Friday, August 14, 2020

Arturo Jimenez: California: Major (Welcome) Development: Exonerated after serving 25 years on conviction based on identification made under police pressure. (25 years! If that's not obstruction of justice, what is? HL)..."A California man who spent 25 years in prison for a 1994 killing had his murder conviction dismissed Wednesday because the court said he didn't receive a fair trial. Arturo Jimenez, 44, had his case dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled, although the Los Angeles County district attorney's office already had moved to dismiss the charges, Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen said in his decision. Jimenez was convicted of first-degree murder. Prosecutors said he shot a rival gang member, 14-year-old Hugo Colmenarez, during a confrontation involving 15 to 20 people at a Los Angeles gas station. “Jimenez has always maintained that he was nearby when he heard the shots, drove his blue Blazer to see if anyone needed help, and when he got to the gas station, people jumped in his car through the open back window and told him to leave," said a statement from the non-profit Northern California Innocence Project, which helped represent him. Jimenez was convicted based on his identification by a young woman “in the backseat of a car who saw the shooter for only a moment" and who later said she made an identification under police pressure, the statement said."


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: This Blog is interested in eye-witness identification issues because  wrongful identifications are at the heart of so many DNA-related exonerations in the USA and elsewhere - and because so much scientific research is being conducted with a goal to making the identification process more   transparent and reliable- and less subject to deliberate manipulation.  I have also reported far too many cases over the years - mainly cases lacking DNA evidence pointing to the suspect - where the police have rigged the identification process in order to make an identification inevitable. Sure sounds like  obstruction of justice to me.
Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog.
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PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "Jimenez was convicted based on his identification by a young woman “in the backseat of a car who saw the shooter for only a moment" and who later said she made an identification under police pressure, the statement said. A friend of the victim who was standing next to him when he was shot told police the driver of the Blazer wasn't the shooter. But Jimenez's lawyer — who has since been disbarred — never presented that and other evidence of Jimenez's innocence at trial, according to a court petition filed by his lawyers last year. In Wednesday's ruling, the judge said the Los Angeles County district attorney's office conceded that Jimenez was “deprived of the assistance of constitutionally effective counsel."

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STORY: "Murder case dismissed against man who served 25 years," reported by Associated Press, published by the Huron Daily Tribune on August 12, 2020.

GIST: "A California man who spent 25 years in prison for a 1994 killing had his murder conviction dismissed Wednesday because the court said he didn't receive a fair trial.

Arturo Jimenez, 44, had his case dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled, although the Los Angeles County district attorney's office already had moved to dismiss the charges, Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen said in his decision.

Jimenez was convicted of first-degree murder. Prosecutors said he shot a rival gang member, 14-year-old Hugo Colmenarez, during a confrontation involving 15 to 20 people at a Los Angeles gas station.

“Jimenez has always maintained that he was nearby when he heard the shots, drove his blue Blazer to see if anyone needed help, and when he got to the gas station, people jumped in his car through the open back window and told him to leave," said a statement from the non-profit Northern California Innocence Project, which helped represent him.

Jimenez was convicted based on his identification by a young woman “in the backseat of a car who saw the shooter for only a moment" and who later said she made an identification under police pressure, the statement said.

A friend of the victim who was standing next to him when he was shot told police the driver of the Blazer wasn't the shooter. But Jimenez's lawyer — who has since been disbarred — never presented that and other evidence of Jimenez's innocence at trial, according to a court petition filed by his lawyers last year.

In Wednesday's ruling, the judge said the Los Angeles County district attorney's office conceded that Jimenez was “deprived of the assistance of constitutionally effective counsel."

Jimenez, who was released on parole in April, said in the statement that “the past is my present. I’m still in survival mode.”

He is working and “hopes to explore counseling and educational opportunities," the statement said.

“This is one of those cases that shows how frighteningly easy it is to get wrongfully convicted," said Paige Kaneb, attorney for the Northern California Innocence Project.

“And it is an honor to represent Arturo, who, despite spending a quarter of a century and his entire adult life in prison, has shown what a kind and gentle person he is even through the worst of circumstances,” she said.""

The entire story can be read at: 
https://www.michigansthumb.com/news/article/Murder-case-dismissed-against-man-who-served-25-15479986.php

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;
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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;
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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Bulletin: Detroit: Flawed Facial Recognition Technology: Extraordinary civil rights complaint launched against City and Police Department by Police Commissioner Willie Burton: Press conference today: Fox2: "I put my hands up and they grabbed me from behind and pulled me out of my seat like I was being criminalized, like a criminal that I am not." It was more than a year ago when the unlikely source of that statement was made from the back of a police cruiser. Willie Burton, the police commissioner from the 5th District in Detroit, had just been placed under arrest for disrupting a police commissioners' meeting while railing against the use of facial recognition technology by the Detroit Police Department. Alleging emotional, financial, and physical stress - including a concussion - Burton has filed a civil rights complaint in federal court against the city of Detroit and its police department.Claiming to have been falsely arrested, brutalized, and having his political career stifled, Burton said his 1st, 4th, and 5th amendment rights were violated."

MORE TO FOLLOW: HL.

