Saturday, February 16, 2019

Keith Harward: Virginia: Junk bite-mark 'science' case: Wrongly sent to prison for 33 years, this innocent man is pitching lawmakers on a 'junk science' bill, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.."A bill aimed at helping innocent people wrongfully convicted by flawed forensic science advanced in the General Assembly last week with the help of a man who knows all about the problem. Keith Allen Harward, 62, was convicted of the 1982 rape of a Newport News woman and the murder of her husband largely because two experts testified that Harward’s teeth matched bite marks left by the assailant on the rape victim’s legs. Though such bite-mark evidence was once seen as a valuable forensic tool, more than two dozen people across the country have now been shown to have either been wrongfully convicted or charged as a result of matching suspects’ teeth with bite marks left in human flesh. After 33 years in prison, Harward was cleared by DNA and exonerated by the Virginia Supreme Court in 2016."


QUOTES OF THE DAY: "Harward urged the Senate Court of Justice Committee to advance the bill. “If it weren’t for DNA, I would still be [an] inmate,” he said. There are other innocent people convicted on what is now known to be bad science but who do not have DNA to prove it, Harward said. “I think the people of Virginia deserve it. I deserve it. And those people that are sitting here in prisons right now ... that were convicted behind bogus, made up, fabricated science [used] as evidence, it’s just not right. It’s not right,” he said."

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PASSAGE OF THE DAY:"The testing that cleared Harward also implicated the real killer, a career criminal who died a decade earlier in an Ohio prison. Most cases, however, do not have DNA to come to the rescue. That’s where Senate Bill 1066, introduced by Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, would come in. It would allow people who claim innocence to petition the Virginia Court of Appeals, arguing that developments in forensic science now clear them, or that they were convicted largely by a forensic science technique or testimony that has since been discredited. Recent scientific studies and DNA exonerations have not only faulted key assumptions underlying bite-mark analyses. They also discredited the frequent overstated testimony of hair examiners and raised questions about forensic disciplines such as bloodstain-pattern analysis. If the court agrees the petitioner has proved the case by clear and convincing evidence, prosecutors would have the option of retrying the case. A similar bill passed the Senate last year but was tabled, or defeated, in the House. On Wednesday, Harward urged the Senate Court of Justice Committee to advance the bill."

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STORY: "Innocent man wrongly sent to prison for 33 years pitches lawmakers on 'junk science' bill," by reporter Frank Green, published by The Richmond Times-Dispatch on January 23, 2019.

GIST: "A bill aimed at helping innocent people wrongfully convicted by flawed forensic science advanced in the General Assembly last week with the help of a man who knows all about the problem. Keith Allen Harward, 62, was convicted of the 1982 rape of a Newport News woman and the murder of her husband largely because two experts testified that Harward’s teeth matched bite marks left by the assailant on the rape victim’s legs. Though such bite-mark evidence was once seen as a valuable forensic tool, more than two dozen people across the country have now been shown to have either been wrongfully convicted or charged as a result of matching suspects’ teeth with bite marks left in human flesh. After 33 years in prison, Harward was cleared by DNA and exonerated by the Virginia Supreme Court in 2016. The testing that cleared Harward also implicated the real killer, a career criminal who died a decade earlier in an Ohio prison. Most cases, however, do not have DNA to come to the rescue. That’s where Senate Bill 1066, introduced by Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, would come in. It would allow people who claim innocence to petition the Virginia Court of Appeals, arguing that developments in forensic science now clear them, or that they were convicted largely by a forensic science technique or testimony that has since been discredited. Recent scientific studies and DNA exonerations have not only faulted key assumptions underlying bite-mark analyses. They also discredited the frequent overstated testimony of hair examiners and raised questions about forensic disciplines such as bloodstain-pattern analysis. If the court agrees the petitioner has proved the case by clear and convincing evidence, prosecutors would have the option of retrying the case. A similar bill passed the Senate last year but was tabled, or defeated, in the House. On Wednesday, Harward urged the Senate Court of Justice Committee to advance the bill. “If it weren’t for DNA, I would still be [an] inmate,” he said. There are other innocent people convicted on what is now known to be bad science but who do not have DNA to prove it, Harward said. “I think the people of Virginia deserve it. I deserve it. And those people that are sitting here in prisons right now ... that were convicted behind bogus, made up, fabricated science [used] as evidence, it’s just not right. It’s not right,” he said. Harward said, “I have no hatred for anyone. I believe in my heart of hearts that there’s a reason for everything and that reason is why I’m here today.” A representative of the office of the executive secretary of the Virginia Supreme Court told the committee Wednesday that the court had some procedural concerns about the bill. Stanley said he would work with the court to address the concerns. Michael R. Doucette, executive director of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys, listed a number of concerns his group has with the legislation. “The very last thing that any prosecutor would ever want to happen is to convict an innocent person,” Doucette said. But, he said, “Science changes all the time.” The bill could lead to repeated petitions to the court of appeals and the petitions could come decades after convictions, making it difficult for law enforcement to find witnesses and other evidence should they desire a retrial. Doucette also said there will be a fiscal impact since presumably there would be court-appointed lawyers and expert witnesses involved. The committee ultimately reported the bill to the Senate Finance Committee, which will assess the potential costs of such legislation. Earlier Wednesday, Harward sat in the Senate gallery during the floor session, where he was introduced by Stanley and welcomed by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and lawmakers greeted him with warm applause. “Mr. Harward has spent his time since his release making sure that those who are innocent are not wrongfully convicted,” Stanley said. “We in Virginia can maybe correct that wrong, so not another innocent man spends 33 years of his life in prison for a crime that he did not commit.""
The entire story can be read at:
https://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/general-assembly/innocent-man-wrongly-sent-to-prison-for-years-pitches-lawmakers/article_10c725d1-8fce-5b17-b2a1-d1dd69e322ba.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; 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Value of forensic science conclusions: An important message from the Innocence Project: "The value of forensic science conclusions should be based on empirical data, not subjective impressions."


