NCCAN in 2016
NCCAN made huge progress this year!
As you know, our mission has always been to help the accused, the convicted, and their families and loved ones. For many years, we ran workshops on how capital cases proceed through the courts and how families can stay involved. As death row prisoners got more comprehensive defense teams, mandated by the American Bar Association Guidelines, we shifted our focus more towards people serving Life Without Parole sentences, because, once convicted and sentenced, these people no longer have legal representation. Recently, we realized that all the investigation in the world wouldn’t help if a person didn’t have a lawyer. So we began to seek lawyers and innocence defense groups that would partner with NCCAN in some way. We worked hard with this concept as our model and NCCAN is happy to report that the University of Michigan Innocence Project has two of our cases in litigation and four other clients have lawyers who have filed briefs or are about to do so.
In October, Ms. Whitman was back in Detroit for the hearing of Bernard Young. NCCAN was able to bring to Detroit one of the victims who was molested by his stepfather, but was forced as a 6 year old, to implicate Bernard. He gave sad and honest testimony and completely cleared Bernard of any involvement. However, we had the misfortune to have a judge who had been a prosecutor for eight years and who still was acting as a prosecutor, hostile to our team and the witness. She asked the witness most of the questions – a prerogative that should be left to the prosecutor. At a subsequent hearing where the older brother was to testify but had a conflict with his job, this judge denied a continuance. The third and recent hearing continued in the same vein, with the unwillingness of the judge to grant more time for the older brother to be able to testify and with the former prosecutor saying she didn’t remember whether she had turned over the exculpatory evidence.Since the defense attorney died soon after the trial, almost thirty years ago, there is no one to counter this prosecutor’s testimony.
Attorney Radner, who is representing both Bernard Young and Danny Burton through NCCAN funding, is fighting the good fight for justice. Besides dealing with a judge who is not neutral, he is about to file Danny Burton’s Petition for Relief from Judgment. The petition will include an affidavit from the witness Ms Whitman had been chasing for years and finally found in South Carolina. He was the only witness who had not recanted in Danny’s case.
So, all four guys have active, dedicated lawyers, thanks to your support of our efforts to obtain counsel when the Innocence Project couldn’t continue working on these cases.
Lawson Strickland’s attorney in Louisiana has finally found a young attorney who is reading everything on the case and who is interested in helping us move that case forward. He is following the recommendations of the New Orleans Innocence Project. In the coming months NCCAN will be returning to Louisiana to do more investigation, and, hopefully, collaborate with the new lawyer as well as Lawson’s current counsel.
Innocence In the News
NCCAN has been working with two fantastic journalists this year. David Krajicek wrote a fascinating article on the lack of exonerations in this country for second-tier felonies (non-murders). Through Ms. Whitman's interviews with him, she was able to get him interested in Aaron Johnson’s case in Alabama. In order to follow through with an article for The Crime Report, David applied for and obtained a grant from the Center for Investigative Reporting. His article was published in March. Aaron Cantu has done two incredible articles on NCCAN cases, one for Truthout Magazine and one for The Intercept. We are hopeful that this kind of in-depth writing about NCCAN cases will educate the public about the larger issues of racism, poverty, and innocence and support the innocence claims of wrongfully convicted prisoners.
Ms. Whitman was unable to present her workshop this year at the Prisoners’ Family Conference in Dallas because it conflicted with Charles Wakefield’s clemency hearing. Ms. Whitman and her husband, Laird Carlson cannot be away from their house at the same time, so Mr. Carlson testified at the hearing. Ms. Whitman has re-applied to present “So You Think Your Loved One is Innocent” for next year’s conference.
Thank You For Your Support!
As always, we cannot do this work without your help. Because of your generosity, four guys who have been in prison for over twenty years now have lawyers. Cell Door Magazine reaches over 2000 incarcerated individuals for free. Ms. Whitman is able to travel to the places she is needed to do the investigations that have never been done on these old cases. And this year Ms. Whitman was able to attend the Innocence Network Conference again where over 300 exonerees told their stories. Jeff Deskovic, NCCAN’s exoneree success story, emceed the main luncheon again and he continues to honor our organization for getting him on his path to freedom. Discovery ID, a part of the Discovery Channel, is doing a series on innocence and Jeff’s story will be one of the episodes. They flew Ms. Whitman to NY in early May to participate in the filming. Stay tuned.
Ever since the recent elections, we are nervous about the future of criminal justice reform during the next four years. There is good reason to worry because there will be one or maybe three new justices on the Supreme Court. Trump has already indicated that his appointees will be in the mold of Judge Scalia. And he is planning to appoint as Attorney General, a man known for racist, reactionary policies around criminal justice. It will probably become increasingly difficult to obtain relief in the courts. As many of us who are progressives believe, it is more important than ever to give financial support to the organizations that are fighting for justice and for the rights of all citizens.
Thank you in advance for your ongoing support. As a team, we have brought hope to people who never thought they would get their chance for justice.
David J Krajicek for The Crime Report: A Life (Without Parole) Story
Aaron Miguel Cantu for Truthout: Ring of Snitches: How Detroit Police Slapped False Murder Convictions on Young Black Men
Aaron Miguel Cantu for The Intercept: Detroit’s Hidden Crack Casualties
2016 Innocence Network Conference
In April, NCCAN director, Claudia Whitman, attended the annual Innocence Network Conference which was held this year in San Antonio. The Conference is a wonderful opportunity to get to know some of the exonerees and to hear their stories. This year there were more than 150 exonerees present at the conference, some of whom had been released from prison as recently as a month or two before the Conference.
During the two day event, there are several types of workshops. Some are exclusively for exonerees and deal with the specific issues they are facing as returning citizens such as a need for counseling, finding jobs and housing, reintegration into the community, writing resumes, public speaking and issues around compensation for their years of wrongful incarceration. Other workshops are for the legal and advocacy communities and address forensic topics, investigation strategies, litigation skills, newly discovered evidence, mental disabilities, difficult clients, starting an innocence project, just to name a few.
After the official conference ends each year, there is a get together for all attendees in a local pub with live music provided by the exonerees. This year it was at the Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum. It provides all attendees with a chance to relax and have some fun together after an intense couple of days.
Overall, the Conference is a wonderful opportunity to network as well as to learn. And for people working to free innocent men and women from wrongful conviction, it is a chance to see the fruit of their hard work and to share with the exonerees the final triumph of gaining their freedom.