Category Archives: Television

“CSI” FINALLY Going Off the Air

See the CNN story here.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

CSI – I hate the show. A pile of fictitious forensic junk that has been a burden to innocence work since its inception.

Prosecutors complain about it because they think it instills in the minds of jurors that there needs to be fancy, technical forensic evidence in order to convict a defendant. Maybe so, and if so, this might possibly result in a jury finding a defendant innocent who is actually guilty.

But there is a much more pernicious “other edge” to that sword. My view has always been that it instills in the minds of jurors that fancy, technical, forensic evidence is infallible, even though it may be scientific garbage. And this can, and does, result in a jury finding a defendant guilty who is actually innocent.

CSI, RIP. (No, not really.)

Documentary on Scientifically Flawed FBI Hair Comparison Evidence

We’ve reported here before about the fact that FBI agents have been giving scientifically unsupportable testimony regarding hair comparison evidence for decades. Please see  Hair Analysis Evidence About to Join CBLA as “Junk Science.”

This Monday, August 17th at 10pm ET/7p PT, Al Jazeera’s Emmy Award-winning “Fault Lines” investigates how the FBI used the flawed science of microscopic hair analysis to help convict thousands of criminal defendants.

In this new episode, “Under the Microscope: The FBI Hair Cases,” Fault Lines correspondent Josh Rushing and team travel to Savannah, Georgia to meet Joseph Sledge. In 1978, Sledge was convicted of murder, partly based on FBI testimony that his hair was “microscopically alike in all respects” to hairs found at the crime scene. He was released this January, after serving 37 years in prison, when DNA testing proved the hairs used at trial were not his.

As “Fault Lines” reveals, Sledge is among at least 74 Americans who were exonerated after being convicted of a crime involving the forensic science of microscopic hair analysis. “There was no physical evidence tying Joseph to the crime, and the microscopic hair comparison was the closest they could come,” attorney Christine Mumma of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence said of Sledge’s case.

Before the advent of DNA testing, the FBI used the technique of hair analysis for decades. Al Jazeera America interviewed former FBI hair examiner Morris Samuel Clark, who said he testified hundreds of times in court about hair evidence, and that FBI microscopic hair comparisons were based on “16 different characteristics.”  However, with no database with which to compare hairs, Clark conceded that the FBI could not account for how hair characteristics are distributed in the general population.

“The hairs on your head are quite different depending on where they’re selected,” said Dr. Terry Melton, founder of Mitotyping Technologies, a Pennsylvania-based DNA lab. “Microscopy is a very subjective science, and DNA is exactly the opposite.”

In 2012, Dr. Melton’s DNA lab helped overturn convictions for two Washington, D.C.-area men: Kirk Odom, arrested for rape when he was 18 years old, and Santae Tribble, arrested for murder when he was 17.  Sandra Levick, the public defender who represented both Odom and Tribble in their appeals, said, “We had all 13 of the hairs that the FBI had examined [in Tribble’s case] sent off [for DNA testing.]” DNA-testing revealed that one of the hairs used at trial belonged to a dog.

In 2012, these high-profile exonerations finally compelled the Department of Justice to conduct a thorough review. In cases reviewed thus far, they have found that 26 out of 28 FBI examiners made false claims at trial. “We can now say, based on a statistically sizable sample of cases they have reviewed, [the FBI] were wrong 95% of the time,” said David Colapinto, an attorney at the National Whistleblower’s Center.

As of April 2015, the Department of Justice says it has reviewed about 1,800 cases – but in 40% of them, it closed the review due to lack of documentation. Officials from Justice and FBI declined to speak on camera for “Fault Lines” but publicly, they say they will notify defense counsel in cases they have reviewed, while declining to release the names of the defendants to the public. But with at least 14 defendants in question already executed or deceased of old age, is justice working too slowly?

Fault Lines’ “Under the Microscope: the FBI Hair Cases” premieres on Al Jazeera America on Monday, August 17th at 10 p.m. Eastern time/7 p.m. Pacific.

Al Jazeera America can be seen around the U.S. on Comcast Channel 107, Time Warner Cable, Dish Channel 216, DirecTV Channel 347, Verizon Fios Channel 614 and AT&T U-Verse Channel 1219.

