Idaho Innocence Project
The Idaho Innocence Project is part of the Forensic Justice Project at Boise State University. Our mission is to correct and prevent wrongful convictions in Idaho through research, education, and litigation. Since 2005, we have helped start innocence organizations in Montana, Oregon, Ireland and France, worked on cases with 27 Innocence organizations in the US, and are now part of the Forensic Justice Program at Boise State University that investigates DNA cases throughout the US and abroad.
Boise State forensics lab helps free an innocent man after he spent 26 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit
Hampikian Lab helps free innocent Michigan man
Idaho professor helps free wrongfully convicted Michigan man from prison
Lacino Hamilton Freed After 26 years, DNA help from the Hampikian lab at the Forensic Justice Project and Idaho Innocence Project, Boise State University
Twenty-six years after being convicted of killing his foster mother, Lacino Hamilton walked out of a Michigan prison, finally a free man. Judge Tracy Green offered an apology before releasing him on during a hearing on Wednesday. His case moved forward quickly after new DNA analysis from male DNA found under the victim’s fingernails was analyzed by Dr. Hampikian, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit, and the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project. Hampikian’s analysis excluded Mr. Hamilton and points to another unknown man. Hampikian said, “I called the lawyers and told them, “I think he’s going home.” After the hearing, Hampikian added, “The victim has held this identity since 1994. It set her foster son free.” The prosecutor and all others working on the case agreed with the DNA analysis.
In April, Hampikian’s lab was asked to review the DNA testing by private investigator Claudia Whitman, who has worked with Hampikian for 20 years on cases of wrongful conviction. Witman (who turns 78 in November) donated countless hours of her time to Hamilton’s case, and her passion for justice led to numerous breakthroughs over the years. Hamilton’s Attorneys Mary Chartier and Takura Nyamfukudza worked pro bono for six years to release him. They gave the data from the new DNA testing results to Hampikian who analyzed them at his Boise State Laboratory and prepared a report detailing the clear exclusion of Mr. Hamilton, and the presence of the other unknown male.
Hamilton had been convicted based on the word of a “jailhouse snitch,” who claimed that Hamilton confessed to him. As the investigation unfolded, evidence indicated the falsity of the snitch’s claim. He made these claims against Hamilton—and numerous others—to obtain leniency for his own criminal conduct.
Mary Chartier, one of Mr. Hamilton’s lead attorneys, stated, “We made the decision long ago to never give up fighting for Mr. Hamilton’s release. While we are beyond thrilled that all charges have been dismissed, he lost 26 years of his life waiting for this day. And, even sadder, is that Mr. Hamilton’s case is not unique. Many of the thousands of men and women who are wrongfully imprisoned have been convicted based on ‘snitch’ testimony. In Mr. Hamilton’s case, the ‘snitch’ claimed in numerous cases that men—men who were strangers—had spontaneously confessed murder to him. Police knew this yet continued to claim that he was reliable and use him as a witness. This is just one of the travesties that occurred in Mr. Hamilton’s case. If we truly want to stop innocent men and women from being convicted and imprisoned, then we have to reform our criminal prosecution system now. There are ways to do it. Michigan just needs to act.”
While Chartier & Nyamfukudza began working on the case six years ago, Hamilton would not be free today if not for the efforts of the team at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit. The CIU was instituted in 2018 by prosecutor Kym Worthy and is led by Valerie Newman. In Hamilton’s case, Newman and her team took evidence provided by Chartier & Nyamfukudza and dug in deep, investigating the case from start to finish finding significant new evidence along the way to support the dismissal of his case.
Not only was the “snitch” testimony against Hamilton found to be false, but the new DNA evidence further supported the dismissal. In the original 1995 trial, the DNA evidence was never disclosed and, therefore, never tested. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said, “The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit found potential DNA evidence that had not been previously tested during its investigation. The defendant was excluded from some of that DNA that had not previously been tested. In addition to that, and perhaps even more alarming, is the woefully improper use of informants in this case by the Detroit Police Department. The use of informants can be a very valuable tool in fighting crime and seeking justice, but in this case, it was used and abused horribly.”
Takura Nyamfukudza, Hamilton’s other lead attorney, summed up Hamilton’s release. “Nelson Mandela said that difficulties break some men but make others. President Mandela and Lacino both had significant portions of their lives marred by manifest injustice. Still, they did not fixate on the time that they lost or give up hope. I am elated to be switching—finally—from being Lacino’s legal advocate to just being his friend. Indeed, 2020 was in desperate need of some great news. Here it is!”
Hamilton intends to spend his life advocating for social justice issues. He also plans to go paragliding with the C&N team in Colorado in 2021—a plan that was made years ago and now can finally become a reality.
Hamilton and members of his legal team will discuss his case in detail on the October 14, 2020, episode of the podcast Constitutional Defenders. It can be found on Itunes, www.cndefenders.com, and other major podcast platforms.
Hampikian is Director of the Forensic Justice Project at Boise State University (FJPBSU), and Co-Director of the Idaho Innocence Project (IIP). The FJPBSU and IIP work is sponsored by a grant from the Department of Justice, “Upholding the Rule of Law and Preventing Wrongful Convictions” program, and from donations to the Idaho Innocence Project. For more information on the IIP and the FJPBSU visit us at https://www.boisestate.edu/innocenceproject/
Or follow us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/IdahoIP/
Claudia Whitman founder of the National Capital Crime Assistance Network (NCCAN) and Greg Hampikian Iof the IP and FJP at Boise State University
Idaho Innocence Project Lab helps overturn conviction with new DNA evidence after 43 years
Today the GA Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling for a new trial for Johnnie Lee Gates. Mr. Gates has spent 42 years in prison, convicted of murder, rape, and robbery. He was sentenced to death and spared only because his lawyers argued that he was intellectually disabled. Gates has long maintained his innocence in hand-written court filings.
