Posts Tagged ‘rape’

Dallas police pioneering new photo lineup approach

August 21, 2009

AP

By JEFF CARLTON, Associated Press Writer,  Fri Aug 21, 7:30 am ET

DALLAS – Frustrated with a string of wrongful convictions, the Dallas police department is now the nation’s largest force to use sequential blind photo lineups — a widely praised technique designed to reduce mistakes made by witnesses trying to identify suspects.

Dallas is not the first department to use the pioneering method. But experts hope that by using it in the county that leads the nation in exonerating wrongly convicted inmates, Dallas will inspire other departments to follow suit.

“If Dallas can do it … then others are going to rise to the occasion,” said Iowa State psychology professor Gary Wells, a national expert on police lineups.

The department switched to sequential blind lineups in April. Before that, Dallas police administered most lineups using the traditional six-pack — law-enforcement lingo for mounting six photos onto a folder and showing them to a witness or victim at the same time.

In sequential blind lineups, mug shots are shown one at a time. Detectives displaying the photos also don’t know who the suspect is, which means they can’t purposely or accidentally tip off witnesses.

Showing possible suspects all at once tends to make a witness compare the mug shots to one another, Wells said. But if they are shown sequentially, “witnesses have to dig deeper, compare each person to their memory and make more of an absolute decision.”

“It makes witnesses more conservative, more cautious,” he said.

An analysis of 26 recent studies shows that presenting mug shots sequentially instead of simultaneously produces fewer identifications but more accurate ones, Wells said. Overall, identification rates in sequential lineups are 15 percent lower than simultaneous lineups — but misidentification rates also drop by 39 percent, he said.

Dallas is taking other measures to try to cut back on misidentifications. Police try to record every lineup to make them more credible, and a lineup unit tells witnesses that police will investigate the case regardless of whether an identification is made. That’s designed to reduce pressure on a witness to make an ID for fear the case will stagnate, said Dallas police Lt. David Pughes.

Dallas police also ask witnesses to express how confident they are in their identifications, Pughes said. That’s to avoid what Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck calls a “forced-choice response” when police, intentionally or not, nudge a witness into expressing certainty.

That’s what happened to Thomas McGowan, a wrongly convicted Dallas County man released last year after nearly 23 years in prison for a rape and robbery he did not commit.

Police in the Dallas suburb of Richardson gave the victim, who was held captive by her attacker for several hours, several photos including McGowan’s and the man that DNA eventually proved to be the rapist. She picked out McGowan’s photo, saying she “thought” he was the attacker. Police told her she had to be certain and “couldn’t just think it was him.” It was then she said McGowan was “definitely” the attacker, according to court documents.

McGowan recently met his accuser, who apologized. He said he believes police should use an independent person to administer lineups. The Richardson department now has a written policy that states a preference for but doesn’t require an independent lineup administrator.

“They showed me the picture of the guy, and to me the guy looked nothing like me,” McGowan said. “I’m still trying to figure that one out.”

Nationally, more than 75 percent of DNA exonerees who have been released since 1989 were sent to prison based on witness misidentification, according to The Innocence Project, a New York legal center specializing in overturning wrongful convictions. It’s the most common element in a wrongful conviction, the center said.

Since 2001, 21 people in Dallas County have had convictions overturned after DNA proved their innocence. A majority of them were in the city of Dallas.

In May, Jerry Lee Evans, of Dallas, had his conviction overturned after spending 23 years in prison for aggravated sexual assault with a deadly weapon. The rape victim wrongly identified him as her attacker.

In another case, Johnnie Earl Lindsey spent more than 25 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. The victim said her attacker didn’t wear a shirt. A year later, the victim picked out Lindsey — one of two shirtless men among the six photos. Lindsey, of Dallas, was released last year after DNA showed he was innocent.

Boston, Minneapolis and Denver use sequential blind lineups or some variation. New Jersey and North Carolina have mandated police do the same. Most police departments, however, continue to use the six-pack or other traditional methods.

“There’s a belief that as long as what you are doing is legal, then you just keep doing it because you believe it is working for you,” Wells said.

In Dallas, police were initially resistant to the new lineups because “they thought we were creating obstacles to getting bad guys off the street,” Assistant Chief Ron Waldrop said.

But after about 1,200 lineups, identification rates have not changed — though it is too early tell if there’s been a decline in mistaken ID rates.

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High court says convicts lack right to DNA testing

June 25, 2009
By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer Mark Sherman, Associated Press Writer Thu Jun 18, 3:27 pm ET

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court said Thursday that a convicted rapist has no constitutional right to test biological evidence used at his trial in Alaska years earlier, leaving it to the states to decide when prisoners get access to genetic evidence that might prove their innocence.