“Toe Tag Parole” – a Documentary About Extreme Prison Sentences in the US



More Than 50,000 Americans, Consisting of Men, Women And Juveniles, Are Currently Sentenced To Life Without The Possibility Of Parole – America is the most punitive nation in the world, handing out historically harsh sentences that largely dispense with the concept of rehabilitation.

Alan and Susan Raymond (Oscar® and Emmy® winners for HBO’s “I Am a Promise:The Children of Stanton Elementary School”) explore the reality of “the other death penalty” in TOE TAG PAROLE: TO LIVE AND DIE ON YARD A, debuting MONDAY, AUG. 3 (9:00-10:30 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.

Other HBO playdates: Aug. 3 (5:05 a.m.), 6 (4:15 p.m., 12:30 a.m.), 7 (8:00 a.m.), 9 (3:00 p.m.) 11 (3:00 p.m.) and 15 (10:00 a.m.)

            HBO2 playdates: Aug. 12 (8:00 p.m.), 20 (12:30 a.m.), 23 (9:05 a.m.) and 25 (12:45 p.m.)

Featuring exclusive, unprecedented access, TOE TAG PAROLE: TO LIVE AND DIE ON YARD A was shot entirely at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, a maximum-security facility in the Mojave Desert.

Continue reading

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.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Flawed Forensics – Part of a TV Series from Al Jazeera America Examining the US Justice System

Al Jazeera America is running an eight part series called The System which examines the state of the justice system in the US.  This coming Sunday, June 1, the program will cover flawed forensics, and will highlight the case of Mississippi death row inmate Willie Manning.  Manning is a victim of the now-acknowledged faulty hair analysis practices of the FBI.

There is a zip code box on the Al Jazeera America home page to help you find their programming in your area:


Here is the schedule for the entire series, The System:

Episode 1: False Confessions, Sunday May 18th at 9E/6P

Episode 2: Mandatory Sentencing, Sunday May 25th at 9E/6P

Episode 3: Flawed Forensics, Sunday June 1st at 9E/6P

Episode 4: Eyewitness Identification, Sunday June 8th at 9E/6P

Episode 5: Parole: High Risks, High Stakes, Sunday June 15th at 9E/6P

Episode 6: Juvenile Justice, Sunday June 22nd at 9E/6P

Episode 7: Geography of Punishment, Sunday June 29th at 9E/6P

Episode 8: Prosecutorial Misconduct, Sunday July 6th at 9E/6P


Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • The unintended consequences of compensating the exonerated
  • Canada’s system for reviewing alleged wrongful convictions “failing miserably”
  • West Virginia University Law Innocence Project pushes interrogation recording bill
  •  What does a record number of U.S. exonerations in 2013 tell us?
  • ESPN video on the wrongful accusation against Richard Jewel for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing
  • Ex-cop exonerated after 20 years in prison awarded $9 million
  • Mexican lawyers turned filmmakers win civil suit against them brought by family of victim in wrongful conviction case they exposed through the documentary Presumed Guilty
  • Planned changes in UK’s compensation laws for exonerees will make it nearly impossible to obtain compensation after wrongful conviction
  • New Zealand Innocence Project re-ignites debate about the need for a wrongful convictions commission
  • Idaho Innocence Project client Sarah Pearce may soon be released—settlement discussions ongoing

CNN Premier of Michael Morton Documentary Rescheduled

News coverage following the passing of Nelson Mandela has prompted the rescheduling of “An Unreal Dream,” the true account of Michael Morton’s wrongful conviction of the murder of his wife, Christine; his 25 years of wrongful incarceration; and his exoneration. The documentary will premier instead this Sunday evening, Dec. 8, at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on CNN TV. See details here.

As part of its focus on the Morton case, CNN reports on five cases identified as “high-profile exonerations” (here). In addition to the case of Michael Morton, the article highlights the exonerations of Brian Banks, Douglas Prade, Clarence Harrison, and James Bain.

