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Friday, March 16, 2007

Eighteen Years of Wrongful Incarceration — Day One

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." —Nelson Mandela, 1994 Inaugural Speech

March 15, 2007 marked the beginning of my 18th year of wrongful imprisonment for a crime I did not commit. And while it is a sad day for my family, supporters, and me, it is also a good day in other ways.

One of the things I have chosen to do with my time while in prison is make the most of each moment. Rather than dwell on all the evils that have been perpetrated against me for no reason at all, I have channeled that energy into my continued growth and development, and helping others.

I have transformed the dark, deplorable milieu I have found myself in for nearly two decades into a radiant chamber of wisdom, and fostered the same in others. I have learned very valuable lessons about life and refused to succumb to the injustice that has held me captive. While I am physically captive, my mind and spirit will always be free by the grace of God.

The wisdom I have gained through this experience is enormous and expansive. It is this wisdom, my faith in God, and continued support of my family, friends, and individuals who have selflessly supported my campaign for justice, that have kept me moving forward and given me the strength to continue warding off the relentless effort to extinguish the light of hope that burns within me.

These individuals have been there for me in my darkest hours and offered their love and support throughout this very difficult experience. Without them the support that has been generated, and the progress that has been accomplished, could not have taken place. They are each my heroes and I am deeply appreciative of all that they do on my behalf.

So, rather than shine light on the unfortunate 18 years of my wrongful imprisonment, I want to take this opportunity to shine light on the people working to free me and salute them for their efforts that do not go unnoticed. Like every other situation I have transformed from darkness into light, I thought it was fitting to do it in this instance as well.

Our concerted efforts are going to produce justice. I am confident of this. And, with each passing day it becomes even more evident. But it also grows increasingly evident that the progress we witness isn't borne on its own. We reap what we sow, and the size of the harvest will be dependent on the labor that is exerted. Together we can make the harvest bountiful.

Please keep gathering signatures for the online petition for new trial available at and please continue generating much needed support. We currently have nearly 160 electronic signatures for the petition and over 300 handwritten signatures. We are nearly halfway to our goal of 1,000 signatures.

Other recent positive developments that have manifested in recent weeks I would like to share with you are as follows:

1. An article was published in Workers World, a New York-based newspaper, about Elena Herrada's support of my campaign for justice. The writing called upon people to sign my online petition for new trial/commutation and was a great source of public relations for us. The article is available online at

2. Elena Herrada, Sherry Meyer, and another committee member, attended the 14th annual Dia de la Mujer (Day of the Woman) Conference held on February 24, 2007 at the Kellogg Hotel & Convention Center at Michigan State University. While at the conference they gathered over 200 signatures for my petition for new trial and commutation request. Elena spoke on stage before a large room full of people about our campaign during one of the lunch periods and made a strong plea urging people to get involved and support our cause.

3. Since the above event transpired Elena Herrada has gathered an additional 100 petition signatures. Elena continues to work hard on this campaign and plans to visit me again on Saturday, March 24 to discuss how to proceed next with the petition-drive. We will also discuss other strategies to increase our public relations work.

4. A very prominent nun, Sister Julie Vieira, has signed my petition for new trial/commutation and published a post on her blog about our petition campaign. Sister Vieira's blog, A Nun's Life, has gained international popularity on the Internet. A member of the religious order of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, works at Loyola Press in Chicago and blogs daily about religious life, politics, and other issues. Her blog is very popular and was recently featured in The Detroit Free Press because of all the wonderful things she has done. The post about me can be viewed on her blog at

5. A web site named Noahide Reflections has also posted an article on its site recently urging people to support my campaign for justice and sign our petition for new trial/commutation. Additionally, they have included a link to our web site. The post about me on the Noahide Reflections web site can be viewed at

My blog continues to be updated weekly at, there have been updates to my web site at, and there is now a Picasa photo album that is available for viewing that features photos of me before my arrest, during court proceedings, and recent photos taken during my incarceration. The latter can be viewed at Please also visit my MySpace page at to see all the recent changes and additions of friends that have been made there as well.

Thank you for your continued support, and thank you for your strength and dedication to justice. I am a stronger person because of it.

With Warm Regards,


Thursday, March 8, 2007

Dallas DA to Review Decades of Convictions

NPR Morning Edition
Legal Affairs
by Wade Goodwyn
February 24, 2007

February 23, 2007 — Dallas' new district attorney, Craig Watkins, says he will open his files to the Innocence Project and work with the group to examine hundreds of cases over the past 30 years. The goal is to see whether DNA tests might reveal wrongful convictions.

The move reflects the magnitude of the change that has occurred in the Dallas DA's office over the last six weeks. Watkins was elected the first black district attorney in Texas.

"It's a whole different world in the Dallas criminal justice system," says defense attorney Gary Udashen. "It is a world where if a client of ours is innocent, we feel like there's openness in the District Attorney's office to hear what we have say, to look at what we have to show them, where we don't anticipate resistance every step of the way."

Udashen's firm alone has had seven Dallas clients who were convicted, sent to prison, exhausted their appeals and then ultimately — with the pro bono help of Udashen and his colleagues — were found to be innocent.

Udashen says Dallas used to be like many other cities in Texas when it came to the DA's office. If it got a conviction, it defended that conviction to the bitter end, even if strong scientific evidence was later uncovered that the convicted was wrongly convicted.

This occurs most often in cases that are brought to trial built solely on the testimony of a single eyewitness, often the victim. But Udashen says that Watkins has decided that defending wrongful convictions is not going to be part of the job.

