Weekly Reflections Listing
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VOICES OF FAITH FROM INSIDE THE WALLS OF US PRISONS
(PAGE ONE) (Go to PAGE 2
Excerpts from emails sent to personal friends and supporters of those for whom we are advocating,
in chronological order.
(Please return frequently since we are continually adding to this page.)
|As promised, I'm writing to remind you of the approaching,
vital date of November 12, the day O's appeal is scheduled to
be reviewed by the Appellate Court. This will be decided "on the
papers" since the assigned public defender will not orally argue
it. We may hear of a decision in a few weeks, or in a few months.
In his last letter, O writes, "Yes, brother, I'm expecting to hear good news after November the 12th. I am concentrating my prayers towards that day, when the Almighty will confirm His will for me. I am also relying on the prayers of the saints which are wrapping me and lifting me up to the throne of grace. The Lord will give us the victory!"
In addition to your heightened prayers, please consider offering a fast of some kind beginning Monday through Wednesday. Although the call to prayer and fasting is focused upon O's case due to the date, briefs of various kinds have been written or will soon be finalized for N, R, and S (among others) and their "day" will come as well. Please support their causes in your prayers too.
|In case you overlooked it or wish to review it,
I posted the excellent editorial by law professor Campos, that's
been published in papers throughout the country, on the web site:
" Win Mentality Breeds Unjust Justice System ." Click the
link or copy it onto your browser:
Those of you who are not subscribed to my Weekly Reflections newsletter may consider reading the October 31 issue: " Search the Prisons ."
|I uploaded to the Web site server two excellent
articles for your review, both from the New York Times. The abuses
of the Iraqi prisoners has opened the door for many journalists to
look inside our own homeland and are uncovering what prisoners knew
for years but had no voice (or photos) to attract the ears of the common
National Study Suspects Thousands of False Convictions
I informed you of the prison ministry forum which my parents and I attended. Ernie Preate, former PA Attorney General who found himself among "the least of my brethren" in prison for election fraud (he was running for governor), spoke about how he is working to undo a lot of his publicly acclaimed work on being "being tough on crime" and enforcing the death sentence of death row prisoners whom he previously thought were not redeemable. Rev. John Rush and Tom Zeager form "Justice and Mercy, Inc." also spoke...
All by the grace of God and your prayers and His use of all of you and my family as the hands, feet and voice of the Christ, His Incarnate Presence among us...Let us continue to pray for one another and the hundreds of thousands of our persecuted and financially, socially and physically oppressed brothers and sisters in all nations.
|I have good news on behalf of those for whom I
asked you to pray. We picked up M from the women's prison in...
a little before 8 AM this morning. Due to a lot of legal chess playing,
she was rightfully released four and a half years early, after four
years and three months in prison. S and I were accompanied by a college
film production teacher who wanted to include scenes of M's release
in her documentary on women prisoners which was screened by NJN (the
New Jersey Network broadcasting company.) Of course, M could not stop
smiling and gawking at everything...the flowers, the brightness of the
day, being able to see God's creation through a car window that wasn't
covered with metal lattice, hearing the wonderful sound of a metal teaspoon
clanging against a ceramic cup of coffee at breakfast....
M emerged from prison with a small bag of her worldly possessions and $20 in cash. If S had not arranged for a place she could call home, if the law firm did not provide her additional funds, if we weren't there to physically transport her, M would have been dropped off at a bus or train station with her little bag and her $20 and told, "Good luck!" M noted how much the world changed in four years. She had no idea how to take a bus or how much it would cost. Who among us, knowledgeable in the ways of this culture, could meet the challenge of being dropped off at a bus station with $20 and no place to go and not familiar with the way things work in this new century without getting into some kind of trouble? The recidivism rate isn't so much an affirmation that "criminals" are incorrigible and should stay in prison as much as it is due to being set up to fail by a very broken justice system. M and all the others who "survived" re-entry into the world from prison owe gratitude to those who treated them as Christ would, who kept faith in them and took them into their homes and tended to their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Please continue to pray for M at this critical time.
There is more good news concerning others. T's trial witnesses against him recanted their testimony. One wrote, "I am now coming forward with the truth...because I regret lying about the above defendants being involved in a crime that they did not commit...The reason I gave this false information was because the prosecutor had offered me dismissals on some unrelated criminal matters...I would also like to come forward because my newly found religious beliefs and my faith in God as a born again Christian wills me to do what is right (telling the truth!)" This witness faces punishment (along with another one) for perjury. Of course, the prosecutor will never admit to pressuring them to the witness stand... they always ask the witness, "Have you received any favors or compensation for your testimony?" Of course, the state witness will say no. Don't ever believe it! Especially in the case when prosecutors recruit jail house snitches. T waited over 18 years for this. Please pray the witnesses stand firm in their recantation and T is finally set free. Based on this new evidence, Motion for new trial was filed.... Perhaps T will get merited justice within a year or two. Be assured, however, the prosecutors (the State) will insist "they have their man" and "this case is closed" and will appeal any decision in T's favor. They always do. (Please don't ever say, "But we have the best justice system in the world!" That statement, so often told me, is rooted in profound ignorance of the US justice system as well as those of other nations.)
There's an additional bit of good news from O's case. The murder victim's cousin came from...to [from a letter] "find out who had killed his cousin. He started hanging out with some of the old crew I used to hang out with and learned I was not to one who killed his cousin...He started attending the same church my mother attends [and] told her I was innocent of his cousin's death. He also told my mother he is willing to help me in my case in any way possible. Not long after that conversation with my mother he wrote me a letter and confirmed his good intentions to me. He calls me 'brother in Christ'." O also wrote of another state witness who was pressured by the prosecutor to testify falsely. He is, of course, very afraid to admit that. I will be meeting with these former gang members. Please pray I get certified statements from these people to include in the post-conviction relief (PCR) brief I am preparing. O is another innocent prisoner among so many, a man of impeccable character and great faith and love.
