketball in my backyard, and reads Hardy Boy mystery novels.  He sits quietly on the couch and never makes a fuss.  James is handsome, smart, alert, and remarkably polite.   Who wouldn't want a kid like that?

Every time the two of them get ready to go, I tell my housekeeper one of these days I am going to steal that kid!  Of course, I don't mean it.  But it is a FACT that I have literally told my housekeeper twenty or thirty different times of my intention to grab her grandson when she isn't looking.  And if - god forbid - someone should actually kidnap that little boy, who would blame the police for knocking on my door? 

As I read the story of Raul Ornelas over and over again, I thought to myself, "How could I be so stupid?"

There are a lot of people out there who rush to judgment.  Thanks to some well-meaning but not particularly sensitive cops, just one small mistake had ruined the man's life when a lot of people heard his name on the Amber Report.  Apparently there was no second Amber Report to say 'oops, sorry, wrong guy'.

The cruel fate of Raul Ornelas made me feel both very lucky and very vulnerable.

There but for the grace of God go I.
...........

GEORGE RODRIGUEZ

Two days after reading about Ornelas, I was back at Andy's, my favorite neighborhood coffee shop, for breakfast.  Four of the biggest uniformed police officers walked in.  Andy's is very popular with the men in blue.  I see them there all the time. For some reason I always feel anxious when they come in and look at me. 

Every time a policeman comes into Andy's, I always immediately wonder if he is going to question me for some crime.  I don't have a guilty conscience.  The only criminal thing I have ever done in my life was snitch some candy in the Eighth Grade.  I got caught, I got chewed out and that was the end of my crime wave.  I have nothing to hide. 

In fact, the policemen are always nice to me at Andy's.  They return my quiet greetings with smiles or nods of their own and they never seem to be on guard around me.  Not once have they questioned me for anything other than to ask for help with a crossword puzzle clue they couldn't get.  So why do I always feel guilty when I see a policeman?  I have never figured it out. 

Today with Fugitive reruns and Raul Ornelas in the back of my mind, I made my way to the Chronicle's City and State section.  My eyes immediately focused on the story of George Rodriguez.
.................

 

GEORGE RODRIGUEZ - $35 million for wrongful conviction?

 

City says it should pay nothing to imprisoned man

 

By MARY FLOOD

HOUSTON CHRONICLE

June 23, 2009, 9:18PM

 

Lawyers for a man wrongly convicted in a sexual assault case asked jurors on Tuesday to make the city of Houston pay George Rodriguez $35 million, while a city attorney asked they give him nothing.

 

A packed federal courtroom gallery heard the three and a half hours of final arguments in the first civil lawsuit taking on the troubled city of Houston crime lab. The suit is being closely watched, especially by the local defense bar.

 

"The city of Houston destroyed that man's life," said attorney Mark Wawro, pointing to his client Rodriguez. "We're asking you to put responsibility for that human tragedy where it belongs."

 

Rodriguez, who along with another of his lawyers sometimes teared up during the final arguments, spent 17 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted in the 1987 kidnapping and sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl.

 

A Houston Police Department crime lab analyst lied in Rodriguez's trial about body fluids from the crime scene, saying evidence excluded another suspect, but not Rodriguez. DNA evidence later cleared Rodriguez and pointed to the other suspect.

 

Wawro asked that the jury not feel sorry for Rodriguez, despite all the personal losses he suffered, but compensate him by holding the city responsible for a chronically undertrained and undersupervised crime lab staff.

 

"The city's effort to trick you into believing everybody else is responsible for what happened to George Rodriguez is highly offensive," he told the five woman and three men on the jury.

 

City denies responsibility

 

City attorneys have said it was not city policies or then-Police Chief Lee P. Brown that was responsible for the wrongful conviction. Instead they've blamed the ex-city employee and suggested the trial prosecutor and defense attorney had a part.

 

The jury has to find that the lab employee's false testimony substantially caused the conviction. It also has to find the city had a custom of inadequately training and supervising lab workers. And the jury must find Brown was indifferent to the violations of the constitutional right to a fair trial that could result.

