Friday, April 07, 2006

Innocence happens

Two articles in today's Patriot News remind us of the dark side of criminal justice. Innocent people are convicted and lose years of their lives for crimes someone else committed.

On the front page, top fold, is the story of David Gladden, a mentally retarded man from Harrisburg who appears to be innocent of the crime for which he is in prison. Patriot reporter Pete Shellem first broke the story in December, and today's story discusses a city cab driver who another suspect, Andrew Dillon, used as his alibi. Dillon was convicted of killing four other women in much the same way that Geneva Long, the victim in the Gladden case, was killed. Dillon also lived right next door to Long. (Apparently, math skills- as in, 2+2- are not required to be a Harrisburg detective.)

The cabbie, Joseph Baumgartner, said this in today's article:
"I was down at the Stop Lunch... He (Dillon) walked in, he nudged me and said, 'Look, I been here with you all night,'" Baumgartner told The Patriot-News. "I told him, 'I wasn't here all night, I just got here maybe 10 or 15 minutes ago.' But he said, 'I was here when you came in and I been sitting here talking.'"

Moments later, he said, they heard fire engines going down Second Street to Long's nearby apartment.

Baumgartner said he and Dillon walked to the scene, where firefighters were extinguishing the fire.

"He's standing there, he's looking at it and he's got a look in his eye, you know what I mean?" Baumgartner said. "I heard somebody come out and say there was a body in there. I knew it was him. When they finally got him, I thought they got him on all of them and then I found out they got this other guy in jail for this one. That's not right."

To make matters worse, according to Baumgartner, he told a city police officer this story, but there was no follow up. Meanwhile, Dillon was telling city police that he was with Baumgartner at the time.

Elsewhere, with a week left before the start of the civil trial in the wrongful conviction of Steven Crawford of Harrisburg, the judge in that case recused himself for health reasons. Crawford spent 28 years in prison for a crime someone else committed, and he was convicted in part on the testimony of state police fingerprint analyst John Balshy and chemist Janice Roadcap. These two Keystone Kops have a history. Roadcap helped put away Barry Laughman of Adams County for 16 years before DNA evidence cleared him, and Balshy was involved in setting up Gary Rank of Dauphin County.

So, what is the Commonwealth doing about this travesty? At the moment, not much. To their credit, prosecutors in the Dauphin County DA's office are not blocking the introduction of new evidence in the Gladden case.

More importantly, Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) is the prime sponsor of the Innocence Commission Act (Senate Bill 1069), which would create the Innocence Commission of Pennsylvania. This commission would be made up of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police, academics, and others who would study the reasons why innocent people are convicted. (Mind you, I could tell them in about five minutes, and they wouldn't have to spend all that time, but go forward.) SB 1069 is out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is awaiting a vote from the full Senate. It's time for the Senate leadership to put it on the agenda.

Andy in H-burg

5 Comments:

Blogger Sheikh Mahandi said...

From the Patriot-News
"While he had the case, McClure reversed Kane's ruling holding the county liable and ruled against Crawford in a number of key pretrial motions.
On Tuesday, he filed a motion to recuse for health reasons, withdrew the motion, filed an order allowing a blood spatter expert to testify against Crawford, and then filed a second motion recusing himself, once again for health reasons."

Can someone please clarify what happens now, I understand a new judge will be appointed, can they then reverse the reversals and reverse any of the other pre-trial motions, or is Mr Crawford stuck with the McClure rulings?

8:58 AM  
Blogger ACLU of Pennsylvania said...

Sheikh, I run your question by one of our staff attorneys.

Andy

9:59 PM  
Blogger ACLU of Pennsylvania said...

Nice english. I mean "I will run your question..."

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Peter G said...

In general, judges are reluctant to change decisions already made, and rulings by a prior judge in the same case are treated as "law of the case" -- a kind of courtesy, not nearly as strong as precedent. If the second judge is convinced the earlier ruling was a clear error, or risks causing a miscarriage of justice, s/he can revisit that ruling.

11:04 PM  
Blogger ACLU of Pennsylvania said...

Thanks, Peter. I had an answer but had not gotten around to posting it.

Andy

2:12 PM  

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