Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Cameron Todd Willingham: (RIP): Flawed Arson 'Science.'...Transcript of a Playwright Elizabeth Gilbert's interview with him - as part of her investigation into the tragic fire - on January 14, 2010. PBS: Frontline...Link provided to a selection of Willingham's letters to her. HL.


BACKGROUND: "In 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas after being convicted for the 1991 murders of his three daughters by arson. Mr. Willingham’s conviction was based partly on the testimony of forensic science experts who determined that the fire had been intentionally set. A jailhouse informant had also claimed that Mr. Willingham had confessed to the crime. Following Mr. Willingham’s execution, however, five independent, leading arson experts assembled by the Innocence Project, along with an investigative report by the Chicago Tribune, found that the scientific analysis that had been used in Mr. Willingham’s trial was unreliable. An arson expert hired by the Texas Forensic Science Commission also came to the same conclusion. Innocence Project."

--------------------------------------------------------------

PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "[What was the moment where you doubted Todd the most?] Probably when I was up there, … and it wasn't so much Todd, but just the enormity of this horrible event, was in looking at the pictures of the children. They had the actual photos that we saw and were looking through them. But just the enormity of: Oh, my God, this fire ended in the result of these innocent children being burned to death. One time when Todd said that he got up, he told Amber to go outside, and he went into the children's room, I couldn't imagine. I was like, "Why didn't you just grab Amber?" Questions like that. But supposedly it was smoke-filled; he couldn't see. ... There were moments I wished for clarity of him looking more clearly innocent. There were lots of foggy areas that bothered me. But there weren't enough clearly defining moments of guilt for me that I could say, "Oh, I think you did this." In anyone's life there are inconsistencies, and Todd's certainly had plenty of those: abusive husband but loved the children; says he loves his wife but having affairs. ... Now, I will say I think they executed an innocent man. I feel that they did, that it was just a miscarriage. ..

------------------------------------------------------------------

INTERVIEW: PBS Frontline sits down with  Playwright Elizabeth  Gilbert to discuss Gilbert's interview with Cameron Todd Willingham on January 14, 2010.   (She's  a playwright from Houston, Texas, who first began questioning Cameron Todd Willingham's conviction while corresponding with him between 1999 and 2004. You can read a selection of his letters to her here. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Jan. 14, 2010.)

Thanks to Dr. Bob Moles of 'Networked Knowledge'  -  - a treasure chest of criminal justice information, issues, developments and analysis around the globe  (and much more) -  bringing this  important interview to our attention. HL at: 

http://www.netk.net.au/whatsnew.asp

THE INTERVIEW: (Edited transcript): 

GIST: Can you start from the very beginning with your involvement with Todd? …

(Gilbert): Someone asked me if I would like to write a man on death row, be a pen pal, and I was like, sure. I volunteered. I had been in a place in my life -- a relationship had ended; my parents were getting elderly -- I was kind of adrift. The name that was given to me, just randomly, was Todd Willingham. And he wrote me a letter, and in this letter, he thanked me for writing him and [said that] if I would like to visit, he would put me on his visitor list. ... I was just really struck by the letter from Todd. It was very polite; it was very kind.

“If he was guilty of anything, it was self-preservation. He ran out of the house ... then thought about the children.”

[The first time I visited him,] I walked in expecting to see a black man, the whole stereotype. ... And here was this handsome young white man who was very polite and very genial, ... who told me his story and thanked me, very appreciative about the visit. ...

So I began corresponding and visiting with him, ... and the more I learned, the more I became intrigued and began to think that maybe there was something to his -- he said that he was innocent, and I thought I would try and help him. ...

[Let's go to the day you meet Todd. Walk me through that day.]

We go into this room, and there were these men behind these Plexiglas screens and people sitting down and talking on phones. This was all very new to me. ... He was just very polite and very charming, ... like, "How are you?," a lot of concern for me as a person. I came back from that first visit with just an awareness of, how does someone endure that sort of a situation, guilty or not? Just having walked into a prison environment, sat there for two hours, the effect that it had on me. ... I couldn't imagine the effect it would have on a person 24 hours a day. So then I became more intrigued, and we began a correspondence, and I began visiting.

[I'm just trying to envision what it was like to be interacting with Todd. What did he tell you?]

... He did tell me the story of what happened, and I remember just hearing him tell the story, and it was just very tragic, and being very moved that this person could have lost his three children and his wife and his life and be innocent. ...

The story he told me was this: He woke up to a fire. He ran out of the house and couldn't run back in to save his children, and that was enough to get me interested. ... There's a writer in me that's like, ... this is a great story. ... I have a good friend, who was my neighbor at the time, and I told her about it. ... She had been a reporter, and she was like, "Let's go investigate it." ...

[Can you talk to me a little bit about the two sides of Todd that you started uncovering?]

... I went up to Austin first and got the records of the trial. I'm in copying these records. I'm reading these reports. And as soon as we read the records, then red flags started appearing.

A red flag to me was Johnny Webb. The idea that a prisoner would confess to a complete stranger that he had committed a crime -- I just didn't buy that. ... And the other thing was they had used a man that they called Dr. Death [James P. Grigson]. He's hired to come in and to make sure they get the death penalty by assuring the jury that this person just has to be removed from society.

