Ralph Armstrong’s civil rights lawsuit over his murder conviction is back on after a federal judge agreed Wednesday to allow an amended version of his lawsuit to go forward.
Armstrong, whose 1981 conviction for the murder of UW-Madison student Charise Kamps was overturned in 2009, will be allowed to go ahead on claims that prosecutors lost evidence that could have been beneficial to Armstrong before his trial in 1980 and that prosecutors, police and crime lab personnel destroyed useful DNA evidence before he was to be re-tried, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled.
Crabb also granted Armstrong’s motion to appoint a lawyer for him.
This was the third time that Armstrong, 60, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Madison. The first time it was rejected because he tried to sue the state of Wisconsin and not any of the people or agencies that he alleged had violated his rights. His second attempt failed because Crabb ruled Armstrong failed to state any claims on which his case could proceed under federal law.
In Wednesday’s ruling, Crabb said that Armstrong could sue retired Dane County Assistant District Attorney John Norsetter for allegedly acting in bad faith in 1980 by believing from the very beginning that Armstrong was guilty. But she warned that Armstrong must produce evidence that Norsetter engaged in a conscious effort to suppress evidence helpful to Armstrong.
Crabb also wrote that Armstrong could proceed on a claim that Norsetter, along with state Crime Lab analyst Karen Daily, retired police detective Marion Morgan and others, took part in destroying important DNA evidence, using it up by testing it without notifying the court or Armstrong’s lawyer.
Crabb won’t allow Armstrong to pursue other claims, including witness tampering and suppression of an alleged confession by Armstrong’s brother.
Since his release from prison in Wisconsin, Armstrong has been incarcerated in New Mexico, where he was returned for violating his parole for an earlier rape conviction.