Documentary Demonstrates that Michael Morton’s Case is Not Unique

Michael Morton’s remarkable story of wrongful conviction for the 1986 murder of his wife Christine, his 25 years of incarceration, and his exoneration, will be told to a national audience when the documentary “An Unreal Dream,” written and directed by two-time academy award nominee, Al Reinert, premiers on CNN tomorrow night, Thursday, December 5, at 9:00 p.m. ET and PT. According to CNN (here) the documentary seeks to “demonstrates that Morton’s story is not unique.” Continue reading

More False Confessions from Chicago to be Covered on “60 Minutes”

This just released by Kevin Tedesco at CBS News:

(And as previously reported in yesterday’s Quick Clicks.)


The Chicago Police Department is now the subject of a federal Justice Department investigation into its interrogation practices in at least one case that dates back more than 25 years, 60 MINUTES has learned.  The case involves juveniles who were as young as 14 years old. Now,  after serving lengthy jail times, they tell Byron Pitts they were picked up on the streets, isolated from their parents and in some cases held for days by the police, who they say forced false confessions from them under harsh interrogations.  Pitts’ report will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES, Sunday, Dec. 9 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

“Everything in that confession was fed to us, and myself and my co-defendants by the police,” Terrill Swift tells Pitts.  He signed a 21-page confession in 1994  admitting to a murder and rape of a 30-yr.-old prostitute that resulted in a 30-year sentence. Watch a clip.

“You are being cuffed up and beat on by the police..they can get you to do what they want you to do,’’ says Robert Taylor, who would sign a confession in another case that resulted in being jailed for more than 19 years.

Continue reading

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

  • clickOn Sunday, December 9, CBS’s “60 Minutes” is scheduled to air in the U.S. a piece examining the exonerations of the “Dixmoor Five” and the “Englewood Four,” two Chicago-area cases where juvenile defendants were wrongfully convicted of rape and murder largely on the basis of false confessions. The cases were handled jointly by the Innocence Project, the Center on Wrongful Convictions, the University of Chicago Law School Exoneration Project and cooperating private attorneys. The piece will likely also explore the resistance by State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to the free the young men even though there was compelling DNA evidence pointing to other men with violent criminal histories in both of the cases.
  • Video of exoneree Brian Banks on CBS This Morning yesterday
  • Ireland’s Criminal Court of Appeal grants inmate Joe O’Reilly’s request for legal representation in his bid to show he was wrongfully convicted of murder

Katie Couric to Interview Audrey Edmunds and Keith Findley – Shaken Baby Syndrome

Audrey & Keith

Even casual followers of the SBS saga are familiar with the Audrey Edmunds case. Audrey was convicted and imprisoned for the shaking death of an infant in her care.  She spent 11 years in a maximum security prison until Keith Findley and the Wisconsin Innocence Project succeeded in having her conviction overturned, and she was exonerated.

The American Bar Association Journal from Dec., 2011 has an article that provides a good summary of the case.  See that article here.  The article will also give you some idea of how entrenched SBS theory is in the US medical community and justice system.  For example, to this day, the prosecutor in the case is still convinced that Audrey murdered that infant.

On Dec. 10, 2012, Audrey and Keith are scheduled to appear on the daytime talk show “Katie” with Katie Couric.  3:00 PM Eastern time on ABC.  This should be one to put on your calendar.  The appearance was originally scheduled for Dec. 6, but pending any further schedule change, it is now set for Dec. 10.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Human lie detectors are wrong as much as they are right

While investigating my first wrongful conviction case after my book Presumed Guilty was published in 1991, I was shocked to learn that the FBI “expert” who polygraphed defendant Paul Ferrell was allowed to testify that Ferrell had given a nonverbal confession. According to the agent, Ferrell nodded his head as the agent discussed why investigators believed Ferrell had killed a missing woman. Although Ferrell insisted he was innocent, the agent said his slight head nod was an admission of guilt.

Ferrell’s appeals attorney argued in his brief that this was apparently the first time such testimony had been admitted in American court and should have been disallowed. The appeals court agreed, but called the admission “harmless error.”

