Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Back in action: Review: John Grisham's six-episode Netflix documentary "The Innocent Man."...Reviewed by Joanne Laurier (writer/movie critic) on The World Socialist web site...(A passionate, reasoned, beautifully structured review. Just what Grisham and the Series deserve. HL)..."In the midst of the Reagan-era law-and-order hysteria, four men were railroaded into prison for the killings. The new miniseries blends interviews with the families of the victims and those of the wrongfully incarcerated men, as well as presenting damning archival footage and testimony from legal experts. Grisham is also one of the central commentators. “If I wrote The Innocent Man as a novel, fiction, folks probably wouldn’t believe it,” he tells the camera."


PASSAGE ONE  OF THE DAY: "In each incident, two men were arrested and convicted of the crime. The pair found guilty of Debbie’s killing, Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, have since been exonerated by DNA evidence. However, Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, convicted of Denice’s murder, remain in prison, despite overwhelming evidence suggesting they are innocent.Defense attorneys and legal experts compile a chilling picture of how either prosecutors or law enforcement officials, or both, withheld a large quantity of exculpatory evidence, including Williamson’s mother’s journal that provided an alibi for her son on the night of Debbie’s slaying. In Ward’s case, attorney Cheryl Pilate and private investigator Dan Clark were obliged to hunt through 60 boxes of documents. “Throughout this case, we see a persistent pattern where exculpatory evidence is hidden, buried, concealed, and not turned over to the prosecutor and, therefore, had not been turned over to the defense in the case,” asserts Pilate. Out of the more than 800 pages of evidence, Ward’s attorneys only received 146, a clear constitutional violation. Furthermore, a career criminal, Terri Holland, was a “snitch” for the prosecutor in both cases."

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PASSAGE TWO OF THE DAY: "False confessions expert Richard Leo adamantly contends that the confessions of Ward and Fontenot were coerced. He points to evidence of the suspects being fed lines and rehearsing a script. Both confessions ran counter to the forensic evidence."

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REVIEW:  "Netflix's The Innocent Man: The American injustice system, by Joanne Laurier, published   on the World Socialist Web Site, on January 5, 2019.

GIST: Netflix’s six-episode documentary, The Innocent Man, is based on bestselling novelist John Grisham’s only non-fiction effort, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town, published in 2006. The series, released in December, is directed (and co-created) by Clay Tweel, with Grisham serving as an executive producer. The Innocent Man: In the early 1980s, two young women were murdered in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma. In the midst of the Reagan-era law-and-order hysteria, four men were railroaded into prison for the killings. The new miniseries blends interviews with the families of the victims and those of the wrongfully incarcerated men, as well as presenting damning archival footage and testimony from legal experts. Grisham is also one of the central commentators. “If I wrote The Innocent Man as a novel, fiction, folks probably wouldn’t believe it,” he tells the camera. Grisham’s book opens with a brief portrait of the town: “There are rigs scattered through the farmland around Ada, an old oil town of sixteen thousand [now 17,000] with a college and a county courthouse. The rigs are idle, though—the oil is gone. Money is now made in Ada by the hour in factories and feed mills and on pecan farms. “With sixteen thousand people, Ada is considered large for rural Oklahoma, and it attracts factories and discount stores. Workers and shoppers make the drive from several counties. It is eighty miles south and east of Oklahoma City, and three hours north of Dallas.” The miniseries opens with the brutal December 1982 murder of 21-year-old Debbie Carter. Two years later, 24-year-old Denice Haraway was abducted from the convenience store where she worked and later killed. Investigating police officer Dennis Smith, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) agent Gary Rogers and District Attorney Bill Peterson are the key figures in both cases. In each incident, two men were arrested and convicted of the crime. The pair found guilty of Debbie’s killing, Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, have since been exonerated by DNA evidence. However, Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, convicted of Denice’s murder, remain in prison, despite overwhelming evidence suggesting they are innocent.
Defense attorneys and legal experts compile a chilling picture of how either prosecutors or law enforcement officials, or both, withheld a large quantity of exculpatory evidence, including Williamson’s mother’s journal that provided an alibi for her son on the night of Debbie’s slaying. In Ward’s case, attorney Cheryl Pilate and private investigator Dan Clark were obliged to hunt through 60 boxes of documents. “Throughout this case, we see a persistent pattern where exculpatory evidence is hidden, buried, concealed, and not turned over to the prosecutor and, therefore, had not been turned over to the defense in the case,” asserts Pilate. Out of the more than 800 pages of evidence, Ward’s attorneys only received 146, a clear constitutional violation. Furthermore, a career criminal, Terri Holland, was a “snitch” for the prosecutor in both cases. In one moving scene, Holland’s ex-husband and son describe how women like Terri are compelled to have sex with the local authorities, becoming pawns to be used at will. “In Ada, if you’re poor, you’re nothing,” a group of Ada residents tell the camera, describing how police treat impoverished people like Tommy Ward. For the record, all the crime and frame-up victims in this case are white. False confessions expert Richard Leo adamantly contends that the confessions of Ward and Fontenot were coerced. He points to evidence of the suspects being fed lines and rehearsing a script. Both confessions ran counter to the forensic evidence. After 12 years behind bars, Dennis Fritz contacted the Innocence Project, a non-profit group dedicated to clearing wrongfully convicted prisoners through DNA evidence (Grisham is a member of the organization’s board of directors). In 1999, Fritz and Williamson were cleared of the homicide charges. Upon release, in an emotional scene, Fritz hugs his daughter, Elizabeth, who earlier in the series recounted how her mother was shot and killed by the nephew of the family’s landlord (after the nephew had been chastised for inappropriately touching toddler Elizabeth). Williamson shockingly tells reporters he had once been five days away from being executed. Untreated in prison for serious mental illness, Williamson was so damaged that he tragically drank himself to death a few years after being freed. Writes Grisham: “Oklahoma is very serious about its death penalty. When the U.S. Supreme Court approved the resumption of executions in 1976, the Oklahoma state legislature rushed into a special session for the sole purpose of enacting death penalty statutes. The following year, the lawmakers debated the innovative idea of death by lethal injection, as opposed to going back to Old Sparky, the state’s dependable electric chair. The rationale was that chemicals were more merciful; thus, less likely to attract constitutional attacks of cruel and inhuman punishment; thus, more likely to speed along executions. “Thirteen long years passed without an execution. Finally, in 1990, the waiting ended, and the death chamber was used once again. Once the dam broke, the flood came. Since 1990, Oklahoma has executed more convicts on a per capita basis than any other state. No place, not even Texas, comes close.” In his notes at the end of his book, Grisham writes: “The journey also exposed me to the world of wrongful convictions, something that I, even as a former lawyer, had never spent much time thinking about. This is not a problem peculiar to Oklahoma, far from it. Wrongful convictions occur every month in every state in this country, and the reasons are all varied and all the same—bad police work, junk science, faulty eyewitness identifications, bad defense lawyers, lazy prosecutors, arrogant prosecutors…” Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot “are now serving life terms. Tommy might one day be eligible for parole, but, through a procedural quirk, Karl will never be. They cannot be saved by DNA because there is no biological evidence. The killer or killers of Denice Haraway will never be found, not by the police anyway.” Since 1989, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, some 20,645 years have been lost in the lives of the 2,363 people exonerated, a staggering destruction of life. Overall, The Innocent Man presents a damning indictment of the judicial system in rural towns like Ada, quasi-dictatorial set-ups where the police and authorities run roughshod over democratic rights. The population is at the mercy of backward, reactionary forces—filthy representatives of the American capitalist order.""

