Justice Served?

Crime Trackers: Justice served?

Written by Lupita Murillo, Tucson, KVOA.com


An Arizona group is fighting to free a man who has been in prison for more than 40 years.

He was arrested in connection to a murder, and he was not even the shooter. The shooter took a plea and he was out in 10 years.

So was justice served?

For over a decade, the Arizona Justice Project has been working on Eddie Collins case. They are the last resort for inmates who have exhausted their appeals.

Eddie Collins was 21 years old when his brother Johnny pulled a gun, and shot and killed Terry Young. The incident occurred on June 5, 1973.



News 4 Tucson obtained some crime scene photos from the Pima County Attorney’s Office.

In a Board of Clemency hearing recently, Eddie Collins relived that horrible day .

“I swung, he swung, my brother pulled a gun out somehow he hit the gun and the gun went off,” he said.

The five member Clemency board members will decide if Eddie should get paroled. He told them, “It wasn’t intentional for anybody to get shot that day.”

Andy Silverman, a retired University of Arizona  law professor, is also with the Arizona Justice Project. He read a letter written by Johnny Collins, the man who shot and killed Terry Young over $10 worth of heroin.

“I feel very remorseful about  the murder,” he said. “I took the life of one and ruined the life of another meaning Eddie.”

Silverman represented Eddie Collins in 2003 in a commutation hearing, where the board unanimously agreed to commute his sentence. Gov. Janet Napolitano turned it down twice.

In 2014, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall started the Conviction Review Unit headed by Rick Unklesbay.  Recently, the two went over the Eddie Collins file.

“In 1973, the felony murder rule did not permit anything but a life sentence in prison,” said LaWall. “That’s why he wasn’t eligible for parole.”

Two months after the murder, the law changed.  “It allowed a sentence of 25 to life and eligibility for parole after serving 25 years,” said LaWall.

Unklesbay went to Phoenix before the Clemency Board. He told them, “We don’t believe that continued incarceration on this offense would further serve justice.”

The widow of the victim who witnessed her husband’s death, also supports Collin’s  release.  She wrote letters to the board. She even wrote Eddie a letter forgiving him.  She spoke to the board over the phone.

Christy Young-Price told them, “I feel Eddie has been there long enough.”

Even a board member, agreed.

“How this man ever got life in prison for this offense is beyond me,” board member Sandra Lines said. “It should never have been that.”

Before the board voted, they heard from Eddie.  He said, “If the board can forgive me, then God is going to forgive them and bless them.”

The board voted unanimously to grant Eddie Collins parole.

Wiping tears from his eyes he said, “Thank you”.

His family and his attorneys are also thankful.  His sister, Eller Musgrove, told news 4 Tucson, “I’m just so happy I don’t know what to say.  Except I am thanking God for everything.”


Kendra Flemming with the Arizona Justice project said she was, “Overjoyed, I guess we’ve been waiting so long for this and worked so hard towards it.”

Eddie Collins is one step closer to freedom. He still has to serve at least 10 months for a 1977 escape conviction. Then, he goes before the Board of Clemency again.

Video/News link: http://www.kvoa.com/story/32170855/crime-trackers-justice-served

Arizona Justice Project, fighting to get Arizona man out of prison after 43 years

Story: KPNX TV NEWS – Valley man may get free after 4 decades:

FLORENCE, Ariz. – The view from Eddie Collins’ bed hasn’t changed much in the past 43 years. In fact, not much about his life has changed — his daily routine is almost always the same.

“Some days are good,” he said. “Some days are worse than other ones.”

The 64-year-old is inmate number 30395. He’s housed at the Arizona State Prison in Florence.

“This is not fair,” Katy Puzauskas said. “This is an injustice in my opinion.”

Puzauskas, along with attorneys from the Arizona Justice Project, has been working to get Eddie released for more than a decade. “The justice system is slow,” she said.

Back in 1973, a then-21-year-old Collins and his 17-year-old brother Johnie had planned to steal $10 worth of heroin from a friend. The brothers had planned to grab the drugs and take off without paying. Instead, a fight of some kind broke out between the three men. That’s when Johnie pulled out a gun.