When I called Paul Ekman, the leading authority on nonverbal communication, to discuss the FBI polygraphist’s testimony, he expressed dismay. Ekman said the body-language interpretation of FBI polygraphists had been repeatedly shown in studies to be wrong about half the time. Even worse, he said, head nods are the most difficult of all body motions to interpret.

Ekman sounded like the voice of reason then. Unfortunately, a few years later, Ekman developed the Facial Action Coding System, which he claimed can be used to determine whether someone is lying with 95 percent accuracy. Law enforcement quickly moved to adopt the system, which was featured on the American TV series, Lie to Me, whose main character was an expert on divining deception based on Ekman.

But as Sue Russell points out in an article that’s part of her excellent series on wrongful convictions in Pacific Standard magazine, that’s bad news for innocent suspects. Regardless of the training people use to convince themselves that they can tell when someone is lying, Russell says, “research repeatedly shows that confidence to be misplaced.” You can read her story here.

Idaho Innocence Project on Dateline NBC Tonight in U.S….

An Idaho murder case from 1996 is coming under new scrutiny with the help of the Idaho Innocence Project. On Friday, Aug. 24, NBC-Dateline will air “The Confession. A mother fights to free the man convicted in her daughter’s murder.”

The Emmy award winning program will showcase an all new one-hour special about Angie Dodge’s murder in her Idaho Falls apartment and the confession of Chris Tapp, who currently is serving a sentence of 25 years to life for the crime. The show airs at 9 p.m. on KTVB Channel 7.

The Idaho Innocence Project believes that Tapp is innocent. Biology and criminal justice professor Greg Hampikian is working on DNA aspects of the case, which is being handled by Rick Visser, IIP assistant director and staff attorney. Several Boise State students also have assisted in research and investigation.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Recent exoneree Brian Banks, client of the California Innocence Project, will appear on the Jay Leno show tonight in the U.S. (here’s an article on the “touching” offer of employment he received from the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team)
  • According to the new Registry of Exonerations, Illinois and Wisconsin have two of the highest wrongful conviction rates in the U.S.; but lawyers in those states say that fact has more to do with longstanding and well-funded innocence projects that have simply uncovered the wrongful convictions in those states
  • Lubbock, Texas law firm offers to pay for public memorial for exoneree Timothy Cole
  • Two wrongfully convicted men in the UK appeal seeking state compensation
  • Kate Beckinsale on the set of her new movie, which is about a wrongful conviction
  • Retired FBI agent supports new trial for Kalvin Michael Smith in North Carolina

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • The play My Kind of Town, about police torture and wrongful conviction, opens in Chicago
  • Texas DA John Bradley, who was criticized for his handling of the Michael Morton case, goes down in primary election after opponent focuses on wrongful convictions (more here)
  • Some analysis and breakdown of the numbers in the exoneration registry
  • Commentary on the U.S. Dep’t of Justice and its failure to act when its prosecutors engage in misconduct
  • New documentary TV series about wrongful convictions being produced by Discovery Channel in Canada

Innocence in the Czech Republic…

Daniel Vanek, DNA expert in the Czech Republic

I am in the Czech Republic lecturing over the next few days about the Innocence Movement.  I am so heartened and inspired when I go to countries like this to find kindred souls who are on the ground educating, teaching, and fighting for justice for the innocent.  DNA specialist Daniel Vanek is that person in the Czech Republic, and I am honored to be able to to spend time with someone who is this passionate about the movement.  I will write more later when I’m back to the States, but wanted to share now a video that was on national television in the Czech Republic this weekend about Daniel and his fight for forensic controls and the wrongfully convicted.

The Real CSI: PBS to Air Show on Junk Science Tomorrow Night in U.S.

From a press release:




Tuesday, April 17, 2012, at 10 P.M. ET on PBS

Evidence collected at crime scenes—everything from fingerprints to bite marks—is routinely called upon in the courtroom to prosecute the most difficult crimes and put the guilty behind bars. And though glamorized on commercial television, in the real world, it’s not so cut-and-dried. A joint investigation by FRONTLINE, ProPublica and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley examines the reliability of the science behind forensics in “The Real CSI,” airing Tuesday, April 17, 2012, at 10 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings).

FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman finds serious flaws in some of the best known tools of forensic science and wide Continue reading