PASSAGE OF THE DAY "I put my hands up and they grabbed me from behind and pulled me out of my seat like I was being criminalized, like a criminal that I am not."  It was more than a year ago when the unlikely source of that statement was made from the back of a police cruiser. Willie Burton, the police commissioner from the 5th District in Detroit, had just been placed under arrest for disrupting a police commissioners' meeting while railing against the use of facial recognition technology by the Detroit Police Department.   Alleging emotional, financial, and physical stress - including a concussion - Burton has filed a civil rights complaint in federal court against the city of Detroit and its police department.Claiming to have been falsely arrested, brutalized, and having his political career stifled, Burton said his 1st, 4th, and 5th amendment rights were violated."

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GIST: "The contentious meeting from July 11 surrounded the issue of facial recognition, a controversial technology that the Detroit Police Department has utilized to help make arrests and identify potential suspects in crimes. While the city's police chief argues it has aided the department in making arrests and taking criminals off the street, civil rights leaders ranging from community advocates all the way up to members of Congress have argued it fails to correctly identify Black citizens. The bias has led to the wrongful arrests Michael Oliver and separately Robert Williams, who police believe had stolen Shinola Watches. However, Chief James Craig argues those cases had other problems and facial recognition technology isn't the only tool used when making arrests. Instead, it serves as one component in a long process of identifying criminals and making arrests."
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MORE: READ STORY ON TODAY'S PRESS CONFERENCE AT LINK BELOW:  (Police commissioner sues over arrest at board meeting," by Reporter George Hunter, published by the Detroit News on August 13, 2020.)

PASSAGE OF THE DAY: ""I was just doing my job that day," Burton said. "What happened to me could happen to you. I just want to ensure this doesn't happen to anyone else." Burton claims he was arrested because the board wanted to quash his criticism of facial recognition technology, although board officials insisted he was removed because he was disrupting the meeting."

 GIST: "A Detroit police commissioner filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday claiming he suffered "emotional and psychological harm, indignity, anxiety, mental anguish, emotional distress, humiliation ... and physical injuries" after being arrested during a police board meeting last year.

Commissioner Willie Burton was handcuffed and escorted by police from the July 11, 2019, Board of Police Commissioners meeting at the Durfee Information Center on Detroit's west side.

The arrest followed an argument between Burton and fellow commissioners about various topics, including the police department's use of facial recognition technology.

"I will never forget that moment," Burton said at a press conference Thursday announcing the lawsuit. "I was treated like a criminal for doing the job the citizens elected me to do."

The 25-page lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, seeks more than $75,000 in damages, claiming police violated Burton's First Amendment right to free speech, his Fourth Amendment right to be free from illegal seizure, and his Fifth Amendment right to due process.

The lawsuit names as defendants the city of Detroit, Carter, police chief James Craig, who was not at the meeting, and two police officials who helped escort Burton out of the meeting, assistant police chief David LeValley and Cmdr. Nick Kyriacou. An unknown Detroit cop is also named in the suit.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia declined to comment Thursday. The city generally does not comment on pending litigation.

Burton said he suffered a concussion from the brief skirmish during the meeting, which was packed with residents who voiced their opinions, mostly negative, about Detroit police using facial recognition software.

Police took Burton to the Detroit Detention Center, where he was briefly locked up. No charges were filed.

"I was just doing my job that day," Burton said. "What happened to me could happen to you. I just want to ensure this doesn't happen to anyone else."
Burton claims he was arrested because the board wanted to quash his criticism of facial recognition technology, although board officials insisted he was removed because he was disrupting the meeting.

Shortly after the meeting started, Wayne Circuit Judge Craig Strong swore in Lisa Carter as the new board chair. Afterward, Burton began asking what she would do differently than former chairman Willie Bell, with whom Burton had argued during previous meetings.

“You are out of order,” Carter told Burton multiple times. When Burton continued talking, as board members gave a community service award to a citizen, Carter asked officers to remove him from the room. Several officers surrounded Burton and placed him in handcuffs. 

Burton's attorney Nabih Ayad said at Thursday's press briefing the officers' behavior was "outrageous."

"They should know better," Ayad said. "He was arrested while speaking truth to power. We're seeking relief so this doesn't happen to anyone else down the road." 
Ayad added the COVID emergency delayed filing the lawsuit.

Burton has been a vocal critic of the police department's use of facial recognition technology, which critics say flags an inordinate number of darker-skinned people. Craig says the possibility of wrongful arrests is mitigated because multiple technicians and cops must okay a photo hit before the investigation can move forward.

Former Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, an attorney who was retained by Burton after his arrest, also appeared at Thursday's press conference. He said the board had other options than to arrest Burton.

"They could have called for a recess to let things cool down," he said. "Instead, they used the ultimate force.""

The entire story can be read at: 
https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2020/08/13/police-commissioner-sues-over-arrest-during-board-meeting/3368946001/--------------------------------------------------
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;
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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;
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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Tonia Miller; (Shaken baby syndrome case): Update: More details on the new judge and the monumental new hearing on evolving SBS 'science' ordered by the Michigan Court of Appeal published by the Battlecreek Inquiry. (Reporter Trace Christianson)..."A 37-year-old woman convicted of killing her infant daughter is now awaiting the appointment of a judge and a hearing date as she seeks to overturn her 2003 murder conviction. Tonia Miller has served 17 years in prison after her conviction in the Oct. 20, 2001 death of her 11-week old daughter, Alicia Duff. "She is very pleased that she is going to get her day in court," David Moran, director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, said Monday. "She has known for some years now that the evidence used to convict her has been called into deep question."