“I had no idea he had a gun,” said Collins.

While Johnie was holding it and waving it, it went off, killing the victim. Eddie and his brother Johnie took off but turned themselves in the next day.


Eddie Collins

Both men were initially charged with first-degree felony murder. Despite his age, Johnie was charged as an adult.

The Pima County Attorney’s Office offered both men a plea deal. Eddie didn’t take the plea, choosing to go to court. Johnie accepted the offer, pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

The jury in Eddie’s trial asked the judge if they could convict him of manslaughter but were told no. Without that option on the table, the jury convicted Eddie of first-degree murder. Back then the law required the sentence to be life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“The law changed two months after Eddie’s offense,” said Puzauskas.

Read more/Channel 12 News Video: http://www.12news.com/news/local/arizona/group-fighting-to-get-arizona-man-out-of-prison-after-43-years/207966428

Rethinking Reform: Prisons in America – Won students at a Phoenix High School national recognition

Daniela and Sofia

Metropolitan Arts Institute is a private charter High School focused on the arts.  The School’s filmmaking classes produced the top two winners of StudentCam 2016 for the Western region.

Mock-Zubia and her partner in the project, Sophia Taglienti, wrote, shot and edited a documentary titled Rethinking Reform: Prisons in America.  The film explores the issue of overcrowding in the United States prison system.

“I think we wanted to get the message across that this is a crisis that’s happening in the United States—this mass incarceration—and the war on drugs is something that is ruining our country and I think it should be talked about more than it is.” Mock-Zubia said.

Group Photo

“I’d like to keep making documentary films on subjects like prison reform.  I’d like to make something that can enact change.”  Mock-Zubia said.

Daniela, Khalil, KP, Sofia CSPAN bus1

Full Story: http://www.12news.com/entertainment/television/programs/evb/phoenix-student-filmmakers-recognized-by-c-span/108690122

Video: http://www.viddler.com/v/c882514e

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National Reentry Week, April 24-30, 2016

National Reentry Week, April 24-30, 2016


“Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice has taken major steps to make our criminal justice system more fair, more efficient, and more effective at reducing recidivism and helping formerly incarcerated individuals contribute to their communities. An important part of that task is preparing those who have paid their debt to society for substantive opportunities beyond the prison gates, and addressing obstacles to successful reentry that too many returning citizens encounter.”


Jubilee for Justice – AJP Event!


 Please join us at Club Congress located at 311 E. Congress Street in Tucson, Arizona on March 31st

Come listen to live music performed by Salvador Duran and Carlos Azarte, and meet exonerees Khalil Rushdan and Eddie Lowery.  The doors open at 6:00 p.m. and we expect to keep things rocking and rolling until 9pm.  No cover charge, but donations to the project are welcomed!jub 2

For Arizona’s wrongfully convicted, life after prison brings hardship and hope

Drayton Witt and Elle MaeDrayton Witt helps his daughter, Ellie Mae Justice Witt, up the jungle gym at Rio Vista Community Park (Photo by Erica L. Lang/Cronkite News)

For Arizona’s wrongfully convicted, life after prison brings hardship and hope

For 12 years, Drayton Witt passed his days behind bars, surrounded by rapists, murderers and convicts. Over the course of a decade, Witt insisted he was not guilty despite a murder conviction for killing his four-month old son.

It turned out he was right. Four years ago, he was freed from prison, his conviction dismissed and his release one of many secured by the Arizona Justice Project.

The project has represented more than 50 inmates, with success in 24 of them. Last year, they received 350 letters asking for assistance.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a record 149 inmates were exonerated across the country in 2015 – most of who had been imprisoned an average of 14.5 years.

“We as society have learned a lot from these cases about the causes of wrongful convictions and the ways to prevent them from happening in the first place,” said Larry Hammond, the founder and president of the Arizona Justice Project.

