Innocence Project helps reverse wrongful murder conviction

Jan. 30, 2009

Robert Lee Stinson, a Milwaukee man convicted of homicide in 1985, is expected to be released from prison today (Jan. 30, 2009) based on new evidence of his innocence.

Stinson's attorneys with the Wisconsin Innocence Project and Milwaukee County District Attorney Norm Gahn have agreed that the new evidence -- consisting of new forensic analysis of bite mark evidence and new exculpatory DNA evidence -- requires setting aside Stinson's conviction. Pending the expected approval of the court, Stinson will walk out the doors of New Lisbon Correctional Institution after 23 years of wrongful incarceration.

"We are thrilled that the truth has finally come out," says Byron Lichstein, the lead attorney on the case for the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which is part of the University of Wisconsin Law School. "Lee has been an inspiration to work with, and the evidence supporting his longstanding claim of innocence has always driven our devotion to the case. He has waited a long time for this day."

Stinson was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide in 1985 based almost exclusively on evidence purporting to match bite marks found in the victim's skin to his teeth. Since the time of Stinson's trial, new evidence has come to light that strongly supports his claim of innocence. First, four nationally recognized forensic odontologists -- David Senn, Gregory Golden, Denise Murmann, and Norman Sperber, who all volunteered their time -- evaluated the dental evidence and conclusively excluded Stinson as the source of any of the bite marks found on the victim. Furthermore, DNA evidence corroborated these conclusions — male DNA found on the victim's sweater also excluded Stinson.

In 2004, the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office provided access to the Wisconsin Innocence Project to the physical evidence in the case. This past Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Norm Gahn announced that his office would not oppose the Wisconsin Innocence Project in asking Judge Patricia McMahon to vacate Stinson's conviction.

Faulty forensic science is one of the main causes of wrongful convictions. Mistaken or misleading forensic science was implicated in more than 60 percent of DNA exonerations nationwide. Bite mark evidence has been called into question in at least five wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing and multiple other cases in the United States.

Stinson's long-awaited release will happen thanks to the hard work of several Wisconsin Innocence Project attorneys and law students, along with significant pro bono assistance from renowned California attorney Christopher J. Plourd, one of the nation's leading experts on forensic science evidence. The Stinson team is headed by Supervising Attorney Byron Lichstein, who worked with Wisconsin Innocence Project co-directors John Pray and Keith Findley, and law students Michael Atkins, Adam Deitch, Sarah Henery, Brooke Schaefer, and many others.