Interested in the latest news affecting veterans and the unjustly convicted? Concerned about current issues impacting the compensation process? Check out the Friedfertig Law Firm, PLLC News Page for weekly updates on current affairs in veterans’ and unjust conviction law.
“Man who sued city over wrongful conviction gets more than $13M” Deon Patrick was only 20 years old when he and seven of his friends were charged with the murders of Jeffrey Lassiter and Sharon Haugabook in 1992. He spent over two decades wrongfully imprisoned until Cook County prosecutors dismissed the charges against him in 2014. Last month, a federal jury awarded him over $13 million in his lawsuit against the city of Chicago, seven members of the Chicago police force, and two Cook County prosecutors. “Alstory Simon, freed from prison after wrongful conviction, spends his time in Greater Cleveland working to free others” In 1999, Anthony Porter was released from prison after Alstory Simon confessed to the 1982 murders of Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green. Porter’s case had been championed by a Northwestern University professor, his students, and a private investigator, who became convinced that Simon was the real killer; they succeeded in convincing the prosecution as well. However, in 2014, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez moved the court to vacate Simon’s conviction, which Simon alleges was the result of a coerced confession and collusion between his attorney and the Northwestern group. He is currently suing the former students, their professor, and the private investigator for $40 million, and also working to free other people who claim they have been wrongfully convicted. A documentary based on the case, “A Murder in the Park,” is currently available for viewing on Netflix. “Appellate court frees man after 24 years behind bars” Adam Gray has spent almost two-thirds of his life in prison for a deadly arson that he claimed he didn’t commit. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s Conviction Integrity Unit agreed that the scientific evidence used to convict him of the 1993 crime had since been discredited, and moved the Cook County court for a new trial. However, that new trial was denied. In response, Alvarez’s successor, Kim Foxx, submitted a joint motion with Gray’s attorneys to the appellate court, requesting that his conviction be vacated, the charges against him dismissed, and for him to be immediately released. Less than two days later, the motion was granted and Gray was set free. “Veterans honored with hand-made quilts” 28 New England veterans were honored this month by Martel-Roberge American Legion Post 47, which presented them with hand-made quilts as part of the Quilts of Valor Program. The veterans represented all branches of the military, and collectively had served in every major U.S. military conflict, other than in Afghanistan, since World War II. The Quilts of Valor program began in 2003, and since then has awarded almost 160,000 quilts. “Veterans clean forgotten historic Black cemetery in McKinney” Ross Cemetery in McKinney, Texas, was founded in the 1800s, and is a product of the racial segregation enforced then. A cemetery for the Black community of North Texas, it is located behind the better-known Pecan Grove, a cemetery housing the remains of white settlers and local leaders. Having fallen into disrepair, Colin Kimble and a dozen other local veterans are working to wash the headstones, some of which belong to African-American soldiers who served at the time of the Spanish-American War. The clean-up project is sponsored by Our Brothers’ Keepers, a joint effort between the Collin County Veterans Court and American Legion Post 110. “Ephraim man works to bring smiles to fellow veterans’ faces” Dental care is not guaranteed to all veterans by the VA. 73-year-old Dennis Matthews has responded to this gap in service by founding New Smiles for Veterans, a Utah-based nonprofit that arranges for free, quality dental care for veterans. New Smiles works with veterans to identify their oral health needs and match them with area dentists to see that those needs are met. “Unorthodox Northampton program helps veterans with drug problems” Soldier On is an unconventional drug rehabilitation program working to help veterans struggling with addiction in Massachusetts. Soldier On accepts veterans who have not fared well in traditional rehabilitation centers, and like many rehabilitation programs, relapse and access to illegal drugs and opioid medications are persistent problems. The program operates transitional and permanent housing with capacity for almost three hundred people across three sites, without using surveillance cameras or scheduled drug tests. Residents can come and go until their midnight curfew, and some are entrusted with distributing scheduled medications. Despite its unregulated approach, Soldier On has been commended by the local district attorney as well as other community leaders working to combat addiction in veterans and other Massachusetts residents.