[My friend and I] decided, we'll go to Corsicana, and we'll see what the people in Corsicana say. ... We just started meeting people and talking to them, and the more I heard the stories, the more red flags kept popping up. There was this disconnect between this person that I'm reading in the court records, the prosecutor's statements, and this person that I'm learning about.

... In the court records, the prosecution started treating him in a way that I thought, what they're accusing him of and what I see -- they're not matching. For example, they would always say, "Well, his prior criminal record was shoplifting." He had stolen a camera or something, or, when he was underage, a bicycle.

Those didn't seem to be heinous crimes, aggravated assault or something like that. So he was a bad boy. Here's an example: I interviewed his parents, and his father told me that at one point he had been put in a reformatory sort of situation, and he got in trouble there, because what he did was he figured out how to hook up the cable for the kids who were being held there. So that was the sort of crime he was capable of doing.

[Although he did beat ... Stacy.]

Yeah, he was definitely very abusive to her. He never denied it. He told me that the first time; he said, "I was a horrible husband, but I love my children." ... His personal relationship with Stacy was horrible. I think they met when she was still in high school, and he had this -- in fact, he would talk about this -- this macho idea of what a man was. ...

[I'm envisioning that in Corsicana, more people than not would be anti-Todd in that community.]

When I went there, everybody remembered it. It was a very tragic thing that happened at Christmastime. ... But they talked about how in the beginning, how everyone was very compassionate toward [him] and Stacy, ... and then the community mind shifted. ...

We met with people who were personally part of it: [the Willinghams' neighbors] the Barbees; Stacy's grandmother, who raised her; Stacy; [Willingham's lawyer,] David Martin; the prosecution -- and of course they were all on the same book -- Todd did this, ... he was a horrible person -- except for Stacy. ...

There was really only one person who -- and I remember to this day -- he was a fireman, and he said, "You'll never know what you'll do when you're in a fire." Everyone else was like: "I don't care; I would have saved my children; I could have done it. Even if I was asleep I would have woken up and saved my children." But the fireman said, "You never know what's going to happen unless you're in there."

Describe him from the perspective of people who thought he killed his children.

I can see how the authorities could not like Todd, because he's not a person who is going to give you respect if you don't deserve it just because you say something. ...

Todd's mother had several children by different fathers, and Todd had been abandoned in California. ... He's a good-looking man. He was a witty man, you know? Funny, caring. He wasn't arrogant, but he was kind of set in his ways. If he thought something, it was one way. You could show him an alternative, but he was still going to stick by his particular view. But I could see how to women he could be a very charming, good-looking guy, especially when he was younger.

He was in his 30s when I met him. But to me, I would kind of imagine [how] when I was teaching middle school, you would always have that kid who was wily and smart in the back of the room, that he would be doing something wrong and get away with it. If somebody set off the alarm system, it would have probably been him, ... more in a mischievous rather than in a malevolent [way]. He enjoyed getting away with things. ...

If Todd was guilty of anything, it was just his self-preservation. He got up and ran out of the house and then thought about the children after the fact. ...

When I read the article [in The New Yorker] by David Grann, I was very struck by people responding to the article, of people thinking I was such a hero and what a wonderful person I was, and I didn't feel that at all. I felt like I had very much, like Todd, taken a path of self-preservation.

When it seemed like I was going to really have to be there at Todd's execution, I don't think I could have done it. I think I began to distance myself. I didn't visit as often; I didn't write as often. This was kind of after my conversation with [fire science expert] Gerald Hurst. And the [car] accident made sure that I didn't have to go up there. But I think he and I both shared that. When it comes down to it, we need to do what we need to do, which is to save ourselves. And I found that kind of ironic that this article made me out to be this wonderful heroine, when I felt like in fact I had let Todd down. ...

[What happened as your investigation continued?]

More and more questions kept piling up. It just wasn't making sense to me. ... [The] Johnny Webb incident came up, and it was like, ... they had the arson investigators' report saying it was an arson. They don't know who started the fire, but conveniently, the man who's in jail for drugs [and is sharing a cell with Willingham] says that Todd told him he was the one who did it. And that didn't make [any] sense to me.

[When] I interviewed him, he was a very, very nervous young man. Had I been sitting on the jury, I couldn't have bought his testimony. But I got a sense of this being a very small Texas town, where politics were very important, and at the time [John] Jackson was running for judge, and he was the prosecution, so there were lots of reasons to find someone and get them convicted. And the whole town seemed to be traumatized by this Christmas fire.

[Tell me about your interview with Willingham's defense attorney, David Martin. ...]

David Martin, he came over to the bed-and-breakfast where we were staying for the interview, and he talked about the trial. ... He wasn't talking about how Todd was an innocent man that got railroaded; it was like, "Todd got convicted, and he deserved it." So that kind of struck me. ...

[Didn't it give you any pause that his own defense attorney didn't believe him?]

No, because that just fit in with Todd's saying he didn't have a very good defense. ...

The one thing that did strike me was ... [Martin] said, if Todd were ever able to get out of prison, he'd be a dangerous person. And that kind of took me aback, and I thought, does he think I'm in love with him, or does he really think Todd is a sociopath that could really wreak havoc in the community if he got out? ... I never thought that Todd was a dangerous person. … So when his defense attorney said that, then I was like, "Whoa, you're the defense attorney, and this is how you feel about your client? Am I totally off base here? What's going on?" So that kind of worried me. ...

