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April 16, 2014

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Wrongfully convicted: A look at 5 cases

Wrongful conviction: A legal proceeding resulting in a prejudicial outcome. A miscarriage of justice arises when the decision of a court is inconsistent with the substantive rights of a party. — West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, 2nd edition

It happens and the consequences are costly. Not only costly to the individuals who lose years of their lives behind bars, but to the taxpayers who ultimately pay for settlements. Here is a sampling of wrongfully convicted local individuals and the compensation some received following their release back to freedom:

    • Roberto Miranda
      Photo by Rebecca Clifford-Cruz

      Roberto Miranda - $5 million settlement

      Miranda spent 14 years on death row after being convicted of the stabbing death of Manuel Rodriguez Torres. He always claimed he was innocent, appealed his case and was granted a new trial after a judge found the trial attorney had committed errors. Prosecutors declined to retry the case and Miranda was released in September 1996.

      Represented by a law firm from Wyoming that specialized in civil rights cases, Miranda sued Clark County, the county public defender’s office and two former Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department homicide detectives. Miranda’s lawyers claimed an inexperienced public defender who had been on the job for only a year failed to give proper representation and did nothing to help him avoid the death sentence. The lawsuit claimed the public defender’s office rarely investigated and defended cases against minorities, those who did not belong to the Mormon church, and those who failed to perform well on “reliable” polygraph tests administered by the office. Miranda, a native Spanish-speaker from Cuba, took a lie detector test administered by an English-speaking examiner and failed.

      The lawsuit was settled and Clark County paid Miranda $5 million.

    • Sam Morris Photo Gallery

      Robert “Bobby” Hays – confidential settlement

      Hays was convicted in 1993 on eight counts of sexually abusing his 8-year-old daughter and received four consecutive life terms. After serving 14 years, U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt ruled Hays was convicted on insufficient evidence and had been victimized by public employees involved in the case, then ordered Hays’ release in March 2007.

      Six months later, Hays and his daughter sued Clark County, Thomas Moreo, then chief Clark County deputy district attorney in the case; Drew Christensen, then deputy public defender; Gary Jacobsen, lead Metro Police detective in the case; and Rene McClymont Butts, a nurse practitioner described as an expert in child abuse cases who assisted in the investigation. The lawsuit claimed that Butts performed no internal medical examination of Hays’ daughter and instead used unreliable tests to conclude the girl had been sexually assaulted. Hays claimed his wife had planned to leave her family for her boyfriend, yet prosecution proceeded even after his wife and daughter retracted their allegations.

      An undisclosed confidential settlement was reached. At the time, attorney Dominic Gentile, who represented Hays, said the closest to this case in recent years that he could recall involved Roberto Miranda. “If they settled Miranda for $5 million, I would suggest that that’s just a starting point for this case,” Gentile said.

    • Reginald
      Photo by R. Marsh Starks/Las Vegas Sun

      Reginald “Reggie” Hayes – full pardon

      Hayes was convicted of first-degree murder and several counts of attempted murder after he was arrested in Las Vegas with three older teens in the kidnapping and shooting death of a 21-year-old Nellis Air Force Base airman. He was only 14 years old at the time and received a life term without possibility of parole. Hayes said he was getting a ride home from the others when they committed the crime. He stayed at the scene, showed police the victim, led officers to the other suspects and was still convicted. Hayes was released from prison in 1998 after serving 13 years.

      Public defenders Danice Johnson and John Lambrose had worked on his appeal for several years and convinced the Clark County District Attorney’s office to a resentencing. Hayes agreed to plead guilty to the kidnapping charge under a legal provision that didn’t require him to admit responsibility for the crime – only admit there was wrongdoing. Under that agreement he would have been sentenced to life, but with the possibility of parole.

      In an emotional hearing, district court Judge Kathy Hardcastle sentenced him to time served and ordered Hayes released from prison. Hardcastle said she was swayed by defense arguments, as well as letters written by current and former Metro Police officers on Hayes’ behalf. Hayes didn’t seek a settlement out of his innocence, however he received a full pardon from the state and his criminal record was erased.

