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Open Mike Podcast
56 minutes | 5 days ago
104 - How Did A Rare Joint Trial and Unreliable Witness Result in Two False 25-Year Prison Sentences?
On February 20th, 2020, Kevin Baker and Sean Washington walked out of prison after spending twenty-five years locked up for a double-murder they didn’t commit. The trial that condemned them to a quarter century of incarceration relied on a sole witness who later acknowledged she was under the influence of crack cocaine at the time of the killings. How did Kevin and Sean prove their innocence? Was justice for the victims ever attained? Tune in to this week’s jarring installment of Open Mike to find out. Show Notes [00:58] Kevin Baker’s and Sean Washington’s backgrounds and bios. [01:47] Mike Morse: Kevin Baker and Sean Washington, welcome to Open Mike! Let’s start with Kevin. How long were you in prison for a murder you did not commit? [02:21] MM: I know this is a really hard question, but how has this affected your life and the types of things you missed in prison? [03:07] MM: Sean, do you want to answer that question? [03:14] Sean Washington: Being in prison takes a toll on you. We’ve lost multiple family members, didn’t have the opportunity to be fathers to our children, we missed out on a lot. Prison does something psychological to you, too. Men who do time in prison suffer PTSD, just like people who go to war. [04:01] MM: At 23 years old, before getting arrested, what were your plans for the future? [05:39] MM: What was it like growing up in Camden, New Jersey? [08:03] MM: I unfortunately have to bring you back to January 28th, 1995… there’s a double a murder that would change both of your lives forever… [09:57] Sean encountered the bodies of Margaret Wilson and Rodney turner, initially mistaking Rodney’s body for his nephew’s, which made him distraught and compelled him to called 911 anonymously. [10:34] MM: Five days later, an informant said her cousins were in the area. Did either of you know her cousins? [12:51] MM: Were either one of you friends these witnesses? Did you used to hang out with either of them? [14:30] MM: Police decided to make arrests on February 13th, 1995. Kevin you were taken into custody, and Sean, you ran from the police. What happened there? [17:28] MM: Did either of you have the understanding that there was a bad identification? [18:11} Kevin Baker: I knew it was a bad identification, because I wasn’t there! I’m starting to question if the witness was actually there… her story can’t make sense if I wasn’t there… there was nothing that corroborated her claim. [20:28] MM: What kind of defense attorney did you have? [21:41] MM: Did your lawyer ever interview your alibi witnesses? [24:25] MM: Did anything happen with these lawyers? Did they get reprimanded or grieved? [25:35] MM: I assume you were offered plea deals? [26:53] MM: They never recovered weapons, DNA evidence, or more than one unreliable witness named Denise Rand? [27:38] MM: Denise Rand was allegedly paid under a material witness statute. [32:01} MM: Kevin and Sean had a joint trial. [33:31] MM: Too many people we interview didn’t make noise when it became apparent they were getting railroaded. But it sounds like you were making noise… [35:04] MM: August 1st, 1996 you’re both convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced for sixty years. Did either of you think the truth would ever come out? [37:88] MM: Sean, what happened to your 911 call that you placed? [39:25] Sean’s case was a topic of discourse at a convention, which sparked the interest of several lawyers. [42:47] MM: The witness who claimed you guys were guilty of murder died of breast cancer, but her friends came forward and told her you were innocent… [45:58] MM: February 11th, 2020, you walk out of prison. What was that feeling like? [47:38] MM: Kevin, where are you at? What are you doing now? [48:16] MM: Sean, what about you? [49:59] MM: Have either of you been compensated by the state of New Jersey? [51:11] MM: What would you like other wrongfully convicted people to know? [53:45] You need to advocate for your rights if you believe you’re innocent. No one will change the way the law is interpreted unless people stand up for the truth — even when the truth is being challenged. [54:41] MM: Thank you both for your message and for urging our viewers to stay awake. Appreciate you both. Thank you for sharing your stories. [55:13] MM: Thank you for watching and listening Open Mike. Another tragedy, and the state won’t compensate them. It’s unbelievable. It’s the same, old stuff. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking. We appreciate you for being part of our community. We’ll see you next time.
51 minutes | 12 days ago
103 - How America's 1st Female Death Row Exoneree Overcame Racism, Misconduct, & a Drunk Defense Team
In April of 1989, teenage mother Sabrina Butler experienced every parent’s worst nightmare when her nine-month-old son Walter suddenly stopped breathing. Despite her intense resuscitation efforts, Walter was pronounced dead at the hospital. Sabrina was then subjected to interrogation by twelve police officers and three detectives — without an attorney present — only to be charged with capital murder and sentenced to death. After years of appeals and assembling a new, internationally renowned defense team, Sabrina was exonerated in 1995, becoming America’s first female death row survivor. Sabrina now serves on the board of Witness to Innocence, empowering other death row survivors to raise their voices and eradicate the practice of capital punishment, once and for all. Why was a perfect storm of poverty, overt racism, oppression allowed to yield the death sentence of a minor? How do we compel our leaders and citizens to contend with the realities of a fatally flawed criminal justice system? Watch this stirring episode of Open Mike to find out. Show Notes [00:01] Background of Sabrina Butler Smith’s case and her horrific experience in the legal system. [02:21] Welcome to the show, Sabrina. Your story is chilling, and I’m honored you’re here. Let’s jump in. This started with the tragic death of your son Walter and turned into a greater tragedy when you were charged with his murder as a teen. Tell us what happened! [06:26] Sabrina, was your son healthy up until this point? And he had his regular shots and pediatrician up until this moment? He never had any broken bones or was treated for any injuries? [07:22] You’re at the hospital, and there are doctors and nurses working on Walter… and you’re panicking because you think you’re in trouble for having left him alone and returned to him in this state… and then what happened? [07:51] What were the lies you were telling? [08:48] Doctors and nurses were asking Sabrina many situationally related questions while she was holding the body of her child, i.e. in a state of extreme distress where she was not in the right mind to provide accurate responses. She was then taken to the police station where asked questions, only to be released. The next day, Sabrina returned to the hospital where she was once again taken to the police station where she was aggressively interrogated/intimidated for four hours. [11:11] So, when you were being interrogated at the police station, did you know your baby had already passed or were you still waiting to hear about his condition? [11:53] The police read Sabrina, a minor, her Miranda Rights but didn’t understand implications of its language, including misinterpreting her right to remain silent as, “don’t speak until spoken to.” [12:38] Eventually, you signed a confession… explain how that happened. What did you confess to? [13:24] Sabrina didn’t learn of Walter’s cause of death until her second trial. She wasn’t allowed to plan or participate in a funeral and didn’t even learn of his burial place until two years after her release. [14:10] Can you tell us about how you got your first attorneys? [14:35] Sabrina didn’t meet her trial attorneys until two days prior to the first court date. In 1989, court appointed attorneys were receiving a mere $1,000 per capital case. There was no jury of her peers, no witnesses were called, and she believes her attorney was drunk. [16:54] Do you remember how many days this trial was? You say you knew deep in your heart you were getting railroaded in this trial… [18:28] What did the jury look like, were they all-white? [18:53] The woman who had helped you administer CPR the night Walter passed was in the court room, and your drunk defense attorney didn’t have the thought to put her on the stand… how does that happen? You must have wanted to scream at the court room. [20:06] The jury came back, you’re sitting in the court room, and they find you guilty of capital murder. What’s going through your head? [21:23] Did your defense attorneys ever participate in a hearing where they advocated for you not being out to death? What was life like in prison, on death row? [23:10] Much of what Sabrina learned about legal proceedings was from her cellmate, not her lawyers. Her legal team kept her in the dark. [23:30] Thank God for that woman being with you… can you tell us about the appeal process? [24:17] It looks like, two years later, your new lawyer Clive Stafford Smith and his team convinced the state supreme court that the state prosecution improperly commented at trial on your decision not to testify — which is unconstitutional. That’s something you learn on day one of law school. Do you remember what the prosecutor said about that at trial? [25:12] You get granted a new trial and are now sitting on death row for three years? Did any of your attorneys try to get you out on bond? [25:58] Before we get to the second trial, tell me about your family, your first child, what the dynamics of support are like for you during this time. [26:45] Sabrina’s mother became her biggest advocate, appearing in the news, even becoming homeless in her quest to let everyone know what the state of Mississippi was doing to her daughter. [27:02] Let’s talk about the second trial… were you more optimistic for this second trial with your new defense team? [27:46] Did either of your first two defense attorneys get disciplined, as far as you know? [28:27] How was the second trial different from the first one? [28:50] Clive discovered Walter’s death was caused by nephrotic syndrome, which Sabrina’s daughter also has. Walter also had heart problems and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which caused peritonitis, inability to defecate, and ultimately led to his death by robbing him of oxygen. An autopsy had previously been conducted by the state but was completely inadequate and inept. [31:07] Were there any witnesses called at your second trial? [31:42] Sabrina didn’t need to take the stand in the second trial because her new legal team had provided such an immense quantity of evidence. [31:58] Was the jury makeup any better during this second trial? [32:17] It took just one hour for the jury to deliver her innocence verdict. [32:44] You did have an expert witness on the second trial? [34:32] It sounds like these are night-and-day trials… were you more confident going into this second trial? [35:28] We’ve done several wrongfully convicted episodes and, Sabrina, your story goes to show how important it is to have good lawyering. They should be teaching your story in law school! This is 101. And the communication you’re talking about goes to show how important it is. [36:16] You’re acquitted, I can imagine you’re elated to get out of prison after six-and-a-half years. What did those first steps outside feel like? [38:11] The state granted you $300,000… how did you feel about that? [38:30] How hard was it reacclimating to society after this ordeal? [39:45] Tell the viewers and listeners… how is your life now? [40:09] You mentioned you’re doing speaking and making appearances on podcasts like this… and you also have a website you’re involved with. Can you tell us about that? [41:45] Sabrina is also working on a tell-all book called Exonerated: The Sabrina Butler Story that’s currently in its completion stages. [42:34] You’re actually talking to state legislators and working on death penalty reform. Can you tell us about that? [43:12] You’re also on the board of Witness to Innocence, which empowers death row survivors to help overturn the death penalty in the United States… [44:26] We’ve done some episodes on Shaken Baby Syndrome (Abusive Head Trauma) cases… your case kind of falls under that category, do you agree? [45:56] Sabrina is the first woman in the United States to be exonerated from death row. [46:10] Editor’s note: Julie Baumer’s nephew did not die from his medical condition and is still alive to this day. [46:56] Sabrina is also attempting to start a halfway house for female exonerees and ex-offenders in Memphis, Tennessee because, while there are plenty of programs for men, there are few available for females. [49:03] The last question I have for you is… what is your message for people sitting behind bars who know they are innocent? How do you inspire hope in them? [49:48] I think those are perfect words to end on. Sabrina Butler Smith, thank you for so much for being on Open Mike and sharing your story with us. [50:17] That was emotional, another crazy exoneree story from a really beautiful woman, Sabrina Butler Smith. Thank you for watching and listening. Send this to someone who needs to hear it. Donate to Witness to Innocence and her website. Thank you for being here for Open Mike.
33 minutes | 19 days ago
102 - Entrapment or Miscommunication? How a Consenting Man Found Himself in the Middle of a Sex Sting
Sex sting busts are often regarded as heroic acts justice, but the ethics surrounding them aren't necessarily clear-cut. When a police set-up resulted in the incarceration of Kathleen Hambrick’s son, she claimed fraud due to a series of misleading interactions that equated to entrapment. Four years after his arrest, the Hambricks find themselves in legal limbo, having appealed the initial conviction, only to be recharged. Throughout their ordeal, Kathleen has come to believe these police-run stings involve a state-funded incentive which compels law enforcement to violate the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and make criminals out of law-abiding citizens to turn a profit. Corruption within law enforcement isn’t uncommon — can we take their words at face value? Should there be alternative consequences for sex offenders who haven’t committed a physical crime against another person? How do amateur sex sting operations complicate this already convoluted dynamic? Show Notes [00:21] Background of Jace Hambrick’s case and his mother, Kathleen Hambrick. [01:34] Welcome to the show, Kathleen! [01:41] I know you’ve seen some of our previous episodes with Chris Hansen, CC Unit, and Anxiety Wars… I appreciated your email and feedback, and that’s why we’re having you on! Those who like the show and have different points of view, please contact me — I never would have gotten to meet Kathleen had she not contacted me. [02:11] Kathleen, can you tell us about your son and how he grew up a little different from most kids in terms of social interaction and online dating? [03:05] So at twenty years old he was living at home and had a job. Tell us what happened to him with the sex sting by undercover police. [03:35] Kathleen’s son Jace went to an 18+ portion of Craigslist looking for a hook-up with another consenting adult, under the assumption that everyone else on there was an adult. [04:11] Can you clarify one point? When you say Jace doesn’t pick up on red flags, what do you mean by that? [04:45] Jace had previously been in Naval boot camp, but they wouldn’t accept him, despite his high degree of intelligence, due to his ADHD. [05:23] Back to the Craigslist story… he thought he was meeting an adult — what happened next? [06:00] The person Jace was interacting with said she was 13. He thought it may have been a type and she meant to type “23” instead. When he attempted to clarify, she said, “I like college guys.” [06:25] He didn’t believe her? Or he thought he misread something and continued the conversation? [07:06] Jace asked for a picture she was sent a picture of a 24-year-old woman, which he interprets as the truth. He believes she’s a 24-year-old pretending to cosplay as a 13-year-old. They proceed to talk explicitly and decide to meet. [09:03] An hour-and-a-half later, where did they meet, what kind of place? [09:45] Jace goes to the woman’s residence and she comes out and beckons him to come in. She is the same woman in the pictures she sent. He walks into the house and gets arrested. [10:38] At the time of the arrest, the woman from the picture was 26-years-old. In the picture, she was 24. [10:52] So the police had her online as a sting operation… they walk into this house and immediately arrest him? [11:33] Did your son try explaining the situation to the police who arrested him? [11:46] Did the police check his criminal history for child porn and other elicit activity? [12:56] So what happened when he went through the legal system? [13:25] They went to trial, reluctantly did a bench trial to avoid getting a jury involved, and he was convicted. They then appealed, stating they didn’t agree to a bench trial, and the verdict was overturned after Jace spent a year-and-a-half in prison. Since then, he’s been recharged and has to go back to trial. [14:54] Does your lawyer know you’re publicly talking about this stuff? [15:34] When was Jace’s trial? Can you provide a timeline of how this panned out? [15:58] And the prosecutors are still going after him… what was his original sentence? [16:18] He’s already served his eighteen months… so I’m confused as to why they want to retry him! [16:37] You recently told Jace’s story on the Dr. Phil Show. I haven’t seen that episode but tell us about your experience on that show. [19:27] Kathleen asserts that these sting operations get money from the federal government for every arrest and prosecution, regardless of whether the accusations are true. [20:06] If the picture of had been of this police officer when she was thirteen, would you feel differently? [21:27] There’s a huge difference between amateur sting operations doing this type of activity versus police doing it. These amateurs we’ve had on the show believe they’re doing the right things and busting potential abusers. But the difference in legality is quite drastic. Can you tell us what you think is wrong with these amateur “vigilantes?” [26:09] I assume you’ll be going for a jury trial this time. Is there a trial date set? Have there been any plea offers to try and resolve this case? [28:08] Have you ever seen To Catch a Predator, back in the day? What do you see wrong with those? [29:00] I’ve seen the Chris Hansen shows and I believe, and a lot of other people believe, that these people are showing up for a sexual encounter with a minor. And they’re busted. And a lot of them admit it on the show! Do you think that’s entrapment of people who shouldn’t be caught? [30:41] What’s your message to these amateur sting operations that blow the whistle on people they think are committing crimes? [31:19] Do you think all sex stings by the police should be stopped? [32:05] I appreciate you sharing your point of view! Thank you for reaching out, and best of luck to you and your son. [32:24] There you have it! A different point of view on this issue. Let us know your perspective — which side are you on? And why? Look forward to hearing your comments. Please like and share the episode! Thanks for being here — we’ll see you next time.
