Category Archives: Editorials/Opinion

Jury Awards $36M in Wrongful Conviction Suit to Two NY Men

A jury in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, New York, yesterday awarded John Restivo, 56, and Dennis Halstead, 59, $18 million each—$1 million for every year they spent in prison—following their wrongful convictions in the 1984 rape and murder of 16-year-old Theresa Fusco. All charges had been dismissed in 2003 after DNA testing of evidence, which was conducted over ten years, excluded the men and implicated another, unidentified perpetrator.

After a four-week trial in the federal civil rights lawsuit, the jury concluded that Nassau County lead detective, Joseph Volpe, now deceased, had engaged in official misconduct, including fabrication of hair evidence and withholding of exculpatory evidence in the case. Continue reading

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

National Registry of Exonerations Records 600th Exoneration for Murder

The National Registry of Exonerations, a dynamic database of known exonerations in the United States since 1989, recently reported another noteworthy milestone: the 600th exoneration for murder. Of 1,348 known exonerations as of April 8, 2014, nearly 45 percent have been for murder. This disturbing statistic, once unimaginable to most Americans, supports the assumption that countless wrongful convictions are yet unknown and the conclusion that Americans should strongly support efforts to improve the criminal justice system.

Above all, the 600th exoneration for murder confirms the “tip of the iceberg” characterization often referenced by those who have researched known exonerations. Continue reading

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.

New Motion, Old Story: Court Urged to Vacate Conviction in 1982 Murder

A controversial case that imprisoned three men including a former Woonsocket Rhode Island police detective may see a new outcome more than thirty years after the crime. A lengthy motion filed in Superior Court by lawyers for Raymond Tempest Jr., 61, seeks to have his conviction of the 1982 murder of Doreen Picard vacated after DNA testing of a hair found in the victim’s hand proved not to be from Tempest.

For those who have studied wrongful convictions, reading the 76-page motion brings a troubling sense of déjà vu. If the motion is granted, it will be an Continue reading

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

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.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Wrongful Convictions Symposium in Chicago will Honor Rob Warden

The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern School of Law will recognize its co-founder and longtime executive director Rob Warden as a “Champion of Justice,” at a Wrongful Convictions Symposium on May 9, 2014. The Symposium—to be held at Thorne Auditorium from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m.— is described as “a celebratory event to honor Rob Warden’s quest to free the innocent.” It is free and open to the public.

Barry Scheck, Co-Founder of the Innocence Project, will be the keynote speaker. The program will also include two panel discussions and a conversation with Warden and Eric Zorn, columnist for the Chicago Tribune. A reception will immediately follow.

Rob Warden, recipient of more than fifty journalism awards, is one of the leading pioneers in exposing the conviction of the innocent. He has dedicated much of his career to investigative journalism focused on cases of claimed injustice. His work has not only prompted the freeing of the wrongfully convicted, but also the expansion of awareness of the scope of conviction error. He has increased our understanding of the causes of and contributors to miscarriages of justice, and he has been at the forefront of exposing the risk of error in death penalty cases.

Lawrence Marshall, a former Northwestern law professor who co-founded the Center on Wrongful Convictions with Warden in 1999, credits Warden with contributing to the elimination of the death penalty in Illinois. At a conference in 1998, Warden helped highlight more than two-dozen persons who had been freed from death row. This sobering display of miscarriages in death penalty cases influenced then-Governor George Ryan in his decision to place a moratorium on the Illinois death penalty in 2000. It was abolished in the state in 2011.

Read more on Warden here, here, here, and here.

According to Dan Hinkel’s article in the Chicago Tribune (here), Warden, 73, has no intention of leaving the work of researching, writing, and advocating for an improved criminal justice system. The seemingly tireless journalist, author, and advocate intends to be a force in eliminating the death penalty nationwide.

Mr. Warden’s work has had an inestimable impact on the lives of those freed from prison after wrongful conviction and on our understanding of how the criminal justice system can come closer to its promise of fair and accurate justice for all. The upcoming symposium will provide an opportunity to celebrate and thank an inspiring original, an accomplished writer and advocate, a true American hero.

