Category Archives: Junk science

Ohio Innocence Project Nets Another Triple Win; Defendants to Be Freed After 18 Years in Prison

From University of Cincinnati press release:

UPDATE:  All 3 inmates were released the same day as this press release

Legal advocacy from the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati has helped set three men wrongfully imprisoned for murder on the path to freedom.
Date: 3/26/2015 11:00:00 AM
By: Sherry English
Phone: (513) 556-0060

Photos By: Ohio Innocence Project and Mark Bealer

UC ingot   CINCINNATI — Today three men are one step closer to freedom after being wrongly incarcerated for 18 years. Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson had their convictions for the 1995 murder of Clifton Hudson Jr. thrown out after nearly a decade of legal advocacy from the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP).

Derrick Wheatt in court
Derrick Wheatt, shown here, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson had their convictions thrown out with help from the Ohio Innocence Project at UC. (Mark Bealer photo)

Judge Nancy Margaret Russo, Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, threw out the conviction, granted a new trial and set bond. The OIP expects bond to be met today, which will result in their clients’ immediate release.

Their impending freedom comes after a key eyewitness recanted her testimony and the revelation that information from police reports that cast doubt on the defendants’ guilt had not been disclosed to the trial team years earlier. Today’s win marks the second triple exoneration for the Ohio Innocence Project, which operates out of the University of Cincinnati’s Rosenthal Institute for Justice in the College of Law. When the trio are released, the OIP will have freed 23 people on grounds of innocence, who together served more than 500 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

“We’re excited about today’s event, but even more excited for our clients,” said Mark Godsey, the Daniel P. and Judith L. Carmichael Professor of Law and Director, Lois and Richard Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project. “They have been fighting to prove their innocence for nearly 20 years. They had tried for exoneration twice before, and had come close in the past. OIP has worked on the case since 2006, and are happy to be with them as they finally taste their long-sought freedom.”

The OIP represented defendants Wheatt and Glover; Johnson was represented by attorneys Brett Murner and Jim Valentine. Additionally, co-counsel on this case was Carmen Naso, Senior Instructor of Law, and the law students at the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic, Case Western Reserve School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio. The OIP at UC and Kramer Law Clinic partnered on this case and plan to work together on additional cases in the future.

“UC donors who contributed to the UC OIP’s tremendous success provided case workers with the funds needed to facilitate their pursuit of justice,” said UC Foundation President Rodney M. Grabowski. “Since its founding in 2003, more than 600 donors have contributed more than $5.3 million toward the OIP’s efforts. We are forever grateful for their generosity.”

supporters of longtime inmates gather in the courtroom
Supporters of Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson gather in the courtroom after the news came that the trio’s convictions have been thrown out.

A Murder Many Years Ago
On Feb. 10, 1995, in East Cleveland, Ohio, 19-year-old Clifton Hudson Jr. was found murdered, shot multiple times. At the time, witnesses reported seeing a person wearing dark clothing and a dark hat at the scene. Three juveniles — Wheatt, Glover and Johnson — happened to be near the scene. But, they emphasized, when the shooting started, they sped off. All three later provided the police with descriptions of the shooter that matched the basic descriptions given by other witnesses. But in a twist of events, they were charged with the crime.

A year later in 1996, the three were convicted of Hudson’s murder, based on their presence at the scene and identification by Tamika Harris, then a 14-year-old. Harris originally reported to police that she saw the shooter get in and out of the defendants’ truck; but, she insisted, she never saw the shooter’s face. It was this tip, though, that led to the group’s initial arrest.

At the trial, Harris changed her story, admitting that she never saw the shooter actually get in or out of the truck. She testified, however, that she could positively identify Eugene Johnson as the shooter. Additionally, the prosecution found what it alleged to be gunshot residue on Wheatt and Johnson. They offered to completely drop charges against Glover if he testified against his friends and also offered Wheatt probation for his testimony. Both refused and continued to assert their innocence. Unfortunately, they were convicted; Wheatt and Johnson were sentenced to 18 years to life in prison; Glover was sentenced to 15 years to life.

