Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Jeffry Havard: Mississippi: Part five: Photographer Isabelle Armand found a novel way of expressing her sadness that Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer spent a combined three decades in prison for rapes and murders they didn’t commit through photographs, to appear in her new book "Levon and Kennedy: Mississippi Innocence Project. Controversial former medical examiner Steven Hayne along with dentist Michael West, played a role in their case. (Hayne also played a dubious role in the prosecution of Steven Havard)..."Armand read an article about Levon and Kennedy in 2012, four years after their release from prison when DNA led authorities to a man who confessed to both murders. “I was shocked that these men could be convicted by the testimony of two men who seemed to make a living testifying in murder cases,” Armand says, referring to Steven Hayne, Mississippi’s primary pathologist in the late 1980s and early ’90s, and dentist Michael West.“If you read this in a book of fiction, you would say there was no way it could happen."

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Jeffrey Havard.has been on Mississippi's death row for 15 years. At the heart of the case, according to Circuit Court Judge Forrest  "Al" Johnson, is the now widely discredited so-called shaken-baby syndrome.  (Note also  the presence in the case of  controversial former medical examiner Steven Hayne who has repudiated his initial opinion); Think of it, a man's life may be taken by the state of Mississippi because of a highly disputed theory on which experts are widely divided,  which has been repudiated by  the late British Dr. Norman Guthkelch, the pediatric neurosurgeon,  who propagated it in the first place. The good news is that Judge Forest clearly recognizes the importance of this decision -  not just to Jeffrey Havard, whose life is in the balance. As Johnson is quoted: ""I don't anticipate sitting in this too long before I render a decision," Johnson said. "It's a pretty important case. It's a pretty big deal."  I will continue to monitor developments in this case closely.

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.


QUOTE OF THE DAY:  “We think this story has national relevance, and we hope the book sheds light on the problem that isn’t just in Mississippi but throughout our justice system,” Carrington says. “We need to know the entire story so that we can all do a better job.”

Author Tucker Carrington;  (Co-author, along with Radley Balko, of a book on  the  brutal Brooks and Brewer prosecution called "“The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South.”)


STORY: "Not guilty: Photos tell powerful story of men wrongly convicted of murders, rapes," by reporter Billy Watkins, published by  The Clarion Ledger on February 15, 2018.

