Young Crusader Combats Wrongful Convictions

Lindsay Markel, a dedicated young crusader against injustice, will discuss her work June 7 on MTL Washington Update, the weekly public affairs radio show I co-host with Scott Draughon. The interview is part of our recent focus on major changes in journalism, both in traditional and new media.

Lindsay Markel Michael Lovett PhotoMarkel is a 2008 graduate of Brandeis University, where she is currently the assistant director of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, where I have been a senior fellow the past three years. She works under the close supervision of a distinguished campus-based staff, led by Institute Founder Florence George Graves, a nationwide pioneer in fostering journalism through non-profits to redress the devastating cutbacks in traditional newsrooms.

Through the Institute’s Justice Brandeis Innocence Project, Markel and other staff and student research assistants use journalistic methods to investigate likely wrongful convictions in which exoneration won't hinge on a DNA test. In November, she co-authored an article for the Boston Globe Magazine, Failing the DNA test. She and Michael Blanding described why Massachusetts is one of only two states in the country without a law granting prison inmates the right to test DNA evidence that might prove their innocence.

Markel, 26, also provides supporting research for other major investigations, as well supervising student research assistants, and overseeing Freedom of Information Act public records requests. Brandeis Magazine profiled her in its spring 2012 issue in a column entitled, A Quest for Justice, illustrated by the photo at left by Michael Lovett of Brandeis outside a Massachusetts prison.

The show is June 7 at noon (EDT) (originally scheduled May 31), and available nationally. Click here to listen to the interview live nationwide on the My Technology Lawyer (MTL) radio network or by archive. Listener questions: Call (866) 685-7469 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Mac users need “Parallels.” Scott and I began the show with commentary on national news.

Markel received a 2004 Quill & Scroll Award for Excellence in Journalism, an award given to high school journalists by the International Quill & Scroll Honor Society. At Brandeis University, she received the prestigious Dean’s Scholarship and Honors Scholarship, and was on the Dean’s List during every semester on campus. Markel is a member of the Journalism & Women Symposium (JAWS). She was a Peter Jennings Project fellow for 2011. Markel graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in sociology, and with minors in social justice & social policy and in legal studies. As an undergraduate, she traveled to Washington, D.C. for a journalism internship through a partnership between Brandeis and American University. During this time, she did research for award-winning journalist and documentary film-maker Hedrick Smith and PBS Frontline. She also pursued research interests in education policy, authoring “Eliminating the Black/White Achievement Gap: How KIPP Schools Raise Achievement and Offer an Alternative to the Counterculture of the Streets.”

 


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Related News Coverage

Jonathan Turley.org, Justice Department Clears Its Own Lawyers Of Intentional Misconduct In Stevens Prosecution, Jonathan Turley, May 28, 2012. The U.S. Justice Department again showed how its protects its own in scandals involving government lawyers. The DOJ has long been notorious in refusing to seriously punish its own lawyers for wrongdoing while pushing the legal envelope on criminal charges against others. The slightest discrepancy in testimony or omission in reporting can bring a criminal charge from the DOJ. The DOJ is particularly keen in finding intentional violations or substitute for intent in federal rules — bending laws to the breaking point to secure indictments. However, when its attorneys are accused of facilitating torture or lying to the court or withholding evidence, the general response is a long investigation and then a slap on the wrist. This week is no exception. Waiting until late Thursday to inform Congress to guarantee a low media coverage, the DOJ announced that it had found no intentional violations by its attorneys in the failed prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens — despite the contrary finding made by an independent investigation. Instead, the investigation again offered rhetorical punishment as a substitute for true punishment — declaring that the attorneys were only guilty of “reckless professional misconduct.” As a result, Joseph Bottini will be suspended for only 40 days and James Goeke will be suspended for 15 days. Even that level of punishment is viewed as noteworthy for the DOJ given its prior history of whitewashing misconduct by its attorneys.

Brandeis Magazine, A Quest for Justice: Young alumna uses expert investigative skills to help exonerate the wrongly convicted, Theresa Pease, Spring 2012. The first time Lindsay Markel ’08 went to meet the man we’ll call Theo, she did what her mother said was the polite thing to do in December: She brought a brightly decorated box of homemade Italian Christmas cookies.  “For the prison guards, it was a big joke,” Markel, 25, says with a disgruntled grin. “For me, it was a wake-up call about what this guy’s world was like. If you can’t go in wearing a bobby pin, you can’t go in carrying cookies.”  Since that day in 2008, Theo’s world has never been far from Markel’s mind. A Latino inmate in a Massachusetts prison, Theo is serving a life sentence, with no hope of parole, for a murder conviction that Markel and her colleagues at Brandeis’ Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism question. Most working days, the Princeton, Mass., native, other institute staff members and a team of eight paid student sleuths comb public records and analyze circumstances around Theo’s alleged crime, searching for clues that justice was not served. The case — among those being investigated by the Schuster Institute’s Justice Brandeis Innocence Project — recently was taken up by the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the Massachusetts public defender organization, which filed a motion for a new trial. Markel hopes the extensive legwork done at Brandeis will help provide crucial information for those seeking to overturn Theo’s conviction.

Boston Globe Magazine, Failing the DNA test, Michael Blanding and Lindsay Markel, Nov. 18, 2011. Why is Massachusetts one of only two states in the country without a law granting prison inmates the right to test DNA evidence that might prove their innocence?

