Innocence Project Co-Founder To Give Talk At ASU On Forensic Science Reform, Wrongful Convictions

Barry Scheck.jpg
Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck.
​Co-founder of the Innocence Project Barry Scheck is coming to ASU tomorrow for a talk about the project's work and forensic science reform in the justice system, an emerging topic in Arizona.

Scheck's seminar is scheduled to go from 5 to 6:30 at the ASU Art Museum.

The Innocence Project investigates cases where DNA testing might prove a person is innocent of crimes they were convicted of. To date, they count 267 exonerations nationwide, including 3 in Arizona: Ray "Snaggletooth" Krone, Larry Youngblood, and John Kenneth Watkins. By contrast, Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions counts non-DNA exonerations in their tally, and their total comes out to 16 Arizona cases.

Several universities across the country host local versions of innocence projects. The Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at ASU runs the Arizona Justice Project, which takes cases involving manifest injustice in addition to those of actual innocence. Tomorrow's topic -- forensic science reform -- will likely touch on issues raised by a new Arizona Attorney General DNA-testing program and the December exoneration of John Kenneth Watkins.

Watkins was convicted in 2004 of raping a woman in Gilbert. He was 20 years old. Last December, he was exonerated by advanced DNA testing as part of the aforementioned new program run by the Arizona Attorney General's office. While the DNA testing clears Watkins of rape, he has found unsympathetic audiences for having child pornography -- which is how he originally came to the state's attention.

Watkins had just moved to Gilbert from Texas a few weeks before his arrest. A mover had come over to get rid of a few Watkins family boxes, but when he went to lift, a tarantula crawled up his arm. The mover dropped the box and ran off as child porn spilled out onto the street. Horrified, he called the police.

There had been a rape in Gilbert a couple of weeks before this was reported. The detective handling the child porn complaint mentioned to one of his colleagues that Watkins lived right down the road from where the assault was committed, and so they went to his house and picked him up for questioning. Watkins confessed to having the porn but denied raping the woman. After four hours of intense interrogation, however, he confessed to the rape. Watkins later recanted, but eventually pled guilty to avoid a lengthy child porn sentence.

The police work in Watkins' case has come under scrutiny, with some attention being paid to it by local media, but most of it going unreported. An attorney at the Center on Wrongful Convictions, Steve Drizin, has been sharply critical of Watkins' interrogators, noting that they contaminated the interview by asking too many highly-leading questions and divulging information only the real perpetrator would know, which they then had Watkins to parrot back to them.

Their handling of the photo lineup has been criticized as well. The rape victim was unable to clearly identify her assailant except to say that he was a young white man wearing a white t-shirt. Detectives showed her a photo lineup with five men wearing dark shirts and one man in white: Watkins.

It took years to convince a judge to order the DNA found on the victim tested, and only after two previous requests for testing were denied. The samples were not of semen, which caused some confusion at the courthouse as to what, exactly, Watkins wanted tested. In 2009, the Justice Project teamed up with the Arizona Attorney General to test the samples using an advanced technique. Once the results returned indicating the DNA on the victim belonged to one man, and it was not Watkins, prosecutors decided to let him go, although they bizarrely continue to insist that he might have been the rapist.

Because the Innocence Project focuses on DNA cases, it seems likely Scheck will discuss the Arizona Attorney General's pilot program, and maybe the case of John Kenneth Watkins. Whatever he says will likely be of interest to anyone interested in the dark world of criminal justice, where the system does not always work as it was designed and innocence becomes the most complicated word in the English language.

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Concerned Citizen/Taxpayer
Concerned Citizen/Taxpayer

The Arizona Justice Project and Innocence project lists on what causes wrongful convictions are missing... where's the dialog on the reality of many wrongful convictions -- politics, power, control and money. Where's the dialog on this?

Where are the innocent women in all this? We never read about them. Where are the NON-DNA cases? Why isn't Arizona working on that? A handful of pro bono lawyers doing well-meaning work cannot handle the thousands of cases that demand investigation that cry out for a state Sentencing Commission where the people can be heard.

Wrongful convictions in Arizona have factors that other states do not have, that contribute to a vast amount of wrongful convictions, "easy" convictions for prosecutors, a gravy train for lawyers and legislators. Why would they want to eliminate their gravy train? No checks and balances.

