Wednesday, May 17, 2006

New York Lawyer Uses DNA To Overturn Murder Conviction Based on False Confession. Renewed Calls For Mandatory Videotaping of Confessions in Homicides

Rochester, New York Criminal Defense Attorney Don Thompson and a team of lawyers working with the Innocence Project (funded by the Benjamin Cardozo Law School of Yeshiva University in NYC, has overturned the conviction and won the immediate release of Douglas Warney.

Warney, who confessed to the crime after being fed non public information about the crime scene by now deceased (in March 2006) Rochester Police Detective Sgt John Grop, suffered from dementia and aids. He was interviewed by Grop alone in an interrogation room and was suffering from pain and dementia when he was arrested. Warney has but an 8th grade education. He has spent more than a decade in NY prisons for the murder of Community activist William Beason. Warney originally faced the DEATH PENALTY for the crime which was committed by another man who is incarcerated on other charges.

Warney's other lawyer Peter Neufeld of the Innocence project called the behavior of Rochester Police and prosecutors "criminal". Warney's confession was filled with inaccuracies yet with little more than that and the word of Grop the District Attorney's office had Warney sentenced to 25 years to life. A sentence the AIDS ridden man was never expected to live out.

Thompson and Neufeld went to prosecutor Monroe County Prosecutor Michael Green with proof of the wrongful conviction over 2 years ago but Green refused to test the DNA with new stronger DNA Probes. His arbitrary and capricious decision cost the taxpayers of the State of NY over One Hundred Fifty Thousand (150,000.00) Dollars for unnecessary incarceration and health costs. Not to mention the wasted money trying to force Green to act.

Now wheelchair bound, Warney was rolled into the Monroe County Court to hear the words he has waited over 10 years to hear. The judge released him immediately. Upon the release, NY Criminal Defense Lawyers throughout the state have renewed their call on the Legislature to require mandatory videotaping of all confessions in homicides and other major crimes.

In a letter to his colleagues on the NYS Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers listserve(which I reprint here [in full] with the permission of Mr. Thompson) Don Thompson reveals eloquently the struggles of the everyday non-celebrity lawyer. He also graciously acknowledges the support of his friends in NYSACDL. I hope this victory is one Don can savor for a long time. His words express his emotions and feelings far better than I can. Here they are:

"I have eaten your bread and salt,
I have drunk your water and wine,
The deaths you died I have watched beside,
and the lives you led were mine. Rudyard Kipling

It's been quite a day. To you, who have lived my life, and whose lives I have lived, thank you for your kind words and support. How often I've said "This sucks, f--k it" then someone - Marty or Cappy or Bill or Gary or Greg or Jim or Ray or Dan or Janice or Howard or Dennis or Beth or some other of our merry band - my heroes - will say something intelligent, or inspirational, or just damn funny, on the phone, or in the hall, or on the listserv that leads to reconsideration and then "Oh what the hell, I'll give it one more day. Let's see what happens tomorrow." Your support made this victory possible. We share in it together.

I don't know what the other counsel involved in this case got from it, but I can tell you what I got - as we sat in court this morning and heard the DA admit that Douglas Warney was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit and as we heard the judge vacate his conviction and order him immediately released, in those few moments every shithole apartment, every can of tuna fish (dry), every night shift at the steel warehouse followed by an 8:00 a.m. class, every fight with a creditor, every broken relationship that it took to get here; they were all worth it.

"Whosoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the whole world; and whosoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world." This may be as much as we can hope for.

Still not guilty,

Donald M. Thompson
16 West Main Street, Suite 243
Rochester, New York 14614
Phone: (585) 423-0060
Fax: (585) 423-0890"

Congratulations Don

I will update this story with links as soon as I can. I have Court in an hour and have to go. Till then take a minute and call your NY State Assemblyperson or State Senator and tell them you will not stand for the state wasting anymore taxpayers dollars on wrongfully convicted people. Tell them you support Mandatory Videotaping of Confessions and Mandatory DNA retesting.
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