Wisconsin Innocence Project client who won new trial pleads to lesser charge, is freed
After serving five years for a crime he contends he did not commit, Seneca Malone was released from prison yesterday.
Malone’s 2008 conviction for the intentional shooting of Ricardo Mora was vacated in appellate court last November, based on evidence presented by Wisconsin Innocence Project attorneys. Ruling ineffective assistance of counsel, Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge David Borowski granted Malone a new trial, which was scheduled for next month.
Law students at the project assisted in the investigation that led to Malone’s new trial. The UW Law School clinic investigates and litigates viable claims of innocence on behalf of inmates.
While awaiting trial, Malone accepted a deal with prosecutors that guaranteed his immediate release. He agreed to plead no contest to negligent homicide, a reduced charge carrying a maximum prison sentence of five years, time Malone has already served.
“The law students … did what should have been done before this ever went to trial.”
According to Jerome Buting, a Wisconsin defense attorney who volunteered to serve as appointed counsel for Malone, the decision to accept the deal was an agonizing one for his client. “Knowing that even when the state’s case is extremely weak, as it was here, there’s the chance the jury will get it wrong, he elected to walk now rather than face the risk of spending the rest of his life in prison.”
Wisconsin Innocence Project attorney Ion Meyn says after Malone’s conviction, it was discovered that information supporting his innocence was not disclosed to the defense before the first trial. For example, weeks before the shooting, and on the same block, eyewitnesses reported seeing the prosecution’s chief witness shoot at an unarmed individual.
“Attorneys were able to show on appeal that Malone’s trial counsel failed to conduct an investigation into the case or call alibi witnesses, failed to argue that the state’s chief witness was the actual shooter, and failed to challenge the admissibility of evidence relied upon by the state,” Meyn says.
“The law students found new witnesses and police reports that were not disclosed to the defense,” says supervising attorney Peter Moreno, also of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. “They did what should have been done before this ever went to trial.”
During post-conviction hearings, the project presented alibi witnesses, along with a witness who testified that the state’s chief witness had confessed to the shooting of Mora. The investigation also undermined the veracity of the chief witness’ written statement, a product of a ten-hour interrogation in which police told the chief witness that others had implicated him in the shooting.
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