6 Inconceivable Miscarriages of Justice in the United States
6 Inconceivable Miscarriages of Justice in the United States

6 Inconceivable Miscarriages of Justice in the United States

Patrick Lynch - July 1, 2017

6 Inconceivable Miscarriages of Justice in the United States
Jimmy Ray Bromgard. Billings Gazette

4 – Jimmy Ray Bromgard (Convicted in 1987)

DNA testing ultimately proved Jimmy Ray Bromgard’s innocence, but he had to wait 14 long years for it to happen. Linda Glantz was raped in her home in Billings, Montana by an intruder in 1987. He had broken into the house by smashing a window and left the scene of the crime with a jacket and purse. The police found semen on the victim’s underwear, and several hairs were also found on the bed sheets.

The police used the description given by the traumatized 8-year old to create a sketch. An officer knew 18-year old Bromgard and was convinced that the teenager was the culprit. Bromgard agreed to appear in a police line-up and also in videotaped questioning. In the live proceedings, the young girl picked Bromgard but admitted that she was no more than 65% sure. Despite this severe level of doubt, she was still allowed to pick Bromgard out as her assailant in court. Even Bromgard’s defense counsel did not object to the identification in court.

The prosecution’s case was mainly based on dubious testimony from the state’s forensics expert and the uncertain identification from Glantz. Even the forensic case against Bromgard boiled down to nothing more than the hairs found on Glantz’s bed sheets. According to the expert, there was a less than 0.01% chance that the hairs belonged to someone other than the defendant. It turned out that the expert was lying because there had never been a standard to match hairs via microscopic inspection.

Aside from fake forensics, Bromgard had to contend with a woefully inept defense counsel. Barring the so-called forensics and the shaky line-up identification, the only other piece of physical evidence was a checkbook from the stolen purse. It was found on the street where Bromgard lived. In summary, his defense counsel did not file to strike the identification from the evidence, hired no expert to counter the state’s forensic expert and did no investigation of any kind. Also, Bromgard’s attorney didn’t bother with an opening or closing statement nor did he file an appeal after the conviction. In other words, Bromgard would have been better off defending himself.

Bromgard said he was at home asleep at the time of the attack. His fingerprints were not found at the scene of the crime nor were they on the checkbook. Nonetheless, he was found guilty in December 1987 and sentenced to three 40-year jail terms to be served concurrently. In 2002, the Innocence Project called for a DNA test, and when it conclusively proved his innocence, Bromgard was released after serving over 14 and a half years in prison. He settled a civil suit against the state of Montana in 2008 and was awarded $3.5 million. In December 2015, Ronald Dwight Tipton was charged with the crime after his DNA matched what was found at the scene. 12 months previously, Tipton had to provide a sample of his DNA after being found guilty of marijuana possession. He has since pleaded not guilty to the charges.

6 Inconceivable Miscarriages of Justice in the United States
Michael Morton. KUT Austin Radio Station

5 – Michael Morton (Convicted in 1987)

On August 13, 1986, Christine Morton was found dead in her bed. She had been beaten to death by a wooden object, and a suitcase and wicker baskets were piled on top of her. She was lying on sheets stained with semen and her husband, Michael, was only at the very beginning of a nightmare that would last for a quarter of a century. The day after the discovery of the body, police discovered a bandana belonging to Christine stained with blood in a construction site just 100 yards from the Morton home.

Later that month, Christine’s mother claimed that the Morton’s son, Eric, had witnessed the murder. The 3-year old said the killer was a ‘monster,’ and while he described the scene in detail, he claimed his father was not at home. The Morton’s neighbors said they saw a green van parked in the street behind the Morton’s house on several occasions; a man appeared from the van and walked into a wooded area. Furthermore, the victim’s stolen Visa card turned up in a San Antonio jewelry store, and a police officer said he could identify the woman who used the card. When it came to the trial, later on, the prosecution failed to turn over any of the evidence to the defense.