29 minutes | a month ago
101- Celebrated investigative Journalist Exposes Deadly Corruption Within the Parole Board System
Robert Riggs is Peabody Award-winning journalist and digital media entrepreneur, widely regarded as one of the nation’s top investigative journalists. In his new podcast, Free to Kill, he exposes the rampant, deadly corruption that has come to poison many parole board systems across the country. In a disturbingly increasing trend, many parole boards let out vicious killers who go on to commit new crimes while refusing to parole the wrongfully convicted, simply because they do not admit to their crimes or show remorse. This episode of Open Mike sees Robert discussing the most heinous crimes he’s covered throughout his storied career, reflecting on ways parole boards have failed those they claim to protect, and examining the intersection of wrongful convictions and deceitful parole boards. Show Notes [00:19] Welcome to Open Mike, Episode 101! [00:46] Robert Riggs’s background and bio. [01:23] Welcome to Open Mike, Robert Riggs! Robert is one of the country's top investigative reporters. You've been on CBS Evening, Evening News, CBS 60 minutes ABC nightline, as well as local stations. Tell me about some of the hot stories you broke or covered as an investigative reporter. [01:50] Robert tells the story of serial killer Kenneth McDuff who, enabled by political corruption, essentially bought himself parole and continued a killing spree. [03:14] You’ve done reporting on parole boards before, with Free to Kill… what did you discover about parole boards? [05:51] They want people to admit their guilt, take responsibility. It feels like that's the only litmus test to whether or not they're going to get out… If someone is innocent, and they keep proclaiming their innocence, there's no way they're going to get paroled. Do you think that's true? [06:48] We cover a lot of wrongful convictions on Open Mike, and there as estimations that tens of thousands of innocent people are locked up. Some of the people we’ve interviewed have gotten a break because of an investigative journalist, like yourself. What's your sense? Do you think that there is a enough journalists covering these types of wrongful convictions or potentially wrongful convictions? To expose this this tragic injustice? [09:20] Case after case that we cover…it comes down to a bad court-appointed attorney who pushes deals on innocent clients because they have too many cases, or they don't have enough time to do all the work. It feels like that should be a national story, but I think you just answered the question why we're never going to see a big story about this. [13:02] Have you ever sat through a trial or covered a trial, where you've heard about so-called scientific evidence on bite marks, or Shaken Baby Syndrome, or even arson cases, that just didn't make sense? [14:46] As we're talking about reporting… what we see in a lot of our cases here in Michigan, are that the police and prosecutors are lying. They hide exculpatory evidence to kick convictions and have crazy tunnel vision. Why isn't the media all over this? You might have already answered my question that it's budget cuts. But it’s just mind blowing to me that the public doesn't know what's happening. [17:34] On true crime reporter you started talking a little bit about this five-part series… what can you tell us about one of the crazy cases that you've covered on that? [21:02] Robert tells the story of Annie Laurie Williams who, in 1955, murdered and dismembered her two young sons. She was imprisoned, but then released by the Texas parole board after 25 years served, started a new life in Idaho where she likely killed a widower and took over his social security benefits. [23:13] How the heck did they let this woman out for such a heinous crime? [23:26] One of the problems is that the parole files in the prison files are secret. It's against the law to make them public. In Robert’s case, he developed the sources and they started leaking information about corruption to him at their own legal risk. [24:14] True Crime Reporter podcast is available on all your favorite podcast apps, so be sure to check it out! [26:16] On that note, Robert, Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter, I really loved having you on the show. I love hearing these stories. They're mind blowing to me, and we're going to check out your podcast today. I'm going to go check it out today. Thanks for being on Open Mike. And thanks for doing what you do, and keep exposing all this crazy stuff out there. [28:06] I am literally going to subscribe to that podcast right now. Hope you enjoyed that episode. Like it, share it, comment, tell us what else you want to hear. And we will bring it to you here on Open Mike. That was Episode 101. I can't believe we are over 100. But thank you for your support. Thank you for sharing the episodes as you do. And I'll see you next time.
77 minutes | a month ago
100 - Landmark 100th Episode Featuring an Exoneree Reunion & Bombshell Announcement from Mike
Open Mike has made it to triple-digits! On our landmark, 100th installment, Mike reunites with three former guest exonerees, Aaron Salter, Julie Baumer, and Kenny Wyniemko, as well as two journalists who have been blazing a path to illuminate the wrongful conviction crisis, Kevin Dietz and Bill Proctor. In this groundbreaking centenary episode, our guests reflect on their detestable experiences in the criminal justice system, update us on their current initiatives and whereabouts, and offer us their opinions on the future of the justice reform movement amidst a still-divided political climate. Plus… Mike provides a development on his own plans to dive headfirst into the arena of justice reform. Show Notes [00:01] Mike Morse: Well first, let me start out by saying thank you for everyone being here. It's a trip down memory lane. Seeing all your faces, Julie and Aaron and Kenny and Bill and Kevin Dietz, celebrating our 100th episode… I didn't think we would get here. When I started the podcast, it was just kind of out of fun. And I wanted to learn, and I wanted to do something because podcasts were all the rage. I never thought we’d get to 100 podcasts. The fact that you guys are here to help me celebrate 100 is very meaningful to me. The fact that my producers just told me that we're over 3 million downloads and listens. That's rare. When I started this podcast, we didn't know which direction fully it was going to go. And when I first met Aaron Salter, Episode 32, and Aaron told me his story, I remember the emotions, I remember the sadness, I remember the shock. Being a lawyer, 28 years handling only civil cases… that this was happening in our justice system was outrageous to me. And then meeting Kenny and Julie and several others, it really did affect me, it really did change me. And at the end of this podcast, I'm going to make an announcement, I'm going to tell you guys something that I haven't told many people. All of your sharing, and courage, and love that you've shown me… and the fact that we are now friends, we talk, we have lunch, we text each other, we help each other — it’s changed my life for the better. And it's meaningful to me, and the fact that it's only been a year and a half that I didn't think this was coming. And then I'm still growing up as an attorney and learning things about the law, which I admit I think is pretty cool. So, I thank Kevin Dietz for introducing me to this stuff, because I was probably your idea to have Aaron on, and introducing me to these amazing people has changed my life. And to be quite honest, it’s changed my family's life. I have three daughters, two of them are in college, and they are watching our episodes. They were both social work, social work, education majors, and now they're talking to me about social justice classes. They're talking to me about law school. And I think it's because of the three of you, and Bill, and others. I wasn't even planning on talking about that, but that's true. I mean, I was sitting with my freshmen last night looking at her classes, and she was looking at social justice and criminal reform and classes like that. It's hard to turn away, it's hard to not want to learn more and hear more. [02:56] MM: So, saying all that, I'm going to start with Aaron Salter. And Aaron, your story is amazing, heartbreaking. Scary that it could happen to such a nice young man who was, you know, won a partial college scholarship on his way to Arkansas. And the fact that this happened to you, I'd like you to tell our listeners and viewers who maybe didn't see Episode 32 a little bit about what happened you starting in 2003? [05:01] In 2003, Aaron was with his cousin when a drug deal went awry, and his cousin was shot twelve times — and survived. The person who shot Aaron’s cousin shot another person three days later, and Aaron was misidentified as the perpetrator. [05:21] MM: Where were you when you were arrested? You were at a family member's house? [07:21] Aaron Salter: From the very beginning, a female named Joanne Thomas, the deceased’s sister, actually stood up in court and said she knew I didn’t kill her brother, that the person who killed him was a guy named E. Everybody should have been stepping up to be like, “Well, okay, I knew there are holes in this case, I know that testimony is powerful.” There is no way that I should have still gone to prison. Like that should have been a wake-up call for somebody, somewhere to be like, Okay, well, maybe we rushed this. But they didn't do it. [08:26] Kevin Dietz: And then you end up in prison. Did you realize at some point, “Wow, innocent people end up in prison, this happens in real life?” [9:03] KD: What was the key to getting out, what was the turning point? [9:06] AS: Man, the turning point was when my when my federal defender team actually submitted an application to the conviction integrity unit. And when they did that, I was out within like 30 to 60 days. [09:26] MM: Refresh our memories —what was the smoking gun that that the conviction integrity unit, hung their hat on to finally allow you out? [10:35] MM: Prosecution withheld your mugshot from defense until the conviction integrity unit was just able to access it from the evidence room. Why didn’t they want you to have thar? [10:39] AS: Because for one my whole claim was suggestive identification. [10:55] MM: Didn't your height and weight not add up to a witness? Weren't there witness identifications that were skinnier and shorter? [11:50] MM: You were also in prison with the man who actually committed the crime, is that true? [12:53] AS: Absolutely. I was in a prison with him. He wrote a letter to my attorney saying that he’ll be able to help me if I can assign some type of contract to compensate him for a statement. But my attorney ruled his stuff out — you’re basically putting your testimony for hire man, so that's not even credible. We couldn't even use him if we wanted to… but he reached out to my attorney and everything organically. [14:44] MM: One of the biggest things I've learned over the last year and a half is that if you're paroled in Michigan, for a crime you committed, you have all these wonderful benefits. You get money, you get housing, job help, medical…. But if you're exonerated for a crime you didn't commit, you get nothing. You saw a void in this system, and you bought you use your hard-earned money that you got after your lawsuit. And you bought a house so you could put people up. Tell us a little bit about that. [16:09] MM: A lot of us are wearing or have these pins that I'm showing to the camera: Innocence Maintained: Better not Bitter. Can you tell our listeners and viewers what this is? [16:49] MM: Tell us about this app you’ve created for exonerees — how is it going to help people who are wrongfully convicted? [17:43] The app will be revealed on August 15th at an Exoneree Awards ceremony taking place at the Detroit Yacht Club. [18:17] MM: That’s awesome! Save us a table — we’re coming. We're going to turn to Julie Baumer who's sitting to your right. Julie Baumer, Episode 77 on the Open Mike Show. Julie has another really heartbreaking story. She was arrested for doing the right thing, seeking medical help for her for her sick baby nephew. She was convicted with no evidence of any abuse. Just two doctors testifying about Shaken Baby Syndrome, which we now know is junk science. It's such junk science that they’ve changed the name to Abusive Head Trauma. You had a terrible defense attorney, not presenting any evidence in your first trial to help you. And you had the first case at the Michigan Innocence Clinic in Ann Arbor took that did not involve DNA evidence. So, you are kind of a famous person up there. But tell us a little bit about your story. And for the people who have not heard or seen it. [19:43] Julie Baumer: Basically, my younger sister ended up getting pregnant, it was an unplanned pregnancy. With the support of my family, I chose to do an in-family adoption. After Philip was born, he was hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit for about a week. So, we knew that there was going to be some form of complications. We didn't know the extent of it. When he was five weeks old, he basically had a medical breakdown, if you will, because he completely stopped eating. And he just became very lethargic. So of course, I called his pediatrician and, and by direction of his pediatrician, I took him into the ER in Macomb County. The county transferred him down to Children's Hospital where, 24 hours later, he was undergoing brain surgery to relieve pressure in his brain. His brain had swollen. 