The entire story can be read at:
https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/01/05/inno-j05.html

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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com.  Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog; 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Back in action: On-Going: Arson 'science'; Jo Ann Parks: California: Pullitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes masterfully illustrates how, "Bad forensic science is putting innocent people in prison."..."The National Academy of Sciences has suggested raising the bar for expert testimony by requiring hard data and error rates for all forensic disciplines. Right now the bar is shockingly low. One expert in the recent Parks hearing testified that his analysis of door hinges showed that she had barricaded her child in a closet, using a technique he had never attempted before and for which he cited no scientific data. This lack of scientific rigor in the courtroom has to change. A commission formed by President Obama to study solutions to flawed forensics was disbanded by the Trump administration. It may be time for the states, individually or in partnership, to undertake this effort. The stakes are too high to maintain the status quo."


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "Convicted through the power of forensic fire science, Parks was sentenced to life in prison without parole. She has steadfastly proclaimed her innocence. Nearly 30 years later, a revolution in the understanding of fire has exposed many of the scientific certainties of the era as guesswork in disguise — including forensic evidence used to convict Parks that was flat-out wrong. At her trial, the prosecution’s lead arson expert incorrectly claimed that a common and very intense burning known as flashover did not occur in the fire. Flashover can obscure a fire’s origins and make an accident look like arson, and its absence allowed the prosecution to argue with powerful certainty that the fire was deliberately set. Research since then has led to more accurate ways of looking for evidence of flashover and a greater understanding of its misleading effects, and even prosecution fire experts acknowledge now that it did occur in Parks’ case. Yet she remains in California’s women’s prison in Chowchilla. Welcome to the real world of forensics, where the wizardry lionized by the “CSI” television empire turns out to have serious flaws. The science of bite-mark comparisons, ballistic comparisons, fingerprint matching, blood-spatter analysis, arson investigation and other common forensic techniques has been tainted by systematic error, cognitive bias (sometimes called “tunnel vision”) and little or no research or data to support it. There is, in short, very little science behind some of the forensic “sciences” used in court to imprison and sometimes execute people."









GIST: "On an April night in 1989, Jo Ann Parks survived a house fire in the Southern California city of Bell that claimed the lives of her three small children. Two years later, investigators announced that the seeming accident was actually a monstrous crime in which the 23-year-old waitress had set several fires, then barricaded her 4-year-old son inside a closet so he could not escape. Convicted through the power of forensic fire science, Parks was sentenced to life in prison without parole. She has steadfastly proclaimed her innocence. Nearly 30 years later, a revolution in the understanding of fire has exposed many of the scientific certainties of the era as guesswork in disguise — including forensic evidence used to convict Parks that was flat-out wrong. At her trial, the prosecution’s lead arson expert incorrectly claimed that a common and very intense burning known as flashover did not occur in the fire. Flashover can obscure a fire’s origins and make an accident look like arson, and its absence allowed the prosecution to argue with powerful certainty that the fire was deliberately set. Research since then has led to more accurate ways of looking for evidence of flashover and a greater understanding of its misleading effects, and even prosecution fire experts acknowledge now that it did occur in Parks’ case. Yet she remains in California’s women’s prison in Chowchilla. Welcome to the real world of forensics, where the wizardry lionized by the “CSI” television empire turns out to have serious flaws. The science of bite-mark comparisons, ballistic comparisons, fingerprint matching, blood-spatter analysis, arson investigation and other common forensic techniques has been tainted by systematic error, cognitive bias (sometimes called “tunnel vision”) and little or no research or data to support it. There is, in short, very little science behind some of the forensic “sciences” used in court to imprison and sometimes execute people. Welcome to the real world of forensics, where the wizardry lionized by the “CSI” television empire turns out to have serious flaws. The rigorously researched and peer-reviewed newcomer to forensics, DNA matching, has thrown into sharp relief the lack of scientific rigor in many other forensic disciplines. According to data gathered by the National Registry of Exonerations, of the 2,363 inmates exonerated of murder or other serious felonies since 1989 (most commonly through DNA), 553 were convicted with flawed or misleading forensic evidence—nearly one out of four. Forensic science’s shortcomings have left the justice system alternately in a quiet panic or massive denial. The issue was first brought into the spotlight by a highly critical report from the National Academy of Sciences in 2009, which found a dearth of scientific backing for most forensics methods other than DNA. It cited evidence that “faulty forensic science analyses may have contributed to wrongful convictions of innocent people.” That report was followed by an even more blistering presidential commission report in 2016, which found serious errors and junk science in a host of commonly used forensic methods tying suspects to crimes.
Even the seeming infallibility of fingerprint evidence took a big hit. Multiple experts at the FBI’s vaunted Latent Print Unit incorrectly matched a Portland, Ore., attorney to prints found at the scene of the 2004 Madrid train station bombing. The prints actually belonged to an Algerian terrorist. A form of cognitive bias — finding what you expect to find— has been blamed because the FBI examiners had received extraneous information about the lawyer converting to Islam, and they were also told that a respected senior agent had already declared a match. Closer to home, the murder conviction of Bill Richards of Mojave led the California Legislature to confront the problem of junk science in the courtroom — but only after an innocent man served 22 years in prison for supposedly killing his wife. After two hung juries failed to convict Richards, prosecutors found a bite-pattern expert who tilted the scales by matching a mark on the victim’s hand to Richards’ crooked teeth. Years later, attorneys at the California Innocence Project based in San Diego requested testing of samples from the murder weapon, which uncovered DNA that did not belong to either Richards or his wife. The expert recanted and admitted there was no scientific basis for any of his bite-mark findings in the case. But Richards’ release was delayed for eight years after prosecutors argued successfully that only factual testimony, not expert opinions, can be false evidence under California law. It took new legislation to change the definition of false evidence to include disproven or recanted expert opinions before Richards walked out of prison in 2016. The change in expert witness law also allowed the California Innocence Project attorneys to attempt to overturn Parks’ conviction for burning her children to death. Her attorneys argued that false forensic expert opinion was used against her at her original trial. But the fire investigation community remains divided on how to handle cases such as Parks’. Experts testifying for her during a recent habeas corpus hearing said the misleading fire patterns and destruction wrought by flashover made it impossible to determine the origin and cause of the fire, and that she deserved a new trial. Prosecution experts argued they could still read the fire patterns like a book despite their concession that flashover had occurred. They offered little in the way of research or error rate studies to back that assertion. In November, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan ruled that the new flashover evidence was insufficient to win Parks a new trial because the experts cannot agree on its significance. “The world of fire science and fire investigation is a complex area rife with differing opinions and contentious debates,” Ryan wrote. His decision is being appealed. Whatever the outcome of the Parks case, it is one of many demonstrating the profound difficulty the justice system has in separating good science from bad. The National Academy of Sciences has suggested raising the bar for expert testimony by requiring hard data and error rates for all forensic disciplines. Right now the bar is shockingly low. One expert in the recent Parks hearing testified that his analysis of door hinges showed that she had barricaded her child in a closet, using a technique he had never attempted before and for which he cited no scientific data. This lack of scientific rigor in the courtroom has to change. A commission formed by President Obama to study solutions to flawed forensics was disbanded by the Trump administration. It may be time for the states, individually or in partnership, to undertake this effort. The stakes are too high to maintain the status quo."