Please keep all the others in prayer. Your prayers are being heard, obviously, evidenced by recent developments. This weekend of the Independence Day celebration in the US commemorates the courage of many who stood up against tyranny and oppression. Those who suffered such things had a voice. The women (considered property and didn't even get the right to vote until the 20th century) and the African imported slaves who were still considered property 100 years after July 4, 1776, despite the proclamation that "all men are created equal and endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights" had no voice or recognition as "men." (A post World War I study by the US Department of War concluded that Blacks are a subspecies of the human race and not fit for military duty. The "Tuskegee Airmen" with whom I met in June surpassed in performance and skill all their Caucasian counterparts and so remain a living testimony to the fallacy of that "official study." Beware of the conclusions of any government "study"!) Please work in whatever way you can and pray that the prisoners are also included in our Independence Day celebration in the near future.
|Today I learned that the NJ Supreme Court granted
innocent prisoner O certification. What that means is the highest
court in New Jersey is willing to give O a hearing! His former public
defender (who wrote his appeal to the Appellate Division) was "astonished"
(his word). (Recall that his appeal had only two points of argument and
was quickly denied with only a one and a half page of response.)
The number of denied appeals that the Supreme Court is willing to hear is in the fractions of a percentage, and O is among them, despite the quick and decisive affirmation of the Appellate Court that his appeal had no merits whatsoever and not even worthy of elaboration in their justification of denial.
Thank you so much for your prayers! God is hearing the "groans of the prisoners" and those of us who groan with them. We thank God for this wondrous gift!
Should O prevail in the Supreme Court, his case will become "case law" and positively affect the many other innocents in prison who are falsely accused as accomplices in crimes in which they had no part nor could prevent. We must work quickly, however, to file our petition. And should O prevail, the District Attorney can't appeal the decision, obviously, since the Supreme Court has the last say. I will be meeting with his family on... Please continue your prayers for all of us!
I received a letter from innocent prisoner L today. Here's an excerpt: "My attorneys [of the Innocence Project] had me believing the test results [DNA] would be finished shortly, but it appears almost as if everyone is trying to fast talk me. The State swore there was no evidence on the swabbings...however the DNA lab found tons of [it]...but they tell me they're collecting DNA from all the evidence, which is a lot, then they will begin putting everything in categories. I am frustrated with everything, but God's word tells me "that God will keep them in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Him" so I keep reminding myself that all things happen in God's timing and not mine. Believe me, when I hear any good news from my attorneys I'll write to you immediately so that we may rejoice together. My son and daughter requested to come visit me, but I said 'no' because of the time it takes to place them on my visitors list. I had no idea I would still be here. I had even marked on my calendar "should be home" June 21, 2004, but not yet."
Such is the nature of our justice system. I remain inspired by the enduring faith of these people. Let it inspire us to keep faithful in our prayers for them and one another.
I previously mentioned my addition of a four part prison ministry section on my web site. Excerpts from past "legal updates" are posted there. (A good place for you to refresh your memory about the people I mention in these updates and for prayer.) I urge you to check out the fourth text-block from the top of the Legal Updates section. In it I excerpted the transcript from the excellent Frontline program titled "The Plea", with a link to the entire transcript. It is informative regarding the politics of plea bargaining and how the prosecutors and courts severely punish defendants who choose a trial hoping to prove their innocence (which is the case, rather than the State proving their guilt) and reward those who plead guilty, why they do it, and other interesting and "astonishing" facts about our extremely faulted "justice" system.
|R received a surprise notice from the Parole Division
stating it is vacating its former decision and will be soon scheduling
another hearing. I spent yesterday preparing his formal Petition for
Parole for mailing tomorrow. R is thrilled and very eager to join
and care for his 83-year old father who is partially paralyzed from
a severe stroke.
Another piece of good news came with a call from T's attorney. Several of those who witnessed against him are prepared to tell the Superior Court that they were pressured to do so by the prosecutors and fabricate lies that led to T's conviction. This "evidentiary hearing" is scheduled for October 27 which I will attend. Prisoner T is innocent, and has been waiting 12 years in prison for this day.
We are waiting for the prosecutor's response to N's PCR (Post-conviction Relief) and for oral argument to be calendared. Should we prevail, N will be immediately eligible for parole and truly should be released.
We are still waiting for O's hearing before the NJ Supreme Court to be calendared, making preparations in the meantime.
L is getting frustrated (along with his Innocence Project attorneys) with the way the prosecutors are responding to a court order to produce the evidence kit for DNA analysis that will prove his innocence. This has been going on for over a year.
Please keep all of us and the others in your prayers. If you don't subscribe to the Weekly Reflections, please check out " In Honor of My Friends ." It is dedicated to you.
|Today ends two days of court testimony
in Essex County (NJ) from four state witnesses who filed sworn affidavits
in 2001 recanting their testimonies that convicted two innocent
men twelve years ago. R's and T's convictions resulted solely on the
testimonies of these witnesses. There was no corroborating evidence
against them to be "explained away."
It started when one of them approached the prosecutor with the promise of providing (false) information in return for the prosecutor to not pursue unrelated charges against him. Deals were struck and the case snowballed in the prosecutor's favor. The prosecutor would win another "victory" in solving a case and the witnesses would get their reward. This happens more frequently than Americans know and the legal system would want them to know.
No longer juveniles ready to sell out anyone to save themselves, these four adults now want the truth to be known, although they face punishment for perjury for their false trial testimony.
For most of the time, I was the only observer in the court room. So many of the poor in prison are forgotten. No crowds stand behind them in solidarity. The prosecutor's arguments were vintage and classical. The witnesses either lied during trial (when they had much to gain in return) or they are lying now (gaining nothing except retaliation from the state.)
A true justice system would want to know the truth and this court hearing should have been a zealous endeavor in fact finding. If four witnesses are recanting their testimony, the prosecutor should be very interested in why because he is faced with the prospect that two innocent men have been locked away for twelve years and the person who did the murder is still at large.