24 hours after that, I was invited into the sheriff's department to interview. At that point I was I realized that I was a suspect for child abuse. And so immediately, my family and I started our defensive. Initially we went back to the birth, which was traumatic, during which my sister had been given two doses of Pitocin. So, we thought there were some definite issues during the birth. However, several months later, I was formally charged with child abuse first degree. And 18 months later, I was convicted and sentenced to 15 years. [22:06] MM: You actually had two trials… what happened after your first conviction? [22:10] JB: I immediately began the appeal process. After I exhausted all of my appeals by the grace of God, ironically, that same year in 2009, U of M, opened up the non-DNA Innocence Clinic and I was able to get my case heard. I was granted a second trial, where I had several doctors who testified on my behalf that weren't available during my first trial. They clearly stated that there was no crime committed at all. Unfortunately, my nephew had suffered a form of childhood stroke, venous sinus thrombosis. And I was exonerated completely. [23:36] MM: How long were you in prison? [23:45] MM: Thank God you had good attorneys for after the second trial. You’ve been out ten years — can you give us an update on your life? What are you doing these days? [24:09] JB: I've nestled myself into a nice little community where I work as a realtor. And to fill some void and give my part back, I indulged in several service clubs, and do a lot of volunteer work. [24:38] MM: Well, thank you for sharing your story again with us today. All the details, Julie Baumer, Episode 77, on the Open Mike Show. And last but not least, Kenny Wyniemko one of the craziest stories I think anybody could ever hear. We did two episodes on Kenny, 45 and 50. As I'm interviewing more people, getting myself into this world, your story almost checks all the boxes of what could go wrong in one of these types of cases. Starting with, dirty cops, a jailhouse snitch, a corrupt prosecutor, a bad judge. On and on — and that's probably why Netflix did a whole show on you. That's probably why you have this fabulous book that your friend Bob wrote about you, Deliberate Injustice. Kenny, I think about your story all the time, as I do with all the stories. You're also you're wearing your Innocence Project shirt, which will tell us about… For the viewers who have not seen our four plus hours on you, why don't you give us a couple minutes on what happened to you? [26:31] Kenny Wyniemko: Well, first of all, Mike, thank you for the kind words. It's always a pleasure being with you and my fellow exonerees. What happened to me unfortunately, I was arrested in 1994, and charged 10 weeks after this rape happened. And at the time that rape happened, it was a big story in the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, Macomb Daily, our local paper. And I remember reading about the rape and thinking to myself that, no one should have to go through that. No way. July 14th, 10 weeks later, I was arrested and charged with 15 counts of Criminal Sexual Conduct, one count of Breaking and Entering, and one count of Armed Robbery… [34:41] MM: It’s a good story, and it leads into why you think you were behind bars for so many years. What was your next encounter with the Clinton Township police? [35:19] On July 14th, 1994, Kenny was awoken by a woman in a business suit asking if he was Kenny Wyniemko. When he responded affirmatively, she moved aside, and four police officers rushed into his living room, pinned him down, handcuffed him, and took him to the Macomb County police department to be identified in a lineup. He had no idea what they were talking about, requested to call an attorney, and was denied. Kenny was put in a lineup, but ultimately released from the station. When he returned home to shower, a plain clothes police officer refused to let Kenny in until the police had a search warrant, pulling a gun on Kenny and pointing it at his head. Kenny went to his parents to shower and, upon his return, found that his house had been ransacked by the police and unnecessarily vandalized. The next day, he returned home after going to the grocery store to replace broken items and was met by eight police — some with sawed-off shotguns — who stated he had been identified in the previous day’s lineup and was under arrest. [42:48] MM: As you’re talking, I'm now remembering why we spent so many hours with you — because you're a damn good storyteller. For those of you who are interested, Episodes 45 and 50 have so many twists and turns. For those of you who want to hear more, be sure to check out those episodes. Now, I want to turn to now is your work with Innocence Project. [43:58] KW: Well, this project is responsible for my release! I was still locked up in prison and I happened to see Barry Scheck on Phil Donahue Show talking about how he's working with DNA that would prove someone's guilt or innocence. So, I wrote to him with a packet of the facts surrounding my case, asking for help. About five months later, he wrote back saying that the information sounded serious. However, he had a backlog of about 4,000 cases… that was the bad news. The good news was they were going to open up a private Innocence Project at Cooley Law School in Lansing. I was their first case and they got me out. [45:20] MM: You told me before we started filming today that you were the second person in Michigan and the 129th person in the country to be granted a DNA release? [45:34] KW: In Michigan, we're up to 130, but nationwide, as of last Friday, we’re up to 2,755. It’s still just the tip of the iceberg, and that’s why I’m proud to be part of Proving Innocence with Bill Proctor. There’s no more worthy cause in the world. [46:05] MM: We're hearing about people getting out every week, which is an amazing, amazing thing. I want to turn to Bill Proctor now, who was kind enough to come on Open Mike Episode 51. Bill works tirelessly for wrongfully convicted people. He's a member of the Michigan Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and the founder of Proving Innocence. Today he runs Seeking Justice, currently on the trail of Who Killed Shannon Siders, which is an amazing website… Bill, thank you for coming to the show today. Tell me how you got involved fighting for the wrongfully convicted. [47:00] Bill Proctor: I was lucky enough to have an almost 40-year career in television and was a reporter, anchor. But had a private investigator in 1994 bring me a case out of Port Huron. This was a strange situation where a college student was murdered in broad daylight on a community college in 1986. Well, lots of twists and turns brought the police to a fella named Frederick Thomas Freeman. And Mr. Freeman had the misfortune of dating, for maybe two weeks, the girlfriend/fiancé of the murder victim. While the police looked at his general level of misconduct, that never indicated something so serious as to felony level. He wrote a couple of bad checks, drove a motorcycle without a license, those kinds of silly things. But he was just kind of an arrogant tough guy who thought he was God's gift to women. Bottom line is they put together a case that to this day is the most ridiculous presentation you've ever seen in your life that essentially convicted an innocent man. That was in 1986, for the trial. I took on the case 1994- 95 and was among the first reporters in the state of Michigan to essentially step out in a big way to present an actual innocence claim. The claim was extremely strong with a jailhouse snitch who got rewarded to make statements about what he heard in a jail cell that Freeman allegedly said girls who claimed that he was some sort of ninja master who could levitate himself from one another room to another that kind of thing, throwing stars all this kind of stuff. And the real bottom line was, this was a shot gun murder in broad daylight on the college campus. Freeman, with all of his martial arts prowess, could have snapped this neck quietly and walked away with no problem. That didn't happen. This, we strongly believe today, had to do with drugs, mayoral connection to drug dealers, corruption, and bad actors. What I learned from that case, from a private investigator, is that there are so many elements of a trial that can misrepresent the truth… [50:36] MM: And this person is still sitting in prison today, right? [51:10] BP: The list that you've heard from your guests, the list of the tens of thousands of cases that have been examined by a number of innocence projects around the country, have come down to a very comprehensive, constant evaluation of the problem of wrongful conviction in America. Six, seven, maybe eight specific reasons for all of them…. The list is long. It's difficult, Michael, and yes, the entire country needs to know that this is more than a notion more than a TV show. More than a television series. These are people whose lives and the lives of their families are ruined by bad work in the criminal justice system. [54:03] MM: And from all accounts. Bill, you are helping so many people you're working as a private investigator trying to get people out. I know what good work you do. I've seen it. The new the new case that you're working on is very compelling. Do you want to tell a little bit about that and direct people to that website so they can so we can let the world know what's happening? [58:03] KW: Bill was talking about eyewitness misidentification being a leading cause. It is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. And if you look at the facts, amongst the exonerees, all of us are throughout the country, the eyewitness identification has been proven wrong 78% of the time. 78%. That's scary numbers. [58:56] Mike, Aaron, Julie, Kenny, spend time comparing multiple identical factors that contributed to their wrongful convictions: poor defense attorneys, aggressive prosecuting attorneys, tunnel vision, eyewitness errors, bad forensic science, perjury, and official misconduct. [1:01:18] MM: We’ve done six or seven wrongful exonerees interviews. And the thing that amazes me is the perception of how bitter you all should be. But you have found the spirit to work hard and help others who are left behind in these exact situations. You've started nonprofits, you've been vocal about injustice, you lecture, you help pass laws. So, I want you to all tell me why? Why do you feel the way do you do? How do you keep a positive attitude? And why are you trying to help others? [1:04:54] MM: A key to the future in this fight for justice is awareness, education, breaking down the stigma associated with being an exoneree. Tell me about how your family, friends, and even strangers treated you after you got released from prison. [1:08:04] MM: Bill, I want to ask you — how do we keep the pressure up on those in the justice system to prioritize freeing innocent people over putting people away? [1:08:23] BP: At this stage in the country, we have a serious problem. Because at one point, you might be able to get everyone elected to a legislature to sit around a table, listen to suggestions, and walk down a road of some reasonable compromise. I'm sorry, Mike, I don't think it's going to happen now. I think the lunatic in the White House for four years, his year before, and his continued effect on this population means that not enough people of reason, open mind, and open hearts will sit at a table and make changes in laws. I just need to remind everybody that what happens in the criminal justice system is essentially a wonderfully written set of laws and rules and processes and procedures. But we forget that people administer those laws. People have human failures. People do things that they're not supposed to do under law, or even in ethical or moral practice. I really don't know where we start, Mike. But everybody should know that. Yes. Not only do wrongful convictions happen, but they can be prevented. And yes, if somebody is telling you and insisting from the very beginning at trial or charges that they didn't do it, every single friend that's possible needs to step up and listen and try to help before the conviction takes place. [1:09:50] MM: You would think that all of the news that's being made about wrongful convictions, and the integrity units, and podcasts like this with 3 million eyeballs on them… that people will start getting the message…. My hope is that if there are people out there who have said things to police that aren't true, that they will come forward and say, “You know what, I might have made a mistake.” And I know that takes courage. And I encourage people to gather that courage because you have beautiful souls who are sitting in prison for crimes they didn't commit. Thousands of people around this country that need the truth to be told. And I want to thank you all again, for being here. I want to thank you for sharing your stories, because I know it's not easy. And I want to tell the three of you that after hearing your stories, and learning from Bill, and watching the movies and reading your books, that the Mike Morse Law Firm has decided to put — lack of a better word — our money where our mouth is, our energy where our mouth is. And we have taken on a case of a man that, I believe, did not get a fair trial on a Shaken Baby Syndrome case. A man who's sitting in prison for life and did not get a fair trial. He had a terrible defense attorney, there was not one expert witness called against eight expert witnesses by the state. And I am working hard with a team of lawyers here at the Mike Morse Law Firm to get this man a new trial. This is probably one of the hardest things that my firm has ever done. I am doing it because of you three. You have encouraged me. Throughout it, Bill, you have helped me, and we've had several conversations about taking cases like this. And because this man did not have the quality attorney that he should have, we are going to fight as hard as we know how to get this man a new trial. We will share more details in the coming months. We are in the midst of it right now, getting the evidence, talking to experts, putting together a brief… I'm nervous about it. You get one shot at a 6500 motion, as you guys all know. And I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful. And I just wanted you guys to hear it first. [1:13:07] KW: Mike, God bless you. I wish that there were more attorneys like you that take the time to help when you see something wrong. You try to right it. I think that's what all of us do. And the bottom line is — all anybody ever wants when it comes to the justice system is the truth. So, I take my hat off to you. I commend you. May God bless you. [1:13:28] AS: Mike. I just want to say one thing, man. I really respect you for doing that. Because when I was in prison, the only thing I wanted was for somebody to pick up my case and help me. So that's real commendable, man. And it's a lot of work, but I know you can do it. [1:13:50] MM: You know what, Aaron, it wouldn't happen had you not come on my show. Or had you guys not introduced me to Dave Moran up at the Innocence Clinic. So, lots of things happen and wouldn't happen if Kevin Dietz, my good friend, didn't suggest we do these episodes on Open Mike. You know, I feel emotional about it. I'm excited about it. I'm nervous about it. I can't believe that we've done 100 episodes! We have gifts for you all that we're going to give you as well. And thanks again for being here.