    • Dwayne Jackson Illo
      Photo by Chris Morris

      Dwayne Jackson – $1.5 million settlement

      He was convicted in 2003 for the robbery of a Las Vegas woman that took place at her home in November 2001.

      The woman and her two children were alone when a young man wearing a ski mask and hooded sweatshirt entered her home. The intruder, armed with a baseball bat, wasn’t satisfied with the $23 the woman had on hand, so he demanded she drive to a nearby ATM to withdraw more money. When they returned to the woman’s home, her husband was there and chased the man away. When police searched the area for suspects, they found Jackson and his cousin, Howard Dupree Grissom. Inside their car they discovered a hooded sweatshirt and ski mask. Jackson, 18, and Grissom, 16, were arrested and provided DNA samples. The Metro Police crime lab matched Jackson’s DNA to the sweatshirt.

      Jackson was charged with burglary, robbery and three counts of kidnapping. He agreed to plead guilty to one count of robbery if the kidnapping charges were dropped. Jackson was sentenced to prison in January 2003 and released in late 2006. In 2007, Howard Dupree Grissom was arrested and convicted in Las Vegas for a different crime. He pleaded guilty to robbery and conspiracy to commit a crime and was sentenced to two to five years in prison. Upon his release he was arrested again for the beating and rape of a woman in Moreno Valley, Calif. Grissom was convicted of attempted manslaughter and sentenced to a minimum of 41 years in prison. He entered prison in 2008 and his DNA sample was taken and submitted to the FBI’s national DNA database. The database compared DNA from solved and unsolved crimes.

      In October 2010 the California Justice Department learned that Grissom’s DNA matched the DNA recovered from evidence in the 2001 Las Vegas robbery that Jackson had been convicted of committing.

      A $1.5 million settlement was announced this week for Jackson and the Las Vegas police DNA technician whose mistake officials say wrongfully sent a man to prison has retired.

    • Leonard Craine - conviction set aside

      Craine sat behind bars for more than a decade before he was found “factually innocent.” In 1991, he received three life sentences for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl at the home where he was staying. Craine spoke of his innocence at the trial, but the jury believed the girl, who had taken the stand as well.

      She had been sexually assaulted, but by her stepfather, not Craine. She lied to the police and prosecutors under pressure from the stepfather. Years later, the girl, who was now a young woman, confessed to her priest she had lied during the trial and wanted to do the right thing. With help from the public defender’s office, the woman’s affidavit was taken and recorded in court. During court proceedings, the priest testified about the woman’s confession, then District Judge Sally Loehrer deemed Craine innocent and the conviction sentence entered on January 31, 1991, must be vacated and set aside. He didn’t seek a settlement upon release.

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    1. The way I see it, Real Estate sales people have error and omissions insurance and the nation has it's belly full of lawyers. Why shouldn't those that made the mistake be responsible? They should be held accountable. NOT THE TAXPAYER.

      We know everyday there are errors in our system. For those unfortunate errors, yes it can be a nightmare, but there are always other circumstances. This dept. had a history of messing things up. Deal with that and quit with these "high payouts" that I am sure the attorney got a third. THAT IS WHAT IS ULTIMATELY WRONG WITH THIS PAY OFF.

    2. 4 years of a man's life not only being taken away, but taken away while being treated in the most inhumane fashion...no, there is no amount of money large enough to "pay off" for this "unfortunate error" which is driven by the need to get a conviction instead of justice.

    3. David Henry stated: "Why shouldn't those that made the mistake be responsible?"

      Mr. Henry, you are 100% correct. This has be be applied equally though through out society. All citizens must be responsible for their actions in life. Not just attorneys, police, judges but EVERYONE. Once that happens we will be living in a great country/world.

      We can not just pick and choose who should be responsible for their own actions. It needs to apply to everyone.