Category Archives: Editorials/Opinion

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) – Bad Science and the Race for Massachusetts Governor

In an op-ed piece that will appear in tomorrow’s (10/19) print edition of the Boston Globe, Lee Scheier takes former prosecutor Martha Coakley to task for her “deft misuse of science” in the SBS conviction of Louise Woodward, a British nanny who was working for the Eappen family when their 8-month-old son Matthew died in 1997.

Coakley is currently running for governor of Massachusetts, and recently set up a photo op with Deborah Eappen, Matthew’s mother, trying to defend her record on “protecting children.”

This quote from the article:  “Coakley’s odd invocation of this case demands that we look at the facts. What cannot be lost in all of this political maneuvering is the truth about the Woodward case and all the thousands of shaken-baby cases before and since Woodward. The truth is that Martha Coakley’s deft misuse of science actually came very close to sending an innocent caretaker to prison for life.” (emphasis mine)

See the Boston Globe op-ed here.

Thanks to Dr. John Plunkett for passing this along.

Texas Appeals Court Grants New Trial … but Lets Prosecutor “Off the Hook”

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has granted Hannah Overton a new trial based upon her claim of  “ineffective assistance of counsel” (IAC).  She has served seven years of a life sentence for capital murder in the death of her 4-year-old stepson who died of a sodium overdose (salt poisoning).  She truly did have ineffective assistance of counsel, because her attorney did not present the videotaped deposition of a salt poisoning expert saying that the overdose was likely unintentional, and there was nothing she could have done.

But here’s the part of the story that really gets me.  Overton had also filed a claim that the prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence (Brady violation), and the court was presented with both the IAC claim and the Brady claim.  In it’s ruling, the court declined to rule on the Brady claim, saying it was unnecessary since they had granted a new trial based upon the IAC claim.  They let the prosecutor off the hook.

Story from KRIS TV (Corpus Christi, TX) here.

For a current update, see the KRIS site here.

David McCallum and the late William Stuckey exonerated of murder

After 29 years in prison, David McCallum was exonerated yesterday  of a murder he did not commit. Kings County (NY) Supreme Court Justice Matthew D’Emic also exonerated William Stuckey who died in prison in 2001. It took an army of advocates over many years — including the late Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who had also been wrongfully conviction of murder — to finally overturn this miscarriage.

As teenagers McCallum and Stuckey falsely confessed to the murder of  Nathan Blenner, who died of a single gunshot wound to the head. McCallum and Stuckey quickly recanted the confessions. Although the confessions were filled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies, the men were convicted and lost all appeals. Over the years, McCallum refused parole rather than admit guilt to a crime he did not commit. His struggle was recorded in a recently released documentary, “David & me.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, whose Conviction Review Unit investigated the case, recommended this exoneration, and has now cleared convictions in ten cases, said in a Wall Street Journal Report (here), “I think the people of Brooklyn deserve better, and I think we should not have a national reputation as a place where people have been railroaded into confessing to crimes they did not commit.”

Congratulations to Mr. McCallum and to the family of William Stuckey. The nation should be grateful for the persistence and hard work of all who contributed to this reversal including Steven Drizin of the Center on Wrongful Convictions (Chicago), Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and Ken Klonsky, Innocence International (Toronto), Oscar Michelen of the New York law firm of Cuomo, LLC, Professor Laura Cohen of the Rutgers-Newark Law School’s Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic, and King’s County District Attorney Kenneth Thompson  and his Conviction Review Unit team.

 

California Governor Vetoes Bill to Protect the Innocent

Jerry Brown, the same California Governor who recently signed an ‘anti-junk science forensics bill‘ into law, has vetoed a bill that would provide protection for the innocent, and hold prosecutors “mildly” more accountable.

The vetoed bill would have allowed judges to inform juries when prosecutors had been caught intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence, which is already a breach of ethics and arguably illegal.  Note that the bill did not even include sanctions for ethics-breaching prosecutors.

See the San Francisco Examiner story here.

See the Washington Post story here.

 

California Anti-Junk Science Forensics Bill Signed Into Law

Mike Bowers, on his blog Forensics in Focus, has posted the news that a new “anti-junk science forensics” bill has been signed into law in California.

The law permits post conviction defendants the ability to contest expert testimony that was presented against them at trial. In other words, convictions in which experts have either repudiated their past testimony, or used forensic “science” that is later deemed faulty by legitimate research, are subject to later proceedings reversing that conviction.

This is a huge deal, because it prevents prosecutors and judges from just using old case law as an excuse for ignoring habeas corpus appeals expressing new forensic research and attitudes.

Prosecutors Have All the Power

Mara Leveritt is a journalist and author who wrote the book Devil’s Knot, which was subsequently made into an award winning movie.  The book chronicles the case of the West Memphis Three, in which three young men were wrongfully convicted of the gruesome 1993 multiple murder of three eight year old boys.  See previous WCB posts on the West Memphis Three here and here and here.

In 2007, DNA and hair evidence recovered from the crime scene excluded all three of them.  A deal was struck with the prosecutor whereby the three were released from prison in 2011 (after 18+ years), but only after entering an Alford plea.  In an Alford plea, the defendant maintains his/her innocence, but concedes that the prosecution’s evidence would likely be enough to convince a judge or jury of guilt.  (Editorial Note:  In this editor’s opinion, the Alford plea is nothing more than a gimmick built into the justice system system that gives prosecutors an avenue to back out of a case while saving face.  It does nothing to change the facts of the case.  Just my opinion.)

Ms. Leveritt has recently taken on the responsibility of Director of the Center for Prosecutor Integrity‘s Wrongful Convictions Academy, which is brand new, and is just spinning up.  She is an Arkansas native, and has also authored a recent article about prosecutorial misconduct and the attendant lack of accountability and sanctions in Arkansas –  Prosecutors Have All the Power.  In the article she states, “Despite documented misconduct, especially Brady violations, no prosecutor in this state has been sanctioned in the past 25 years.”  While this article is Arkansas-specific, it can be applied to the situation nationwide in general.

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