But the prosecutor is not interested in the truth. It would involve admitting corruption and misconduct. It would involve opening a twelve year old murder case. It would involve having to sand off another notch of victory in his gun stock. It would disrupt his record, work, and reputation. But Lady Justice who holds the scales can see down beneath her blindfold.
That is why L is still waiting for the prosecutors to cooperate with the Innocence Project attorneys. We would think the prosecutors would happily team up with the Innocence Project to learn the truth for two major reasons: 1) Perhaps an innocent man is in prison and his family is suffering, and 2) The rapist/murderer is free and among us.
Maybe Lady Justice should take her blindfold off and open her eyes to what her people are doing, and throw those scales at them in anger.
You are not safer with N in prison. Contrarily, society is deprived of a gift by being deprived of N's presence among us. You would agree if you knew him.
R's first parole hearing was held in error. So he is past due for a hearing. I prepared his petition and we are waiting, and waiting. Just as R and T waited twelve years and L waited as much. O is still waiting for his day before the NJ Supreme Court.
Please continue your prayers for us all.
God bless you and yours!
|N. is still waiting for a response from the State on his PCR (Post-conviction Relief). The state has no mandated deadline of response, so, of course, it will prolong the response at will. The NJ Supreme Court has not yet rendered a decision on O.'s case. Since it was heard a month ago I trust we will hear from the Court soon (that is, within another month.) We are still waiting for the Superior Court's decision on granting T. a retrial based on the recantation of the five state witnesses. L.'s DNA tests have proven his innocence (it's been 17 years for him). Yet he remains in prison waiting for the "legal process" to take its course. There are five other cases "in limbo" demanding our attention.|
|Good News about prisoner L!
I asked you to pray for a number of innocent and wrongly convicted prisoners whose stories I shared with you and posted on my web site. Larry is closer to freedom and is getting needed publicity. I will quote from a couple of news articles to explain further:
"A Burlington County man serving 40 years in prison in a 1987 rape and murder petitioned New Jersey Superior Court yesterday to overturn his conviction, saying modern analysis of crime-scene evidence proves he could not be guilty...The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office has 30 days to respond. If [Larry] Peterson's conviction is overturned, it would be up to the prosecutor to decide whether to retry the case...
"'This man has spent over 17 years in prison for the crimes of another man,' said Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project in New York, which is representing Peterson. [He] had been trying for a decade to have the samples tested when a state appeals court granted permission in December 2003. The tests were opposed by the Prosecutor's Office, which would not comment on yesterday's motion...The appellate court, when granting the DNA testing, ruled that the conviction should be thrown out if DNA results showed someone else was responsible...'There is no question the test results prove his innocence,' Potkin said, 'but he is sill sitting in prison in Trenton.'" (Philadelphia Inquirer, Joel Bewley, April 28)
"...If he is released, Peterson would be the first person exonerated in New Jersey under a 2002 state law allowing post-conviction DNA tests...Potkin said the state's case relied largely on statements from three men who claimed Peterson had confessed the crime to them. If the physical evidence contradicts that, she said, there is no case." (Burlington County Times, Geoff Mulvihill, April 27)
Regarding T., the judge denied his request for retrial based on the recantation of the five state witnesses. He has a new attorney who filed a motion for reconsideration.
NOTE: Larry was finally freed on bail August 27, 2005. Scroll to the bottom of this page for details.
|You'll recall Larry (Peterson) proved
his innocence through DNA forensics and the Innocence Project moved
before the Superior Court for a judgment of release. He is still at
NJ State Prison, going on 15 years there. He informed me of his many
interviews with various media outlets and the first major interview
with him, his attorney and mother will be broadcast Sunday morning (May
29) at 9:30 and rebroadcast on Tuesday (May 31) at 11:30 PM. The program
is also archived for viewing at any time.
The station is NJN (New Jersey Public Television and Radio), channel 52 in the Philadelphia-Trenton area. If interested, those of you who live in other states can still watch the program through NJN's web cast and through its cable network affiliates. Log onto NJN.net for details. The name of the program is "Due Process."
You can refresh your memory of Larry Peterson's case by reading excerpts of his letters to me and archived Legal Updates on the Prison Ministry section of the Prayergear.com web site.
I'm pleased he is getting public exposure and that you can see and hear Larry "in the flesh" for whom I asked your prayers.
Obed is still waiting for the NJ Supreme Court's decision (whose arguments were heard January 18.) The others are still fighting and struggling for their "day of reckoning." This takes time, work, concentration, patience and prayer.
Thanks for your continued interest and prayerful support on behalf of these prisoners who merit freedom and have much to teach us about living and faith.
|I pasted below a news article published
today in the Burlington County Times about the status of Larry Peterson's
case and struggle for freedom. Legal decisions are taking much longer
than anticipated, which is no surprise. The character and attitude
of the prosecutors speak for themselves and need no further comment
to a perceptive and informed mind.
Many of you watched NJN's program (Due Process) featuring Larry's case, either live or on their archives. Please consider writing to NJN thanking them for their favorable coverage and encouraging the network to continue reporting on Larry in particular and the many others like him in general. Such public-funded stations are very responsive to viewers' feedback. You can postal mail the network at
PO Box 777
Trenton, NJ 08625-0777
You can also email the station at
Nothing yet on Obed and the others. Keep praying please.
Man to hear by August if he'll get a new trial for an old murder
By: GEOFF MULVIHILL (Fri, Jun/10/2005)
MOUNT HOLLY, N.J. - A judge said he expects to rule by early August whether a man convicted of murder in 1989 would become the first in New Jersey to get a new trial because of DNA evidence.
Larry Leon Peterson, now 54, was sentenced to life in prison more than 15 years ago for the 1987 rape and murder of Jacqueline Harrison in Pemberton Township.