The entire commentary can be read at: 
https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-humes-forensic-evidence-20190113-story.html

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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com.  Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog; 


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Back in action; On-Going; Johnny Lee Gates: Georgia; Good news: New trial granted following his conviction of rape and murder 43 years ago based on new DNA evidence, at the same time condemning “undeniable” race discrimination during jury selection by the prosecution... "Allen noted that the state called on two GBI scientists “who did not contradict, but instead supported, Dr. Perlin’s testimony.” Allen also found Perlin to be a credible and qualified witness, and he noted that, under the circumstances, the three experts shared a distinct connection. “This was the rare hearing in which the scientist who trained the GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) scientists testified on behalf of the defense,” the judge said."


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "Because Gates could not give a reasonable explanation why he didn’t bring his race discrimination claims sooner than decades after his trial, he cannot get a new trial on that ground, Allen said. But Allen found that was not an issue with the new DNA evidence. During the trial, prosecutors said the killer took $480 in cash from Wright, the murder victim who suffered a fatal gunshot wound to her head. A state investigator testified that the killer tied a bathrobe belt “very, very tightly” around Wright’s hands and double-knotted the belt. A necktie was also tied around the victim’s hands, with knots binding it together. But during a hearing last year, Gates’ legal team presented the testimony of DNA expert Mark Perlin. He said Gates’ DNA was not found on the necktie or the bathrobe belt. “The exclusion of Gates’ profile to the DNA on the two items is material and may be considered exculpatory,” Allen said. “Therefore, Gates is entitled to a new trial.” Allen noted that the state called on two GBI scientists “who did not contradict, but instead supported, Dr. Perlin’s testimony.” Allen also found Perlin to be a credible and qualified witness, and he noted that, under the circumstances, the three experts shared a distinct connection. “This was the rare hearing in which the scientist who trained the GBI scientists testified on behalf of the defense,” the judge said.""

STORY: "Georgia judge orders new trial in 1976 case that sent man to death row," by rdeporter Bill Rankin, published by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on January 17, 2019.
 


GIST: "In a searing decision, a judge in Columbus has granted a new trial to a man convicted of rape and murder 43 years ago based on new DNA evidence, at the same time condemning “undeniable” race discrimination during jury selection by the prosecution. The ruling by Senior Muscogee County Superior Court Judge John Allen overturns the convictions against Johnny Lee Gates, who was sent to death row for the 1976 rape and murder of Katrina Wright. Wright was a 19-year-old German immigrant who had moved to Columbus just 12 days earlier to be with her husband, a soldier at Fort Benning. “We are grateful to the court for recognizing the evidence of Mr. Gates’ innocence, and for taking this important step towards justice,” Clare Gilbert, executive director of the Georgia Innocence Project, said. Her office and lawyers for the Southern Center for Human Rights represented Gates in his bid for a new trial. Muscogee County District Attorney Julia Slater did not return a phone call or email message seeking comment. Gates, who was re-sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2003, challenged his convictions based on new DNA evidence and the discovery of prosecutors’ notes that disparaged prospective African-American jurors for his trial. In his ruling, Allen granted the new trial based on the DNA evidence, but not because of race discrimination during jury selection — although he was unsparing in his criticism of such conduct.” Allen wrote in a Jan. 10 decision. “They identified the black prospective jurors by race in their jury selection notes, singled them out … and struck them to try Gates before an all-white jury.” Prosecutors notes from the 1977 murder trial of Johnny Lee Gates in Columbus, Ga,. show that all four black prospective jurors (marked with an N in the notes) were struck. Each name also has a 1 to the left of it, indicating that prosecutors found them least favorable.   Muscogee County District Attorney’s Office
The prosecutors’ notes labeled prospective white jurors with a “W” and black jurors with an “N.” Prosecutors also described some prospective black jurors as “slow,” “old + ignorant,” “cocky,” “con artist,” “hostile” and “fat.” Jurors were also ranked on a scale of 1 to 5, and all black jurors were given a “1.” The only one of the 43 prospective white jurors who got a “1” said he was opposed to the death penalty, Allen noted. “Taken together, the notes demonstrate a purposeful and deliberate strategy to exclude black citizens and obtain all-white juries,” Allen said. Moreover, the judge said, Muscogee County prosecutors’ strikes employed in seven death penalty trials from 1975 to 1979 confirm the discrimination. In six of those seven cases, prosecutors removed every potential African-American juror to secure all-white juries. In the seventh case, an all-white jury was impossible because the prosecution did not have enough strikes to get rid of all the black jurors, Allen wrote. On top of that, prosecutors “used racially charged arguments to the all-white juries they secured.” Allen concluded: “The evidence of discriminatory intent is overwhelming.” If Gates’ lawyers had raised such a claim much earlier, it is likely they would have prevailed. But because they didn’t, Allen said he had to rule against them on that claim. One requirement for obtaining a new trial is for a defendant to show he was diligent in bringing his claims without undue delay. Because Gates could not give a reasonable explanation why he didn’t bring his race discrimination claims sooner than decades after his trial, he cannot get a new trial on that ground, Allen said. But Allen found that was not an issue with the new DNA evidence. During the trial, prosecutors said the killer took $480 in cash from Wright, the murder victim who suffered a fatal gunshot wound to her head. A state investigator testified that the killer tied a bathrobe belt “very, very tightly” around Wright’s hands and double-knotted the belt. A necktie was also tied around the victim’s hands, with knots binding it together. But during a hearing last year, Gates’ legal team presented the testimony of DNA expert Mark Perlin. He said Gates’ DNA was not found on the necktie or the bathrobe belt. “The exclusion of Gates’ profile to the DNA on the two items is material and may be considered exculpatory,” Allen said. “Therefore, Gates is entitled to a new trial.” Allen noted that the state called on two GBI scientists “who did not contradict, but instead supported, Dr. Perlin’s testimony.” Allen also found Perlin to be a credible and qualified witness, and he noted that, under the circumstances, the three experts shared a distinct connection. “This was the rare hearing in which the scientist who trained the GBI scientists testified on behalf of the defense,” the judge said.""



