"There is a new push to retry a man who's been behind bars for more than a decade. His backers blame a false, coerced confession," the CBS story by reporter Kristyn Hartman published on August ."16, 2010 begins, under the heading, "Advocates Question Another Lake Co. Confession "CBS 2's Kristyn Hartman learned he confessed to the same task force called into question in another high profile case, that of Jerry Hobbs. After five years, Hobbs left jail a free man when the state's attorney dropped the case for lack of evidence." the story continues.
"All along, his backers said Hobbs' confession was forced, just like they do with Jason Strong.
They say there's enough information, at the very least, to warrant a new trial. So, lawyers from the Bluhm Legal Clinic filed a petition that says Strong's case deserves a second look.
In 2000, a jury convicted Strong of murdering a "Jane Doe" whose body was found in a forest preserve. Detectives didn't learn the victim was Mary Kate Sunderlin until 2006.
At the time, Mike Mermel of the Lake County State's Attorney's Office said, "The technology isn't what we would like it to be. It's not like 'CSI.'"
But what follows sounds like a good television show. Bluhm lawyers, who have files and files of research on Strong, say before Sunderlin's murder, the mentally challenged woman was associating with known grifters who were trying to take advantage of her, begging the question: Did they have anything to do with her death?
There are also questions about the confession. Bluhm's Rob Warden says Strong's confession to the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force was forced, as was testimony from two people who implicated him.
He blames duress during interrogation.
"They will say almost anything to stop the interrogation," Warden said.
According to the petition, some of the very same detectives who interrogated Strong questioned Jerry Hobbs, who falsely confessed, and who recently left jail a free man.
Now, lawyers want action on Strong's case. They say it should have come years ago, when information on Sunderlin's life surfaced.
"Why did they do nothing about it?" asked Warden. "Because to do so, they would have had to acknowledge that they extracted not one, not two, but three false confessions."
One more big point from the petition: Before Suderlin died, and while she was under the influence of the alleged grifters, she married a man who later confessed to killing her. Legal research shows he has an extensive criminal background and a documented history of mental illness."
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be accessed at:
My interest in forensic pathology began with my Toronto Star investigative reporting into once famed since disgraced former doctor Charles Smith. I began this Blog after retiring from the Star in 2006 in order to follow the aftermath into the independent Goudge inquiry into many of Smith's cases. I have now begun to focus on cases involving flawed forensic science no matter where they occur (the recent Amanda Knox prosecution in Italy, for example) and am fascinated by the interest in the Blog from people in countries throughout the world. In another development, my interest in "junk science" "pseudo-experts" and the miscarriages of justice they all too often cause has drawn me deeply into the on-going U.S. death penalty debate where so many troubling cases involve issues relating to DNA and other developments in the world of forensic science. For all of this I rely on my experience as a reporter at the Toronto Star, my work as a lawyer in Ontario's criminal courts, and my abhorrence of injustice. Please send cases and developments which may be of interest to this Blog to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read on! Harold Levy.