Author Archives: Phil Locke

Defendant in Coldest Case Ever “Solved” Appeals His Conviction

In September, 2012, Jack McCullough was convicted of a murder committed in 1957.  The conviction was based largely upon an eyewitness identification made 53 years after the crime by a woman who was 8 years old at the time of the crime.  The unreliability of eye witness identifications has been well documented; but 53 years after the crime, and by an 8 year old?!

In addition, if you read about the exculpatory evidence that the judge ruled McCullough was not allowed to present at trial, including an alibi and the fact that he had been cleared by investigators, you have to believe he has a case.

See the CNN story and video here.

Louisville to Pay Whistleblower Cop $450,000

Louisville Metro Government has agreed to pay $450,000 to former police detective Barron Morgan who says he was demoted to patrol officer on the graveyard shift for trying to help an imprisoned woman prove her innocence on a homicide charge.

” … after Kentucky State Police, who had investigated the 1998 murder, complained that Morgan was assisting the Innocence Project, a Louisville police commander “cursed” him and he was ordered to stop cooperating.”

Read The Courier-Journal story here.

 

Wrongful Liberty – A Tragic Consequence of Wrongful Conviction

You’ve heard us mention a number of times on this blog that when a wrongful conviction occurs, this leaves the real perpetrator free to keep committing crimes.  I’m sure everyone nods their head, and agrees that’s a terrible thing.  However, it isn’t until one quantifies what that really means, and brings some specificity to it, that you can begin to comprehend how tragic it really is.

At the current National Innocence Network Conference, I had the opportunity (yesterday) to hear a presentation by Prof. Frank Baumgartner of the University of North Carolina about the work he’s done in documenting what he calls “wrongful liberty.”  Wrongful liberty is exactly the situation described above – a wrongful conviction occurs, an innocent person is sent to prison, and the real perpetrator remains free to commit more crimes.

In future, you will continue to hear from me a constant drumbeat about the need for more data to effect meaningful legislative reform – and what Prof. Baumgartner has done is brilliant.  He has undertaken to actually document the crimes committed by true perpetrators of a crime, for which there was a wrongful conviction, during the period from when the wrongful conviction occurred to when the true perpetrator was eventually arrested.

This data creates a compelling case for criminal justice reform, because it expands the reasoning from “just” an injustice to an innocent, wrongfully convicted person to an argument that includes a very real public safety issue.

The work, so far, has been limited to the state of North Carolina, and has been further limited by the availability of appropriate data.  But I am optimistic and hopeful that this effort can, and will, be expanded to a national level.  This is a winning argument.

You can read Prof. Baumgartner’s paper here:  WrongfulLiberty2014

Bronx Prosecutor Scolded and Barred From Courtroom for Misconduct

Assistant District Attorney Megan Teesdale was banished from Bronx Judge John Wilson’s courtroom after failing to reveal evidence that would have freed a man held at Rikers Island on bogus rape charges.

“To my mind, this is an utter and complete disgrace — not just for you, but for your office in general,” Bronx Criminal Court Judge John Wilson told Bronx assistant district attorney Megan Teesdale before dismissing the case on March 21.

“This situation, while egregious, reflects a larger problem endemic to our criminal justice system,” said Segundo’s attorney, Robyn Mar of the Bronx Defenders.

Brady violations often go unpunished within city District Attorney’s offices, according to lawyer Joel Rudin.

Read the full NY Daily News story here.

The Trouble With Shaken Baby Syndrome

Here is yet another heart-rending story about how a child abuse pediatrician’s blind dedication to the mistaken medical dogma of Shaken Baby Syndrome tore apart the lives of innocent parents and their children, and brought them to financial ruin.

Read the Seattle Met Magazine story here.

Former Judge Blows the Whistle on Police and Prosecutors

Stuart Namm was a judge in Suffolk County, NY.  When he became suspicious of, and started questioning, actions by police and prosecutors in criminal cases he became the victim of political reprisal and personal intimidation that ultimately forced him off the bench.

This quote from a recent Long Island Newsday story about Judge Namm both provides a “bottom line” to the story, and also echoes points that have been previously stated on this blog about the problems with politically elected prosecutors and judges (see here):

For Namm, the moral of his story is that elected trial judges are too compromised by politics to speak out against injustices they see.  ‘What happened in Suffolk County happened because trial judges are elected in the political system,’ he said. His fellow judges wouldn’t get involved because they were worried about the need to get re-elected, he said. And after how his tenure ended, he said they were right to be worried.”

Read the Long Island Newsday story here.