You didn't buy it?

I just wasn't impressed with David Martin. He didn't convince me that Todd was guilty either. There wasn't nothing that he was saying that was not what I was reading in the court transcript, and in fact, I didn't really get anything more from his interview than I did from having read the material. ...

They thought the facts were Todd had done this; Johnny Webb said he had done it, and they got the right person. And the thing to me that was the most tragic is that the case hung on it being an arson; that this fire investigator ... determined that it was an arson, and so everything shifted at that point. The whole community shifted from compassion to hostility. And it all hinged on this man's [Manuel Vasquez] report, which later ... we discovered that it was a faulty investigation. ...

But everyone knew it was a fire that was intentionally set; that was a given. ... So they just had to find out who it was that started the fire. ... They never established a motive. So then their motive shifted to Todd just being an evil person. And what they looked at were posters on the wall, which were the typical posters that young men listen to, the heavy metal; that he smoked pot; that he had this horrible past of crime, which turned out to be shoplifting and a bicycle. So nothing was making sense to me. ...

Tell me about your meeting with the Barbees, Todd's neighbors. Tell me what they told you.

… They were very adamant that Todd was not trying to save the children, that he was faking that he was upset. … In reading the records, though, if I remember correctly, it was the little girl [Buffie, called "Barbara" in Willingham's police interview] that Todd sent for help, because Todd didn't have a phone. And then she went and got the mother, and the mother [Diane] came. ...

One of the things -- and again, here is another element that was disturbing to me -- they were big about was, well, he tried to move his car out of the way; what was that about? He tried to save his car. I asked Todd about that, and he said, "In my mind, it was I get the car away from the fire," and I attributed that to any rational behavior that anyone could have in a fire. ... The house is burning down; your kids are inside; you're running around -- what do you do? But that was one of the things that when I read that, like: "Oh, why did you try and save your car? What was that about? Why were you moving the car?" But every question I had, Todd had an answer for. … I know Todd loved cars. His father was a mechanic, and Todd was a mechanic. I really don't know what that was about.

Can you describe your meeting with Stacy?

Stacy came in, and I felt that she was very genuine, and I think this was the first time she had really talked to anybody outside [of the official investigation]. ... But to me [she] was just like, "Oh, sure, I'll meet you; I'll tell you this is the truth." ... I told her I was a writer; I'm from Houston. I interviewed her; I taped her. And she seemed kind of reserved, nervous, just a person who had a lot of tragedy in her life.

I had heard from Todd that her mother had been murdered, and she had been there. So it seemed like her life had been filled with tragedy, ... and she seemed genuinely to feel Todd had not done this. ... She really convinced me that she felt that an injustice had been done. … She didn't feel like he was capable of doing that.

So you believe Stacy told the truth?

Yes, I really do.

Do you remember how she said it?

… She cried, and I just remember her saying, "Todd is not capable of doing that," just acknowledging that he loved his children. I sensed this very pained individual. ... After the conviction, and after Todd was on death row, Stacy decided to get a divorce. She didn't visit him on death row.

[What was the moment where you doubted Todd the most?]

Probably when I was up there, … and it wasn't so much Todd, but just the enormity of this horrible event, was in looking at the pictures of the children. They had the actual photos that we saw and were looking through them. But just the enormity of: Oh, my God, this fire ended in the result of these innocent children being burned to death. One time when Todd said that he got up, he told Amber to go outside, and he went into the children's room, I couldn't imagine. I was like, "Why didn't you just grab Amber?" Questions like that. But supposedly it was smoke-filled; he couldn't see. ...

There were moments I wished for clarity of him looking more clearly innocent. There were lots of foggy areas that bothered me. But there weren't enough clearly defining moments of guilt for me that I could say, "Oh, I think you did this."

In anyone's life there are inconsistencies, and Todd's certainly had plenty of those: abusive husband but loved the children; says he loves his wife but having affairs. ... Now, I will say I think they executed an innocent man. I feel that they did, that it was just a miscarriage. ...

[Some have said that Todd was a charming manipulator. You must have been on your guard.] 

No, honestly I didn't feel like he was manipulating me. I had access to his family; I had access to all of his friends; I had access to anybody who could have told me another version. It wasn't like he would say, "Now, they're going to tell you this, but it's not true." He never said anything like that. He was like, "Go talk to my brother," or, "Go talk to my parents," or, "Go talk to my friends," or, "This person will tell you that." …

I feel like I was very much appreciated for what I was doing. He was very grateful. I felt that I was very needed by him, that he admitted that he had been extremely depressed, and then when my name came up and we became friends, he felt like he had a new opportunity for life, a possibility. …

What do you say to people who say: Liz, you're a liberal; you went searching just as hard as the other side went searching for the evidence they wanted to find, which was to make Todd a guilty man. You went in for the evidence; you met him; you liked him; you believed his story; and you may not have found the story you wanted to find?

I wasn't really looking for a story, so to speak. ... I was looking for something new and different. I didn't know what the story would be. And Todd was not a political cause for me. It was more of a personal thing. Once I got to know him as a friend, I felt that injustice was being done, and I wanted to help him out then. ...