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Thanks to Dr. Michael Bowers of the informative Blog Forensics and Law in Focus (CSIDDS), for bringing this  important post to our attention. The Innocence Project notes that the misapplication of forensic science is a contributing factor in 45% of the 362 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence. Dr. Bowers tells his readers: "Tell this to all your dentists who do bitemark comparisons. They refuse to admit any of this."
https://csidds.com/2019/01/25/probative-value-of-forensic-science-conclusions-should-be-based-on-empirical-data-not-subjective-impressions/

Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog.

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PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "In the absence of databases and empirical evidence, the interpretation of forensic evidence has been based on an examiner’s training and experience. The ASA  (American Statistical Association) statement explains why personal impressions are not sufficient for communicating scientific forensic conclusions to the investigators and fact finders who must make critical decisions based on that information."

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POST: "Value of Forensic Science Conclusions Should be Based on Empirical Data, Not Subjective Impressions,"  by Innocence Project staff, published on 25 January, 2019.

GIST: "The top statistical society in the United States issued guidelines for the statistically sound expression of the probative value of forensic evidence. The 2009 National Academy of Sciences report on Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: The Path Forward and the 2016 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report on Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods have encouraged the use of empirical data and quantitative analyses as the basis of probabilistic statements that link a piece of evidence from a crime scene to a potential source. The misapplication of forensic science is a contributing factor in 45% of the 362 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence. Among the problems that account for the misapplication of forensic evidence is misleading forensic testimony that overstates or exaggerates the significance of similarities between evidence from a crime scene and evidence from an individual, or oversimplifies the data. In 2015, the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice formally acknowledged that FBI examiners gave flawed testimony regarding the probative value of microscopic hair comparison evidence in over 95% of the first 268 trials in which the evidence was used to ascertain the guilt of a defendant. “Past errors provide us with opportunities to work with the forensic science community to improve the process and strengthen the use of forensic evidence,” said ASA president Karen Kafadar. “This statement is just one step in that direction, but we hope it will be an important step.” The American Statistical Association (ASA) guidelines build upon a document guided by the late and esteemed statistician, Dr. Stephen Fienberg, at the National Commission on Forensic Science, but was not passed before the Department of Justice declined to renew its charter. In the absence of databases and empirical evidence, the interpretation of forensic evidence has been based on an examiner’s training and experience. The ASA statement explains why personal impressions are not sufficient for communicating scientific forensic conclusions to the investigators and fact finders who must make critical decisions based on that information. “The ASA statement being adopted by the entire organization is extremely important because the ASA has an extraordinary reputation and a very large membership,” said Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, the nonprofit legal organization that exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. “We have plenty of first-hand encounters where forensic examiners relied on their subjective impressions and personal experience instead of statistical data to explain the value of the evidence,” added Neufeld. “As a consequence, there were serious miscarriages of justice, where factually innocent people lost decades of their lives and some of them were sentenced to death. Hopefully policymakers, judges and people who really care about the strength of evidence used to make decisions about life and liberty will take notice and do everything they can to apply rigorous scientific and statistical principles in the future.” Prominent members of the ASA also serve as lead investigators for the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence (CSAFE), a center of excellence sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This research center “works to build a statistically sound and scientifically solid foundation for the analysis and interpretation of forensic evidence to grow competence in the forensic science and legal communities,” providing the foundations that would support valid and reliable interpretation of forensic evidence in the criminal justice system."

The entire post can be read at:
www.innocenceproject.org/probative-value-forensic-science-conclusions/

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, February 14, 2019

Ronald Williamson; Dennis Fritz;Thomas Ward; Karl Fontenot: Ada, Oklahoma: False confessions; "The Innocent Man." Based on the Grisham book...Writer Sophia Buono calls the miniseries a "timely reflection on due process and corruption."..."In December 1982, 21-year-old Debbie Carter was raped and murdered in her apartment in Ada. Two years later, Denice Haraway, 24, went missing from an Ada convenience store. Both cases were handled by the same team of investigators and prosecuted by district attorney Bill Peterson. In both cases, innocent men went to jail. Netflix’s original “The Innocent Man,” released last December, dives into the chilling story of the two mysterious murder cases. The documentary miniseries is based on John Grisham’s best-selling 2006 book of the same title."

NETFLIX MINISERIES  REVIEW: "Netflix miniseries’ timely reflection on due process and corruption." Sophia Buonos review of "An Innocent Man, published by Angelus on January 24, 2019. (Sophia Buono is a writer living in Arlington, Virginia...Angelus News is a source for Catholic news, analysis and commentary from Los Angeles).