The Child Abuse Pediatrician (CAP) – Just Another Term for Medical “Cop”

CAP Ethics

A new paper has recently been published by George Barry and Diane Redleaf of the Family Defense Center in Chicago.  The paper, titled  Medical Ethics Concerns in Physical Child Abuse Investigations, explores and reveals the extent of breeches of medical ethics by child abuse medical investigators (CAP’s).

This paper is a prodigious work, including five detailed case studies.

The title of Section I of Part III conveys the theme of the paper: “Physicians Have an Ethical Obligation Not to Become Law Enforcement Officers.”  And here is an excerpt from the Executive Summary:  “We submit, in this Paper, that this system of child abuse investigation and medical assessment is failing the children and families. We also submit that the failings are due at least in part to practices that are ethically questionable at best, or plainly unethical at worst. The harm of these practices occurs because, while the child may quickly recover from a toddler fracture, nursemaid’s elbow or subdural hematoma that is called in to child protection authorities as suspicious, the trauma families have experienced at the hands of the child protection system does not fade quickly or ever entirely disappear. Moreover, the Center is able to represent only a tiny fraction of the wrongly accused family members in medically complex cases and resources like the Center provides are not available to the vast majority of family members who encounter the child protection and medical care establishment in these cases. Unfortunately, we see little sign that the child protection and medical care establishment are addressing in a meaningful way the harmful impact of erroneous child abuse reports that have resulted from questionable ethical practices that this Paper documents. Indeed, for reasons this Paper documents, we believe that the medical profession has turned a blind eye to the treatment of children and families who are the victims of misplaced child abuse allegations and we are concerned about developments in the handling of medically complex allegations that make these problems worse, not better.”

Don’t get me wrong.  Child abuse is a horrific thing, but equally, if not more, horrific is when when innocent parents and care givers get thrown into prison or separated from their children for a child abuse “crime” they did not commit, and that did not ever happen.  This is a tragedy that occurs all too often when a medical diagnosis is made that does not recognize the new scientific understandings regarding symptoms that have traditionally (and wrongly) been attributed solely to abuse.

And here’s the scary part – the CAP’s, who are basically a medical cop, as part of their training, have been indoctrinated with the American Academy of Pediatrics medical dogma concerning causation of certain symptoms (the triad and long bone fractures) that they insist are pathognomonic (exclusively indicating) of abuse.  This is what the SBS Wars is all about.

“Chid Abuse Pediatrics” was established as a pediatric sub-specialty by the American Board of Medical Specialties in 2006. This definition of the discipline is from the website of the Council of Pediatric Subspecialties (ironically known as CoPS):  “Child Abuse Pediatricians are responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of children and adolescents who are suspected victims of any form of child maltreatment. This includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, factitious illness (medical child abuse), neglect, and psychological/emotional abuse. Child Abuse Pediatricians participate in multidisciplinary collaborative work within the medical, child welfare, law enforcement, and judicial arenas as well as with a variety of community efforts. Child Abuse Pediatricians are often called to provide expert testimony in the court systems. This field offers the opportunity for involvement and leadership roles in community, regional and national advocacy, and in prevention efforts and public policy.”  (emphasis is mine).

I would contend the very existence of the child abuse pediatrician specialty becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  “I’m here to diagnose child abuse, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

This would be my advice.  If you find yourself in the situation of taking your child to the emergency room, and you find yourself talking with a child abuse pediatrician (and they probably won’t tell you they are one), consider that you are under suspicion, and you are talking to the police.  How you choose to deal with that I must leave to you.

CNN Series – Death Row Stories

DRS

Death Row Stories is a CNN Original series of one-hour documentaries unraveling the truth behind capital murder cases. Executive produced by Alex Gibney and Robert Redford and narrated by Susan Sarandon, these stories call into question various beliefs surrounding America’s justice system and the death penalty.

The series starts tonight, Sunday, March 9 at 9:00 PM EDT.

See the CNN web page here.

“Flawed Convictions – Shaken Baby Syndrome and the Inertia of Injustice”

flawed conv

Sue Luttner has posted an excellent piece on her blog OnSBS about the new book by Prof. Deborah Tuerkheimer to be released in April - Flawed Convictions – Shaken Baby Syndrome and the Inertia of Injustice.

Please see Sue’s post here.

This book will be a must read for any involved in the SBS debate.

Prosecutor Misconduct in the Todd Willingham Case

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 by the state of Texas for setting a fire that killed his three young children.

We’ve reported numerous times on this blog about the Cameron Todd Willingham case, and here is just one of those articles - Will Texas Admit It Executed an Innocent Man?