PASSAGE  ONE OF THE DAY: "Miller was 19 when a Calhoun County Circuit Court jury convicted her of second-degree murder and she was sentenced in 2003 to 20 to 30 years in prison. The conviction came after three doctors testified, including one for the defense, that Alicia Duff died from shaken baby syndrome, now called abusive head trauma. The defense expert testified the injury occurred a week before the child went to the hospital. But Moran said Monday the science has evolved and the Innocence Clinic has four doctors who will testify Alicia Duff died from fulminant pneumonia. The Michigan Court of Appeals, which had upheld Miller's conviction 16 years ago, said in a new opinion Thursday that a judge should hear the new evidence and decide if she is entitled to a new trial."

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PASSAGE TWO OF THE DAY: "In their 10-page opinion, the three appeals court judges said "during the nearly two decades since Miller's conviction the science underlying the diagnosis of SBS/AHT (Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma) has evolved." The court agreed "recent scientific advancements have led to a wholesale reassessment of the assumptions that previously dominated SBS/AHT science." The court noted Dr. Janice Ophoven, a pediatric forensic pathologist and one of the experts quoted by the defense, who said the testimony at trial "was consistent with the predominate views in the forensic pathology community. However, since the time of trial, scientific research has caused a significant shift in the forensic pathology community."

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STORY: "New judge and new hearing for woman convicted of killing her child," by Reporter Trace Christianson, published by The Battlefield Inquirer on  August 9, 2020.

GIST: "A 37-year-old woman convicted of killing her infant daughter is now awaiting the appointment of a judge and a hearing date as she seeks to overturn her 2003 murder conviction.

Tonia Miller has served 17 years in prison after her conviction in the Oct. 20, 2001 death of her 11-week old daughter, Alicia Duff.

"She is very pleased that she is going to get her day in court," David Moran, director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, said Monday. "She has known for some years now that the evidence used to convict her has been called into deep question."

Miller was 19 when a Calhoun County Circuit Court jury convicted her of second-degree murder and she was sentenced in 2003 to 20 to 30 years in prison.

The conviction came after three doctors testified, including one for the defense, that Alicia Duff died from shaken baby syndrome, now called abusive head trauma. The defense expert testified the injury occurred a week before the child went to the hospital.

But Moran said Monday the science has evolved and the Innocence Clinic has four doctors who will testify Alicia Duff died from fulminant pneumonia.

The Michigan Court of Appeals, which had upheld Miller's conviction 16 years ago, said in a new opinion Thursday that a judge should hear the new evidence and decide if she is entitled to a new trial.

In their 10-page opinion, the three appeals court judges said "during the nearly two decades since Miller's conviction the science underlying the diagnosis of SBS/AHT (Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma) has evolved." The court agreed "recent scientific advancements have led to a wholesale reassessment of the assumptions that previously dominated SBS/AHT science."

The court noted Dr. Janice Ophoven, a pediatric forensic pathologist and one of the experts quoted by the defense, who said the testimony at trial "was consistent with the predominate views in the forensic pathology community. However, since the time of trial, scientific research has caused a significant shift in the forensic pathology community."

In their appeal, the Innocence Clinic argued that Miller had taken the child to doctors after her birth because of breathing difficulties.

"The tragic thing is that she tried to get help and had taken the baby to doctors but she was just blown off," Moran said.

During testimony at the trial, Miller said her baby frequently stopped breathing but that doctors didn't think anything was wrong.

"They told me she was holding her breath," Miller said from the witness stand on April 9, 2003. "I knew something was wrong with her."

She told the court she was feeding Alicia the day before she died and she began gasping for air.
"She wasn't breathing," Miller said then. "She looked straight at me and one eye had gone off to the side. I shook her enough where she started back up."

The Appeals Court said Miller acknowledged she shook the child "just enough to where she straightened (her) back out. She called it a "gentle prodding."
Insisting that the shaking was slight, Miller told the jury "I did not stand there shaking my baby."

But Chief Assistant Prosecutor Daniel Buscher, who tried the case, argued the admission by Miller of shaking the baby and the medical testimony was enough to convict.

He said the shaking was violent and caused the child's brain to swell.
"It was like Jello-O bouncing off a container and she did it and no one else," Buscher argued. At her sentencing Buscher said some doctors described the injuries as the worse case of trauma they had ever seen.

But Moran said they will bring evidence that Alicia died from natural causes.
"We know so much more about abusive head trauma and shaken baby syndrome than we did when this case was tried in 2003. We believe that Tonia Miller was convicted on invalid medical testimony at the time."

The Appeals Court ruled Miller should be allowed an evidentiary hearing after Calhoun County Circuit Judge Sarah Lincoln denied a motion for a hearing in July 2019.

Lincoln said the Innocence Clinic was not bringing new evidence but rather a different interpretation of evidence presented at trial. She said the conviction had been reviewed and upheld by the Court of Appeals in 2004.

"There can be no dispute that there are persons in our community who commit acts of child abuse resulting in serious injury or death," Lincoln wrote in her opinion. "The evidence presented at trial was sufficient to convince a jury that Defendant was one of those persons and the Court Appeals agreed."

In its opinion last week the Court of Appeals overruled Lincoln and said Miller should have a hearing and that a different judge should be appointed to hear the case.

Moran said because scientific evidence can change "the Michigan Supreme Court has recognized that and have changed the court rules to make it easier for people to get back into court when they have been convicted on forensic or medical science that has changed.

"They should have a right to get back into court when forensic or medical testimony is no longer seen as valid as it was," Moran said. "It is the nature of science that conclusions change and the law has always had great difficulty accepting that because the law is about final verdicts and final decisions," he said.