"Well, he has taken a completely different approach to questions of innocence... where he is going to cooperate with these innocence projects reviews of these cases, give them the information they need," he says. "And that active involvement in proving people innocent is something I've never seen a district attorney do before."

Watkins puts it this way: "I am cut from a different cloth."

At 39, he says he's seen both sides of the criminal justice system in Dallas, good and the bad. Dallas has already released 12 men convicted of sexual assault, and that was with the previous DA fighting it every step of the way. That's more than any other county in the nation, and more than all but two states.

"And when you tested 36 people and 12 of them came up to be not guilty as a result of DNA testing, then, yes, a red flag is raised," Watkins says. "So we need to look at what we've been doing in the past and try to right those wrongs."

So Watkins is opening his files to the Texas Innocence Project. North Texas law students supervised by seven veteran former prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers will begin deciding which cases merit further investigation.

"In a state that is a national hotspot, Dallas is the hottest of the hotspots in state right now," says Jeff Blackburn, the Innocence Project's Texas director. "What'd happened in Dallas is that a lot of samples, unlike other any other parts of the state, were preserved, and they're still there."

In a twist of irony, Dallas has long outsourced its lab work. And instead of destroying evidence post-conviction like many law enforcement labs, the private labs preserved all the evidence. Blackburn says as a result, Dallas has a treasure trove of potentially exonerating DNA evidence.

"It would be safe to say that right now Dallas is on the edge of opening up in a very revealing way what the system in Texas is really all about," Blackburn says.■

Monday, March 5, 2007

'Snitch Evidence' Under Fire

More cases involving informants overturned

by Paul Egan
The Detroit News
February 20, 2007

DETROIT -- When David Eddleman was convicted of murder in the 1996 shooting death of 16-year-old Joane Gergescu on Detroit's west side, the jury based its decision largely upon the testimony of a cellmate who claimed to have heard him confess.

But a federal appeals panel found that Eddleman's cellmate had plenty of reason to lie.

Eddleman, who will be freed this month or granted a new trial in the case, is joining a growing number of defendants whose convictions are being overturned because of "snitch testimony" by jailhouse informants, a practice under increasing scrutiny in Michigan and across the nation.

It's also the subject of author John Grisham's first work of nonfiction. Grisham's bestseller "The Innocent Man" examines the case of Ron Williamson, who was convicted of murdering a cocktail waitress and sentenced to death largely on the testimony of snitches and convicts. DNA evidence later exonerated Williamson.

A 2005 study by the Northwestern University School of Law Center on Wrongful Convictions found that of 111 death row inmates exonerated since the 1970s, 46 percent of the convictions had relied on snitch testimony.

Beyond Eddleman's case, Michigan lawyers are alarmed by the recent revelations related to alleged abuse of confidential informant testimony by indicted former federal prosecutor Richard Convertino.

"In a perfect world, I wouldn't allow jailhouse informants," said Detroit defense attorney Mark Kriger.

Cases examined

Lawyers are examining Convertino's cases following his 2006 indictment on charges of misconduct in prosecuting the nation's first terrorism trial after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The star witness in the terrorism case, Youssef Hmimssa, was exposed as a serial con artist. In one of Convertino's drug cases under review, federal court records show the prosecutor arranged a secret early release for Hans Thomas, a violent convict who had admitted to participating in murders and shooting into a home with children inside.

Thomas was released pursuant to a sealed order in return for his testimony against an accused drug trafficker.

Thomas was charged with a new murder within a year.

Sentence reduced

In return for cooperation in the same drug case, Convertino arranged a sharp sentence reduction for convict Tali Alexander, who had admitted to shooting at Washtenaw County Sheriff's deputies; then Convertino arranged for

Alexander to share a cell with another defendant in the terrorism case, Karim Koubriti, lawyer Carole Stanyar alleged in a court filing.

"Taking full advantage of this golden opportunity," Alexander reported that Koubriti admitted to him he was a terrorist, according to the court brief.

A terrorism-related conviction against Koubriti was later dismissed.

Convertino has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, obstruction of justice and other charges and awaits trial in July.

His lawyer, William Sullivan, would not comment on Stanyar's allegations but said Convertino "always acted zealously to protect the safety of his community, and his ethics are unimpeachable."

Kenneth Wyniemko, a Rochester Hills man who spent nine years in prison before DNA evidence cleared him of a rape he did not commit, said he will never forget his former cellmate testifying at his trial.

'It was too concise'

"It was almost like his testimony was memorized," Wyniemko said last week. "It was too concise. It matched almost word for word the (police) reports."

Glen McCormick testified Wyniemko confessed to him in the Macomb County Jail. Facing a possible life sentence as a habitual offender, McCormick got less than a year for attempted armed robbery in return for his cooperation.

He later recanted.

"Judges have to have the courage to ban that type of testimony altogether," Wyniemko said. But Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, who prosecuted the Eddleman case and many more murder cases when he worked in the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, said jailhouse informants often provide crucial information.

"When people get locked up together they get bored and they just spill their guts," Cox said.

Cox said prosecutors must use common sense and evaluate the testimony of jailhouse informants in the context of other facts in the case and corroborating evidence.

Defense lawyer Kriger said jailhouse informants provide among the most unreliable types of evidence prosecutors can use.

"Jailhouse informants have the greatest motive to fabricate and are likely to fabricate in order to extricate themselves from their own difficulties," Kriger said.

U.S. Attorney Stephen Murphy draws a distinction between the classic jailhouse informant who claims to have heard a confession and others who may have been offered deals in return for their testimony.

"Point blank, the only way that we can convict the most serious of criminals is to use the testimony of other criminals," Murphy said. "(But) we need to be even more cautious."