 It’s clear to even the casual observer of this case that Todd Wilingham was wrongfully convicted and wrongfully executed.  The State used now-debunked junk science in determining the fire that killed the Willingham children was arson.  The case is carefully documented in the award winning film Incendiary: The Willingham Case.

And now, another snake has just slithered out of the pit that the Texas justice system has made of this case.  It’s been revealed that the Willingham prosecutor, John Jackson, made a secret deal with jailhouse snitch, Johnny Webb, in return for his testimony that Willingham had confessed the crime to him in prison.  And further, that Jackson then concealed this deal from the Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons which was considering a stay of execution for Willingham.

Reported here by the Innocence Project - New Evidence Suggests Cameron Todd Willingham Prosecutor Deceived Board of Pardons and Paroles About Informant Testimony in Opposition to Stay of Execution.

Read the stories from the New York Times here, and the Manchester Guardian here.

Dog Scent Lineups – “The Worst of Junk Science”

pointerIt was just a year ago that we posted about dog scent lineups.  At the time, we called it “one of the junkiest of the junk sciences.”  This opinion is echoed in a law suit filed just this week by a Texas woman, Megan Winfrey.  Ms. Winfrey spent 6 years in prison before her murder conviction, based on a dog scent lineup, was overturned.  Her suit calls dog scent lineups “the worst of junk science.”

Interestingly, the primary defendant in Winfrey’s suit is former Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Pickett.  Pickett was identified in our earlier post as being the most infamous and notorious dog handler performing bogus dog scent lineups.  Four other officers, including the San Jacinto County Sheriff, are also named in the suit as being complicit in her wrongful conviction.

You can read the NBC News story about the Winfrey suit here, which contains a link to the actual law suit.

Yet MORE Questions About Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS)

Much has been written in recent years about the doubts that have arisen over the veracity of traditional “shaken baby syndrome” (SBS) theory.  And not only has that drumbeat continued, but it has also intensified.

The media has been awakening to the injustices visited upon too many innocent infant caregivers by a justice system and a pediatric medical establishment that have brainwashed themselves into blind, unquestioning belief in a 40 year old unsubstantiated theory.

An example of this coverage is a recent SBS case in the San Francisco bay area. Read the CBS Channel 5 San Francisco story here.

Clearly, the US has lagged behind other developed countries in its recognition of the new scientific realities regarding SBS.  Canada has been much more proactive in revisiting old SBS convictions because of new scientific knowledge.  In light of the new scientific understandings, the Ontario government ordered a comprehensive review of all SBS convictions in 2008.  See stories from the Toronto Star here and here.

This EXCELLENT article by Radley Balko for The Washington Post addresses not only the new science but also the barriers our justice system erects that prevent correction of wrongful SBS convictions.

Continue reading

Blatantly Coerced Confession Results in Conviction Reversal

Adrian Thomas was convicted of murdering his 4-month old son Matthew.  The conviction relied in part on a confession that Adrian Thomas made during a 9-hour interrogation during which he was lied to and coercively threatened by police investigators.  Despite the fact that other evidence may indicate guilt, there is no ethical, moral, or logical excuse for these police tactics.

This is a significant decision relative to false confessions.

The story from the Albany, NY Times Union follows:

Court of Appeals reverses Adrian Thomas murder conviction

Posted on February 20, 2014 | By Robert Gavin
 In a potentially landmark ruling, the state’s highest court on Thursday unanimously overturned the murder conviction of Adrian Thomas, who was convicted in 2009 of killing his 4-month-old son in Troy, and blocked his statements from any retrial.

Thomas is serving 25 years to life in Auburn Correctional Facility for second-degree murder.

Thursday’s 7-0 decision followed arguments before the Court of Appeals on Jan. 14 during which attorneys for Thomas, 31, questioned the extent that police lied to the defendant while questioning him about the condition of his son. Thomas was interviewed by Troy police for more than nine hours in what his attorney, Jerome K. Frost, said was a cruel hoax.

Police are allowed to lie to suspects, but not to  the extent that a confession is given involuntarily. To secure Thomas’ confession, a Troy police sergeant told Thomas his confession was needed to save the life of his son, Matthew, whose death was a certainty.

On Thursday, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote that evidence was sufficient to convict Thomas, but that the case must be sent back for retrial because “we conclude that defendant’s inculpating statements were not demonstrably voluntary.”

On Jan. 14, Frost told Court of Appeals that police falsely told his client 67 separate times that they knew the baby’s injuries were accidental — and 140 times that he would not be charged. A key part of Thomas’ appeal was his lawyers’ argument that the trial judge should have allowed an expert on false confessions and police interrogation techniques to testify on his client’s behalf. The judge rejected it.

