Wisconsin Innocence Project Cases:
- Jarrett Adams and two codefendants were charged with sexually assaulting a young woman at UW-Whitewater in 1998. After learning that an eyewitness, who saw the three young men chatting with the complaining witness outside her dormitory later in the evening after the alleged sexual assault had occurred, had not been called to testify at trial to corroborate the defendants' claim that there had been no sexual assault, the Wisconsin Innocence Project sought federal habeas corpus relief on the basis that trial counsel had been ineffective for failing to present the testimony of this witness. In June 2006, the U.S.Court of Appeals issued an opinion agreeing that the witness was critical to Adams's claim of innocence, and that counsel was ineffective for failing to call him. The court vacated Mr. Adams's conviction and ordered the state to either retry him or dismiss the case. The state subsequently dismissed the charges in full.
- Steven Avery was convicted of sexual assault, attempted murder, and false imprisonment in Manitowoc County in 1985. The convictions were based almost entirely upon the testimony of a single eyewitness, supported to a much lesser degree by microscopic hair examination evidence and purportedly incriminating statements made by Mr. Avery. Eighteen years later, in 2003, DNA evidence proved that Mr. Avery was not the perpetrator. The DNA profile also matched another man who was by then serving a 60-year sentence for sexual assaults convicted after the assault in this case. In 2007, Steven Avery was convicted of murdering 25 year old Theresa Halbach and sentence to life in prison. The Wisconsin Innocence Project did not represent him in that case.
- Maurice Carter
- Jeffrey Dake was convicted in 1998 of sexually assaulting a 14 year old girl in Langlade County. In 2006, the Wisconsin Innocence project filed a motion with the court, claiming that the jury did not hear critical new evidence that would have undermined the State's case against Dake: one of the key witnesses against Dake was sexually assaulting the victim during the same time period as alleged against Dake and the witness had negotiated a deal with the State in his own case in exchange for his testimony against Dake. In 2007, the court awarded Dake the right to a new trial, but shortly thereafter, the State dismissed all charges against Dake. Dake spent ten years in prison before his release in 2007.
- Audrey Edmunds was convicted in 1996 in Dane County Circuit
Court of first-degree reckless homicide in the death of a
seven-month-old child. She was convicted almost entirely on the basis
of medical evidence indicating the child's brain injuries could only
have been caused by shaken baby syndrome and that it had to have
occurred while the child was in Ms. Edmunds's care. In January 2008,
the Wisconsin Innocence Project won Ms. Edmunds a new trial after the
4th District Court of Appeals agreed that new medical evidence that had
emerged from scientific research in the decade since her trial had
challenged the state's contention that shaking had to have been the
cause of death, or that the fatal injuries could only have occurred
during the one hour the child was in Ms. Edmunds's care. On July 11,
2008, Ms. Edmunds's exoneration became complete when the state, still
claiming it believed in its original case, nonetheless dismissed all
charges. Ms. Edmunds had served 11 years in prison before her
conviction was vacated and she was released.
- Joseph Frey
- Richard Kittilstadt
- Beth LaBatte was convicted in 1997 of a 1991 double homicide of two elderly women in Casco, Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Innocence Project sought DNA testing on crime scene evidence. DNA profiles were developed from several items of evidence, including the handle of the murder weapon, which all excluded Ms. LaBatte. On the basis of this new DNA evidence, the circuit court granted Ms. LaBatte a new trial in 2005. The following summer of 2006, the state dropped all charges against Ms. LaBatte.