“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.

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

John Raley to Judge: Never Again Show Poor Judgment on DNA

First, a disclaimer: John Raley is one of my heroes.

When John Raley met Michael Morton and became convinced of Morton’s innocence, Raley committed to doing whatever he could as a pro bono lawyer to bring truth to a terrible injustice. It would take years. Morton had been convicted of the 1986 bludgeoning murder of his wife Christine and sentenced to life in prison. But he was unwavering in claiming his innocence. And as it turned out, he was telling the truth.

Justice was delayed for Morton for twenty-five long years, six years longer than his exoneration could have taken if prosecutors had been cooperative in the review of this case. Unfortunately, Raley, Morton, and Innocence Project lawyers met only obstruction from the Williamson County (Texas) prosecutors.

Two of the “hard-on-crime” officials who were instrumental in the original conviction or in delaying the post-conviction search for truth, paid a price for their decisions. In a guest column (here) in the Austin American Statesman, Raley has asked a third official, now a judge, to take responsibility for his role. Continue reading

Woody Allen and the Virtual Lynch Mob…

Two weeks ago, after An Open Letter From Dylan Farrow hit the press, a virtual village of millions lit their torches, grabbed their pitchforks, and carried a tarred-and-feathered film legend Woody Allen through cyberspace to the nearest tree for a public hanging.

As is often the case with notorious lynch mobs, however, things are not always what they seem, and a careful examination of the facts calls for more restraint. Such is the case, I believe, with the lynch mob that would condemn Woody Allen.

I see the allegations by Dylan Farrow quite differently than do the social media masses. I have spent the past twenty years working first as a prosecutor and then for the past decade running the Ohio Innocence Project. Through the Ohio Innocence Project, I have investigated many, many cases involving alleged false child molestation accusations. I’ve studied the psychological research and worked with some of the nation’s top experts regarding the conditions that can give rise to false allegations, the susceptibility of children to suggestion, implanted false memories, and the zeal with which we humans typically cling to false memories once implanted.

While I, of course, cannot be certain about what happened any more than those who would condemn Allen on the spot, I can say this: Some of the earmarks of a false allegation can be seen in this case. There are reasons to be concerned, just as many of the investigators and child psychologists were so gravely concerned when they closely interviewed the seven-year-old Dylan Farrow back in 1992 and told the authorities they believed the allegations were false.

Human Memory: If the Abuse Didn’t Happen, Does This Mean that Dylan is Lying?

Many of the Woody Allen critics have asked the question, “Why would Dylan lie after all these years? She has nothing to gain at this point.” This type of question completely misses the point.

Contrary to popular belief, human memory is not like a video camera, which records what happens and then plays it back verbatim later. Rather, our memories are like quicksand, constantly shifting and moving underneath us. Cognitive psychologist and leading memory expert Dr. Elizabeth Loftus makes the analogy to Wikipedia. Not only do we constantly edit our own memories (usually without realizing that we are doing so), but others edit our memories as well, even implanting false ones without us knowing it. Study after study shows how easy it is for false memories to be implanted, particularly in children. Anyone who doubts this phenomenon should watch this 15-minute video, and read the sources here,herehereherehere and here.

Once a false memory is implanted, the subject cannot tell the difference from a real one, and will often “remember” intricate details that did not happen. The subject will typically cling to the false memory with confidence throughout his or her lifetime.

The prevailing belief in the early 1990s, when this story first broke, was that children would not make up false allegations of sexual abuse. We have subsequently learned after uncovering hundreds of wrongful convictions in this area, however, that children typically don’t “make up” false charges, but rather, can have false memories implanted merely by the suggestion of well-meaning but over-excited adults. The environment where this occurs typically includes certain common factors, such as the parent who “discovers” the abuse is in a state of extreme anger or a panicked state as a result of a dispute with the adult who is later accused (such as when a divorce or custody battle is brewing); the interviewing process is not conducted by a professional trained in protecting child memory, but rather, by someone who is excited, suspicious, or paranoid, and who asks leading questions and inadvertently makes suggestions to the child; or the questioning occurs in a hysterical or “witch-hunt” type environment.