 

Rick Morris, a lawyer for the city, argued that the city had no regular policy that kept the lab understaffed, but it was because the city had hit hard times. He said the city did have a policy against employees lying, though, and the lab worker broke that policy.

 

"Don't be a jury that feels so impassioned with sympathy for the wrongs done to Mr. Rodriguez that you compound the wrong by making Chief Brown a scapegoat," Morris said, frequently pointing to Brown, who sat at the city's legal defense table.

 

Morris asked if the jury did decide to compensate Rodriguez, it stay at $1 million and not make the man and his lawyers rich.

 

The jury is scheduled to continue deliberations Wednesday morning.

.........

 

RICK ARCHER'S NOTE:   A few days have passed since I read the article above.   Now the verdict is in - the Jury awarded Rodriguez $5 million.

 

As I read Rodriguez' sad tale, I could have sworn I remembered another case just like this.  So after I was done at Andy's, I went home and clicked the Chronicle archives.   Sure enough, there it was, another story about a wrongly convicted man in Houston, Texas, my hometown. 

...........

 

RICARDO RACHELL - Man freed by DNA wonders what to do next

 

By LISE OLSEN, DANE SCHILLER AND ROMA KHANNA

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

Dec. 14, 2008, 3:18PM

 

 

RICARDO RACHELL: A TIMELINE

 

  Oct. 20, 2002: A stranger tells an 8-year-old boy he will pay him if he helps the stranger remove trash. Instead, he sexually assaults the boy.

  Oct. 21, 2002: The next day, the boy identifies Ricardo Rachell as his attacker. Rachell is arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child.

  Nov. 22, 2002: The Houston Chronicle reports another 8-year-old boy is assaulted, lured with the promise of making money selling newspapers. Rachell is already in jail.

  Oct, 25, 2003: A 10-year-old boy is molested, according to the newspaper, who also says he was promised money for chores. Police say at least three boys have been similarly assaulted. Rachell is still in jail.

  June 5, 2003: A jury convicts Rachell and sentences him to 40 years in prison.

  Sept. 30 2004: The 11th Court of Appeals affirms the verdict.

  April 2007: Rachell contines to challenge his conviction and an an attorney is appointed to represent him.

  March 2008: The District Attorney's office requests the testing of the DNA

  November 2008: The DA's office discovers the DNA test results exclude Rachell.

  Dec. 12: Judge Susan Brown of the 185th District Court orders Rachell released from custody.

 

Cleared of child sex assault, a Houston man is trying to adjust to freedom.  Ricardo Rachell says he's 'going to stay inside a lot'

 

Ricardo Rachell leaves the Harris County Jail on Dec. 12, having spent years urging prosecutors to investigate attacks that continued after he was imprisoned in an 8-year-old's sexual assault.

Fresh from six years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, 51-year-old Ricardo Rachell -- who some neighbors called "Scary Man" for his disfigured face -- is beginning life anew in the same part of Houston where he was falsely accused of being a child predator.

 

"It is not easy, but I handle it. I fend for myself," Rachell said in an exclusive interview Saturday with the Houston Chronicle, less than 24 hours after walking out of the Harris County jail following a rare exoneration.

 

His first night of freedom didn't bring any drinking, partying, star gazing or even a long walk. Instead, Rachell stayed inside with Robert Trimmer, his 82-year-old stepfather, and spent much of the night watching television.

 

"I didn't have anywhere else to go," Rachell said as he sat on a couch in Trimmer's living room in south Houston, where he likes the curtains closed because he fears the streets. He also worries those who wrongfully put him away will again try to snatch him up.

 

A facial deformity made him a figure of fear to some after a shotgun blast ripped away nearly half of his face in the mid 1990s.

 

His family didn't expect him to live, but the disfigurement, which causes Rachell to drool and slur his speech, paled when compared to what life still had in store.

 

In 2003, he was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison for sexually assaulting an 8-year-old boy.

 

From the beginning he insisted he was innocent. But the Harris County District Attorney's Office announced last week that DNA evidence collected at the time of the crime had only now been tested and cleared him.

