Sending a message. 
The following is an excerpt from the Bluhm Blog. It is written by Clinical Professor Steven Drizin, Director of the Center On Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. IL.

This groundbreaking lawsuit, however, could force police officers in Albuquerque and elsewhere to change their investigation protocols when it comes to confession evidence. All too often, police view the confession as the be-all and end-all of any investigation. While confession evidence is perhaps the most powerful piece of evidence in a court of law, it is not worthy of this status. Confessions are not per se reliable. They are only as reliable as the evidence which corroborates the confession and any good police department will continue to seek corroboration even after securing a confession. Moreover, confession evidence can be contaminated. To the extent that confession details appear to match the crime evidence, case after case of wrongful convictions have shown that these details are often fed to suspects by police officers through leading questions, showing suspects crime scene photos, and other tricks of the interrogation trade.

Read the entire article here.

Professor Drizin’s article clearly highlights the “shortcut” path that some police agencies take when investigating serious crimes. If this lawsuit is successful, it should serve as warning to all police investigators that there is a consequence for “dereliction of duty” when not corroborating confession evidence. The subject of “corroboration of evidence” has been addressed by NCJ in several previous blog entries; the most recent was on November 6, 2009.

A similar situation to what happened in Albuquerque, NM could possibly occur elsewhere as a result of the wrongful conviction of Erick Westervelt. NCJ has also addressed this subject in previous entries as well and until Westervelt’s case is resolved, the possibility will remain. Of course there is also the possibility that it has already happened.

According to Westervelt, the Bethlehem police detectives failed to corroborate any of the "false" information that he provided during the "confession session". He claims that he was elaborating on the information that they had provided him about an incident that he knew nothing about. To his dismay, he was led to believe that the nature of the incident was merely a fist fight with a guy that he hadn't seen in months. He figured if he told them what they wanted to hear, he could go home.

Police video transcripts indicate that It wasn’t until hours after his "confession" was obtained, that the detectives told him the actual truth about the life threatening condition of the assaulted victim.

Westervelt also maintains that is when he went into a state of shock that rendered him mentally helpless to cope with the situation from that point on. That claim is supported by his depressed physical reactions and muted verbal responses throughout the remainder of the video. Friends and family observers of the televised arraignment noted his "Zombie" like appearance and his limited functionality.

He was under arrest for assault at that time and the criminal charges were upgraded to murder when the victim died the next day.




  |  related link
The 250th DNA Exoneration Included a False Confession. 
NEW YORK, NY, February 4, 2010 - A Rochester, New York, man who was wrongfully convicted of rape 33 years ago is being exonerated with DNA testing today, in what the Innocence Project said is the 250th DNA exoneration in the United States.

Freddie Peacock, 60, was convicted of rape in December 1976. He was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and released on parole in 1982. He tried to remain on parole because he thought he would never be able to clear his name if he was released from state supervision. For the last 28 years since he left prison, he has fought to prove his innocence even though he was no longer incarcerated.

Freddie Peacock lived in the same apartment building as the victim, and she made a shaky identification of him as the perpetrator. Barely two hours after the attack, Peacock was arrested and interrogated for about two and a half hours. He initially denied any involvement in the crime, but police claim he ultimately confessed. Peacock told the detective handling the interrogation that he had severe mental illness and had been hospitalized for it several times. In his alleged confession, Peacock could not tell officers where, when or how the victim was raped. He was tried and convicted.

"Freddie Peacock was released many years ago, but he hasn't been truly free because the cloud of this conviction hung over him," said Olga Akselrod, the Innocence Project Staff Attorney handling the case. The Innocence Project is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. "Nobody in the U.S. who was exonerated with DNA testing has spent this many years outside of prison fighting to prove his innocence. Today, the decades-long nightmare that Freddie Peacock and his family have endured is finally over."

The Innocence Project released a report today, "250 Exonerated: Too Many Wrongfully Convicted," which details each one of the exoneration cases and includes statistics on common causes of the wrongful convictions.

The top three states for DNA exonerations are Texas (with 40), Illinois (with 29) and New York (with 25).

Read the entire news report here.





  |  related link
The Wrongful Conviction: It Could Happen to Anyone. 
And it did. Almost an identical situation occurred to Erick Westervelt ten years after the wrongful conviction of Alan Beaman in Illinois. Beaman was convicted of murdering his former girlfriend in 1995 which resulted in him being incarcerated for 13 years before being exonerated.

This video highlights the Beaman family’s anguish with the Illinois criminal justice system. Westervelt’s family is still in this mode of "suspended animation" and disillusionment with the New York justice system.

