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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

In Virginia Innocence Doesn’t Matter When it’s a Sex Crime and Legislators Try to Downplay Wrongful Convictions and False Accusations........Isn’t it Time for that to Change?


On Monday April 11th 2016 I was invited for the second time to speak at the Alliance for Progressive Values (APV) monthly Salon. Thank you so much APV leaders and members, I enjoyed the discussion and I hope you will now question harsher and broader laws against RSO's when our elected-officials tell you they are “common-sense” , “this will keep your children safe” , “if this law existed previously then so-and-so might would have been prevented” and “ this will close a known loophole”. These and similar key-phrases should make your radar go up anytime a Legislator says them and closer examination of their proposal should occur immediately. 

While preparing my APV handouts for Monday’s event in which I included last months great New Yorker article, National Recidivism Rates, Virginia Registry growth and costs, Books and Studies and much more……….the recent Keith Allen Harward exoneration was in the back of my mind as well as 4 other highly publicized and editorialized cases of innocent Virginians who were wrongly convicted and then trapped by Virginia’s laws as RSO’s with few options to ever receive justice. 

Innocent Virginians who are on the VSP Registry MUST have DNA to obtain a Full-pardon or a Writ of Actual Innocence (the only ways to be removed from the VSP Registry) after a wrongful conviction otherwise they will remain an RSO for life……. struggling to maintain housing, employment and their family. 

So I decided to create a list of the innocent Virginia RSO’s (see below) who have made the news in the last 12-14 years to show APV members how easily a false accusation, a misidentification, improper forensic science, prosecutorial misconduct and false confessions can lead to a wrongful conviction in Virginia and a lifetime on the VSP Registry. 

These men are a drop-in-the-bucket when it comes to the total number of innocent Virginians who are publicly labeled Sex Offender because each and every year the Virginia Legislature continues to expand current sex crimes, create new sex crimes, lower the burden of proof, deny due process to college men, raise the penalty (with mandatory minimums or life w/out parole), allowing prior sex convictions to be admissible in court for new sex charges and eliminating the statute of limitations so defendants face accusations with no evidence or witnesses available to wage a defense decades later. Don’t forget in Virginia there is NO Discovery for the defense (it’s known as Trial by Ambush) and in Virginia we have the 21-Day Rule so on the 22nd day a recant by the victim or by a witness is completely ignored by the Commonwealth even though the Commonwealth’s Attorney case to convict the defendant was based on that very same victim or witnesses earlier claims. 

If you haven’t heard of the men below, Google them.  

Read about their convictions, read the editorials about the Virginia laws that allowed them to be convicted or that prevented them from being exonerated in a timely manner or at all. Read about how long they remained in prison, how long they were required to register as public Sex Offenders and even when evidence was discovered years later, did it lead to a full-pardon or exoneration OR are they still a Registered Sex Offender even though everyone knows they are innocent? 

Two other false accusations for sex crimes in Virginia that made the news but thankfully never made it to a conviction or to sentencing are Mark Weiner and Sean Lanigan! 

Defenders of the archaic Virginia 21 Day Rule perpetuate the myth that our criminal justice system almost never convicts an innocent person, that they are the exception AND that frivolous claims of innocence or recantations would cripple the Virginia court system. This has not been the case in other states with broader opportunities.  

The Virginia Legislature has created a current system where it is all too easy for a vindictive, selfish, confused or scared person to brand innocent citizens a “Sex Offender” for life with no evidence. 

Virginia Legislators and Victim-Advocates love to say that false allegations are a very small percentage of sex crimes in an attempt to convince the public that these people aren’t worth any consideration or concern.  

Well, we know better……. don’t we? 

It’s not that the list of false accusations is low it’s that the ability to challenge the cases after the fact is impossible so very few make it into the news and worse even less into Virginia courts.  
 
Mary Devoy

 

Keith Allen Harward      
 
  • Reason for wrongful conviction: Improper Forensic Science and Government Misconduct for Rape and murder in 1982.
  • In 2014 the Innocence Project got involved in his case
  • After serving 33 years in prison his DNA was tested pointing to a shipmate as the perpetrator, the VA Supreme Court agreed and he was released on April 8, 2016, fully-exonerated and he removed from the VSP Registry. 
Michael Kenneth McAlister   
 
  • Reason for wrongful conviction: Eye Witness Misidentification for Rape in 1986.
  • He served 29 years in prison and in February 2015 he was about to be civilly committed by the VA AG’s Office as a Sexually Violent Predator (SVP). Virginia law bars someone facing commitment from challenging the validity of prior criminal convictions during the commitment process. Then his story made the news (RTD’s Frank Green) and the public and Administration took notice.
  • In May 2015 Gov McAuliffe granted him an absolute-pardon and he was removed from the VSP Registry.
Edgar Coker Jr.     
 