SIDE BAR: "Lawyers from the Georgia Innocence Project and Southern Center for Human Rights have long sought to get a new trial for Johnny Lee Gates. In a motion filed last year, the lawyers noted that Columbus prosecutors had struck all prospective black jurors in six of seven death-penalty trials — including Gates’ — from 1975 to 1979. In the other trial, prosecutors couldn’t get an all-white jury because they didn’t have enough strikes to get rid of all the black jurors. A Georgia Tech mathematics professor found that the probability that black jurors were removed for race-neutral reasons.
 

The entire story can be read at:
https://www.ajc.com/news/local/georgia-judge-orders-new-trial-1976-case-that-sent-man-death-row/uFksVcrz7zcL8HTGl3g9PM/

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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com.  Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog; 



Saturday, January 19, 2019

Back in action: On-Going: FBI Flawed photo (image) analysis: Superb analysis by Propublica reporter Ryan Gabrielson: "The FBI Says Its Photo Analysis Is Scientific Evidence. Scientists Disagree. The bureau’s image unit has linked defendants to crime photographs for decades using unproven techniques and baseless statistics. Studies have begun to raise doubts about the unit’s methods."


PUBLISHER"S NOTE: Bravo to ProPublica and Science Correspondent Ryan Gabrielson,  for their powerful exposee of flawed FBI image analysis, and the wrongful convictions that may result. The article is far too long to publish in its entirety. I have therefore  included two brief excerpts on this post and I encourage our readers to plow through the entire piece. It will be truly worth the time.

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Judge Jed Rakoff of the United States District Court in Manhattan, a former member of the National Commission on Forensic Science, said the weakest pattern analysis fields rely more on examiner intuition than science. Their conclusions are, basically, “my hunch is that X is a match for Y,” he said. “Only they don’t say hunch.” Rakoff said that image analysis hadn’t come before him in court and wasn’t taken up by the commission but said that investigators, prosecutors and judges should make sure evidence is reliable before using it. Scandals involving other areas of forensic science have shown the danger of waiting for injustices to become public to compel reform, Rakoff said. “How many cases of innocent people being wrongly convicted have to occur before people realize that there’s a very broad spectrum of forensic science?” Rakoff asked. “Some of it is very good, like DNA. Some of it is pretty good, like fingerprinting. And some of it is not good at all.”

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PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "The work of image examiners is a type of pattern analysis, a category of forensic science that has repeatedly led to misidentifications at the FBI and other crime laboratories. Before the discovery of DNA identification methods in the 1980s, most of the bureau’s lab worked in pattern matching, which involves comparing features from items of evidence to the suspect’s body and belongings. Examiners had long testified in court that they could determine what fingertip left a print, what gun fired a bullet, which scalp grew a hair “to the exclusion of all others.” Research and exonerations by DNA analysis have repeatedly disproved these claims, and the U.S. Department of Justice no longer allows technicians and scientists from the FBI and other agencies to make such unequivocal statements, according to new testimony guidelines released last year. Though image examiners rely on similarly flawed methods, they have continued to testify to and defend their exactitude, according to a review of court records and examiners’ written reports and published articles."

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STORY: "The FBI Says Its Photo Analysis Is Scientific Evidence. Scientists disagree," by reporter Ryan Gabrielson, published by ProPublica on January 17, 2019. (Ryan Gabrielson is a reporter for ProPublica covering the U.S. justice system. In 2013, his stories for the Center for Investigative Reporting on violent crimes at California’s board-and-care institutions for the developmentally disabled were a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.)

SUB-HEADING: "The bureau’s image unit has linked defendants to crime photographs for decades using unproven techniques and baseless statistics. Studies have begun to raise doubts about the unit’s methods."



GIST: "At the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, a team of about a half-dozen technicians analyzes pictures down to their pixels, trying to determine if the faces, hands, clothes or cars of suspects match images collected by investigators from cameras at crime scenes. The unit specializes in visual evidence and facial identification, and its examiners can aid investigations by making images sharper, revealing key details in a crime or ruling out potential suspects. But the work of image examiners has never had a strong scientific foundation, and the FBI’s endorsement of the unit’s findings as trial evidence troubles many experts and raises anew questions about the role of the FBI Laboratory as a standard-setter in forensic science. FBI examiners have tied defendants to crime pictures in thousands of cases over the past half-century using unproven techniques, at times giving jurors baseless statistics to say the risk of error was vanishingly small. Much of the legal foundation for the unit’s work is rooted in a 22-year-old comparison of bluejeans. Studies on several photo comparison techniques, conducted over the last decade by the FBI and outside scientists, have found they are not reliable.  Since those studies were published, there’s no indication that lab officials have checked past casework for errors or inaccurate testimony. Image examiners continue to use disputed methods in an array of cases to bolster prosecutions against people accused of robberies, murder, sex crimes and terrorism. The work of image examiners is a type of pattern analysis, a category of forensic science that has repeatedly led to misidentifications at the FBI and other crime laboratories. Before the discovery of DNA identification methods in the 1980s, most of the bureau’s lab worked in pattern matching, which involves comparing features from items of evidence to the suspect’s body and belongings. Examiners had long testified in court that they could determine what fingertip left a print, what gun fired a bullet, which scalp grew a hair “to the exclusion of all others.” Research and exonerations by DNA analysis have repeatedly disproved these claims, and the U.S. Department of Justice no longer allows technicians and scientists from the FBI and other agencies to make such unequivocal statements, according to new testimony guidelines released last year. Though image examiners rely on similarly flawed methods, they have continued to testify to and defend their exactitude, according to a review of court records and examiners’ written reports and published articles. ProPublica asked leading statisticians and forensic science experts to review methods image examiners have detailed in court transcripts, published articles and presentations. The experts identified numerous instances of examiners overstating the techniques’ scientific precision and said some of their assertions defy logic. The FBI declined repeated requests for interviews with members of the image group, which is formally known as the Forensic Audio, Video and Image Analysis Unit. ProPublica provided the bureau written questions in September and followed up in November with a summary of our reporting on the bureau’s photo comparison practices. The FBI provided a brief prepared response last month that said the image unit’s techniques differ from those discredited in recent studies. It said image examiners have never relied on those methods “because they have been demonstrated to be unreliable.” But the unit’s articles and presentations on photo comparison show its practices mirror those used in the studies. The bureau did not address examiners’ inaccurate testimony and other questionable practices. Judge Jed Rakoff of the United States District Court in Manhattan, a former member of the National Commission on Forensic Science, said the weakest pattern analysis fields rely more on examiner intuition than science. Their conclusions are, basically, “my hunch is that X is a match for Y,” he said. “Only they don’t say hunch.” Rakoff said that image analysis hadn’t come before him in court and wasn’t taken up by the commission but said that investigators, prosecutors and judges should make sure evidence is reliable before using it. Scandals involving other areas of forensic science have shown the danger of waiting for injustices to become public to compel reform, Rakoff said. “How many cases of innocent people being wrongly convicted have to occur before people realize that there’s a very broad spectrum of forensic science?” Rakoff asked. “Some of it is very good, like DNA. Some of it is pretty good, like fingerprinting. And some of it is not good at all.” .......................