Lets not stop there. A wrongful conviction also deprives the victim’s family of the correct closure by misdirecting their anguish and anxiety toward the wrong individual responsible for their loved one’s death.


It Could Happen to Anyone: The Wrongful Conviction of Alan Beaman








  |  related link
2010: Ring in the New Year….maybe! 
As we begin this New Year, several associates of North Country Justice have made a commitment to assist Erick Westervelt in locating the professional expertise that he needs in order to prove his innocence.

When NCJ began the inquiry into the background of this case almost two years ago, we had no idea of the complexity or complacency involved. This case was rife with instances that should have rung some loud bells and waved some red flags.

As of the present time, there is still a lot complacency and stigma attached to Westervelt’s situation. What is it going to take to wake up the community and criminal justice system in Albany County as to what happened in this case?

There are many logical questions about the case facts that remain unanswered. Many people read this blog and some have offered assistance to get involved. However, the legal complexity needs to be unraveled and that most likely will require some powerful legal help and money.

From NCJ’s analysis, Erick Westervelt was convicted of a crime that he did not have the opportunity to commit. The jury was presented with a flawed investigation and prosecution along with an unsubstantiated theory. No one realized what had been done to him psychologically that most likely produced a false confession, which was also unsubstantiated.

Some telephone bells need to be ringing this year.





  |  related link
Actual Innocence Justice Act of 2009 
On October 19, 2009, Senator Eric T. Schneiderman (D-Manhattan/Bronx), introduced bill number S6234 before the NYS Senate entitled the Actual Innocence Justice Act of 2009.

As of this time, there has been no significant action on the Senate bill or the counterpart Assembly bill A9430. Both bills are still in committee.

Interested parties should contact their respective state legislators and express their support for this important addition to the NYS Criminal Procedure Law.


Here are links to the information:

Senate bill:
http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/ap ... bill/S6234

Press conference on the legislation:
http://www.nysenate.gov/press-release/s ... -bill-exon





  |  related link
Another living nightmare is reversed. 
BUT, it took a lot of legal expertise, money and time.

Dewey Bozella did the time; all 26 years of it, for a murder that he did not commit.

Being incarcerated in a New York State prison, he had no money and no connections.

In 2007, he asked for help from the Innocence Project and got it.

Here is his story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/29/nyreg ... .html?_r=1

How many more Deweys’ are there in New York prisons?

Are they going to get the help that he got?

What is it going to take?


Mr. Bozella said that the lesson for others unfairly convicted was to pursue justice against all odds.

“If I’d given up, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now,” he said. "There were times I wanted to sit down and cry. I’d say, when does it end? When does it end? Today it finally ended.”






  |  related link
At last, a ray of hope! 
On November 9, 2009, New York State Supreme Court Justice John Cataldo, New York County, Manhattan, rendered a decision in People vs. Bermudez. Judge Cataldo’s decision not only exonerated Fernando Bermudez and ended 18 years of confinement; it provides a ray of hope for wrongfully convicted inmates in New York State to have their case reviewed by the court based upon a claim of “actual innocence”. When Bermudez's attorneys filed their motion to vacate his sentence (NY CPL 440), they included section 440.10(1)(h), which encompasses an individual's rights under the federal and state constitutions.

This Supreme Court decision is of notable importance to non-DNA cases such as the Erick Westervelt case.

Among others, the NY Times published an excellent interpretation of the decision and is a must read for anyone interested in wrongful convictions.

Here is a link to the article.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/23/nyreg ... cence.html

Judge Cataldo’s Decision:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseri ... _52302.htm

Actual Innocence:
http://topics.law.cornell.edu/wex/actual_innocence





  |  related link
Beyond A Reasonable Doubt? 
In the previous entry we mentioned that Erick Westervelt’s attorneys presented Dr. Allison Redlich as an expert witness to testify about false confessions.

As knowledgeable as the doctor is on the subject, the prosecutor discredited her testimony at every turn. An interesting part was noted when she began explaining how false confessions are generated. Dr. Redlich brought a copy of the Reid Manual into the courtroom. Because of the prosecutor’s objections, the jury was not permitted to accept any testimony about it.

The Reid manual contains the detailed “nine steps” that are taught to investigators worldwide and is more commonly known as the Reid Technique. This method of interrogation, taught by instructors from the John Reid & Associates company in Chicago, is widely accepted and regarded by many police investigators as the “art of interrogation”.