Prosecutor David Gilbert said Monday his office won't appeal the decision to order a hearing and acknowledged the case may be tried again but said the conviction should stand.

"You can say it was pneumonia but pneumonia was considered at the first trial."
The Appeals Court ruled the hearing must be held by Oct. 1 and Moran said once a judge is selected, likely from another county, the hearing, which will be held by Zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be scheduled.

Miller is a prisoner at the Huron Valley Women's Complex in Ypsilanti. She is eligible for parole on April 9, 2023."

The entire story can be read at:
https://www.battlecreekenquirer.com/story/news/2020/08/10/new-judge-and-new-hearing-woman-convicted-killing-her-child/3335045001/

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;
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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;
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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Chelsea Becker: California: Criminalizing Reproduction: (Attacks on Science, Medicine and the Right To Choose): Attorney General Xavier Becerra has stepped into the murder prosecution of Chelsea Becker which was commenced after her babu was stillborn, The Daily Beast, Reporter Tarpley Hitt, reports..."For more than nine months, five of them during a global pandemic, a 26-year-old woman named Chelsea Becker has been sitting in Kings County Jail, under a $2 million bail, for giving birth to a stillborn baby. Becker has been there since November, when police arrested her and prosecutors charged her with murder. The District Attorney argued that Becker’s methamphetamine addiction had caused the stillbirth, citing a 50-year-old law that civil rights advocates say was never supposed to apply to pregnant women. It has put Becker at the heart of a national debate over criminalizing fetal death. On Friday, however, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra intervened."


I have taken on the topic  of criminalizing reproduction - a natural topic  for a Blog concerned with  flawed science in its myriad forms  and its flawed devotees (like Charles Smith), as I am utterly opposed to the current movement in the United States and some other countries - thankfully not Canada any more - towards imprisoning women and their physicians on the basis of sham science, religion, politics  or ideology.   Control over their reproductive lives is far too important to women in America or anywhere else so they can  participate  equally in the economic and social life of their nations without fear for  loss their freedom at the hands of political opportunists and fanatics. I will  continue to follow relevant cases such as  Purvi Patel and Bei Bei Shuai - and the mounting wave of  legislative attacks aimed at chipping away at  Roe V. Wade and ultimately dismantling it.

Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The Legislature’s purpose in adding the killing of a fetus to Penal Code section 187 was not to punish women who do not—or cannot, because of addiction or resources—follow best practices for prenatal health,” Becerra wrote. “The courts should not assume that the Legislature intended such a sweeping and invasive change to the criminal law affecting women’s lives without clear evidence of that intent. And such evidence is absent here.”

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PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "In the decades since 1970, California prosecutors have tried to charge women for stillbirths, but none has secured a conviction until 2018, when another woman was arrested for the same crime in the same town of Hanford. Like Becker, Adora Perez was in her late 20s and addicted to methamphetamine when she gave birth to a stillborn baby at Adventist Health. Also like Becker, hospital employees alerted the Medical Examiner’s Office when the fetus tested positive for the drug, according to reports in The Fresno Bee. Fagundes charged her with murder. Perez, however, took a plea deal. Now 32, she is serving an 11-year sentence in state prison for voluntary manslaughter—the first time in decades that a charge of this kind ended in jail time.  The unprecedented charges against Becker and Perez have alarmed pregnancy advocates, medical professionals, drug policy organizations, and civil rights groups across the country."

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STORY: "She was charged with murder after her baby was stillborn. Now California's AG has stepped in. A dangerous precedent," by reporter Tarpley Hill, published by The Daily Beast on August 8, 2020. (Tarpley Hitt is a Los Angeles-based reporter at The Daily Beast, covering internet culture, entertainment, and courts.)

GIST: "For more than nine months, five of them during a global pandemic, a 26-year-old woman named Chelsea Becker has been sitting in Kings County Jail, under a $2 million bail, for giving birth to a stillborn baby.

Becker has been there since November, when police arrested her and prosecutors charged her with murder. The District Attorney argued that Becker’s methamphetamine addiction had caused the stillbirth, citing a 50-year-old law that civil rights advocates say was never supposed to apply to pregnant women. It has put Becker at the heart of a national debate over criminalizing fetal death. 

On Friday, however, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra intervened. In an amicus brief to end the case against Becker, Becerra argued the prosecution’s legal interpretation would lead to “absurd—and constitutionally questionable—results.”
“We believe the law was misapplied and misinterpreted,” Becerra said in a statement about the brief. “Our laws in California do not convict women who suffer the loss of their pregnancy, and in our filing today we are making clear that this law has been misused to the detriment of women, children, and families.” 

Back in September, Becker, then 25, was eight and a half months pregnant when she thought her water broke, only to discover it was blood. Becker’s mother called an ambulance to her home in the San Joaquin Valley, according to The Los Angeles Times. Three hours later, Becker gave birth in Adventist Health Hanford hospital to a boy with no pulse, whom she had planned to name Zachariah.

Suspicious that the fetus suffered from drug exposure, hospital employees alerted the Kings County Medical Examiner’s Office, which conducted an autopsy. The exam found methamphetamine in the fetus’ system, a Times report states, that amounted to more than five times the level thought to be toxic. They ruled the case a homicide. 
Becker had grown up in Hanford, a working class town in Kings County, that serves as a trading hub in the agrarian San Joaquin Valley. The nearly half Hispanic town recently made headlines when 183 meatpacking workers came down with COVID-19. According to the Census Bureau, 18 percent of residents live below the poverty line. Before the pandemic, county unemployment levels hovered at 7.9 percent—they have since soared to 14.6 percent.