  • Reason for wrongful conviction: False Accusation of Rape in 2007.
  • At the age of 15 (juvenile) he took a guilty plea for rape of a 14 year old, 2 months later the female accuser admitted she lied and he remained in prison.
  • When he completed his sentence in 2008 he became a public Sex Offender.
  • For 6 years the UVA Innocence Project tried to get his name cleared but because of the 21-Day Rule the truth did not matters (as a Wash Post article phrased it Innocence is no Defense in VA) and they instead had to prove he received ineffective counsel.
  • In February 2014 he was fully-exonerated and he was removed from the VSP Registry. 
Jonathan C. Montgomery
 
  • Reason for wrongful conviction: False Accusation of Sexual Assault
  • In 2007 when he was 22 years old he was accused of a sexual assault 8 years earlier (at 14 years old, a juvenile) upon a then 10 year old female. There was no evidence against him just her word and noted in the court transcripts the judge said there’d be no reason for her to lie and he sentenced Jonathan to 7.5 years in prison.
  • Elizabeth Paige Coast recanted when he was in the 4th year of the prison sentence.
  • Virginia AG Cuccinelli and Gov McDonnell couldn’t seem to figure out how to release Mr. Montgomery and the issue was covered by the news. McDonnell granted a conditional pardon in November 2012, Mr. Montgomery had to register as a public Sex Offender.
  • In December 2013 the courts granted him a Writ of Actual Innocence and he was removed from the VSP Registry.
  • This is the ONLY recant in VA that has ever resulted in a Writ of Actual Innocence for the RSO because of VA’s 21-Day Rule, because he was still incarcerated when she recanted. If Mr. Montgomery had already been released he’d be living as a public Sex Offender today for the rest of his life.
  • Ms. Coast served 2 months (weekends) for committing perjury for the false claim of sexual assault.
Thomas Haynesworth    


  • Reason for wrongful conviction: Eye Witness Misidentification as a Serial Rapist (The Black Ninja) in 1984 even though rapes continued after he was incarcerated.
  • Some of the DNA was still available and was test in 2010 pointing to another man.
  • In March 2011 he was conditionally released from prison while waiting for the Court of Appeals to rule on his case, so he registered as a public Sex Offender.
  • In December 2011 he was fully-exonerated and he was removed from the VSP Registry. 
“The Norfolk 4”   (Derek Tice, Danial Williams, Joseph J. Dick Jr., and Eric C. Wilson)               
 
  • Reasons for wrongful conviction: False Confessions for 1997 rape and murder and Prosecution used a Jail-house Snitch.
  • DNA proved another man committed the murder and rape.
  • 3 of the 4 men were partial pardoned by Gov. Kaine the fourth wasn’t pardoned at all.
  • They’ve all appealed their convictions, requested clemency but they have all been denied.
  • All 4 men register as public Sex Offenders today in 4 different States. 
Earl Washington    

  • Reasons for wrongful conviction: False Confession and Improper Forensic Science for 1984 rape and murder.
  • Sentenced to death, once came within 9 days of execution. First DNA testing done in 1993 Gov Wilder commuted his sentence but he remained in prison.
  • In 2000 Gov Gilmore pardoned the murder but not the rape he registered as a public Sex Offender, then in 2007 Gov Kaine fully-pardoned him and he was removed from the VSP Registry. 
Phillip Leon Thurman

  • Reason for wrongful conviction: Eye Witness Misidentification for rape in 1984.
  • The lab found pieces of DNA taped inside a notebook, which violated lab protocol, it was tested in 2004 and pointed to another man. He was given a full-pardon by Gov Warner in December 2005 and he was removed from the VSP Registry. 
Arthur Whitfield
 
  • Reason for wrongful conviction: Eye Witness Misidentification for rape in 1982 of 2 women sentenced to 63 years in prison.
  • In 2003 he filed to have the DNA tested, he was advised it had been destroyed. Then in December 2003 the lab found pieces taped inside a notebook, which violated lab protocol.
  • In 2004 it was tested and pointed to another man.
  • For almost 5 years he lived as a Registered Sex Offender until 2009 Gov Kaine fully-pardoned him and he was removed from the VSP Registry. 
Julius Ruffin
 
  • Reason for wrongful conviction: Eye Witness Misidentification for rape and sodomy in 1982 even though he had an alibi and did not match the initial description given by the victim.
  • The lab found pieces of DNA taped inside a notebook, which violated lab protocol, it was tested and pointed to another man.
  • He was released from prison in February 2003 and given a full-pardon by Gov Warner the following month and he was removed from the VSP Registry.
Marvin Lamont Anderson             

  • Reasons for wrongful conviction: Eye Witness Misidentification and Government Misconduct for rape in 1981.
  • DNA was found taped inside a notebook, which violated lab protocol it was tested in 2001 pointing to two other men.
  • In August 2002 he was fully-pardoned and he was removed from the VSP Registry.
Willie Davidson 

  • Reasons for wrongful conviction: Eye Witness Misidentification, Government Misconduct and Improper Forensic Science for rape in 1980 even though he had an alibi.
  • In December 2005 he learned his DNA had been tested proving his innocence. Less than two weeks later Gov Warner granted him a full-pardon and he was removed from the VSP Registry.
 Bennett Barbour   

  • Reason for wrongful conviction: Eye Witness Misidentification for rape in 1978.
  • He was paroled and registered as a Sex Offender.
  • He tried for years to get the DNA tested and for the Innocence Project to take his case. In June 2010 it was tested and 18 months later he learned it proved his innocence.
  • In May of 2002 the VA Supreme Court issued him a Writ of innocence and he was removed from the VSP Registry. He died 8 months later.