There is evidence to support the idea that Dylan Farrow’s allegations against Woody Allen may have arisen in circumstances where these factors were present. The allegations arose months after Mia Farrow learned thatWoody had started a relationship with Mia’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi (who was either 19 or 21 at the time–her birth in Korea was undocumented). Mia was reportedly beyond enraged with Allen, and became quite unstable at the time as well (she allegedly repeatedly threatened Allen’s life and even staged her own fake suicide).

This is not to take shots at Mia Farrow. She was understandably extremely distraught and had good reason to hate Woody Allen. I bring this up simply to describe the atmosphere under which the allegations may have arisen, because they mirror the atmosphere that is present in many false allegation cases. Indeed, in a staggering 81% of the documented wrongful convictions in child sexual abuse cases listed in the National Registry of Exonerations, false accusations arising under such circumstances were the cause of the wrongful conviction.

Later, the Connecticut State Police brought in a team of psychiatrists and child molestation investigators from Yale-New Haven Hospital, who after a six-month investigation determined that Dylan had not been molested byWoody Allen. Why? It appears that Dylan could not tell a consistent story when not being coached by her mother (a big red flag), and many signs pointed to the fact that the original allegations had come about as a result of coaching (including a video recording of the allegations that Farrow allegedly directed by stopping and starting the tape and “coaching up” a disinterested young Dylan).

Since then, various witnesses have described the pressure that Mia Farrow brought to bear on all of the children–and even nannies–to go along with the story. Mia’s son Moses, now tellingly a family therapist, described what he called “brainwashing” by Farrow, adding:

“Of course Woody did not molest my sister. My mother drummed it into me to hate my father for tearing apart the family and sexually molesting my sister. And I hated him for her for years. I see now that this was a vengeful way to pay him back for falling in love with Soon-Yi.”

Even nannies have discussed how they were pressured by Farrow to go along with the story, even though important parts of the story perhaps weren’t true.

Additional details about some of the incongruities that caused investigators to doubt the truth of the allegations are set forth here.  Another interesting article here.

Mia Farrow’s apparent zeal has not fully let up after two decades, as she and her son Ronan (a small child when all this went down) have made a cottage industry out of blasting Woody Allen at every opportunity. Interestingly,Woody Allen almost never responds, other than to occasionally deny the allegations for the umpteenth time. When asked about Mia Farrow through the years, he typically responds with comments about her excellent acting abilities and leaves it at that. Woody Allen did decide to respond, however, to the recent “open letter” to him by Dylan Farrow, which he calls his final word on the subject.

Some who have supported the allegations as valid have pointed to findings by the judge who granted custody of the children to Mia Farrow. And, of course, as in any complicated case, there will be conflicting evidence on nearly every point.

Regarding the custody decision, the judge did not find that Woody Allen abused Dylan, but he was very critical of Allen and discounted his claims that Mia Farrow had coached Dylan into making false allegations. A few points need to be made about this, if one wants to be open about looking at both sides. First, the decision was issued in 1993. Some of the evidence of coaching outlined above–including clear statements by one of the children who now calls Mia Farrow’s conduct “brainwashing”–had not come out yet, and thus, were not known or considered by the judge. Also, as stated above, the common belief in 1993 was that children did not make up sexual abuse allegations, and in fact, many believed children were incapable of doing so. The explosion in the field of child memory and susceptibility to suggestion that has occurred since 1993, however, can shed a completely different light on that decision.

Woody Allen has alleged that politics played a role in that decision (which, in my experience, is often the case). Even if Allen’s claim is not true, the decision is just what it purports to be–a decision from 1993 that reflects incomplete facts and scientific understandings from more than two decades ago.

Second, and most importantly, Woody Allen and Soon-Yi have adopted two children. Their suitability as parents has subsequently been examined in light of modern scientific understandings and the current state of the evidence. They were found to be good candidates for adoption and now have their own children. Those who point to an outdated decision from a bygone scientific era need to consider the full story before reaching a conclusion.

