New Book Shows How Innocence Project Freed Some Wrongly Convicted; What About Others?


A House of Cards producer and an exonerated ex-convict discussed justice reform during an innovative and compelling forum last week at the National Press Club.

John Mankiewicz, an executive producer and screenwriter for the hit television series House of Cards about a ruthless U.S. president, described why he became fascinated with ordeal of Jerry Miller, a Chicago man exonerated by DNA evidence from a kidnap-rape conviction in 2007. Miller had spent nearly 25 years in prison. Miller's 1982 sentence was for a 1981 crime committed by another man whom Miller did not know.

Against the current background of a real-life president whose new administration is cracking down on defendants' rights and other civil liberties, Miller underscored the challenges he experienced even after release and exoneration.

Miller said that authorities needlessly shamed and scarred him on parole as a "sex offender" and otherwise. It was so bad, he said, that he felt even after his release to his welcoming family, “This is harder than being in jail.”

Miller and Mankiewicz (shown at far left and left, respectively in the photo below) spoke on March 1 at the press club to discuss their collaboration on a new book, Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted. Editors for the anthology paired 14 victims (as established by post-conviction evidence) each with a well-known thriller or mystery author.

Speaking also on the panel was the book’s co-editor Laura Caldwell, a best-selling novelist, attorney and the founder/director of the Life After Innocence project at the Loyola University School of Law in Chicago. The moderator was Press Club President Jeffrey Ballou. He is shown with Caldwell at the right of the adjoining photo, which was taken at the panel by the Justice Integrity Project. The collection was co-edited by novelist Leslie Klinger.

The anthology includes a previously unpublished essay by the late playwright Arthur Miller. He led a campaign in Connecticut nearly four decades ago to free Peter Reilly, who had been coerced by state police when he was teenager into falsely confessing that he had murdered his mother. That controversy provoked bitter struggles within the law enforcement community and at one point pitted a reform-minded chief state's attorney against the politically powerful state police union, some of whose members had extracted the teenager's confession and wanted him kept imprisoned.

Those problems are widespread and still with us, as illustrated by the other case studies. One focused on a California law student, Gloria Killian, who served 17 years on a murder conspiracy charge before discovery that the murderer had bargained for a reduced sentence from authorities by falsely claiming that she was the murder mastermind.

As a reminder also of the high stakes nationally, the Trump Administration's new attorney general, Jeff Sessions (shown in an official photo) last month ordered the Justice Department to shut down its forensic science committee. That closure, reported by the Washington Post here, prompted concern by last week's forum panelists. So did such other Sessions initiatives as his order for the department to resume use of private prisons, cut 95% of funding for the department's office of drug control, and staff the justice department with those who have fought against its use of civil rights law to monitor abuses in states and localities.

Yet careful collection of evidence can remedy at least some problems, as shown by Anatomy of Innocence. The anthology uses the talents of well-known authors to showcase injustices in a U.S. penal system that currently incarcerates some 2.2 million persons. That is more than any other major country's total or as measured by the percentage of population.

How many of these might be held for bogus reasons? That's a timely question, especially as the new Trump administration ramps up efforts to implement its law-and-order campaign rhetoric. The analysis below provides both conventional analysis to that question, and also provides tools to understand corruption and cover-up at high levels of the justice system.

National Problem
“Recalling the great muckrakers of the past, an outraged team of America’s best-selling writers unite to confront the disasters of wrongful convictions,” announced the book’s publisher Liveright, a division of W.W. Norton.
“Wrongful convictions, long regarded as statistical anomalies in an otherwise sound justice system, now appear with frightening regularity. But few people understand just how or why they happen and, more important, the immeasurable consequences that often haunt the lucky few who are acquitted, years after they are proven innocent.”

The ripple effect of the creative pairing of victims and authors extended to the press club forum last week, Eleanor Herman, the bestselling author of the Sex with Kings and three other books about royalty, departed from her normal fare to report on the forum for the club’s audiences, including more than 3,000 club members. In her column Wrongly convicted man recounts ordeal at "Anatomy of Innocence" Book Rap, she summarized Miller's story as follows:

Jerry Miller, who served 24 years in prison and a year on parole for a rape, robbery and assault he did not commit, said he is not angry but expressed concern for other innocent people in the prison system.

Miller spoke at the National Press Club as part of a panel at a May 1 Book Rap discussing Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted. Miller had been wrongfully convicted in 1982 in Chicago, paroled in 2006, and exonerated in 2007 after testing of DNA evidence implicated another man. He is the 200th person exonerated through the efforts of the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization committed to exonerating wrongly convicted people.

“The conviction of an innocent person occurs in small steps. First, you are accused and think you just need to clear it up. Then there’s a trial. Then you hear you’re guilty,” said Caldwell, who founded Life After Innocence, an organization that provides services to exonerees.

Caldwell is one of those who has been working with legal peers and students to bring such individual innocence stories to the larger public. Her non-fiction book Long Way Home: A Young Man Lost in the System and the Two Women Who Found Him prompted her to launch Loyola's Life After Innocence project to provide quality representation to individuals with post-exoneration needs and seeking criminal records relief.

The anthology's introductions were by the prominent attorneys Scott Turow and Barry Scheck. Twenty-five years ago, Scheck co-founded with Peter Neufeld the Innocence Project at Benjamin Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University in New York. That project is the best known of an estimated 70 similar ones nationally, which are indexed here.

Miller, an Army veteran, worked hard during his many years in prison to draw attention to his claims of innocence. Those formal and informal appeals went unheeded for the most part even though he had witnesses, his parents and brother, who argued unsuccessfully that he was home with them watching a boxing match when the rape occurred in 1981 in a different part of Chicago.