GIST: "Ada, Oklahoma, is a quiet town. Almost everyone goes to one of the myriad Protestant churches and knows one another by name. Life there is full of pecan groves and high school football. But about 30 years ago, two harrowing tragedies would cast a cloud over Ada’s reputation. In December 1982, 21-year-old Debbie Carter was raped and murdered in her apartment in Ada. Two years later, Denice Haraway, 24, went missing from an Ada convenience store. Both cases were handled by the same team of investigators and prosecuted by district attorney Bill Peterson. In both cases, innocent men went to jail. Netflix’s original “The Innocent Man,” released last December, dives into the chilling story of the two mysterious murder cases. The documentary miniseries is based on John Grisham’s best-selling 2006 book of the same title.  In the Carter case, the pinned suspects were Ronald Williamson and Dennis Fritz. Williamson had had a few run-ins with the police and lived close by to Carter, and Fritz was often seen with Williamson. Peterson pointed to the supposed evidence that pubic hairs found at the crime scene were “microscopically consistent” with the suspects’.  He bolstered his claim with interrogation tapes in which Williamson described going to Carter’s apartment to rape and kill her. Convinced, the jury sentenced Williamson to death and Fritz to life in prison. The Haraway case’s alleged culprits, Thomas Ward and Karl Fontenot, found themselves in the police station after some people suggested that their faces matched the eyewitness sketches of the men last seen with Haraway.  Their interrogation tapes appear even more damning: with expressionless faces and matter-of-fact tones, both young men describe how they brutally raped and murdered the girl they kidnapped.  Although Haraway’s body was not found until two years later, the jury agreed with the prosecution that enough evidence pointed to Ward and Fontenot’s guilt, and they gave them both life sentences. But the story that “The Innocent Man” tells is a multilayered one, and it unfolds with the brilliant timing of a murder mystery page turner. The first episode opens with clips from the interrogation tapes, and the disturbing accounts seem to paint a picture of undeniable guilt.  But at the end of the episode, a balding, middle-aged man with soft blue eyes and a softer voice appears on screen. “My name is Thomas Ward,” he says. “I’ve been in prison for the last 33 years for a crime I did not commit.” What seemed to be crystal-clear confessions turn out to be the product of police manipulating their suspects. Both Ward and Williamson later claimed that they had been pressured into describing dreams, not actual events.  Fontenot and Williamson also suffered from mental illnesses, making it difficult for them to distinguish fantasy from reality and easy for interrogators to twist their words. Emotional interviews with family members of the accused men allow the film to begin nudging the viewer’s attitude, from wondering how these men could do and describe such awful deeds to wondering whether these men are actually guilty.  And then the facts start to pile up: an interview with a psychologist who pronounces the interrogation tapes false confessions, the revelation that key pieces of evidence were never submitted, and the police’s ignoring of other suspects.  Luckily, the development of forensic technology has given these men some hope. Hair evidence, which helped convict Williamson and Fritz, was repeatedly discredited, and with the dawn of DNA testing in the 1990s, investigators were able to clear their names and identify the real culprit, Glen Gore.  But why was he originally ignored, even though an eyewitness had identified him as the last man seen with Carter?  Although the film cannot unearth the full answer, it implies a sinister one: Gore, it turns out, was involved with drug dealers who had been known to deal to police in Ada. If it was true that police had covered for Gore, they couldn’t cover him forever. Williamson and Fritz were released in 1999, 11 years after their conviction. Ward and Fontenot haven’t been so lucky. Their prosecutors also seemed determined to convict them. One woman who tells us that after she testified as an alibi witness for Ward, Bill Peterson threatened her to take back her statement.  “In small towns like Ada, the prosecutors and the police are under enormous pressure,” says Grisham. “Winning means justice. Winning means everything. And along the way, if the truth gets blurred … that’s too bad. And that’s how we get wrongful convictions.”  Fontenot has appealed his case, and Ward has filed for post-conviction relief, but neither have had success so far.  “The Innocent Man” weaves together old footage, acted reproductions of key scenes (showing just enough detail to be disturbing without being overtly graphic), and a wide range of interviews. Carter’s mother, Peggy, is featured prominently, A rosy-cheeked lady of about 65 with a warm Oklahoma accent, she describes her daughter’s sweet personality, the agony that her murder ignited, and the strain that the investigation put on her.  When she tells us that her daughter was strangled with a cowboy belt and an electric blanket cord, her lips purse and her eyes are glassy. “I bought both of ’em,” she says. “The Innocent Man” leaves us to ponder the unsettling truth that corruption exists in the American judicial system. It reports that about 4 percent of people in American prisons are innocent. That amounts to about 90,000 people. The intentions that drove Peterson and the other law enforcement officials remain uncertain. “No, it was not a well-done investigation,” says Barry Scheck from the Innocence Project, an organization that helped Fontenot file his appeal. “There’s no need necessarily to get too conspiratorial about it, but something’s really rotten at the core of this case.”
However intentional, that “something rotten” has locked Ward and Fontenot behind bars, and it almost sent Williamson to his death. The Carter and Haraway cases had already left the bounds of Ada itself when the trials made national headlines and when Grisham’s book hit bookshelves. But “The Innocent Man” does more than recreate a good news article or book. It literally brings the story to life — so much so that it makes us wonder how many of our towns and cities are other Adas. "

The entire story can be read at:
 https://angelusnews.com/news/sophia-buono/netflix-miniseries-timely-reflection-on-due-process-and-corruption

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, February 13, 2019

Corrupt forensics: Prof. Jessica S. Henry explores how corruption in forensic science is harming the US criminal Justice System in 'The Conversation)... "Television crime dramas like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and its many spin-offs have fostered the popular belief that forensic science, or the use of science to solve crimes, is infallible. Yet, as forensic scandal after forensic scandal sweeps the nation, a competing truth has emerged. Forensic science is only as reliable as the people performing the tests. This means forensic science is vulnerable to distortions caused by corruption or misconduct."


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "In the scandals above, the science itself was not the issue – although the reliability of various forensic science techniques, from fingerprint matching to bite mark analysis have been challenged – but rather it was that so-called experts did not properly do their jobs. And no one initially noticed. The certification of scientists within crime labs varies widely, as do the levels of active supervision."

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STORY: "How Corruption in Forensic Science is Harming the Criminal Justice System," by Jessica S. Henry, published by Forensic Magazine on January 25, 2019. (Jessica S. Henry ) is Associate Professor, Department of Justice Studies at Montclair State University,

PHOTO CAPTION: "In this Nov. 22, 2013 file photo, former state chemist Annie Dookhan sits in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston. Dookhan pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and falsifying thousands of tests in criminal drug cases, calling into question evidence used to prosecute the defendants. The state's highest court ordered the district attorneys in Massachusetts to produce lists by Tuesday, April 18, 2017, indicating how many of the approximately 24,000 tainted cases they would not or could not prosecute if new trials were ordered.)