As Michael Morton was the last person to see his wife alive, he became the prime suspect. He protested his innocence and claimed she was alive when he left for work early that morning. The trial in 1987 was marked by severe misconduct on behalf of the prosecution. When the defense learned that the prosecution was not calling Sergeant Don Wood (the lead investigator on the case) to the stand, they suspected that the prosecution was hiding exculpatory evidence. However, the prosecution falsely claimed that all favorable evidence was presented to the defense. This lie cost Michael Morton dearly.

The prosecution gave the judge a sealed file which contained all of Wood’s reports and notes; the file did not contain the visa card, the van, Eric’s account or a forged check that was found. Travis County’s medical examiner said Christine died no later than 1:15 am based on the contents of her stomach but admitted that it was not a scientific statement. The prosecution claimed that Michael beat his wife to death and masturbated on her corpse. As for motive, they suggested that he attacked his wife for not providing him with sex on his birthday. It was a theory based on nothing and Michael had no record of violent behavior and no previous arrests.

Michael was convicted on February 17, 1987, and sentenced to life in prison. He appealed the decision immediately, but it was denied. DNA testing on the bed sheet in 1990 found that the semen stain matched his DNA profile, but that was hardly a surprise since it was his bed. Once again, the Innocence Project got involved, and in 2011, DNA testing on the bandana found that it contained the DNA of Christine and an unidentified male. Eventually, it was discovered that the DNA matched a convicted felon named Mark Norwood. Further investigation showed that Norwood’s DNA was found at the scene of another murder in Travis County.

Michael Morton was released on October 4, 2011, after serving almost 25 years in prison. In March 2013, Norwood was found guilty of the murder of Christine Morton and received a life sentence. In April 2013, the Williamson County District Attorney who acted as the prosecution in the case, Ken Anderson, was charged with criminal contempt and evidence tampering. He was sentenced to 10 days in prison but was released after five.

6 Inconceivable Miscarriages of Justice in the United States
Joseph Burrows. Death Penalty Information Center

6 – Joseph Burrows (Convicted in 1989)

Burrows almost suffered the ultimate penalty for his alleged crime of murdering William Dulin. The body of the 88-year old retired farmer was found at his home near Kankakee, Illinois on November 8, 1988. Several hours after the murder, a man named Chuck Gullion was arrested in a car with Gayle Potter who was a cocaine addict. Gullion tried to cash a check worth over $4,000 in Dulin’s name at the Iroquois Farmer’s State Bank. Potter admitted to the crime of forging the check and said she was involved in the crime with Joseph Burrows and Ralph Frye. Potter then claimed that Burrows was Dulin’s killer.

Not only was Potter’s blood found on the scene after she suffered a gash during a struggle with Dulin, but she also owned the murder weapon. There was no physical evidence to link her two so-called accomplices to the crime, and there were four witnesses who said that Burrows was 60 miles away at the time of the murder. So why was Burrows convicted? First of all, Frye lied and agreed with Potter’s story and the two of them elected to testify against Burrows in exchange for lighter sentences. As it happened, Potter received 30 years in prison and Frye was given a 23-year sentence.

Although he forged the check, Gullion was never prosecuted. Meanwhile, Burrows’ first trial ended with a hung jury. In the second trial, he was convicted and sentenced to death. In 1992, the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and death penalty, but Frye recanted his testimony to a reporter. Frye, who had an IQ of 75, claimed that the police coerced him into testifying against Burrows. The lawyers who represented Burrows found a letter from Potter to a friend where she asked the person to lie and testify that Burrows was in a blue pickup truck; this is the story Potter had told at the time.

When faced with the letter, Potter admitted that she falsely accused the other two men to save her own skin and wanted Burrows to take the fall because she mistakenly believed he had stolen goods from her trailer. She admitted to the murder of Dulin during a robbery. Burrows received a new trial and the prosecution’s attempts to appeal failed. On September 8, 1994, Burrows was released from prison. He later received $100,000 in a settled civil suit. In 2005, he was convicted of another crime and spent 3 years in prison. Burrows died on October 15, 2009; he was 56 years of age.