Miller counts himself as lucky that New York's Innocence Project finally took on his case and persuaded police to let project investigations  apply a DNA test to the victim's clothing kept as evidence. The DNA proved that Miller had been correct in claiming authorities had pinned the conviction on the wrong man in the frantic police attempt to "solve" the case.

The New York-based Innocence Project has gone on to many other successes.

'Law and Order' and 'Lock 'Em Up!

Positioned against such justice reform initiatives as "innocence projects" are the kinds of gut appeals to law-and-order rhetoric that proved successful for the Trump presidential campaign last November. The essence of that so-called conservative appeal is strong support of crime victims, police, FBI and prosecutors. That goes along with marginalization if not ridicule of civil rights advocates for prisoners, immigrants and other targeted groups. 

In one of President Trump's first appointments, he picked longtime Alabama Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as attorney general. During the presidential campaign, Sessions had been Trump's first major supporter currently holding office. On Feb. 8, the U.S. Senate confirmed Sessions by a nearly party-line 52-47 vote in what the New York Times reported as "capping a bitter and racially charged nomination battle."

The 2016 election results suggest that Democrats, civil rights advocates and others opposed to Trump underestimated the appeal of his messaging, including regarding the day-to-day voter grievances and fears regarding immigration and other legal issues.

Reasons are provided in a May 5 Washington Post story, Organized crime ring made millions smuggling cigarettes and writing bad checks in Va., police say. The story describes how local law enforcers in Virginia broke up "a sprawling operation with more than 150 suspects engaged in transporting cigarettes from the Richmond area to New York City, writing bad checks, money laundering, and committing shootings and other violent crimes in the Richmond area." The Post reported that many of the suspects were of African background, and were sending their crime proceeds oversees.

FBI logoThat kind of smuggling operation becomes visible over time to voters. Many of them have become impatient with what they regard as "bleeding heart" advocacy for illegal immigrants as well as other groups, including defendants, supposedly overly protected by liberals.

As for defenders of civil rights? "Lock her up!" was the campaign rally chant that proved more effective against Democrat Hillary Clinton than even the conclusions of FBI Director James Comey, a Republican whose shifting principles for disclosure of ongoing investigations helped secure a GOP election victory.

More generally, the Italian political philosopher Machiavelli advised would-be rules more than five centuries ago in The Prince that fear trumps love in winning public support.

As a result of all this, Trump and Sessions are now empowered to mount a massive crackdown on civil rights enforcement. This includes what appears to be a gutting of the Justice Department's watchdog role of occasionally intervening via its Civil Rights Division when local and state justice, prison and elections policies appear to be abusive. The Obama Justice Department failed to intervene enough and occasionally worsened conditions, including corruption, by firing or prosecuting whistleblowers, as we have often reported here.

But the Sessions Justice Department appears to be positioned for a massive increase in arbitrary use of legal procedures to accomplish partisan and other self-serving goals, as we examine below. 

Innocent Errors

Most of the estimated 70 Innocence advocacy offices around the nation are affiliated with law or journalism schools. The education process is prominent also in the Anatomy of Innocence's glowing introduction by Turow, whose iconic 1977 book One-L about his first-year at Harvard Law School made him famous as he embarked on an eight-year career as a federal prosecutor in Chicago.

Turow wrote in his anthology introduction:

In many instances, the cases reported in this book stir not just confusion but outrage because they describe law enforcers who became law breakers, cops and prosecutors who tried to catch bad guys by becoming bad guys themselves: cops who tortured; cops who lied; cops who concocted confessions, often by feeding the defendant facts and then claiming the accused knew those details on his own; prosecutors and police who hid exculpatory evidence and obstructed justice in the process.

"But as awful as those instances are," Turow continued, "they tend to distract us form the real lesson of my first case, which is how prone our supposedly foolproof system is to innocent errors."

