Bronx Case Shows Fallibility of Criminal Justice System

, New York Law Journal

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The defense team that helped exonerate Latisha Johnson and Malisha Blyden included, from the Office of the Appellate Defender, left to right, Senior Staff Attorney Kerry Jamieson, Reinvestigation Project Director Anastasia Heeger and Attorney-in-Charge Richard M. Greenberg. Inset: Claudia Trupp, of the Center for Appellate Litigation.
The defense team that helped exonerate Latisha Johnson and Malisha Blyden included, from the Office of the Appellate Defender, left to right, Senior Staff Attorney Kerry Jamieson, Reinvestigation Project Director Anastasia Heeger and Attorney-in-Charge Richard M. Greenberg. Inset: Claudia Trupp, of the Center for Appellate Litigation.

ALBANY - The elements common to many wrongful convictions—young defendants, false confession, mistaken eyewitness identification—converged in a Bronx case and forced two women to spend seven years behind bars for crimes they did not commit.

Yet, Latisha Johnson and Malisha Blyden, who were sentenced to 40 years in prison for attempted murder, had the benefit of doggedly persistent attorneys and the luck to have the Bronx district attorney's office willing to consider that maybe, just maybe, the prosecution got it wrong back in 2007.

Richard Greenberg, attorney-in-charge of the Office of the Appellate Defender, which filed the successful motion to vacate on behalf of both women, suspects that most of the unjustly imprisoned are not so lucky.

"How many others are still there, waiting?" he asked. "I lose sleep over it."

The case of Johnson and Blyden, who walked out of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility on Jan. 17, highlights how the criminal justice system can commit an injustice.

The women's nightmare began with a misdialed telephone number.

In September 2005, a man met two women and brought them back to his apartment. The women spent the night and found in their host's cupboard what they thought was a fortune's worth of cocaine but was actually Kassava flour. They left the following morning, but returned later with five men to pull of a robbery.

According to a press release issued by Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson at the time of sentencing, the victim was beaten, kicked, shot, bound, robbed, stuffed in a closet and left for dead. He suffered injuries requiring 15 surgeries and lingered in a coma for three weeks.

When the victim awoke, and while heavily drugged with morphine, he told police that one of the women had used his cell phone. Police promptly checked the log of outgoing calls and discovered that one of the telephone numbers, which was unfamiliar to the victim, connected to a man named Tyrone Johnson.

Johnson had an 18-year-old daughter, Latisha, who bore something of a resemblance to one of the women involved in the scheme. Police brought a photo array to the hospital, and the victim identified Latisha.

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