Read more, click here: Arizona’s Wrongfully Convicted


IN THE NEWS: Woman Exonerated After Serving 10 Years for Manslaughter Conviction

xonPicture: Vanessa Gathers, 58, with Ken Thompson, the Brooklyn district attorney, after her manslaughter conviction was vacated on Tuesday. Credit Andrew Kelly for The New York Times        

In a gray suit, her short hair neatly curled, Vanessa Gathers sat in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn on Tuesday, beaming as the judge spoke words she had waited nearly two decades to hear: The manslaughter conviction for which she had spent 10 years in prison was vacated, the judge said, after an investigation revealed that her confession to the crime was false.

Ms. Gathers, 58, is the first woman to have been exonerated by the Conviction Review Unit, a special unit created by the Brooklyn district attorney to look into scores of cases linked to Louis Scarcella, a retired detective whose tactics led to the wrongful convictions of more than a dozen people, according to the district attorney’s office. The unit is examining 100 cases, many of them involving Mr. Scarcella.

Mark Hale, an assistant district attorney, told the judge that an investigation into Ms. Gathers’s case had determined that she had been wrongfully convicted and that her confession had been coaxed, fed to her by Mr. Scarcella.

“We have grave doubts and, in fact, do not believe that it was true,” Mr. Hale said.

After the hearing, the Brooklyn district attorney, Ken Thompson, spoke outside the courtroom. “These wrongful convictions represent a systemic failure, a failure by prosecutors, defense attorneys, by judges, by the system,” he said. “These wrongful convictions destroy lives, and no matter what happens, Ms. Gathers will not get back those 10 years.”

Read more: Woman Exonerated After Serving 10 Years for Manslaughter Conviction

Sharing: Prisoners Exonerated, Prosecutors Exposed

FACT: On average, 3 convicted people are now exonerated of their crimes every week.

Travis Dove for The New York Times

In 2015, 149 people convicted of crimes large and small — from capital murder to burglary — were exonerated. It is the highest yearly total since this grim form of record-keeping began, in 1989.

In that time, there have been at least 1,733 exonerations across the country, and the pace keeps picking up. On average, about three convicted people are now exonerated of their crimes every week, according to the annual report of the National Registry of Exonerations. The registry defines an exoneration as a case in which someone convicted of a crime is cleared of all charges based on new evidence of innocence.

The individual cost to those wrongly convicted is steep: Last year’s group spent an average of more than 14 years behind bars. Five had been sentenced to death. Amazingly, half of the exonerations involved cases in which no crime occurred at all — for example, a conviction of murder by arson that later turned out to be based on faulty fire science.

Equally eye-opening is the list of reasons behind these miscarriages of justice. For instance, 27 of last year’s exonerations were for convictions based on a false confession. This happened most often in homicide cases in which the defendant was a juvenile, intellectually disabled, mentally ill or some combination of the three. In nearly half of all 2015 exonerations, the defendant pleaded guilty before trial.

These numbers are a bracing reminder that admissions of guilt are unreliable far more often than is generally believed. Some defendants, especially the young or mentally impaired, can be pushed to admit guilt when they are innocent. Some with prior criminal records may not be able to afford bail but don’t want to spend months in pretrial detention or risk a much longer sentence if they choose to go to trial.

Official misconduct — including perjury, withholding of exculpatory evidence and coercive interrogation practices — occurred in three of every four exonerations involving homicide, and it was an important factor in many other cases as well.

Read more: Prisoners Exonerated, Prosecutors Exposed http://nyti.ms/1R0K0Ym

Court cases challenge ‘Shaken Baby’ diagnosis

Drayton w

Drayton Witt pauses for a moment at his home Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Surprise, Ariz. An Arizona judge in 2012 dismissed a murder charge against Witt, after he spent 10 years in prison, after the county medical examiner said developments in the understanding of shaken baby syndrome and some of the conditions that mimic its symptoms contributed to his decision to reclassify the death of his girlfriend’s infant son as natural, not a homicide. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Court cases challenge ‘Shaken Baby’ diagnosis, read more:  http://apne.ws/1PD6QoH