UPDATE 1/11/17, REGARDING IDENTITY ATTACK ON 1/9/17 Earlier this week, someone impersonating a member of our firm produced and distributed content that subsequently appeared on our website as a News Entry for 1/9/17. We did not create this content and do not know who did, nor did we authorize its publication. The content was removed as soon as possible after the firm became aware of its presence. We apologize for any inconvenience or upset this event may have caused.    
NEWS ENTRY 8/9/2016 In recent news: eggs, artwork, and affidavits! “Congress wrestles with providing fertility benefits for injured veterans and service members” In January, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the Pentagon would soon launch a pilot program to help active-duty service members freeze and preserve their reproductive tissues. In June, Congress agreed to overturn a longtime ban against covering in vitro fertilization treatments for veterans whose ability to have children was comprised by combat injuries. Now, two bills in Congress threaten both initiatives.   “Report: VA spent millions on costly art as veterans waited for care” A report by Open The Books, a nonprofit that monitors government spending, alleges that the Department of Veterans Affairs spent $20 million on artwork between 2004 and 2014. The VA, which operates over 1,700 health care facilities and has requested a budget for next year of $182.3 billion, responded that “artwork is one of the many facets that create a healing environment.” The American Legion agreed: “We don’t want our hospitals looking like the inside of prisons.” The report comes at a difficult time for the VA; officials have acknowledged that the agency, the second largest in the U.S. government, is currently understaffed and overwhelmed by its responsibility to our nation’s 8 million veterans.   “$16.5 million settlement reached in wrongful conviction suit” The families of three men, two of whom confessed and implicated the third as a result of repeated beatings and death threats by members of the Hattiesburg Police Department and Forrest County Sheriff’s Department, settled with the city and county government and their insurance companies for $16.5 million. The men, all now deceased, were exonerated of involvement in the 1979 rape and murder of Eva Gail Patterson as a result of DNA evidence submitted by the Innocence Project. The actual offender has been identified as a man serving a life sentence for another rape in the Hattiesburg area; he will not be prosecuted unless his release from prison becomes imminent.   “Advocates want Feds to probe wrongful convictions in New Orleans” John Thompson was exonerated after spending 14 years on Louisiana’s death row for a murder he didn’t commit. Now, he’s leading the charge to reform criminal prosecution in Louisiana, investigate the alleged abuses of previous prosecutors, and remedy those instances of violation of defendants’ rights.   “Gage County appeals award in wrongful conviction case” A jury awarded $28.1 million to the “Beatrice Six,” six people wrongfully convicted of the 1985 murder of Helen Wilson, who spent a combined 77 years in prison. Now, the county is appealing the award, saying that it is excessive, the jury was tainted, and the legal team for the six presented insufficient evidence. The six were cleared of the murder in 2008 by DNA testing, which was not available at the time of their original trial.   “Men claim wrongful conviction in murder” Keith Hardin and Jeff Clark were convicted of murdering Hardin’s girlfriend Rhonda Sue Warford in 1995; a few weeks ago, those convictions were overturned and a new trial ordered. The Innocence Project has submitted DNA evidence throwing their culpability into question. However, Hardin’s confession to the crime remains a stumbling block. While he insists he confessed only as an attempt to convince the parole board to release him, the local prosecutor believes that the confession, along with the remaining evidence, will be enough to re convict both men.   “Ru-El Sailor case: New affidavits could clear way for wrongful conviction release after more than a decade behind bars” Ru-El Sailor’s bid for exoneration and freedom following his conviction for the 2002 killing of Omar Clark received a boon this week, as his attorney and the Ohio Innocence Project received two new affidavits supporting his innocence. According to Kimberly Corral, his attorney, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office has re-opened Sailor’s file at the Conviction Integrity Unit, and she and the Innocence Project will soon be moving for a new trial.
NEWS ENTRY 7/1/2016 In recent news: Fees, fireworks, and fraud! “Thousands of living vets declared dead and lost benefits in past five years” VA Employee mistakes and technological errors have led to over 4,200 people being falsely declared dead and their benefits cut off just in the past five years, with some veterans having to go through the benefit restoration process repeatedly in order to get what they are owed.   “One group Trump donated to benefits fundraisers, not veterans” Of the funds allegedly donated by Trump to help veterans’ causes, $75,000 went to the Foundation for American Veterans, a group that received an “F” grade from CharityWatch and is operating under an alert from the Better Business Bureau, due to a high volume of complaints and negative customer reviews.  The Foundation’s budget reveals that in 2014, over a million dollars more was paid out to fundraising companies than was used to directly help veterans.   “Top VA benefits official Pummill Retires” The acting head of the Veterans Benefits Administration has announced his retirement, making him the second to do so in the past 8 months. The acting head is responsible for overseeing the disbursement of $90 billion in benefits and the operation of dozens of regional offices.   “Administrative change ahead for veterans benefits” William F. Streitberger has been appointed the director of the Portland and Anchorage regional offices for the Veterans Benefits Administration, both of which are administered from Portland, Oregon (as of last year). The VBA says that Alaskan vets should not experience any sudden changes in their benefits due to the change in administration.   “Memphis man ‘free at last’ decades after wrongful conviction” After 31.5 years of prison, Lawrence McKinney’s record has finally been expunged of the rape he was wrongfully convicted of committing. Although he was released from prison 7 years ago, it has taken years and the efforts of many of his community members to get the felony removed from his record. McKinney’s exoneration is one of the 312 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States so far.   “Man suing City of Denver after wrongful conviction” Lorenzo Montoya was unjustly convicted of murder when he was 14. Two years ago, his conviction was overturned after DNA evidence proved he did not kill Denver teacher Emily Johnson.  Now, Montoya is suing the City of Denver and the Denver Police Department for $30 million.   “To reduce wrongful convictions, reform the bail system” Our criminal justice system often provides incentives to plead guilty even when the accused is innocent; many people can’t afford bail or a lengthy pre-trial detention, and some jurisdictions even encourage public defenders to push plea deals on their clients by paying them better when their client accepts a plea than when they go to trial. Jennifer Doleac’s article explores a new economic study that demonstrates a correlation between excessively high bail, pre-trial detention, and success at trial.   “Appeals court upholds Texas’ Hazlewood veterans benefits” A federal appeals court upheld a Texas state law, the Hazlewood Act, that waives the tuition fees for up to 150 university credit hours for military veterans who enlisted while living in Texas. This ruling overturns a lower court ruling that Texas must pay for a Georgia veteran’s educational costs.   “In Colorado, taking steps against wrongful convictions” Attorney Chris Ochoa, wrongfully convicted of rape and murder in 1988 and freed by DNA evidence in 2001, explains a new Colorado law that mandates video recording of custodial interrogations for serious felony and felony sexual assault crimes.   “Signs a reminder of impact of fireworks on veterans with PTSD” Some combat veterans with PTSD experience an increase in symptoms when exposed to fireworks. Indiana-based nonprofit Military with PTSD runs a campaign, “Explosion of Kindness,” encouraging those celebrating Independence Day to be courteous with their fireworks by not detonating them near the homes of those dealing with service-based PTSD.   “Bicyclists ride from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. to support local veterans” Bicycle riders with the Veterans Leadership Program will travel 335 miles along the Allegheny Passage Trail to raise money for crisis services for Pittsburgh-area veterans.   “Hotline workers leave suicidal veterans in silence” More than a third of veterans calling the Department of Veterans Affairs’ suicide hotline do not reach a counselor. The exact reasons are unclear, but may involve both an underperforming workforce and a handful of callers who are tying up the lines to make abusive and vulgar phone calls.   “Transgender San Antonio veterans hope for more benefits” The military’s ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces has ended, and now the Pentagon has announced that it will cover medical transition as part of its health benefits plan for current service members. Transgender veterans in San Antonio, known as “Military City USA,” hope that this announcement will mean that gender confirmation surgery will soon be available through the VA for them, as well.   “Charges filed against 16 veterans for hospital fraud” Over a dozen veterans are accused of inflating their claimed expenses to take advantage of a voucher program meant to ease the financial burden on veterans who must travel extended distances to access medical services.
  In recent news: “Families fight for legislation to support veteran benefits” Are you familiar with the “remarriage penalty”? Read on to learn more about this common but overlooked barrier to veterans benefits claims. “‘Worst’ charity for veterans run by VA employee” The National Vietnam Veterans Foundation apparently gives less than 2% of its income to veterans and veterans’ charitable causes. To add insult to injury, the NVVF is run by J. Thomas Burch, a veteran himself and an attorney working for the VA. “Same-sex couples get veterans benefits, but not congressional recognition” While a veteran’s spouse is eligible for benefits regardless of their gender, language in the federal code fails to reflect this. “Agent Orange benefits for deep-water Navy vets languish on Capitol Hill” The VA continues to deny Agent Orange benefits to 90,000 “blue water” sailors who may have been exposed to concentrated levels of dioxins while stationed just off-shore during the Vietnam War. “Ottawa’s legal manoeuvre on veterans benefits called ‘a betrayal'” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr campaigned on a promise to restore lifetime pensions for veterans. Now the federal government is backpedaling, reintroducing its previously abandoned legal argument that the government has no “social covenant” with Canadian veterans in order to justify retaining its lump-sum pension payment policy. “Vets pleading for cleanup of black mold festering in VA hospital for months” Veterans of a residential care facility in a Chicago-area VA hospital have been living with a mold infestation for the past 10 months, despite efforts by residents and a U.S. senator to pressure the VA into cleaning it up. “US veterans climb Mount Everest to raise awareness of military suicides” A group of veterans and an active-duty soldier are currently climbing Mt. Everest to draw attention to the high rate of military suicides: 22 veterans and 1 active-duty service member kill themselves every day.  
  In recent news: Veterans for Peace fights against Islamophobia, Hope for the Warriors gets a substantial donation from an energetic Long Islander, and the Innocence Project throws bite mark evidence into doubt! “Veteran Takes On Hate Speech Against Muslims” Jim Driscoll is a former college football star with a Ph.D. from Cornell who fought in Vietnam and later taught at M.I.T. Now he is a member of Veterans for Peace, and has more than a few words to say about the rising tide of Islamophobia in America. “Long Island Woman Runs 7 Marathons in 7 Days to Support Veterans” Eva Casale ran 183.4 miles and raised $40,000 for Hope for the Warriors, bringing her total to over $200,000 raised for charitable organizations since 2006. “Manhattan Opens Veterans Treatment Court for Drug Addicted, Mentally Ill Veterans Facing Felony Charges” Manhattan is now operating a special court for