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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Innocence Week comes to Brandeis

Published: November 16, 2007
Section: News

This past week, the Innocence Club hosted a series of three events as part of Innocence Week, in order to better inform the Brandeis community about wrongful convictions.

As a nationwide organization the Innocent Project uses groundbreaking use of DNA technology to free innocent people, according the organizations mission statement. Closely affiliated with Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, the Innocence Projects goal is nothing less than to free the staggering numbers of innocent people who remain incarcerated.

The club began the week with the movie After Innocence, which profiled a two exonerated inmates after their release from prison. Tuesday evening, the club hosted a teach-in at the ICC, hosting a presentation detailing the problems they believe lead to wrongful convictions. One major issue leading to wrongful convictions is misidentification by witnesses, they said.

To illustrate this, a video of a crime was shown to the audience. When the video ended, a line-up of suspects was shown. After everyone decided on one culprit, it turned out none of the suspects shown were correct. Kaplan pointed out the pressures many witnesses face to pick [one of the suspects].

Another issue mentioned was coercion to confess. As evidence of this, a video interview with Texas exoneree Chris Ochoa followed. Ochoa was arrested as a suspect in a rape and murder case, and when he said he did not know anything about the crime, the police believed he was covering up. This came with threats that if I didnt tell them the truth I would go to death row because this was a capital murder, recalled Ochoa. Ultimately, after many hours of interrogation and threats, I wore down and told them what they wanted to hear.

On Wednesday evening, investigative reporter and current Brandeis Innocence Project chair Dick Lehr and exoneree Neil Miller spoke to an audience.

Lehr retold the story of the 1988 murder of Tiffany Moore, a twelve-year-old Boston girl accidentally killed by gang violence. Because the shooting represented the lawlessness in Boston, the media in the community wanted to know the killers identity immediately. As a result, Shawn Drumgold was convicted in October 1989 to the relief of the Boston community.

From speaking with lawyers and getting in contact with the Innocence Project, Lehr became interested in writing an in-depth article about possible exonerees. The Drumgold case soon fell in his lap.

Lehr said reporters have to be careful not to fall in love with your story, and that a journalists passion may actually prevent them from testing out all the information.

The piece of evidence that led to Drumgolds exoneration was the investigation of Mary Alexander. Alexander played a key part in Drumgolds conviction as the convincing witnesses. However, Lehr discovered that on Alexanders death certificate she had a type of brain cancer that affects memory. According to Lehr, if the jury knew Alexanders condition, it would have made a huge difference.

Next, Miller explained the events that led to his arrest.. Miller said a black man raped a young white college freshman. The victim gave an inaccurate description of the rapist and drew on an unclear sketch. Miller was in the area that day visiting friends, and when he was confronted by the police, lied about his identity because he was on probation.

Miller then recounted the night of his arrest, when he drunkenly wandered Fenway. According to Miller, the police were in a really bad mood. The police said Miller looked like the person identified by the college girl as the rapist and arrested him on rape charges.

During the trial, one witness first said she was not sure whether Miller was the rapist, before changing her mind later in the trial. Miller claimed the judge did not care about the misidentification and everyone except for Miller simply wanted to end the case. After Miller was convicted and sentenced to 25 to 40 years, the District Attorney said this is a great win for the commonwealth that a monster like this is off the street.

In his last three years Miller started finding strength in religion. You find [God] real fast in jail, he said. When Miller discovered the Innocence Project, he asked for help, and was eventually rewarded when he was finally released by DNA evidence.