Todd was more of -- we were kind of both rule breakers. ... So there's more of a personal connection in my sense of wanting to help him out. It seemed to be he didn't have the resources. ... I was no Joan of Arc, making him my cause. ...

Can you tell me how he described his children and his relationship with them to you?

... He loved his family; that was always consistent. ... He was very enamored of Amber and would often talk about how she would say things to him, the things that she would do. I don't think they had really bonded yet with the twins -- they were still infants -- but Amber was very, very, very much a part of his life. He was very close to her, and he would describe her and talk about her. When it was her birthday, he would be depressed. ...

Let's go to the day of your car accident.

I was [visiting] … New York to see my new grandson. ... On my way back, I was just doing 35 mph, and the light's green, and I'm going through the intersection, and all of a sudden there's this car coming right at me. It happened so quickly that I tried to put my foot on the brake, but I didn't even get there, and we just impacted. And I remember flying forward, and I heard someone scream in the back seat, and I'm all by myself, but it was me screaming in the back seat. ... I remember the doctor coming to me and saying, "Well, it's confirmed: Your neck is broken, and you may be like this for the rest of your life." ... 

I've read, too, that under trauma, that you have this ability to kind of disconnect from the experience. And I think that's the reason I didn't react when I heard about Todd, and I read the letter and everything. It's like, OK, and yet another thing: I'm paralyzed; Todd's being executed. ...

You did promise Todd that you would attend his execution. ... 

I promised Todd that I would attend the execution. ... It was impossible for me to go. I was incapable of that sort of travel. Sitting in a chair that long, driving to Huntsville just wouldn't have happened. ... I'm sure I would have been there. It's something I know. I would not have denied him that, but the accident kept me from being there. At some level, the universe was giving me the excuse for not being there. ... The universe was like, "Oh, you don't have to watch this." ... It would have been a horrible thing, but I'm sure I would have gone.

The day of Todd's execution, were you told at all?

I think I was. Somebody brought the article from the [Houston] Chronicle, and they have the picture of the person, because that's kind of what was going on all the time: Somebody else would be executed; their picture would be in the paper. It was just this kind of ongoing death mill of executions. And so someone brought me the article about it, and I remember reading it and reading his last words and just going, "Huh?," but not really registering it. There was just too much going on in my life, like, how was I going to live? What was I going to do? Where was I going to go? There were too many other personal things going on at the time. ...

What did his story mean to you?

I think how badly things can go wrong in our judicial system. ... All it took was one person saying that this was a deliberately set fire, and then a whole chain of information became malevolent. ... Criminal past -- that worked all in their favor to create this "monster" -- and they even used the word "monster." It's like, let's ensure that the public thinks he's an evil individual. ... 

I was just really appalled, and I really kept quiet until I saw the governor [Rick Perry] get on and repeat the same words that the prosecution had used in the penalty phase: that he was a monster. And that got me to get on to the computer and connect with some of the media and say: ... "I have his letters. He wasn't a monster. He was a caring individual." Let them see another side. …

I think the big thing, his big secret he was carrying was the guilt. … In his mind, he couldn't acknowledge that he didn't try to save his children, so he concocted the story that he tried to go in and find the babies and couldn't. ... He couldn't acknowledge: "I got up, I ran out of the house, I didn't save my children." … I think what he needed the public to believe was that he wouldn't have been a person who just ran out and saved himself. That was too hard to bear. ...

In your opinion, what happened? What is the truth here from all the craziness and information you gathered? 

What I think happened was, Todd was asleep in bed, and Stacy gets up and decides to go to the store to get the Christmas gifts and says, "I'm leaving the kids," and goes out the door. The kids start crying. He wakes up, gets them out of their crib, the twins, gives them a bottle on the floor. Amber's playing around, and he goes back to sleep. ... And then, when he wakes up to this smoke-filled house and in a state of not being awake, he just runs out of the house. And then he realizes his first responsibility should have been to the kids, but he can't get back in the house at that point. ...



The entire interview can be read at:

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/death-by-fire/interviews/elizabeth-gilbert.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;
-----------------------------------------------------------------
FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."
Lawyer Radha Natarajan:
Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;
—————————————————————————————————
FINAL, FINAL WORD: "Since its inception, the Innocence Project has pushed the criminal legal system to confront and correct the laws and policies that cause and contribute to wrongful convictions.   They never shied away from the hard cases — the ones involving eyewitness identifications, confessions, and bite marks. Instead, in the course of presenting scientific evidence of innocence, they’ve exposed the unreliability of evidence that was, for centuries, deemed untouchable." So true!
Christina Swarns: Executive Director: The Innocence Project;

Monday, June 21, 2021

Lamar Johnson; Kevin Strickland: Missouri: Washington Post editorial: (Gets to the heart of what these disturbing cases are all about. HL); 'Missouri is inhibiting the ability of local prosecutors to correct wrongful convictions'..."Mr. Johnson and Mr. Strickland should not have to wait one more day for their freedom. “If truth matters, if justice is what really is important, why can’t we just get to that?” Mr. Johnson asked in a recent “PBS NewsHour” report that spotlighted his case. Gov. Mike Parson (R) should end the injustice and pardon these two innocent men."


