Support The Cleckley Fellowship
In 2013, generous donations established the Franklin D. Cleckley Fellowship with the West Virginia Innocence Project at the WVU College of Law.
Justice Cleckley believes in representing people too poor to pay, and he has been a tireless advocate for the rights of all West Virginians. The clinics at WVU Law train students to be ready to represent clients from all backgrounds the day of graduation. In representing West Virginians across the state, we are following Justice Cleckley’s vision and employing his passion.
Our 2014-2016 Cleckley Fellow—Italia Patti—drafted motions for DNA testing and habeas petitions, interviewed witnesses and examined courtroom evidence, and led current law students on cases that even changed constitutional law in West Virginia. While the progress is slow, it is rewarding at every step.
We need your support to continue the Cleckley Fellowship. In honor of Justice Cleckley, and in furtherance of our joint mission to reform the criminal justice system, please consider contributing today. You may donate on-line at www.law.wvu.edu and click the “Give Now” button (be sure to note in the comments section that your gift is specifically meant to benefit the WV Innocence Project).
Jeremiah Mongold’s Conviction is Vacated
Just last week a judge in Romney, WV, vacated Jeremiah Mongold’s conviction for death of a child by a custodian or guardian. Jeremiah has always maintained his innocence, and he was convicted in 2005 based on Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). The SBS diagnosis in general has been widely challenged since 2005, and in this particular case WVIP turned to medical experts who determined the child died from a natural blood disorder, vasculitis. We began a two-day habeas hearing on April 15th; the first day was for evidence of ineffective assistance of counsel, the second day (set for June) was for the medical evidence of innocence. The IAC claims were so egregious that after the first day of the hearing the judge decided to vacate the conviction, and the prosecutor did not appeal. Read more at the Hampshire Review, or at wvutoday.
Clyde Richey asks for a new trial after DNA testing
After 36 years of fighting to exonerate himself, a former Mon County delegate convicted of a 1979 sexual assault on a teenage boy says DNA evidence shows he didn’t commit the crime.
He’s asking for a new trial.
Read more here.
WVIP Intern Quenton King on Issues in Crime Labs and Junk Science
By Quenton King
In the last article, I gave a brief overview of DNA evidence. But what about the laboratories that are tasked with examining DNA and other types of forensic evidence? Read more here.
Man Seeks Exoneration in 1990 WV Slaying
A man who was convicted in the 1990 homicide of Sharon Lewis in Martinsburg has requested DNA testing of hair recovered from the victim, claiming the test results will exonerate him and identify the woman’s killer. The petition for post-conviction testing requested on behalf of Charles R. Kilmer was filed June 15 by attorneys with the West Virginia Innocence Project.
Regarding the original forensic analysis of hair in Kilmer’s case, the petition said the case is among 2,500 across the country that have been identified by the FBI for review in light of flawed testimony. In April, the Justice Department and FBI announced that most examiners in the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair-comparison unit gave flawed testimony at trials in which they offered evidence in criminal cases over more than a 20-year span before 2000, according to published reports.
“All but two of 28 FBI examiners provided testimony that contained erroneous statements or authored lab reports with such statements,” the government said April 20 in a news release.
WVU Law Students Work on Federal Clemency Petitions
While none of the 46 men and women to whom President Obama granted clemency last week is from West Virginia, a group of students from WVU’s College of Law are working to change that.
“None of our cases have been acted on by the president yet, but we’re working on it and hoping, before the president leaves office, that he will grant [clemency] for our clients, as well,” said Valena Beety, a West Virginia University law professor, who is advising a group of about 30 WVU students who are working on a national project to help nonviolent prisoners get their lengthy sentences commuted.
WVU’s College of Law is working with Clemency Project 2014. The group also is composed of lawyers and advocates, including Federal Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Bar Association and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who are providing free legal assistance to federal prisoners—who have been behind bars for more than a decade—who would likely have received a shorter sentence if they were sentenced today.
“It’s pretty innovative that WVU is a part of this,” Beety said. “Our students have been investigating these cases, visiting with clients and gathering documents from federal courts in West Virginia.”
WVIP’s Intern Quenton King Discusses DNA Evidence
By Quenton King
DNA evidence seems to be so commonplace in criminal cases that a popular misconception is that DNA should be found at every crime scene. This myth is at least partially perpetuated by detective shows such as CSI and NCIS. However, the use of DNA evidence and testing is relatively new, and it is still evolving. Read more here.