44 minutes | a month ago
99 - Trailblazing Justice Reform Advocate Reflects on the Bleak Reality of Wrongful Convictions
For nearly two decades, Chris Mumma has served as the Executive Director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, having represented 8 exonorees and fighting for a half a dozen more still behind bars. During her impressive tenure, she has forced legislation on multiple issues regarding wrongful convictions and established the only innocence inquiry commission in the United States. Instrumental in fighting for criminal justice reform in North Carolina, Mumma has spearheaded legislation on eyewitness identification, the recording of interrogations, preservation of biological evidence, and enhanced support for exonerees. On the latest installment of Open Mike, Mumma recounts her most troubling case to date, highlights the Center’s upcoming initiatives, and reflects on the future of American criminal justice reform. Show Notes [00:21] Chris Mumma’s background as Executive Director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence. [01:15] Welcome to the show, Chris! Could you tell our viewers how you got started in the fight for justice for the wrongfully convicted? [02:20] You’ve had quite the career! Over the years, you’ve identified several reoccurring problems that are consistent in wrongful convictions. Let’s start with eyewitness identification… I read that you’ve been able to create some new legislation in North Carolina that I’d love to hear about. [03:31] Misidentification is a first step that leads down wrong paths. It’s a beginning factor that can lead to false confessions, tunnel vision, and faulty forensics — it branches out into other causation issues. We’re also implicitly more comfortable identifying the features of those who bear our racial and genetic similarities. [05:01] When you talk about changes made to lineup identification… what is the difference between sequential and simultaneous identification? [06:54] Do you know how many other states have also made these changes? North Carolina was the first, you said? [08:03] Was lineup identification the only aspect of witness identification that was reformed? [08:44] It’s so interesting — every time I do an episode, I probably say this — wrongful convictions are so similar. Wrongful convictions follow a playbook. [09:41] We’re so accustomed to being recorded everywhere… the ATM, walking down the street, grocery stores… yet many law enforcement offices don’t record what happens behind their closed doors. How can this be, especially when dealing with matters that affect someone’s life? [09:51] Are they recording lineups now? [11:34] I know you’ve been instrumental in getting some laws regarding preservation of biological evidence passed in North Carolina… What were the existing procedures, and how were you able to get them to change? [13:35] The one case that really combines all of these elements we’re discussing is the Willie Grimes case. All exonerations are tragic… this one in particular is extremely hard to read about — the mistreatment, the corruption, the fraud. I’d love for you to set it up for our audience. [15:01] The book Ghost of an Innocent Man covers Grimes’s ordeal in detail. [19:01] Isn’t this the case where the victim falsely identified the defense attorney in court as her assailant? [19:50] In most wrongful conviction cases, an awful defense attorney is involved. Can you tell me about his attorney at trial? [23:41] In a rape there’s a lot of biological evidence… was there any testing conducted in the rape kit in this case? [27:43] Was the fingerprint evidence at the scene of the crime actually used in the trial? [28:55] This inquiry commission to search law enforcement’s files was very innovative. How did they get involved and accomplish this? [31:33] Of the 22 cases investigated by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, there was evidence reported as being destroyed or lost in 11 cases. [33:26] Is the Innocence Inquiry Commission run by the state? [33:49] Are there conviction integrity units in your jurisdiction? [37:05] How many cases are you working on? And I’m curious about your impression… how many people in North Carolina do you think are wrongfully behind bars right now? [38:28] A lot of the people I’ve interviewed and files I’ve read are about older cases… Do you think with the changes that are being made that things are getting better with the wrongful conviction crisis? [39:52] Most wrongful convictions the culture discusses are about felonies, but wrongful misdemeanor convictions are exponentially higher. [40:48] Until we have a culture shift at the top — with law enforcement and prosecutors — progress won’t accelerate the way we need it to. [42:02] Keep up the great work and all the wonderful things you’re accomplishing. Christina Mumma, thank you for being on the show and helping to educate the public that wrongful convictions are real, and prevalent, and everywhere. Thank you for being on the show. [42:45] Going down this path of wrongful convictions, I can’t believe this is still happening. It’s mind-blowing that Chris even has 135 cases to work on. If you know someone is sitting in prison for a crime they didn’t commit, step up. Find the courage and tell someone in law enforcement or at a prosecutor’s office. What is worse than sitting in prison for a crime you didn’t commit? Thank you for watching — make sure to like, share, subscribe, and comment. We have our 100th episode coming up soon, and you won’t want to miss it! Thank you and take care.
48 minutes | 2 months ago
98 - After His Innocent Brother Suddenly Died in Prison, This Man is Taking Justice Reform, Head-On
On December 2nd, 1999, Timothy Cole died of an asthma attack while in prison for a sexual assault he didn’t commit. Stunned by the injustice of the loss, his brother Cory vowed to clear his brother’s name and ensure such a tragedy never befall anyone else. His family, joined by the victim and the Texas Innocence Project, successfully overturned Tim’s conviction on February 6, 2009, becoming the state of Texas’s first posthumous exoneration. Today, Cory is the Vice President of the Texas Innocence Project, drawing upon his experiences to lobby for progressive, statewide justice reform. Tune in to this moving installment of Open Mike for updates on the Innocence Project’s current initiatives and how Tim’s family is faring these days. Show Notes [00:30] Background of Cory Session, Vice President of Texas’s Innocence Project, and context of his brother Timothy Cole’s wrongful conviction and asthma attack death while behind bars. [01:04] Cory, welcome to Open Mike. I hate meeting under these circumstances, but I know it’s your life’s mission, talking about your brother and Innocence Projects… you’ve worked tirelessly to free wrongful convictions — can you set the stage for our viewers on why? [03:20] This ended up being a high-profile case… a white woman being allegedly raped by a Black man, a series of serial sexual assaults that started before he even got to campus… why don’t you tell us some of the basic issues that happened within the case and doomed Timothy’s chance at a fair trial? [7:07] Testimonial from the survivor stated that her assailant kept smoking cigarettes and she would pocket the butts, thinking they would be useful as evidence. Timothy was a severe asthmatic and couldn’t smoke — information that was not told to her by police. [08:12] Another rape occurred, and Tim was identified as the rapist… which is impossible, because he was not even in the same geographic region and had an alibi. [09:48] Tim refused a plea deal for two years of probation, because he refused to admit to a crime he didn’t do. [11:48] Every time Tim’s defense attorney mentioned the name of a suspect who later ended up being guilty, the judge threatened to hold him in contempt. [12:15] He was convicted and ultimately sentenced to 25 years in prison. [15:28] On December 3rd, Tim’s family was notified that he had passed away in prison the previous day. [21:46] While Tim was in prison, he still remained in close contact with his family, with multiple visits. And maintained his innocence, hoping for eventual exoneration. [22:59] A lot of these cases have bad lawyering, but it doesn’t sound like that here. It sounds like Tim had a horrible prosecutor and judge. It’s shocking how this jury came to this result. I know there was DNA evidence back during this time — none of which could have matched your brother and matched someone else. [24:32] Was it argued at trial that your brother couldn’t smoke cigarettes? [25:12] Fast forwarding a little bit to the wonderful changes you and your family were able to put into action in Texas… why don’t you talk about some of the developments that have occurred as well as your mission work? [27:43] In 2008, an investigative reporter told Tim’s family that detectives had a rape kit that would have potentially exonerated him, implicated Jerry Wayne Johnson, the actual rapist, and they were sitting on it. Up until that time, no one in Texas had been posthumously exonerated. [31:45] Tim’s family ended up meeting with then-governor Rick Perry and convinced him to pass the Timothy Cole Compensation Act which increased compensation funds to exonerees to $80,000 per year for time served — the most generous in the country — as well as up to 120 college credit hours and lifetime annuity. [34:43] We’ve been doing a lot of these cases, and people who are exonerated do not receive the same benefits as someone who’s been paroled… so it’s fantastic that the state of Texas has been getting on board and trying to make it better for those who have been released. [38:01] Tim’s family still keeps in contact with the assault survivor who incorrectly identified him as a perpetrator, and there is no blame being cast— both parties are moving forward with grace and forgiveness. [39:03] Is there anything being done in Texas to make sure this never happens to someone else? Because you and I both know that wrongful identifications make up a huge percentage of wrongful convictions… [42:16] Can you give us a brief overview of what you’re doing as VP of Texas’s Innocence Project? [45:13] You’re doing some great work and I commend you for these admirable efforts. Last question… what do you think Tim would say about all of the good work you’re doing with the Innocence Project and all the developments that happened posthumously? [47:13] While he was in prison, Tim stated, “I still believe in the justice system even if it does not believe in me.” [47:40] I think with your tenacity, we will reach a place where justice is distributed more equally. And I want to end on that powerful note. Cory Sessions, thank you so much for being here with us on Open Mike and sharing your story. [48:02] Be sure to check out the Texas Innocence Project, and donate if you can! [48:18] Another tough one… if you know somebody who needs to see this episode, forward it to them, like, comment, subscribe… thank you for being here with us and watching Open Mike — take care.
52 minutes | 2 months ago
97- Community Farming Project Helps Former Convicts Rebuild Their Lives and Flex Their Green Thumbs
What if you could nourish both the bodies and the souls of your fellow neighbors? We the People Opportunity Farm has accomplished just that for Washtenaw County and its inhabitants. The community farming project has sowed the seeds for its participants’ success by investing in the employment and development of formerly incarcerated men and women through farming and community engagement. Since its unofficial launch in 2017, the program has consistently expanded in both size and reach, selling its vegetables to seventeen area restaurants and donating fresh produce to those in need. We the People Opportunity Farm prides itself on its core values of radical inclusion, intentional collaboration, courageous disruption, foundational justice, and commitment to growth — all of which have been integral to the project’s stunning development. If you’re passionate about gardening or advocacy work, this episode is an absolute must-watch! Show Notes [00:44] Melvin Parson and Deshawn Leath, welcome to Open Mike! [00:51] This is the first time I’ve had guests in my studio in months, and this feels like a really good one to welcome people back with. I’ve been reading about you, Melvin, and what a program you have put together — We the People Opportunity Farm in Washtenaw County. Tell us about this incredible nonprofit that involves farming, feeding the needy, and helping former convicts reintegrate into society! [02:00] I love the analogy of building the plane in the air… when did you start this program? [03:55] What did you grow in the garden that first summer? [06:15] How did you get the land that you built the farm on? [09:22] A chance interaction with a local, neighborhood kid who wanted to help with the farm made Melvin realize that this space could hold a tremendous amount of community value. It was his job to create a safe space for others to nourish themselves, both physically and spiritually. [12:38] This community garden has been steadily growing — how large is it now? [14:38] It’s 2017, you had a quarter-acre of land for the garden, lots of volunteers… what kind of vegetables are you growing? [15:40] Well-known Ann Arbor staple Zingerman’s Roadhouse ended up being the first client they sold their produce to. They eventually expanded to seventeen other restaurant clients in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area, all of whom praised the quality of the vegetables, which Melvin attributes to the quality of the soil he curated. [17:46] How many acres are you growing on now? [18:43] I want to bring Deshawn Leath into the conversation… one of Melvin’s tenets is to bring in lots of volunteers and to bring in formerly incarcerated, paid interns into the farm. Tell us about yourself, and your story. [21:50] While serving a five-year prison sentence, Deshawn committed himself to transforming his life, and was connected with Melvin through another nonprofit. He’s currently interning with We the People Opportunity Farm, 46 days after his release. [22:46] What an incredible story, Deshawn. Did you do any type of farming or gardening while you were in prison? [23:50] Melvin, farming is not an easy business… using former inmates — tell me your thought process on that? It sounds like you’re specifically seeking out former inmates to help the farm. [28:29] You’ve probably already thought about this, Melvin, because you are quite the visionary… the two of you and others in your situation going into prison and teaching inmates about gardening, soil, and how to change their lives… If that’s allowed, of course. Have you thought of that? [29:28] Are all of your interns formerly incarcerated men and women? How many have you taken on? [30:24] With help from their partner Grace Fellowship Church House of Solutions, which is where the farm is currently located, they hope to expand from half-an-acre to a full acre, which would allow them to introduce more people into the paid internship program. [33:01] If people want to come for field trips, or just to visit, volunteer, and enjoy the energy of what you’ve grown, how can they find out about you and arrange to make that happen? [34:30] Because of COVID-19, volunteering opportunities are more intentional and structured, but you can contact We the People Opportunity Farm at any time via their website and social to arrange a date. [35:42] Deshawn, do you believe this internship will break the cycle of incarceration? What does this opportunity mean to you? [38:28] One of the admirable values of your mission is to be “courageously disruptive of the prison-industrial complex.” Could you explain that to me? [40:44] You’re in Washtenaw County and some really good things are happening there! You have a new prosecutor who’s shaking things up, and ended the cash bail system… I think that’s the first county in Michigan and hopefully it will become statewide. [46:30] I can’t see how you could fail with this energy you keep… you certainly have commitment from my law firm — we’re going to donate to your cause — and when you need people out there, we’re going to help bring people. We didn’t even mention this — but you give a lot of this beautiful, soulful food to people who can’t afford it! Tell us a little more about that. [50:26] If there’s anything you need from me, please reach out and let me know. Thank you both for being here — I really appreciate you taking the time to share your vision with me, and I look forward to the future because I know it’s going to be bright. [50:56] Thank you for listening and watching Open Mike! I hope you were as blown away as I was — please volunteer, donate, and buy merch from them! I can’t wait to see what happens with this organization because I’m anticipating great things. Please share, like, comment on this episode — and thank you for tuning in.
25 minutes | 2 months ago
96 - Local Comedian Hosts Star-Studded Virtual Comedy Shows to Benefit Restaurants Shuttered By COVID
The entire world has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but few industries have been hit as uniquely hard as the bar and restaurant sector. Recognizing the dire straits the industry faces, Michigan-born comedian Jason Douglas was compelled to help and launched Pay it Forward Comedy, a virtual standup series that distributes crowd-sourced funds to struggling restaurants and bars. The shows feature national headline acts from shows like Seinfeld and Breaking Bad donating their time and talent to raise money for small businesses that have partially or completely closed down due to the pandemic. Tune in to this latest installment of Open Mike for information on upcoming comedy shows and ways to contribute to your local establishments — while enjoying laugh or two as well! Show Notes [00:30] Jason Douglas’s bio and Pay It Forward Comedy charity event details. [00:54] Jason, welcome to Open Mike! [01:08] There are so many ways to help small businesses, like you’re doing with Pay It Forward Comedy. Tell us how you came up with the idea! [01:40] So you have the participation of some comedians who have been on Seinfeld and Breaking Bad… tell us who they are! How hard was it to get them to do this? [02:21] Wait, Agent Gomez from Breaking Bad is a comedian? [02:39] When are these comedy shows? How can people watch? [02:47] Check out their Facebook Page for upcoming show dates! [03:12] I didn’t know you were a Metro Detroit guy! I have a lot of restaurant friends, so I love this idea. Where were you born and raised? [03:37] How does this work? You’re conducting this on Facebook or a platform where people can digitally log in… but let’s say we pick a great restaurant — walk us through how the event works. [04:48] Have you done one yet in Michigan? [05:47] I know when I’m in a comedy club, I’m laughing my ass off… whereas, if I’m watching an HBO comedy set, I’m not as engaged. How are you finding it translating over via Zoom? How does the audience interact and how do you feed off them when the audience is remote? [07:03] Let’s try it — I’m gonna put you on the spot. Give me a little something! [07:47] How many shows have you done thus far? And what’s the reaction from the restaurants? [08:08] Those headliners you mentioned… are they up for participating whenever? [08:39] How many of the jokes are about COVID and the pandemic? What percentage does that occupy the setlist? [09:35] Tell me about your comedic life! Before COVID, what were you up to, what’s your background? [11:07] You’re booking a lot — are you still doing standup, or is that a thing of the past? [12:04] Before COVID, there were a lot of new comedy shows on Netflix… now that live comedy shows are paused, I imagine there’s been a boom in recorded comedy specials? [12:50] Royal Oak’s Comedy Castle is consistently voted one of the nation’s best comedy clubs and just reopened in late February for the first time since the pandemic. [14:05] Do you like heckling when you’re performing? [15:28] You mentioned you worked with Brad Garrett… what did you do for him? Is he a good dude? [16:05] Your company is called the Comedian Company and you’re still booking events both corporate and private party right now… if anyone is listening and owns a restaurant that is struggling, make sure to contact Jason, who is providing this service. [22:36] Jason also got Darren McCarty, a former Open Mike Guest, into comedy. [23:48] Thanks for being on Open Mike, Jason! We’ll talk soon. [23:58] There you have it! Jason Douglas from Pay It Forward Comedy… if you have someone in your life who loves to laugh, be sure to forward this episode to them and like/subscribe. We’re nearing 3 million downloads and are coming up to our 100th episode, which we have some special stuff planned for… we appreciate you watching — take care!
