Category Archives: Editorials/Opinion

Marissa Alexander Out of Prison – But It’s Not Over

We’ve previously reported on the Marissa Alexander case here.

This is one of the stupidest prosecutions I’ve seen in my years of doing this.  Angela Corey, the Florida State’s Attorney in the case, should be ashamed for setting such a shining example of prosecutors run amok.

Marissa fired a warning shot at her enraged and abusive husband, who had threatened to kill her, in fear for her life.  She was charged, tried and, despite the fact that Florida has it’s infamous “stand your ground” law, was convicted and originally sentenced to 20 years. She successfully appealed, and was facing a new trial — with a potential 60 year sentence.

Please see the Daily Kos story here.

Shaken Baby Syndrome Decision in Sweden

Score one for sanity, logic, reason, and science.

There has been a recent decision (October, 2014) by the Swedish Supreme Court that calls into question the scientific validity of the classic “triad” SBS diagnosis. According to the triad diagnosis, the symptoms of retinal hemorrhage, subdural hematoma, and diffuse edema of the brain are pathognomonic (exclusively indicative) of violent shaking or abusive head trauma.  The “triad” has been the mainstay of SBS prosecutions for decades, but in recent years, has come under increasingly critical scrutiny.

These quotes from the testimony of experts before the Swedish court:

It can be concluded that, in general terms, the scientific evidence for the diagnosis of violent shaking has turned out to be uncertain.”

The controversy is not about whether it is harmful to shake a child violently. The issue under discussion is with what scientific certainty it can be established how various injuries found in a child have arisen. The claim that the occurrence of the triad is strong evidence that violent shaking has occurred goes back to the late 1960s; however, the medical evidence for it was relatively thin. But the claim became generally accepted and grew into medical truth over several decades, even though the situation in terms of evidence did not change. It is known that a very large share of fundus haemorrhages are not linked to violence and arise in another way. Nor has it been shown that nerve fibers are torn, and that the brain therefore begins to swell, in connection with violent shaking. It can also be asked whether violent shaking can occur without neck injuries arising… To sum up, it can be said that the scientific support for the diagnosis of violent shaking is uncertain.

Sue Luttner, who edits the blog OnSBS, has done an excellent job of summarizing this decision and the case it involves, and has posted it on her blog here.

 

Update on the National Registry of Exonerations

In case you haven’t been able to check in on the National Registry of Exonerations lately, here’s an excerpt from the most recent data.  Note the total is now up to 1,512, and the trend line is definitely UP.

exon dna non

exon cont fact

exon fact crime

I won’t belabor you by pointing out some of the more obvious observations.  Just a few minutes of study will (should) lead you to some very clear conclusions.

It has been reported that the folks at the Registry are hard at work trying to incorporate the exonerations being generated by the newly formed “conviction integrity units” (CIU’s).  For these cases the prosecutors running the CIU’s may not be very motivated to have their exonerations logged into the Registry.

I can’t gush enough about how critical and important this data is.  It is this kind of HARD DATA that will provide the foundation for much needed and long overdue justice system reform.

DA to Appeal Shaken Baby Conviction Reversal

We have previously reported on the Reneé Bailey case here.

Reneé Bailey, a day care provider in Greece, New York, was convicted in 2001 of shaking 2½ year old Brittney Sheets to death.  She was confined in prison until NY State Supreme Court Justice James Piampiano granted an evidentiary hearing in the case to consider the new scientific findings regarding SBS.  She was released without bail in December, 2014, and her conviction was reversed; the first SBS conviction reversal in New York state.  See the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle story here.

Now, in a recent announcement, the Monroe County, NY District Attorney, Sandra Doorley, has declared her intention to appeal the conviction reversal.

See that Rochester Democrat & Chronicle story here.

While this is certainly not good news for Ms. Bailey, who has already served 13 years in prison, there could be a silver lining to this ominous dark cloud. If the conviction reversal is upheld on appeal, this will establish some substantial legal precedent in favor of true science, rather than outdated medical dogma, in the evaluation and disposition of SBS cases.

Stay tuned.

Wrongly Convicted NY Man Dies 4 Months After $7.5M Compensation

Dan Gristwood was convicted in 1996 of attempted murder for beating his wife with a hammer.  He signed a confession, that he did not write, after 16 hours of interrogation by the NY State Police.

In 2003, the real attacker, Mastho Davis, came forward and confessed. Gristwood was released in 2005, and ultimately awarded $7.5M for his nine years of wrongful incarceration.

Sadly, on January 3, 2015, four months after receiving payment, Dan Gristwood died from lung cancer.  See the ABC News story here.

The syracuse.com story about the case here is definitely worth a read, and reads like a script for the prototypical coerced confession.

In light of all the recent public – and police – furor about police conduct, and how they relate to the community, and how they should be respected, I can do naught but shake my head.  When the police do stuff like this, how can they claim any high ground in this discussion?  Dan Gristwood, after his release, said he thought the problem was a “few bad apples.”  That may very well be so, but guess what? Those “few” bad apples make the whole barrel stink.  And this problem belongs to the police – not the public.

Radley Balko’s Predictions for Civil Liberties in 2015

I suspect that most of the readers who tune in to this blog are familiar with Radley Balko, who writes for the Washington Post.  He has been writing about justice system issues for a number of years, and has authored the books Rise of the Warrior Cop – The Militarization of America’s Police Forces and Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America.

He has just issued his 2015 predictions for civil liberties in the US.  You might ask why civil liberties are being covered in the Wrongful Convictions Blog.  But I submit – wrongful conviction and wrongful incarceration (and, most of all, wrongful execution) are the ultimate civil rights violations.

His predictions are sobering – SOBERING – at best.  You can read them here: Horrifying Civil Liberties Predictions for 2015.

I encourage you to read all the way through to the end.  But if you find yourself running short of time, you HAVE to skip to the last paragraph.

Police Want to Revoke Exoneree Bennie Starks’ Certificate of Innocence

Bennie Starks was released from prison in 2006, after serving 20 years for a rape that DNA proved he did not commit.  He was fully exonerated in 2013, and was granted a Certificate of Innocence by the court.

Starks is now suing the Waukegan, IL police department and the forensic experts who falsely testified against him.  As a consequence of this law suit, the Waukegan police are trying to have Starks’ Certificate of Innocence revoked. Their fear is that the Certificate of Innocence will be a deciding factor in Starks’ civil law suit for compensation.

Dr. C. Michael (Mike) Bowers is a California dentist and enlightened forensic odontologist. He also edits a blog called Forensics in Focus.  Dr. Bowers was involved in the exoneration of Bennie Starks, and has posted his comments about this on his blog here.