Johnny Tallbear (OK): On June 11, 2018, an Oklahoma County (OK) judge vacated Mr. Tallbear's 1992 murder conviction and dismissed all charges against him based on new DNA evidence proving Mr. Tallbear wasn't one of the two men who murdered an Oklahoma City homeless man on October 3, 1991. Mr. Tallbear's wrongful conviction was based on eyewitness misidentification and erroneous serology testimony by the infamous and discredited Oklahoma City crime lab serologist Joyce Gilchrist. Mr. Cooley represented Mr. Tallbear for five years while at the Innocence Project (2007-2012) and located the physical evidence used to exonerate him. Karen Thompson represented Mr. Tallbear after Mr. Cooley left the Innocence Project and Ms. Thompson walked Mr. Tallbear out of prison on June 11, 2018.
John Kunco (PA): On May 23, 2018, a Westmoreland County (PA) Common Pleas Court judge granted Mr. Kunco a new trial in light of new DNA evidence proving could not be the individual who brutally raped an elderly woman in New Kensington in December 1990. Mr. Cooley represented Mr. Kunco for five years while at the Innocence Project (2007-2012) and remained connected to the case after he left the Innocence Project. Mr. Kunco served 27 years in prison. His conviction rested primarily on bite mark identification testimony from two forensic dentist. The DNA evidence proves the bite mark identification testimony was erronous. The Washington Post has written extensively about Mr. Kunco's case, particularly the egregious bite mark testimony used to convict him of a sexual assault he did not commit. The Commonwealth says it intends to appeal Mr. Kunco's new trial victory.
Paul Eldred (NC): On May 1, 2018, the North Carolina Court of Appeals vacated Mr. Eldred's DWI conviction because the State failed to present substantial evidence Mr. Eldred was intoxicated when he wrecked his truck the night he was arrested.
Robert Carter (NC): On July 18, 2017, the North Carolina Court of Appeals vacated Mr. Carter's possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine conviction and maitaining a dwelling/building for keeping/selling a controlled substance conviction based on trial counsel's failure to timely move to dismiss both counts on insufficiency grounds.
Shawn Burton (PA): On March 28, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted Mr. Burton a hearing on his innocence claim. In September 1993, Mr. Burton and his co-defendant, Melvin Goodwine, were convicted in connection with the March 1993 murder of Seth Floyd inside the Allegheny County jail. Mr. Burton was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy. Goodwine, though, was acquitted of the murder charge and only convicted of conspiracy. In July 2009, after Goodwine served his sentence for his conspiracy conviction, he filed a motion to expunge the conspiracy conviction. Within his expungement motion, Goodwine wrote that he, himself, killed Seth Floyd in self-defense and that Mr. Burton had nothing to do with Floyd's murder. Goodwine also wrote that his trial attorney advised him it was not in his best interest to argue self-defense at trial, so Goodwine's self-defense claim was never mentioned at trial. In May 2013, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project ("PA IP") received Goodwine's expungement motion from Twyla Bivins, who claims she received it from Goodwine's ex-girlfriend. The PA IP forwarded Goodwine's expungement motion to Mr. Burton and advised him to file a PCRA petition based on the statements made in the motion. In July 2013, Mr. Burton filed a pro se PCRA petition, but the PCRA court rejected the petition because Goodwine's expungement motion was a "public record" and under then existing case law pro se inmates were presumed to know the contents of all publicly available documents and when these documents were made public. In other words, the PCRA court argued that Mr. Burton could've filed his PCRA petition as early as July 2009, when Goodwine actually filed the expungement motion, but because he filed his PCRA petition in July 2013 he was not diligent. Mr. Burton appealed pro se and in July 2014 the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed, but the Commonwealth successfully argued for en banc review. In August 2015, though, the en banc Superior Court reversed again, finding that the "presumption" regarding "public records" cannot apply to pro se litigants for several reasons. Commonwealth v. Burton, 121 A.3d 1063 (Pa. Super. 2015). In September 2015, Mr. Cooley wrote Mr. Burton and offered to represent him pro bono. Mr. Burton accepted Mr. Cooley's offer. In the meantime, though, the Commonwealth convinced the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review the en banc Superior Court decision. Mr. Cooley and Paige Forster of ReedSmth's Pittsburgh office represented Mr. Burton before the Supreme Court. In its March 28, 2017 decision, the Supreme Court endorsed and adopted the Superior Court's rationale for not applying the automatic "presumption" regarding "public records" to pro se inmates. Based on the Supreme Court's ruling, Mr. Burton is entitled to a hearing regarding the innocence claim based on Goodwine's expungement motion. The hearing has not yet been scheduled. Here's the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's article regarding the Supreme Court's decision.