In a 5-4 vote, with the conservative justices in the majority, the court said it would not second-guess states or force them routinely to look again at criminal convictions.

William Osborne, convicted in a brutal assault on a prostitute in Alaska 16 years ago, sued for the right to test the contents of a blue condom the victim says was used by her attacker. A federal appeals court said he had a right to conduct the test.

Alaska is one of only three states without a law that gives convicts access to genetic evidence. The others are Massachusetts and Oklahoma.

Testing so far has led to the exoneration of 240 people who had been found guilty of murder, rape and other violent crimes, according to the Innocence Project, which works to free people who were wrongly convicted.

But Chief Justice John Roberts, in his majority opinion, said the states have moved quickly to grapple with the challenges and opportunities presented by advances in genetic testing.

“To suddenly constitutionalize this area would short-circuit what looks to be a prompt and considered legislative response,” Roberts said.

The chief justice said that new technology that was not available at trial should not throw fairly won convictions into doubt. “The dilemma is how to harness DNA’s power to prove innocence without unnecessarily overthrowing the established system of criminal justice,” he said.

Dissenting liberal justices and advocates for prisoners who seek genetic testing complained that the court is penalizing a small group of inmates who lack access to a simple test that would conclusively show their innocence, or reaffirm their guilt.

“The fact that nearly all the states have now recognized some postconviction right to DNA evidence makes it more, not less, appropriate to recognize a limited federal right to such evidence in cases where litigants are unfairly barred from obtaining relief in state court,” Justice John Paul Stevens said.

Peter Neufeld, a co-founder of The Innocence Project who argued Osborne’s case at the Supreme Court, said the ruling probably would not affect the vast majority of inmates seeking DNA testing.

But, Neufeld said, “There is no question that a small group of innocent people — and it is a small group — will languish in prison because they can’t get access to the evidence.”

The Obama administration, picking up the argument first made by the Bush administration, urged the court to reject the appeals court ruling and insist that inmates at least swear under oath to their innocence before being given access to the evidence. The federal DNA testing law has such a requirement.

In some states, laws limit testing to capital crimes or rule out after-the-fact tests for people who confess.

The woman in Alaska was raped, beaten with an ax handle, shot in the head and left for dead in a snow bank near Anchorage International Airport. The condom that was found nearby was used in the assault, she said.

The woman, who is white, identified Osborne, who is black, as one of her attackers. Another man also convicted in the attack has repeatedly incriminated him. Osborne himself described the assault in detail when he admitted his guilt under oath to the parole board in 2004.

In many exoneration cases, eyewitnesses picked out the wrong man, often with the victim of one race incorrectly identifying someone of a different color.

Osborne’s lawyer passed up advanced DNA testing at the time of his trial, fearing it could conclusively link him to the crime. A less-refined test by the state showed that the semen did not belong to other suspects but could be from Osborne, as well as about 15 percent of all African-American men.

Osborne is awaiting sentencing on another conviction, a robbery he committed after his parole.

The case is District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne, 08-6.

Vigil held to show support for suspected Oakland cop killer

March 27, 2009

By Associated Press
Thursday, March 26, 2009

OAKLAND, Calif. – As the city prepares for a massive public funeral for four police officers slain in the line of duty, dozens took to the streets in a show of support for the man authorities say was their killer.

Organized by International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, the march Wednesday evening took participants near a police substation within sight of the two locations where Lovelle Mixon allegedly shot the veteran officers before being slain himself.

Loved ones and supporters walked through the streets chanting, “OPD you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide!” There were no officers patrolling the march route.

“I don’t condone what he did, but it’s bringing to light the frustrations between the community and the police,” said Uhuru Movement member Kihad Deen. “This gives people a chance to speak their minds.”

Mixon’s cousin, Dolores Darnell, 26, addressed the small crowd, calling him “a true hero, a soldier.”

“This is the real Lovelle,” she said, holding a picture of a smiling Mixon with his wife. “We do apologize for what he did to the officers’ families. But he’s not a monster.”

Authorities say a day before the shooting the 26-year-old fugitive parolee was linked by DNA to the February rape of a 12-year-old girl who was dragged off the street at gunpoint.

The event took place a day after a city-sponsored gathering drew about 1,000 people to the crime scene to honor the slain officers: Sgt. Mark Dunakin, 40; John Hege, 41; Sgt. Ervin Romans, 43; and Sgt. Daniel Sakai, 35.

Police said Hege and Dunakin were gunned down Saturday when the two motorcycle officers pulled over Mixon. In a manhunt that followed, Romans and Sakai died when the city’s SWAT team stormed an apartment where Mixon was hiding. Mixon also died in the gunfire.