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "Missouri law inhibits the ability of local prosecutors to correct wrongful convictions, while giving an outsize role to the state’s attorney general’s office — and that office for decades has fought nearly every wrongful conviction case, no matter how compelling the evidence.  Injustice Watch, a news nonprofit, has detailed the longtime pattern of both Democratic and Republican attorneys general of stymieing exonerations. The office operates as though its job is to keep convictions intact, “even if you might have convicted an innocent person,” former Missouri Supreme Court chief justice Michael Wolff told the group." That is the case with Mr. Johnson and Mr. Strickland."

EDITORIAL: "Missouri is inhibiting the ability of local prosecutors to correct wrongful convictions," published by The Washington Post on June 20, 2021.

GIST: "LAMAR JOHNSON has been imprisoned for nearly 26 years for a murder in Missouri he did not commit. The office that prosecuted him reinvestigated the case two years ago, and concluded that he indeed was wrongly convicted — the result of prosecutorial misconduct and police fabrications. It moved to get him a new trial. But Mr. Johnson, now 47, remains behind bars, and may remain there for years.


The story of Kevin Strickland, 62, is tragically similar. He has been in prison in Missouri for 43 years for a triple murder that prosecutors now say he didn’t commit, and for which they think he should be exonerated. A key witness recanted her testimony against Mr. Strickland, who was then 18, and two men who pleaded guilty in the murders named someone else as their accomplice.


Missouri law inhibits the ability of local prosecutors to correct wrongful convictions, while giving an outsize role to the state’s attorney general’s office — and that office for decades has fought nearly every wrongful conviction case, no matter how compelling the evidence. 


Injustice Watch, a news nonprofit, has detailed the longtime pattern of both Democratic and Republican attorneys general of stymieing exonerations. The office operates as though its job is to keep convictions intact, “even if you might have convicted an innocent person,” former Missouri Supreme Court chief justice Michael Wolff told the group.


That is the case with Mr. Johnson and Mr. Strickland. For years both men professed their innocence, but only after the Midwest Innocence Project took up their causes were they able to get any kind of traction with prosecutors. Newly established Conviction Integrity Units in the two jurisdictions, St. Louis and Jackson County, launched their own investigations


In Mr. Johnson’s case, investigators found a wealth of evidence that cast serious doubt on his guilt: undisclosed payments to a key eyewitness who has since recanted his identification of Mr. Johnson; credible confessions from two other men who said they committed the murder; and undisclosed information about the criminal history of a jailhouse informant.


 The findings of the Jackson County prosecutor, submitted for independent review to federal prosecutors, concluded that “Reliable, corroborated evidence now proves that Mr. Strickland is factually innocent of the charges for which he was convicted in 1979. In the interests of justice, Mr. Strickland’s conviction should be set aside, he should be promptly released, and he deserves public exoneration.”


Yet the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against a motion by St. Louis prosecutors — opposed by the state’s attorney general as part of its apparent blanket policy to deny relief — to grant a new trial to Mr. Johnson, and it declined to hear an appeal to release Mr. Strickland. The decisions turned on technical issues and not the innocence or guilt of these men. New habeas petitions have been filed, and legislation that aims to give local prosecutors the means to correct wrongful convictions was passed by the state legislature and, if signed into law, would go into effect on Aug. 28.


Mr. Johnson and Mr. Strickland should not have to wait one more day for their freedom. “If truth matters, if justice is what really is important, why can’t we just get to that?” Mr. Johnson asked in a recent “PBS NewsHour” report that spotlighted his case. Gov. Mike Parson (R) should end the injustice and pardon these two innocent men.


The entire editorial can be read at:


https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/missouri-is-inhibiting-the-ability-of-local-prosecutors-to-correct-wrongful-convictions/2021/06/20/e9520b94-d06b-11eb-8014-2f3926ca24d9_story.html

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Watch Rachel Maddow interview on Strickland case with Missouri Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker with footage from a  a press conference in which the prosecutor firmly  advocates that Strickland should be freed,  at link below: (Thanks to Dr. Bob Moles of 'Networked knowledge' - a treasure chest of criminal justice information, issues, developments and analysis around the globe  (and much more) - for bringing this interview  to our attention at:

"Jean Peters Baker, Jackson County, Missouri prosecutor, talks with Rachel Maddow about the effort to free Kevin Strickland, who has been in prison for over 40 years as a result of a wrongful conviction, and who remains in jail weeks after his innocence was declared publicly by prosecutors."
-------------------------------------------------------------------------

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;
-----------------------------------------------------------------
FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."
Lawyer Radha Natarajan:
Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;
—————————————————————————————————
FINAL, FINAL WORD: "Since its inception, the Innocence Project has pushed the criminal legal system to confront and correct the laws and policies that cause and contribute to wrongful convictions.   They never shied away from the hard cases — the ones involving eyewitness identifications, confessions, and bite marks. Instead, in the course of presenting scientific evidence of innocence, they’ve exposed the unreliability of evidence that was, for centuries, deemed untouchable." So true!
Christina Swarns: Executive Director: The Innocence Project;

Jesse Vinaccia: Australia: Shaken Baby Syndrome. Major Development: "New scientific evidence will be put to the Court of Appeal for a man convicted of killing his girlfriend’s baby son, with his lawyers arguing he is an innocent man who suffered a miscarriage of justice in being found guilty and jailed," The Age (Reporters Adam Cooper and Jesse Vedelago) reports..."Vinaccia’s trial heard he violently shook Kaleb at a Cranbourne West home while the baby’s mother, Erin Baylis-Clarke, was at work. Kaleb died in hospital a week later and medical experts later said his fatal head injuries were consistent with him being shaken. But since Vinaccia’s trial doubts have been raised about the scientific evidence relied on to jail a number of men for shaking babies, which in turn has raised serious questions over whether their convictions were sound."