There are two sides to every story. If the allegations happen to be false, does this mean that Dylan is lying? Of course not. Of course she believes it happened. She was seven years old when this took place. Given the way it may have gone down, and the zeal with which all the children were pressured for decades to believe the allegations and hate Woody Allen, if true, it would be surprising if not shocking if she could separate real from false memories at this point.  The article here demonstrates how it is not uncommon for false memories to be created in alleged child abuse cases.

Indeed, Dylan sadly is a victim regardless of whether the allegations are true or not. The mere fact that sibling Moses–now a family therapist presumably trained to deal with issues like this–can untangle himself from that pressure as an adult, and recognize that the allegations raise serious questions, is the truly surprising thing given how we now know that memory works.

Contrary to Popular Belief, Allen’s Relationship With Soon-Yi Does Not Support the Notion that He is a Pedophile

Another point the lynch mob has brought up on Facebook or Twitter typically goes something like this, “He married his own adopted daughter, Soon-Yi, who was originally adopted by his own wife. What a creep. Of course he molested Dylan. His relationship with Soon-Yi tells you all you need to know about his pedophilic tendencies.”

A couple points need to be made here. First of all, as the article here does a great job of detailing, Woody Allen was not married to Mia Farrow, nor did he live with Mia and her kids. Soon-Yi was not Woody’s daughter–Soon-Yi had her own dad. As documentary filmmaker Robert Weide has said:

“If anyone is creeped out by the notion of a 55-year old man becoming involved with his girlfriend’s 19-year old adopted daughter, I understand. That makes perfect sense. But why not get the facts straight? If the actual facts are so repugnant to you, then why embellish them?”

Again, whether Soon-Yi was 19 or 21 when their relationship started, Woody Allen is famous for dating younger women, including Mia Farrow, Stacey Nelkin (who strenuously defends Allen against these charges) and others. He also has had many long relationships with women closer to his own age, such as Diane Keaton. But this penchant for much younger women does not support the notion that Woody Allen has a sexual attraction to pre-pubescent seven-year-olds.

Indeed, pedophilia is a specific sexual orientation known for its high level of recidivism. Pedophiles who act on their attractions typically prey on many, many children over their lifetimes. Although many sexual assaults by pedophiles unfortunately go unreported, the pattern is that other victims will come out of the woodwork when the first allegation goes public (like we saw with the Jerry Sandusky case).

Some may dislike Woody Allen for being attracted to younger members of the opposite sex. That is their prerogative, of course, and they presumably also dislike Paul McCartney, Demi Moore, Katie Couric, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and Frank Sinatra (who, in his late 40s, began dating Mia Farrow when she was only 19).

Some may also dislike Woody Allen for dating–and then marrying and adopting children with–the adopted daughter of his former girlfriend. That view is also entirely reasonable. I am not condoning Woody Allen’s judgment on this score, or claiming that his actions were appropriate.  I would not criticize anyone who dislikes or is “creeped out” by Woody Allen for this reason.  That is their prerogative.

But those who cite to Woody Allen’s 20-plus-year relationship with Soon-Yi as a basis for the validity of Dylan’s claims should at least be intellectually honest and recognize that his well-established pattern of being attracted to physically mature women tends to undermine–rather than support–the notion that Woody Allen suffers from the specific sexual disorder of pedophilia and is therefore attracted to seven-year-olds.

Annie Hall

Woody Allen has not been the only victim of the lynch mob. Many have turned their aggression towards actress Diane Keaton for presenting the Cecil B. Demille Award to Woody Allen at the 2014 Golden Globe Awards. She has been lambasted for such things as “supporting an abuser” and “spitting in the face of the many, many victims of child sex abuse.”

It is widely known that not only was Diane Keaton Woody Allen’s girlfriend for many years, but that she has remained one of his closest friends for decades. It is amazing to me that the virtual villagers, most of whom know nothing of the actual facts of the case, would presume to know more about the situation than a woman who knew the various players in the drama, including Mia and Dylan Farrow. As Alec Baldwin tweeted back when he was similarly attacked by the lynch mob for appearing in Allen’s movies:

“So you know who’s guilty? Who’s lying? You, personally, know that?”