Speaking at the event honoring the officers Tuesday night, Acting Police Chief Howard Jordan said the department was being sustained by an outpouring of public sympathy that included flowers, food, donations for the officers’ families and more than 3,000 e-mails, cards and calls.

“It speaks volumes for us. To see so many people here today, in the very same community we lost four officers, means so much to us,” Jordan said, noting that the condolences have far exceeded any hints of criticism. “We’re going to get through this, with the support of our families and with the support of you, the community.”

Meanwhile, the state inspector general said Wednesday that Mixon was properly monitored by corrections officials after he was released from prison in November. Mixon was wanted on a parole violation when the shootings happened, although it is not yet known whether that was the reason Hege and Dunakin pulled him over on Saturday afternoon.

Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, said Wednesday that the rank-and-file is trying to cope with the tragedy while preparing for a public funeral Friday that is expected to fill the arena where the Golden State Warriors play.

“Everyone is devastated,” Arotzarena said. “Everyone is trying to seek answers to it all, including, ’Why did this happen?’

“Our reaction is no different than anyone else.”

According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 133 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in 2008, a 27 percent decrease from year before and the lowest annual total since 1960

Oakland cop shot by parolee taken off life support

March 24, 2009

By MARCUS WOHLSEN, Associated Press Writer

Undated mugshot of suspect Lovelle Mixon, who was involved in the shooting of 5 police officers resulting in 4 of their deaths, in Oakland, California Reuters – Undated mugshot of suspect Lovelle Mixon, who was involved in the shooting of 5 police officers resulting …

SAN FRANCISCO – An Oakland police officer shot by a man wanted on a parole violation was taken off life support after vital organs were removed for transplantation, a hospital spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The officer’s death brings to five, counting the gunman, the number of people killed in Saturday’s confrontation.

Officer John Hege was taken off life support Monday night and his heart, liver and kidneys were removed, said Andrea Breaux of Alameda County Medical Center.

The 41-year-old officer had been declared brain dead on Sunday but the hospital kept him on life support so his organs could be donated, in keeping with his wishes.

Four patients received the organs, she said.

Police said Hege and his partner, Sgt. Mark Dunakin, were gunned down when the two motorcycle officers pulled over parolee Lovelle Mixon on Saturday.

In the manhunt that followed, two more officers died when the city’s SWAT team stormed an apartment where Mixon was hiding. The two officers who were killed at the apartment were Sgt. Ervin Romans, 43, and Sgt. Daniel Sakai, 35. Mixon also was killed.

“This is the biggest tragedy ever to hit our department,” Oakland police Sgt. Mark Schmid said Monday. “We’re just numb and walking around like zombies. We feel each other’s pain but we don’t know how to explain it.”

Flowers piled up outside Oakland police headquarters. A vigil was planned for Tuesday evening at the corner near where the two motorcycle officers stopped Mixon.

The incident has prompted California’s attorney general to call for better monitoring of parole violators.

DNA found at the scene of a February rape was a probable match to Mixon, Oakland police spokesman Jeff Thomason said Monday night.

Investigators got that information Friday, the day before the routine traffic stop ended in gunfire.

California prison records show that authorities had issued a warrant for Mixon’s arrest after he missed a mandatory meeting with his parole officer on Feb. 19.

His family said Mixon, 26, had served six years in state prison for assault with a firearm during an armed robbery in San Francisco. More recently, he served several months in prison last year for a parole violation.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown said he will examine how Mixon was monitored following his release from prison in November. Mixon also was a suspect in a December 2007 murder but was never charged because of lack of evidence, officials said.

“Mixon was certainly a character that needed more supervision,” said Brown, the former mayor of Oakland. “In Oakland, the highway patrol has an office there, sheriff and police. And all those agencies should have a list of the more dangerous, threatening parolees so they can keep a watch on them.”

Mixon was one of 164 Oakland parolees in mid-March who had outstanding arrest warrants for parole violations, state prison records show.

The city of 400,000 residents had more than 1,900 total parolees at the time, including nearly 300 who had been returned to custody or whose parole was about to be revoked.

During traffic stops, police often check vehicle records to find whether the driver has outstanding warrants. But police have not disclosed how Saturday’s shooting unfolded.

Mixon’s family members said he was upset that he was unable to find work, felt his parole officer was not helping him and feared he would be arrested for a parole violation.

State prison officials said Mixon’s parole officer was responsible for 70 parolees. A caseload of that size is nearly unmanageable, but not unusual, said Lance Corcoran, spokesman for California’s prison guard union, which includes parole officers.

“There is no control,” Corcoran said. “It’s simply supervision, and supervision at distance.”

___

Associated Press writers Josh Dubow, Lisa Leff and Juliana Barbassa in San Francisco and Terry Collins in Oakland contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS that harvesting of organs completed late Monday not early Tuesday, reflecting change from hospital)