For the Nation’s Crime Lab, a Reckoning: The FBI opened the laboratory in 1932, and for the next 60 years its forensic science was more revered than scrutinized. Then, in August 1995, lawyers for a defendant on trial in the bombing of the World Trade Center called Frederic Whitehurst, a chemist on the bureau’s explosives unit, to testify. Whitehurst told the court his lab colleagues had produced inaccurate reports in the case. He had complained within the lab for years about unqualified explosives examiners and shoddy scientific practices. The FBI mostly dismissed the concerns and, Whitehurst said, reassigned him to a different unit as retaliation. So he went public — on the stand and to the press. The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General was already investigating Whitehurst’s allegations. Its final report, released in 1997, confirmed the explosives unit had “significant instances of testimonial errors, substandard analytical work, and deficient practices” in several cases, including the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings. Officials at the bureau had overlooked the explosives unit’s bad practices and didn’t move urgently to fix them, Bill Esposito, then FBI deputy director, said at the time. “While the issues raised by the Inspector General concern only a small part of the total volume of work done annually in the lab, we recognize that even one problem is too many.” The lab already knew about a second problem. As the explosives unit became a scandal, the Justice Department began reviewing the top FBI hair and fiber examiner’s work on hundreds of cases. The in-house review looked at examiner Michael P. Malone’s lab work and sworn statements in more than 250 cases. It found Malone routinely misrepresented his results as valid and his error rate as less than 1 percent. Justice Department officials did not make the finding public, nor did it notify lawyers for the defendants in those cases, or scrutinize the rest of the hair unit, reporting by The Washington Post revealed in 2012. Advances in DNA analysis technology were rattling many forensic science fields, revealing wrongful convictions won with other crime-lab evidence. Microscopic hair comparisons were particularly vulnerable to debunking because follicles contain genetic material. For decades, examiners told jurors that crime scene hairs came from defendants. DNA analysis later proved the hairs did not in dozens of cases. (The FBI replaced microscopic hair comparisons with DNA in 1999.) Prompted by the Post’s investigation, the Justice Department finished an expansive review of hair comparison testimony. Hair examiners matched defendants to follicles in 268 trials; all but 11 contained scientific error. They were more conservative in their written lab reports, about half of which included a misstatement. Like other forensic science reckonings, the public disclosure came years after the FBI stopped relying on the method. Another unit at the FBI Lab had for decades matched bullets by their chemical compositions. FBI chemists asserted the mix of elements in a round could determine whether its lead matched ammunition seized from defendant’s cars and homes. In court, they said crime scene rounds were “indistinguishable” from the suspects’ bullets, even suggesting they came from the same box. The bureau had no science to back its claims. Facing court challenges, the FBI in 2002 asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to study the methods and value of bullet lead analysis. The report by researchers in 2004 said the examiners’ testimony went further than the chemical analysis allowed. “The available data do not support any statement that a crime bullet came from a particular box of ammunition,” the academies’ report said. Further, one bullet could match anywhere from 12,000 to 35 million other bullets. FBI officials discontinued lead analysis a year later. Also in 2004, fingerprint examiners wrongly matched a print from a train bombing in Spain to a lawyer and Muslim convert in Portland, Oregon. Agents arrested and detained the lawyer for more than two weeks, without criminal charges, before Spanish law enforcement disproved the FBI’s conclusion. Following each scandal, the bureau moved to shutter the discredited unit or correct the disputed method. It did not comprehensively search past casework for convictions based on the lab’s inaccurate evidence, nor did it evaluate whether other units had the same bad practices — unproven techniques, fabricated error rates, misleading testimony. “The FBI Lab is a fixer,” Whitehurst said in an interview last year. Examiners have many incentives to find evidence that helps a conviction, he said."

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The entire story can be read at:
https://www.propublica.org/article/with-photo-analysis-fbi-lab-continues-shaky-forensic-science-practices

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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com.  Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog; 




Friday, January 18, 2019

Back in action: On-Going: Faulty fingerprint evidence. UK. Alarming Development: The Guardian reports (Science correspondent Hannah Devlin) that, "Most police forces fail to meet fingerprint evidence standards" - and that, "UK forensic science regulator warns of shortcomings that could cause cases to collapse."..."Tully said there had been a resistance in fingerprint evidence to move away from the traditional approach of an expert declaring an identification towards a more transparent, scientific approach, with objective measures and an acknowledgement of the possibility of false matches."


PASSAGE OF THE DAY:  "Less than 10% of police forces have met basic quality standards for fingerprint evidence, the government’s forensic science regulator has warned. All UK forces were ordered three years ago to ensure their laboratories met international standards for analysing prints found at crime scenes. But only three forces have complied, with almost every force missing a deadline set by the regulator to gain accreditation by November. Police forces that have failed to obtain accreditation, which include the Metropolitan police and Greater Manchester police, will have to declare this in court, prompting concerns that cases could collapse as a result of unreliable evidence. Gillian Tully, the government’s forensic regulator, said: “The shortcomings identified do not mean that all fingerprint evidence is of poor quality, but they do highlight risks to the quality of evidence. “The risks are greatest in situations where the comparison is complex, for example because the fingermark is partial or distorted. The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for forensics, Ch Const James Vaughan, said: “We are treating delays in in gaining accreditation as a critical incident, with a chief officer overseeing forces’ progress and assisting them in gaining accreditation as soon as possible.” The failures are the latest problems to have affected forensics in the past year. Alleged data tampering at Randox Laboratories in Manchester led to dozens of criminal convictions being overturned and required thousands of samples to be reanalysed. Problems in digital forensics caused the collapse of a number of rape trials and police were criticised for outsourcing digital work to unaccredited private labs that are subject to no regulatory oversight. In a recent submission to a House of Lords inquiry, the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science raised broader concerns about the way fingerprints, tool marks, footwear, tyre marks and ballistics evidence were being used in courts. Prof Niamh Nic Daéid, the centre’s director, said: “The majority, if not all of those techniques, are not robustly researched. In a lot of cases, the comparative process is left to the subjective opinion of the person doing the comparison. It often could be described as no better than spot the difference.”

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STORY: "Most police forces fail to meet fingerprint evidence standards," by Science correspondent Hannah Devlin, published by The Guardian on January 19, 2019.


SUB-HEADING: "UK forensic science regulator warns of shortcomings that could cause cases to collapse."
  
PHOTO CAPTION: "All UK police forces were ordered to ensure their laboratories met international standards, but only three have complied."