Diane Keaton likely would have extensive knowledge of the dynamics that produced the allegations. The attacks on Diane Keaton are patronizing and dismissive, suggesting that she is not capable of forming her own well-educated opinion on a matter that she likely knows more about than anyone else in the world save a few people.

It takes considerable courage to stand up to a nationwide lynch mob. Diane Keaton’s bravery should be admired.

The Takeaway Lesson

In the end, I can’t say with certainty whether or not Allen is innocent. For every piece of evidence cited by either side, someone can point to a conflicting piece of evidence. There are often two sides to stories. But I can say that there is evidence here to raise serious doubt as to the reliability of the allegations. I would go so far as to say that I believe anyone who has spent years investigating allegedly false child molestation charges, and who has studied the research regarding implanted memories in children, would look at this case and say just what the Yale-New Haven Hospital child psychiatrists said all the way back in 1992–that these allegations are problematic. In other words, there is another side to the story.

I wonder if those who condemn Woody Allen have ever stopped to consider the other possibility. That perhaps Allen is innocent. That perhaps one of the greatest filmmakers of all time has withstood years of deep sadness and anguish (and lower box office revenues and occasional snubs at the Oscars, etc.), as a result of being wrongfully convicted in the court of public opinion and having his beloved children brainwashed to hate him. And that just when he has started to recover from this tragedy, and his movies have returned to their earlier form (causing him to receive a major award), the attackers have come back out of the woodwork to stir up the lynch mob once again.

Those who would condemn Woody Allen–or condemn anyone for that matter–should, of course, always do some homework before they judge. They also should consider the repercussions of reacting with vitriol and aggression before they know the facts. Indeed, to condemn in kneejerk fashion could be to unknowingly grab a torch and pitchfork and hang an innocent person.

It should be clear that I have concerns, based on my experience, that the allegations against Woody Allen could be false, and, if so, arose from a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances that have, in similar cases, resulted in false allegations of this kind. But does this mean I should freely attack Mia Farrow? No. Why? Because I could be wrong.

The takeaway lesson from the Innocence Movement and all the wrongful convictions it has uncovered is that we humans see and interpret facts in a skewed manner according to our own deep biases, that we are much worse than we admit at uncovering the truth, and that, in the end, we must be very careful before we judge and condemn. Things are not always what they seem.

Although I believe, based on studying the case for years and my experience in these matters, that the allegations against Woody Allen may very well be false, I recognize that I can never really know with certainty what happened here. But the hysterical lynch mob currently carrying Woody Allen to the nearest tree frighteningly knows even less.

NY murder convictions vacated; wrongful convictions scandal called “metastasizing”

Brooklyn (NY) Supreme Court Justice Raymond Guzman vacated the murder convictions of Antonio Yarbough, 39, and Sharrif Wilson, 37, Thursday after the two had served 21 years in prison for a 1992 triple murder—that of Mr. Yarbough’s mother, his twelve-year-old sister, and her friend. The two men, who were 15 and 18 at the time of the murders, have long claimed they did not commit them. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson dismissed the cases against the men.

No physical evidence had connected the two men to the crime. The post-conviction breakthrough came last year when DNA testing of evidence found under the fingernails of Mr. Yarbough’s mother matched DNA from a subsequent rape and murder that occurred in 1999 when Yarbough and Wilson were in prison. Family members cheered as the decision was announced in court. Continue reading

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 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.

Murder Charges Dismissed after Man Spent 20 Years in Prison

Summit County (OH) Judge Mary Margaret Rowland has dismissed aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated robbery changes against Dewey Jones, 51, of Akron, Ohio, after he spent 20 years in prison following his conviction of the 1993 murder of Neil Rankin, 71. Jones had always claimed innocence.

According to a report from ABC Newsnet 5 (here) Cleveland, Judge Rowland granted Dewey a new trial after DNA testing results in 2012 on a knife and rope Continue reading

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


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.