--------------------------------------------------------------------

PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "On Monday the Court of Appeal heard Vinaccia was challenging his conviction on a charge of child homicide – an offence similar to manslaughter that applies to victims aged six or under – and that his lawyers intended to bring new evidence before the court.The 28-year-old’s barrister, Richard Edney, confirmed to Court of Appeal president Chris Maxwell that the appeal was primarily directed at the scientific evidence related to autopsy results showing what is referred to as a “triad” of internal head injuries – bleeding in the brain, a retinal haemorrhage and swelling of the brain. It is unclear what the new evidence to be put at Vinaccia’s appeal comprises, but Mr Edney said it clearly showed his client should not have been convicted. “The evidence is so cogent, plausible and probable it would establish an innocent person has been convicted or there has been a substantial miscarriage of justice,” he told Justice Maxwell."

---------------------------------------------------------

PASSAGE TWO OF THE DAY: "Prosecutor Christopher Boyce, QC, will argue the appeals court should not allow the new evidence as it could set a precedent for other cases over the use of expert evidence. However, Mr Boyce also conceded he would want to know if the new evidence would have made any difference in Vinaccia’s case. “If it did and our experts said, ‘Oh goodness, we’ve made a mistake about this,’ then I’d want to know that,” Mr Boyce said. Justice Maxwell expected the legal challenge would chart new territory for the appeals court. “We haven’t had many forensic evidence cases and it’s quite unprecedented to have the concept of conflicting expert opinions which weren’t heard by the trial court,” he said."

----------------------------------------------------------

STORY: "New evidence before appeals court in challenge against baby shaking conviction," by Reporters Adam Cooper and Chris Vedelago, published by The Age on June 21, 2021. (Adam Cooper joined The Age in 2011. Chris Vedelago is an Investigative Reporter for The Age with a special interest in crime and justice.)

GIST:  "New scientific evidence will be put to the Court of Appeal for a man convicted of killing his girlfriend’s baby son, with his lawyers arguing he is an innocent man who suffered a miscarriage of justice in being found guilty and jailed.

Jesse Vinaccia was found guilty of child homicide in 2019 and jailed for 8Ѕ years over the death of Kaleb Baylis-Clarke, who was 17 weeks old when he died in January 2016.


Vinaccia’s trial heard he violently shook Kaleb at a Cranbourne West home while the baby’s mother, Erin Baylis-Clarke, was at work. Kaleb died in hospital a week later and medical experts later said his fatal head injuries were consistent with him being shaken.


But since Vinaccia’s trial doubts have been raised about the scientific evidence relied on to jail a number of men for shaking babies, which in turn has raised serious questions over whether their convictions were sound.


On Monday the Court of Appeal heard Vinaccia was challenging his conviction on a charge of child homicide – an offence similar to manslaughter that applies to victims aged six or under – and that his lawyers intended to bring new evidence before the court.


The 28-year-old’s barrister, Richard Edney, confirmed to Court of Appeal president Chris Maxwell that the appeal was primarily directed at the scientific evidence related to autopsy results showing what is referred to as a “triad” of internal head injuries – bleeding in the brain, a retinal haemorrhage and swelling of the brain.


It is unclear what the new evidence to be put at Vinaccia’s appeal comprises, but Mr Edney said it clearly showed his client should not have been convicted.

“The evidence is so cogent, plausible and probable it would establish an innocent person has been convicted or there has been a substantial miscarriage of justice,” he told Justice Maxwell.


At trial, Vinaccia’s lawyers conceded he shouldn’t have handled Kaleb the way he did but argued his actions did not amount to an unlawful or dangerous act, and that the baby had existing medical problems that made him more vulnerable.

Vinaccia admitted to police that on the night of January 23, 2016, he was “pretty rough” with Kaleb when he lifted him and carried him to his cot, after a Facebook conversation with the baby’s father.

Forensic paediatricians Joanna Tully and Linda Iles gave evidence at the trial that their investigations found Kaleb died from a traumatic head injury consistent with him either being shaken or suffering some sort of blunt trauma. The court heard on Monday there was no suggestion the paediatricians’ evidence was unreliable.

However, in an investigation by The Age this year, Dr Iles and her colleague at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, David Ranson, said the same internal injuries could be caused by other medical conditions.

Two other men jailed in recent years for either child homicide or recklessly causing serious injury, Joby Rowe and Jesse Harvey, have also launched appeals against their convictions on similar grounds to Vinaccia.

In Vinaccia’s appeal, Mr Edney said on Monday: “In light of the new evidence this court ought to look at the matters afresh with the benefits of those expert reports.”

Prosecutor Christopher Boyce, QC, will argue the appeals court should not allow the new evidence as it could set a precedent for other cases over the use of expert evidence. However, Mr Boyce also conceded he would want to know if the new evidence would have made any difference in Vinaccia’s case.