Trump Administration Policies Under Alabama's Jeff Sessions

As noted above, the Justice Department announced last month that it was abolishing its forensics commission. The Justice Department suggested that its action was a reform measure that would take shape after public comments due on June 9.
The abolition could be interpreted as an attack on the kind of scientific uses of DNA that enable many Innocence Project appeals, as indicated by the concern and questions last week during the Anatomy of Innocence book forum. But panelists could provide few solid answers about the motivation and impact.
This editor will offer an interpretation based on our scores of Justice Integrity Project investigative reports documenting corrupt practices and cover-up by Alabama's legal and political establishment, where Sessions has presided as a key figure for some 35 years. A native of Mobile, he served as Alabama's attorney general from 1981 to 1993 and then as U.S. senator beginning in 1996. Much of his senate term has been in the leadership of the Judiciary Committee, which confirms judges and prosecutors and theoretical oversees the federal justice system in other ways.
Alabama's dark secrets are so vast and so mind-boggling as to defy summary in normal news accounts. That is why most voters have never heard of them. Those inclined to such fare can find more easily find it in fictional outlets, such as House of Cards or legal thrillers by Scott Turow or John Grisham.
To report on these scores of recent Alabama official corruption stories in a reasonably concise manner, we must shift to an opinion mode from that of merely reporting on last week's book panel.
The gist is that leaders like Sessions have misused their legal powers to transform Alabama from a predominately (but not exclusively) conservative Republican state into a one-party GOP kleptocracy where insiders routinely use "legal" procedures to enrich themselves, their families, cronies and patrons while destroying anyone who stands in their way.
That's not just our view and that of our sources. The United Kingdom's Guardian published a story on that theme in March, headlined: Guardian, 'Gun for hire': how Jeff Sessions used his prosecuting power to target Democrats. In a story further promoted this way: As the Justice Department’s man in Alabama, Trump’s attorney general indicted political opponents in remarkably thin cases, court filings show, reporters Jon Swaine and Oliver Laughland quoted a Sessions critic as saying, "Jeff Sessions is was one of the most corrupt public servants in Alabama history, running a political hit squad for organized crime.”
Our own first major column along this line followed the U.S. attorney firing scandal of 2007 and revealed in 2009 how the Bush administration had framed the state's major Democrat, former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, to remove him from public life. The Huffington Post front paged the investigation under the headline Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows….$300 Million in Bush Military Contracts Awarded to Judge’s Private Company.
We and others have published many other stories along this line revealing longstanding corruption within the Justice Department, Alexander Acostasometimes involving Trump businesses or scandals, as in these two of our recent columns. One on March 14 about former Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta (shown in a file photo) was Did Trump Labor Pick Protect Trump, Rich Rapists, Tax Cheats, Crooked Bankers? Do We Find Out Wednesday? Another such column was Tainted Judge Grants Casino $10m As GOP Prepares To Pack Courts on Jan. 1, 2017.
The latter story about the "tainted judge," U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman of New Jersey, is particularly instructive because it shows how even a newspaper with the resources of the Washington Post is unwilling or unable to connect the dots of inherently interesting and highly suspicious activity when it involves officials with Justice Department, senate confirmation and other institutional pedigrees. Hillman was rewarded with his lifetime appointment to the bench after running the Justice Department's politically driven Public Integrity Section during its abusive political prosecutions of local officials and selective cover-ups during the Bush administration.
Other watchdog institutions aside from the press provide minimal oversight. Some of them (including key Democrats) are selectively bought off with crumbs from the table of the Alabama grifters or otherwise adopt a go-along, get-along stance in the face of such ruthless uses of power. More often, however, ordinary news consumers and even reporters and lawyers presumed to be experts are not actually in a position to understand how such a cesspool of corruption, blackmail, lust, deviance, hypocrisy and cover up could possibly exist, especially when leaders universally win elections on platforms of law-and-order, family values and religious faith.
As an example of matters documented more fully below in our appendix: Corruption and other law-breaking is so rampant in Alabama that GOP leaders of all three branches of government have been removed in the past year.
The most recent major example was the resignation of the state's governor last month following a mind-boggling sex and financial scandal involving Bentley's communications aide and her husband, the governor's top outreach appointee to the state's churches. As the love-smitten governor Bentley (shown in an official photo and nicknamed locally as "The Luv Gov") underwent divorce from his wife of 60 years, he rewarded his aide and her husband with a million dollars in taxpayer money.
There was almost no accountability aside from the governor's resignation and his acceptance of a sweetheart plea deal despite a long record of punishing critics and otherwise obstructing an investigation that arose in part because of suspicions by the governor's wife of 50 years, in part because of the relentless legal reform blogger Roger Shuler, and in part because the governor fired the state's top public safety director.
As one usually well-informed Alabama political source explained to me, the prevalence of unbounded greed and lust in prominent Alabama government officials can be explain this way in part: they do not achieve their vast powers despite such sins but because of their vices. The theory is that disgraceful behavior by top officials makes the office-holders susceptible to control by insiders working for powerful private sector patrons . The same can be said for many prominent Democrats also around the nation, of course, as our non-partisan project has reported in scores of articles.
Alabama Turning Point With National Implications
A turning point in Alabama's political history, and a possible preview of what's in store for other regions, was a series of political prosecutions orchestrated by Bush White House advisor Karl Rove and the Bush Justice Department that resulted in massive and repeated scandals, including the federal prosecution on trumped up corruption charges of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, the state's leading Democrat.

Under political slogans like "the rule of law," selective uses of the law have fostered one-party GOP rule in Alabama to the extent that virtually no elective accountability exists.

The power to indict or cover-up without interference may well help explain the Sessions opposition to a forensic panel at the Justice Department that could apply scientific principles to evidence. Unaccountable prosecution power, administered on a selective basis, is far more preferable to an authoritarian like Sessions.

Sessions and his longtime GOP Senate colleague Dick Shelby have managed to stay clear of the most obvious scandals by working in the background and throwing overboard erstwhile cohorts like Bentley or Siegelman's trial judge Mark Fuller when their disgraces became seeped into public view.
Fuller, formerly Alabama's chief federal judge for its Montgomery-based middle district, never got into trouble for his many abusive court rulings and personal enrichment via a defense contracting company he secretly controlled. These abuses came to light many times, including via his railroading Siegelman and his co-defendant, businessman Richard Scrushy, into prison on trumped-up corruption charges. But Fuller did lose his lifetime appointment because his wife-beating and longtime philandering within court system staff exceeded bounds even for Alabama's scandal-ridden government.
What's Next?
Looking ahead, one critic predicted this year in a Harvard University political publication The Alabamafication of America under a Sessions-style justice system. Such a trend means nothing good even though the vast majority of Innocence Project cases involve state courts and such DNA evidence.
But if the nation's largest and most important law enforcement organization is undermining a commitment to scientific inquiry, perhaps in favor of more political and subjective selection of winners and losers, concepts like logic and law likely face erosion in the states as well. One might could even call it a "house of cards" and reflect on why the producer of the hit show by that name says he found the real-life story of the falsely convicted Jerry Miller so important. As Mankiewicz said (and as quoted by Herman's column):

Mankiewicz admitted that he became so passionately involved with his chapter on Miller that he was very late with some House of Cards scripts.

“I knew mistakes were made,” Mankiewicz said, referring to the justice system in general, “but Jerry was framed in a way that you know it’s institutional. The city of Chicago gave citizens’ awards to parking attendants who identified him before his trial.” Miller could feel the travesty unfolding. “They wanted the public to feel safe,” Miller explained. “They needed a body and they needed a conviction.… I knew I was cooked before the verdict.”


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Selected Background On Innocence, Justice Projects

The Innocence Network is a state-by-state index of innocence projects, with a map of coverage and a list of international projects.