Catching Our Attention on Other Justice & Integrity Issues

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Montgomery circuit court seals file in U.S. district judge's divorce proceedings, Amanda Simmons, May 29, 2012. Three journalists requested access to the sealed file of an Alabama-based federal judge's divorce proceedings wrought with accusations of domestic violence, drug abuse and the judge's alleged affair with his court bailiff. The journalists and other legal watchers have expressed concern that the court quietly sealed the records without taking the standard procedural steps. Citing security reasons, U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery, Ala., moved to seal the file of his divorce proceedings on April 20 despite his wife's objections. Without providing an explanation, a judge in the domestic relations division of Montgomery County Circuit Court granted the request on May 15.  Last week, Andrew Kreig, director of the Justice Integrity Project in Washington, D.C.; Bob Martin, editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent and The Millbrook Independent in Alabama; and Roger Shuler, online content provider of the Alabama-based website Legal Schnauzer, submitted their request for public access.

Montgomery Independent, Judge got $18 million in Doss Aviation sale; Fuller divorce records have been sealed by judge in case, Bob Martin, May 31, 2012.  Montgomery Circuit Judge Anita Kelly has sealed the records in the divorce matter involving U. S. District Judge Mark Everett Fuller and his wife, Lisa.  Fuller’s lawyers had requested that the file be sealed, however Mrs. Fuller had initially objected to the entire file being sealed. The Independent, Justice Integrity Project in Washington and Lgal Schauzer in Birmingham have filed a request seeking the file to remain open to the public. udge Kelly waited some three weeks after the case was filed before sealing the records.

The Independent reported last week that Judge Fuller and his partners sold Doss Aviation, located in Denver last December. We have now learned that the company which was moved from Enterprise to Colorado, brought $42 million and some change. If that is the correct number Fuller’s 43.75 percent share of the business earned him slightly more than $18 million. The company’s income has come primarily from U. S. Government contracts and once listed its mailing address at the United States Federal Courthouse, shortly after Fuller was appointed a judge by President George W. Bush. Doss Aviation  was a major source of Fuller’s income, probably the main source and its primary income came from government contracts or from those who received government contracts. Doss Aviation benefited from a steady stream of Department of Defense and other federal contracts some awarded on a no-bid basis under highly suspicious circumstances.

Associated Press / Huffington Post, John Edwards Trial: Mistrial Declared In Case, Michael Biesecker, May 31, 2012. John Edwards' campaign finance fraud case ended in a mistrial Thursday when jurors acquitted him on one charge and deadlocked on the other five, unable to decide whether he used money from two wealthy donors to hide his pregnant mistress while he ran for president and his wife was dying of cancer. The month-long trial exposed a sordid sex scandal, but prosecutors couldn't convince jurors the candidate masterminded a cover-up using about $1 million, and ultimately, jurors decided tawdry didn't necessarily mean criminal. "While I do not believe I did anything illegal, or ever thought I was doing anything illegal, I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong and there is no one else responsible for my sins," Edwards said on the courthouse steps. t was not immediately clear whether prosecutors would retry Edwards on the other counts.

Guardian (United Kingdom), Julian Assange given 14 days to challenge extradition ruling, Owen Bowcott and Esther Addley, May 30, 2012. Despite losing the appeal, Assange's lawyers are given time to consider a challenge to the judgment. Julian Assange's fight against extradition to Sweden may stagger on to a second round at the supreme court after he was granted permission to submit fresh arguments. Despite losing by a majority of five to two, his lawyers have been given 14 days to consider whether to challenge a central point of the judgment on the correct interpretation of international treaties.

FireDogLake, Before NYT Article, Administration Would Not Acknowledge Existence of Drone Program, David Dayen, May 29, 2012.  Despite the participation of dozens of Administration officials – many of them on the record – in detailing the inner workings of the targeted assassination program, we’re still operating in a world where the US government officially denies that any such program exists.  In this article, you have President Obama’s current national security advisor, Thomas Donilon, speaking on the record. Former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair – who gives the distinct impression that he resigned over these drone strikes – is on the record. Former chief of staff Bill Daley is on the record. Plenty of other senior intelligence officials are quoted on background. The word “drone” appears 17 times in the article.
 
Salon, How extremism is normalized, The Obama administration has converted once unthinkable government claims into permanent political fixtures, Glenn Greenwald, May 30, 2012. There is one important passage from yesterday’s big New York Times article on President Obama’s personal issuance of secret, due-process-free death sentences that I failed to highlight despite twice writing about that article. The fact that I did not even bother to highlight it among all the other passages I wrote about is itself significant, as it reflects how rapidly true extremism becomes normalized.

CNN, Virginia man who made comments about President Obama arrested on weapons charge, Carol Cratty, May 30, 2012. Officers investigate man after he posted about weapons on white supremacist website. A Virginia man who allegedly made comments suggesting President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder should be removed from office by violent means was arrested Wednesday and charged with illegally obtaining a fully automatic AK-47. Court documents describe Douglas Howard Story, 48, as a white supremacist who came under investigation by law enforcement after posting on an Aryan Nation Web forum that he was buying an AK-47 and wanted to modify it to be fully automatic.