Peterson was convicted based on testimony that he confessed the crime to three men and an expert's testimony that hair found at the scene was probably his. DNA testing has shown it was not.
Peterson's lawyer, Vanessa Potkin, from the Innocence Project at Cardozo School of Law in New York, said DNA taken from the victim's fingernails and undergarments and hair found on her body did not match Peterson's.
At a hearing Friday, Superior Court Judge Thomas Smith said he has fast-tracked the case because Peterson has been in prison for 18 years. He scheduled a hearing for July 29 and said he might rule as soon as that day.
"I consider this to be very serious," Smith said. "On of the most powerful things that I can do is I can deprive people of their liberty. I do not do that lightly."
If Smith decides there is enough evidence to vacate Peterson's conviction, it would be up to prosecutors to decide whether to seek a new trial.
The state is not conceding the case.
Prosecutors have been sending additional hairs found at the crime scene to labs for DNA testing. Seven hairs are at a state lab now; eight are to be sent to a private one next week.
And there are 131 more that could be tested, said Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi. A private lab can analyze eight hairs in a month, at a cost of $1,800 each, Bernardi said. Even if the conviction is overturned, he said, he might continue to have hairs examined until a trial begins, which could be several months, or even years, away.
"It would be irresponsible of the state to simply say, `OK, the defense has convinced us. Let Mr. Peterson free,'" Bernardi said.
Even if none of them link Peterson to the scene, Bernardi said there was circumstantial evidence that points to Peterson, such as the confessions and Peterson's plans to fly to Germany just after the Harrison's body was found.
Peterson did not attend Friday's hearing, but his mother, Susie Peterson of Pemberton, did.
She said she has always believed her son did not kill Harrison.
"He was innocent," she said. "We just have a corrupt system."
|The Larry Peterson Story A case of
justice denied - PA
Fri Jun 10, 2005 2:34pm
June 10, 2005
The Larry Peterson Story A case of justice denied
Philadelphia Inquirer, Editorial
Larry Peterson has been locked in prison for so long that, when he lost
his freedom, a first-class stamp cost 22 cents. Congress was grilling
President Reagan's aides about the Iran-contra scandal, Paul Simon's
Graceland won a Grammy award, and the Edmonton Oilers defeated the
Philadelphia Flyers for the Stanley Cup.
The year was 1987. That's how long Peterson has been locked in prison for
a murder that new evidence overwhelmingly indicates he did not commit.
A judge in Burlington County could do the right thing today by granting
Peterson a new trial and setting bail for him to be released, based on DNA
tests that show he was wrongly convicted. But the Burlington County
prosecutor's office, which has been dragging its feet since receiving the
DNA test results in February, is likely to ask for more time to conduct
more tests. That would keep Peterson in prison and, in light of the new
evidence, compound an injustice.
A jury convicted Peterson of the rape and murder of Jacqueline Harrison in
1987 in Pemberton Township. The evidence presented to convict Peterson, in
retrospect, looks flimsy. Investigators testified in 1987 that hairs found
on the victim's body "matched" Peterson's hair. What they meant was that
the hairs found on the victim looked like Peterson's hair. DNA tests
conducted for the Innocence Project in New York now have proven those
hairs actually belonged to the victim, not to Peterson. None of the hairs
used as evidence in the trial could be tied through DNA to Peterson.
Prosecutors in 1987 said there was semen found on the victim's body and
her clothing. DNA tests discovered that the semen was from two different
men, neither of them Peterson. One man was her boyfriend; the other,
unknown man is likely her real killer.
Peterson had scratches on his arm that prosecutors in 1987 said could have
come from the victim's fingernails. DNA tests now show that blood under
the victim's fingernails came from the same man whose semen was in her
throat and vagina. None of it came from Peterson.
Three witnesses told police, during interrogations which were not recorded
in 1987, that Peterson confessed the slaying to them during a 10-minute
ride to work. Police had considered one of these witnesses a suspect in
the murder; another one was known as a "jailhouse snitch." In light of the
conclusive DNA evidence, their testimony doesn't hold up.
That's about all prosecutors had against Peterson. Shamefully, prosecutors
in 1987 felt this evidence was strong enough to seek the death penalty for
Peterson. The jury spared his life, but Peterson was sentenced to 40 years
Since 1994, Peterson had been trying from his prison cell to get DNA tests
on the evidence in his case. He finally won that right in court in
December 2003. The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic which has
used DNA testing to exonerate 159 people who were wrongfully convicted,
paid more than $20,000 to test 20 pieces of evidence in Peterson's case.
Months after learning of the DNA test results, the prosecutor's office
finally decided to conduct its own tests on a bloody stick that was found
at the murder scene. Those tests are said to be inconclusive. Prosecutors
are expected to ask a judge today for more time to test more evidence.
But the physical evidence that was used to convict Peterson has been
refuted. It's time for Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi and
his staff to admit the errors that were made more than 17 years ago.
Larry Peterson is 54 now. His mother is still living. He has three grown
children and three brothers.
"He wants to be home with his mom," said Vanessa Potkin, a lawyer with the
Innocence Project. "He wants to go fishing."
There has been another injustice done, to Jacqueline Harrison and her
family. Her killer has not been punished. The authorities now have his
genetic material on file. All they lack is his name. They should start
looking for him.
It's time to free Larry Peterson.
Source : Philadelphia Inquirer, Editorial
|You may recall Obed's case was argued
before the NJ Supreme Court on January 18. The decision was posted
yesterday, June 16. Sorrowfully, the justices upheld the Appellate Court's
decision, meaning Obed did not prevail in the Supreme Court. Now I will
file a PCR requesting a reduction of sentence, as with Nelson. I notified
Obed's attorney and family. Pray for the consolation of Obed and family.
Obed will be personally notified today.
Carlos' wife was killed while he was in Portugal. A few days ago I received a phone call from his son in Portugal who confirmed many things. (Carlos was accused, convicted and sentenced to 30 years to life.) We are exploring two avenues of relief for him.
