The January 26 opinion overturning the conviction of Massachusetts inmate George D. Perrot, which you can read about here, was important in several respects.
First and foremost, the opinion written by Hampden County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Kane was important because it could lead to the release of Perrot 30 years after his conviction on rape charges even though the victim repeatedly said the then-long-haired, bearded Perrot didn’t look like the clean-shaven, short-haired man who raped her.
Second, the opinion is important because Judge Kane’s reasoning could influence thousands of past convictions that were based on now-discredited hair-comparison analysis like that used to convict Perrot.
Equally important, though, was Judge Kane’s finding that Wayne Oakes, the FBI hair examiner who testified as an expert in the case was unduly influenced by the overzealous prosecutor in the case. In his ruling, Kane noted that the prosecutor, Francis W. Bloom, hand-delivered the hairs and other evidence to the FBI Laboratory in Washington because he wanted to speak with Oakes and the other forensic scientists.
“Bloom carried with him to Washington his attitudes and feelings towards Perrot,” Kane wrote. “He despised Perrot. In a diary, Bloom … referred to Perrot as ‘inherently evil’ and as ‘a sociopath,’ and scoffed at Perrot’s redemption.
“Such feelings enable a person possessing public authority to shed the restraints and scruples that limit the exercise of power. The feelings allow the official to see the individual as apart from the community of citizens whose rights must be regarded. These feelings that filled Bloom’s mind, coupled with his trip to Washington, D.C., produce a reasonable foundation for the inference that Bloom voiced his views about Perrot to Oakes. … Unconsciously, Oakes, because of these communications, departed from his role as a neutral expert and slipped into the role of a partisan for the government.”
Bloom was later disciplined when it was discovered that he had forged Perrot’s signature to a fabricated confession implicating two of Perrot’s friends in another housebreak in an unsuccessful attempt to get them to confess. But the slap on the wrist he received pales by comparison with the price Perrot has paid greatly because of Bloom’s misguided zealotry.
Prosecutorial bias permeates the American judicial system. Prosecutors hell-bent on victory often directly or indirectly prod investigators and experts to get the results they want. It’s refreshing to see a judge recognize this in a well-reasoned, groundbreaking decision.