50 minutes | 2 months ago
95 - Crack Usage, Misidentification and Fraud: How One Man Was Wrongfully Imprisoned for 21 Years
At age 17, Philadelphian Terrance Lewis found himself falsely accused of the 1996 murder of Hulon Howard, incriminated by the deceased’s girlfriend who was under the influence of crack cocaine at the time. After an excruciating two-year-long investigation, Lewis was ultimately convicted of murder and sent to prison. He would remain wrongfully incarcerated for the next twenty-one years, until a new defense team, groundbreaking Supreme Court ruling, and pragmatic Common Pleas Judge helped pave the way to his 2019 exoneration. Upon release, Lewis successfully filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia and appropriated the funds to launch the Terrance Lewis Liberation Foundation, a non-profit that advocates for wrongfully convicted and disproportionately sentenced peoples. Tune in to this installment of Open Mike to find out how he managed to reassemble his life and give back to others who have been similarly victimized. Show Notes [00:13] Terrance Lewis’s background and bio. [00:49] Terrance, welcome to the show. I’m so happy to have you here, today. [1:00] I’ve read a lot about you and I have to say I’m so sorry you spent nineteen years in prison for a murder you didn’t commit. It’s just a heartbreaking story and I’m so pleased you’re approaching a two-year milestone of being released. I’m honored to have you on the show. [01:48] Terrance actually spent over twenty-one years in prison. [02:57] It’s scary how common these stories are, how common the injustice and the fraud is. It’s just mind-boggling... [03:38] Let’s go back to 1997, you were nineteen years old, expecting your first child, a month away from being born… were you excited about becoming a dad? [04:58] Were you able to build a connection with your son while you were in prison? [05:59] Terrance was placed in the farthest regions of Pennsylvania, far from his hometown of Philadelphia, further isolating him from his family. [06:15] How many times did you see your son in those twenty-one years? [07:21] Let’s go back to 1997 again… there was a murder in your neighborhood, you were living with your cousin, didn’t have a ton of money… did you hear about this murder or know that something happened? [08:42] When was the first time you were notified you were a suspect? Was it when the police approached you? [09:33] Tell us how the police became convinced of your guilt and arrested you? [11:29] One of the witnesses had gotten high on crack cocaine prior to alleging Terrance’s guilt. Police then manipulated and exploited her unreliable memory to spoon feed her contrived information that pinned the murder on Terrance. [13:15] They never got a wrongful confession out of you, correct? They never tied you with DNA, a weapon, or any evidence except for a known addict who was getting high when she allegedly saw you, correct? [14:01] There were two other people convicted who were with you at the time, yes? [15:24] Who was your defense attorney for your trial? [16:37] Was this a court-appointed attorney or did you retain him with money? [18:56] Did you meet your attorney before the trial? [20:57] How many days was your trial? [21:30] A lot of these wrongful conviction trials are short jury trials with poor defense attorneys who aren’t calling up witnesses or cross-examining… did he mount any defense once the trial was going? Were you aware during your trial that things were going horribly awry? [24:21] Where were you at the time of the murder? Did you have an alibi? [26:18] None of that makes sense and it’s shocking to hear these types of stories. Did your attorney call any witnesses at all on your behalf? [27:58] Terrance, with all due love and respect, you keep saying you’re not a lawyer… but you’re smarter than a lot of lawyers I know — you don’t have to be a lawyer to brainstorm these facts you’re presenting, which makes your situation even sadder. Did you testify at trial? You mentioned that you wanted to, but did you ever take the stand? [32:05] Take us through the process of how you were exonerated — what happened along that journey? [34:07] In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to give minors like Lewis mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole. In 2016, a second ruling from the high court made that decision retroactive, giving Lewis the opportunity to be resentenced. [38:11] You went to a judge, prepared to plead guilty to a crime you didn’t commit in order to win your innocence… and that judge decided to not make you go through with that, and vacated your sentence on the spot — is that basically what happened? [40:54] I want to talk about how you got your paralegal degree while you were in prison — is that true? [41:13] You got out of prison and you had job offers! That was actually a positive aspect, and I’m curious — are you working now? What are you currently doing? [41:40] Terrance is in the process of opening his own foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit, the Terrance Lewis Liberation Foundation, dedicated to advocating for wrongfully convicted people and those serving disproportionate sentences. The Liberation Foundation also seeks to support formerly incarcerated folks and challenge police and prosecutorial misconduct. [43:46] You filed a civil lawsuit after you got out and won over $6 million — congratulations, you deserve it! And you’re using your own money to help other people get out of prison, which is commendable. Is that what you’re doing full-time now? [45:24] You had a dream to go to college, our notes say. Is that something you’re still pursuing? [47:01] I commend you for all the work you’re doing to give back. And I’m so sorry you lost those 21 years. I love your attitude and energy. I’ve become friends with some exonerees in Detroit, and they have similar character — they’re caring people, loving people, they care about their community and aren’t consumed by rage or vengeance. And I get the same vibes from you. [48:29] Keep up the good fight, Terrance. Good luck with your son, your foundation… we appreciate you coming on Open Mike. Thanks again, it was so nice to meet you! [49:01] There you have it — Terrance Lewis, exoneree from Pennsylvania, what a crazy story…if you’ve been following our wrongful conviction series, it’s just more of the same. If you know anybody who needs to see this, forward it to them, like it, subscribe to our channels, and thank you for being a fan of Open Mike. Take care!
34 minutes | 2 months ago
94 - Student Vigilante Group Uses Fake Social Media Accounts to Rid Cities of Child Predators
This week, Open Mike welcomes its first faceless guest! Meet Ghost, a mysterious vigilante who has launched Creep Catching Unit, an online movement dedicated toward keeping communities safe by exposing and reporting pedophiles. CC Unit operates independently of law enforcement to entrap and confront predators who believe they’re meeting up with children or young teens. They then post videos of the altercations online for the Internet to distribute and publicly shame — a pillory for the digital age. In this must-see episode, Ghost takes us through his vigilante origin story, shares details on CC Unit’s most intense encounters, and swaps war stories with a surprise, celebrity visitor! Show Notes [00:05] Background of CC Unit and their founder, Ghost. [00:52] Welcome to Ghost — or should I say Mr. Ghost — how are you? [1:00] CC Unit is pretty big in California! I’ve looked at your YouTube channel that has tens of thousands of followers, your Facebook page is replete with information… but for my listeners who aren’t familiar with CC Unit, tell them what you’re all about! [01:58] How many people are in CC Unit? [02:23] On these videos, you’re normally the one who confronts these people? [02:47] How long have you been doing this? [03:04] I know you want to remain anonymous, but what can you tell us about your background? Tell your fans a little bit about yourself — that you can tell us. [03:54] What sparked your interest to help your community like this? [04:30] The first day Ghost created a decoy account, he caught a sex offender. [04:52] Is being a detective or police officer still in the cards for you? [05:48] You’re setting up decoy accounts and posing as a younger person, a 13 or 14-year-old… and then what happens? Take us through the process. [07:16] How surprised were you the first time one of these creeps started hitting up what they believed to be a young kid? [08:20] Did you videotape your first encounter when you met the perp? [08:57] How many videos have you posted with different individuals? [09:35] I’ve watched some of these videos… how many people do you gave with you when you make a bust? [10:22] You’re not carrying a weapon when do make these busts, do you? [10:41] What does “CC” stand for in “CC Unit? [10:56] What does law enforcement think about you? [11:27] I know here in Michigan, police and prosecutors were very upset with Zach Sweers from Anxiety Wars and said they would refuse to prosecute anyone he brought to them. Has anyone in California said anything like that to you? [12:12] How many arrests and convictions have you helped facilitate? [13:01] One person was convicted, and he was in the military? Tell me about that case, what did he try to do? [13:56] Did you participate in that trial in any way? That case was based on evidence you brought to them? [14:52] When you put the videos and offenders’ information on the internet, what’s the reaction? [15:43] Let’s go to your Facebook page for a second… when scrolling through these, you do explain what all these people did to land on your page… there are hundreds of these! You have people of all different backgrounds in these cases and other people in the chat logs providing you their employment and other miscellaneous information… is there a movement behind these videos you’re posting? [17:00] You mentioned you used to watch To Catch a Predator with Chris Hansen… tell us about your experience with that show, what it meant to you, and how it shaped what you’re doing now. [18:50] What did you think of Chris Hansen? [19:20] Would you say he was one of your heroes growing up? [19:42] Have you ever talked to him or met him? [20:24] Well, Ghost, I have a special surprise for you today. I’d like you to meet Chris Hansen! [20:45] Thanks for jumping on today, Chris, I know you’re busy! Ghost here is trying to follow in your footsteps in California and is exposing a lot of pretty scummy people. I thought you guys should meet! [23:17] Ghost, if you had one question for Chris what would it be? [23:30] Would you ever collaborate with CC Unit? [24:38] Thank you for appearing on the show, Chris! [25:16] Let’s go back to you — have you had TV producers and directors call you for any potential collaborations? [26:00] What are plans for CC Unit moving forward? Are you going national or expanding to bring on more cases? [27:15] You’re active on YouTube and there are lots of commercials on your stuff! I assume you’re making some revenue from this? [29:08] Is any part of your surprised that there are still these types of people online? You post something from a decoy account and get hundreds of responses… is that still shocking to you? [30:19] Tell us about your craziest bust to date. [31:10] The scariest part to me is that you’re just scratching the surface of this. It feels like there are tens of thousands of people out there still doing this… and that they’re successful. That scares me! [32:20] Keep up the good work… CC Unit and Ghost, anyone who watches your stuff appreciates what you’re doing. Stay safe, be careful, and thank you for appearing on Open Mike! [33:17] There you have it — Ghost from CC Unit with a guest appearance by Chris Hansen. Thanks for watching Open Mike and sharing this episode with anyone who needs it. We have our 100th episode coming up and we have something special planned — you won’t want to miss that! Take care and stay tuned…
60 minutes | 3 months ago
93 - We Didn't Start the Fire: Why Are so Many Innocent People Convicted on Faulty Arson Evidence?
Imran Syed is nationally recognized attorney, professor, and documentary film producer. As assistant director of Michigan’s Innocence Clinic, he and a coterie of supervised law students are at the forefront of criminal justice reform, investigating and litigating a wide variety of cases with special focus on forensic science-based innocence. Having litigated several arson wrongful convictions based on outdated science, Syed is an outspoken supporter of strategies needed to address obsolete scientific evidence and its role in false imprisonments. In Episode 93 of Open Mike, Syed and Mike discuss potential outcomes of the justice reform movement, and why arson cases may specifically lead the charge to widespread, national reform. Show Notes [00:14] Imran Syed bio and background as assistant director of the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic. [00:58] Imran Syed, thank you for being on Open Mike today! [01:25] You don’t have a giant ego, but let’s put it into perspective… how long has the Michigan Innocence Clinic been in existence, how many convictions have you overturned… give us some general statistics! [03:28] In eleven years of being open, the Innocence Clinic has had twenty-four successful victories ranging from arson to murder. [04:30] Let’s set the table for our viewers… how many cases do you get asked to review per year? [06:09] On average, how many cases per year would you say you open? [07:24] What percentage of the work you do is conducted by law students as opposed to the clinic’s three supervising attorneys? [09:05] I know that the law students there, like yourself, are going on to do this for a living which has to be gratifying for you guys… [10:17] I’ve interviewed six people who have been wrongfully convicted in Michigan, and the only reason they’re home with their families is because of organizations like the Innocence Clinic. Some of these cases you even worked on! How does the enormity of what you’re doing add up in your brain? How does that feel? [13:33] You were instrumental in the Dwayne Provience case, which was one of the country’s first non-DNA innocence cases. Why was this particular case so groundbreaking? [17:00] It feels like you can’t go another week with another wrongful conviction being overturned, right? [19:42] Out of all these interviews I’ve been doing, and all these podcasts in this industry… I’ve met the most generous people. Your community is pretty special. When I’m reading through these cases preparing for an interview, the defense attorneys in wrongful convictions are usually just bad. What percentage of the time did exonerees have a stellar defense with the right experts and right arguments? [22:57] You actually wrote a film on the case we were talking about called The Price of Providence… it won a few awards at the Great Lakes Film Festival, so congratulations on that! Tell us how about that project and how we can watch it! [27:34] Another case you worked on, Walter Forbes — recently released after 37 years for a murder he didn’t commit. How long ago was he exonerated? [27:58] Why don’t you take us through that… how long did you work on that case? [34:54] And how is Walter Forbes now that he’s out of prison after 37 years? [37:07] Talk about patience! This man should be giving lectures on the topic — I can’t even wait 37 minutes for an answer on some things, let alone 37 years. It’s unbelievable! [40:13] It’s interesting, every exoneree I’ve met hasn’t come out of prison embittered, and it’s very consistent! They’re appreciative and they don’t want to waste another day being mad — and they’re all horrible stories! The only good aspect of these stories is that they’ve been released. [41:28] One area that the Michigan Innocence Clinic specializes in is arson cases… I’ve never worked on any arson case — why are so many people imprisoned based on evidence surrounding arson? [46:22] You have so much knowledge about arson cases… there are probably thousands of arson cases across this country right now being brought for wrongful reasons. Are you able to implement this knowledge and proliferate it to their defense attorneys, court-appointed or otherwise? Or are they on their own and forced to Google? How do you get the right information to the right people? [48:48] I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention your clinic’s success in Abusive Head Trauma cases… It feels similar to what you’re describing in the arson world, which is basically junk science. Am I right? [55:25] Maybe you and will one day have future conversations on this and civil attorneys across the country listening to this will be more inclined to help. I’m a big believer everyone should do a certain amount of pro bono hours per year, but not everyone does. Maybe with your professorship, we’ll be able to teach and shed some light on it! [56:32] Any time there’s been reform, it has followed a civil litigation case with competent, qualified, oftentimes high-profile attorneys. Very rarely does it come out of criminal cases because no one has the resources to litigate the cases properly. [58:58] Professor Imran Syed, thank you for being with us today and taking time to educate our listeners and viewers. [59:38] If you know people who are interested in these issues, forward this episode to them and be sure to like and subscribe to our channel! Thank you for watching Open Mike!
