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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Manufactured crimes

Radley Balko has an explosive article published last week at Reason on the uncovering of manufactured evidence in the cases of death row convicts by two medical examiners.

The article, Manufacturing Guilt, (warning - the article contains some images and video that may be disturbing to readers) is centered around the case of a man, Jimmie Duncan, who has been convicted of raping and murdering a 23-month-old girl and sits on death row in Louisiana as a result. Originally he had been charged with negligent homicide (he says he had left her in the bathtub and came back to find her drowned there), but his charges were increased when bite marks were found on her cheek. The medical examiners who found the marks, West and Hayne, have a shady past, and it's just gotten a whole lot more questionable.

Don't ask me how, but Reason somehow got a hold of a 24-minute video that shows one of these medical examiners methodically and deliberately pressing a plaster cast of Duncan's teeth into the girl's face, creating the bite marks used to increase the charges and as evidence in Duncan's conviction.

In spite of this, Duncan is still waiting on death row.

Two other men convicted on rape and murder charges based on bite mark analysis by the same medical examiners were released (one from death row) after 30 years in prison when DNA evidence exonerated them and found the real criminal (who confessed to both crimes.) These examiners have carried an impossibly high case load for the states of Mississippi and Louisiana and are responsible for thousands of forensic medical examinations over the past 20 years.

It's unclear why either state would continue to employ these men almost exclusively in spite of questions about their work, including a recommendation for expulsion of the bite mark analyst from the American  Academy of Forensic Sciences by their own ethics board. (edit: As Grant points out in the comments, it's likely a result of politicization of the legal process leading to pressure to make the arrests and close the cases so that your system looks like it's dealing with the crime problem that would lead any department to look the other way so long as they get their conviction. Still, though, this seems over the top.)

The article is, as I've written, explosive, and can be read here. Again, though, be aware of the nature of the images and video on the site before visiting.

Posted by Janet Neilson on February 24, 2009 | Permalink


It would seem Dr. Charles Smith is not alone.

People who manufacture evidence in capital cases should face the death penalty themselves. And officials who retain such malefactors in their employ without following up on substantive claims of misconduct should be fired for negligence, minus pension.

Science is a wonderful discipline, but it's not a crystal ball. Evidence can be imperfect even when it isn't false, and so-called "junk science" is rampant, because many scientists have private ends to serve which often do not become evident until much later. As with most things, the quickest way to the truth is to follow the money.

Remember, scientists are the ones telling us our cities will be underwater within our lifetimes, even though mean sea level has risen all of eight inches in the last hundred years. Of course, it was also scientists who, in 1900, calculated that by 2000, there would be no trees left in North America, and in the 1960s, predicted that by the 1980s the entire world would starving to death.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-24 2:54:03 PM

"It's unclear why either state would continue to employ these men almost exclusively in spite of questions about their work..."

Um, Janet, it's not unclear at all. Righteous zeal coupled with (anti-male) ideology, inflamed by incompetence and self-interest - everyone from the police officers to the prosecutors get promotions for convictions - explains all. It's the same mentality that resulted in Karla Homolka being excused of first-degree murder because she was a "battered woman." It's the same mentality that feuled the career of disgraced pathologist Asshole Smith.

Anyone who still thinks that the legal system is non-political, and coldly logical and analytical, is borderline delusional. Where sex crimes, or crimes against women and children, are concerned, objectivity has been thrown out the window long ago. Nine of the most famous 11 wrongful convictions in Canada, starting with Steven Truscott, were crimes committed by men against women or children. The rush to judgment is unseemly, and if fabrication of evidence helps, nobody is going to feel sorry for the accused.

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2009-02-24 2:55:58 PM

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