GIST: "Television crime dramas like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and its many spin-offs have fostered the popular belief that forensic science, or the use of science to solve crimes, is infallible. Yet, as forensic scandal after forensic scandal sweeps the nation, a competing truth has emerged. Forensic science is only as reliable as the people performing the tests. This means forensic science is vulnerable to distortions caused by corruption or misconduct. The latest forensic scandal based on misconduct erupted in New Jersey in December 2018 in the context of drunk driving cases. Alcotest instruments are used in drunk driving cases throughout the country to determine whether a driver’s blood alcohol content is above the legal limit. But it turns out that these tests needed testing themselves. Sgt. Marc W. Dennis, a former coordinator in the New Jersey State Police’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Unit, was responsible for conducting twice-a-year tests to confirm the accuracy of the Alcotest machinery, and to recalibrate the machines where necessary. Dennis, however, did not perform the required calibrations and he falsely certified the accuracy of the machines in papers he filed with the state. Thousands of people in New Jersey were convicted based on the readings from these instruments. As someone who teaches and writes and teaches about wrongful convictions, I know that misconduct by forensic scientists can lead to injustices. When scientists lie in the criminal justice system, innocent people suffer. Misconduct in New Jersey and beyond: Once Dennis was criminally charged with official misconduct and tampering with public records, the New Jersey attorney general’s office notified the Administrative Office of the Courts that more than 20,000 breath samples were in question. Eileen Cassidy, who had plead guilty to driving under the influence in municipal court, moved to withdraw her guilty plea. The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed to review the case and ordered an extensive hearing on Dennis’ failure to follow proper calibration procedures 
The New Jersey Supreme Court ultimately determined in a December 2018 opinion that the accuracy of those 20,000 breath tests results couldn’t be trusted. That’s 20,000 cases that have to be reviewed, many of which will likely be dismissed. But it’s not just in New Jersey. Around the nation, corruption and misconduct by forensic experts have led to the reversal of thousands of criminal convictions. In Massachusetts, Annie Dookhan, a forensic lab scientist, was arrested in 2012 after admitting that she falsified drug tests in nearly 24,000 cases; most of the Dookhan convictions were eventually dismissed. Months later, in a different Massachusetts crime lab, Sonya Farak, a forensic scientist who both tested drugs and illegally used them, falsified lab results in thousands of cases; 11,000 convictions were dismissed after her misconduct was uncovered. Dookhan pleaded guilty to a range of crimes relating to the falsification of tests. She was sentenced to three to five years in prison. Farak also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. In Oregon, Nika Larsen altered drug evidence and stole controlled substances from her lab, requiring review of more than 2,500 cases. In 2018, Ana Romero from El Paso, Texas, was accused of falsifying test results for alcohol samples, causing the wrongful conviction of 22 people. John Salvador, a scientist who worked in a different lab in Texas, was accused of falsifying drug test results, impacting thousands of cases. Lack of oversight: When the people in charge of forensic testing engage in misconduct, the integrity of the entire system is challenged. Our criminal justice system relies on forensic scientists to tell the truth, because laypeople rely on their testimony and lack the expertise to detect their lies. When the system goes awry, guilty people go free, innocent people are wrongly convicted, confidence in the criminal justice system is shaken, and taxpayers carry the significant financial burden of cleaning up the mess left behind. There are plenty of reasons for forensic misconduct: Career advancement, laziness and greed are only part of the story. But there is also the reality that many crime labs lack proper oversight, and that it is rare for misconduct to be uncovered. In the scandals above, the science itself was not the issue – although the reliability of various forensic science techniques, from fingerprint matching to bite mark analysis have been challenged – but rather it was that so-called experts did not properly do their jobs. And no one initially noticed. The certification of scientists within crime labs varies widely, as do the levels of active supervision. In Massachusetts, for instance, Dookhan’s prodigious productivity went unchecked, even though the sheer volume of tests she claimed to have performed should have raised red flags, had anyone been looking. In New Jersey, Dennis’ failure to calibrate the Alocotest machines went undetected for years. The absence of oversight in forensic science should be cause for alarm. In 2009, the U.S. National Research Council issued a scathing report calling into question forensic practices around the country. It noted the lack of accreditation for crimes labs and the need for certification of forensic scientists. It also called for crime labs to be removed from the purview of law enforcement agencies into independent entities to enable more objective testing outcomes. In a 2016 report, the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology echoed these concerns and called for an independent oversight commission for forensic laboratories around the country. Yet, in 2017, just as forensic reform was picking up momentum, then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions shut down the National Commission on Forensic Science. A national independent oversight board has yet to be created. Misconduct may not ever be entirely preventable. But when life and liberty are on the line, as they are in every criminal case, I’d argue that states should be ever-diligent in adopting measures to identify and prevent forensic misconduct, and in ensuring reliability of forensic testing, analysis and results.

 http://theconversation.com/how-corruption-in-forensic-science-is-harming-the-criminal-justice-system-108975

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, February 12, 2019

Forensic geneology: Drawing a line: Maryland bill proposes curbing forensic genealogy, Forensic Magazine reports. (Senior Science Writer Seth Augenstein)..."Forensic genealogy to identify criminal offenders through GEDmatch and related databases would be prohibited in Maryland, according to the intent of a new bill pending in that state’s legislature. Proponents of the ban point to civil-rights concerns, while opponents of the bill point to the case-breaking potential use of databases through which people voluntarily make genetic information public."


QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’ve been unable to square how such a (genealogy) search would not violate the Fourth Amendment, nor Article 26 of our (Maryland’s) Declaration of Rights,” said Delegate Charles Sydnor III (D-44B), the bill’s sponsor, in a Tuesday legislative hearing. “Don’t get me wrong—I want to see unsolved crimes resolved and perpetrators prosecuted as well.”

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PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "The pending Maryland bill would seemingly outlaw any search not intended to directly match genetic markers from crime scenes with those legally on file in government databases. According to the policy note in the legislature, it would potentially entail prison time for those persons “willfully failing to destroy a DNA sample for which notification has been sent stating that the DNA sample has been destroyed or for which destruction has been ordered."