The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck (shown in file photo, with Scheck at left) at the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York City, is a non-profit organization that exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. It reported that, as of March 2016, its work has led to the freeing of 343 wrongfully convicted people based on DNA, including 20 who spent time on death row, and the finding of 147 real perpetrators.

Life After Innocence was founded by professor and author Laura Caldwell at the Philip H. Corby Law Center at Loyola University School of Law in Chicago. It works with Illinois exonerees only, and address post-exoneree legal and social support from both DNA and Non-DNA Cases.

Washington Independent Review of Books, Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted (Edited by Laura Caldwell and Leslie S. Klinger Liveright Publishing, 304 pp.), Reviewed by Kenneth Jost, May 4, 2017.

The late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia repeatedly voiced doubts that any innocent people had been executed in the recent past in the United States. Scalia was almost certainly incorrect, but his view reflects what was once widespread public confidence in the criminal justice system. Criminal justice advocates have shaken that confidence over the past 25 years through their work in a growing number of so-called innocence projects which document hundreds of wrongful convictions in both capital and noncapital cases.

Many exonerations have stemmed from the use of DNA analysis to demonstrate that the specific offense — often, a rape — was committed by someone other than the defendant. Most of the exonerations, however, have resulted from less scientific post-conviction discoveries of, for example, unreliable eyewitness identifications, or abusive police interrogations.

The new book Anatomy of Innocence allows 15 exonerees to tell their stories through compelling first-person accounts as written up by prizewinning crime and mystery writers in gritty, film-noir style. Editors of the collection are Leslie Klinger, an award-winning editor of more than 20 books in the mystery field, and Laura Caldwell, the author of 14 novels and the nonfiction book Long Way Home about a wrongful incarceration.

The stories are variations on Kafkaesque themes: Innocents inexplicably implicated in gruesome crimes, stripped of their humanity in sterile interrogation rooms and jail cells, and denied any actual presumption of innocence in their eventual trials. The police and prosecutors heroically depicted in season after season of “Law and Order” sometimes behave badly, for example, by suborning perjurious testimony from jailhouse snitches or withholding information on deals cut for the benefit of prosecution witnesses.

Remarkably, most of the exonerees are more upbeat than bitter when freed. Kirk Bloodsworth, an ex-Marine who served nine years on death row for the rape and murder of a young girl, won his release in 1993 after DNA excluded him as the killer. With the actual killer unknown, Bloodsworth worried more about justice for the girl than about the injustice done to him. (Justice is eventually done a decade later, when a DNA database hit identifies the actual killer: ironically, a fellow inmate of Bloodsworth's who had been serving time for attempted rape and other crimes.)

Sample Journalism and Legal Issues In Innocence Work:

Washington Post, Man cleared of murder conviction after 24 years behind bars, with help of an ex-cop, Tom Jackman, May 23, 2017. James Figorski, a retired Philadelphia police officer, took on the murder case of Shaurn Thomas for the Innocence Project and helped get him released. Shaurn Thomas had claimed for 16 years that he didn’t kill a popular Philadelphia businessman in a street robbery. He was 16 then, and said he had been at a juvenile court proceeding for trying to steal a motorcycle when the daylight slaying occurred. But the courts weren’t buying it, and Thomas lost appeal after appeal. Convicted almost completely on the testimony of a co-defendant, he was sentenced to life without parole.

Then in 2009, Thomas sent a letter to the newly formed Pennsylvania Innocence Project, and a lawyer named James Figorski happened to open it. Figorski had spent 25 years as a Philadelphia police officer. He knew how the city’s juvenile system worked, and he sensed something wasn’t right. For the next eight years, Figorski volunteered countless hours investigating Thomas’s case, along with Innocence Project legal director Marissa Bluestine, and last year they began meeting with the Philadelphia district attorney’s Conviction Review Unit. And the prosecutors agreed: Thomas was almost certainly innocent.

Columbia Journalism Review, How the Medill Justice Project has thrived following controversy, Cary Spivak, March 23, 2015. More than four years after it was engulfed in controversy, the Medill Innocence Project remains in the headlines — and not always for the right reasons. Northwestern University, the project’s home, was hit last month with a well-publicized lawsuit by a man who says he was wrongfully jailed for 15 years as the result of probe by the project that freed a second man from death row.

But there’s another story at Medill that deserves attention, too: Even as the fallout continues, the renowned program has been remade under a different name, a different leader, and a whole different approach.

Now known as the Medill Justice Project, the program has been led since 2011 by Alec Klein, a former investigative reporter at The Washington Post. Students continue to investigate claims of prisoners who say they were railroaded by the justice system. But they no longer advocate for the release of wrongfully convicted prisoners—a practice that won accolades for the Innocence Project and David Protess, its founder, but later made them targets of criticism from prosecutors, the media, and the university itself.

Instead, students research cases, publish stories on several platforms about their findings, and, notably, do not share information with defense lawyers. “We’re teaching them to be investigative reporters,” Klein said. “We want them to be comfortable doing the heavy lifting — going through public records, tracking down elusive sources, persuading reluctant sources to talk…. If in the process they uncover revelatory information that, of course, is a great achievement.”

Protess founded the Medill Innocence Project in the late 1990s, and under his direction the program’s investigations led to the release of about a dozen inmates. The project’s work is often credited with a key role in ending the death penalty in Illinois. But Protess left Northwestern in 2011, after he was removed from the program by the administration. Investigations revealed how closely the program worked with defense lawyers — a relationship that prosecutors said cost the students protections provided to reporters by the Illinois shield law — and raised questions about the tactics used by Protess, his students, and a private investigator employed by the Innocence Project. A Northwestern investigation concluded that Protess had doctored an email before turning it over to investigators and also asserted he had lied to the university.