“If it did and our experts said, ‘Oh goodness, we’ve made a mistake about this,’ then I’d want to know that,” Mr Boyce said.

Justice Maxwell expected the legal challenge would chart new territory for the appeals court.

“We haven’t had many forensic evidence cases and it’s quite unprecedented to have the concept of conflicting expert opinions which weren’t heard by the trial court,” he said.

The case will return to court in August. Vinaccia must serve 5½ years before he is eligible for parole, meaning his earliest release date is halfway through 2024.

The entire story can be read at:

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/new-evidence-before-appeals-court-in-challenge-against-baby-shaking-conviction-20210621-p582ut.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;
-----------------------------------------------------------------
FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."
Lawyer Radha Natarajan:
Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;
—————————————————————————————————
FINAL, FINAL WORD: "Since its inception, the Innocence Project has pushed the criminal legal system to confront and correct the laws and policies that cause and contribute to wrongful convictions.   They never shied away from the hard cases — the ones involving eyewitness identifications, confessions, and bite marks. Instead, in the course of presenting scientific evidence of innocence, they’ve exposed the unreliability of evidence that was, for centuries, deemed untouchable." So true!
Christina Swarns: Executive Director: The Innocence Project;

Richard Glossip: Death Row; Oklahoma: Pro-death penalty Representatives are seeking a new look into the death row inmate's conviction," KOKH (Reporter Erika Stanish) reports... "Representative Kevin McDugle, R- Broken Arrow, a supporter of the death penalty, held a press conference Wednesday discussing death row inmate Richard Glossip's case. The lawmaker has joined 33 other lawmakers saying an independent investigation should be done for Glossip's conviction."


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "State Rep. Kevin McDugle says he believes new evidence suggests the now 58-year-old Glossip may be innocent. The man who admitted beating Van Treese to death, Justin Sneed, received a life sentence and testified against Glossip during the original trial. In a letter to the Gov. and Pardon and Parole Board Executive Director, McDugle said, “based on newly evidence, it appears Mr. Glossip may be innocent of this crime.” “We do not approach this request lightly. We appreciate how difficult decisions like this are and know how seriously you take them. Many of those who have signed this letter support the death penalty but, as such,  we have a moral obligation to make sure the State of Oklahoma never executes a person for a crime he did not commit,” the letter said. Based on new evidence, Glossip’s legal team suggests Sneed may have had an accomplice the night of the murder and believe a slew of things were not done during the police investigation. “The accomplice was never identified or located. What did the police know that night? Don Knight said, Glossip’s attorney. “The police... from what we can tell, failed to adequately investigate this case in any way shape or form.” Knight said his team interviewed 190 people over the past six years while investigating the case and now have 29 affidavits of witnesses prepared to testify."


-----------------------------------------------------------------------


PASSAGE TWO OF THE DAY: "Knight said another fingerprint was found on a piece of broken glass but was never tested. “They also found a fingerprint that was probably useable, that they were going to go ahead and put into their system and see if it matched. It didn’t match Sneed. It didn’t match Glossip. It didn’t match Van Treese. They didn’t run it against anybody else,” Knight said. “That fingerprint is still there. We requested it be run. We’ve never heard anything back on whether or not anybody would run it. I don’t know if the fingerprint is a person we are looking for at this point in time.”


-------------------------------------------------------------------------


STORY: "Pro-death penalty Reps seek new look into death row inmate Richard Glossip's conviction," by Reporter Erika Stanish, published by KOKH on June 16, 2021.

GIST: "Representative Kevin McDugle, R- Broken Arrow, a supporter of the death penalty, held a press conference Wednesday discussing death row inmate Richard Glossip's case.


The lawmaker has joined 33 other lawmakers saying an independent investigation should be done for Glossip's conviction.


Glossip was convicted of ordering the 1997 beating death of motel owner Barry Van Treese in Oklahoma City in what prosecutors said was a murder-for-hire.


State Rep. Kevin McDugle says he believes new evidence suggests the now 58-year-old Glossip may be innocent.


The man who admitted beating Van Treese to death, Justin Sneed, received a life sentence and testified against Glossip during the original trial.


In a letter to the Gov. and Pardon and Parole Board Executive Director, McDugle said, “based on newly evidence, it appears Mr. Glossip may be innocent of this crime.”


“We do not approach this request lightly. We appreciate how difficult decisions like this are and know how seriously you take them. Many of those who have signed this letter support the death penalty but, as such, we have a moral obligation to make sure the State of Oklahoma never executes a person for a crime he did not commit,” the letter said.


Based on new evidence, Glossip’s legal team suggests Sneed may have had an accomplice the night of the murder and believe a slew of things were not done during the police investigation.


“The accomplice was never identified or located. What did the police know that night? Don Knight said, Glossip’s attorney. “The police... from what we can tell, failed to adequately investigate this case in any way shape or form.”


Knight said his team interviewed 190 people over the past six years while investigating the case and now have 29 affidavits of witnesses prepared to testify.


Knight said other evidence found reveals police found two sets of clothing in the motel’s laundry room, in which Sneed said he wore both.


Knight said evidence shows two weapons were also found: a baseball bat and a knife. He said police reported Sneed used both to murder Van Treese.

“I don’t know how that happened, but I do know that the police never checked it out,” Knight said.