“The rule is you don’t threaten a person’s vital interests, such as the freedom of his spouse, taking away his children,” Frost had argued.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court upheld Thomas’ conviction in 2012

New Data From the National Registry of Exonerations

The release of the new report (for year 2013) by the National Registry of Exonerations was recently posted on the WCB by Nancy Petro.  See her post here, which includes a link to the full text of the new report.

I’d like to reiterate that the most significant value of the Registry is that it provides hard, verifiable data on which reforms to the justice system can be based.  And anyone who studies this data can see that reforms are, indeed, sorely needed.

One of the things I find most interesting is the data that sorts out the major contributing factors to wrongful convictions.  This is a very good indicator of both the need for reform in general and the specific areas that are most ripe for reform and improvement.

I encourage you to dig through the full report on your own, but for your convenience, I’m attaching the data on major contributing factors to wrongful convictions for both years 2013 and 2012 below.

From the 2012 NRE report:

Table 13

From the 2013 NRE report:

Table 6 020414

Note that for each class of crime, the numbers add to more than 100%.  This is because any particular wrongful conviction can have more than one contributing factor, which they most often do.

Michigan Man Who Falsely Confessed Charged with Lying to Police

This one is mind boggling.

A mentally ill Lansing, Michigan man, Kosgar Lado, under interrogation by police, momentarily confessed to shooting a man.  Even though he subsequently withdrew that statement later in the interrogation, he was charged with the murder.  After further investigation, the police determined that Lado was not the shooter, and the murder charges were dropped.  But now the prosecutor has charged Lado with felony lying to the police!

Read the LSJ.com story here.

And here’s something else about this story.  The police chief commented to the media that officers went “above and beyond” in confirming that Lado was not the shooter.  B-A-L-O-N-E-Y!  The police have an official duty and an ethical obligation to pursue the facts to determine if their suspects are actually innocent.  I would say they were just doing their job.  The police are normally all too willing to determine if a suspect “might be” guilty, and then turn it over to the prosecutor; and false confessions are one of the major ways they do this.  It’s well known that the mentally ill and the mentally deficient are at high risk of making false confessions.

Thanks to WCB follower Jeremy Praay for forwarding this story.

US Seventh Circuit Rules Prosecutor Can Be Sued For Abusive Investigation and Misconduct

This is a very big deal.

The US Supreme Court had confirmed that prosecutors have absolute immunity from civil suit for their non-criminal actions as prosecutors.  This decision by the Seventh Circuit shines a very different light on the subject.

Read the story by Jonathan Turley here.

The Center for Prosecutor Integrity Announces the 2014 Innocence Summit

The Innocence Movement is gathering momentum, credibility, and clout. The Innocence Summit 2014, to be held in Washington DC, will be the first time that the issue of prosecutorial reform moves front and center to become the focus of national deliberation and debate.

Worthy of note is that among the featured speakers will be Jim and Nancy Petro.  Jim is a former Attorney General of the State of Ohio, and of course, Nancy, in addition to many other innocence related activities, is a contributing editor on this blog.  They are co-authors of the book False Justice – Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent.

Read about the 2014 Innocence Summit here.

Shaken Baby Syndrome ……. Progress for True Science?

It’s been a while since we’ve posted about SBS.  It’s a complex issue that is just not coverable in a single post.  So in case you’d like a “refresher,” or if you’re new to the topic, there are links to previous WCB posts on SBS at the end of this post.

There is new science emerging all the time in this field – science that largely disputes the classic and entrenched one-size-fits-all “triad” symptom diagnosis, along with the current views of “cause & effect” regarding triad symptoms.  There are, unfortunately, people who do shake or otherwise abuse their babies, and these babies may very well present with one or more of the triad symptoms, so they cannot be dismissed without further understanding.  However, the established medical profession (including the American Academy of Pediatrics) and the justice system (particularly prosecutors) have embraced the “triad can only mean abuse” theory of cause and effect; and they have so far refused – cogently, adamantly, and combatively – to consider giving it up.  They have turned a blind eye to much of the new understandings being created by true science.  What this means is that an alarming number of innocent people continue to get swept up in the “triad dragnet,” and sent to prison.