It was a messy breakup. And now, Protess and Northwestern each find themselves named as defendants in a lawsuit brought by Alstory Simon, who alleges that Protess and others conspired to frame him and that he was intimidated into confessing to a double murder so another man sitting on death row for the crime could be exonerated. The first man convicted was released in 1999; prosecutors had Simon released from prison last year, after he had spent 15 years in prison, so nobody is serving time for the crimes.

Protess, who launched the Chicago Innocence Project after he left Northwestern, declined to comment. Northwestern said in a statement that it “looks forward to being vindicated in a court of law.”

The Medill project’s shift in focus occurs against the backdrop of a broader debate. While most innocence projects are led by lawyers or law schools and openly advocate for the release of wrongly convicted individuals, whether programs involving journalism students should do so as well has long been a subject of discussion.

House of Cards

From Wikipedia: House of Cards is an American political drama web television series created by Beau Willimon. It is an adaptation of the BBC's mini-series of the same name and is based on the novel by Michael Dobbs. The thirteen-episode first season premiered on February 1, 2013, on the streaming service Netflix. Thirteen-episode seasons followed on February 14, 2014, February 27, 2015 and March 4, 2016. Netflix announced a fifth season due for release on May 30, 2017. Willimon has stated that plans for the show's future are decided after each season.

Set in 2010s Washington, D.C., House of Cards is the story of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), a Democrat from South Carolina's 5th congressional district and House Majority Whip. After being passed over for appointment as Secretary of State, he initiates an elaborate plan to get himself into a position of greater power, aided by his wife, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). The series deals primarily with themes of ruthless pragmatism, manipulation, and power. 

'Anatomy' Book Coverage

National Press Club, Wrongly convicted man recounts ordeal at "Anatomy of Innocence" Book Rap, Eleanor Herman, May 4, 2017. A National Press Club Book Rap on May 1 about Anatomy of Innocence featured Jerry Miller, who was exonerated after a wrongful conviction; John Mankiewicz, who wrote the book chapter about Miller; Laura Caldwell, the book's editor; and National Press Club President Jeff Ballou, who moderated.

Miller’s happiest moment came when Chicago prosecutors apologized to him on camera. “They had told the world I was guilty of a crime. Now they were telling the world I was innocent.” Still, he added, “The word ‘exonerated’ can never tell the full story. What was I supposed to do? I was 52 but felt like I was still 26.”

National Press Club, Tonight: NPC Book Rap to feature `House of Cards’ screenwriter, Aprill Turner, April 30, 2017. An executive producer and screenwriter for the Netflix series ‘House of Cards’, John Mankiewicz, plans to join Laura Caldwell and Jerry Miller at a National Press Club Book Rap.

Caldwell is the bestselling author of 15 books, including the award-winning Izzy McNeil series, the first of which is Red Hot Lies, and the nonfiction work Long Way Home: A Young Man Lost in the System and the Two Women Who Found Him. Mankiewicz is a film and television writer whose credits include The Street, The Human Factor and The Marshal. He is an executive producer of the D.C.-set Netflix series House of Cards.

Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted, Laura Caldwell and Leslie S. Klinger (Editors), and Scott Turow and Barry Scheck (Introductions). Now, in this groundbreaking anthology, fourteen exonerated inmates narrate their stories to a roster of high-profile mystery and thriller writers―including Lee Child, Sara Paretsky, Laurie R. King, Jan Burke and S. J. Rozan ― while another exoneree’s case is explored in a previously unpublished essay by legendary playwright Arthur Miller. An astonishing and unique collaboration, these testimonies bear witness to the incredible stories of innocent men and women who were convicted of serious crimes and cast into the maw of a vast and deeply flawed American criminal justice system before eventually, and miraculously, being exonerated.

Introduced by best-selling authors Scott Turow and Barry Scheck, these master storytellers capture the tragedy of wrongful convictions as never before and challenge readers to confront the limitations and harsh realities of the American criminal justice system.

Lee Child tells of Kirk Bloodsworth, who obsessively read about the burgeoning field of DNA testing, cautiously hoping that it held the key to his acquittal ― until he eventually became the first person to be exonerated from death row based on DNA evidence. Judge John Sheldon and author Gayle Lynds team up to share Audrey Edmunds’s experience raising her children long distance from her prison cell. And exoneree Gloria Killian recounts to S. J. Rozan her journey from that fateful "knock on the door" and the initial shock of accusation to the scars she carries today.

Selected Background On Trump Justice Initiatives, Cutbacks

(Arranged in reverse chronological order)

Washington Post, Sessions follows Obama playbook on prosecuting officers, but not on police reform, Matt Zapotosky, May 5, 2017. 
Where the Justice Department under the previous administration saw fatal shootings by police as a product of cultural problems in law enforcement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is inclined to see them as the result of a few bad officers.

When the Justice Department announced this week that it would not charge the officers involved in the death of Alton Sterling, officials used a familiar script. The acting U.S. attorney in Baton Rouge called a news conference and outlined a vivid description of the encounter, caught on video, that ended when an officer fired three bullets into Sterling’s back. He pointed to federal civil rights law as making it impossible to substantiate a case.

It was a scene that played out a number of times under the Obama administration: The Justice Department declines to press charges in a high-profile police shooting. Federal law makes charging police officers with civil rights violations extremely difficult. And because Attorney General Jeff Sessions is critical of broader reforms targeting entire departments, “that suggests that very little work on police accountability is going to get done, at all,” said Chiraag Bains, a former federal prosecutor and senior official in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Washington Post, Front-runner to lead Justice Department civil rights defended Abercrombie in Supreme Court discrimination case, Sari Horwitz, May 5, 2017. The front-runner to oversee the Justice Department’s civil rights division is a former Bush administration official and veteran conservative Washington lawyer who has represented several companies that were sued for discrimination. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recommended to the White House that Eric S. Dreiband head the civil rights division, which oversees the Justice Department’s policies on issues such as voting rights, police brutality and transgender rights.

