Saturday, October 12, 2013

Heartbreaking Injustice- We Need Impartial Judges

My heart is so big, I can't stop or help myself. When I see injustice I get really mad. I CAN'T just let it go. Every day it is my job to fight for justice but today I must scream out or burst. Thursday night Dan Abrams on Nightline exposed the case of Ryan Ferguson. Simply put: Ryan was a 19 year old college student:great son, great kid, former Eagle Scout, the kind of kid you want your kids to be friends with, the kind who grows up and gives back to the community, when he was convicted for a murder he did not commit and sentenced to 40 years. How ? Step one: the police. The Columbia, Missouri police had an unsolved murder (the only one in their county which they were proud of) with hair, blood, DNA- just no suspects. A few years go by and then Chuck Erickson,  a kid Ryan's age who he was nice enough to give a ride home to from a club on the night of the murder, told the police Ryan and he committed the murder. The problem ? Chuck is hallucinogenic, has major drug and alcohol problems and is known for telling whopper stories and lies by all who know him. The police browbeat him into a confession implicating Ryan (see the videos) and threatened the death penalty on him unless he agreed with all the facts of the murder as told to him by the police (see the videos, he has no idea what he is talking about while the police yell at him the details and force him to agree). Step two: the district attorney's office. The other state witness Jerry Trump, who could not identify the suspects, was told by the district attorney Kevin Crane (now a judge who ran on this bragged conviction) "it would be in his best interest to cooperate". Trump was on parole as a convicted child molester and decided to say what Kevin told him to say on the witness stand even though it was a lie because he was scared to get his parole revoked. Step 3: the judge. Chuck and Jerry both feel so guilty later they come clean and testify in a new hearing they both lied because of the pressure from the police and DA's office. (for all the details see: ) Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green heard this appeal based on the recantations and guess what ? Judge Green refused to reverse the conviction. Once again, the blood and hair of the killer on the deceased's body exists and it is neither Ryan's or hallucinogenic lie telling Chuck and yet Ryan still sits in prison.  A true tragedy.  Every police officer and investigator of the Columbia, Missouri police department involved in coercing these false confessions, the district attorneys who had a mountain of evidence proving Ryan had nothing to do with this case, especially Kevin Crane,  deserve to have their law licenses stripped away and prosecuted for malicious prosecution & tampering with the evidence.  Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green needs a new job. He does not have the ethics or intelligence to follow the law. The evidence and law at Ryan's appeal demands a reversal. Hopefully the next level appellate court in Missouri gets it right.

This is not an isolated incident. The public must blame itself. The reason why the cops, DAs, and judges do this is because they want to look "tough on crime" to keep their jobs. This is the public's fault. We need to boot all these types OUT.

Specifically in Texas. Texas Judge Ken Anderson as a prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence that led to Michael Morton serving 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife that he did not commit (DNA evidence later proved this).Yet what was important for Ken at the time he was prosecuting Morton was that he get his glorified "conviction" despite the evidence. This notoriety of success for being "tough on crime" in  a high profile case helped him get elected to judge. We must stop this. It is time we start electing defense lawyers to the bench and as DAs because defense lawyers know and appreciate how wrong it is to convict innocent people. Defense lawyers understand that it is not "tough on crime" that matters but "do the right thing" on crime.

This week I was reminded of how I, in Tarrant County, Texas (I also practice in Dallas & Collin) have to deal with this. I just spent 4 days this week on a felony DWI trial. This case is being appealed so all these facts are a matter of public record (a court reporter transcribed the whole trial). My girl is a 30 year old stockbroker who lost her stockbroker license and will lose her condo because she can't pay for it. Here is the injustice of the trial (what we are appealing):

1. The jury never got to hear the testimony about how the same Perkins Elmer gas chromatograph (software unknown because the lab refused to give this to us per subpoena order) being used in Arizona is giving wrong results (data drops, mislabeled results, etc.).  The judge would not allow this detailed and important testimony. He said it was not relevant. I wish I was kidding but I am not.

2. This DWI was about alcohol. The judge ordered the "pills" in her purse (of which she was not charged and the cops never suspected she took them on this DWI, no DRE DWI was done) could not be mentioned and the DAs were instructed to tell their witnesses not to mention it. Yet, the cop testified to the "pills" in her purse found at the scene.  I moved for a mistrial. The law dictates a mistrial. Pills may not be relevant in a driving while license suspended  or improper photography case but it sure as hell is something the jury will improperly consider in a DWI case. The judge denied my mistrial (not once but twice, I gave him 2 chances) . The judge said that we would call it "medication" for the remainder of the trial and jurors would not consider this anyway after he told them to disregard. Any takers on that one ? Also, the judge blamed ME for the cop doing this. Said he didn't like my question (my question had NOTHING to do with anything but the DWI). I'm getting reamed for the state violating their own motion. Unbelievable.