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STORY: "Maryland bill proposes curbing forensic geneology," by Senior Science Writer Seth Augenstein, published by Forensic Magazine on January 24, 2019.
 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Susan Neill-Fraser: Australia: Conviction under intense attack: Author Andrew L. Urban reports on The Wrongful Convictions Report..."A veritable frenzy of media investigations into the Sue Neill-Fraser conviction is due to reach the public beginning on Australia Day, the 10th Anniversary of Bob Chappell’s disappearance, of whose murder she was convicted in 2010. And in the middle of it all, the February 5 Supreme Court hearing of her seeking leave to appeal."


BACKGROUND: (From video Shadow of a Doubt)... "In 2010, Susan Neill-Fraser, a Tasmanian grandmother was jailed for 26 years for killing her partner. There were no witnesses, no weapon, no forensic evidence linking her to the scene, no confession and Bob Chappell's body has never been found. The police focused on one suspect - Sue Neill-Fraser. Why was the jury convinced beyond reasonable doubt? Her family must prove she is innocent. The more they investigate the more they uncover mistakes, lies and misrepresentation. Set in Hobart, this documentary follows one of the most intriguing and alarming cases in recent Australian history."

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POST:" Sue Neill-Fraser case media frenzy coming," by Andrew L. Urban  on January 23, 2019.

SUB-HEADING:  "A veritable frenzy of media investigations into the Sue Neill-Fraser conviction is due to reach the public beginning on Australia Day, the 10th Anniversary of Bob Chappell’s disappearance, of whose murder she was convicted in 2010. And in the middle of it all, the February 5 Supreme Court hearing of her seeking leave to appeal."

GIST: It all begins on Saturday, 26 January, 2019, here at wrongfulconvictionsreport.org:
26 January:we mark the 10th anniversary of Bob Chappell’s disappearance with a flashback.

27 January:we publish an investigation into why the Tasmanian DPP’s office is trying to paint investigative author and former detective Colin McLaren as an unregistered private investigator – a crime.

29 January: Colin McLaren’s new book, Southern Justice (Hachette) is published; McLaren spends two and a half years researching his book to discover what really happened to Bob Chappell 10 years ago. It’s shattering on several levels. We publish our review of the book, the first of a short series on its contents.

29 January:  McLaren interviewed on national television about the book. (TBC)

30 January:Channel 7 launch (except in Tasmania) the 6 x 1 hour TV series, Undercurrent, a deep dive investigation into the case by filmmaker Eve Ash (Shadow of Doubt, 2013) Missing Man and CJZ Productions; McLaren was involved as investigative reporter. This bombshell series reveals all the flaws of the police investigation, all the evidence and all witnesses that were missed, and more – the result is the truth of what really happened. This will not be news to TasPol: they seized and viewed the 500 hours of raw footage, believing there was a plan to pervert the course of justice. We publish our review of the series.

2 February: major newspaper feature on McLaren’s book. (TBC)

5 February:Supreme Court of Tasmania, in front of Justice Brett. McLaren cross examined by video link from Melbourne over his affidavit concerning a sworn statement by Meaghan Vass which he helped her draft. References to the Undercurrent footage …

6 February: we and othermedia report on the hearing and any orders made by Justice Brett.

7 February: we publish our investigation into the dangers to free speech and free press posed by responses to media about the Sue Neill-Fraser case.

9 February: review of McLaren’s book Southern Justice published in The Spectator Australia

12 February: we publish an exploration of the missing evidence in the case.

19 Februarythe third book investigating the Neill-Fraser case is published: Death on the Derwent(Scribe) is by crime writing veteran Robin Bowles. Her highly readable book confirms that much was wrong with the investigation and trial and sheds new light on what happened behind the scenes. The first book was Murder by the Prosecution (Wilkinson Publishing), by this writer, published in September 2018. We review the book.

Date TBA February:we publish snapshots about a key aspect of the original police investigation and the mysterious detective involved.

Date TBA February:in the wake of the hearings seeking leave to appeal – is there a case for a Royal Commission into how this case has been handled?

This is not a complete list of media breaks expected."

The entire post can be read at:
https://wrongfulconvictionsreport.org/2019/01/23/sue-neill-fraser-case-media-frenzy-coming/



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, February 10, 2019

Reproductive rights: A distressing vision of a post-Roe USA in which miscarriages turn women into suspects..."In her new book Handbook for a Post-Roe America, Robin Marty provides a blueprint for accessing reproductive-health care and fighting for your rights in a country where abortion has become a crime."..."Roe is more vulnerable than ever. In the book, Marty sketches a variety of ways in which Roe could fall, but they’re all similarly bleak: if, or as Marty argues, when the Court overturns the ruling, around 22 states will almost instantly criminalize abortion, forcing countless pregnant women to face prosecution in their own state or travel hundreds of miles—just in one direction—to receive care. The implications of this are overwhelming, but they’re not entirely unprecedented."..."We’re also seeing these heartbeat bans and we know that there are at least three more states that are going to be introducing them in the next legislative session. They’re trying to find a federal court that will say that a heartbeat should be looked at as a point [where] abortion can be banned. And in that case, a heartbeat ban might make it up to the Supreme Court as well."


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "Once abortion is completely illegal, all miscarriages are going to be looked at as suspect. We’re going to see a lot more instances where people find themselves facing jail time over ending a pregnancy themselves or accidentally ending a pregnancy themselves, as Purvi Patel or Bei Bei Shuai have. We’re going to see that prosecutors will get to decide for themselves who they do and don’t follow up with when investigating for criminal charges. As that continues to happen—and it will happen far more frequently because there will no longer be accessible abortions—stories of people who are unjustly being put into jail or who are putting their own health at risk are going to get out. They are going to garner sympathy as they pile up in the way that they did in the 1960s and ’70s."

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STORY: "How to Protect Yourself When Abortion Is Illegal: A Q and A With Robin Marty," by Glyn Peterson, published by The Nation on January 22, 2019. (Glyn Peterson is a freelance writer and researcher based in Brooklyn.)

SUB-HEADING: "In her new book Handbook for a Post-Roe America, Robin Marty provides a blueprint for accessing reproductive-health care and fighting for your rights in a country where abortion has become a crime."