Dr. Redlich apparently was trying to explain how the Reid Technique, not properly administered, can produce disastrous results and contribute to false confessions. This fact has been acknowledged by the psychology profession as well as criminal justice systems.

Even though some police investigators have not actually enrolled in the course, they can easily gain some knowledge of the interrogation procedure via the internet, books, television or from other officers. It is not clear if the detectives in the Westervelt case ever had any formal training in the Reid Technique, but there is evidence of some of the steps being used. One very key point of the technique as discussed in the course is:

Voluntariness of statement is established along with corroboration of details.

NCJ cannot find any indication or any testimony on the part of the detectives that they conclusively corroborated any of the details that Erick Westervelt provided to them in the written statement that they claim is his “confession” to the crime.

Of course, this was the “confession” that the jury believed to be true and was accepted at face value.


Here is an abstract and evaluation of the Reid Technique:

http://everything2.com/title/Reid+technique





  |  related link
It Has Happened Again! 
TROY, NY – October 23, 2009. Following a month-long trial, a jury found Adrian Thomas guilty of murdering his 4 month old son.

Another jury in the Capital District did not believe the videotaped "confession" might have been coerced by the detectives.

During a Voir Dire session in a juryless courtroom, the defense presented Dr. Richard Ofshe, a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, an expert witness on false confessions and police coercion. The prosecution presented counter-expert Paul Cassell, a University of Utah law professor. The judge sided with Professor Cassell and decided that Dr. Ofshe’s testimony would not be allowed, thereby denying another Capital District jury from understanding why people offer false confessions.

Dr. Ofshe has been instrumental in educating judges and juries about false confessions in many high profile murder cases throughout the country. In most of those cases, the defendant benefitted by a much more objective jury analysis of the “Confession Session”.

Professor Cassell has a strong conservative background and is a crime victim’s activist. He has also been involved in trying to overhaul the Miranda ruling and criminal justice system.

Regardless of how his views influenced NY Supreme Court Judge Andrew Ceresia in this case, the option for a jury to properly evaluate the possibility of a false confession was denied.

Thomas’s confession might have been deemed coerced and therefore eliminating the only possible link to the commission of the crime.

Erick Westervelt was also denied the jury’s education about false confessions. Psychologist, Dr. Allison Redlich, the expert witness in his trial was allowed to testify but unfortunately, her lack of experience in this field and testifying on the subject, proved to have been a poor choice by the defense. As indicated in the trial transcripts, none of her allowed testimony was significant and efforts to be so were thwarted at every move by the prosecution. The result was totally counterproductive in proving that Westervelt’s statements were coerced into producing a false confession and apology.

Therefore, he was also denied the opportunity for a “confession educated” jury to evaluate the reliability and veracity of his written statement in order to eliminate the police connecting him to the commission of the crime.




  |  related link
Too Late For Some. 
The previous entry is a welcome start in the right direction in determining false confessions that could materialize into wrongful convictions in the future. The NY State Bar Association has recognized the need for eliminating false confessions that result from aggressive and misleading police interviews. However, for Erick Westervelt and many others, there is NO logical recourse for prior cases. Presently, there is NO one with any authority to do anything except the District Attorney's office that prosecuted the case.

NCJ is not a legal firm representing Erick Westervelt. We are merely a “justice” oriented group of individuals familiar with the NY State Criminal Justice System. In previous blog entries, we have pointed out the obvious mistakes that contributed to his conviction and incarceration. There are several more serious events that were noted, but cannot reveal publicly, that are also known by Westervelt's defense team.

Westervelt was audio and video recorded during interviews at the Town of Bethlehem Police Department Squad Room. The videos were mediocre at best and the audio was less than acceptable with numerous inaudible responses from Westervelt. There were also serious continuity problems when the cassette tapes ran out and were not quickly replaced. Yet, the jury was led by the prosecution to interpret them as “confessions” of a guilty man. Like many typical situations, there is another side of the story that can be interpreted and explained from a different view.

On an interesting note, grant money has been made available for numerous police agencies throughout the state and the Capital district EXCEPT the City of Albany. The Albany Police Department has continually rebuffed any attempt to equip their interview rooms with recording equipment.

It was at the Albany South Police Station where Westervelt was interrogated for many more hours. He supposedly “willingly” signed a written confession regarding having a fist fight with the victim that subsequently implicated him in the commission of the crime of murder. He claims that numerous requests to contact a lawyer were denied and went unrecorded by the detectives.

The result of the interview at that time was:

CASE CLOSED





  |  related link

Back Next