Finding Grounds for a New Trial
Through the years the three men continued to maintain their innocence. Then in 2004, Johnson’s attorneys, Murner and Valentine, filed a motion for a new trial on the grounds that Harris had recanted her testimony. Now an adult and in nursing school, she admitted she could not see the shooter’s face from where she stood and that she never saw anyone get in or out of the truck.

three defendants enter the court room
From left, Eugene Johnson, Derrick Wheatt and Laurese Glover enter the courtroom at the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in Cleveland. (Mark Bealer photo)

She relayed that when she went to the police station years earlier, the officers told her they had found the people responsible, showed her photos of the three defendants, and asked which of the three was the shooter. Harris said she picked the one whose jacket was closest to the one she saw: Johnson’s. Though the trial court granted a new trial on this basis, it was overturned on appeal, in part because of the alleged gunshot residue evidence.

Two years later in 2006, the OIP accepted the case. Attorneys and fellows spent hundreds of hours reviewing evidence, interviewing potential witnesses and filing motions. In fact, Brian Howe, now the attorney of record, previously worked on this case as an OIP fellow.

In 2009, OIP attorney David Laing filed another new trial motion based on advancements in knowledge about gunshot residue. Specifically, the type of testing used in 1995 is known to be particularly prone to false positives from other items, and is no longer used by the FBI.  Further, recent studies showed the high likelihood of gunshot residue contamination from police sources, especially when the tests are not performed on scene or immediately upon arrest. This motion, however, was denied.

Late in 2013 a break in the case came when the OIP received the police reports. The reports included information that was not raised at the original trial, including the existence of two witnesses who confirmed that the shooter came from a nearby post office lot, not the defendants’ truck.  One of those witnesses even claimed he recognized the shooter as a sibling of one of his classmates. The reports also showed that unknown people in a different car had shot at the victim’s brother just days before the crime, and that someone had threatened the victim himself the day before the murder. There was no known connection between any of those threats and the defendants.

The OIP, on behalf of the defendants, filed another new trial motion on the basis that this information was never disclosed to the defense. A hearing on the motion was held on Jan. 29, 2015, led by OIP attorney Brian Howe and the Kramer Clinic’s Carmen Naso. “The evidence at the hearing was overwhelming,” said Howe. “None of these men should have ever been convicted.”

three defendants and their defense team in court
The Ohio Innocence Project has worked for nearly a decade to show that Eugene Johnson, Derrick Wheatt and Laurese Glover were wrongfully convicted. (Mark Bealer photo)

A Day Worth Waiting For
“This has been a long day coming for Mr. Johnson, Mr. Wheatt and Mr. Glover,” said Howe. “I know it must be an incredible feeling. It is particularly important and gratifying for me because I worked on the gunshot residue motions as an OIP fellow. It’s incredible to see all of our hard work come to fruition.”

Special thanks to the many individuals who spent hundreds of hours working on this case over the years. The list includes attorneys: Brian Howe, David Laing, and Carrie Wood; and student fellows: Shabnam Allen, Nicole Billec, Amanda Bleiler, Scott Brenner, Chris Brinkman, Chris Brown, Eric Gooding, John Hill, Matt Katz, Eric Kmetz, Amanda Rieger, Bryant Strayer, Queenie Takougang, and Brandon Brown, Amanda Sanders and Shaun McPherron, who spent significant time in East Cleveland last summer canvassing the neighborhood speaking to witnesses.

PBS’s Recent Segment on SBS (Shaken Baby Syndrome)

A Disputed Diagnosis that Sends Parents to Prison for Abuse.

Last evening (3/23/15), PBS aired a segment that takes a critical look at the diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome. The story features Kate Judson, who is the Innocence Network SBS Litigation Fellow, and who has been doing phenomenal work in not only helping those wrongfully convicted of SBS, but also in trying to bring the medical and legal communities together to achieve a true scientific understanding of the causes and symptoms.

See the 10 minute video here.

Washington Post Article on SBS (Shaken Baby Syndrome)

A disputed diagnosis imprisons parents

Debbie Cenziper of the Washington Post, after a year-long investigation in conjunction with the Medill Justice Project, has written an article addressing the controversy surrounding the diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS).

This is the most comprehensive general publication article on the subject I have seen, and she interviewed people on both sides of the issue. I have extracted some selected quotes:

Dr. Patrick Lantz: “If doctors see retinal hemorrhages, they say it’s abuse, but it’s as scientific as a fortuneteller reading tea leaves.”

Dr. George Nichols: “Shaken Baby Syndrome is a belief system rather than an exercise in ­modern-day science.”  “My greatest worry is that I have deprived someone of justice because I have been overtly biased or just mistaken.”

