Why Doesn’t the Prosecution Stop After a Case Unravels?
September 10th, 2018 by McNeely | Stephenson
Prosecutors are supposed to seek justice, which, depending on the circumstances, includes dropping charges against a defendant after it becomes clear that the wrong person has been arrested for the crime. Most prosecutors are wise enough to understand when mistakes were made and do the right thing, but other times innocent defendants are sent to prison because prosecutors don’t want to admit mistakes or they’ve staked their reputation on getting a conviction in a case, whether or not the guilty party is on trial.
Elkhart, Indiana, police in 1996 were called to a home after an armed robbery took place. One of the assailants shot and nearly killed one of the occupants. They were told that two robbers had broken into the home, both black, one tall and thin, the other short and stocky. Eventually those in the apartment, after looking at photos of suspects, pointed out Chris Parish and Keith Cooper, reports ProPublica.
After being acquitted for trying to snatch a purse, Cooper was charged with the shooting. Police said someone who shared a cell with Cooper claimed he talked about the shooting. A hat from the crime scene was tested for DNA, which showed that Cooper’s DNA wasn’t on it.
At the trial in 1997, three people from the apartment identified Cooper as the shooter. Though the cellmate refused to testify, the judge allowed his statement through a police officer. The defense attorney allowed a statement to be admitted into evidence which didn’t clearly state that Cooper’s DNA was not on the shooter’s hat. Cooper was found guilty and sentenced to forty years in jail.
Chris Parish was also arrested for the robbery. There was no physical evidence tying him to the crime, only eyewitness testimony. Soon after the crime, eyewitnesses weren’t sure Parish was involved, but at the trial they were convinced. A police officer falsely testified that the shooting victim was shown an up-to-date photo of Parish. Police reports about interviews with the victim were missing. The defense had seven witnesses establishing an alibi for Parish, that he was with his family at the time of crime. He was found guilty and sentenced to thirty years.
During an appeal for Cooper, the DNA from the hat (which had a “J” on the front) was confirmed to not be from Cooper but from a person serving time in Michigan, Johlanis Cortez Ervin. He was convicted of murder. His brother was also convicted on a related charge. Ervin is tall and thin, six foot two, 155 to 190 pounds, and his brother is short and stocky, five foot seven, 170 pounds.
During Parish’s appeal, witnesses testified that the shooting didn’t take place in an apartment, as the victims claimed (police found no shell casings or blood there), but rather in a laundromat across the street. Parish’s appeal was denied. He appealed again, and the conviction was thrown out by the state Court of Appeals in 2005.
Cooper accepted an offer to have his sentence changed to time-served, but still have a robbery conviction on his record, and he was released in 2006. Parish was told that if he pled guilty the prosecutor would agree to his staying free due to his time already served. He refused, but the charges were dropped.
Parish sued Elkhart in 2007 for civil rights violations. As part of the lawsuit, one of the officers involved stated that this was the only case in his career in which he had doubts that the right person was on trial. He said if he had been on the jury, he wouldn’t have voted to convict. Cooper joined the lawsuit.
Cooper also decided to seek a pardon from the Governor to clear his record. He obtained affidavits from witnesses who stated they wrongly identified Cooper, and the cellmate informer admitted he was put in a cell with him to try to get him to admit to the crime. He said Cooper didn’t confess, just told him the police’s version of the crime. Cooper received his pardon in 2017.
It took ten years for Parish and Cooper to be released from prison, despite the fact that there was contradictory eyewitness testimony, the crime didn’t happen where it allegedly took place, DNA evidence showed a defendant wasn’t the shooter, false statements were made about an alleged confession, and photos used to identify the suspects were years old. Police and prosecutors make mistakes, and defendants need to have competent attorneys expose those mistakes and ensure that the prosecution carries its burden of proof before a conviction takes place.
McNeely Stephenson has faithfully served the people and communities of Indiana for several years in a variety of criminal defense cases and will help you create a strategy that gives you the chance for the best possible outcome. With offices in New Albany and attorneys who are licensed to serve the Kentuckiana area, we have the knowledge, experience and resources to help. To ask a question or to set up a consultation, contact us today.