veterans with drug addictions and mental illnesses who have been charged with felonies. Veterans Treatment Courts, of which there are now 63 across the country, emphasize therapeutic, medical, and social interventions alongside criminal justice, and are composed entirely of veterans. “Spending Bill Would Cover Vets Fertility Treatment” The VA appropriations bill has been amended to include $88 million for fertility treatments and counseling for veterans who can’t biologically reproduce without assistance due to injuries sustained in combat. “Senate Confirms New VA Inspector General” The Senate has confirmed Michael Missal, a non-veteran attorney who previously worked for the Securities and Exchange Commission, as the new permanent Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs. “Innocence Project Casts Doubt On Bite Mark Testimony” The Innocence Project questions the use of forensic odontology in the case of Keith Allen Harward, a man convicted of rape and murder who claims he is innocent and is currently petitioning for release. “Brooklyn Man Wrongfully Convicted of 1985 Sex Assault Accepts Reduced $12 Million Award” Alan Newton, released in 2006 after DNA evidence was submitted to the court, was initially awarded $18 million for his wrongful conviction. Federal Judge Shira Sheindlin found the award excessive and reduced it to $12 million, telling Newton he could either accept the lowered amount or attempt to re-litigate his case. Newton’s attorney appealed her decision, but the Second Circuit has sided with Judge Scheindlin.
“In this weeks news: 5 wrongful convictions, 20 years lost, and 61 commuted sentences!” “Central Park Five Members Join City Hall Rally for Bill that Would Prevent Wrongful Convictions” Raymond Santana, wrongly convicted along with four other men for the rape of Trisha Meili in 1989, speaks out at a City Hall rally in New York in support of state legislation that would require police to record all interrogations and use bias-reducing techniques during suspect identifications. “Oops, We Took 20 Years of Your Life by Mistake. Have a Nice Day.” Jarrett Adams was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1999, exonerated through the work of the Wisconsin Innocence Project in 2007, and graduated from Loyola University Chicago’s School of Law in 2015. In this article from The Marshall Project  “The Marshall Project”], he argues that monetary compensation for wrongful conviction is both necessary and insufficient to help exonerees put their lives back together. “Obama Issues 61 Commutations, Critics Assail Clemency Pace” While President Obama has issued more commutations of prison sentences than the past six presidents combined, all but 10 of them were in the past two years. Prison education advocate Christopher Zoukis discusses some of the flaws in the executive branch’s Clemency Initiative, including strict eligibility requirements, limited resources, and overregulation of the program by the Department of Justice. “Does the Path to True Police Reform Run through Liability Insurers?” Professor John Rappaport of the University of Chicago Law School analyzes the relationship between police agencies, insurance companies, and municipal and state governments, advancing the idea that mandatory liability insurance may be a useful tool for regulating police conduct. “After Long Process, City Launces New Department of Veterans’ Services” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the replacement of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs by the Department of Veterans’ Services, which will be committed to ending homelessness among veterans, providing mental health services, and assisting unemployed veterans. “Court Rules that VA Has Shortchanged Veterans since 2009 by Denying Reimbursement” The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has decided that the VA policy of denying reimbursement to veterans who seek emergency care outside the VA healthcare system is in violation of the Emergency Care Fairness Act of 2009. The decision came in Staab v. McDonald, a case involving an Air Force veteran who was forced to seek medical care at a non-VA hospital after a heart attack in 2010. “New York Historians Preserve Legacy of Black Revolutionary War Veteran” Thousands of Black soldiers fought in America’s Revolutionary War, on both sides of the conflict. The Otsego County Historical Association, in Hartwick, NY, fights to preserve the grave site and marker of one of those soldiers, Cato Freedom.  