1. "No intent" (to commit a crime) - in Arizona a defendant must prove he/she didn't commit the crime results in being found guilty, the opposite of "innocent until proven guilty" which is at the core of our justice system.

2. Victim's Rights (Federal $$'s) encourages devious people to file false allegations, with no checks and balances. The party who gets to Victim's Rights first wins, taking resources away from those are the "true" victims and we hear them complaining about being ignored.

3. Draconian Sentencing laws: mandatory minimum sentencing that puts non-violent, first offenders in prison for decades (essentially life sentences), while the truly violent and repeat offenders are ignored - these cases are too hard, while those who did not have a criminal life style are thrown into the broken justice system - seizing their lifetime earnings, assets, careers and creating mass destruction upon the community.

When a non-sexual "touch" on a minor = 17 years in prison x each "touch" -- in a swimming pool, changing a baby's diaper and students are taught about "touching" while the devious know how to use it for retaliation or financial gain? This is a sick game that needs to be addressed by those working in the innocence movement. How insane the laws are, written during moral panics created to gain a "vote" and create a new industry for $$$'s - the child abuse / sex abuse industry. Once those who file false allegations are punished as harshly as they want for the accused, then these cases will evaporate along with all the money -- making lawyers obscenely rich and the profiteers along with them.

How many millions of taxpayer $$'s are wasted on those who are innocent and over-sentenced in Arizona's prisons at $25,000-$35,000 per year? This does not include the legal slow moving journey and court costs where there are not enough judges to handle all the Appeals for the hundreds of thousands of felony cases going through the system. They simply do not read the Appeals briefs and rubber stamp them "denied". How is this fair justice in Arizona?

Wrongful conviction and imprisonment cases in Arizona need immediate outside independent investigation. Mr. Scheck please open Arizona's Pandora's box - the dark side of Arizona that they sweep under the rug. Sen. Ron Gould and Rep. J. Weiers Rules Committee have slammed the lid on HB#2664, for a desperately needed Sentencing Commission to examine Arizona failed sentencing policies - draconian mandatory minimum sentencing which has put incarceration as top priority in Arizona over education bankrupting the state. Do we hear about all this? No.

Those who created these laws and profit from all this, keep it in the dark away from public scrutiny, dialog and the light. Their method of operation is to just keep showing ugly mug shots across the TV to scare the people and use the media for "creative" convictions. The local media ignores this serious topic that puts ALL at risk while a hand full of profiteers and elitists prevail in order to gain more power, control and more Federal $$$'s.

The legislators have a responsibility to correct poorly written laws that lack common sense and have created an enormous financial burden on the taxpayers - wasting millions of dollars. Now Arizona continues to expanding prisons, private prisons at an alarming rate. Incarcerating women at a higher rate then men. Juveniles incarcerated in adult prisons hidden from view. This spiraling out of control growth of the industrial prison complex is unethical and immoral - turning human beings into commodities for profit. All this while crime is going down and illegal immigrants have left the state in droves - there are no jobs except in Corrections, law enforcement and security.

Solution: Once Arizona's Sentencing laws are reformed (improved), the innocent and wrongfully convicted and imprisoned are released, prison growth is stopped, taxpayers will be able to have those $$'s for education, health care and community services.

The people need their sense of family and community back again as opposed to be torn apart in the harshest most cruel and inhumane way possible - Arizona's track record. For factual, historical background, read "Sunbelt Justice: Arizona and the Transformation of Punishment in America" by Mona Lynch. It's time to abolish Arizona's "punitive" prison system (which brought us Abu Ghraib and many other cruel and inhumane atrocities in foreign lands) and use "restorative" methods which the name "Corrections" implies.

If you think this isn't about you, think again. Where's the public outcry?

Right the wrongs!
Right the wrongs!


Innocence BlogReport: Prosecutorial Misconduct Often Unpunished in CaliforniaPosted: October 5, 2010 6:32 pm

Judges in California are “casting a blind eye to prosecutors who place their thumbs on the scale of justice,” according to a report released yesterday by the Veritas Initiative, a new investigative arm at the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University Law School.

The report, “Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997–2009,” examined 707 cases in which courts had found prosecutorial misconduct in the 11 year period. Of all of those cases, only six prosecutors were disciplined.

Maurice Possley, an award-winning journalist who worked on the study by the Northern California Innocence Project, told the Los Angeles Times, “Prosecutors aren’t held accountable. Absent that, why should they change their habits?"