GIST: "Off and on for four years, photographer Isabelle Armand traveled from the deafening noise of New York City to the haunting quiet of east central Mississippi. Armand was sad and angry that two men from Noxubee County — Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer — spent a combined three decades in prison for rapes and murders they didn’t commit. She was inspired by their forgiving attitudes and their quests to make the most of what life they had left. She was touched, too, by what she saw through her lens every time she took their picture: “Magic,” Armand says. “They had a very strong faith, and I kept thinking, ‘People don’t really know who Levon and Kennedy are or what they’ve been through.’ ” Armand’s photographs will appear in her book — “Levon and Kennedy: Mississippi Innocence Project” — scheduled for release on March 27. Tucker Carrington, director of the George C. Cochran Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi School of Law, provided the text. Carrington has also co-written a book with Radley Balko about the two men’s convictions — along with several other cases throughout the 1980s and ’90s — and the junk science that cost these men the prime of their lives. “The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South” is due out Feb. 27. Levon Brooks' favorite aunt, Doris, who died in September 2017  Courtesy Isabelle Armand Armand and Carrington wish their books could have been released earlier. Levon died Jan. 24 after a long battle with colon cancer. He was 58. “Levon did get to see my book,” Armand says. “I’m so glad of that. He received a copy the same day I did — around Dec. 15. He told me he was taking it around (Macon) and showing it to everyone. I knew then he was proud of it. “And that makes me even happier that the book exists. I’m glad Levon’s legacy and Kennedy’s legacy will always be there for people to see.” "From the get-go, I was inspired to tell their story through photographs. But I didn’t know them and didn’t know if they would cooperate.” Armand wrote to Carrington, whose work helped exonerate the two men, and asked for his help. “I get requests like this all the time,” Carrington says. “But a lot of times the people are in it for themselves or they’re not very talented. But Isabelle sent along some of her work. She’s a fantastic photographer. And she was persistent. “I talked to Kennedy and Levon about it, and they agreed to do it. I told Isabelle, ‘I will introduce you to them, but you have to make your own way.’ She came down (in 2013) and we drove to Macon and ate lunch with them at Levon’s favorite place — Trail Boss. Isabelle wound up staying for three weeks.” Armand recalls that first trip to see them: “We hit it off. We hung out a lot. And for me, it was love at first sight when it came to Mississippi and Levon and Kennedy and their families. “I wanted to show people their lives, where they grew up, the places that meant a lot to them as children.” Levon and Kennedy soon seemed to forget that Armand was always snapping pictures. They lived life and Armand captured it on film.  “Yes, film,” she says. “I wanted black and white photos because that’s the only way to capture depth of field, and I don't think you can get that as well with a digital camera.” Armand took thousands of photos — more than 900 on her initial trip. She had to select 72 for the book.  One final photo:  Near the end of her work, Armand realized there was one photo she hadn’t yet taken: Levon and Kennedy together, just the two of them. “Those moments of taking that picture, which is on the cover, will stay with me forever,” she says. “We went to this little cafe of Levon’s. I wanted something very meaningful and I got it. A lot of people think they’re just looking at the camera, but to me they’re looking at the world.” Armand hopes her book makes people “care a little more” and “helps raise awareness that innocent people — good people — are being sent to prison for no reason.” Carrington’s book is more about the court process that led to their conviction. It focuses on Hayne and West and their frequent collaborations. Levon and Kennedy were convicted primarily on West’s claim that their bite marks matched wounds found on the victims. During a deposition in 2010, West told Tucker: “I don’t believe in bite-mark evidence anymore.” “I could’ve fallen out of my chair,” Carrington says. In 2010, the Innocence Project asked the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure to look at Hayne’s medical license. Hayne sued the Innocence Project for defamation of character. The case settled. Kennedy and Levon sued Hayne and West but lost when it was ruled that the two had immunity for public policy reasons. “We think this story has national relevance, and we hope the book sheds light on the problem that isn’t just in Mississippi but throughout our justice system,” Carrington says. “We need to know the entire story so that we can all do a better job.”

The entire story - with some of the amazing photographs from the book - can be read  at:

Read  also related Clarion Ledger story by reporter Billy Watkins  at the  link below: "Brooks’ arrest and conviction were due to “government misconduct and unvalidated or improper forensic science,” according to a report by the Innocence Project. Brooks was accused of taking the 3-year-old daughter of his ex-girlfriend from her home on the night of Sept. 15, 1990. Her body was found in a pond 80 yards from her house. Pathologist Steven Hayne performed an autopsy on the girl and claimed there were human bite marks on her wrists. He brought in Michael West to testify. West was a dentist who claimed to be a bite mark expert, even though bite marks had never been scientifically validated. West said the marks could only have been made by Brooks’ two front teeth. That was the prime reason he was found guilty. “Levon even had an alibi,” says his longtime friend Mary Kay Jones. “He worked at a nightclub in Macon and didn’t get off until 3 a.m. “Seemed like to me the police wanted somebody to pinpoint and get the case solved. They chose Levon.” The Innocence Project later discovered that Hayne performed between 1,200 and 1,800 autopsies a year — six times the professional standard — and was earning more than a million dollars annually. Hayne would usually call on West to provide testimony at other trials. One of those was an eerily similar case to Brooks’ that also happened in Noxubee County in 1992. Hayne claimed the body of a 3-year-old girl, who was raped, murdered and thrown into a water-filled ditch just a few hundred feet from her home, had human bite marks on it. West testified that the marks could only have been made by the teeth of Kennedy Brewer, who was dating the girl’s mother. Brewer spent three years in jail before going to trial. Brewer was convicted of capital murder and sent to death row. He spent 13 years in Parchman. Kennedy Brewer was convicted of capital murder in 1995 and sentenced to death for raping and killing 3-year-old Christine Jackson. He spent 15 years in jail before being cleared. Just as Brooks had done, Brewer proclaimed his innocence throughout. In 2001, DNA tests proved Brooks was not the killer and his conviction was overturned. He remained in jail, however, because the prosecutors said they intended to retry him. Attorneys with the Innocence Project traced the DNA to Justin Albert Johnson, a neighbor of the girl Brewer supposedly murdered. Johnson was already in prison and confessed to killing both girls. He is serving a life sentence."