In one of his most high-profile cases, Dreiband represented Abercrombie & Fitch before the Supreme Court two years ago when the clothing retailer was sued for refusing to hire a 17-year-old Muslim woman because she wore a headscarf that conflicted with the company’s dress code. Abercrombie & Fitch said it didn’t have a reason to know that the woman’s headscarf was clothing required by her religion. In its Supreme Court brief, the company argued that people applying for jobs should not be allowed “to remain silent and to assume that the employer recognizes the religious motivations behind their fashion decisions.”

Dreiband, who is from Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, Ind., received his undergraduate degree from Princeton University, where he majored in history. An offensive lineman for his college football team, he tried out unsuccessfully for the St. Louis Cardinals NFL team after graduation. He earned a master’s degree in theological studies, with a concentration in ethics and public policy, from Harvard University a law degree in 1992 from Northwestern Law School.

From 1997 to 2000, he worked for Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr and led the investigation and successful prosecution of President Bill Clinton’s former associate attorney general, Webster Hubbell.

Under the Bush administration, he served as deputy administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division and general counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Washington Post, Sessions orders Justice Dept. to end forensic science commission, suspend review policy, Spencer S. Hsu, April 10, Jeff Sessions2017. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards and has suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques that have come under question, saying a new strategy will be set by an in-house team of law enforcement advisers.

In a statement Monday, Sessions said he would not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science, a roughly 30-member advisory panel of scientists, judges, crime lab leaders, prosecutors and defense lawyers chartered by the Obama administration in 2013. A path to meet needs of overburdened crime labs will be set by a yet-to-be-named senior forensic adviser and an internal department crime task force, Sessions’s statement said. [Read Justice Department statement on commission here.]

The announcement came as the commission began its last, two-day meeting before its term ends April 23, and as some of its most far-reaching final recommendations remained hanging before the department.

New York Times, White House Proposes Cutting Drug Control Office Funding by 95%, Alan Rappaport, May 5, 2017. When he was running for office, Donald J. Trump promised to rid America of the scourge of drugs, vowing to crack down on dealers and invest heavily in programs to get heroin and other opioids off the streets. But on Friday, President Trump’s administration revealed plans to gut the 2018 budget of his Office of National Drug Control Policy. According to an Office of Management and Budget document obtained by The New York Times, the White House is proposing to slash the drug policy office budget by about 95 percent, to just $24 million from $388 million.

The cuts would mean the office could lose up to 33 employees. The budget would also eliminate grant programs it administers, including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program and the Drug-Free Communities Support Program. According to the document, the Trump administration thinks the programs are duplicative of other federal and state initiatives. Rich Baum, the acting drug czar appointed by Mr. Trump, expressed anguish about the cuts in an email sent to the office’s staff on Friday.

Washington Post, Justice Dept. won’t charge Baton Rouge officers in fatal shooting caught on video, Matt Zapotosky and Wesley Lowery, May 2, 2017. The probe of Alton Sterling’s death will be the first time under Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the department has publicly declined to prosecute officers investigated for possible wrongdoing in a high-profile case.

Washington Post, Proposed budget bill leaves FBI headquarters underfunded, Jonathan O'Connell, May 1, 2017. The proposed budget FBI logodeal Congress is set to consider this week would leave the FBI still a half a billion dollars short of what it needs to build a new headquarters in the D.C. suburbs.

Washington Post, Attorney General Jeff Sessions will recuse himself from any probe related to 2016 presidential campaign, Karoun Demirjian, Ed O'Keefe, Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky, March 2, 2017. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that he will recuse himself from investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign, which would include any Russian interference in the electoral process. The announcement comes a day after the Washington Post revealed that Sessions twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign and did not disclose that to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing in January.

New York Times, Jeff Sessions Confirmed as Attorney General, Capping Bitter Battle, Eric Lichtblau and Matt Flegenheimer, Feb. 8, 2017.  Jeff Sessions was confirmed on Wednesday as President Trump’s attorney general, capping a bitter and racially charged nomination battle that crested with the procedural silencing of a leading Democrat, Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Mr. Sessions, an Alabama Republican, survived a near-party-line vote, 52 to 47, in the latest sign of the extreme partisanship at play as Mr. Trump strains to install his cabinet. No Republicans broke ranks in their support of a colleague who will become the nation’s top law enforcement official after two decades in the Senate.

Senator Jeff Sessions was confirmed on Wednesday as President Trump’s attorney general, capping a bitter and racially charged nomination battle that crested with the procedural silencing of a leading Democrat, Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Mr. Sessions, an Alabama Republican, survived a near-party-line vote, 52 to 47, in the latest sign of the extreme partisanship at play as Mr. Trump strains to install his cabinet. No Republicans broke ranks in their support of a colleague who will become the nation’s top law enforcement official after two decades in the Senate.

But the confirmation process — ferocious even by the standards of moldering decorum that have defined the body’s recent years — laid bare the Senate’s deep divisions at the outset of the Trump presidency. At the same time, the treatment of Ms. Warren, who was forced to stop speaking late Tuesday after criticizing Mr. Sessions from the Senate floor, rekindled the gender-infused politics that animated the presidential election and the women’s march protesting Mr. Trump the day after his inauguration last month. Since Mr. Trump announced his choice for attorney general, Mr. Sessions’s history with issues of race had assumed center stage. A committee hearing on his nomination included searing indictments from black Democratic lawmakers like Representative John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon, and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who broke with Senate tradition to testify against a peer.

