Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Book Review: 'Smoke but no fire: Convicting the Innocent of Crimes that Never Happened,' by Prof. Jessica S. Henry; Department of Justice Studies. Montclair State University..."This important book fills a gaping vacuum in criminal justice literature by, as she put it, "being the first to identify and explore no-crime wrongful convictions, how they happen, and what can be done to reduce their occurrence."

BOOK REVIEW: 'Smoke but No Fire: Convicting the Innocent of Crimes that Never Happened," by Prof. Jessica S. Henry. Department of Justice Studies. Montclair State University, University of California Press.

Professor Jessica Henry has picked a very good title  for her book on convicting the innocent of crimes that haven't happened: "Smoke but no fire."

I was thrilled to learn that her book was under way because of my interest in the dozens of  Charles Smith cases all of which, except one, involved innocent, loving parents and caregivers who had been charged with crimes which existed only in the mind of the now discredited pathologist -  and the police and prosecutors who clung to his perverse opinions rather than rolling up their sleeves and seeking real  evidence.

(In that  one  case in which a murder had actually been committed, the mother was wrongly accused of killing her daughter  on the basis of Smith's flawed opinion - in spite of her insistence that the daughter  must have been murdered by the babysitter, which ultimately proved to be the case.)

This important  book fills a glaring vacuum in criminal justice literature by, as she put it, "being the first to identify  and explore no-crime  wrongful convictions, how they happen, and what can be done to reduce their occurrence."

I applaud Prof. Henry for making us aware of the shocking  reality  that  nearly one third of all known exonerations involving people wrongly accused of crimes that never happened - and that  these exonerations may be the proverbial  tip of the iceberg because most people wrongly convicted in no-crime cases are not fortunate enough to be cleared.

Prof. Henry also makes clear the difference between the popular understanding  of a wrongful conviction, where the wrong person was convicted of a  crime committed by someone else - and the 'no-crime' wrongful convictions which involve innocent people convicted of crimes that did not happen in the first place.

"Once an event is initially labeled a crime, a self-fulfilling prophesy begins," she explains. " If a crime was committed, then someone must have committed the crime. The original  criminal misdesignation sets into motion a process that ends  with the conviction  of an innocent person  for a crime that never occurred."

One of the major achievements of 'Smoke without fire," is  that Professor Henry paints a  picture of the entire breadth of no crime-cases, ranging from police mislabeling suicide as murder, medical personnel mislabeling natural deaths as caused by abuse  or intentions, turning accidental fires into arson,  flawed drug field tests, false complaints, mass hysteria, as in the satanic ritual prosecutions, forensic and police corruption and the list goes on and on, with numerous examples and very helpful footnotes.

Readers if this Blog  will be familiar with many of the cases beautifully illustrated  by Prof. Henry, such as Rodricus Crawford, Cameron Todd Willingham, Audrey Edmunds, Sabrina Butler, Gary Dotson, Fran and Dan Keller, Leigh Stubbs and Tammy Vance - as well as references to some of the villains that have turned up on the pages of this Blog such as Mississippi dentist Michael West, Annie Dookhan, Sonja Farak, Jonathan Salvador  Anna Romero and Fred Zain.

I am grateful to Prof. Henry for drawing my attention to many other cases  of which I was previously unaware, in this highly readable, informative  book, with stimulating analysis of the causal factor underlying no-crime wrongful charges and convictions, including tunnel vision,  cognitive bias,  confirmation bias and noble cause corruption.

Prof. Henry struck a strong chord with me with her depiction of the"all too real"  impact of of wrongful convictions in no-crime convictions  because of my appreciation of how a loving, grieving parent (or caregiver)  must have felt to be charged  with the child's murder -  as a result of the twisted testimony of former Doctor Charles Smith - a 'no-crime' prosecution with the most horrific  consequences imaginable.

As Professor Henry points out: "Yet, despite the absence of a crime, people are convicted. In more serious cases, men and women endure months or years locked in filthy, overly hot or cold steel cages, in violent and hostile conditions, separated from family and friends, labeled a felon and a monster. In some no-crime cases, innocent people have even been executed."

Those last six words are horrifying. Perhaps that can be Prof. Henry's next book.

Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog.


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;