Big News for 2017!
We were offered a matching grant if we could collect $15,000 or more in donations, and we just got the last donation that will allow us to collect the matchiing grant! Donate now to have your gift doubled by the end of the year!
2017- AN EXCITING AND SUCCESSFUL YEAR FOR NCCAN
In February, a Circuit Court judge from Wayne County, Michigan, granted Bernard Young’s Motion for Relief from Judgment. Subsequently, Bernard walked out of prison a free man. One of the two brothers who were molested as children gave emotonal testmony that it was his stepfather who had sexually abused both boys and threatened to kill them if they didn’t implicate Bernard. The prosecutor actually had this informaton at the tme the case went to trial, but it was hidden from the defense. Bernard was convicted for a crime he did not commit. Unbelievably, the State has appealed the ruling of the judge to the Court of Appeals.
NCCAN has been the moving force behind Bernard’s case. NCCAN found the brothers, now in their 30’s, and obtained afadavits from them. NCCAN brought Tommie to Michigan from Kansas where he met with the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic students and faculty. He also visited with Bernard and apologized to him, saying his stepfather threatened to kill the boys and their mother if they didn’t implicate Bernard. Once Bernard felt his case was not moving forward at the Clinic, NCCAN hired his lawyer, Solomon Radner.
Also last winter, an NCCAN client called and suggested that we get a man named Marwin McHenry reviewed and accepted by the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic. The caller told me that someone else had confessed to the crime and proof of innocence should be easy. Our good relatonship with the Clinic placed Mr. McHenry in front of the line and he was exonerated in May.
And then on June 1, afer working 7 years with Claudia Whitman and some great University of Michigan law students, long tme NCCAN friend and client, Desmond Ricks, was exonerated. Claudia was there in court with him when the judge apologized for the 25 years of wrongful incarceraton that Michigan had imposed upon him. Dez is reunited with his two daughters and six grandchildren and has already been granted the right to receive $50,000 for every year he served in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Crime Watch Daily, which has worked with the U. Michigan Innocence Clinic previously and won numerous awards for its documentaries on cases, is producing a TV show on Desmond’s case. They did the filming recently at the office of the civil atorney NCCAN found for Dez. The flm will show how the Innocence Clinic and I got Dez’s case back into court and secured his fnal exoneraton.
Also this year NCCAN has been able to expand NCCAN’s offerings to include hiring lawyers at reduced fees when innocence projects can’t take the cases that have been worked on. NCCAN pre-investgates the cases and contnues as part of the legal team. Rather than asking for pro-bono partcipaton, NCCAN is forming a team where everyone understands that poor people just don’t have the resources for full price representaton. Because staff doesn't take a salary or charge clients, NCCAN can find respected atorneys who are willing to step up to the plate with lower fees.
We currently have 5 lawyers working on 6 cases plus one case still awaitng a ruling through the U. Michigan Innocence Clinic. NCCAN has also agreed to do the investgaton on one case where the client’s wife was able to work out a payment plan on her own, even though she is a doctoral student with two kids.
At NCCAN we encourage this model of family involvement. Likewise, NCCAN expects strong directon from the client. Communicaton and teamwork are our goals for an across-the-board buy-in focused on success.
As a result of our hard work and your generous contributons this year, 3 men are free and 7 have legal representaton!
Don't Stop Now!
But the need contnues and the letters for help keep pouring in.
This year your contributons will mean more than ever.
That’s because we have a Matching Grant. If we can raise $15,000 from friends and generous supporters like you, an individual donor will send a check for $15,000 to match your donatons. With our annual fundraising leter we traditonally raise about $10,000. So $15,000 is a bit of a stretch. But we hope you will come through for NCCAN, knowing that every dollar you give will be doubled. This money will enable us to contnue hiring good lawyers who understand the need for aﬀordable fees and teamwork. And remember, because we never charge clients and I volunteer my tme, everything that you donate goes directly to helping our clients get the justice they deserve.
That’s what NCCAN is all about.
Thank you in advance for your ongoing support. As a team, we have brought hope to people who never thought they would get their opportunity for justice.
Desmond Ricks is Found Innocent After 25 Years In Prison
Desmond Ricks was released on bond Friday, May 26, 2017 from the Handlon Correctional Facility, Ionia, Michigan - ending 25 years of wrongful incarceration. His conviction was overturned by the presiding judge but the prosecution could have retried him. Appearing before that same judge today, the prosecution said that Mr. Ricks will not be retried. Mr. Ricks is a free man. He was wrongfully convicted in 1992 and now is exonerated.
By 2011 Mr. Ricks had run out of normal judicial appeals so he reached out to Claudia Whitman to review his case and get it back into the courts. After talking with him and evaluating the case materials, Ms. Whitman became convinced that he was wrongfully convicted, So she organized all of the facts and presented them in a concise report to the Michigan Innocence Clinic.