GIST: "Less than 10% of police forces have met basic quality standards for fingerprint evidence, the government’s forensic science regulator has warned. All UK forces were ordered three years ago to ensure their laboratories met international standards for analysing prints found at crime scenes. But only three forces have complied, with almost every force missing a deadline set by the regulator to gain accreditation by November. Police forces that have failed to obtain accreditation, which include the Metropolitan police and Greater Manchester police, will have to declare this in court, prompting concerns that cases could collapse as a result of unreliable evidence. Gillian Tully, the government’s forensic regulator, said: “The shortcomings identified do not mean that all fingerprint evidence is of poor quality, but they do highlight risks to the quality of evidence. “The risks are greatest in situations where the comparison is complex, for example because the fingermark is partial or distorted. The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for forensics, Ch  (sic) Const James Vaughan, said: “We are treating delays in in gaining accreditation as a critical incident, with a chief officer overseeing forces’ progress and assisting them in gaining accreditation as soon as possible.” The failures are the latest problems to have affected forensics in the past year. Alleged data tampering at Randox Laboratories in Manchester led to dozens of criminal convictions being overturned and required thousands of samples to be reanalysed. Problems in digital forensics caused the collapse of a number of rape trials and police were criticised for outsourcing digital work to unaccredited private labs that are subject to no regulatory oversight. In a recent submission to a House of Lords inquiry, the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science raised broader concerns about the way fingerprints, tool marks, footwear, tyre marks and ballistics evidence were being used in courts. Prof Niamh Nic Daéid, the centre’s director, said: “The majority, if not all of those techniques, are not robustly researched. In a lot of cases, the comparative process is left to the subjective opinion of the person doing the comparison. It often could be described as no better than spot the difference.” She said more rigorous research was needed on error rates associated with this type of evidence. In her submission to the same inquiry, Tully said there had been a resistance in fingerprint evidence to move away from the traditional approach of an expert declaring an identification towards a more transparent, scientific approach, with objective measures and an acknowledgement of the possibility of false matches. Vaughan said forces that had failed to meet official standards had been asked to consider outsourcing work to existing accredited labs, and that they would be open in providing declarations to court if analysis was carried out at unaccredited facilities. “It is then for the court to test the veracity and admissibility of the evidence and, to date, no concerns raised have been raised by courts,” he said.""

The entire story can be read at:
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/jan/07/police-forces-fail-to-meet-forensics-fingerprint-evidence-standards

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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com.  Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog; 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Back in action: On-Going: Major Development: Blaine Milam: Texas: Bite-mark 'science' and 'intellectual disability' at core of death penalty case. As per reporter Jolie McCullough: (Texas Tribune)..."Texas court stops first execution of 2019, citing changes in intellectual disability law and bite-mark science in case involving murder of a 13-month-old baby girl..."In a late appeal, Milam's lawyers argued against the state’s reliance on bite-mark testimony, which was a key part of his trial. His lawyers also claimed he was intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution."


PASSAGE ONE OF THE DAY: "In December 2008, Milam called 911 and police in Rusk County arrived to find the body of Amora Carson, according to court opinions. The medical examiner counted 24 human bite marks on the baby’s body and found evidence of blunt force trauma and sexual assault. At trial, the prosecution linked Milam to several of the bite marks. But his attorneys now say that science has largely been discredited, pointing to the Court of Criminal Appeals’ recent decision to overturn the murder conviction of Steven Chaney. (In December, the court took the rare step of asserting Chaney's innocence, saying his conviction was based on bite-mark science that “has since been undermined or completely invalidated.” Chaney spent more than 25 years behind bars.)

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PASSAGE TWO OF THE DAY: "The trial court must also take another look at Milam’s claims of intellectual disability, according to the court order. The issue was raised at Milam’s trial, which prosecutors said put the issue to bed, but there has been considerable change in how the state determines such disability since 2010. In 2017, the U.S Supreme Court tossed out the method the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had previously used to determine who is intellectually disabled and, therefore, constitutionally ineligible to be executed. The Court of Criminal Appeals later said it would change its test, which used outdated medical standards and nonclinical factors created by its judges, including how well the person could lie."

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STORY: "Texas court stops first execution of 2019, citing changes in intellectual disability law and bite-mark science," by Jolie McCullough, published by The Texas Tribune on January 14, 2019.

https://www.texastribune.org/2019/01/14/texas-court-criminal-appeals-stays-execution-blaine-milam/

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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com.  Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog; 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Back in action: On-Going: Patrick Pursley; Illinois; Major Development: (A most welcome one. HL); Released from jail after being imprisoned nearly 24 years for the shooting death of Andy Ascher, because the ballistics used to convict him proved to be wrong..."The ruling caps a decades-long journey Pursley undertook to prove his innocence after spending 23 years in prison. He represented himself from prison for years and lobbied Illinois lawmakers to pass a law allowing the ballistics in his case to be retested using technology not available when he was convicted."


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "The ruling caps a decades-long journey Pursley undertook to prove his innocence after spending 23 years in prison. He represented himself from prison for years and lobbied Illinois lawmakers to pass a law allowing the ballistics in his case to be retested using technology not available when he was convicted. The Integrated Ballistic Identification System, or IBIS, uses much higher-resolution and multi-dimensional images for ballistics analysis and ultimately matches shell casings to guns."

STORY: "Ballistics tests prove Illinois man innocent in murder case," by Associated Press reporter Ivan Moreno, published by The Toronto Star on January 16, 2019.

PHOTO CAPTION: "In this April 27, 2017 photo, Patrick Pursley, right, speaks to the media, as Robert Stauffer, one of his lawyers, listens after Pursley was released.

PASSAGE OF THE DAY; "So far, IBIS has been primarily used by law enforcement nationwide to catch and convict criminals, not to prove their innocence. That’s because Illinois remains the only state in the country that allows defendants in post-conviction appeals to use the system to retest ballistics. Without the technology, matching bullets to firearms requires an expert to manually compare shell casings from a crime scene to shell casings test-fired from a gun using microscopes that, at the time of Pursley’s first trial, weren’t as strong as those available now. The processes for ballistics analysis used then were thought to be infallible but have since come under greater scientific scrutiny.  When the evidence in Pursley’s case was retested with IBIS, it showed that the scratches and dents on bullets and shell casings from the crime scene didn’t match the gun that prosecutors presented at trial as the murder weapon."