 

"I knew all the time he was innocent," recalled Trimmer, who raised Rachell, and who has gone blind from glaucoma in the years since the conviction. "It is so sad."

 

 

Disfigured in shooting

 

Rachell grew up an attractive man, though he was sometimes teased for being slow at school. He'd never held a steady job -- even a gig as a busboy at a steakhouse didn't work out.

 

After the shooting, Rachell often draped a towel around his neck so he could wipe his mouth. It also allowed him to hide his wounds so, even if for just a few seconds, he looked like everyone else.

 

Rachell said he was shot on a Sunday in broad daylight after a man accused him of being on his property. Apparently, neither was ever charged.

 

Rachell had a pair of convictions from the early 1980s -- one a misdemeanor marijuana charge and the other for breaking and entering.

 

But he'd had no trouble with the law for 20 years when police arrested him for sexually assaulting an 8-year-old boy on Oct. 20, 2002.

 

According to records, the child testified that he was playing hide-and-go-seek with another boy when a man on a bike asked if they wanted to make $10 cleaning up trash.

 

The man, who wore a scarf over his face, asked the boys to meet him, according to court documents. But when they did, he spirited the victim away on his bicycle to an empty house. The child later testified that man undressed him and tried to sodomize him.

Afterward, the attacker put a knife to the child's throat, threatened him and left. Crying and shaking, the child made his way to a store, where a stranger found him and took him home.

 

The next morning, the victim's mother saw Rachell riding his bike on Cullen Boulevard. She later drove her son to the spot and asked if Rachell was his attacker. Both her child and his younger friend later identified him for police.

 

Rachell was arrested.

 

"God dog it, they railroaded him," his cousin Annette Russell, 45, said in an interview. "He didn't do it, and he kept saying he didn't do it."

 

As an adult, he stayed close to his mother and stepfather. His circumstances and appearance made him easy to blame, frightening to children, his family members said.

 

Yet Rachell immediately and consistently insisted on his innocence both before and after his trial in 2003. He was convicted despite two jurors' questions about the mother's role in helping the victim identify him.

 

From prison, where his cell was about as big as a bathroom in the home where he now lives, Rachell repeatedly wrote letters to his own mother, the late Frances Trimmer, saying: "I didn't do it."

 

His mother sent him newspaper articles about serial attacks on children in the same area by a man on a bicycle.

 

At the time, police said they were still looking for a man who they believed had assaulted at least four children, according to news reports.

 

Rachell immediately sent the clippings to his lawyer, insisting on more investigation.

 

That argument became part of his appeals. All were rejected.

 

Even now, no one has been able to explain why the DNA testing was not done years ago.

 

The boy believed his attacker had never ejaculated, according to a statement he gave a medical professional. In fact, two of Rachell's defense attorneys last week said they thought there were no DNA samples to test.

 

Yet in a sworn statement dated September 12, 2007, his first defense attorney, Ronald Hayes, admitted he never filed a motion asking for such evidence, records show.

 

"However, I know that prosecutors are under a continuing obligation to provide exculpatory evidence," Hayes wrote. "Further I was aware that the State did not have any DNA evidence or other physical evidence to support the claim of sexual assault."

 

Court records do show that an oral-swab specimen, a sexual assault kit and a bag of clothing were collected and retained in the Houston Police Department Property Room as part of the case file.

 

Citing the possibility of future litigation, HPD declined comment about the case Friday.

 

 

Another suspect found

 

In the last year, Rachell, with the help of other inmates, repeatedly wrote to the court complaining about how long it was taking for the physical evidence to be reviewed and DNA evidence to be tested.

 

He asked for new attorneys. He even filed a misconduct complaint about the judge.

 

In the end, the results proved him right; Rachell was innocent. The recently tested DNA points to another suspect, a man the district attorney's office refuses to identify, except to say he is in custody.

 

Rachell said he is bitter about the time he spent in prison and angry with the boy's mother. He has no issue with the boy personally.

 

"I have no anger for him at all," Rachell said. "None at all."