Below is the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic’s report:
The University of Michigan Innocence Clinic is very pleased to announce the exoneration today (June 1, 2017) of our client, Desmond Ricks, who served 25 years for a murder he did not commit because the Detroit Police Department (DPD) Crime Lab committed forensic fraud and then covered it up.
On March 3, 1992, Mr. Ricks rode with his friend, Gerry Bennett to a restaurant in Detroit where Bennett was to meet a man for a drug deal. Mr. Ricks stayed in the car in the parking lot while Bennett went inside. A few minutes later, Bennett emerged from the restaurant with another man, who then pulled a gun and shot Bennett twice, killing him. The man then noticed Ricks, and so Ricks jumped out of the car and fled as the man opened fire on him. In the process of running away, Ricks dropped his jacket.
The police found the jacket, with Mr.Ricks' ID, in the parking lot. They then drove to the home where Ricks lived with his mother and arrested him. The police searched the house and found a .38 Rossi special in Ricks' mother's nightstand.
Two days later, a Detroit Police firearms examiner declared that the two bullets recovered from Gerry Bennett's body matched bullets he had test-fired from Ricks' mother's gun. Ricks insisted that this match was not possible, so his lawyer got the court to appoint an independent firearms examiner, David Townshend, who confirmed the DPD's result. So both Pauch and Townshend testified for the prosecution at trial. There was no evidence of any kind against Ricks other than the bullets which allegedly matched his mother's gun.
In 2008, however, the DPD Crime Lab was shut down after the Michigan State Police found massive "irregularities" in the ballistics unit. After hearing of the scandal, Mr. Ricks wrote David Townshend, who drove to the prison to meet Mr. Ricks, where he revealed that he had been suspicious for nearly two decades of the "autopsy" bullets he had analyzed in 1992.
Mr. Townshend told Mr. Ricks that he now believed the bullets the DPD gave him were too "pristine" and intact to have been removed from Bennett's body. Mr. Townshend concluded that the DPD had given him the test-fired bullets and passed them off as the bullets from the autopsy so that Townshend would declare a match between those bullets and his own test-fired bullets, thereby confirming the DPD's result.
To make a long story short, The Michigan Innocence Clinic took the case in 2011, spent years looking for the original autopsy bullets, eventually found them, and then got a court order to have them analyzed by the Michigan State Police Crime Lab. That analysis was completed last week and shows that David Townshend was correct: the bullets from the autopsy were far too mangled to be matched to any particular gun, but one of the bullets did have a faint pattern of 5 lands and grooves, which affirmatively excluded it as having been fired from a .38 Rossi (which has 6 lands and grooves).
The conclusion, then, is that the DPD Crime Lab in 1992 fabricated a match of the autopsy bullets to Ricks' mother's gun and then switched the autopsy bullets with test-fired bullets so that the independent examiner (Townshend) would not discover the fraud. Upon receiving the Michigan State Police report last week, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office immediately stipulated to overturn Mr. Ricks' conviction and to not oppose his release on bond. Today, the prosecutor agreed to dismiss all charges.
Mr. Ricks was 26 when he was convicted and is now 51. He has spent time the last few days with his two daughters, both nurses, and met his six grandchildren for the first time. He looks forward to getting a job and, as he said at a press conference, "becoming a taxpayer."
Over six years, we had seven different attorneys and about 15 law students work on this case. Our former staff attorney Caitlin Plummer had the case the longest and did the lion's share of the work to get this result. A special shout out goes to the incomparable Claudia Whitman, who heard about this case before we did, and very forcefully convinced us to accept it. (She laid the groundwork for the case, and worked with the students as the case progressed. As an investigator, she turned up pertinent documents, and found the ballistics expert for the case.) Also, we are extremely grateful to David Townshend, who came forward with the truth when he realized that he had been duped into confirming the DPD's "match" and didn't waver even when the prosecutor initially called his claim "outlandish" and a "conspiracy theory."
Mr. Ricks is just one more wrongfully convicted prisoner released after extremely long incarcerations; 25 years.
A donor has provided a financial grant to Mr. Ricks (as an official exoneree) so that he can restart his life. Michigan passed a compensation bill which the governor signed in December that will compensate wrongfully convicted people at the rate of $50,000 a year for every year of imprisonment. A settlement will take many years.
Laird Carlson, National Capital Crime Assistance Network
Dave Moran, University of Michigan Innocence Clinic
To read story from the Detroit News, click Here.
Great News for Bernard Young!
Mancos Woman Works to Free Innocent Prisoners Across the Country
By Jonathan Romeo Herald Staff Writer
Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017 10:55 PM
Bernard Young was behind bars for nearly 30 years for a crime he claimed he didn’t commit when his
family, in a last ditch effort, called Mancos resident Claudia Whitman.