Becker told the Times that as a teen, she spent some time living with her father in Minnesota, where she became addicted to methamphetamine. She came home to Hanford at 19, where she had two other children, both of whom were removed from her care.

In early November, prosecutors charged Becker with murder, holding the mother on a $5 million bail, later reduced to $2 million. Their case hinged on an amendment, passed in 1970, to the state’s murder statute: Penal Code section 187. Earlier that year, the California Supreme Court had overturned the murder conviction of man who had assaulted his pregnant wife, causing the death of their fetus. The code, the court had concluded, only addressed the killing of “a human being,” making the man ineligible for a murder charge. In response, the legislature amended the statute to include the “unlawful killing” of a “fetus.” That was the language prosecutors seized on to charge Becker with murder.

“The conduct of the defendant resulted in the death of a fetus, which is a crime in California,” said District Attorney Keith Fagundes told The Los Angeles Times. He did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on Saturday.

At her arraignment, Becker pleaded not guilty, and later filed a motion calling the code’s application to a pregnant woman unconstitutional. The amendment had been made to protect victims of domestic violence, Becker’s lawyers argued, not criminalize women who miscarried, had stillbirths, or sought abortions. “Penal Code 187(b)(3) by its own plain terms,” they wrote, “precludes the prosecution of a woman for the consensual acts in which she may engage while pregnant.”

Becker’s attorney, Roger Nuttall, and Becerra did not immediately return requests for comment. 

“Ms. Becker had experienced a stillbirth that the prosecutor claims (without scientific basis) was caused by her methamphetamine use during pregnancy,” the National Advocates for Pregnant Women wrote in a statement on Becker’s case. “Ms. Becker was charged with this crime despite the fact that §187 does not authorize, nor has it ever been interpreted to authorize prosecution of a woman in relation to her own pregnancy or any outcome of a pregnancy.”

In the decades since 1970, California prosecutors have tried to charge women for stillbirths, but none has secured a conviction until 2018, when another woman was arrested for the same crime in the same town of Hanford.

Like Becker, Adora Perez was in her late 20s and addicted to methamphetamine when she gave birth to a stillborn baby at Adventist Health. Also like Becker, hospital employees alerted the Medical Examiner’s Office when the fetus tested positive for the drug, according to reports in The Fresno Bee.

Fagundes charged her with murder. Perez, however, took a plea deal. Now 32, she is serving an 11-year sentence in state prison for voluntary manslaughter—the first time in decades that a charge of this kind ended in jail time.

The unprecedented charges against Becker and Perez have alarmed pregnancy advocates, medical professionals, drug policy organizations, and civil rights groups across the country. In April, the American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief in support of Becker. The same day, a coalition of 15 organizations, from the Drug Policy Alliance to California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, filed another.

“Broadly accepted medical, public health, and scientific evidence supports the Legislature’s drafting of the statute to avoid criminalizing women with respect to their pregnancies,” the coalition wrote. “Pregnancy and use of controlled substances is a medical and public health issue, not an issue that should be subject to state intervention and control.”

Attempts to criminalize pregnant women who suffer from addiction have backfired in the past. In 2014, Tennessee passed a wildly controversial bill, attempting to target what they called “fetal assault.” The bill allowed prosecutors to bring charges against women with drug addictions, if their fetuses were born still or disabled. It proved so polarizing that it was given a two-year trial phase and then, in 2016, deemed a failure and discontinued. “As a result of the law,” the National Advocates for Pregnant Women wrote in a statement, “women steered clear of prenatal care and drug treatment and avoided delivering their babies in hospital settings.”

Nevertheless in June, the superior court denied Becker’s motion to have the case declared unconstitutional. The next month, she filed a writ of prohibition––a motion to stop the court proceedings––arguing that “a woman cannot be prosecuted for murder as a result of her own omissions or actions that might result in pregnancy loss.” In his amicus brief on her case, Becerra agreed: “The superior court erred in concluding otherwise.”

“The Legislature’s purpose in adding the killing of a fetus to Penal Code section 187 was not to punish women who do not—or cannot, because of addiction or resources—follow best practices for prenatal health,” Becerra wrote. “The courts should not assume that the Legislature intended such a sweeping and invasive change to the criminal law affecting women’s lives without clear evidence of that intent. And such evidence is absent here.”

The entire story can be read at:
https://www.thedailybeast.com/chelsea-becker-was-charged-with-murder-after-her-baby-was-stillborn-californias-ag-has-now-stepped-in

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Read MS Magazine Story: "Policing and punishing pregnant women: The Case of Chelsea Becker" by Carrie N. Baker,  at the link below:

PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "Becker is represented by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), with the support of national and state medical, public health and policy organizations, who have filed an amicus brief arguing for Becker’s release. The groups include the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, National Women’s Health Network, and Our Bodies Ourselves. They argue that substance use disorders are medical conditions, not criminal behavior. “The unequivocal consensus among virtually every other medical or public health organization in the United States is that use of controlled substances by a woman during the course of her pregnancy is a medical and public health issue, not an issue that should be subject to state intervention and control,” says the brief. The threat of criminal prosecution in fact endangers maternal and fetal health, they argue, by deterring women from obtaining treatment and prenatal care. Diaz-Tello agrees. “If people are afraid that when they seek medical help that they are going to be turned over to law enforcement, that’s going to deter people from seeking that help,” Diaz-Tello told Ms.""