Henry Surpris (NC): Mr. Cooley recently won a significant victory in North Carolina where the North Carolina Court of Appeals granted his client, Henry Surpris, a new trial after Mr. Cooley and his co-counsel uncovered significant evidence of prosecutorial misconduct. The Wake County (NC) prosecutor ultimately resigned only a few weeks after the Court of Appeals granted Mr. Surpris a new trial. The case is State v. Barshiri Sandy and Henry Surpris, 788 S.E.2d 200 (N.C. App. 2016).
Anthony Wright (PA): One of Mr. Cooley's first client’s at the Innocence Project was Anthony Wright. Mr. Wright was convicted of a 1991 rape-murder in Philadelphia County. At the turn of the millennium, when Pennsylvania enacted its post-conviction DNA testing statute, Mr. Wright sought post-conviction DNA testing under the statute. The Common Pleas Court and Superior Court denied Mr. Wright's request because, according to lead detective Manuel Santiago, Mr. Wright confessed to the rape-murder. The Common Pleas Court and Superior Court said inmates who had confessed to their crimes were not entitled to post-conviction DNA testing. Mr. Cooley wrote the Petition for Allowance of Appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in November 2007 urging the Supreme Court to review Mr. Wright’s case and to grant DNA testing. In August 2008, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to review Mr. Wright's case and in April 2011, the Supreme Court overturned the Superior Court and granted Mr. Wright DNA testing. Commonwealth v. Wright, 14 A.3d 798 (Pa. 2011) The DNA testing ultimately excluded Mr. Wright and identified a man named Ronnie Byrd - a prior felon. The Philadelphia County District Attorney's Office agreed to vacate Mr. Wright's conviction and chose to retrial Mr. Wright. On August 23, 2016, a Philadelphia County jury deliberated for only 15 minutes before acquitting Mr. Wright. Peter Neufeld and Samuel Silver of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis represented Mr. Wright at his retrial.
Kevin Siehl (PA): Another one of Mr. Cooley's longtime clients at the Innocence Project was Kevin Siehl. In 1992, Mr. Siehl was convicted of his wife’s July 1991 murder. Mr. Siehl always maintained his innocence, but at trial a Pennsylvania State Police fingerprint examiner identified Mr. Siehl’s fingerprint on a showerhead and said Mr. Siehl had to have deposited the fingerprint at the time his wife was murdered in her shower. Fingerprint examiners cannot time date fingerprints. Rudimentary serology blood testing also supposedly linked Mr. Siehl to his wife's bathroom. The Cambria County District Attorney's Office, though, conducted additional serology tests only hours before Mr. Siehl’s 1992 trial that supported Mr. Siehl’s innocence and his exculpatory pre-trial statements to detectives. The District Attorney's Office, though, never disclosed the exculpatory serology results. However, after challenging his conviction for the last two decades, Mr. Siehl and his current attorney, Lisa Freeland, uncovered the exculpatory serology results. Based on the suppressed serology results as well as other instances of prosecutorial misconduct and trial counsel ineffectiveness, a Centre County judge granted Mr. Siehl a new trial in July 2016. On October 14, 2016, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office dismissed all charges against Mr. Siehl due to a lack of evidence against him and Mr. Siehl was released from prison after being unjustly imprisoned for 25 years. Congrats to Mr. Siehl, Lisa Freeland (his attorney), and to all the Innocence Project staff who worked on Mr. Siehl’s case over the last decade.
Lewis Fogle (PA): Another one of Mr. Cooley's longtime Innocence Project clients was Lewis Fogle. In February 1982, Mr. Fogle was convicted of Katharine Long's July 1976 rape-murder in Indiana County. Ms. Long's rape-murder went unsolved for five years until a mentally unstable man named Earl Elderkin implicated Mr. Fogle and Mr. Fogle’s brother, Dennis Fogle. Elderksin’s statement implicating Lewis and Dennis was procured when police used a psychologist to hypnotize Elderkin to help him remember the events of Ms. Long's rape-murder. The psychologist had no formal training in hypnosis. Besides the hypnosis-induced testimony from Elderkin, the prosecution presented three jailhouse informants who said Lewis had confessed to them to murdering Ms. Long. Lewis always maintained his innocence, but couldn't prove his innocence until the summer of 2015 when DNA testing from evidence collected from Ms. Long's sexual assault kit proved that neither Lewis nor Dennis Fogle rape and murdered Ms. Long. On August 13, 2015, Mr. Fogle was released from prison after serving nearly 35 years. A month later, the Indiana County District Attorney's Office formally dismissed all charges against Mr. Fogle. Mr. Cooley represented Mr. Fogle from 2008 to 2012. During this time period, Mr. Cooley and his Innocence Project law students diligently sought the critical biological evidence from Ms. Long's autopsy and sexual assault kit. While Mr. Cooley's law students found some evidence, it did not find the key evidence. In 2015, though, Innocence Project attorney, Karen Thompson, and her law student located the critical biological evidence that ultimately resulted in Mr. Fogle’s exoneration and release.