- Seneca Malone
- Chris Ochoa had never been in trouble with the law before he was convicted in 1988 for the rape and murder of Nancy DePriest in Austin, Texas. Police discovered DePriest's body at the Pizza Hut where she worked. Police initially interrogated Ochoa and his friend, Richard Danziger, because both worked at a nearby Pizza Hut and happened to visit the scene of the crime a month alter. During a lengthy interrogation, in which Ochoa was threatened with the death penalty if he did not admit guilt, police eventually coerced a confession from him. He subsequently pled guilty and Danziger was convicted of the rape after a trial. During Ochoa's imprisonment, another Texas prisoner began writing detailed letters to authorities confessing that he alone killed DePriest. At WIP's request, DNA from the crime scene was tested and proved Marino's confession to be truthful. With the approval of the prosecutor, both Ochoa and Danzinger were released in 2001 after serving more than twelve years in Texas prisons. After his release, Ochoa finished his B.A. and entered the University of Wisconsin Law School. He became a WIP student in 2005, working for the release of others who had been in his situation, and graduated in 2006.
- Chaunte Ott was convicted of the 1995 murder of a teenage runaway
in Milwaukee. His conviction rested on testimony from two other men
who claimed they committed the crime with Ott. Both of the other men
pled guilty to lesser charges, while Ott stood trial for murder and was
convicted by a jury.
Ott was released in 2008 based on DNA test results that strongly supported his claim of innocence. The State Crime Laboratory found that male DNA found in the victim in Ott's case matched male DNA found at the scenes of two other unsolved murders committed after Ott went to prison, suggesting that a single perpetrator - someone other than Ott - committed all three crimes. The Wisconsin Innocence Project filed a motion for a new trial in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. The trial court denied the motion, but the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed and Ott was freed.
- Davonn Robinson
- David Sanders was a Franciscan Brother and school teacher who was convicted in Milwaukee County Circuit Court of molesting a young boy more than 20 years earlier. After he had served 7 months in prison, the state joined with the Wisconsin Innocence Project in asking the court to dismiss the case on the basis that Mr. Sanders was completely innocent. While Mr. Sanders was in prison, the victim's grandmother found a letter that had been written about the time of the crime from a different "Brother David," which implicated that man in the assault. When confronted, the other Brother David (not Brother David Sanders) admitted to the sexual assaults on the boy.
- Forest Shomberg
- Robert Lee Stinson was convicted of the 1985 murder of a Milwaukee woman. Stinson's conviction rested almost exclusively on bite-mark identification purporting to match Stinson's teeth to bite patterns found on the victim's body. In 2005, the Wisconsin Innocence Project accepted Sinton's case and developed two kinds of new evidence. First, DNA testing revealed male DNA in saliva on the victim's sweater, and this DNA excluded Stinson. Second, working with California forensic science expert Christopher Plourd, WIP arranged for the bite-marks to be re-examined by a panel of four nationally-recognized experts, Dr. Gregory Golden, Dr. David Senn, Dr. Norman Sperber, and Dr. Denis Murmann. Using modern methods, the panel unanimously concluded that Stinson's teeth could not have inflicted the bites. The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office did not oppose Stinson's motion to reverse his conviction, and he was freed. Bite-mark identification has been implicated in numerous other wrongful convictions around the country.
- Cody Vandenberg
- Terry Vollbrecht
- Evan Zimmerman was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide in Eau Claire County and sentenced to life in prison in 2001. On appeal, his conviction was reversed because his trail lawyer had failed to provide constitutionally adequate assistance. Among other errors, trial counsel neglected to introduce crime scene DNA evidence that excluded Zimmerman, failed to present expert testimony from the Milwaukee County Medical examiner that contradicted the state's theory of the crime, and failed to challenge hypnotically refreshed testimony offered by the state. At Zimmerman's retrial in April 2005, which was to last two weeks, the state moved to dismiss all charges after the fourth day of trial. The Wisconsin Innocence Project represented Zimmerman on appeal, alleging six grounds for reversal of his conviction, including insufficient evidence, ineffective assistance of counsel, and newly discovered evidence. (Read the brief). The Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed Zimmerman's conviction based on ineffective assistance of counsel. (Read the Court's opinion in PDF form).
Other Non-WIP Wisconsin Cases:
- Eugene Glenn was convicted in Milwaukee County and sentenced to 20 years in prison for a robbery that occurred in 2001. He was convicted primarily on the basis of an identification made by a single eyewitness, the victim of the robbery. Glenn was exonerated in October 2003 after his public defender tracked down leads never followed by the police, and found the true perpetrator, who confessed.