The misconduct covered in the report ranged from failing to turn over evidence to presenting false evidence in court. As a response to their research, the Northern California Innocence Project is calling for legal reforms requiring courts to report all findings of misconduct to the state bar, which they currently are not required to do. When a court decides the misconduct was harmless, those cases often go unreported.

Read the full article.

Read Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997–2009.

Read last month’s USA TODAY story on prosecutorial misconduct.

Learn about government misconduct and wrongful conviction.

Read the Innocence Project’s report on prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful conviction.

Tags: Government Misconduct


Only TWO exonerations in Arizona except for the recent Watkins case? With 200,000 convictions under Thomas/Aubuchon/Alexander tainted trio since January 2005, that should raise red flags! Like there aren't some innocent people sitting in Arizona's prisons sentenced for years/decades under Arizona's draconian mandatory minimum sentencing?

It's time for an outside independent investigation of the wrongful convictions under former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and his henchwomen. We know they exist and it's time to open the Pandora's box that has been slammed shut for too many years. Mr. Scheck is the perfect one to help investigate the wrongfully convicted in Arizona. Too much conflict of interest among the local lawyers to deal with "righting the wrongs".


Justice????? This is Arizona.......We don't need no stinken justice.


you are out of your mind. Its no wonder you can't say who you really are!! all you people supporting arizona justice project!!!


Wrong!  Watkins was NOT exonerated.  The DNA didn't matter in this case because the sexual assault was not actually perpetrated, only attempted.  This is just smoke and mirrors, that's all.  Watkins, a sex offender, was correctly charged with the crime.  Since the victim wanted to move on with her life instead of go through a trial where SHE is the one who will be victimized again by Watkins, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office agreed to drop the matter and allow the sex offender (Watkins) to get out after only 7.5 years.  This is unfortunately the back story that the Arizona (In)justice Project does not want people to know about.


you are an f£$%^&*( retard!!!!! everyone in jail or prison claims to innocent, espeacially in Az!!!!!!


I'm not sure if it's "conflict of interest among local lawyers," but it is, in fact, fear of alienating powerful people in the state. Arizona is too conservative for people to snoop around on issues of "innocence," for shame.

Justice for All
Justice for All

You are a moron. You want an independent investigation of all wrongful convictions? Which ones are those? Name for us the wrongful convictions of those 200,000 under Thomas/Aubuchon/Alexander? How many of those convictions were by plea agreement where the defendant admitted their guilt? I will concede that our system is not perfect, but you true believers are idiots. I would love to see how you think no one is guilty when you have your house broken into, your identity stolen, your loved ones raped/killed.

Concerned Citizen/Taxpayer
Concerned Citizen/Taxpayer

It's a numbers game -- like stats for Federal grants, etc. 10% is a conservative estimate of those who are wrongfully convicted and wrongfully imprisoned. Of the 200,000 under Thomas (he bragged about it during his unsuccessful run for AG in the primary) that would equal 20,000 innocent people; 1% would be 2,000. That sounds like mass destruction of peoples' lives and millions upon millions of wasted taxpayer $$'s. These convictions are enough to sink the state of Arizona alone without all it's other failures. ONE BILLION BUDGET for mass incarceration of Arizona's people with no end in sight, as education has been slashed. So Arizona's elected leaders have chosen incarceration over education as a budget solution. Or is it Arizona's "new business model" for grabbing Federal $$'s? All are at risk for felonies in Arizona. You are the "new" customers they are looking for....

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

We are talking about those men, women and children, who are falsely accused of a crime and convicted in the usual rush to judgment, "guilty by media" verdict that seems to be standard operating procedure in Maricopa County. Abuse of power is well documented by those who have immunity is well established. No one has to do their jobs when mandatory minimum sentencing is the weapon of choice to convict. Who cares about people in Arizona anyway? Isn't that the problem here, where people are turned into commodities in the mass industrial prison complex the state has become?With that entrenched culture, innocent people are broad brushed into the witch hunts, "sweeps" that are common and the genuine bigotry and elitism that drives the county attorney's office and their enablers.


your a retard as well the murderer of my son is " guilty as charged!!!! " the media is making him look innocent!!! Your speech rights should be taken away! You have no concern at all! Your one those people who thinks , IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN TO ME, just keep turning your head to violence!

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