 

Rachell's mother and stepfather never stopped believing in him. But his mother died before he could be freed.

 

Now, Rachell returns to live with his stepfather, a retired liquor store owner, until he can find his own way.

 

"I am going to take about six months to decide what to do," Rachell said. "I am going to stay inside a lot."

 

He said his case should remind people others are sitting in prison after being wrongfully convicted. Under state law, if he get a full pardon, he could qualify for about $300,000 in compensation.

 

Six years of wrongful imprisonment added another burden to a life that was never easy.

 

"I did not think it would be possible that he would be back, not after they gave him 40 years," Trimmer said. "This boy has had a hard time his whole life."

...........

 

 

THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE's RICK CASEY COMMENTS ON THE RODRIGUEZ AND RACHELL CASES

 

Lykos' feat: using the active voice

By RICK CASEY

 

Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle

March 14, 2009, 6:04PM

 

There are places and institutions where what District Attorney Pat Lykos did last week would seem normal.

 

But this is Harris County, Texas. And the institution is the District Attorney's Office.

 

So what Lykos did verged on the revolutionary.

 

She not only admitted mistakes, she used the active voice.

 

In a report detailing the sorry series of errors that led to the false child rape conviction of Ricardo Rachell and his more than five years in prison, she didn't conclude by burrowing into the conventional refuge of bureaucrats, the passive voice. As in: "Mistakes were made."

 

Instead, she detailed the specifics and named names of prosecutors, defense attorneys and police officers who ignored evidence supporting Rachell's innocence.

 

And she apologized to Rachell and the public.

 

Granted, it's easier to apologize for mistakes made during your predecessor's tenure. Another test will come when inevitably, given the size the caseload of the Harris County District Attorney's office, her own staff makes a mistake.

 

Still, the report (which is linked to this column at www.chron.com), represents a strong step toward changing the culture of an office that not only sent innocent people to prison, but also went into flights of irrational fantasy to avoid admitting errors.

 

Take the case of George Rodriguez, who was convicted of the 1987 rape of a 14-year-old girl who mistakenly identified him as one of two assailants.

 

A key piece of supporting evidence was a pubic hair found in the victim's panties. This was before DNA, but a Houston police crime lab specialist testified wrongly that the hair eliminated another suspect, Ysidro Yanez, but not Rodriguez.

 

Rodriguez spent 17 years in prison before DNA tests indicated that the hair belonged to Yanez, who by that time was in prison for another crime. The statute of limitations precluded charging Yanez with the rape.

 

But then-District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal didn't apologize. Instead, his prosecutors asked that Rodriguez be kept in jail under a $30,000 bail, which his family could not afford, while the District Attorney's Office considered trying him a second time. The judge denied the request and freed Rodriguez.

 

Rosenthal's office cooked up a fanciful theory, as told to me at the time by a prosecutor: Yanez had previously had sex with someone in the room, and the victim's panties picked up one of his hairs when they were thrown on the floor.

 

Fortunately, even Rosenthal didn't want to send his prosecutors to a jury with that argument, especially when evidence showed that the girl was kidnapped in Yanez's car and work records showed Rodriguez to be at his job at the time of the rape. Still, Rosenthal refused to admit that Rodriguez was innocent.

 

Once his conviction was thrown out, the law said Rodriguez was innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But the District Attorney's Office said he wasn't innocent until it was proved he couldn't possibly have done it.

 

I have never fully understood why it is so hard for prosecutors to admit a mistake. (Lykos has never been a prosecutor.)

 

Perhaps the cost of being wrong is too painful. Perhaps the psychic energy required to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt requires the abandonment of all doubt, oneself. Perhaps it's the erroneous notion that admitting a mistake shakes public confidence in the system. But the reality is that we can't have confidence in any large system that doesn't have its own system for discovering its inevitable mistakes, learning from them and taking actions to avoid making them again.

 

That's why the Lykos report boosts confidence in the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

..........

 

RICK ARCHER'S NOTE: 

Finding the Ricardo Rachell story confirmed that there wasn't just one, but two wrong conviction stories floating in the news.

 

Something bothered me.  Were there any others? 