A definitive decision may be announced on July 29 regarding Larry who was proven innocent by DNA forensics.
|Prisoner Larry, whose innocence was
proved by DNA tests, sent me a news article from the Trentonian (NJ)
published June 14, 2005: "The Burlington County Prosecutor's office
allegedly paid a witness in the attempted murder case of former Bordentown
City Police Chief Phil Castagna $40,000 to collect evidence against
the chief...'If I paid a witness $40,000 to testify for me, I'd be
indicted for witness tampering," [his attorney] Lord said after the
Larry writes to me: "Strength comes in unity and just knowing there are multitudes praying. ...Thank you a whole bunch for the Weekly Reflections. You're giving an insight that many take for granted, over look, and many have never imagined...I never imagined so many were praying for me or concerned about where I'll be living or working. Many doors are opening for me and I thank God."
Regarding Thomas' case, he writes: "Finally, I got a copy of the reconsideration Motion. I enjoyed the Weekly Reflections on Star Wars. It was put together uniquely and was indeed very interesting...I need..."
This prisoner is asking the court to reconsider its decision regarding the recantation affidavits of two state witnesses "pertaining to the innocence for [the crime] to which they have been convicted...had the court permitted the presentation of this evidence, would corroborate the three witnesses who testified on behalf of the defendant's in the Post-Conviction of Relief Motion. The Court's denial of the testimonies of.....was a manifest denial of justice and has resulted in the illegal, improper and wrongful continue imprisonment of the above defendants."
Larry Peterson needs your attention and prayers. We are very hopeful and excited about the probability that the judge will vacate his false and contrived conviction on Friday, July 29. If so, New Jersey law still mandates a retrial. The prosecutors can decide to forgo retrial, but if they don't, they may well recommend a high bail for Larry. Pray that the judge sets an affordable bail so Larry can be released that day rather than be sent back to prison for another two to five years waiting retrial. The Innocence Project attorneys, of course, anticipate this and are prepared for it.
The Philadelphia Inquirer published another editorial in Larry's support, which I am pasting below. The New Jersey Network (station NJN) will be airing another broadcast in support of Larry on Monday morning, July 25, with a rebroadcast on Tuesday evening, July 26. Larry tells us that he has not been interviewed again, but the first interview took four hours of tape. So I can't say if this will be a rebroadcast of the program of which I informed you previously (and many of you watched), or a new broadcast edited from tape they did not use on the first one. Either way, it will be broadcast under the title, "Due Process." You can find the station channel and times on NJN.net if you are in broadcast range as well as access the program on the Internet via streaming video anytime after July 26 wherever you are in the country.
Since Larry would be the first prisoner released in New Jersey on DNA forensics evidence, after 18 years of waiting for this day, I anticipate this will be national news. So please check your newspapers on July 30. I also anticipate an army of TV stations making camp at the courthouse on July 29, eager to pounceon Larry for his reactions if he does walk out into freedom that day. He told us today he would have no comment to the media and plan to leave immediately for home. He would accept scheduled interviews later when he had time to recuperate and organize his thoughts, though his presentation on the first NJN broadcast was excellent. If Larry's release is denied or stalled, this will also be news and will entice public outcry.
Larry's transition into freedom will be both jubilant and difficult. Difficulties range from the amusing mundane (he'll have to resist walking past a security guard at a department store without first turning his back to him or her for frisking out of habit) to the serious (knowing how to tell his story to the nation and avoid the continuing zealousness of prosecutors who never admit they were wrong.) Larry is anxious to tell his story and knows the stories of so many others. Part of his healing will be to receive help in doing that effectively and wisely.
But I'm jumping ahead. For now, let's pray and join the public support for Larry's release on July 29. We'll proceed from there.
Posted on Tue, Jul. 12, 2005
Burlington County Murder Case
Editorial | DNA says there is no justice yet
In his cell in Trenton State Prison, Larry Peterson recently received more good news - frustrating as it is. Additional DNA tests support earlier laboratory findings that indicate that Peterson was wrongfully convicted in 1989 of raping and killing a woman in Burlington County.
Frustrating, because Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi has had DNA evidence exonerating Peterson since February. The scientific analysis found that samples of semen taken from victim Jacquelyn Harrison came from the same man whose skin scrapings were found under her fingernails. But DNA tests proved conclusively that that man isn't Peterson, 57, of Pemberton, who has been behind bars since his arrest in 1987.
Nor did several hair samples from the crime scene that were tested several months ago come from Peterson. Prosecutors, who tried to have Peterson sentenced to death, wrongfully claimed during the trial that those hairs did come from him. DNA testing wasn't available back then. The prosecutors' mistake should have been enough to get Peterson a new trial and to release him on bail. But he has had to sit in prison for an additional four months while prosecutors belatedly test 15 more hair samples. They are among about 130 hairs that were found at the crime scene.
The results on eight of those hairs have come back from a state police lab - none matched Peterson. Testing at a private lab on the other seven hairs is pending.
The DNA testing to date strongly suggests that those last seven hairs don't belong to Peterson, either. If not, Bernardi must make good on a pledge he made in April. At the time, the prosecutor said he would not oppose a new trial for Peterson if additional DNA tests did not place him at the crime scene.
Judge Thomas Smith has scheduled another hearing on Peterson's case for July 29. If Burlington County prosecutors still have no DNA evidence against Peterson on that day, any further delay in this case would be a crime of a different sort. If prosecutors still can't make their case on that date, they must do the right thing and step aside while Larry Peterson walks into the sunlight.
|From a personal email
Grand jury system broken
Wed Jul 13, 2005 2:52pm
Grand jury system broken
The Chronicle's July 10 editorial "State of injustice" concluded with the statement, "Absent, amid the discovery of repeated and extensive miscarriages of justice, is a sense of public outrage and shame that our justice system could be so permissive of wrong and so indifferent to right." Reading the editorial carefully, however, reveals a reason for the lack of outrage and failure to remedy the situation: All segments of the criminal justice system are culpable and would prefer to keep their part of these atrocities hidden.