Justice Cleckley Reflects
In this video, Justice Franklin D. Cleckley reflects on his career, spent teaching and fighting for justice in West Virginia.
In Memory of Judge Spaulding
God rest to our friend and mentor, Judge O.C. “Hobby” Spaulding. Judge Spaulding overturned the wrongful conviction of Joseph Lavigne, and spent years advocating for the best evidence to be used in court: recorded police interrogations of witnesses. In 2014 he worked with student Kristin Kearns of the West Virginia Innocence Project to advocate for the “O.C. Spaulding Electronic Recording Act”. The bill would have required law enforcement to record interrogations, an issue about which Spaulding was extremely passionate. Judge Spaulding was recognized by the WVU College of Law in 2014 for his service to the state and to the school with the Justicia Officium Award. Thank you, Hobby, for everything.
Judge Spaulding is pictured with WVIP alum Kristin Kearns
WVIP Travels to Charleston
On November 17, faculty, students, and the undergraduate intern from the West Virginia Innocence Project traveled to Charleston, WV to meet with lawyers and policymakers and learn more about our state’s legal system. The WVIP also visited the West Virginia State Police Crime Lab to learn more about forensic investigation techniques. Students are pictured below in the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and with Delegate John Ellem, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
WVIP Client Joe Lavigne Granted DNA Testing
On August 20, the Circuit Court of Putnam County, WV held a hearing on WVIP’s request for DNA testing on behalf of Joe Lavigne. The prosecutor, Mark Sorsaia, did not oppose the motion and the court granted it. Mr. Lavigne has been fighting to prove his innocence for eighteen years, and the WVIP is hopeful that DNA can provide the conclusive evidence he needs to win this eighteen-year battle.
WVIP Client Kenneth Manns Granted Parole
Kenneth Manns was serving a life sentence for first degree murder and sexual assault in Mercer County. Due to faulty forensic evidence, the WVIP obtained a re-sentencing and lesser sentence for Manns, making him immediately eligible for parole. He was released in July, becoming the WVIP’s first client to be granted parole.
“With perseverance, our law students worked with our criminal justice system to get to the right result,” said Valena Beety, associate professor of law and director of the WVIP. “This man was serving life in prison and now he is in the process of going home to be with his family and son thanks to everyone’s hard work.”
WVU Law students and alumni Ashley Joseph ‘13, David Estep ‘13, Andrew Vodden ‘14, and Kelli Ganz ‘14 spent the last two years researching and investigating the case, and representing Manns in court. They worked closely with WVIP Legal Fellow Kristen McKeon and were supervised by Beety and attorney Melissa Giggenbach. WVU rising senior Quenton King, a criminology major, assisted on the case.
WV Innocence Project Attends 2014 Network Conference in Portland
Recently, faculty and students from the West Virginia Innocence Project attended the Innocence Network’s annual conference in Portland, Oregon. The conference, which took place from April 11 to 12, gave members of the clinic the chance to meet a number of exonerees and hear their stories. “Seeing all the exonerees on stage reminded me why I do this work,” said student attorney Kristin Kearns ‘14.
The students also learned techniques that will help them obtain post-conviction relief for their clients. Both Kearns and student attorney Natalie Arvizu ‘14 were able to exchange ideas with and learn from seasoned practitioners in the specialized field of post-conviction relief. “Each lecture gave us the opportunity to not only hear from people with years of experience, but also hear from people with different perspectives on the criminal justice system,” Arvizu said. Pictured from left are WVIP Director Valena Beety, Legal Fellow Kristen McKeon, Student Attorney Natalie Arvizu, and Student Attorney Kristin Kearns.
WV Innocence Project Visits Harvey Peyton’s Radio Show
On Thursday, January 30, 2014, West Virginia Innocence Project Director Valena Beety and Student Attorney Kristin Kearns ‘14 appeared on WCHS 58 to talk with Attorney – and host of “Ask the Law Expert” – Harvey Peyton about proposed legislation requiring police to record suspect interrogations in all felony cases. A podcast of the show is available on WCHS’s website.
Students Present to Mon County Law Enforcement
Last week, WVIP Director Valena Beety and Student Attorney Brittany Smith ‘14 gave a brief presentation at a law enforcement training session held at the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office. Beety and Smith spoke about the benefits of recording police interviews and received helpful feedback from the attendees. Thanks again to Mon County law enforcement for meeting with us!