GIST: "An Illinois judge acquitted a man of murder Wednesday, more than two decades after jurors convicted him by relying on ballistics that proved to be wrong. Supporters of 53-year-old Patrick Pursley clapped in a Winnebago County courtroom when Judge Joseph McGraw issued his ruling, saying prosecutors had scant evidence to prove Pursley’s guilt in the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Andy Ascher during a robbery in Rockford, Illinois in 1993. The ruling caps a decades-long journey Pursley undertook to prove his innocence after spending 23 years in prison. He represented himself from prison for years and lobbied Illinois lawmakers to pass a law allowing the ballistics in his case to be retested using technology not available when he was convicted. The Integrated Ballistic Identification System, or IBIS, uses much higher-resolution and multi-dimensional images for ballistics analysis and ultimately matches shell casings to guns. “Basically the whole experience was numbing,” Pursley said after the verdict. “I was confident. All the signs were there that the judge would see the evidence for what it was. I’m just grateful that he did.” So far, IBIS has been primarily used by law enforcement nationwide to catch and convict criminals, not to prove their innocence. That’s because Illinois remains the only state in the country that allows defendants in post-conviction appeals to use the system to retest ballistics. Without the technology, matching bullets to firearms requires an expert to manually compare shell casings from a crime scene to shell casings test-fired from a gun using microscopes that, at the time of Pursley’s first trial, weren’t as strong as those available now. The processes for ballistics analysis used then were thought to be infallible but have since come under greater scientific scrutiny.  When the evidence in Pursley’s case was retested with IBIS, it showed that the scratches and dents on bullets and shell casings from the crime scene didn’t match the gun that prosecutors presented at trial as the murder weapon. In March 2017, McGraw ordered Pursley retried on a first-degree murder charge and allowed him to go free on bail. Pursley opted to have McGraw decide his fate at his new trial instead of a jury. “In this case, the court found that the evidence presented by the State at the retrial did not rise to the level of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross said in a statement. “We respect the court’s decision.” Prosecutors had maintained that Pursley killed Ascher while he sat in a car with his girlfriend. But the gun and shell casings were the only physical evidence prosecutors used to convict Pursley. Pursley’s girlfriend at the time of the killing implicated him in the crime but later recanted, saying her testimony had been coerced by police. Prosecutors also relied on testimony from a man who received a Crime Stoppers reward for telling police that Pursley had confessed to the crime. “I really don’t have anything say,” said Ascher’s mother, Lois Ascher, in a phone call. “But thank you anyway.” The centerpiece of the prosecution’s case was the conclusion from their ballistics expert who testified with absolute certainty during the 1994 trial that the bullets that killed Ascher could only have come from the gun authorities connected to Pursley. Although his confidence in the language he used then has waned, he still insisted during the latest trial that his initial findings were correct. But defence attorneys had two experts who independently concluded that the gun taken from Pursley’s home and presented as evidence was not the firearm used to kill Ascher. “To get to this place it took a tremendous amount of time, work, and commitment that started with Patrick,” said Andrew Vail, one of the attorneys from Chicago-based Jenner and Block, which represented Pursley for free, along with Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions.""

The entire story can be read at:
https://www.thestar.com/news/world/us/2019/01/16/ballistics-tests-prove-illinois-man-innocent-in-murder-case.html

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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com.  Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog; 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Back in action: On-Going: The Groveland four: Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin. (Fabricated footprint evidence); Monumental Development: Victims of a horrific racial-based miscarriage of justice, they have at last been pardoned. Reporter Katie Mettler tells the story in the Washington Post. "Florida finally pardons four black men accused of rape in 1949."


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "At the hearing Friday, about 15 people attended on the Groveland Four’s behalf, including surviving family members, Florida lawmakers, legal advocates and Gilbert King, the author of “Devil in the Grove,” the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning book that revived interest in the case and unearthed new evidence from once-redacted FBI files. King found evidence that Padgett had perjured herself and documents that proved the doctor who examined her that night found no physical evidence of rape. He also wrote that the sheriff’s office fabricated footprint evidence that supposedly linked the men to the crime scene. He celebrated the pardons Friday: “I don’t think there was anything greater than being able to witness that today.”

STORY: "‘Miscarriage of justice’: Florida finally pardons four black men accused of rape in 1949,"  by reporter Katie Mettler, published by The Washington Post on January 11, 2018.

PHOTO CAPTION: "Walter Irvin speaks with his attorneys, including future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall."

GIST: "Seventy years ago in Groveland, Fla., a white teenager named Norma Padgett accused four black men of kidnapping and raping her in a car on a dark road. Two of the men would eventually be shot dead by the segregationist sheriff of Lake County and his angry mob, and the other two wrongfully convicted on little evidence. The case of the Groveland Four, as they became known, inspired a Pulitzer Prize-winning book and has been considered for decades one of Florida’s most grave injustices and a symbol of racism in the Jim Crow South. In 2017, the state of Florida formally apologized for what happened in the summer of 1949. And on Friday, the state’s clemency board voted to posthumously pardon all four men: Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin. The deciding factor, the board said, was not whether Padgett lied — as the relatives of the accused insisted she’d done — but whether the men ever had a chance at a fair trial. Padgett, now 86, watched from her wheelchair as newly inaugurated Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) declared that they had not. He called the case a “miscarriage of justice" and said that the “appropriate thing to do is grant pardons.” The board voted unanimously for clemency, and the descendants of the Groveland Four embraced. “I hope that this will bring peace to their families and their communities,” DeSantis said. Padgett’s appearance at the hearing, in which she insisted she had told “the truth,” marked the first time she had spoken publicly about her accusations outside a courtroom — and the first time since the trials decades ago that Padgett had sat among the Groveland Four’s families. The case began on a summer night in 1949. Padgett told authorities that she and her husband, Willie Padgett, had been driving back from a dance when their car broke down. Shepherd and Irvin, friends from the Army, reportedly stopped to help. But the Padgetts would later tell law enforcement in Lake County that the men, plus Thomas and Greenlee, attacked Willie and took turns raping Norma. Within days of Padgett’s accusations, authorities had jailed Shepherd, Greenlee and Irvin. An angry mob led by the white-supremacist sheriff Willis V. McCall chased Thomas 200 miles into the Florida Panhandle, where they shot him dead. In Groveland, rioters torched black-owned homes, sparking unrest so intense that the governor eventually sent in the National Guard. [The preacher who used Christianity to revive the Ku Klux Klan] At the time, townspeople quietly doubted the Padgetts' version of events amid speculation that her account was merely a coverup for her husband’s suspected beatings. Despite a lack of evidence, a jury quickly convicted the three men who were still alive. Greenlee, just 16 at the time, was sent to prison for life. Shepherd and Irvin were initially sentenced to death. At the hearing Friday, about 15 people attended on the Groveland Four’s behalf, including surviving family members, Florida lawmakers, legal advocates and Gilbert King, the author of “Devil in the Grove,” the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning book that revived interest in the case and unearthed new evidence from once-redacted FBI files. King found evidence that Padgett had perjured herself and documents that proved the doctor who examined her that night found no physical evidence of rape. He also wrote that the sheriff’s office fabricated footprint evidence that supposedly linked the men to the crime scene. He celebrated the pardons Friday: “I don’t think there was anything greater than being able to witness that today.” The path to the pardons began in 2015, when Josh Venkataraman read King’s book in a college history class and started an online petition “Exonerate the Groveland Four.” The city of Groveland and Lake County first apologized to the men and their families in 2016, and a year later the Florida House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution that did the same. It also called on former governor Rick Scott (R) to expedite the process for granting posthumous pardons. But instead it was delayed for a year and a half. Venkataraman filed a formal pardon application in June 2017 for Greenlee and Irvin, the only two actually convicted of the alleged crimes. But Scott’s office never took up the case. Then last week, the board finally emailed Venkataraman with the Jan. 11 hearing date. [The brutal rape of Recy Taylor] He found out Friday morning that Padgett, whose voice was absent as the case again gained notoriety in recent years, would also be in Tallahassee for the hearing. Before Padgett spoke, lawmakers and Groveland Four family members took turns recalling 70 years of pain. Beverly Robinson, a cousin of Shepherd, directly addressed Padgett and her family. “It never happened, Miss Padgett,” Robinson said. “You all are liars.” She said emphatically that she did not believe “pardon” was the right word. The men, Robinson said, should be exonerated — a legal action that would not just forgive them but explicitly state that they were innocent. Soon after, Padgett, in a wheelchair, approached the board. “My name is Norma Padgett Tyson Upshaw,” she said. “And I am the victim of that night.” The woman said she kept her alleged rape from her children for many years, she but stated firmly that the story she told decades ago was the “truth.” “I don’t want them pardoned, no I do not, and you wouldn’t, either," Padgett said. “I know she called me a liar, but I ain’t no liar.” When the testimony ended and DeSantis called for the vote, Venkataraman grabbed King’s shoulders, then wrapped Carol Greenlee in a hug. “It felt like the chains fell off," Greenlee said later. "It felt like the door swung open, and it felt like I wanted to jump up and down and say, ‘Rest in peace, daddy, rest in peace. It’s over.’” Greenlee was in her mother’s womb when her father was accused of raping Padgett. He had been in Lake County that day looking for a job. He did not appeal his life sentence and was paroled in 1962 after 12 years in prison. Carol Greenlee was 12. Greenlee rarely spoke of the case, Carol said, because it was so painful. But she had to know what happened that night, so she eventually asked. Her father said he never knew Norma Padgett. The first time he saw the woman, Greenlee told his daughter, was when he was being tried in court. Shepherd and Irvin appealed their death sentence, and although the Florida Supreme Court initially upheld their convictions, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned them and ordered a retrial. But on their return trip from prison to Lake County for their new trial, Sheriff McCall shot them both. He claimed the men had tried to escape. Shepherd died at the scene. Irvin played dead and survived. He later said the sheriff fired on them in cold blood and bragged on the police radio that he had “got rid of them.” In his second trial, Irvin was represented by future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He was once again convicted, and his execution was scheduled. An emergency stay saved his life. Later, Florida Gov. Leroy Collins (D) commissioned a report on the case and commuted Irvin’s sentence to life in prison. Irvin was released in 1968 and died one year later, of a heart attack, on a trip back to Lake County for a funeral. His family told King that what really killed Irvin, who was 41, were the untreated gunshot wounds inflicted by the sheriff — and the nearly two decades he spent in prison."

