Monday, May 7, 2012

Larry Swearingen: The Charles Smith Blog award goes to Texas Chronicle reporter Jordan Smith for her eye-opening article "The Science of Injustice."

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am pleased to present the award to Texas Chronicle reporter Jordan Smith for her groundbreaking reporting in the Larry Swearingen case in a story called, "The science of injustice." Ms. Smith pointed out an untenable situation in which "despite what appears to be clear and convincing medical evidence that Swearingen could not have killed Trotter, neither prosecutors nor the courts have been persuaded that he could be innocent." Her influential story on very complex forensic issues went on to say: "Swear­ingen's defense has been trying for four years to demonstrate to the courts – the trial court and the CCA as well as federal courts – the import of the new scientific findings. While the CCA has remanded the case to the trial court twice for further hearings, they've ultimately sided with prosecutors, ruling that the forensic evidence isn't convincing enough to outweigh what CCA Judge Cathy Cochran wrote in January 2009 is a "mountain" of circumstantial evidence pointing to Swearingen's guilt. The case renews questions about the intersection of and tension between science and law – how courts and law enforcement professionals view and understand science, and how decisions are made about what kind of science is "good enough" to be deemed more telling or important than other compelling but decidedly nonscientific evidence. "When you have objective forensic evidence and testimonial evidence – which is subjective – [that testimonial evidence] must be questioned and take a backseat to the objective science," says Dr. Stephen Pustilnik, the chief medical examiner for Galveston County, who after reviewing the Trotter tissue samples also concluded that Trotter was killed within days of being found in the forest, not in early December, and therefore not by Swearingen. "It's not the convenient scenario, not the easy scenario" for the state, he says. "Just because [Swearingen] is the easy and convenient person, all of a sudden, if the science says he didn't do it, doesn't mean that you can ignore the science." The case now is under appeal. I am delighted to present Jordan Smith with the Charles Smith Blog Award:




0: Kevin Morgan (AUSTRALIA): author of "Gun Alley: Murder, Lies and Failure of Justice, who single-handedly fought for and obtained the forensic materials which led to Colin Ross's pardon almost ninety years after he was executed.

0: Michael Hall (U.S.A.): For his excellent work in Texas Monthly exposing the miscarriages of justice that have occurred as a result of scent-lineups and the "experts" who conduct them, and

0: Sun-Sentinel reporter Paula McMahon (U.S.A.) for her ground-breaking reporting over a nine year period which led to the freeing and exoneration of Anthony Caravella.

O: Journalist Stewart Cockburn (AUSTRALIA) for his ground-breaking work in "The Advertiser" which exposed the miscarriage of justice suffered by Ted Splatt and triggered the Royal Commission which led to Splatt's exoneration.

0: Australian scientist Tom Mann (AUSTRALIA) for his sterling efforts to publicize the injustice perpetrated on Ted Splatt in the courts including the publication of "Flawed Forensics: The Ted Splatt case and Stewart Cockburn," a monumental book which demonstrates the tragic consequences which can unfold when science gets twisted out of proportion in the courts and those entrusted with the task of protecting our criminal justice system abdicate their responsibilities.

0: New Yorker staff writer David Grann (U.S.A.)for his awesome exposee of the faulty arson "science" that resulted in the wrongful conviction and execution in Texas of Cameron Todd Willingham. (Photo: David Grann);

0: Pamela Colloff (U.S.A) for her Texas Monthly stories which resulted in the freeing of Anthony Graves within 30 days of the appearance of her first story. Anthony Graves was convicted and sentenced to die in 1994 for six horrific murders in the Central Texas town of Somerville.
0: Spencer Hsu (U.S.A) for his revelations in the Washington Post that for years, the U.S. Department of Justice has known that flawed forensic work by FBI experts may have led to the convictions of innocent people, but prosecutors rarely told defendants or their attorneys. Hsu discovered that Justice Department officials began reviewing cases after defense attorneys pointed out problems with evidence coming out of FBI labs. But the review was limited. "As a result," Hsu wrote, "hundreds of defendants nationwide remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of evidence using DNA because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects."


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: This award emanated from The Charles Smith Blog which I created on 2006 to expose the havoc wreaked by Dr. Charles Randal Smith - a pediatric pathologist who purported to be a forensic pathologist and perceived his role to be that of an advocate for the prosecution team - and in the process he destroyed many lives. (Dr. Smith was a pediatric pathologist); Although much of its attention has been focused on an independent public inquiry into many of Smith's cases, now that the Inquiry has completed its work, I am also focusing on ongoing cases anywhere in the world which involve miscarriages of justice caused by flawed forensic pathology, flawed pathologists, junk science, pseudo-experts or a combination of any of the above. Some of the cases considered by the Blog have only come to public attention because of the magnificent efforts of journalists (and occasionally people from other walks of life) be they in the print or electronic media. I myself was a reporter for many years at the Toronto Star. I launched the Charles Smith Blog Award in 2009 as a forum in which I could honour these journalists by drawing attention to their work on stories which, in my personal view, represent what journalism at its best is all about - the exposure of miscarriages of justice.

EXPOSURE: The Charles Smith Blog has attracted more than 150,000 hits from all over the world since its inception in 2009 and is currently listed in several lists of the top forensic science and criminology blogs.

CRITERIA: The award is presented for excellence in exposing miscarriages of justice caused anywhere in the world by flawed pathology, flawed pathologists, junk science, pseudo-experts or a combination of any of the above.

This award is entirely virtual. There is no prize; There is no certificate. It is a pure and unadulterated honour bestowed by myself as publisher in recognition of contributions by others to this important area of journalism. There is however a ceremony of sorts. Each time I press the enter button and a new winner of the Charles Smith Blog award is exploded into cyberspace, I raise a glass of fine wine and toast the recipient for doing what journalists are supposed to do - and for doing it so well.

SUBMISSIONS: Nominations may be made by email to myself - Harold Levy Publisher of The Charles Smith Blog at - directing me to the published material in question with a brief note as to why you believe the author or authors should receive the Charles Smith Blog Award.