- Michael Piaskowski was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide for a 1992 murder in Brown County. His conviction was affirmed on appeal in state court. The federal district court, however, granted habeas corpus relief, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in 2001, holding that the evidence against Piaskowski was legally insufficient to sustain the conviction.
- Thomas Murphy was convicted in a 1998 trial in Portage County of two counts of both first and second-degree sexual assault. The trial court granted a new trial based on evidentiary errors, including erroneous reliance at trial on inconclusive hair examination testing to suggest that the hairs came from the defendant. The defendant was acquitted at the retrial, after approximately 2 1/2 years in prison.
- Samuel Hogan was convicted in Milwaukee County of second-degree sexual assault arising from an incident in April 1995. Hogan's conviction was reversed on appeal in 1997 based on a finding of ineffective assistance of counsel because counsel failed to investigate and present exculpatory evidence. The district attorney's office chose not to retry the defendant.
- Anthony Hicks was convicted of sexual assault in Dane County in 1991. The conviction was obtained largely by eyewitness testimony and microscopic hair examination. DNA subsequently proved that the hairs, which had been attributed to Hicks, could not have been his. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction, and the prosecution dismissed the case, after Hicks had served approximately five years in prison.
- Cornelius Reed was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide in Milwaukee County for a 1992 drive-by shooting. In 1996 the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and granted a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. The new evidence more reliably pointed to another individual as the murderer. Reed was retried but acquitted at the new trial, after approximately three years in prison.
- Fredric Saecker was convicted in 1989 in Buffalo County of second-degree sexual assault, burglary, and kidnapping. His conviction rested on circumstantial evidence (he was seen walking on the highway near the crime with blood on his hands) and incriminating statements he allegedly made while in jail, He did not fit the victim's description, and she and her husband could not identify him. His conviction was affirmed on appeal. Six years later, in 1995, DNA testing established that the semen collected from the victim could not have come from him, and his conviction was set aside.
- Albert Luster was convicted in Milwaukee County of first-degree sexual assault of a child for an incident that allegedly occurred in 1990. The trial court granted a new trial based on newly discovered evidence and ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The case was subsequently dismissed.
- Francis Phillip Hemauer was convicted in a 1968 abduction, rape, and attempted murder in Milwaukee County, and sentenced to 60 years in prison. The primary evidence against him was eyewitness testimony of the victim and incriminatory statements he allegedly made during custodial questioning. His conviction was affirmed by the supreme court. The conviction was subsequently set aside, however, with the agreement of the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office, when serological tests (non-DNA) proved that he was not the source of the seminal deposits in the victim's underwear. He was released in 1981, after eight years in prison.
- In In re DSC, a juvenile was adjudicated delinquent in Rock County upon a finding that he committed first-degree intentional homicide in 1985. the adjudication rested on the eyewitness testimony of a five-year-old child. The adjudication was reversed on newly discovered evidence: an older boy confessed that he alone committed the crime.
- In In re Curtis S., a juvenile was adjudicated delinquent in Milwaukee County upon a finding that he committed first-degree sexual assault in 1995. The trial court reversed the adjudication upon a finding of ineffective assistance of counsel. Counsel had failed to present evidence from the alleged victim's family and school that the child was a pathological liar, and had repeatedly made false abuse allegations against teachers at school. After the trial court granted a new trial, the district attorney's office dismissed the case.
If you know of other wrongful convictions in Wisconsin - defined as cases in which the conviction was vacated and charges were then dropped or the defendant was acquitted, for reasons other than bars to use of evidence or to retrial unrelated to innocence (such as Fourth Amendment or double jeopardy bars) - please send them to Lindsey Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org, Wisconsin Innocence Project, University of Wisconsin Law School, 975 Bascom Mall, Madison, WI 53706.