PASSAGE TWO OF THE DAY: 


"Becker is one of hundreds of women who have been arrested and prosecuted nationwide after experiencing miscarriages or stillbirths on a range of charges, including fetal assault, child abuse and chemical endangerment.  Last year, Alabama prosecutors charged Marshae Jones with manslaughter after someone shot her in the stomach while pregnant. NAPW founder and president Lynn M. Paltrow has documented 413 such arrests in 44 states and the District of Columbia between 1972 and 2005—84 percent of which involved drug use. She estimates that another 900 arrests have happened since then, although few cases result in successful prosecution because it is difficult to prove what causes a miscarriage or still birth."
https://msmagazine.com/2020/08/10/policing-and-punishing-pregnant-women-the-case-of-chelsea-becker/

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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;
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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;
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Monday, August 10, 2020

Julius Jones: Rodney Reed; James Dailey; 'Rain Magazine' Jason Flom - creator of the excellent 'Wrongful Conviction' podcast - on the U.S. justice system, with reference to these cases and the role played by Kim Kardashian in raising awareness of them...“That’s why when people say the system is broken, it’s not broken. It’s functioning the way it was designed. We have to recognize that in order to properly address the problem.”


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "The Rodney Reed case is absolutely insane. The real killer has confessed. He was convicted of a similar crime and served ten years in prison. He was a cop. He was the only person that was with her at the time of her death. That’s been proven. The forensics have been proven. We had Dr. Michael (Baden) on the podcast, arguably the most respected forensic pathologist in the country, who said that it is a medical and scientific certainty that Rodney did not kill, could not kill Stacy Stites. She was white, he was black. She was engaged to a cop. It was Texas. There you go. 
I would ask anyone to listen to the podcast that we did on the case and give me another theory. I hope they also take away from it the same thing I do. It’s an almost ethereal nature of these human beings who we have locked away for crimes that they have not committed. They exude this grace that is disarming."

INTERVIEW: "Wrongful Conviction," An Interview with Jason Flom," conducted by Mark Benjamin, published by 'Rain Magazine' on August 7, 2020.  RAIN magazine is an independent biannual print magazine published in New York.

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INTRODUCTION: "Jason Flom is the CEO of Lava Records and former Chairman of Atlantic Records where he first jumped into the music industry in 1979. He has since worked with and signed artists such as Katy Perry, Lorde, Jessie J, and Kid Rock. But it’s the good fight that Flom has been quietly fighting over the past nearly thirty years that has made him an unsuspecting hero in the fight against wrongful incarceration in the United States.  In partnership with the legal community, Flom has been instrumental in getting countless innocent people out of prison. Perhaps the most recent high profile case was that of Rodney Reed. Flom worked with Kim Kardashian to raise awareness of the case in light of exonerating evidence. A nail-biting saga, there were only days remaining when the state of Texas decided to halt his execution. We spoke with Flom by phone about the U.S. justice system, his podcast, “Wrongful Conviction,” and how we can all educate ourselves to become better jurors and ultimately better citizens.


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Mark Benjamin: How did you become initially interested in the first case you were involved in, the case of Steven Lennon?
Jason Flom: This story caught my attention because like a lot of people, I’m fascinated by drugs and prison. I had read an article in the paper and it threw my entire sense of fairness and equity out the window. In a nutshell, Steven was a first time nonviolent drug offender. His crime was possession of cocaine, not a small amount of cocaine…something like 4.2 ounces. So, several thousand dollars worth, but he wasn’t caught selling, he was caught possessing it. There was no violence, no history of drugs, nothing. No guns, no weapons. 
He had been sentenced to 15 years to life prison. He had been in for eight years already. He happened to be the same age as I was at the time. He was thirty-two. I had substance abuse issues myself as a kid. This is the type of thing that was as they say, ‘the wrong place at the wrong time.’ I kept reading the article and rereading it and not understanding because I’m thinking, ‘how can you go to prison for fifteen years mandatory for a nonviolent first offense?’ I thought I had to do something about it if I could. I was so naive that I thought I could. 
So the mother, Shirley, was in the article and so I looked her up in the phonebook. I offered to help. I told her, ‘I  would like to send some money. I don’t have a lot of money, but I’ll send you what I have. Maybe you can get a new lawyer.’ She said, ‘well, we’ve exhausted all of our appeals. Our last hope was clemency from the governor.’ So, I called the only criminal defense attorney I knew, a guy named Bob Kallina. 
He represented two of the artists that I had signed: Stone Temple Pilots and Skid Row. Since they were getting arrested frequently, I had Bob on speed dial. I asked Bob to take a look at the case. Even though he said it was hopeless, he agreed to take it pro bono as a favor to me. Long story short, six months later, we ended up in a courtroom in New York where Steven was led in shackles, as if he was a serial killer, and I sat there holding Shirley’s hand. Her husband Stan was there with us.
We were the only people in the courtroom. The judge who presided struck me just from appearances. He was an old conservative man…giant white hair, the whole thing. The arguments went back and forth and the judge banged the gavel down and said, ‘the motion is granted.’
He sent Steven home. And I just thought, ‘wow, that’s the most amazing feeling I’ve ever had.’ That’s how it all got started.