 

I typed "wrongful conviction" into the Houston Chronicle archives.  Put on your seat belts for this one...
............

 

WRONGFULLY CONVICTED:  Witness errors lead juries astray

DNA undoes the mistakes on the stand during trials

 

By ROMA KHANNA
HOUSTON CHRONICLE

March 26, 2009, 12:56AM

 

 

WRONGFULLY CONVICTED

 

Six Houston men whose cases were investigated by Houston police were wrongfully convicted on bad eyewitness identification.

 

1 - Kevin Byrd: served 12 years for rape.

 

2 - Ricardo Rachell: served five years for sexual assault of a child.

 

3 - Anthony Robinson: served 10 years for rape.

 

4 - George Rodriguez:  served 17 years for rape and kidnapping.

 

5 - Josiah Sutton:  served five years for rape.

 

6 - Ronald Taylor: served 12 years for rape.

 

Most wrongful convictions in Texas stem from mistaken eyewitness identifications, errors that experts say could have been avoided - or even eliminated - with more sophisticated lineup techniques, according to a report released Wednesday.

 

Since 1994, DNA evidence has exonerated 39 men convicted in Texas of crimes ranging from kidnapping to murder, according to a report Wednesday by the Justice Project, a nonprofit focused on criminal justice reform.

 

Six of the cases occurred in Harris County. Each was investigated by the Houston Police Department. Each was built on flawed eyewitness evidence.

 

"Eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in Texas and across the country," said Edwin Colfax, Texas director of the Justice Project, which analyzed the factors that contributed to the wrongful convictions.

 

"But of law enforcement agencies across Texas, only a tiny fraction have any written policies for these critical investigative procedures and only a tiny fraction have implemented best practices," he said.

 

In many of these cases, not only was eyewitness testimony wrong, but DNA evidence was faulty or absent altogether. Three of the Houston cases contained flawed forensics from the HPD crime lab.

 

Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt has said he plans to issue written instructions on lineup procedures, but for now, HPD has none.

Mistaken eyewitnesses have played a role in all of the Houston DNA exonerations since 1994, including the most recent of Ricardo Rachell, who was released from prison in December after tests proved he was not guilty of the 2002 sexual assault of an 8-year-old boy.

 

The victim's identification of Rachell, who has a severe facial deformity, served as the primary evidence at trial.

............

 

RICK ARCHER'S NOTE:  WHAT EXACTLY WAS GOING ON AT THE HOUSTON CRIME LAB?

 

One theme that sifts through these stories together is the Chronicle's reference to the "troubled City of Houston crime lab."

 

I have heard on many occasions that something awful happened in the Houston crime lab several years ago.  So I typed in "houston crime lab".  I quickly discovered that the George Rodriguez case was the incident that led to an investigation of Houston's crime lab.

 

Here is an excerpt from a Chronicle story - September 19, 2006 - on investigations into the Houston Crime Lab.

 

"Michael Bromwich was hired in March 2005, more than two years after problems first were exposed at the lab.

 

Before then, news reports and other smaller inquiries revealed that some of the analysts at the HPD lab were undertrained and had performed shoddy work for years with little oversight.  Errors were uncovered in analyses from several of the lab's disciplines, including DNA, serology and ballistics, and two men were released from prison after errors in the work used to convict them were exposed.

 

The release of the second man -- George Rodriguez, who served more than 17 years for a rape and kidnapping he did not commit -- prompted Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt to hire Micheal Bromwich, a former U.S. inspector general who once investigated problems at the FBI crime lab.

 

Bromwich and his team of lawyers and scientists have reviewed about 2,300 cases from the Houston Police Department crime lab's disciplines, including DNA profiling, blood-type analyses called serology tests, firearms tests and drug tests.

The team has identified 93 cases in which DNA or serology tests had "major issues" that raise doubts about HPD analysts' conclusions.

 

"It's a troubling thought that there could have been a significant number of defendants in prison based on shoddy, inadequate and flawed serology work and that people are seemingly reluctant to find out the truth about their cases," Bromwich said.