Whitman, who runs the Colorado-based nonprofit National Capital Crime Assistance Network, spent the
next six years working on Young’s case, trying to prove the innocence the Detroit man has maintained since the 1980s.
And on Feb. 8, the effort seemingly paid off: Young, 58, had his first taste of freedom when a judge
released him on bond, months after Whitman was able to secure a recant of testimony from the two victims.
Young was accused of molesting in the 1980s, when the now-adult males were ages 5 and 6.
“Everyone I had approached, they just didn’t want to touch it,” said Young’s sister, Joyce Holman. “It
was such a web that no one wanted to untangle.”
“But I just couldn’t let my brother sit there in jail and be sentenced for something he did not do,” she continued. “Claudia took an interest. And now, she’s become almost a family member. We just love her for her commitment to my brother, and to this family. She just believed in us.”
For the last 25 or so years, Whitman, who resides north of Mancos in a cabin near Joe Moore Reservoir,
has fought to help prove the innocence of imprisoned people who have exhausted all other resources.
Whitman is originally from Los Angeles, but lived the majority of her life in Maine before moving to Southwest Colorado nearly 25 years ago.
An artist by trade, Whitman, 74, became involved in the work in the 1990s while participating in other
social justice issues, which included representing persons on death row.
She obtained her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Goucher College in Baltimore, and a BA in painting at the Maine School of Art. She taught art at a boarding school in Vermont, as well as two stints volunteer teaching and working as a translator in Nicaragua.
Her social justice work started with Equal Justice USA, later taking a leadership role with the death
penalty chapter of CURE. She then became involved with the Innocence Project at the University of Houston, investigating death penalty and life sentence cases before starting her own nonprofit.
Although she works about 60 hours a week on cases, she has never taken a salary. With no formal legal
training, she said she’s always learning on the job. And to cover expenses and hire lawyers, she modestly fundraises throughout the year.
Whitman receives more than 100 requests a year from prisoners or their family members seeking her
help. She’s able to take on only one to two new cases a year, but always makes an attempt to steer prisoners and their families to other resources.
Whitman works from her Mancos home, but makes frequent trips to visit her clients, the majority of
whom are incarcerated in Michigan, Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia and Texas.
And over the years, while it’s impossible to quantify how many people Whitman has helped directly or
indirectly, she’s helped free about seven people who claimed innocence from prison.
In Young’s case, Whitman tracked down testimony that showed the two boys in the 1980s, about a
month after accusing Young, told police it was their mother’s boyfriend who had molested them.
The boys said the boyfriend threatened to kill them and their mother if they told the truth – information that was not made available during Young’s trial in the 1980s before he was convicted and sentenced to 60 to 100 years in prison.
Whitman tracked down the accusers, now adults, who signed affidavits confirming it was not Young but
the boyfriend who had committed the abuse. The boyfriend has since died.
Young, who awaits a new trial in June, already has a new job in construction. His sister said despite
being robbed of most of his life, Young harbors no bitterness.
“He’ll never recover the 27 years he’s lost, but this is a new beginning,” Holman said. “There’s just joy for life, and this opportunity for him to be with his children and grandchildren.”
Charles Wakefield Jr. was sentenced to death in the killing of an off-duty sheriff’s deputy and his father in South Carolina in the 1970s. Although his sentence was commuted to a life sentence, Whitman worked nearly 13 years to prove his innocence.
While Whitman, who single-handedly runs her nonprofit but works with various lawyers and advocates, was unable to get Wakefield exonerated, he was released on parole in 2010 when a key witness recanted his testimony.
Wakefield had spent 35 years in prison.
“Claudia – she’s one of those people that when she starts working on a case, she pretty much gives it
everything she’s got, and she’s not going to give up,” Wakefield said. “The whole thing is ittersweet. It was like being born again.”
According to the Innocence Project, 2.3 to 5 percent of all U.S. prisoners are innocent, and with about 2.4 million people in jail, that comes out to about 120,000 innocent people. In 2015, a record number of people were freed after serving time for crimes they didn’t commit.
Facts like these keep Whitman going, but also draw an immense amount of frustration from the Mancos
woman about the judicial system, as well as the prisoners she’ll never be able to help.
“The worst part is there’s so many people you have to tell you can’t help them,” she said. “They may be absolutely innocent, but it’s a question of whether or not you can prove it.”
Whitman, in her free moments, walks her two dogs at least four times a day, rides horses and spends
time with her husband, Laird Carlson, who works at Adaptive Sports Association. She volunteers at the Raven House Gallery in Mancos, still painting, which is one way to “keep sanity and balance,” she said.
Whitman said watching prisoners she’s helped be released from jail is a mixed bag of emotions.
“There’s just so many people innocent in prison, and it’s frustrating,” Whitman said. “But then when
you get a success like this and see joy in their hearts, you get more out of it than you ever put in.”
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