GIST: "Forty-six years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide, Robin Marty, a writer and reproductive-rights activist, has published a guidebook helping readers to plan for its demise. Handbook for a Post-Roe America emerged from a Twitter thread Marty wrote after the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was long seen as the fifth vote to protect the ruling. Now that Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh is in Kennedy’s seat, Roe is more vulnerable than ever. In the book, Marty sketches a variety of ways in which Roe could fall, but they’re all similarly bleak: if, or as Marty argues, when the Court overturns the ruling, around 22 states will almost instantly criminalize abortion, forcing countless pregnant women to face prosecution in their own state or travel hundreds of miles—just in one direction—to receive care. The implications of this are overwhelming, but they’re not entirely unprecedented. “While Roe and the cases that preceded it made birth control and abortion legal,” Marty writes, “they did nothing to curtail the coercive power our government wields over the bodies of those who can give birth.” This book is for everyone, Marty told me, but she wrote it primarily with newly mobilized activists in mind—people with relative privilege, who may not have been directly impacted by the hundreds of abortion restrictions that have been put in place in the decades since Roe. Before her book’s January 15 release, in time for Roe’s 46th anniversary on January 22, I spoke with Marty about how these new activists can avoid surveillance, plan for their own reproductive emergencies, and support organizations that have already spent decades fighting for reproductive rights. "

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A taste of the interview: (Read the rest at the link below: HL):

Glyn Peterson: Now that the Supreme Court no longer has the votes needed to uphold Roe v. Wade, which bans and restrictions are you watching closely?

Robin Marty: There are a number of D and E bans. D and E is the way that abortion is usually performed after the first trimester, and the anti-abortion movement has proposed that the process is cruel to the fetus. We’ve already had a federal court that said that this is not a constitutional ban, but there’s a very strong possibility that the Fifth Circuit will say that it is, in which case we have conflicting cases that will go up to the Supreme Court for review. That’s probably the most likely one. We’re also seeing these heartbeat bans and we know that there are at least three more states that are going to be introducing them in the next legislative session. They’re trying to find a federal court that will say that a heartbeat should be looked at as a point [where] abortion can be banned. And in that case, a heartbeat ban might make it up to the Supreme Court as well. A more likely way that abortion will get limited is that the Supreme Court will essentially decide to ignore abortion laws that are unconstitutional, allowing them to go into effect in their states. By doing that, the Court could essentially outlaw or almost completely outlaw abortion without actually having to directly overturn Roe."


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GP: You write that after Roe is overturned, once people see “the actual impact of no longer having legal abortion available, there is a strong possibility that voters and legislators will realize that total bans do far more harm than good.” What aspects of a total ban will be jarring enough to change minds, when it is already nearly impossible to access an abortion in certain corners of the United States?
 
RM: Once abortion is completely illegal, all miscarriages are going to be looked at as suspect. We’re going to see a lot more instances where people find themselves facing jail time over ending a pregnancy themselves or accidentally ending a pregnancy themselves, as Purvi Patel or Bei Bei Shuai have. We’re going to see that prosecutors will get to decide for themselves who they do and don’t follow up with when investigating for criminal charges. As that continues to happen—and it will happen far more frequently because there will no longer be accessible abortions—stories of people who are unjustly being put into jail or who are putting their own health at risk are going to get out. They are going to garner sympathy as they pile up in the way that they did in the 1960s and ’70s.



The entire story can be read at:

 https://www.thenation.com/article/abortion-roe-illegal-robin-marty/

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.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Wade Skiffington: British Columbia: False confession: A Mr. Big case. Major Development...Following the intervention of Innocence Canada, he has been released on bail. (Over the objection of Crown prosecutors.)... Reiner told Justice Michael Tamm Mr. Big stings typically involve police setting up elaborate scenarios designed to extract confessions from suspects who become part of a crime-group family and are told trust, loyalty and honesty are prized above everything but they must come clean about their past so any incriminating evidence can be destroyed."


PASSAGE ONE OF THE DAY: (Toronto Star story):  "Skiffington is being defended by lawyers from Innocence Canada, which works to exonerate people believed to be wrongly convicted. They maintain police used a so-called Mr. Big operation to coerce a confession that was not credible.Their client was found guilty of second-degree murder in 2001 and is serving a life sentence. Last year, Innocence Canada asked the federal Justice Department to review the conviction, which is ongoing, while it helps Skiffington apply for bail in hopes the case goes to the B.C. Court of Appeal and a new trial is ordered. Reiner said that while defence lawyer Philip Campbell argued his client would not have lied to the fictitious crime boss who used violence as an intimidation tactic, the evidence shows Skiffington was repeatedly caught lying to the head of the fake criminal gang that recruited him. “To Mr. Big, he vacillated between saying he was innocent, he hired a hit man, to again being innocent and to finally confessing. Can anyone seriously argue that Mr. Big would have to express anger and frustration in that context? But no threats were issued.” Reiner said Skiffington’s demeanour in the video recording should also be noted, adding he appears to be searching his memory and seems nervous. “It is a small wonder that Mr. Campbell would like you not to consider demeanour,” Reiner told Justice Michael Tamm Mr. Big stings typically involve police setting up elaborate scenarios designed to extract confessions from suspects who become part of a crime-group family and are told trust, loyalty and honesty are prized above everything but they must come clean about their past so any incriminating evidence can be destroyed."

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PASSAGE TWO OF THE DAY: "From "Innocence  Canada release (below); "Following Justice Tammen’s decision granting Mr. Skiffington’s release from custody, Tamara Duncan, of Innocence Canada, co-counsel for Mr. Skiffington, stated, “In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized in the Hart decision that the Mr. Big investigative technique could become abusive and could produce unreliable confessions which are a known cause of wrongful convictions. We have long believed that this is precisely what happened in Wade’s case and that the Mr. Big sting targeting him coerced a false confession which resulted in his wrongful conviction. Wade’s fight to clear his name is far from over, but today’s ruling in an important step in this process. Mr. Campbell added: “Mr. Big has a unique capacity to get suspects talking but it also has a powerful potential to distort the truth and elicit false confessions. This case, with such coercive tactics and so little confirmation, is an example of the technique at its worst. It’s the kind of case for which the Supreme Court of Canada formulated new legal rules in 2014."