 

Among the DNA cases cited as problematic by the Bromwich team are those of three inmates now on death row: Franklin Dewayne Alix, Juan Carlos Alvarez and Gilmar Alex Guevara. The investigators said HPD analysts failed to report exculpatory findings and, instead, said tests that did not implicate Alix were inconclusive."
.................

DEATH ROW

 

RICK ARCHER'S NOTE:   As most of you know, Harris County sends more people to death row than any other county in the United States.  For that matter, the State of Texas is the nation's leader in sending people to death row.  Not surprisingly, Texas also leads in actual executions.

 

I am not arguing the merits of capital punishment here.  However, I am definitely opposed to executing innocent victims.   What is appalling is that Texas is the national leader in the number of people whose convictions have been cleared by DNA testing.  Since 1994, DNA evidence has exonerated 39 men convicted in Texas of crimes ranging from kidnapping to murder, according to a report Wednesday by the Justice Project, a nonprofit organization focused on criminal justice reform.

 

One of those 39 men did not live to hear the good news.  While a student at Texas Tech University in 1985, Michael Cole was convicted of raping fellow student Michele Mallin. Police zeroed in on Cole, though he did not fit the profile of the person who had raped several women in the Lubbock area.  Mallin had identified him as her attacker in a rigged lineup, underscoring the problems with eyewitness identification procedures.  But in 2009 Ms Mallin joined Cole's family in seeking post-mortem exoneration for him after DNA evidence cleared Cole and fingered another person, who ultimately confessed to the crime.

 Tragically, it was too late for Cole.  He died of asthma behind bars while serving a 25-year sentence.

Considering how frequently our State puts the wrong guys in prison, you have to wonder if - like the mythical Richard Kimble  - there are innocent people from Harris County on Texas Death Row today.

 

You think to yourself, no, that isn't possible.  Surely our local justice system doesn't convict the wrong people of murder.  I am pleased to report that I did not uncover any Chronicle stories of Harris County wrongful convictions that led to Death Row. 

But it almost happened up in Conroe.  In 1986, Clarence Brandley missed being executed by six days.   In a tragic miscarriage of justice, this man was nearly put to death for a crime he did not commit. 

And to this day, the Clarence Brandley story still makes me furious.

..........

 

CLARENCE BRANDLEY

 

In 1980, Clarence Brandley was an African-American janitor who was convicted of the murder of a 16-year-old white high school student in the city of Conroe, TX.   

Three white high school janitors were threatened by the Texas Rangers into testifying that they had seen Clarence Brandley, their black custodial supervisor, walking into the restroom area of the high school where the victim had entered only minutes before she had disappeared.

James Keeshan, a powerful local prosecutor, handled the case.  He was able to obtain a death sentence against Brandley, even though the practical evidence against him was slim. Brandley was convicted and sentenced to death based on the inferential testimony that since he was the last person seen near her, then he must have killed her.

Don Boney, a human rights activist from Houston, was convinced something was not quite right about the Brandley case.  He persuaded Houston attorney Mike De Geurin to look into the matter.

As De Geurin spent more time looking into the particulars of the case and Brandley's trial, he became convinced that an innocent man was on death row.  De Geurin and Boney began a campaign to uncover the truth behind the murder (and the plot to railroad Brandley) before Brandley faced the executioner.  Unfortunately, the Texas judicial system threw up roadblocks every step of the way.

 

Along the way, all kinds of evidence clearing Brandley was suppressed.  For example, 11 months after Brandley was convicted, his appellate lawyers discovered that valuable evidence had disappeared while in the custody of the prosecution -- including a Caucasian pubic hair and other hairs recovered from Ferguson's body that were neither hers nor Brandley's.

Also missing were photographs taken of Brandley on the day of the crime showing that he was not wearing the belt that the prosecution claimed had been the murder weapon. The missing evidence was all the more troubling in light of the pretrial destruction of the spermatozoa.

Brandley's attorneys listed the willful destruction and disappearance of this potentially exculpatory (
clearing of guilt or blame) evidence in Brandley's appellate briefs, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals completely ignored their points.  Instead the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and death sentence in 1985 without even mentioning the issue in their summary.