36 minutes | 3 months ago
92 - Juries Often Convict on Evidence — This Forensics Expert Asserts That Evidence Is Often Faulty
Show Notes [00:14] Kate Judson’s background and bio as Executive Director of the Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences. [01:37] Welcome to the show! I’m so excited to talk to you – on Open Mike, we’ve never really focused on forensics. I’m reading a quote from you that says there have been 2,500 exonerations since 1989… is that right? [02:18] It feels like every single week there’s another exoneration, and it’s hard to believe the frequency. Are you tracking what percentage of these exonerations are due to forensics? [03:49] Let’s take a step back… can you tell us about forensic evidence and why it’s such an important part of criminal trials? [04:27] What are some of the common problems and issues you encounter when dealing with forensic evidence and scientists? [05:25] In 60% of exoneration cases, forensic analysts have overstated what evidence has showed… meaning, they stated the evidence was more conclusive than it actually was. The most common issue is cognitive bias, an unintentional, yet inherently human, subjective interpretation of objective data. [06:44] On the show we had an attorney who discussed hyper-focus or tunnel vision on behalf of prosecutors and law enforcement… is that something you encounter? [08:03] One of the reasons we do these shows is because I want potential jurors listening to have a healthy dose of skepticism… because when you have a scientist or analyst in court pointing to evidence saying, “This blood spatter means this,” it’s a hard thing to prove, isn’t it? [09:28] We can’t stop ourselves from having a human brain and processing information the way we’re naturally disposed to — that’s why it’s so important to have a system to counteract it. [09:38] One of the Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences’ areas of specialty is diagnosing Shaken Baby Syndrome, is that true? Can you tell our audience about the major flaws of that diagnosis in those types of cases? [10:58] Our audience listened to an interview with Julie Baumer, someone who was convicted of Shaken Baby Syndrome… you worked on that case and wrote an Amicus for it, is that correct? [11:55] Isn’t it true they recently changed the name from Shaken Baby Syndrome to “Abusive Head Trauma” cases? [12:26] What is your best advice on those types of cases? Doctors, hospitals, and police seem to jump on that conclusion pretty quickly and it disrupts and ruins lives… if you were to be able to get in front of all those people and educate them, what would your stance be? [18:25] In the case of bite marks, my impression is that all bites marks are accurate because we have different dental idiosyncrasies… tell me why that is completely wrong! [20:57] Kate, you made me realize how messed up our thinking is. The bias comes from people dying in a fire and using their dental records to identify them, that’s where my inherent bias came from! We take all this information we’re exposed to on the news or TV shows, and when we’re presented bite marks or dentals records in a criminal case, we assume it’s inherently accurate, and it’s not! [22:04] The legal system knows this to an extent. There are cases with precedential value that state it’s important for the science brought into a court case to be related to the research that underlines it. [23:56] Kate, you started off as a public defender. Lots of these wrongful convictions unfortunately involve court-appointed attorneys who don’t have the same resources as prosecutors’ officers. Now that you’re in forensics and can see both sides, what needs to be done to level the playing field between public defenders and the prosecutors’ offices? [26:36] You’re now working as the Executive Director of the Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences. How did that come about? [27:29] What is the overall mission of your new organization? [27:44] And it was co-founded by Dean Strang and Jerome Buting who are well-known in their defense of Steven Avery documented in the Netflix docuseries Making a Murderer. Major hit. How has that series impact the community fighting wrongful convictions? [28:40] What was your take on that whole show and your take on Steven Avery’s guilt or innocence? I have to ask! [31:47] I don’t know if you can track this or anecdotally… are people now more likely to believe forensic science can be flawed after watching series like Making a Murderer? [32:40] Are Dean and Jerry still defending people accused of crimes or are they more focused on the project you’re working on? [33:20] Make sure to check out all the good work the Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences is up to — along with their social media — on their website! [33:59] Anyone in the criminal justice system can receive training on these issues — prosecutors, judges, people facing criminal charges. In rare cases, they also get involved as co-counsel to litigate a particular issue. [35:09] Kate, thank you so much for being on and doing this work. We appreciate all you do! [35:36] If you know someone who would benefit from seeing this information, share this episode and make sure you subscribe to get updates! Thank you for watching, thank you for listening. Have a great day!
29 minutes | 3 months ago
91-Fat Tuesday or Fat Booze Day? Detroit Distilleries Paczki Vodka Packs a Perfectly Flavorful Punch
Do you enjoy sugary, deep-fried treats? What about a nice, relaxing drink after a long day? Thanks to Detroit City Distillery’s palate-tickling paczki vodka, you can have both at the same time! In this intoxicating episode, distillery co-owner Michael Forsyth discusses how the concoction is steeped Detroit’s Polish heritage, explains the innovative pastry-to-vodka distilling process, and updates us on business progress throughout the pandemic. Bonus content— Mike and team conduct an in-office vodka tasting! Show Notes [00:40] Michael Forsyth, co-owner of Detroit City Distillery — welcome back to Open Mike! [00:50] Last time you were here, you provided some bourbon that was very good that I restocked several times. But you had mentioned you had amazing paczki-flavored vodka and yet you sold so many of them you weren’t able to share any with me! You sold out 2,000 bottles in 4.5 hours last February, is that true? [02:13] Tell us about your business and what you’ve been up to since the pandemic! [03:52] Bottle sales this past pandemic year compared to a normal year… are they up, down, flat, what’s happening? [04:35] Bars were closed, but people purchased so much alcohol from liquor stores that business was actually up compared to the previous year. [05:37] We’re talking about Paczki Day, which is coming up, February 16th. Do you want to tell our listeners about Fat Tuesday and what it’s all about? [06:22] Detroit City Distillery is partial to New Palace Bakery in Hamtramck, a local, 100-year-old institution. [07:18] You love paczkis and you love alcohol… what made you decide to put together the proverbial chocolate and the peanut butter? [09:13] Has anybody copied you yet? [10:23] You showed me last year of the paczkis smushed up in the alcohol, and it looked kind of gross and good at the same time! But you strain out the paczkis and then it burns off, right? [11:34] On that note, you’re making my mouth water. So I want to introduce you to two of the people who helped the alcohol industry sell all of those bottles last year — Jami and Ryan who work here at the law firm! I thought rather than drinking alone in my office, I would have them in here and sample it and give us their opinions! [12:50] I like the bottle, especially the sticker of the paczki on the back! [13:15] It’s 88 proof — how about you explain what that means while I pour for my friends? [13:55] Most vodka is proofed at 80, so this is going to give you a little more bang for your buck. [14:34] Alright… what’s “cheers” in Polish? [14:44] Wow, that’s smooth! I don’t usually drink vodka straight — this is really good! [15:18] You can distill anything into vodka because it’s essentially pure alcohol. You can make it out of potatoes, wheat, rye, grapes. Potato vodka is often the smoothest, a “blank canvas.” [16:25] Jami loves it — it’s much smoother than the vodka she normally drinks. [16:55] Ryan agrees — it doesn’t have the burn going down. The raspberry flavor comes through, but you can actually taste the doughiness of the pastry. [17:38] This might be good just on the rocks… would you mix this with anything? [18:19] Detroit City Distillery does a riff on a White Russian with this vodka. They use Bailey’s instead of Kahlua and grate cinnamon over the top. [19:04] There’s another drink called the Polish Daisy that’s the paczki vodka, Cocchi Americano (a fortified wine), lemon, and vanilla syrup. They’ll be bottling and selling this as a bottled cocktail. [22:37] These pre-bottled cocktails you’re selling — where can I go out and buy those? [22:54] Purchase cocktails on the Detroit City Distillery website, and pick it up in person or curbside at their tasting room! They’re open Wednesday-Sunday. [23:29] Some of your liquor is available at local liquor stores and supermarkets. Will these bottled cocktails and paczki vodka be sold at these locations as well? [24:21] Last year, people were calling from Poland, asking how they could get their hands on the paczki vodka! In Michigan, bars are not allowed to ship alcohol, but Woods Wholesale Wine in Grosse Pointe is licensed to ship alcohol out-of-state (but not in state, ironically). [25:11] It feels like we need a law change in Michigan… how are we one of the only states that can’t ship alcohol? [25:56] Jami and Ryan just refilled their glasses, so that’s a compliment right there! And then they’re going to try and do some work around the firm after this… So if you call the firm and Jami answers and sounds a little happy, you know why! [26:28] What was your biggest seller last year? [27:03] Are you guys sending out newsletters? How are you getting the word out? [27:57] Cheers, Michael! Happy Paczki Day, and hopefully you’ll sell out just as quick as last year. [28:32] Thank you for watching this installment of Open Mike: Alcohol Edition. I’m going to start slurring my words in a minute. If you know someone who likes alcohol, vodka, or paczkis, share this episode and make sure you subscribe to get updates! Thank you for watching, thank you for listening. Take care! Note: at the time of production, Detroit City Distillery’s vodka had not yet been released. When it was released on February 1st, 2021, the entire stock sold out in 22 minutes.
30 minutes | 3 months ago
90 - Who Is the Man You Seek to Become? This Mentorship Program Guides Teens on the Path to Manhood
Mike McCormick is a dedicated father, husband, and community leader committed to teaching developing male minds the essence of authentic masculinity. Our antiquated, social norms often compel men to resist vulnerability, withdraw, and insist everything is within their control, while larger questions of what it means to be a man go unanswered. Many men reach adulthood without the emotional skillset or sense of identity required to properly function in the world — they’re little kids trapped in a big kids’ bodies. In order to combat this cultural deficiency, McCormick curated ManQuest, a spiritual approach geared toward transforming teenaged boys into men of courage, empathy, and integrity while strengthening bonds with their fathers and other male mentors. This episode is a must-watch for anyone with teenaged sons — the two Mikes discuss everything from media influences on male development, hurdles that deter holistic connection with our sons, and actionable methodologies to help navigate the path to authentic manhood. Show Notes [00:29] Mike McCormick’s background and bio as author of Manquest: Leading Teenage Boys into Manhood and founder of McCormick Basketball. [01:49] Welcome to the show, Mike! You wrote a book and accompanying program called Manquest — what is Manquest and why is it so important? [02:47] What are the hurdles in our way that prevent us from doing a better job of raising our sons? [03:52] I imagine social media over the last ten years hasn’t helped. I know raising daughters in the time of social media has been difficult… raising sons must be even harder. [05:19] Some dads may be listening to this and thinking, “This is uncomfortable… I’m not quite sure how to do this…” What’s your advice to help them get out of that discomfort and talking to their sons? [06:11] Lots of parents, including yourself, struggle with wanting to be friends with their kids vs. being a disciplinarian, administering tough love, and giving out advice. How do you advise the fathers and mentors you coach on the difference between being a friend and being a parent? [08:31] Tell us more about the Manquest program! Is there a religious aspect to this program? [08:56] The book is spiritual, not religious — it’s suited for people who are of faith as well as those who do not follow a specific faith. [09:37] What is “authentic masculinity?” [10:27] It can be boiled down into Five Guideposts, which are the “essence” of what it means to be a man: Lead Courageously, Pretend About Nothing, Protect Your Heart, Engage in Deep and Meaningful Relationships, Stay Awake! [12:39] Those are really good reminders for all of us. Your book also talks about “Rugged Truths.” What does that mean? Can you give us a few examples? [14:16] The Rugged Truths are basically individual points that examine the realities surrounding the Five Guideposts. While the Guideposts are the goal, the Rugged Truths are the harsh facts that life isn’t fair, we all go through periods of doubt and darkness, and that we aren’t going to be able to embody the Guideposts at all times. But we are still able to and need to get up when we’re knocked down. [16:50] Because of our archaic cultural norms, teenaged boys are rarely going to demonstrate the vulnerability to reach out and ask their fathers or mentors what it means to be a man. They’re compelled to act like they “have it all together.” [17:49] Manhood is taught, it is not caught. Men are made, they’re not born. [18:00] Are you finding the boys want to talk about these issues? Or is this something you have to convince them to talk about and realize the importance of? [18:55] Movies are a great way to unlock conversation and father-son bonding. [19:35] This makes me think… in the Jewish faith, once you hit thirteen, you become a man — that’s it. In your program, when do you see the boys entering manhood? Is there a specific age, or is it different for everyone? [21:04] Being a man is not a specific moment in time. It’s about choosing to live as a man. It’s a daily, moment-to-moment decision that we all have. [21:42] You mentioned movies… what are some of the best movies that can create an automatic connection and open up lines of communication? [24:24] You also have a daughter… is that the next book? Is “Womanquest” next? [27:00] It’s our responsibility to step up and provide these boys what they need to become men, because they’re struggling. [27:28] Make sure to check Mike’s work on the Manquest website, shoot him an email with questions, and read his book, available on the site or Amazon! [28:56] Thank you for being so passionate about this, writing the book, and doing what you do, Mike. Thanks so much for being on Open Mike today. [29:22] Mike McCormick, Manquest — I advise you to check it out! If you know anybody who would gain benefit from this episode, please tell them about it! Comment, like, subscribe — we’re already over 2 million downloads and we’re approaching our magic 100th episode! Thank you for being here, thank you for watching, and stay tuned for more!