3. The cop testified his legal reason for pulling her over was she turned left from the center lane. The video shows this is not true, she turned from the left lane. Our expert cop was prepared to testify to this. The judge did not allow me to ask my expert cop this which would give the jury an instruction to throw the case out per the law if they found there was no reason for the cop to pull her over.  The judge looked at the video and came up with his own traffic violation to pull her over and denied any testimony from my expert cop on this. The judge also denied the charge despite the video showing the cop's reason was not true.

4. The big one. In April of this year the United States Supreme Court in Missouri v. McNeely ruled the police have to get a warrant to draw blood in a DWI case unless there are exigent cirumstances (for eg. the defendant is unconscious going to the hospital dying). In my case, the judge ruled there were NO exigent circumstances but he refused to follow the Supreme Court ruling and allowed the jury to hear her questionable blood result (see above plus a myriad of other reasons which proved the blood test was wrong in this case). NOT ONE TARRANT COUNTY FELONY JUDGE TO MY KNOWLEDGE HAS FOLLOWED THE US SUPREME COURT on this issue. I am being told that whether TARRANT (aka DA's office and felony judges) will follow the US Supreme Court depends on how our TEXAS appellate courts rule. Yup, craziness. Totally outlandish. Don't think the US Supreme Court will be happy when they have to deal with Fort Worth. Reminds me of when JFK had to send in the National Guard in Alabama to abide by law....

Bottom line, my girl spent thousands for a trial, two expert witnesses and this is the trial she got- not a fair one in my professional opinion. Everything I asked for got denied (see above) while the DA got whatever they asked for. For example, both my experts were limited in 705 expert hearings as to what they could talk about, yet when the DA asked my expert questions that went outside of what the court ruled the judge didn't stop him (said it was ok that my expert get asked questions on field sobriety even though the ruling was he could only testify on blood, yet my own expert cop could not testify on cop procedures for the stop).

It is time for judges to stop being prosecutors on the bench.  How does the public stop this ? Stop rewarding bad behavior ! It is time we consciously reject at the polls the Republican "tough on crime" candidates (how prosecutors advertise when running for judge). It is time Democrat or Republican, we start  electing  lawyers who are tough on injustice (defense lawyers are a natural at this). You can't get back time from people who have been wronged by the justice system. The wrongfully convicted forever lose those days and hours locked up- money does not replace lost time. Let's fill our judicial benches with decisionmakers who fight this type of wrong. 

Hopefully the Fort Worth Court of Appeals will get it right and give my girl another shot at a fair trial so we can seek justice with all the facts on the table not just the ones that favor the prosecution.

As for Ryan Ferguson. Please write your congressman, senator, state house rep and senator, the President  and governor of Missouri (who can issue a pardon). The more people that speak out to the right people the more chance justice will be done. The Missouri state and federal congressional delegation as well as voters need to be looking to replace Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green (who refused to reverse the false conviction) and Boone County Circuit Court Judge Kevin Crane (who pressured eyewitness Jerry Trump to lie knowing he couldn't identify Ryan Ferguson).

For more information:

Ryan Ferguson may be contacted:
Ryan Ferguson #1137593
Jefferson City Correctional Center
8200 No More Victims Road (3 House)
Jefferson City, MO. 65101

His parents Bill and Leslie Ferguson can be contacted at , or send a comment through or .

My heat breaks for Ryan Ferguson and his family. This is not right. My heart breaks for my client this week who will lose everything without even getting a fair trial. My heart aches at injustice anywhere. I will keep fighting to make things right in the Texas counties I practice in and for my clients .  You can believe that the Missouri governor will be hearing from me. Ryan, if you get this- anything my law office can do, just let me know. Your innocence lawyer Kathleen Zellner of Chicago is a true blue hero, the kind of person that ranks up there with the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela.  Hang in there kiddo. Good people will do the right thing. Sorry the justice system is filled with the wrong. People like me are out here trying to change things for the better. I ask you to do the right things and take a stand- whether it is getting involved for Ryan Ferguson or taking your next election seriously by doing your homework before you vote for judges and DAs. Only you can make the ultimate difference when we act together for the good of all.

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