When we reorganized the Grand Jury Association two years ago, we were at first appalled and then enraged by what we discovered: Innocent people by the thousands may be incarcerated by a combination of deliberate fraud, negligence, political decision and unprofessional conduct. These include prisoners who, without ever seeing a jury, were compelled to plead guilty when faced with the "scientific" evidence.
When we proposed as a first minimum step of remedial action that the district attorney should be sworn in when presenting cases to the grand jury to make sure he is not knowingly misrepresenting the facts, we were rebuffed — and not only by the district attorney. We were ignored by the criminal justice committees of the Legislature and the governor.
We also realized that the grand jury system has been prostituted and has become a tool of the prosecution, rather than a shield to protect the innocent.
Many former grand jurors who served repeatedly were nothing more than shills for the prosecution, and others were discharged by the time they started to recognize the problems. Criminal judges even prevented grand juries from preparing reports of their findings so that subsequent juries could learn from such reports and not have to start ignorantly each 90 days.
The Grand Jury Association is now dormant for several reasons. Many members may feel guilty of sending thousands to prison by believing fraudulent crime lab reports. Other members have been silenced by their relationship to judges and the district attorney, which facilitated their appointments to grand juries in the first place.
Mostly we realize, however, that we are up against an entire flawed criminal justice system. Few people have the courage and conviction to face such odds. So we just live with the shame, because we know, better than most, what we should be ashamed of.
T.W. WESTON chairman, Harris County Grand Jury Association
Source : Houston Chronicle
|I didn't expect to be writing you today,
but the most poignant editorial by the Philadelphia Inquirer was published
this morning. This one is a bit more sarcastic and confrontational, and
raises, for the first time, the specter of bail to which I brought to your
attention in the last Legal Update. As with sentencing, judges have guidelines
to following in imposing bail. With Larry's bogus and disproved charges,
the court would still have the legal basis for imposing a quarter million
dollars cash bail (no 10%). Even with a 10% posting, Larry would need $25,000
in cash to be free. Waiting in prison for retrial would just add on another
three to five years to the already 18 years he should have never experienced.
The Inquirer urges the court to release Larry ROR (Released on Own Recognizance). That would take a judge of great courage. Most likely it will be a compromise bail that would appease both the political machine of the prosecutors and the portion of the public who may still think "we have the best justice system in the world" and may believe the prosecutors. I am having a hard time sensing the public pulse on this one. Unlike the Iraq occupation and local zoning debates such as whether to allow a half-way house in some township, I have not come across any editorial letters by the "common" citizen about Larry and those like him. (I was somewhat surprised and pleased that an Internet search engine on "Larry and Peterson and DNA" listed "Legal Updates" on our web site near the top. The written word, in print or electrons, still hold the power it always did.) Oppressed and marginalized people living in our own communities are not popular subjects for public outcry. Anyway, we'll see what tomorrow and this weekend will bring, to Larry, the system, and the public.
That brings me to the second interesting piece of news I encountered on one of my searches today: "March on Washington, DC -- August 13, 2005; A Million Family Members and Friends of Incarcerated People." The well and accurately written description of the purpose of this unexpected public outcry can be reviewed at peopleagainstprisonabuse.com . "Individuals and groups will begin meeting on Friday evening, August 12. On Saturday morning, August 13, people will assemble at Lafayette Park (north side of the White House). Programming will begin at 9 AM and conclude at noon."
I end with a request for your continued prayers and a paste below of the Inquirer editorial.
Editorial - The Larry Peterson Case: A call for compassion - and justice
Posted on Thu, Jul. 28, 2005
DNA tests show that Larry Peterson is innocent of rape and murder. But scientific proof of his innocence may not be enough to get him out of prison tomorrow, even though he's spent 18 years behind bars.
Burlington County Judge Thomas Smith will consider Peterson's request to vacate his murder conviction and grant him a new trial. In light of extensive DNA testing that exonerates Peterson, county prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi has decided not to oppose the motion by Peterson's lawyer, Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project.
Great news for Peterson? Not necessarily. The prosecutor has indicated that he will ask the judge to set bail for Peterson within standard guidelines, which could mean bail of $250,000 or more. If the judge sets bail that high, Peterson's family won't be able to afford it and Peterson will remain in jail - exonerated and still incarcerated.
What good is the mountain of DNA evidence supporting Peterson if the practical effect of setting high bail is to deny him his freedom?
Asking for standard bail in this case would be one more signal that prosecutors still cannot admit they made a mistake. The DNA tests show that the main who raped and murdered Jacquelyn Harrison in 1987 has never been caught. The semen on the victim's body and on her clothing did not come from Peterson, nor did the skin scrapings under the victim's fingernails. All the hairs tested from the crime scene - hairs which prosecutors testified in 1989 matched Peterson - have been proven instead to be Ms. Harrison's.
Bernardi wouldn't return phone calls this week to explain his position on bail. Certainly the prosecutor is a busy man. He's also a man who is free to go home at night, free to embrace his family without supervision, free to glide in a porch swing to the hum of cicadas.
It's not mandatory for the prosecutor to request high bail. And there is nothing standard about the injustice the legal system has inflicted on Peterson for 18 years.
There will likely never be a new trial for Peterson, because the evidence used against him in 1989 was a sham. Some of the people who put him in jail still work in the prosecutor's office, which is an issue for another day.
If the prosecutor persists in his posturing on bail, the judge must find it in his discretion to disregard such a callous stance and to release Peterson on his own recognizance. The extraordinary circumstances of this case call for extraordinary compassion. Somebody in authority in the legal system must at long last have the courage and honor to free Larry Peterson.
Setting bail conditions that serve to keep Peterson in jail any longer would be a conspiracy of cowardice by those who still control his fate.
(Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources. 2005)
|My fears concerning bail actualized today
in court. I briefly discussed this matter with Larry's two attorneys from
the Innocence Project prior to the hearing. They explained that there
would be no 10% according to the guidelines and that the Project could
not post bail, that burden falling on the family.
Typically, such hearings are scripted for the public record. The judge already read the written arguments by the prosecutors and defense counsel, met with them in chambers off the record, and decided. We knew the judge would vacate Larry's conviction because the Appellate Court stipulated that it should be if the DNA forensics exonerated Larry from being present at the crime scene. Thus the judge had no choice and within the first two minutes of the hearing, declared Larry's conviction vacated (reversed and nullified.)
We also knew the prosecutors would tell the court they would retry Larry. So the matter of bail remained the centrality of this hearing. Larry's attorneys argued expertly for ROR (release on own recognizance). The prosecutor also argued, less convincingly, but emphasizing the legalities: Essentially, while Larry is no longer a "convict," the charges against him remain. Typically, a person with murder/rape charges would not be granted ROR. Although Larry's attorneys argued this was not a typical case, the judge evidently needed to stick to the legal guidelines regarding such charges and imposed a $200,000 bail with no 10%. On one level, through a judge's eyes who does not see or know Larry as I do, he ruled in a way expected by the public and the judiciary. This travesty really falls on the prosecutors, observed by the Philadelphia Inquirer as incapable of admitting a mistake and reopening a murder/rape investigation in the pursuit of facts and truth. After all, they now have the DNA profile of the actual perpetrator of this horrible crime which they didn't have in 1989.
Since Larry is no longer a convicted prisoner of the state, I expect him to be transferred to the Burlington County Jail to wait for retrial, which could take two to five years. His status conference is scheduled for September 19 at 9 AM. Jails are small and confined, with far less services (recreational, medical, spiritual, etc.) than prisons.
The news headlines will no doubt present this as a positive thing: "South Jersey man gets retrial on murder and rape charges due to DNA evidence." Indeed, it is a positive development, bringing Larry closer to the freedom he merits. It is sad that it takes so, so long. Larry really thought he would walk out of court today, free. So did his family. There will be a lot of grieving and crying tonight, on both sides of the prison walls. And that is not merited.
Thanks for your continued interest and prayers.
|Personal letter excerpts to Larry Peterson
Naturally, this is a challenge to our faith. The Psalms are filled with such questions to God…”Why Lord? Have you abandoned us? Arise and come to our aid!” Yet these human questions always end with, “My soul will bless you forever. I will praise you forever.” You were anxious to expose the evil back-scene workings of the prosecutor’s office. Of course, that will have to wait so you don’t tip the card hand and interfere with trial strategy. Much of what you want the public to know may well come out in trial. We must trust the Lord regarding delays and timing. Isaiah spoke for God, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways.”
Many “authentic” Christians were present behind you in court today. We did gather in Christ’s name on your behalf, and Christ promised to be present, sharing our fellowship, wherever two or three or more have gathered. Christ witnessed the proceedings as we did, but He also witnessed what we could not…the hearts and minds of everyone. He took note of everything, seen and unseen, just as He knows the number of hairs on our heads. You are His beloved child, your suffering joining His on our behalf. Though it is quite human for us to wonder why, to ask, “What’s going on here?” we also rest in the reality that our Christ was present, taking into His heart infinitely more knowledge about what is going on than any of us or the media reporters. We can also trust Him to use that knowledge to ultimately fulfill our prayers, for those prayers, those tears and lamentations, also rest in His heart, continually crying out to Him. “A contrite (wounded) heart you will not spurn.” Remember that Christ is lovingly attentive to you and your family. We rest in that love and assurance, and wait some more. As the orchestration of God unfolds, we will be able to look back and perceive the “Why?” Meanwhile, He calls us to trust in His infinite wisdom and love. “I will never leave you!” God is certainly worthy and meritorious of that trust.
I believe things will unfold quickly, compared to the snail’s pace of the last ten years. Such are our continued prayers.
|I am pasting below a Philadelphia Inquirer
editorial published today. It will speak for itself.
Posted on Fri, Aug. 26, 2005
Editorial | The Larry Peterson Case: End his hell in a cell
From his cell in Burlington County Jail, Larry Peterson sounds hopeful and determined. Hopeful that the justice system will at long last grant his freedom soon, and determined to clear his name.
"They started this fight," Peterson said of prosecutors who arrested him for murder in 1987. "By them taking all this time out of my life, a fight they will get. This is supposed to be about justice."
Peterson, 54, has been behind bars since September 1987 for the rape and murder of Jacqueline Harrison in Pemberton Township. A jury convicted him in 1989 and nearly gave him the death penalty. Since 1994, Peterson has been trying to prove his innocence scientifically, through DNA testing.
A court finally granted him the right to DNA testing in December 2003. The results came back last February, and clearly show that Peterson did not commit this crime. Sperm on the victim's clothing, which prosecutors said belonged to Peterson, actually came from the victim's boyfriend. Sperm in her body came from an "unknown male" - the real killer - whose skin also was found under the victim's fingernails. None of this genetic material came from Peterson. Hairs taken from the crime scene, which prosecutors had said matched Peterson's hair, instead all belonged to the victim.
Last month, a Burlington County judge finally overturned Peterson's conviction. But Peterson is still sitting in jail while his mother tries to raise $20,000 to post the required amount of his $200,000 bail. That's because Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi intends to compound this miscarriage of justice by trying Peterson again for murder.
"They know that I didn't commit this," Peterson said in an interview this week. "Now that my innocence has been proven, they're going to extremes to try to cover up what they did. They know they framed me."