39 minutes | 4 months ago
89 - Attorney Targets New Trial on 40-Year-Old Murder Case — Can Recent Evidence Free Her Client?
In 1980, Iowan man William Beeman was accused of murdering a woman named Michiel Winkel. However, Winkel was seen by several witnesses for days after the alleged time of her murder. Despite this testimony, Beeman has remained in prison for the last forty years. Enter Erica Nichols Cook, the Director Wrongful Conviction Division at the Iowa State Public Defender. Cook has spent the last several years attempting to get Beeman a new trial based on previous, possibly intentionally undisclosed evidence — evidence that could exonerate him. In this installment, she rehashes the outlandish circumstances of the case, provides updates on its appeal status, and discusses the challenges of reforming the criminal justice system in one of the most immutable states in the country. Show Notes [00:18] Backgrounds of Erica Nichols Cook and Jeff Wright. [01:23] Thank you both for coming on the show! Erica, I’m going to start with you. As Director of the Wrongful Conviction Division (WCD) in Iowa’s Office of the State Public Defender, how serious is the problem of innocent people being locked up in America, in your opinion? [01:49] Throughout the world, there have been 2,700 exonerations since 1989, only 16 of which were in Iowa. [2:20] Sounds like Iowa is a little bit behind the times… on Open Mike, we’ve talked to many people who deal with the conviction integrity units inside the prosecutor’s office. You are inside the defender’s office, (Jeff Wright who is on the podcast with us) which is the complete opposite. I don’t quite understand it, because you guys are the defenders of these people — of course you think these people are wrongfully convicted… so what good does it do? Jeff, I’m going to direct that question to you. [3:30] So the difference is you have a department inside the Public Defender’s Office that specifically looks at post-conviction cases. This started in about 2015 — what led to this division being created? [06:49] Do you guys still have private attorneys who can handle criminal cases, a court-appointed system? [07:22] Not every state has a state-run public defender’s office — Michigan doesn’t have one. I’ve asked several criminal defense attorneys why that is. Do you think it’s important to have one overseer of all the public defenders in the state, as opposed to on a county-wide basis? [08:39] What are some of the recurring issues that have led to so many innocent people going to prison? You mentioned there are less than 20 in Iowa, which is shockingly low… you know there are hundreds, if not thousands more. What are some trends that you’re seeing? [09:21] You’re talking about Brady violations… a lot of our listeners don’t know what that means — could you give us a brief lesson on that? [11:16] That’s a fascinating process, I’ve never heard of a deposition in a criminal case. That means you can sit with a police officer, detective, or investigator and ask if there’s any exculpatory evidence. Based on their truth and veracity, you get what they tell you… whether or not it’s the right authority person. Am I interpreting this correctly? Because it all sounds very strange! [13:31] It sounds like you need a law change, and you have a friendly lieutenant governor there… but if they’re not going to hand you a report, how do they comply with Brady? [14:01] It sounds like a waste of time, money, legal resources… you might have twenty people to depose — who has the time for that, especially if you’re deposed or a court-appointed attorney? [14:54] What’s the recipe for successfully finding the right experts and preventing wrongful convictions in the future? [15:52] You talk about violation of due process… are you referring to the 1980 case of William Beeman? Let’s dive into it. [20:42] Was the interrogation recorded? Or was there any evidence tying him to the crime scene? [22:05] The one piece of evidence you haven’t talked about yet — and tell me if I read your briefs wrong — there were SEVEN eyewitnesses who saw the victim after the time frame during which she was allegedly killed. [22:59] Two of the exculpatory witnesses were also hypnotized by law enforcement to get more information about Michiel Winkel’s whereabouts. [23:50] In 2019, prosecutors turned over an 853-page investigative report after a judge ordered discovery to obtain DNA testing of a semen sample located at the scene of the crime. In this document, they found eyewitnesses accounts that would have corroborated two other eyewitness accounts of seeing Winkel out and about AFTER the time period in which Beeman allegedly killed her. The trial attorneys did not have any of this information available to them before they went to trial on behalf of Beeman. [24:45] So the jury did hear from two or three witnesses that she was alive after the date prosecution said she was killed. That was actually argued and presented, and they still didn’t believe it? [25:30] The body was not kept in a cooler between the time it was located and when an autopsy was conducted the next day. The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy was a family practice doctor, who wasn’t experienced in forensics. [26:30] The body was in a stage of rigor mortis that corroborated other timeline witnesses that saw Winkel after the alleged time of her death. [27:04] What is the state saying now? Why are there still roadblocks? Why is there no honest prosecutor stepping up to help exonerate this man, what is going on there? [29:26] When a free society decides to imprison its people, it needs to do everything within its power to ensure that they’re guilty. And if there is anything that determines later that they’re not, it needs to be given full weight and evaluated. [30:10] It feels like every day I’m getting a notification that someone has been exonerated. The momentum is here, but it doesn’t seem like Iowa has caught up yet. My question is… have you been in front of a judge with this new evidence? What did they say? [32:27] So the court of appeals hasn’t ruled… how is the makeup of your Supreme Court — I assume pretty Republican? Is your governor a Republican? Lieutenant governor as well? He seems pretty sympathetic as a former defender, though… [34:22] I’ve become friends with some exonerees here in Michigan, and some of their stories go back to a newspaper columnist who took interest in their story and got the attention of the public on their side. Has this man received good public attention in Iowa yet? [36:09] The right person has to hear it, and the right person has to get mad. This DNA evidence is so important, and there are so many innocence clinics just focusing on DNA… I assume you haven’t searched their evidence room? [36:30] They HAVE searched the evidence room. There are boxes from 1979, but not 1980. There is no box labeled “Beeman” or “Winkel” and no explanation. [37:16] How old is Mr. Beeman these days? [37:40] Thank you both for your work on the Beeman case. Please let me know what happens with the court of appeals. Let’s try to get some publicity out there so people know what’s happening. Best of luck and keep fighting. [38:28] Thank you for watching Open Mike. If anybody you know is interested or experienced in these cases, please forward this episode to them. We really appreciate your support. Take care.
68 minutes | 4 months ago
88- Attorney & Reporter From Infamous Staircase Murder Mystery Share Stories From the Case
David Rudolf and Sonya Pfeiffer are spouses, attorneys at Rudolf Widenhouse law firm, and co-hosts of the popular podcast Abuse of Power. However, they may both be best known for their work on North Carolina vs. Peterson, a bizarre, 15-year-long case that was documented on the Netflix smash-hit, The Staircase. In this don’t-miss episode of Open Mike, Rudolf and Pfeiffer reflect on subjects omitted by the docuseries, including: the challenges of working on a highly publicized case with a documentary crew, what they retrospectively would have done differently to ensure justice, and how their client, Michael Peterson, is faring five years after the case’s conclusion. Show Notes [00:50] David Rudolf and Sonya Pfeiffer, thank you both for being here with us on Open Mike! I have so many questions for you, I’ve been reading about your history, and so many exciting things you’ve been a part of — things we’ve been trying to cover on Open Mike with all the wrongful exonerations… [01:07] David, let’s dive right in. You’ve been an attorney for many years and have always fought for the little guy. What has driven you to those cases? [02:32] Sonya, I recognize you from the Netflix series Abuse of Power. You had a prominent role as a reporter in the series — now you’re a lawyer, you guys are married, and you have this great podcast… tell us about that journey and where you are now. [05:19] What a journey! After law school you met David during the Peterson trial, is that true? [05:49] Did you guys start dating after the Peterson trial, during the Peterson trial, am I allowed to ask that question? [07:46] I assume with some of your current cases, you’re dealing with the press. How are you finding that? Are you good at that, or is it difficult? [10:21] Before we hop into the Peterson case, Netflix, and your podcast, I have a question about consistent problems you’ve seen in the many, many years you’ve been doing criminal defense… on our podcast, we’ve now interview five exonerees who have collectively sent over 100 years in prison for crimes they absolutely did not commit… As a lawyer of thirty years who’s new to criminal defense, I’m seeing consistent inequity in our justice system, and I’m curious what you’re seeing on a day-to-day basis and whether you think we’re getting better? [12:07] The root cause of such inequity may be confirmation bias, the tendency to seek out information that reinforces previously established beliefs. In a legal context where evidence may be weak, this can manifest in pressuring false confessions out of suspects, junk science, or tampered evidence. [14:57] If you’ve not checked out the Netflix series The Staircase, about the Peterson trial, you need to check it out. [15:25] How did you get involved in the case? Did you know someone involved, or were you one of the best resources around and were recruited? [17:48] How did the Netflix series come about and how did the production crew convince you to give them behind-the-scenes access? Because if any of that information came to light while the case was active, the case would have died! [22:39] Nothing was staged for the film, right? You would have proceeded the way you would have whether or not the film crews were there? [24:00] Sonya, how fascinating was that for you to watch after the trial, seeing how they came up with their legal theories and conducted investigations? [25:49] Thank you for putting that in context — the original Netflix series The Staircase came out in 2004 on the Sundance Channel, and then five additional episodes were released by Netflix in 2018. [26:26] Overall, were you please with how the series came out? [27:46] The team you put together… you definitely don’t put a team like that together for every case. On the big ones you do. This was a Dream Team. You had some really good defense attorneys, friends and family, jury consultants, pathologists… For example, you flew one in from Detroit — Werner Spitz, the former Oakland County medical examiner who’s world-renowned. A legend. How did you find him? [30:12] Your facial expressions in some of those first episodes are so compelling. You can almost see into your brain when you’re describing your theories to your jury consultants… I don’t think people realize how much is involved in making those tough decisions. And you don’t know if you made the right decision until the jury comes in and delivers their verdict! [32:54] The five exonerees I’ve interviewed, none of their defense attorneys had the qualities you described. Nor did they have any assembled teams defending them. [36:28] How do you instill the passion you’re describing in these attorneys so they become the most effective public defenders possible? [39:31] The Staircase is so well done, and so thorough. It should be mandatory viewing for law students. Maybe it will be one day. [40:14] For the fans who have seen this docuseries and may go back and re-watch… are there one or two things on the case you would have done differently? [42:35] When you have people who are perjuring themselves and confirmation bias, it’s hard to prove your theories, especially when you’re in the throes of it! It took you eight or nine years to thoroughly assert Michael Peterson’s innocence. But when you’re in it, and you have an uneducated, poor person up against a powerful attorney, it’s hard to prove your point. [44:44] When people make up evidence or perjure themselves, it’s called noble cause corruption. The reason they’re doing something wrong is that they believe they have the right person — the ends justify the means. [45:31] Did you interview the jury after the verdict? [46:37] The second trial you were granted never went… you sent many months working for your client and got him an Alford plea, which we don’t have in Michigan. Can you explain what that is? [48:49] Was it hard to convince Michael to take that plea? [49:50] How’s he doing with his children and the family unit he had? Are you still in contact with him? [51:03] Whether you think Michael is guilty or not, that’s not the point of the docuseries. The point is to show the criminal justice system, illuminate the issues in it, and to demonstrate that he didn’t get a fair trial. [51:46] What do you really believe happened? It may not be a fair question… it’s such a convoluted, crazy story. [55:19] David, you literally learned about the owl theory after closing arguments? [57:12] All these years later, we’re allowed to play Monday morning quarterback… if you were allowed to do the trial again, that would be your theory? [57:45] Did they check for evidence of an owl attack on her head? [58:16] Were the feathers in her hair ever analyzed to determine they were owl feathers? Are they in an evidence locker somewhere? [59:03] Tell me if I’m, wrong, but there wasn’t a single piece of evidence proving an intruder, there’s never been a weapon, there are bizarre marks on her head that don’t seem to be caused by a person, Michael isn’t covered in any evidence or DNA… it was almost like a phantom committed the murder! Those marks on her head may have been hard to reckon with. [1:00:50] David, tell us about your podcast Abuse of Power! [1:06:22] Thank you for being on the podcast, I’d love to do more episodes with you. If you have availability in the coming months, I’m going to give you a call [1:06:50] Make sure to check out Abuse of Power and The Staircase on Netflix, everyone! David, thank you for your time. [1:07:08] Thank you for watching Open Mike, I hope you enjoyed this episode! Some of the questions I asked today I’m sure they did not ask when the trial was live — if you think I missed any questions, let me know because it sounds like we’re going to have David back on. Like, comment, subscribe, download. We’re looking forward to a great 2021 season and we have lots of great things lined up for you! Thank you for watching, thank you for listening!
36 minutes | 4 months ago
87- Former Tonight Show Writer Has Given 5 TEDx Talks and Shares Tips on How to Get One of Your Own!