Washington Post, Justice Department will again use private prisons, Matt Zapotosky, Feb. 23, 2017. The Justice Department will once again use private prisons to house federal inmates, reversing an Obama-era directive to stop using the facilities, which officials had then deemed less safe and less effective than those run by the government.

In a one-paragraph memo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the previous directive to the Bureau of Prisons to either reduce or decline to renew private-prison contracts as they came due. “The memorandum changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system,” Sessions wrote. “Therefore, I direct the Bureau to return to its previous approach.” The directive marks a significant policy shift from the previous administration, although the practical impact might be somewhat muted.

Alabama's Recent History of Scandal, Cover-up

WhoWhatWhy, Sex Scandal Confirms Targeted Voter Suppression in Alabama, Sean Steinberg, April 24, 2017. Sometimes a scandal can bring other hidden things to light. In the case of the disgraced former Alabama governor, we now learn that GOP rationalizations to close DMVs were indeed nothing but a ruse for a deliberate voter suppression effort. Putting problematic politicians under a microscope for one thing can turn up entirely different wrongdoing, as disgraced former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (shown in an official photo) recently learned.

An impeachment investigation led by the Alabama House’s Judiciary Committee found the budget justifications Bentley used to rationalize DMV closures were decoys. An underlying political agenda would have disproportionately restricted voting access in African-American communities had the plans not stalled following federal investigation. 

New York Times, Alabama Governor Quits in Sex Scandal That Rocked State, Alan Blinder, April 10, 2017. Gov. Robert Bentley resigned Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Top Strategist Rebekah Mason and former Alabama law enforcement chief Stephen Collier WKRGMonday, his power and popularity diminished by a sex scandal that staggered the state, brought him to the brink of impeachment and prompted a series of criminal investigations. Ellen Brooks, a special prosecutor, said Mr. Bentley had quit in connection with a plea agreement on two misdemeanor charges: failing to file a major contribution report and knowingly converting campaign contributions to personal use.

It was a stunning downfall for the governor, a Republican who acknowledged in March 2016 that he had made sexually charged remarks to his senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Mr. Bentley, 74, repeatedly denied having a physical relationship with Ms. Mason and long insisted that he had not broken any laws, but he was a subject of multiple investigations, including reviews by the F.B.I. and the Alabama attorney general’s office.

(Bentley is shown at left. Mason is center. The WKRG-TV photo collage shows at right Alabama's former top law enforcer Spencer Collier, whom Bentley fired in a cover-up attempt. Blogger Roger Shuler, writing for the Legal Schnauzer, broke the story based on tips and a tape recording, and persisted despite many attacks he has endured stemming from his reporting.)

Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey succeeds Mr. Bentley; she is a former state treasurer who will be the second woman to hold the office. She is graduate of Auburn University who was a high school teacher and a bank officer before going to work for the Legislature.

Justice Integrity Project, Alabama Blogger, Not Mainstream Media, Exposed State House Scandal, Andrew Kreig, April 11, 2017. Two cable news stars broadcast a repulsive but revealing display of self-promotion Aug. 10 when MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell credited fellow anchor Rachel Maddow for the coverage that prompted the resignation of Alabama's scandal-ridden governor earlier in the day.

Guardian, 'Gun for hire': how Jeff Sessions used his prosecuting power to target Democrats, Jon Swaine and Oliver Laughland, March 4, 2017. As the Justice Department’s man in Alabama, Trump’s attorney general indicted political opponents in remarkably thin cases, court filings show. “Jeff Sessions is was one of the most corrupt public servants in Alabama history, running a political hit squad for organized crime.”

It was 1989 and Arthur Outlaw, the Republican mayor of Mobile, Alabama, was girding himself for his re-election campaign. Word was that Lambert Mims, a popular local Democrat, would run against him. Some Republicans were growing skittish. But a close friend of Outlaw's had something planned. The friend had been president of the state Young Republicans, chairman of the regional GOP, then a senior official in the Mobile County Republican party. And now he was the top federal prosecutor in southern Alabama.

"Jeff says that Mims won't be around by that time," an Outlaw aide said ominously, while discussing the election at a City Hall meeting that February, according to a sworn affidavit from an official who was in the room. A few months later, Mims confirmed that he would be challenging Outlaw. Then Jeff Sessions made his move.

Sessions, then the US attorney for Alabama's southern district, indicted Mims on criminal corruption charges relating to obscure four-year-old negotiations over a planned recycling plant. Mims was the ninth notable Democrat in the area to be indicted by Sessions since the young Republican was appointed by President Ronald Reagan. He would not be the last.

Opponents concluded that Sessions used his federal prosecutor's office, and the FBI agents who worked for him, as political weapons, according to more than half a dozen veterans of Mobile's 1980s legal and political circles. Some alleged in court filings that the ambitious young Republican actually worked from a "hitlist" of Democratic targets.

Justice Department logo"Sessions was a gun for hire," said Tom Purvis, a former sheriff of Mobile County, "and he went after political enemies." Purvis was acquitted of charges against him that Sessions oversaw after Purvis unseated another Outlaw ally from the elected sheriff's position.

The decades-old concerns have been revived by Donald Trump's appointment of Sessions as US attorney general, and the mounting anxiety over his ability to remain even-handed as the nation's most senior law enforcement official given his record of vigorous partisanship. Earlier this week, Sessions was pressured into removing himself from oversight of any FBI investigations into the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia.

Bolstering the claims are the remarkably thin prosecution cases brought by Sessions against some of those Democrats he indicted, which are detailed across thousands of pages of archived court filings that were reviewed by the Guardian.