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BACKGROUNDER: Toronto Star story on  Wade Skiffington's application for bail pending his judicial review. (Release story follows the backgrounder. HL);

STORY: "B.C. man seeking bail after confession motivated to kill common-law wife, Crown counsel says," by Associated Press reporter Camille Bains, published by The Toronto Star on January 9, 2019.

GIST: "A man seeking bail while awaiting the possibility of a new trial had a “she is leaving me motive” to kill his common-law wife in British Columbia in 1994 and his confession to an undercover officer should stand, a Crown counsel says. Hank Reiner told a B.C. Supreme Court judge on Wednesday that Wade Skiffington was angry and jealous and feared he would lose his spouse and his young son before shooting her six times, at an apartment in Richmond. A member of the B.C. Crown counsel says Wade Skiffington had a “she is leaving me motive” to kill his common-law wife in British Columbia in 1994. (Dreamstime) Reiner said a supposed crime boss did not threaten Skiffington, whose confession about killing Wanda Martin was recorded on a hidden video camera and shown at the bail hearing. The couple had moved from Newfoundland and Labrador and Martin had wanted to return there before the murder, Reiner said. Skiffington is being defended by lawyers from Innocence Canada, which works to exonerate people believed to be wrongly convicted. They maintain police used a so-called Mr. Big operation to coerce a confession that was not credible.
Their client was found guilty of second-degree murder in 2001 and is serving a life sentence. Last year, Innocence Canada asked the federal Justice Department to review the conviction, which is ongoing, while it helps Skiffington apply for bail in hopes the case goes to the B.C. Court of Appeal and a new trial is ordered. Reiner said that while defence lawyer Philip Campbell argued his client would not have lied to the fictitious crime boss who used violence as an intimidation tactic, the evidence shows Skiffington was repeatedly caught lying to the head of the fake criminal gang that recruited him. “To Mr. Big, he vacillated between saying he was innocent, he hired a hit man, to again being innocent and to finally confessing. Can anyone seriously argue that Mr. Big would have to express anger and frustration in that context? But no threats were issued.” Reiner said Skiffington’s demeanour in the video recording should also be noted, adding he appears to be searching his memory and seems nervous. “It is a small wonder that Mr. Campbell would like you not to consider demeanour,” Reiner told Justice Michael Tamm Mr. Big stings typically involve police setting up elaborate scenarios designed to extract confessions from suspects who become part of a crime-group family and are told trust, loyalty and honesty are prized above everything but they must come clean about their past so any incriminating evidence can be destroyed. A Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2014 involved a Newfoundland and Labrador man convicted of drowning his twin daughters after such a sting by the RCMP. The top court ruled Nelson Hart’s confession to undercover police was inadmissible and two first-degree murder charges against him were withdrawn. “This case actually bears remarkable similarities to the Hart case,” Reiner said. “The undercover confession is presumptively inadmissible and the trier of fact must look for evidence of corroboration.” Reiner said Skiffington showed a level of awareness and sophistication when he told police in a 1994 interview that he didn’t have any gunshot residue and blood on his clothes to link him to Martin murder but later told Mr. Big he’d changed his clothes. The Crown lawyer also said the trial heard testimony from a couple who said that shortly before Martin’s murder, Skiffington staged an assault, saying he’d been mugged and roughed up, in order to get her sympathy so she would stay with him. The trial heard he and Martin had a rocky relationship, that Skiffington refused to let her take their son back to Newfoundland and Labrador and he was heard calling her degrading names, Reiner said. He said there was also evidence that Skiffington knew Martin would be alone at her friend’s apartment with their son, that he entered from an unlocked door between appointments at his carpet-cleaning job and “fired in blind rage.”"

The entire story can be read at:
https://www.thestar.com/amp/news/canada/2019/01/09/bc-man-seeking-bail-after-confession-motivated-to-kill-common-law-wife-crown-counsel-says.html

The current  bail release story (Associated Press);   -  Canadian Broadcasting Corporation -  can be read at the link below: A man convicted of killing his common-law wife almost 25 years ago has been granted bail by a British Columbia Supreme Court judge. Wade Skiffington has proclaimed his innocence in the 1994 murder of Wanda Martin in Richmond, B.C. He was found guilty based on a confession to undercover police as part of a so-called Mr. Big sting operation that began five years after Martin was shot six times. Justice Michael Tammen said Wednesday that he agreed with defence counsel that Skiffington would have been released on parole four years ago, if he hadn't continued to claim his innocence. Martin's body was found in a friend's apartment along with the couple's unharmed 18-month-old son. The federal justice minister is reviewing Skiffington's conviction after an appeal by lawyers with Innocence Canada, which is also challenging the credibility of the undercover sting, arguing that police extracted a false confession. Martin's parents told CBC they were unhappy with the decision to set Skiffington free, if only temporarily. "How else can you feel but upset and disappointed? We were hoping it wouldn't come to this. He had absolutely nothing to lose by maintaining his innocence but a whole lot to gain," Beverly Martin said. In court Wednesday, Tammen said that it wasn't in the public interest to keep Skiffington in prison, because his behaviour in prison suggests he is neither a risk to public safety nor a flight risk, adding the justice minister could take years to reach a decision. He imposed several bail conditions, including that Skiffington live with his father in Newfoundland and Labrador. Skiffington's father told the court during the bail hearing that he would put up $100,000 in cash and his home as a surety for his son's release. Wade Skiffington was convicted of second-degree murder after his common-law wife was shot dead in 1994. He confessed to the crime during an RCMP sting.Crown counsel Hank Reiner opposed the man's release and told a bail hearing earlier this month that Skiffington knew his common-law wife would be alone for at least 20 minutes while she visited her friend and that provided him an opportunity to kill her on Sept. 6, 1994. Reiner said Skiffington's anger motivated him to kill Martin, because he'd run into a man he believed was having an affair with her shortly before the murder and he also didn't want her returning to their home province of Newfoundland and Labrador with their son.The court has heard Skiffington told the boss of a fictitious crime group he shot Martin four, five or six times, emptying the cartridge, and that he changed his clothes in case any gunshot residue ended up on them.But Tammen said Skiffington's confession didn't include details that would have been known only to the killer and didn't lead police to discover any new evidence. He said police swabbed Skiffington's hands for gunshot evidence after the crime but found nothing and a phone number Skiffington had written on his hand was still visible, suggesting he had not scrubbed it clean."

