'Innocence Fraud is Real' Warns Crime Lab Report's Chief Managing Editor

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This and other preliminary findings of a study titled 'The Innocence Audit' were delivered by John M. Collins Jr., the Chief Managing Editor of Crime Lab Report, at the annual symposium of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) on Thursday, April 30, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

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The ends cannot justify the means when the means are fraudulent.

A stern warning was issued to crime laboratory administrators that some post-conviction exonerations may have been secured by innocence activists using malicious tactics, or 'innocence fraud', creating potential public safety threats as convicted felons are released from prison.

The comments were made by John M. Collins Jr., the Chief Managing Editor of Crime Lab Report, in a speech detailing the preliminary findings of a study titled 'The Innocence Audit' at the annual symposium of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) on Thursday, April 30, 2015. The event was held at the Wardman Park Marriott in Washington, D.C.

"Exonerations are extremely serious," Collins told the audience of approximately 150 guests on the final day of the symposium. "For our criminal justice system to go back and say that the decision of a judge or jury who decided to put a particular individual in prison [was wrong] . . . and suddenly say that the individual shouldn't be there - and is therefore free to return to life in the public - is very, very serious."

Collins cited the 2003 exoneration of Steven Avery in Wisconsin as evidence of the public safety significance of exonerations. After being convicted of a 1985 rape in Manitowoc County Circuit Court (86-1831-CR), Avery was released from prison 18 years later with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. But in 2005, two years after his exoneration, Avery was again convicted in Manitowoc County (05-CF-381) for the brutal killing of a young female Auto Trader Magazine photographer.

Collins said the strongest audience reaction seemed to come from his showing of crime scene photographs from the 1991 murder of Jacquetta Thomas in North Carolina. A white Nissan Pathfinder belonging to Gregory Taylor was found stuck in mud within close proximity of the victim's body. Gregory Taylor was eventually convicted in 1993 in Wake County Superior Court (92CRS7128, 92CRS30701), but exonerated in 2010 and awarded $4.6 million dollars in post-conviction relief. Despite considerable evidence against him, Taylor was exonerated following what Collins argued was a coerced confession of a wayward prison inmate who had a history of confessing to crimes he didn't commit.

Collins, who has studied overturned convictions for over a decade, also urged new research priorities to better understand what causes erroneous convictions. Among his recommendations was a call to evaluate drug use and addiction on the part of erroneously convicted felons, which Collins says is a "clear and consistent trend" worthy of study.

In the mean time, Collins hopes that The Innocence Audit will open people's eyes to what goes on behind the scenes when activists are fighting to secure exonerations. "Our study is producing evidence that Innocence Fraud is real," Collins says. "But it can be corrected with education and better standards of care for post-conviction activists and litigators. The ends cannot justify the means when the means are fraudulent."

Crime Lab Report, now in its 9th year, is an independent quarterly publication focusing on media and industry affairs in forensic science. It is edited and distributed by the Forensic Foundations Group, which is based near Lansing, Michigan.

For more information about The Innocence Audit, or to make a donation in support of Crime Lab Report's ongoing research, please visit http://www.crimelabreport.com/innocenceaudit.

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John Collins
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John M. Collins Jr.