When in reality, all he had to do was stick it in his car, 100% of the cash, and drive off with it," McDugle said.


Glossip's attorney, Don Knight, said evidence shows Sneed may have had an accomplice who was never identified or located. He said evidence found two sets of clothing that Sneed claimed he wore that night. Knight said two weapons were also found: a baseball bat & knife.


He went onto say there is no evidence that suggests Glossip was in the room at the time of the murder and the fingerprints found were Sneeds.


Knight said another fingerprint was found on a piece of broken glass but was never tested.

“They also found a fingerprint that was probably useable, that they were going to go ahead and put into their system and see if it matched. It didn’t match Sneed. It didn’t match Glossip. It didn’t match Van Treese. They didn’t run it against anybody else,” Knight said. “That fingerprint is still there. We requested it be run. We’ve never heard anything back on whether or not anybody would run it. I don’t know if the fingerprint is a person we are looking for at this point in time.”


Knight also discussed information provided by a witness detailing information on the case and what happened that night based on what Sneed told him.


Knight said the witness was incarcerated in the Oklahoma County Jail in 1997 and lived in the same wing as Sneed.


Knight said the witness saw Sneed on a daily basis and reported that Sneed told him he killed Van Treese.


The witness reported to Knight that Sneed had a girlfriend at the time who allegedly planned to rob Van Treese.


“He told me their robbery scheme fell apart because Van Treese didn’t go along with it. He either fought back or did something else and messed up the plan. Sneed said things just went really wrong,” the witness told Knight. “I remember Sneed told me that when the murder took place, his girlfriend was in the room. Sneed told me he then got the money from Van Treese’s car, but he didn’t get all the money that he thought was there,” the witness told Knight.

Knight said the information about the money is critical.

“He (the witness) also wrote that Sneed sometimes commented that he couldn’t believe he killed a man for so little money,” Knight said.


Knight said Sneed ended up with about $4,000. More than $23,000 was in Van Treese’s car the night of the murder.


Knight went onto say many witnesses talked about Sneed’s meth addiction.


“That was not something that was really apart of the first two trials in his case. The government tried to make it seem like he was an occasional user of methamphetamine,” Knight said. “That’s a critical part of this case because so was his girlfriend according to the witnesses we have. He and his girlfriend were constantly looking for money and they knew Barry Van Treese had money.”


Knight said the actions Sneed took was because he was looking for money to fuel their addiction.


Glossip was a manager at the motel Van Treese owned.


“They want us to believe that Richard Glossip, who controlled every bit of the cash coming into hotel they want us to believe that it was better for him to hand that cash to the owner so that he could coordinate a murder on that owner and get half of that cash,” McDugle said. “When in reality, all he had to do was stick it in his car, 100% of the cash, and drive off with it. It’s one of the things that keeps lingering in my mind is why would anyone coordinate a murder so they could get half the money that they had in their hand earlier in the day.”


McDugle went onto say during the news conference Wednesday that one of the only reasons that put Glossip in jail was that Sneed accused Glossip of coordinating the plan.

“What did he (Sneed) get out of it? He no longer gets death row, he gets life in prison while Richard Glossip gets death row,” McDugle said.


In McDugle’s letter to the Gov. & Pardon and Parole Board also stated:

“Mr. Glossip’s lawyers have uncovered new evidence and have agreed to turn it over to an independent investigator. We now request that all information held by the District Attorney’s office, or any police or law enforcement agency that investigated this case, also be turned over to an independent attorney or investigative agency chosen by you to look deeply into the case and issue a report to the Pardon and Parole Board before any new execution date is set for Mr. Glossip. The decision that the Pardon and Parole Board must make in recommending Clemency, and your decision as Governor to grant or deny it, should be made based on thorough and complete information which this in-depth review will provide. This is the only way the cloud of doubt surrounding Mr. Glossip’s case can be lifted, and we can be confident that justice is done—one way or the other.”


“If we're going to sentence someone to capital punishment we have a moral obligation to do everything we can to make sure that we're not sending an innocent man to death,” Rep.Mickey Dollens said.


McDugle said if Glossip were to be executed before a full review of the new evidence, Oklahoma risks killing an innocent man.


The letter now sits on the governor’s desk for consideration.


Moving forward, Glossip’s legal team said if the investigation request is approved, the Pardon and Parole Board could recommend clemency for Glossip, in which the governor could grant.

If granted, Knight said it could take Glossip off death row.


“What we hope for here is a good independent investigation and a report,” Knight said. “Glossip is remarkably optimistic and hopeful for this independent investigation.""


The entire story can be read at:
https://okcfox.com/news/local/pro-death-penalty-reps-seek-investigation-into-death-row-inmate-richard-glossips-conviction

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;
-----------------------------------------------------------------
FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."
Lawyer Radha Natarajan:
Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;
—————————————————————————————————
FINAL, FINAL WORD: "Since its inception, the Innocence Project has pushed the criminal legal system to confront and correct the laws and policies that cause and contribute to wrongful convictions.   They never shied away from the hard cases — the ones involving eyewitness identifications, confessions, and bite marks. Instead, in the course of presenting scientific evidence of innocence, they’ve exposed the unreliability of evidence that was, for centuries, deemed untouchable." So true!
Christina Swarns: Executive Director: The Innocence Project;