As a former writer for The Tonight Show, humor columnist, and podcast personality, Frank King is a natural comedian. However, similar to many comedians, he has battled depression and suicidal ideation his entire life, conditions that run in his family. Frank realized that his comedic skills provided him a casual platform through which he could reach and educate people on mental illness — when people are laughing, they’re learning. So, he drew upon his personal experiences with depression, framed them through a lens of comedy, and launched a career as a Suicide Prevention and Postvention Public Speaker and Trainer. While high in entertainment value, Frank’s keynotes are also highly impactful. By blending comedy and education, they start conversations, create a sense of community, and give voice to the feelings and experiences of those who have been affected by mental illness and suicide. In this episode of Open Mike, Frank reflects on his lengthy comedy career, discusses the state of the pandemic-affected speaking industry, and imparts some serious insight on mental illness, peppering in jokes all along the way. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center, or text MHA to 741741. Show Notes [00:24] Frank King’s background and bio. [01:57] Welcome to Open Mike, Frank! [02:23] That was quite an intro I just read! You’ve done it all, and now you’re doing TEDx Talks on suicide, comedy — I don’t even know where to begin! Let’s start with The Tonight Show — who was the host during the time you were there? [03:57] You got to work with and meet a bunch of celebrities, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, Kevin James… they came to the studio with their own jokes, so would you just meet them when they were in the building, working on the show? [04:46] You were writing on The Tonight Show, so were you ever on The Tonight Show? [05:31] Tell us one of your favorite bits or jokes you sold, whatever comes to mind! [06:55] Now you’re doing TED Talks… tell us how you got into that and the topics you speak on. [09:05] As someone who has hereditary Major Depressive Disorder and experiences moments of suicidal ideation, Frank realized he could speak on suicide prevention if he got some education on it. [11:07] So, people are hiring you to help them get TEDx Talks? [11:21] Tell our listeners and viewers the difference between a TED Talk and a TEDx Talk. [13:11] You’re talking about a very tough subject, you’re showing vulnerability, and adding some humor… was the first time you took the stage nerve-wracking? [14:22] What are a few of the takeaways from your talk? So people can search you out on TED and YouTube… [15:45] What’s the topic of your sixth TEDx Talk coming up in February? [16:38] Frank’s next talk is about depressive realism, a suggested attribute of people with depression that allows them to see the world as it is, unaffected by “rose-colored glasses.” The idea is to change the frame through which we view depression — not every aspect of it is negative. [17:56] You don’t get paid for TEDx Talks, correct? [18:56] What are you striving for? I imagine the goal is number of viewers — what’s a successful talk vs. a not-so-successful talk? [21:00] We’ve had five people on the show who have been wrongfully convicted, and some of them may want to do a TEDx Talk one day. They may not necessarily be able to afford to hire a coach but would benefit from some advice. What should they do in order to book a TEDx Talk some day? [25:42] How does one translate a lifelong experience, a story that takes hours and hours to share, into a fifteen-minute talk? [27:09] If you go to Frank’s coaching website, you can check out a PDF called 6 Things That Will KILL Your Chances Of Landing A TEDx Talk for more guidance on story structure. [27:40] I assume you’re doing TEDx virtually now? [28:06] Once you conduct a TEDx Talk, how do you leverage it? [29:40] Are you getting paid speaking gigs from these talks? [31:20] The professions with the five highest suicide rates are: construction, mining, excavation, fishing/forestry, dentists/veterinarians/physicians. [33:25] Right now is a good time to apply to TEDx because many people believe talks are no longer occurring, which is not the case. Many are occurring virtually. Additionally, the National Speakers Association estimates 25-40% of current speakers will not be working in the industry following the pandemic. There will be a pent-up demand and fewer speakers, so now is a good time to get in position if you are interested in being a speaker. [35:29] Thank you to Frank King for appearing on Open Mike! If you’re interested in a TED Talk or know someone who has an interesting story, make sure to check out his speaking website and coaching website. Thank you for supporting Open Mike!
48 minutes | 4 months ago
86 - Jeffrey Deskovic: From Murder, Rape Conviction to Exoneree to Lawyer Who Frees the Innocent
At age seventeen, Jeffrey Deskovic was wrongfully sentenced to life in prison for the rape and murder of a classmate. Authorities knew his DNA did not match that of the actual perpetrator – who would later murder another young woman and mother of two. Nevertheless, they colluded to convict and keep Jeff behind bars for the next 16 years. After his exoneration and release, Jeff successfully sued the responsible parties, and used a substantial portion of the compensation to start The Deskovic Foundation — a non-profit that overturns wrongful convictions and challenges the policies that enable them. Check out this riveting episode of Open Mike to learn more about Jeff’s post-prison life as a lawyer, the Amazon Prime documentary about his case, and how this traumatizing ordeal helped him find his true vocation. Show Notes [00:13] Jeffrey’s bio and background [01:10] Jeff, you were a sixteen-year-old high school student and you were arrested for rape and murder — can you tell us what that was like? [01:36] What kind of kid were you? [02:14] Why do you think the police targeted you? [02:32] Jeff didn’t necessarily fit in at school, so some students referred police to him. When Jeff was emotional over the untimely murder of a classmate, the police misinterpreted that as a sign of guilt. A psychological profile conducted by the NYPD also draw similarities between Jeff’s personal attributes and that of a potential perpetrator. [03:49] The way you describe those three things… that could have been anybody! There’s no way you could have committed this crime, but I’m reading about a confession you gave while in custody. Tell us about that. [06:42] After a polygraph and interrogating a terrified Jeff for 6.5-7 hours, police eventually broke Jeff into making a false confession. [06:51] Did they say you failed the polygraph? [07:55] After the fact, did you get readouts of this test that showed you came up clean? [08:18] So you were arrested after you gave this nonsensical confession? [08:38] You’re an intelligent guy, you went to law school, you’re now helping others in similar positions. Looking back on that confession, can you shed some light on how easy it is to be coerced into giving a false conviction? [09:55] Was this all on video tape? [10:15] Are there now laws in most states that confessions must be videotaped? [10:32] For the sake of time, you had a public defender, were tried by a jury, and convicted… how bad was your public defender? [12:40] There was some misconduct by a medical examiner, can you give us some details on that? [13:07] Six months after an initial examination, the medical examiner claimed to have remembered he found evidence the deceased victim was “promiscuous” in an attempt to help the prosecutor explain why DNA found at the scene didn’t match Jeff’s. [13:40] Was there prosecutorial misconduct other than that? [14:24] You had a pretty famous prosecutor, yes? [15:37] How long was the jury trial? You’re incarcerated the whole time? [16:04] Did you recant the confession right away and tell your family and lawyer? [16:59] So, you’re tried as an adult, convicted at sixteen-years-old, and sentenced for seventeen to twenty-five years? [17:28] You’re seventeen, you go to prison, are in solitary confinement for twenty-eight days at one point… how horrible was that? Was that the worst part of the experience? [18:32] Being in prison at seventeen years old… and with staff passing around pamphlets to let everyone know you’re this horrible sex offender… that had to have been the scariest thing in the whole world! [19:21] How did you get Barry Scheck and The Innocence Project to take a look at your case? [20:06] Tell us about the DNA. It’s a little bit confusing… Your DNA wasn’t on the scene… what was the new evidence that was presented? [21:15] After technological advancements in DNA testing that allowed for more specificity, it became apparent the DNA belonged to Stephen Cunningham, who had also killed and raped another person. He eventually admitted to the crime Jeff had been accused of. [21:51] In the Amazon Prime Documentary, Conviction, you talk at length about getting that news. What was that experience like? [24:54] The feeling of being released — how do you describe that? [25:28] How was your family? Did they coalesce and reengage with you after all this? [26:58] Jeff had infrequent visitors throughout his prison time, other than his mother who would visit every six months. He was putting ads in the local Sacramento newspaper for pen pals because he was so lonely and bored. He did find a pen pal who provided him moral support and kept him from going over the edge of loneliness. [27:51] It sounds like your family basically abandoned you… but you get out of prison, your wrongful conviction case gets a financial settlement, and then you decide to go to law school? [28:25] It took five years to obtain his settlement, during which Jeff struggled to find employment, housing, building social situations… but he was doing advocacy work in the meantime, and obtained scholarships to help him finish his education. Once he got his settlement, he used the funds to start the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice to help others who are wrongfully convicted and pursue policy changes. As of October 26, 2020, Jeff was officially admitted to the Bar. [30:02] How did you like law school? [32:15] You started this amazing foundation, the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice and have so far freed nine different people who were wrongfully convicted for different reasons, which is AMAZING. You’re using your settlement money to help others… I’m blown away by you. Thank you for what you’re doing for these people, selflessly. What is it about you that is compelling you to do this? [35:17] Jeff is able to remain free of angry and bitterness because he’s already lost so much of his life and doesn’t see any point in not enjoying what he has left. [35:44] It’s truly amazing. And you’re not only helping nine or ten clients, you’re pushing for policy change. What kind of traction have you gotten there? [36:01] Advocacy efforts helped pass a New York state law making video recording mandatory during interrogations, as well as ID reform and DNA database expansion. [38:15] What kind of team do you have working with you and so many initiatives? [40:46] It’s unbelievable. When people hear these stories, one thing they always ask about is immunity. Where are we in this country in holding bad judges, prosecutors, and cops accountable for their dirty tactics in wrongfully convicting people. Is there any movement forward? [44:01] How is your life these days? How is Jeffrey Deskovic doing now? [45:16] You mentioned chess… did you like The Queen’s Gambit? [45:39] What is the Queen’s Gambit, do you use it in your move? [46:12] Jeff normally opens with the French Defence, rather than the Queen’s Gambit. [46:27] Thank you for all the work you do and thank you for appearing on Open Mike. I hope everyone watching spreads word of your advocacy, and donates to your cause. Congratulations on becoming a lawyer, I know you’ll do amazing things. [47:19] Share this episode, check out the documentary Conviction on Amazon Prime, donate some money if you can. Thank you for watching and supporting Open Mike!
41 minutes | 5 months ago
85 - From G.E.D to Law Degree. How a Former State Representative Turned His Troubled Life Around
Brian Banks is a highly sought-after community educator, author, law school graduate, and former Michigan State Representative. But despite his tremendous career, he has experienced an equally tremendous degree of hardship along the way, from a dysfunctional childhood, to an adolescence marred by fraud charges, to corrupt political forces ousting him from office. In this episode of Open Mike, Banks discusses his personal struggles in depth and reflects on ways they’ve endowed him with the talent and tenacity to continuously create his own success. Show Notes [00:35] Brian Banks's intro and bio taken from his book, It Had 2 Happen. [01:35] Hi, Brian, thank you for being on Open Mike! [2:28] Our governor instituted some new reform in the no-fault arena, for no reason. What do you think about the no-fault changes that are currently going into effect? [04:50] Why do you think she gave a gift to the Republicans and insurance companies without thinking about her Michigan constituents? Do you have any insight on that? [08:13] You have a fascinating story and you’re very open about your story… You’re very open about the criminal activity you unfortunately got involved in, and you took responsibility. So, let’s dig into this — you grew up in Detroit, you went to Denby High School, and you dropped out your senior year. Give us a brief version about how that happened. [10:15] Due to a troubled home life, Brian started skipping class for weeks on end, after transferring to a different school. He eventually got a job, started hanging out with the wrong people, and started committing credit card and check fraud. [12:43] Eventually, Brian was charged on seventeen counts of fraud. [14:31] Eventually, he was sentenced to a year probation with the first six months on a tether, in lieu of jail… the tether was impeding his ability to land a job, so Brian successfully wrote, filed, and argued a motion to remove the tether. The next day, he obtained his GED and enrolled in Wayne State University, with aspirations of becoming an attorney. [18:03] What year did you get into law school? [18:28] Did you take the bar exam? [18:44] For those who don’t know, Michigan lawyers have to go through a process called “character and fitness” where they’re vetted to ensure they’re up to state standards to practice law. Because of Brian’s history, they would not let him be a licensed attorney in the state. [20:31] When someone experiences poverty, it’s a domino effect. Pair that with a felony conviction, it’s incredibly hard to obtain gainful employment. [21:36] When are you giving it another shot? [22:17] You go through the process, they pass you, and then you have to take the bar exam again? [22:59] Let’s talk about your time in the Michigan state legislature… can you tell us why you decided to run for Congress, here in Michigan? [26:09] During Brian’s first term, he had 100% attendance and a 100% voting record. Because of his experiences, he was compelled to make sure his constituents’ voices were represented at the capitol. The first community event he held was for ex-offenders, to help get their records expunged. [27:03] In 2014, Brian was re-elected with more votes than in his 2012 run. He was also elected by his colleagues as chairman of the Detroit Black Caucus. [27:13] Let’s talk about that — a very powerful Democratic caucus. What was that like, walking in as chairman after all that you went through? [28:36] As chairman, Brian was essentially the most powerful African American in the state legislature. He started making enemies because he started taking some unpopular positions. [29:03] What do you think were your most unpopular decisions in 2015, leading up to your 2016 experience? [31:38] You’re thwarting a powerful Detroit mayor and have an upcoming election for your third term… as this is happening, people are running against you… there are rumors that people within your own party are putting others up against you… and one day, you’re sitting at home, and get a knock on your door from a couple FBI agents. Take us through that story. [32:37] Do you believe the mayor put someone up against you? [34:11] Brian was accused by the then Republican Attorney General of improperly paying back a 2010 loan, so he hired an attorney to represent him. His attorney convinced him to plead guilty, after a long, drawn-out process. [34:55] Brian was ultimately able to get the felony charges dropped, but he had to resign from office. It was clear that the entire process was political, and other colleagues wanted him out of the way. [35:48] While many wrote Brian off, he started a successful consulting agency and still conducts educational, community outreach events. He realized he doesn’t need a title to serve. [36:43] Do you think you’re going to run again for a third term? [38:46] If you want to learn more about Brian’s life in detail, check out his book, It Had 2 Happen! [39:05] Thank you to Brian Banks for coming on Open Mike! [40:52] If you think someone would enjoy this episode, pass it along, subscribe, like. And tell us who you’d like to be on Open Mike! We will bring them to you. Thank you for watching and listening!
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