In my view, the medical establishment has been not just tone deaf and brain dead about accepting new findings in the area; they have put up the deflector shields and aggressively resist it.  The people who hold sway in pediatric medicine seem to have a religiously fanatic attachment to this 40 year old theory.  And the prosecutors are more than happy to go along with the medical establishment, because strict adherence to the triad theory makes for easy convictions – even though they may be wrongful.  There are lots and lots of doctors ready to testify that if triad symptoms are present, it can only be abuse.  Coupled with this is the fact that the prosecution can always afford to put more experts on the stand than the defense; thereby swaying clueless juries, because the side with more experts “must be right,” regardless of the veracity of their testimony.

Let me quote Dr. Waney Squier, a noted UK pathologist, who is one of the prominent SBS truth-seekers (writing for the journal Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology, Jan..8, 2014), “The critical issue is why, after more than 40 years, shaken baby syndrome/abusive head trauma (SBS/AHT) remains controversial.  The real controversy is over whether shaking or abuse may reliably be inferred from specific findings, classically, subdural and retinal hemorrhage with encephalopathy (the triad).”  And, “For four decades, the medical profession and the courts have largely accepted the SBS/AHT (triad) hypothesis as fact.  Today, we know that the hypothesis lacks a reliable evidentiary basis …..

The bright spots of true progress on SBS seem to come at an agonizingly and glacially slow pace — but here is one.  Reneé Bailey was convicted 13 years ago of shaking 2½ year old Brittney Sheets to death.  She has been in prison ever since.  Recently, NY State Supreme Court Justice James Piampianon granted an evidentiary hearing in the case to consider the new scientific findings regarding SBS.  This is a huge deal.  It means that at least some segment of the justice system is willing to look past the prevailing medical dogma.  Read the Rochester, NY Democrat and Chronicle story here.

And here is another recent article, this from USA Today, questioning the traditional “science” of SBS.

Science and truth will ultimately prevail, but to paraphrase Nobel physics laureate Max Planck, “Science advances one funeral at a time.”  It’s going to take time to work our way out of this modern day version of the medical dark ages, but it will happen.  As William Shakespeare penned in The Merchant of Venice, “….. at length, truth will out.”  In the meantime, I shudder to think of all the innocent people that will suffer tragic injustice until we get there.

Previous WCB SBS Posts:

The SBS Wars,  Hang Bin Li SBS Case,  Shaken Baby Science Doubts GrowSBS Expert Testimony – This HAS to Get FixedSBS Accusations – A Modern Day Witch Hunt?SBS – Politics and “Religion” vs. New ScienceDismissed Case Raises Questions on SBS DiagnosisWitnessed Baby ShakingsThe Latest in the Medical Debate Over SBSBaby Sitters and SBSMedical “Folklore” Yields Yet Another Wrongful SBS ConvictionSBS – Where Are We? – A Reality CheckSBS: Perspectives on a Controversial DiagnosisAre There Geographic “Hotspots” for SBS?

Anthony Graves, Exonerated Death Row Inmate, to File Grievance Against Former Texas Prosecutor Charles Sebesta

AGraves

Yet another case of egregious prosecutorial misconduct.

Anthony Graves was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for a gruesome multiple homicide that occurred in Somerville, TX in August of 1992.  He was ultimately exonerated and released from prison in 2010.

The prosecutor in the case, Charles Sebesta, under intense public pressure for a conviction of Graves with a death sentence, ignored all evidence pointing to his innocence,  pressed ahead, and, as the special prosecutor appointed to handle Graves’ retrial said, “Sebesta manufactured evidence, misled jurors and elicited false testimony.”  The special prosecutor laid the blame for Graves’ wrongful conviction squarely at the feet of Sebesta.

Anthony Graves and the Houston law firm of Bob Bennett & Associates will file a grievance with the Texas Bar’s Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel seeking sanctions against Sebesta for his central role in Graves’ wrongful conviction and imprisonment.

Read the case statement of facts here - Statement-of-Facts.

You can see the full press packet here.

And read the Texas Monthly story here.

Editorial PS:  I think it’s tragic that Mr. Graves has to pursue redress through the Bar Association.  He should have remedy available through the courts.

Jerome Morgan Wins New Trial in New Orleans

With the help of the New Orleans Innocence Project, Jerome Morgan, who has spent 19 years in prison for a murder termed the “sweet 16 birthday shooting,”
has been granted a new trial.

The prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence in the case, and in Judge Darryl Derbigny’s order he states, “the evidence presented before this court is wrought with deception, manipulation, and coercion by the New Orleans Police Department,” and that “such newly discovered evidence undermines the confidence of the verdict and is fit for a new jury’s judgment.”

Additionally, two prosecution witnesses have recanted, and it was also determined that Jerome had ineffective assistance of counsel.

Read the New Orleans Times-Picayune story here.