 https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/wade-skiffington-granted-bail-wanda-martin-murder-1.4989812

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Read  Innocence Canada release (January 23, 2019): "Vancouver, BC: In a dramatic breakthrough in one of Canada's most notorious wrongful conviction cases, Wade Skiffington has been released on bail while the Minister of Justice conducts a full investigation into whether his conviction was a miscarriage of justice.  

On January 23, 2019, the Honourable Justice Michael Tammen, of the British Columbia Supreme Court, in Vancouver, BC, ordered that Mr. Skiffington be released to live with his family in Newfoundland and Labrador while the Minister’s investigation is underway.  

Following Justice Tammen’s decision, Phil Campbell, of Innocence Canada, said “This is a great day. As dreadful as wrongful convictions are, it is deeply gratifying when they start to be recognized and corrected. The Minister of Justice’s determination that this case may be a miscarriage of justice was the first step in that process. Today’s ruling that Wade can live with his family and loved ones while the process unfolds is the second. We look forward to the day when the courts recognize that he is innocent.”

Mr. Skiffington, age 53, has been in prison for more than 17 years for the murder of his fiancĂ©e, Wanda Martin, a crime that he vehemently insists that he did not commit. Before and since his legally dubious “Mr. Big” confession, Mr. Skiffington has always maintained his innocence. Despite being a model prisoner, he has been denied parole because he will not participate in correctional programming that he perceives requires him to admit guilt for a crime he did not commit – the classic “prisoner’s dilemma” or “Catch 22”. Following Justice Tammen’s decision granting him bail, Mr. Skiffington expressed the hope that his seemingly interminable nightmare may finally be coming to and end.

On June 14, 2017, Mr. Skiffington filed an application pursuant to Part XXI.1 of the Criminal Code for Ministerial Review of his conviction. On June 7, 2018, the Department of Justice’s Criminal Convictions Review Group (CCRG) concluded that there was a reasonable possibility Mr. Skiffington could have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice and has commenced a full investigation into his case.

Under Part XXI.1, convicted persons who have exhausted the courts’ appeal process can apply for a review provided they can furnish new and significant information. The Minister can choose to turn down the application; refer it to a provincial appellate court for a fully contested appeal; or direct that a new trial be held. Previous exonerees who went through the lengthy S.696.1 process include Steven Truscott, Robert Baltovich and Romeo Phillion. To date, Innocence Canada (formally known as AIDWYC – the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted) has helped exonerate 22 innocent people. 

The Department of Justice’s review of Mr. Skiffington's conviction is based largely, although not entirely, on the question of whether the only evidence capable of sustaining the conviction, a confession made during an undercover Mr. Big sting, can be said to be reliable when analyzed in accordance with the Supreme Court of Canada’s seminal decision in R. v. Hart, rendered in 2014. If his confession is deemed to be unreliable, Mr. Skiffington’s conviction cannot stand.  

Wanda Martin was shot multiple times in a friend’s apartment building in Richmond, B.C. on September 6, 1994. Her fiancĂ© Wade Skiffington immediately became the subject of police scrutiny, as many domestic partners naturally are, but there was never any forensic evidence tying him to the offence and independent third-party witnesses readily established that he had a credible alibi and no realistic opportunity to commit the offence. Mr. Skiffington was completely co-operative with police in the aftermath of Wanda’s homicide, providing them with multiple statements and permitting a search of his residence. Residents who lived close to the crime scene reported a man, who was not Wade Skiffington, behaving in a very suspicious manner in the neighbourhood shortly after the homicide.

Innocence Canada believes that the police investigation into Wanda Martin’s murder was a classic case of tunnel-vision, a known cause of wrongful convictions, and that police failed to pursue alternative suspects and rudimentary avenues of investigation that may well have resulted in the apprehension of the person who killed Wanda Martin. Instead, with their focus solely on Wade Skiffington, in 2000, six years after Wanda’s murder, police initiated a costly, intricate and violent “Mr. Big” undercover operation where they posed as gangsters - all in an attempt to coerce a confession from Mr. Skiffington. Under immense pressure, and with a genuine fear of violent repercussions if he did not tell the undercover boss what he wanted to hear, Wade Skiffington confessed to a crime he did not commit. That confession, without any corroborating evidence, and with many details that showed it to be false, resulted in Mr. Skiffington’s conviction and a life sentence with no chance of parole for 13 years. 

Following Justice Tammen’s decision granting Mr. Skiffington’s release from custody, Tamara Duncan, of Innocence Canada, co-counsel for Mr. Skiffington, stated, “In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized in the Hart decision that the Mr. Big investigative technique could become abusive and could produce unreliable confessions which are a known cause of wrongful convictions. We have long believed that this is precisely what happened in Wade’s case and that the Mr. Big sting targeting him coerced a false confession which resulted in his wrongful conviction. Wade’s fight to clear his name is far from over, but today’s ruling in an important step in this process.”
Mr. Campbell added: “Mr. Big has a unique capacity to get suspects talking but it also has a powerful potential to distort the truth and elicit false confessions. This case, with such coercive tactics and so little confirmation, is an example of the technique at its worst. It’s the kind of case for which the Supreme Court of Canada formulated new legal rules in 2014.”
http://www.innocencecanada.com/the-latest/newspress/bail-granted-wade-skiffington/

 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;