MB: Have you seen this series “Defending Jacob” on Apple TV? It’s with Jaeden Martell who we featured in our latest issue. I like the series because it opens a lot of people’s eyes that maybe don’t know or haven’t been exposed to the American justice system. It’s not this blind lady with the scales of justice. It’s more of a battle of winning and losing. 
We live in a country where 1% of the population is incarcerated at any given time. That rate is five to ten times higher than other countries. How do you feel about the justice system as it currently stands?
JF: Yeah, that show was great. I don’t even have strong enough words to say how I feel about it. It’s in need of a total overhaul. I’ve been able to work with a lot of different organizations. They call it a disastrous failed social policy experiment. Everyone knows now, thanks to Michelle Alexander, and other brilliant thought leaders in the space, that this is a just a continuation of slavery. It’s driven by an economic engine…


SLAVE LABOR:

MB: Like these publicly traded prison system companies?
JF: It’s an $8 billion industry, right? Funded by taxpayers and funneling money into pockets of big corporations and wealthy people. I often ask people to check their portfolios and make sure that they don’t have funds that own stock in corporations that profit off of human caging. There are a lot of them and they need to be held accountable now. Many different aspects of the system are designed to hurt people. They’re not designed to rehabilitate, they’re not designed for public safety. They’re not designed for any sort of benefit to society. It’s designed for cruelty and profit, and that’s it. That’s why when people say the system is broken, it’s not broken. It’s functioning the way it was designed. We have to recognize that in order to properly address the problem, right? 
There’s a very little known fact that, as woke as your readers are, I would bet that most of them don’t know that slavery is not illegal in America. It’s only illegal in one state, Colorado. It passed a referendum last year outlawing slavery. Everyone thinks it was outlawed in 1865 but what happened was, as a concession to southerners when they abolished slavery, they said it was only illegal for free people. So, of course what happened then is that all over the South, they went around arresting any black person they could find for loitering, or not carrying identifications, or even not having a job was a crime. 
“The interactions I’ve had with these people who have normal lives until everything turns upside down, through no fault of their own, have been some of the most profound interactions I’ve ever had. The courage and the spirit and the resilience of these people puts gratitude in my attitude every day.”
They created all of these excuses to lock people up so they could take advantage of the slave labor. Particularly in Texas where sugar cane was all picked by incarcerated black people. The mortality rate, I think, was 4% a year. There was convict leasing…it’s a really gruesome history and it goes on to this day and there are many major corporations, some of whom we would consider to be progressive companies who take advantage of slave labor. People can be paid 4 cents an hour or $2 a day or a dollar an hour. Most places it’s more than that, something like 19 cents an hour. It’s all insane.
So by establishing my podcast, “Wrongful Conviction,” which has now grown to levels I never expected, it’s an attempt to educate the public. If they end up on juries, they’ll be more likely to understand what’s really happening in this theater of the mind that is the courtroom.

DRUGS:

JF: This year there’s a chance in Oregon that a new law will be passed that will not have people arrested for any sort of drug possession. 
MB: Considering this country just got over its worst drug addiction ever where millions died and millions more had their lives ruined with opioids which were legally prescribed…it makes you wonder who these laws are protecting?
JF: It’s also important to recognize that drugs are both the pretext and the excuse for police. Why did they go into Breonna Taylor’s house? Because they were ‘looking for drugs,’ right? There weren’t any. Then what did they say after George Floyd’s murder? They say, ‘Oh, he had drugs in his system.’ 
Drugs are always the thing that the law enforcement falls back on. It’s like the boogeyman to justify that horrid behavior towards citizens. Drugs are and always have been and always will be a part of society. I don’t do drugs. My kids don’t do drugs, but I did when I was a kid. I believe that part of the reason I did them was because they were illegal and because it was a risky behavior. Cavemen smoked pot and children run around in circles until they’re dizzy. People like that feeling and they’re going to find a way to get them. That’s never going to change. When you start to look at the drug war, it has actually done so much more damage than drugs themselves. When you look at destabalizing of governments to narco terrorism, locking up generations of people, destroying families, trillions of dollars spent. It’s madness. In countries like Portugal where they decriminalized drugs, usage went down because it’s no longer cool. 

THE LEGAL JUSTICE SYSTEM:

MB: Justice system reform has become a hot topic in the national political debate especially with recent events. How do you see your podcast, “Wrongful Conviction,” playing a part?
JF: Let me just say this. I have been very privileged to spend time with some of the most extraordinary people on the planet. Many of the people I would put into the highest category of the most amazing, courageous, and interesting people I’ve met are the exonerees themselves. I’ve hung out with the biggest rock stars and most prominent political leaders and all kinds of people. But the interactions I’ve had with these people who have normal lives until everything turns upside down, through no fault of their own, have been some of the most profound interactions I’ve ever had. The courage and the spirit and the resilience of these people puts gratitude in my attitude every day. 
We all have so much to learn from them. I love telling stories and I love interviewing people and I love talking, as you can tell. The idea that I could create a podcast where I could tell these individual human stories which change perceptions was a no brainer. The good news is that because of my long history in this movement and with helping and working with people who are innocent both inside and outside prison, affords me a level of trust that few others have. I’m able to have them come in and share their stories in a way that really touches people. For me, that was number one. 
“I am firmly opposed to the death penalty in all cases. I think for anyone who’s not opposed, I would ask them to ask themselves the question, ‘what percentage of innocent people is it okay to execute?’”
Number two is in the telling of these stories. Everyone knows that human beings respond more to individual stories than statistics. I thought if we can get these stories out there to people in large numbers, then we will, in my definition, be improving the system because everyone who listens to the podcast and everyone who’s reading this article is someday going to get a jury summons. And when they do, they’re going to be confronted with all kinds of cases. Some of them will be holding somebody’s life in their hands. Some will be shown a bunch of bullshit, and they will hopefully recognize some of the tricks and some of the problems and pitfalls and everything else that goes into wrongful conviction. 
The people that listen to my podcast will understand how to identify a false confession and how to better understand if someone might be lying about what they claim to be a scientific fact. We’re getting ready to launch a new podcast called, “Wrongful Conviction: Junk Science.” We address this. They’ll be able to recognize when a defense attorney is underprepared and overworked or incompetent or drunk. They’ll be able to understand that 80% of the judges in our country are former prosecutors. 
MB: It’s a revolving door.
JF: They’re not there to uphold the bedrock principle of innocent until proven guilty. Too often, it goes by the wayside. The fact that in America they’re allowed to lie when they interrogate you. That’s how a lot of false confessions happen. They lie to you. They can bribe you with some offer of leniency. 
That’s why I started the podcast. I’m very thrilled that it has reached over 15 million listeners and I’ve seen feedback from people. I know that we’ve had influence in a couple of cases. 