The entire story can be read at:
 https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/01/11/years-after-miscarriage-justice-florida-pardons-four-black-men-accused-rape-by-white-woman/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.8be057290bd9

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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com.  Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog; 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Back in action: On-Going: Shaken Baby Syndrome: Blogger Sue Luttner delves into several recent Ohio decisions and concludeds they "seed hope."..."Two decisions this fall in Ohio offer hope for the wrongfully accused, while underscoring both the ironies and the complexities of misguided accusations of child physical abuse. One of them even opens the door to possible legal accountability for the casual over-diagnosis of abuse."


COMMENTARY: "Ohio Decisions Seed Hope," by Sue Luttner, published on her valuable Blog, "On SBS, on December 02, 2019.

GIST: Two decisions this fall in Ohio offer hope for the wrongfully accused, while underscoring both the ironies and the complexities of misguided accusations of child physical abuse. One of them even opens the door to possible legal accountability for the casual over-diagnosis of abuse. First, the Supreme Court of Ohio has reversed the 2016 assault conviction of child care provider Chantal Thoss. In December of 2014, Ms. Thoss called 911 for help with a baby who she said had fallen from a couch and was “not acting right.” Doctors at the hospital found no bruises, fractures, or other signs of assault, but did find retinal hemorrhages and both new and old bleeding inside the boy’s skull, evidence of both a recent and a preexisting brain injury. Early in the investigation, Dr. Randall Schlievert at Mercy Health offered his opinion that the baby had been shaken by his last caretaker before the call for help. Detective Brian Weaver never questioned the presumed timing, and the case proceeded against Ms. Thoss. According to the court’s summary, Dr. Schlievert explained on the stand “that once the brain is injured, symptoms manifest immediately,” with this concession:
“Schlievert remarked that it is debated in the field whether an older injury can make a child more fragile or more likely to suffer a serious injury from a mild fall later. He noted that many doctors believe that they may have seen such a case, but there is not a single published article that proves that that happens.”
After reading the trial testimony and listening to the 911 call and taped interviews with the babysitter, the three-judge panel declared that a guilty verdict was “against the manifest weight of the evidence.” Noting that they had listened to the same recordings the jury had, the judges offered a different interpretation:
“From those recordings, it is evident to us, acting in this instance as the thirteenth juror, that appellant wholeheartedly believed that she caused injury to E.A. not by shaking him, but by placing him on the couch while retrieving his diaper and by her instinctual response of picking him up off the floor after he had fallen. We could hear the raw emotion in appellant’s voice [emphasis added] as she reported the child’s condition to the 911 operator, the self-condemnation over the decision to briefly leave him unattended on the couch, the genuine surprise upon being informed by Weaver that E.A. had signs of previous injury, and her struggle to understand how this incident produced the injuries suffered by E.A.”
Ms. Thoss has been released from prison. The state has not yet announced whether it will refile charges against her.

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A civil case: Meanwhile, Senior District Judge James G. Carr in western Ohio has allowed a civil case against Dr. Schlievert to move forward. Although far from any resolution, the decision is a rare crack in what is usually a solid wall of immunity for physicians who diagnose child abuse. In September of 2014, day care worker Beth Gokor called her supervisor to report that a 3-year-old boy she was watching couldn’t walk or stand on his own after slipping and falling on a wet linoleum floor. At the hospital, the boy told a physician’s assistant that he “slipped and fell,” and a co-worker later confirmed Gokor’s report that the floor was wet from a recent mopping. According to police notes, the child’s mother said he had told her he slipped while running. When Dr. Randall Schlievert reviewed the records, however, he concluded that the spiral fracture to the boy’s leg must have been an inflicted injury, not an accident—and he recommended challenging the day care’s license because “[c]hildren do not appear to be currently safe there.” Schlievert offered his opinion that the day care was making “improbable statements” and asserted, as if refuting the caretaker’s report, “[JJ] would not have been able to stand.” Ms. Gokor was fired immediately, and she was later charged with endangering children. Her defense team hired pediatric radiologist Gregory Shoukimas, who, according to the court summary, not only concluded that the injury was accidental but also noted that Dr. Schlievert’s report was “riddled with errors.” When prosecutors received the alternative medical report, the state dropped charges against Ms. Gokor, who then filed a civil suit against Dr. Schlievert. The decision this fall rejected a motion by Dr. Schlievert to block that suit, which will presumably now move forward."

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Intriguingly, the same judge who gave the green light to the Gokor suit this year blocked a similar suit in 2017, also against Dr. Schlievert and also pressed by criminal defense attorney Lorin Zaner, a veteran of wrongful abuse cases. (Details at the link below. HL);

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The entire commentary can  be read at:
https://onsbs.com/2018/12/02/ohio-decisions-seed-hope/

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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com.  Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;