Dr. Jonathon Arden: “A lot of people in this field, especially many of the pediatricians, make statements that are absolute and dogmatic and do not allow for the exceptions that we know exist. Do you want to be involved in somebody’s wrongful conviction because you had this dogmatic approach that it must be trauma, it must be shaking?”

Dr. Patrick Barnes: “All of the treating physicians simply assumed trauma and stopped looking for alternative explanations. That is not sound science and cannot be the basis of a reliable prosecution.”

Dr. Jan Leestma:  “The original papers that espoused Shaken Baby were basically opinion papers with essentially no science applied to them.”

Dr. Norman Guthkelch: “I am doing what I can so long as I have a breath to correct a grossly unjust situation. I think they’ve gone much too far.”

See the Washington Post article here.

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

$9.2 Million Awarded in Wrongful Conviction that Underscores FBI Forensic Problems

February 28, 2015 – Yesterday Washington D.C. Superior Court Judge Neal E. Kravitz ordered $9.2 million be paid by the District to Kirk L. Odom, 52, in compensation for more than 21 years of imprisonment after he was wrongfully convicted of a 1981 Capital Hill rape and burglary. The Washington Post reported (here) that “Odom is one of five D.C. men convicted of rape or murder whose charges have been vacated since 2009 because they were based on erroneous forensics and testimony by an elite unit of FBI hair experts.”

In his District-record award, the judge provided one formula for calculating compensation damages: $1,000 per day for wrongful incarceration, $250 per day for parole time and $200 for each day between his exoneration and trial. The article noted that Judge Kravitz’s opinion comes “as courts are coming to terms Continue reading

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Prosecutorial Misconduct and Brady Violations – From a Forensic Perspective

Benjamin-Brady Viol

Dr. David Benjamin is a world renowned clinical pharmacologist and forensic toxicologist. Consequently, he has substantial experience involving forensic evidence and “expert” testimony. He recently gave a presentation at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences annual meeting in the Jurisprudence Section focused on Brady violations from a forensic perspective.

There is a mountain of material contained in the presentation, including some specific recommendations for how to combat and counter Brady violations involving forensic evidence and expert testimony.

If you would like to investigate this further, you can contact Dr. Benjamin through his website, and request a copy of the presentation by e’mail.

 

Dog Scent Arson Detection – and Charging

pointerWe’ve posted before about “dog scent lineups.”  See those posts here and  here.  They’ve been called “the worst of the junk sciences.”

I can do naught but shake my head.  I thought we had seen the last of it, but this stuff is still going on. In Maricopa County, AZ, not one, but two, people were charged with setting their own houses on fire, based upon bogus dog scent evidence which was solely the result of unethical conduct by the Phoenix Fire Department investigators involved. An independent, professional fire investigator confirmed without question that the fires were NOT arson.  The charges against both were eventually dismissed, but not before one of them spent 16 months in jail.

See the aol.com Inside Edition story here … it should make you angry.

And here’s the kicker.  Despite the recommendation of six felony charges, the prosecutor declined to bring any charges against the dishonest fire department employees, and they are both still employed by the department.

Looks like the “good ol’ boy” network is alive and well in Maricopa County.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Weekend Quick Clicks…

Weekend Quick Clicks…

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.

 

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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.

Another Shaken Baby Syndrome Acquittal

An Iowa District Judge has dismissed the case against Peter Ranke, who was accused of injuring his 3-week old baby by shaking.  And further, the judge sharply criticized the diagnosing doctor for mishandling the investigation into the child’s injuries

This case highlights the proclivity of child abuse pediatricians to jump immediately to an SBS diagnosis; without giving due consideration to possible differential diagnoses.

See the Iowa City Press-Citizen story here.

New York Law Journal – New Medical Knowledge Debunks Shaken Baby Conviction

Yesterday, Dec. 22, 2014, in a Monroe County, New York court, Rene’ Bailey was ordered released from prison without bail, and is expected to return home today.  See the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle story here.

We highlighted the Rene’ Bailey case in a previous WCB post, “Shaken Baby Syndrome ……. Progress for True Science?” last January here.

She was convicted in 2002 of murdering a 2½ year old child in her care, and the conviction was based upon medical testimony of “shaken baby syndrome.”

The actual cause of death is believed to have been a short fall from a piece of play equipment onto a carpeted garage floor.  The prosecution has yet to decide upon appeal or retrial.

See the New York Law Journal article here.     Note: accessing the article requires registration with the site.

Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Conviction Involving Steven Hayne, Shaken Baby Syndrome

We’ve posted previously about Dr. Steven Hayne here.  Hayne was the now-discredited, long-time medical examiner for the state of Mississippi; notorious for his questionable forensic testimony.

Dr. Hayne’s cases keep unraveling; however, this case does not center specifically on Hayne’s credibility, but rather on the defendant’s being denied the ability to hire an expert to challenge Hayne’s credibility in court.

See the story by Radley Balko of the Washington Post here.

Recent Rash of Exonerations Only the Surface: Many More Remain Wrongfully Imprisoned

By Jefferey Deskovic for The Huffington Post

Fernando Bermudez. Sami Leka. Jose Morales. Reuben Montalvo. Lazaro Burts. Kareen Bellamy. Anthony Ortiz. Frank Sterling. Roy Brown. Dennis Halstead. John Kogut. Eric Glisson. Jonathan Fleming.

Those are the names of 13 men that I personally knew and served time with who were exonerated either during my 16 years in prison or thereafter.

Last year there were 91 exonerations. This year there have been 90 thus far. To date there have been 1482 exonerations overall, only 321 of them being DNA related. Since taking office this past January, Brooklyn DA Thompson’s conviction integrity unit has exonerated 11 people.

Most experts estimate the percentage of wrongfully convicted prisoners to be 2 to 5% of the inmate population — that is 120,000 people. I deem the number to be closer to 15 to 20%.

In either case, what is causing the staggering number of wrongful convictions?

Rogue Law Enforcement. In Brooklyn, disgraced retired detective Scarcella was found to have used the same drug addict as the sole eyewitness in six different murder cases. Various news accounts say as many as 70 homicides he worked on are being reviewed.

Forensic Fraud. In Pennsylvania, forensic scientist, Annie Dhookhan, was sentenced to three to five years in prison and two years of probation after pleading guilty to 27 counts of misleading investigators, filing false reports, and tampering with evidence.

Additionally, forensic scientists are given financial incentives for giving prosecutorial favorable results that lead to conviction in North Carolina, Illinois, Alabama, New Mexico, Kentucky, New Jersey, Virginia, Arizona, California, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

Prosecutorial Misconduct. Lying to judges and juries about the existence of benefits and in some cases coercion to informants was a regular practice over the span of the 23 year tenure of former Brooklyn DA Hynes, as was withholding of evidence of innocence.

Junk science. For 40 years, FBI experts have testified in court about “bullet lead analysis” a procedure in which bullets found at a crime scene are tested for arsenic, tin, silver, and other contaminants or additives, and the findings were compared to analysis of bullets found in the possession of suspects. These experts claimed to be able to link one bullet to others from the same production run. For at least 20 years, FBI officials knew that there were no scientific underpinnings to this junk science — that in fact, there were no studies shown to determine how significant a “match” was.

Disgraced dog scent expert Preston came into courtrooms in Texas and Florida for over 20 years, stating that he had trained dogs which would bark if, after being given items to smell from a crime, the dog recognized the scent from a suspect’s item. Preston claimed that his dogs could smell human traces years or months after a suspect walked over the ground, on heavily trafficked streets, underwater, and even after hurricanes. He is not the only “expert” in this “field.”

In 2013, it was revealed that in 27 death penalty cases, FBI forensic experts may have exaggerated the scientific conclusions that were drawn from a so-called “match” between hair found at a crime scene and hair from a defendant.

Tire tracks, footprints, and bite marks are also junk science.

I served 16 years in prison, from the ages of 17 to 32, wrongfully convicted of a murder and rape in New York, despite the fact that the DNA never matched. I lost all seven of my appeals, including two of which now US Supreme Court Judge Sotomayor denied on procedural grounds for having been four days late despite my substantive innocence argument. Ultimately I was exonerated because further DNA testing identified the actual perpetrator, who killed another victim 3.5 years later.

Using $1.5 million dollars of compensation I received, I started The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice to exonerate the wrongfully convicted in DNA and non-DNA cases, educate the public, elected officials, and criminal justice professionals on the causes of wrongful conviction and the reforms need to prevent them, and help the exonerated reintegrate. In two years time, we helped exonerate William Lopez, who had served 23.5 years, and helped 4 wrongfully convicted men reintegrate back into society by providing short-term housing, which enabled them to pursue further education, and in one case open a business.

This holiday season, while celebrating with friends and family, we hope you’ll take a brief moment to remember all those who remain wrongfully imprisoned.

To learn more about The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice and how you can help, please visit here.