In recent news: prosecutorial oversight, private sector donations, and progress on Guantanamo!

“Man Wrongly Convicted in ’97 Brooklyn Killing Settles with City and State”

Roger Logan is another victim of the overzealous Brooklyn detective whose questionable tactics “led to over a dozen unjust convictions,” [NOTE: COULD YOU HYPERLINK THE SECTION IN BETWEEN THE QUOTE MARKS AND HAVE IT LINK BACK TO LAST WEEKS NEWS ENTRY?] according to the Brooklyn D.A.’s Conviction Review Unit. After fighting for exoneration pro se, Mr. Logan was aided by the CRU in his claims against the city and state, recovering almost $7 million as compensation for the 17 years he was unjustly imprisoned.   

“Innocence Project Criticizes Oversight of Prosecutors”

The Innocence Project takes the courts to task, analyzing instance of prosecutorial error and misconduct in 5 states, including New York. While the Project uncovered almost 700 cases of error or misconduct, it could find only a single instance of disciplinary action taken against the prosecutor responsible.  Recommendations to prosecutor’s offices include formal policies, training on ethics and the rules of discovery, and internal review systems with real consequences for those found guilty of misconduct or a pattern of prejudicial errors.

“U.S.: Releases Signal Progress on Guantanamo”

Two Libyan prisoners whose incarceration violated international law (and would have violated U.S. law as well, if they had not been classified as enemy combatants) have been released to Senegal. 89 more prisoners remain detained at Guantanamo Bay, 35 of whom have been cleared for release. Human Rights Watch argues that the remaining prisoners face a fundamentally flawed military judicial process with a staggering error rate, pointing to the fact that half of the convictions obtained through the process have been subsequently overturned in U.S. federal appellate courts.

“Report Finds Sharp Increase in Veterans Denied V.A. Benefits”

A report released by veterans’ advocacy group Swords to Plowshares demonstrates that veterans are being refused benefits at the highest rate since the benefits system was created in the wake of World War II. Veterans who served after 2001 were twice as likely to be denied benefits as those who served in the Vietnam era, and four times as likely to be denied as those who served during World War II. The group suggests that the VA may be relying on “other than honorable” discharges as a mechanism for eliminating service members without providing time-consuming and costly medical care to which they would otherwise be entitled.

“NYC Homeless Veterans to Get $750G Boost from Private Sector Donations”

The Veterans Housing Initiative received substantial grants from the Real Estate Board of New York, Deutsche Bank America, and other sources to combat veteran homelessness in New York City. The city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, has made eliminating chronic veteran homelessness a cornerstone of his administration.

“Jobless Rate Jumps for Recent Veterans”

The unemployment rate for veterans who served after 2001 is now at 6.3%, the highest it’s been in a year. The national unemployment rate is currently at 5%.

“Veterans, Schools Want NY State to Pay for Tax Break”

The Alternative Veterans Exemption program is an optional New York state-based tax program that gives a property tax break to former service members. However, unlike similar programs, the lost tax revenue is then reapportioned to surrounding property owners, increasing their tax assessments. The New York State School Boards Association and the American Legion back the plan of State Senator David Carlucci and Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, who have introduced legislation that would require the State of New York to pick up the difference, rather than New York property owners.

In recent news: convictions vacated, people exonerated, and veterans’ mobile apps propagated!   “Woman exonerated after serving 10 years for manslaughter conviction” Vanessa Gathers, the first woman exonerated by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit, was incarcerated for a decade following a false confession procured by a police detective whose investigatory tactics, according to the D.A., led to over a dozen unjust convictions.   “Judge reduces man’s wrongful conviction award to $12 million” A United States District Court judge reduced the damages paid to Alan Newton, an innocent man who was wrongfully imprisoned for over 20 years following an unjust conviction for rape. Newton and his attorneys argue that the reduction is in defiance of a ruling from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.   “Brooklyn man is exonerated after 25 years in prison for murder” Andre Hatchett, wrongfully convicted of murder in 1991, is released from prison following the efforts of the Innocence Project and the Conviction Review Unit. Governor Cuomo advocates for video recording of police interrogations in most violent crimes cases.   “Locked away for 24 years, an exonerated man still feels imprisoned” After almost a quarter of a century, Han Tak Lee was released from prison following his unjust conviction for murder and arson. However, the damage done to his and his family’s lives remains unrepaired.   “Murder conviction vacated for man who served 20 years” Richard Rosario is released from prison after the Bronx District Attorney moves to vacate his conviction for ineffective assistance of counsel. Neither his initial attorney nor the investigating officers bothered to interview the more than a dozen witnesses who could have potentially substantiated his alibi.   “New app helps connect veterans with services” The New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs debuts a new mobile app for veterans, designed both to help connect veterans and their families to services and benefits available to them and to update veterans about changes made to programs that affect them. It is available for both Android and iOS devices.   “In New York, LGBT veterans and advocates call for ‘Restoration of Honor’” LGBT veterans stand in support of the “Restoration of Honor Act,” a bill introduced by NYS Sen. Brad Hoylman that would restore honorable discharge status to those veterans who were dishonorably discharged under the now-repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” policy. Dishonorably discharged veterans are excluded from 53 state-offered benefits in New York