Thursday, July 12, 2007

DNA Exoneration #205: Byron Halsey

"Mr. Hirsch also mentions the “Innocence Project, whose DNA testing has “exonerated” 180 wrongly convicted people in the last 15 years. Terms used by experts are important, and the term “exonerated” does not mean “factually innocent.” ... Additionally, the actual number of people taken off death row by DNA is less than 10 people."
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Letter to the Editor – LA Times – June 26, 2006, Paul A. Logli [former] President, National District Attorneys Association & State’s Attorney, Winnebago County, IL
DNA Proves Halsey Innocent Of 1985 Murder, Sex Assault - North County Gazette
Byron Halsey, who narrowly escaped the death penalty when he was convicted in 1988 of the brutal sexual assault and murders of two young children in New Jersey, was fully exonerated earlier this week based on DNA evidence that proves his innocence. Halsey’s conviction was vacated on May 15, and at a hearing Monday the Union County District Attorney’s Office dismissed pending indictments against Halsey because he is innocent. Halsey is the 205th person nationwide – and the fifth in New Jersey – exonerated based on DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project, which represents Halsey.

“Byron Halsey has waited 22 years for this day. For 22 years, he has waited to walk into court and have prosecutors and the judge acknowledge what he always knew but what nobody would believe – that he is innocent,” said Vanessa Potkin, staff attorney at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. “Byron can now begin the long, slow, difficult process of rebuilding his life. We hope the community will continue to embrace and support him, and we hope the state compensates him promptly and appropriately for the unimaginable ordeal he has endured.”

Halsey’s conviction was overturned in May after DNA testing on several key pieces of evidence used to convict Halsey actually indicated the guilt of another man, Cliff Hall, who is already in prison for several other sex crimes in New Jersey and who testified against Halsey during his trial. In March 1988, Halsey was convicted of several charges stemming from the November 1985 murders of a seven-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy he was raising with his girlfriend; Hall, who lived next door to the family, had dropped Halsey off across town and then returned home on the night the children were brutally killed.

DNA testing over the last 16 months links every critical piece of physical evidence from the crime to Cliff Hall, not Byron Halsey, the Innocence Project said. The District Attorney’s office consented to the DNA testing, which was conducted in state labs and at Orchid Cellmark, one of the nation’s leading private labs, which provided some of the testing pro bono. The physical evidence that was subjected to DNA testing includes semen on the seven-year-old girl’s underwear, semen elsewhere at the crime scene and a cigarette butt at the crime scene. The cigarette butt was central in the initial police investigation of the crimes, and the semen was linked to Halsey (through blood typing, since DNA testing was not available) and used to convict him. DNA testing on both semen samples and the cigarette butt matches Cliff Hall, according to papers filed jointly by the Innocence Project and the Union County District Attorney’s Office. Hall has now been charged with the crimes for which Halsey was wrongfully convicted.

...

From his behavior and other evidence, police suspected Cliff Hall from the beginning. But as the lengthy interrogation of Halsey progressed, leading to a supposed confession, police stopped investigating Hall. The supposed confession was the result of 30 hours of interrogation over a 40-hour period of time during which Halsey (who has a sixth-grade education and severe learning disabilities) had little sleep. Even the detective handling the interrogation characterized Halsey’s statements as “gibberish.” On every key fact of the crimes, Halsey gave incorrect answers during the interrogation and had to guess several times before giving police accurate answers (on everything from the location of the bodies to how they were killed). Halsey “confessed” to things that DNA now proves did not happen.

Exonerated by DNA tests, cleared of 2 child murders - Janet Frankston Lorin, Associated Press
All charges against a man who served 22 years in prison for the murder and rape of two children were dropped yesterday after prosecutors cited DNA testing they said links another man to the crime.

Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow declined to pursue charges after "careful re-evaluation of the case" against Byron Halsey.

Halsey, 46, was released from prison May 15 after a judge threw out his convictions. DNA testing, not available when he was convicted, linked a neighbor to the crime. Until yesterday, however, Halsey legally still faced charges of aggravated sexual assault, aggravated manslaughter, felony murder, child abuse, and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.

Prosecutors yesterday recommended that Superior Court Judge Stuart L. Peim drop all charges.

Halsey thanked prosecutors for "acknowledging the truth." Halsey, whose electronic ankle bracelet was removed yesterday, also thanked his grandmother, who stood behind him in a crowd of supporters.

...

Halsey confessed after 30 hours of interrogation in a 40-hour span, said Barry Scheck, who is codirector of the Innocence Project.

"As a result, the only evidence against Byron Halsey is his uncorroborated confession, significant portions of which have been refuted by DNA evidence," said prosecutor Albert Cernadas Jr.

Cernadas said he could not say "with certainty" whether Halsey is innocent, but the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Halsey was guilty. "We just didn't have sufficient evidence," Cernadas said.

Halsey is the 205th person nationwide exonerated and the fifth in New Jersey through DNA evidence, Ferrero said.

"I'm going to church, going to work, pay my bills," said Halsey, who thanked God for his freedom.

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