MILWAUKEE (AP) — A federal appeals court says a Wisconsin man who was wrongly imprisoned for 23 years can sue the detective and two dentists he says conspired to frame him with bogus bite-mark evidence.
The full 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 6-4 Friday in favor of Robert Lee Stinson, an outcome that reversed an earlier decision by a three-judge panel of the court, the Journal Sentinel reported.
“Obviously our client is very excited,” said Heather Lewis Donnell, Stinson’s attorney. She said Stinson has waited a long time for his day in court and “he’s finally going to get it,” provided the defendants don’t persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
Stinson, now 53, was convicted in 1985 of killing Ione Cychosz of Milwaukee. He was freed in 2009 after the Wisconsin Innocence Project found experts who rejected the dentists’ conclusions that a bite mark on the homicide victim was left by Stinson. He sued the same year.
Two years ago, the 7th Circuit panel ruled in favor of the retired detective James Gauger and dentists Lowell Johnson and Raymond Rawson, who appealed after a judge refused to dismiss the case.
The author of that decision, Judge Diane Sykes, dissented in the ruling of the full court and was joined by Judges William Bauer, Joel Flaum and Daniel Manion. Sykes repeated her argument that while the dentists’ opinions may have been gross errors in forensic analysis, they did not constitute a violation of Stinson’s due-process rights unless they knew at the time they were wrong.
Writing for the majority, Senior Judge Ann Williams wrote that the court didn’t have jurisdiction to review a district judge’s decision on a qualified-immunity claim when the issues were factual, not legal. She said the court could hear the dentists’ appeal on claims of absolute immunity, and rejected it.
In 2010, DNA from the victim’s body led to a different suspect, who was charged in 2012 and ultimately confessed to the killing of the 63-year-old Cychosz in 1984.