PARTNERING WITH KIM KARDASHIAN FOR GOOD

MB: One of the interesting aspects of you being in the position of a music executive exposed to entertainment and celebrity is that you’re able to bring certain voices in to amplify your message like Kim Kardashian. I wonder, did you inspire her to get a law degree?
JF: Kim has been a fabulous force for change. She is deeply committed. We’re working on a cannabis felony case together now; the case of Julius Jones in Oklahoma. She is tireless, passionate, super informed, and she’s smart. She’s been on my podcast twice and I’ll never forget the first time when I met her. She’s arguably the most famous woman in the world. She showed up to the studio on time, no drama, no entourage…sweet as could be and ready to go to work. It was an awesome experience all the way around. She helped bring attention to so many cases.

MB: I want to ask you about the Rodney Reed case. This man was almost murdered by the state of Texas. There’s evidence, to my understanding, that was not shown to the jury at the time of his trial that could have exonerated him or at least provided him with a mistrial. You and Kim were one of the reasons that case got so much media attention. Why is he still in jail?
JF: Kim was deeply involved in that case, too. We worked together on that case. It’s a disgusting case. It’s our system at its worst. I am firmly opposed to the death penalty in all cases. I think for anyone who’s not opposed, I would ask them to ask themselves the question, ‘what percentage of innocent people is it okay to execute?’
The death penalty needs to go. Every western nation has eradicated it a long time ago. We know that mistakes are made over and over again. Look at Florida with the James Dailey case. He’s going to be executed and he’s one hundred percent innocent. I did a podcast about it. He’s been on death row for thirty-five years. He’s a military veteran. No criminal record. He’s either going to be the hundredth person executed by the state of Florida or the 30th exonerated from death row. 
“That’s why when people say the system is broken, it’s not broken. It’s functioning the way it was designed. We have to recognize that in order to properly address the problem.”
The Rodney Reed case is absolutely insane. The real killer has confessed. He was convicted of a similar crime and served ten years in prison. He was a cop. He was the only person that was with her at the time of her death. That’s been proven. The forensics have been proven. We had Dr. Michael Bodden on the podcast, arguably the most respected forensic pathologist in the country, who said that it is a medical and scientific certainty that Rodney did not kill, could not kill Stacy Stites. She was white, he was black. She was engaged to a cop. It was Texas. There you go. 
I would ask anyone to listen to the podcast that we did on the case and give me another theory. I hope they also take away from it the same thing I do. It’s an almost ethereal nature of these human beings who we have locked away for crimes that they have not committed. They exude this grace that is disarming. 

STRIKING A BALANCE

MB: I want to ask you because you have this interesting serious side working in this space. It’s pretty scary and uncomfortable. Then you have this other side of your life which is full of joy and fun like working in pop music. How do you balance yourself mentally juggling the two?
“It is also true that when my phone rings, it’s as likely to be someone calling me from death row as it is someone calling me from Spotify.”
JF: I don’t know. I’m very lucky to be able to have this sort of yin and yang. They seem to blend together. They have for a long time. New music still excites me. We’ll be launching a new artist into the world, somegirlnamedanna, which is all one word, no capitals. 
We’re about to launch her debut single at the end of this month. I just think she’s so wonderful. She’s a beautiful singer and writer and person. It’s going to be a very joyous experience getting her music out there into the world and she’s also someone who wants to make a difference. It does work together. I don’t know how. I also have a children’s book of course, called “Lulu is a Rhinoceros.” Do you know about that?
MB: No, I had no idea. 
JF: Yeah, I wrote a children’s book a couple of years ago with my daughter, Allison. It’s about a rhinoceros trapped in a bulldog’s body. So it’s about her struggle to find love and acceptance in a world where she is judged by her physical appearance instead of what’s in her heart. It’s a contemporaneous topic. We just finished the second book and we’re working on an animated TV series which is super exciting. 
And so, yeah, somehow or another, it all balances out, but it is also true that when my phone rings, it’s as likely to be someone calling me from death row as it is someone calling me from Spotify. It goes full circle. 
I’m just really grateful to be able to make a difference. To put just a tiny bit more fairness into a terribly unfair system."?

The entire interview can be read at:
https://rain-mag.com/wrongful-conviction-an-interview-with-jason-flom/

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;
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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;
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