 

Then a huge break occurred.  A woman, Brenda Medina, saw a show on TV about Brandley.  That was the first time she had ever heard of the case.  That is when she remembered how an ex-boyfriend, James Dexter Robinson, had told her in 1980 that he had committed such a crime.  Medina said she had not believed Robinson at the time, but now it made sense.  One problem - the Conroe district attorney refused to believe her.  Nor did the DA bother telling Brandley's attorneys about Medina's important testimony.

 

In 1986, Brandley's execution date was drawing closer.  Despite an accumulation of new evidence, Judge Coker recommended that Brandley be denied a new trial -- a recommendation perfunctorily accepted by the Court of Criminal Appeals on December 22, 1986.

Fortunately DeGeurin had enlisted some powerful help.  Civil rights activists had coalesced and raised $80,000 to help finance further efforts on Brandley's behalf.  James McCloskey, of Centurion Ministries in Princeton, New Jersey, took on the case.

 

Working with a private investigator, McCloskey soon obtained a video-taped statement from Gary Acerman, one of the janitors, stating that James Dexter Robinson had killed the girl and that he had seen Robinson place her clothes in a Dumpster where they were found.  A few days later Acerman mysteriously changed his mind and recanted that video statement.  However it was too late.  The cat was out of the bag.  Two new witnesses came forward attesting that they had heard Acerman say he knew who killed the girl, that it was not Brandley, but that he would never tell who did it.

Based on these statements, Coker finally relented and granted a stay.  Brandley's execution date was only six days away.  Try to imagine just how frightened and despairing this man must have been.  As the date of his death grew neared, Brandley had to be scared out of his mind with worry.

 

On October 9, 1987, Judge Pickett recommended that the Court of Criminal Appeals grant Brandley a new trial, declaring: "The litany of events graphically described by the witnesses, some of it chilling and shocking, leads me to the conclusion the pervasive shadow of darkness has obscured the light of fundamental decency and human rights."

After his release, Brandley was involved in further legal proceedings over child support payments that had accrued over his time in jail.  Brandley asked exactly how he was supposed to pay child support when he was being illegally detained in the Texas prison system.  Tough, said the court, you still owe the money.

 

Brandley turned around and filed a $120 million lawsuit against various Texas state agencies over his wrongful imprisonment.  That would have helped with the child support problems, but he lost.  The lawsuit was rejected on the grounds of sovereign immunity (a legal doctrine denying citizens the power to sue governments for wrongful acts).

The officials involved in the case were not disciplined, nor did they apologize.  Prosecutors in the case still insist they convicted the right man.  As late as 2002, 22 years after the crime, prosecutors still maintained that Brandley was guilty.

They have not apologized for his wrongful imprisonment, nor have they filed charges against any other suspects.

In fact, no investigation into Acerman or Robinson has ever been carried out despite the strong evidence against them.  The likely true killers of this young girl remain free today.
...............

 

RICK ARCHER'S CONCLUSION

A
s I studied these different Chronicle stories, I found myself feeling ashamed of my city.  As Shakespeare would say, something is rotten in Denmark.

While the Chronicle points out all the problems in the crime lab, it seemed to me the paper was very careful not to directly print the names of the people who were likely responsible.  The Chronicle stories were so vague they make me wonder just exactly which local law officials are the good guys and which ones are the bad guys.  It is clear that someone was incompetent.  That is a given.  What I don't know is if there is an actual presence of evil such as what existed in the Brandley story.

After finishing this story, it has finally occurred to me why I have my small anxiety attacks when the police come around - in this city, even innocent people are at risk.
...........

 

And that's a wrap.  Only 18 pages this week. 

End of July 2009 SSQQ Newsletter Issue One

 

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Issue Two

The July 2009 SSQQ Newsletter Issue Two
Written by Rick Archer


 

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Issue Three

The July 2009 SSQQ Newsletter Issue Three
Written by Rick Archer

 

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Issue Four

The July 2009 SSQQ Newsletter Issue Four
Written by Rick Archer

 

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