Bernardi has said he won't try this case in the media. But it seems like a good forum, considering the bang-up job that Bernardi's predecessors did in court in 1989. If he persists in this misguided second prosecution, Bernardi's case will rest largely on four witnesses who testified that Peterson admitted killing a woman. All of their stories have serious weaknesses. One man was a jailhouse snitch. The second witness was considered a suspect himself in the murder. The third man initially told investigators that Peterson had spoken of fighting with a man, not a woman. The fourth witness did not implicate Peterson at all when investigators first interviewed him.
There's a chance Peterson will be released on bail this weekend. The world outside jail is where he should stay. The prosecutor - not another jury - has a responsibility to look at the facts and the flaws and decide against another trial. The interests of justice demand it.
© 2005 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
|Larry Peterson was bailed out of jail this
morning (Saturday). He was swarmed like hornets around a disturbed nest
by the TV and press media. After that my parents and I joined Larry, his
mother and attorneys for a chicken lunch.
Vanessa Potkin's (chief counsel) cell phone rang frequently, reporters asking for interviews. These will be conducted today. Vanessa thanked the many contributors to Larry's bail fund, most of whom don't know Larry but do know about the injustice and suffering afflicted on him and his family. The prosecutors still maintain they will retry him. (A status conference is scheduled for September 19.)
Thank you so much for your support and prayers. The saga will continue as it does for many of us on both sides of the prison walls. We will continue to depend on your support and prayers and on the grace and love of our Creator, which you reflect.
Tonight Larry will sleep on a real bed, at the time he chooses. When he opens his eyes in the morning, he'll see sunlight and trees through the windows instead of concrete walls and bars. He'll be able to walk out of his home without permission and literally smell the roses. An eastern adage is, "Do and experience everything as if for the first time." Larry will be doing that. Doing it along with him will augment our alertness and gratitude for life in freedom, a splendid way to begin and end each day.
May God continue to bless us all,
|Larry's status conference (court hearing)
happened on Monday as scheduled. As always with status conferences, the
defense attorney, prosecutor and judge met privately in chambers then entered
the courtroom to put the outcome on the record. As on the day of his release,
TV cameras and newspaper reporters were present, this time surrounding one
of Larry's attorneys as Larry stood off to the side with his mother and
a second attorney. The TV stations decided this was not enough of a news
event to broadcast, but several newspapers reported on it. I quote a few
excerpts that I know are accurate from what Larry told me and because I
stood within hearing distance of the reporters' questions and the attorney's
"Peterson's lawyers have said that the DNA tests done in the case point to an unidentified man as Harrison's killer. [Attorney] Lustberg said he would not reveal names of potential suspects Monday, but would pursue getting DNA samples from them in an effort to prove who killed Harrison...Retrials are rare in cases where post-conviction DNA tests have been used to overturn convictions...[I]n nearly every case in the country like Peterson's prosecutors have declined to go hold a new trial. So far, [Attorney Potkin] said, 162 men who had been convicted have been exonerated based on DNA evidence." (Geoff Mulvihill, AP)
"An attorney for [Larry] who contends DNA evidence will prove he did not commit the murder for which he was imprisoned said he has a 'mental' list of suspects he hopes to use to find the real killer." (Jason Nark, Courier-Post)
" 'It would be our intent to show (at Peterson's retrial) who the guilty person is,' Lustberg said after a hearing yesterday in Peterson's case. 'There's not going to be a guilty plea. It's only going to be dismissed or tried.' " (Mike Mathis, Burlington County Times)
A law firm looking to identify and prove the real murderer is an unprecedented defense strategy, the stuff of film drama. Unfortunately and so sadly, this is happening to a real person in real (and very long) time.
While my parents, a good friend, Larry, his mother and I were conversing outside the courthouse, an ironic thing happened. Michael Riley, the man who prosecuted Larry two decades ago, walked by us, looking straight ahead. Larry called to him and walked over with an outstretched hand and a cordial salutation. They both shook hands. (Riley left the prosecutors' office a few years ago and went into private practice as a defense lawyer.)
Larry then returned to our little group and remarked, "You have to forgive."
Please continue to keep Larry and all the others in your prayers and thoughts.
|Yesterday (Sunday), Larry Peterson, my family
and two friends who grew to know Larry while he was a prisoner of the state,
spent the afternoon and evening sharing food, laughter, stories and observations
of life. A couple of weeks ago I remarked to my father how Larry would
not know how to turn on the motion activated water faucets in some restrooms.
Interestingly, Larry's first story of his reentry into the world was about
how he had to ask someone how to get the water to run. He was also shown
how a wave of the hand would get the paper towel dispenser to work.
We stopped at Wal-Mart on the way back to his home. He was still out of his element, saying hi to everyone in passing, some looking at him funny and others returning the salutation reluctantly. I pointed out to Larry the self-check out counters where the computerized voice guides the shopper through paying for his or her items. He wasn't quite interested in that, remarking how the whole world is overwhelming.
Major TV investigative shows like 20/20 and Dateline offered Larry funds for exclusive rights to his story. Naturally, he does not trust them nor the government, and rightfully so. No less than a conservative Republican, former President Ronald Reagan, stated, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.' "
I felt honored to be in the presence of a spiritual "giant", though Larry would not admit to being anything close to that. His presence exudes the spirit of Christ. His church asked him to work with their "wayward" youth, something his church does not call upon someone for that task without confidence and trust. He will also be preaching (lecturing) from pulpits regarding the sustaining faith needed to survive and thrive in adversarial challenges, ones that go on for two decades, not just days, weeks or months.
Although everyday is a joy, the pressures of reentry into society has kept him so busy he hasn't yet been able to take a day to fish in the solitude of God creation. It has not been easy, as I can understand. Please continue to hold him in thoughts and prayers.
I will be meeting with O's attorney tomorrow evening, with his mother and friend. (Another innocent man among many.) Evidentiary hearings are yet to be scheduled for innocent T and R (regarding recanting witnesses). Please include in your thoughts and prayers D, R, N, B, B and others who merit freedom and have much to teach us about spirituality.