Harvard Political Review, The Alabamafication of America, Drew Pendergrass, Feb. 14, 2017. The 2016 presidential election looked, more than anything else, like an Alabama election. Donald Trump’s relentless appeals to populist conservative ideas echo decades-long trends in the South. The current worries about Trump’s irresponsible governing style are similar to concerns Alabama commentators have been expressing about their often-demagogic leaders since before the 1940s. To understand the Trump administration, in which Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions will likely serve as attorney general, we should look to Alabama, and the reasons why the state government is teetering toward collapse.

Leaders in all three branches of Alabama’s government are either under investigation or have been recently removed from office. After using his position to obtain over $1.1 million in financial favors, Mike Hubbard, the former speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, was convicted of 12 felony corruption charges in July 2016. He has been described by many as “the most powerful man in Alabama,” a state where the governor has relatively little authority and the legislature holds all the cards — a simple majority is all that is required to override most vetoes. The Hubbard trial was full of fireworks, including testimony from former Governor Bob Riley, but ended in a sentence of only four years in prison.

Noel HillmanJustice Integrity Project, Tainted Judge Grants Casino $10m As GOP Prepares To Pack Courts, Andrew Kreig, Jan. 1, 2017. A scandal-tainted GOP federal judge (U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman, shown in an official photo) ruled in December to strip a casino gambler of $10 million in winnings just as Republicans prepare to pack the courts in 2017 after blocking Obama appointments to the lifetime posts. The two developments underscore the mainstream media's reluctance to report in depth on judges and nominees except in the rarest of scandals. 

Justice Integrity Project, Businessman, Siegelman Co-Defendant, DOJ Victim Richard Scrushy To Provide Litigation Lessons In DC July 29, Andrew Kreig, July 24, 2015. Richard Scrushy, the founder and former CEO of HealthSouth, Inc. and co-defendant in one of the most widely condemned federal prosecutions in recent U.S. history, will share his hard-won insights July 29 on Capitol Hill and at a National Press Club dinner. Scrushy, still an entrepreneur and now also an author and motivational speaker, speaks at 4 p.m. on the opening day of the annual Whistle Blowers Summit to advise others on coping with the legal hardships that many whistleblowers must endure.

Judge Mark Fuller Phil Fleming Photo

Huffington Post, Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows….$300 Million in Bush Military Contracts Awarded to Judge’s Private Company, Andrew Kreig, May 15, 2009. The Alabama federal judge who presided over the 2006 corruption trial of the state's former governor holds a grudge against the defendant for helping to expose the judge's own alleged corruption six years ago. Former Gov. Don Siegelman therefore deserves a new trial with an unbiased judge ─ not one whose privately owned company, Doss Aviation, has been enriched by the Bush administration's award of $300 million in contracts since 2006, making the judge (Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery, shown in a Phil Fleming photo) millions of dollars in non-judicial income.

Catching Our Attention On Other Recent Justice News From Around the Nation

Washington Post, Organized crime ring made millions smuggling cigarettes and writing bad checks in Va., police say, Justin Jouvenal and Dana Hedgpeth, May 5, 2017. A bust of a major organized crime ring that made millions smuggling cigarettes and committing bank fraud in Virginia has resulted in 43 indictments and more than 740 charges, Fairfax County police announced Friday. An extensive two-year investigation uncovered a sprawling operation with more than 150 suspects engaged in transporting cigarettes from the Richmond area to New York City, writing bad checks, money laundering, and committing shootings and other violent crimes in the Richmond area, officials said.

Authorities there said the ring sold $30 million worth of cigarettes on the black market and created 29 fake businesses in the Richmond area to make bulk purchases of cigarettes, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. “It’s got to be one of the largest organized crime groups we’ve had,” Fairfax County police 2nd Lt. Thomas Harrington said at a Friday news conference. “It is an extremely complex case.”

Harrington said that detectives are still trying to determine where the organization’s profits went but that officials are exploring whether any money funded terrorist groups. The organization was primarily composed of foreign nationals from northern Africa, Harrington said. In all, police said nine banks in Fairfax County reported losses of more than $620,000. After it was determined that the 12 to 14 people were using multiple addresses in the county and the Richmond area, Fairfax police reached out to the FBI for help.

New York Times, Police Account Changes in Killing of Texas 15-Year-Old, Liam Stack and Christine Hauser, May 1, 2017. Jordan Edwards was shot late on Saturday when the police in a Dallas suburb were responding to a call reporting young people drinking.

New York Times, Milwaukee Jail Workers Should Be Charged in Dehydration Death, Jury Says, Niraj Chokshimay, May 1, 2017. Terrill Thomas, who died in a Milwaukee jail last year, had bipolar disorder, a lawyer for his estate said. A jury recommended on Monday that prosecutors file criminal charges against seven Milwaukee County jail employees over the death of Terrill Thomas, an inmate who the authorities say died of dehydration after going a week without water.

The jury found probable cause to charge the seven staff members, including two supervisors, with felony abuse, according to Erik Heipt, a lawyer representing Mr. Thomas’s estate. “Nothing like this should ever happen in an American jail,” Mr. Heipt said, “and we’re pleased that justice is taking its course.”

Justice Integrity Project, Did Trump Labor Pick Protect Trump, Rich Rapists, Tax Cheats, Crooked Bankers? Do We Find Out Alexander AcostaWednesday? Andrew Kreig, March 14, 2017. President Trump nominated as labor secretary last month a former federal prosecutor suspected of covering up multiple scandals, including the alleged rape of underage girls in 1994 by billionaire pervert Jeffrey Epstein and Trump, who was Epstein’s friend and neighbor.

With a Senate confirmation hearing scheduled Wednesday, Trump picked former Bush administration prosecutor R. Alexander Acosta (shown in an official photo) Feb. 16 to lead the Labor Department despite his multiple legal controversies involving sex predators, corrupt bankers and billionaire tax cheats. Their crimes largely escaped prosecution from Acosta and his law enforcement colleagues.