In 2015, the Georgia Innocence Project (GIP) investigated the case and was told by police and prosecutors that all the evidence had been lost or destroyed. In a remarkable discovery, two student interns with the Project went to review the case file at the prosecutor’s office and found what appeared to be key evidence. in a lumpy manila envelope labeled bathrobe and neckties. These items had been used to tie up the victim and had been collected during the original investigation.
The GIP project consulted with DNA analyst Dr. Greg Hampikian at Boise State University’s Idaho Innocence Project lab. Hampikian has a Department of Justice grant to test old evidence items with new DNA procedures and software for inmates claiming innocence. He found that the evidence was suitable for advanced testing, and the GIP then asked a judge to grant testing. The request was granted, and Hampikian with the GIP arranged for the items to have DNA extracted at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). After testing at the GBI, Hampikian analyzed the data and then arranged for further analysis by TrueAllele software (Cybergenetics), paid for through his DOJ grant. Hampikian submitted an affidavit explaining that his analysis and the TrueAllele software agreed, Mr. Gates was excluded from the ligatures. He went on to explain that TrueAllele had identified the same DNA profiles on both pieces of evidence. Hampikian and Dr. Mark Perlin of Cybergenetics attended the May 2018 hearing where Dr. Perlin presented his final results. The state also called a scientist from the GBI to testify. Mr. gates was represented at hearing by the Georgia Innocence Project and the Southern Center for Human Rights.
In January of 2019, the Georgia court ruled in Gates’ favor and granted him a new trial, based on the new DNA evidence. However, the state appealed and Mr. Gates remained in prison. Today’s decision by the Georgia Supreme Court affirms Mr. Gates’s right to a new trial.
Hampikian and Clare Gilbert Director of The Georgia Innocence Project at the Georgia hearing about new DNA evidence in the 1976 Murder.
Photo of evidence found by Georgia Innocence Project interns, which ultimately overturned Mr. Gates 1976 conviction for murder, rape, and robbery.
Interview with Christopher Tapp and Greg Hampikian
Christopher Tapp Receives Full Exoneration
Christopher Tapp in Court Monday, July 1 at 11AM. Exoneration?
Could Monday be the day that ends Christopher Tapp’s two decades of wrongful conviction?
The Idaho innocence Project is pleased to announce that Christopher Tapp will be in court on Monday July 1, 2019 for a status conference. We are hoping that the prosecutor will take this opportunity to address what is now a tortuously long process of exoneration. Police announced in a press conference on May 16, 2019 that Brian Dripps confessed to stabbing Angie Dodge on his own in 1996. Mr. Dripps is a match the DNA evidence in the case, including semen and a pubic hair recovered from the victim’s body. At that press conference, the Idaho Falls Police chief Bryce Johnson announced that
“Chris Tapp is another very important part of this case that deserves its day in the sunlight, and we will do that…that day will be in a couple weeks and we’ll do that, whatever is right in a couple of weeks. We need a little more time to dot i’s and cross t’s.”]
It is our hope that Chris will have his day of promised sunlight. I have attached a partial timeline of DNA testing in the case for those who are interested.
The status conference is public, and we’ll be there. Please consider joining us.
Monday July 1, 2019 Hearing set for 11:00 am
Judge Alan C. Stephens
Bonneville County Courthouse
605 North Capital Ave., Idaho Falls, ID 83402
June 1, 2018 Jenkins and Lawrence freed – Murder charges dismissed for 2 former Montana inmates after convictions overturned
April 25, 2016 Darryl Pinkins EXONERATED after 25 years by the work of Frances Watson (since 1999) and her students at University Indiana McKinney Law School Wrongful Convictions Clinic, the Idaho Innocence Project (since 2006), and TrueAllele’s Mark Perlin (since 2014). New DNA technique used to exonerate for the first time. See CBS News
Watch Forensic DNA Mixups
TEDx Boise. x = independently organized TED event from 1/16/2015.
Amanda Knox thanks Greg Hampikian and Idaho Innocence Project at Boise State
Amanda Knox legal fight highlights fallibility of DNA forensics
BBC Radio series “Troubling flaws in Forensic Science,” Dr. Greg Hampikian a professor in the Biology and Criminal Justice Departments at Boise State University, and the Director of the Idaho Innocence Project discusses his work on the Amanda Knox case. Listen here: http://www.bbc.com/ future/story/20150512-can-we-trust-forensic-science
March 14, 2014: Sarah Pearce Freed After 12 Years.
Pictured with her mom (left) and aunt.
Idaho Innocence Project Sponsors Eyewitness Identification Best Practices Seminar
On November 13, 2012 the IIP sponsored an eyewitness identification seminar for local law enforcement agencies. Speakers were Rebecca Brown from the national Innocence Project, Chief William Brooks from the Norwood, MA Police Department, Professor Jennifer Dysart from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Rick Visser, formerly of the Idaho Innocence Project. The two-hour seminar was very well received, and the IIP thanks all who attended and participated. The seminar’s goal was to advocate best practices in Idaho in eyewitness identification. 75% of the 301 wrongfully convicted cases in America involved misidentification. TO DONATE TO THE IDAHO INNOCENCE PROJECT, PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW:
MAIL: Idaho Innocence Project | Biology Department, 1910 University Drive | Boise, Id 83725-1515 | To report crime tips to the police, please call Crime Stoppers at 343-COPS or 1-800-222-TIPS, text “Tip236 plus your message” to 274637, or go online to www.crimestoppersswidaho.org .