I am SO PROUD of our public defenders, Karen Goodrow (whom I know personally - she's FABULOUS - and Brian Carlow - whom I have met a couple of times - for their untiring work on behalf of the Connecticut Innocence Project. I don't imagine many of you can POSSIBLY know how difficult it is to achieve this kind of a post-conviction victory - THIS is a MARVELOUS outcome on a habeas corpus issue that they handled (these are the kinds of issues we try out of our office - but Karen who is the head of the Rockville Public Defender's office, & Brian, who heads the Middletown Public Defender's office, have formed a special task force for high profile, convincing innocence cases).
Evidence Of Freedom - June 7, 2006
After years of being able to see her son only through the Plexiglas panels of a prison visiting room, Catherine Martin could not hold back her joy when he walked out of Superior Court in Hartford Tuesday afternoon.
"Oh thank you, thank you, thank you," Martin said.
Just hours earlier, James Calvin Tillman had stood stoically as a judge agreed that new DNA evidence justified granting Tillman a new trial on a rape conviction, and released him without bail.
Then, 18 years after being locked up for the crime, Tillman emerged from an elevator in the courthouse lobby. He broke into a broad smile as his mother rushed toward him. The two held each other tightly as they began to cry.
After being greeted by a crush of family, friends, well-wishers and the media outside the courthouse, Tillman seemed a bit tongue-tied as he tried to make sense of the events that, over the course of four months, had turned a life that seemed irrevocably lost into one of hope.
"I just had faith," said Tillman, now 44. "I knew all along I was innocent.”
Tillman was 26 when he was sent to prison after being convicted of kidnapping a woman in a Hartford parking lot, taking her for a ride in her car, and raping and beating her. He was sentenced to serve 45 years for the crime, and would not have been able to be released until 2010 at the earliest.
But Karen Goodrow and Brian Carlow, public defenders with the Connecticut chapter of the Innocence Project, took up Tillman's case earlier this year after he wrote them from prison. They arranged for updated DNA tests of semen stains that had been lifted from the victim's dress and pantyhose.
Those procedures were able to prove that Tillman was not the man who deposited the stains, prompting their request for a new trial.
Tuesday's proceedings marked the first time that the Connecticut Innocence Project, which is run by the state public defender's office, has been able to secure a new trial for an inmate based on updated DNA testing. The Innocence Project is a national organization that has gotten 180 convicted prisoners exonerated through updated DNA technology, according to its website.
In an unusual display of cooperation, prosecutor Edward Narus - who also was the prosecutor when Tillman was convicted in 1989 - joined Tillman's lawyers in telling Judge Thomas Miano that the newly obtained DNA evidence was credible and met the state's high standards for holding a second trial in a case that has already led to a conviction.
ChiefState's Attorney Christopher Morano said the case shows that state prosecutors are just as concerned about fairness as defense lawyers.
"In other states, you see prosecutors being more obstructive in these kinds of cases, but that's not what you see in Connecticut," he said. "We believe the heart of a prosecutor's job is to pursue justice, no matter what the result."
(THIS IS A MAJOR LEAGUE LIE - MOST OF THE PROSECUTORS IN CONNECTICUT WOULD SELL THEIR GRANDMOTHERS FOR A CONVICTION!).
Morano said it was too early for prosecutors to decide whether they want to pursue a second trial against Tillman. Hartford police were not available to say whether they intend to reopen the investigation into the woman's rape.
This is a photo of James Tillman and his mom after his release.
At the same time, Narus defended the state's actions in the Tillman case. He said prosecutors should not be faulted for mounting a vigorous case that included a wide range of evidence against Tillman, other than the stained clothing which at the time could not be conclusively tested for DNA.
Narus pointed out that a jury convicted Tillman after hearing that the victim in the case - who was not identified - picked Tillman out of a police photo lineup as the man who attacked her. He also said that Tillman's alibi - that he had been visiting friends the night of the crime - was contradicted by those same friends, who testified that he had not been with them that night.
"It was a fair process based on all we knew at the time," said Narus.
Tillman was convicted on charges of first-degree sexual assault and first-degree kidnapping in the attack, which occurred as the victim was getting into her car after a night of having drinks with co-workers at the Arch Street Tavern in Hartford.
Carlow agreed with Narus' assessment of the 1989 trial, saying that Tillman's case suffered from the limited means available at the time for testing biological material for DNA.
But the new tests conducted this year on the victim's pantyhose showed that the stains could not have been left by Tillman, or by the woman's husband at the time. In addition, three of four stains found on the woman's dress also showed they could not have been left by Tillman or the woman's husband. Tests on the fourth stain on the dress have so far been inconclusive.
The sample was run against thousands of names on the state's DNA database, but no match was found, Carlow said.
Miano said the newly obtained evidence constituted a judge's "worst nightmare" because it raises the possibility that there are other inmates serving prison terms for offenses they did not commit.
"It's a splash of cold water on our faces," the judge said before granting the request to hold a new trial in the case. Miano also agreed to release Tillman on a promise to return to court on July 11.
For Tillman and his family, Tuesday's events offered a sense of reward after years of maintaining his innocence.
Two years after Tillman was sentenced to prison, his younger brother died of heart failure, and the first place the family visited after leaving the courthouse Tuesday was the cemetery where he is buried.
A happy and free James Tillman talks with reporters.
This is the Content of my
weekly e-mail to the
President and my Members
I have just sent the
following message to
President Obama, and I
think the Congress should
heed this also!Mr.
Administration is very
much to be comm...
I have just sent the
following Message to
Vice-President Biden, and
others:We must absolutely
STOP the privatization of
our Prisons - and the
QUOTAS for filling those
Prisons and for Police
making arrests! We must
Day 45: Free The Arctic
The Arctic 30 are facing
two months behind bars in
Russia for a peaceful
protest against dangerous
This meditation uses
words, images, and
feelings to evoke a
oneself and others. With
each recitation of the
phrases, we are
expressing an intention,
planting the seeds of
loving wishes over and
over in our heart...
To cultivate compassion,
let yourself sit in a
centered and quiet way.
In this traditional form
of practice you will
combine a repeated inner
visualization and the
evocation of the feeling
of compassion. As you
first sit, breathe