Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Advocates Say Justice Not Served

DURHAM, N.C. — Freedom is coming after 14 years for Floyd Brown.

But justice, many in North Carolina say, has yet to be served in a case where authorities locked up the mentally disabled man without a trial since 1993 and, unaccountably, lost or destroyed key criminal evidence that years ago may have freed him.

Brown's story - featured in the Denver Post series "Trashing the Truth" - is one of the most alarming of 142 innocence claims the paper has identified nationwide in which biological evidence has been mishandled or destroyed.

In a country without uniform standards, Colorado is taking its first steps to address such problems. But even before a state task force convened two weeks ago, Gov.

Bill Ritter discouraged talks about penalizing authorities who destroy tiny DNA samples that often bare the truth in criminal cases.

If policies have no teeth, some experts fear there will be no end to cases like Brown's.

"Sure, after 14 years, we've finally taken a knife out of this guy's back. But this is not justice," said Tye Hunter, head of North Carolina's Indigent Defense Services.

"Floyd Brown, under another name, lives in Colorado," said Joe Cheshire, the lawyer who defended the captain of Duke's lacrosse team in North Carolina's infamous rape case.

"Justice, real justice, cannot be done until authorities stop getting away with destroying evidence."

Key evidence missing

"Sure 'nuf, it's been a long time waiting."

So says Brown, rocking on the porch of the mental institution where he has been locked up nearly a third of his 43 years in connection with the beating death of Katherine Lynch.

Brown says he didn't know the 80-year-old victim. And no physical evidence ties him to her killing in rural Anson County.

A wooden walking stick police believe to be the murder weapon bore a bloody palm print that an early test showed didn't match Brown's. DNA testing of skin cells probably could have revealed her killer.

"No doubt, that stick was a critical piece of evidence. ... I have thought and thought and thought about what happened to that stick," said prosecutor Tim Rodgers, noting it may have proved Brown guilty.

But the stick is gone - lost or destroyed, without explanation, in a case investigated by two Anson County sheriff's deputies who since have lost their badges after being convicted for federal racketeering in unrelated cases.

The lead investigator, Bud Hutchinson, told The Post this year that "it's nobody's business what happened" to the evidence in Brown's case.

"I would never do an old lady like that. They done did me wrong. They low-down dirty, what they did (to that) evidence," Brown said of the men who investigated his case.

His legal team challenged the legitimacy of the only evidence linking him to Lynch's murder. The so-called "confession" includes vocabulary and concepts of time and geography that Brown, who has an IQ of about 50, never has grasped.

"The whole thing implies that we didn't have a murder down here, and we just sort of plucked out Floyd Brown, arrested him and made up a confession. There's no truth to that. It's ludicrous," said Anson County Sheriff Tommy Allen, who stands behind the investigation.

Without physical evidence to test for DNA, Brown was unable to defend himself and was locked up indefinitely because his mental retardation kept him from competently standing trail.

"All those years, it seemed like they didn't even consider him a human being with a family that loves him and wanted him home," said Frances Staten, Brown's sister and legal guardian.

The Denver Post