Judge orders new trial for David Flores

David Flores, convicted of killing Phyllis Davis in April 1996, may get a new trial, the Des Moines Register reports today:

In a rare move, Polk County District Judge Don Nickerson ruled that David Flores’ constitutional right to due process was violated because a key police report naming another suspect was never turned over to his original defense lawyer.

Nickerson also found to be credible new testimony this year from a woman who said that suspect, Rafael Robinson, admitted he accidentally shot Davis.

Nickerson’s ruling indicated those two elements likely would have affected the outcome of Flores’ trial in 1997. […]

Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said Wednesday he “respectfully but strongly” disagreed with the judge’s decision. He has asked the state attorney general’s office to appeal the ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court on his office’s behalf.

An appeal before the state’s high court typically takes nine months to a year. The court can opt not to hear an appeal. In that case, Sarcone would have to decide whether to try Flores anew or set him free.

The Des Moines Register has a timeline of the Flores case here, as well as a good piece by Lee Rood on seven people who “cast doubt on evidence that helped convict Flores.Commenting on the case last year, Rob Warden of the Center for Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law

said he’s never heard of an alleged wrongful conviction case in which three separate people came forward independently to name another suspect.

“There’s an extremely high probability that he’s innocent,” said Warden, whose [center] has helped exonerate dozens of people. “The fact that you now have three people who don’t have any connection to each other and no discernible motive to do anything but tell the truth is just extremely persuasive.”

Speaking to the Des Moines Register yesterday, Polk County Attorney Sarcone dismissed the police report implicating Robinson as “two or three levels of hearsay.” I am no lawyer, but if multiple witnesses also say Robinson killed Davis, it is hard for me to believe prosecutors could prove Flores guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a new trial.  

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Innocence Project of Iowa works to identify wrongful convictions

Until I read this article in the Des Moines Register, I had never heard about the

Innocence Project of Iowa, a non-profit created by some attorneys last year.

Experts say people who are wrongfully convicted are uniformly poor and disproportionately a minority. One recent study by the Innocence Project in New York, the nation’s first program founded in 1992, showed at least 156 of 216 people exonerated through DNA testing were African-American, Latino or Asian American.

Many of the cases also fall apart when scrutinized for unreliable or limited science, faulty eyewitness accounts, false confessions, poor defense work and unreliable testimony from informants, experts say.

The nonprofit Innocence Project of Iowa began last year out of a discussion among lawyers at Drake University who wanted to start their own program. Years ago, the University of Iowa’s law school provided legal assistance to Iowa prison inmates, but it never had a program focused exclusively on exonerating people believed to be wrongfully convicted.

Brian Farrell, a Cedar Rapids attorney who specializes in appeals and post-conviction cases, said the group could not find a home or funding at the state’s two big law schools at the U of I or Drake, but both schools nonetheless liked the idea of getting students involved.

[…]

Mark Gruwell, program coordinator for the paralegal-legal studies program at Iowa Lakes Community College, said about a dozen of his students have been reviewing correspondence from inmates, which the organization has been soliciting since last fall.

Those students submit analyses and reports, which are forwarded to a committee in Des Moines. That committee decides whether to reject a case or look into it more. From there, law and journalism students at the U of I will assist pro-bono defense lawyers with cases worth pursuing.

The project has identified two cases to pursue thus far.

Drake law students also are expected to get involved in the future.

[…]

Farrell said the project’s only financial support is from the Iowa Public Defender’s Association, but it hopes to develop other sources of funding.

The article mentions David Flores, but it’s not clear whether that case is one of the two that the Innocence Project will be focusing on. Flores has served 12 years in prison for first-degree murder. He will have a hearing next month to determine whether his sentence can be vacated. Des Moines police withheld evidence naming a different suspect in that murder case from Flores’ attorneys.

The blog Talk Left, which often covers crime-related issues, has posted on Flores’ case here and here.

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