Read the Register of Exonerations entry for Levon Brooks and "Kennedy Brewer (by Alexandra Gross)  at the link below: "On September 15, 1990, 3-year-old Courtney Smith was taken from her bed in the middle of the night.  Her body was found two days later in a pond near her home in Brooksville, Mississippi; she had been raped and murdered. Police investigating the crime interviewed Courtney’s 5-year-old sister, Ashley, who said she saw Levon Brooks, her mother’s ex-boyfriend, take Courtney from her bed.  The room was dark, but Ashley said she saw Brooks by the light of the television in the next room. Ashley then identified Brooks from a photo lineup.  Brooks swore he had nothing to do with Courtney’s death, but he was arrested and charged with her murder. At Brooks’s trial in 1992, District Attorney Forrest Allgood called witnesses who testified that marks found on Courtney’s body were bite marks that connected Brooks to the murder. The pathologist who conducted the autopsy, Dr. Steven Hayne, testified that marks found on Courtney’s wrist were human bites, and a dentist, Dr. Michael West, testified that the bites matched Brooks’s teeth.  On January 22, 1992, Brooks was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.In October 1999, Brooks appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, but his conviction was affirmed.  For the next nine years, Brooks remained in prison with little hope for a new trial, but in 2007, new evidence in a similar case – the 1992 rape and murder of 3-year-old Christine Jackson – shed light on Courtney’s murder.  Kennedy Brewer had been convicted of Christine Jackson’s murder in 1995, also based on bite-mark testimony from Drs. Hayne and West.  The Mississippi Innocence Project, which was representing Brewer, then took on Brooks’s case as well.  In 2007, the Innocence Project’s investigations led them to Justin Albert Johnson, a 51-year-old man with a history of sexual assaults against girls and women, who had been living near both Courtney Smith and Christine Jackson when they were abducted and murdered.  DNA testing conducted by the Innocence Project linked Johnson to Christine Jackson’s murder – though evidence from Courtney Smith’s murder was too degraded to be tested. When Johnson was arrested in February 2008, he confessed to both murders and told the authorities that he had committed the crimes on his own.  A judge vacated the convictions of both Brewer and Brooks at a hearing on February 15, 2008, and Brooks was released on his own recognizance (Brewer had been out on bond since 2007). Prosecutors dismissed all charges against Brooks on March 13 of that year.  The men were each granted $500,000 in statutory compensation from the state of Mississippi. By the time Brewer and Brooks were released, Dr. Hayne and Dr. West had become highly controversial for their shoddy work and inappropriately close relationships with state prosecutors, and they are suspected of providing false medical testimony in numerous cases.  The National Association of Medical Examiners says doctors should perform no more than 250 autopsies per year; Dr. Hayne has admitted to performing between 1,200 and 1,800 autopsies annually. Dr. West became particularly infamous for repeatedly providing false bite-mark testimony.  He was the subject of investigative reports by 60 Minutes and ABC News; in 1994 he resigned from the American Academy of Forensic Science when the organization began an ethics investigation against him.  In 2009, Brewer and Brooks jointly filed a civil lawsuit against West and Hayne for $18 million dollars. That lawsuit was dismissed in 2014 after a judge ruled that West and Haynes were immune from damages. The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal in 2017. The state of Mississippi paid Brooks $500,000 in compensation. Brooks died in January 2018 after battling colon cancer for five years."

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. 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 found at: Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: Harold Levy; Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.