On Friday, a Travis County (TX) jury found Mark Norwood, 62, guilty of the 1988 bludgeoning murder of Debra Baker. Norwood was at liberty to commit Debra’s murder, because he escaped justice in the similar murder of Christine Morton two years earlier. Both victims lived in the Austin area.
Christine’s husband, Michael, was wrongfully convicted of his wife’s murder and spent nearly 25 years in prison. Among the many sad outcomes of this wrongful conviction was that the Morton’s three-year-old son Eric lost both his mother and, for 25 years, a normal relationship with his father.
If evidence supporting Michael Morton’s innocence had been shared with the defense, which is required of prosecutors, it is less likely he would have been convicted. The jury did not know that a bloody bandana was found the day after Christine’s murder outside the Morton home along a likely escape route from the property.
The jury didn’t know that little Eric was present during his mother’s murder. He told his grandmother his father wasn’t home and “a monster” was hurting his mommy. Continue reading
We had hope, back in 2009, when the National Academy of Sciences report Forensic Science in the United States; A Path Forward was published, that there might finally be some remedy for all the junk science being used to convict innocent people. The report painted a scathing picture of the lack of true science contained in, and the invalidity of, traditional forensic disciplines; the sole exception being DNA. The report did spawn the creation of the Federal Commission on Forensic Science, which has proven, over the last three years, to be a totally toothless tiger, accomplishing essentially nothing.
Now recently, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has issued an additional report that is highly condemning of current forensic practices. You can see the PCAST report here: pcast_forensic_science_report_final
HOWEVER, even in light of this recent report, both the FBI and the Department of Justice have stated they have no intention of changing the way they currently address forensics.
Please see the Intercept article, FBI AND DOJ VOW TO CONTINUE USING JUNK SCIENCE REJECTED BY WHITE HOUSE REPORT, by Jordan Smith here.
This from a recent story on Slate by Mark Joseph Stern: “The Arizona Supreme Court issued a stunning and horrifying decision on Tuesday, interpreting a state law to criminalize any contact between an adult and a child’s genitals. According to the court, the law’s sweep encompasses wholly innocent conduct, such as changing a diaper or bathing a baby.”
Not only that, but this law places the burden upon the accused to prove that there was no sexual intent. This throws presumption of innocence (innocent until proven guilty) out the window!
“Arizona prosecutors can now dangle the threat of a probable child molestation conviction to coerce any parent of a young child into taking a plea deal on unrelated charges. With the state Supreme Court’s help, Arizona’s child molestation laws have been weaponized into a tool for prosecutorial harassment, allowing the state to target any parent or caregiver—out of spite or malice, or simply to boost their conviction rates.”
Arizona has, once again, proven that the inmates are truly running the asylum. This is so absurd, it would be laughable – if it weren’t so tragic.
Please see the full story on Slate by Mark Joseph Stern here.
Jim Petro, former Ohio attorney general, comments today in the Columbus Dispatch on problems with Ohio’s death penalty, including unaddressed recommendations to reduce the risk of executing the wrongly convicted…
Posted in Capital punishment, Editorials/Opinion, Exonerations, Reforming/Improving the system, Uncategorized
Tagged capital punishment, DNA, DNA testing, exoneration, informant, investigation, Justin Brooks, snitch evidence, wrongful conviction
A commentary published on September 1 in the Columbus Dispatch…
You may, or may not, have noticed that for quite some time, I have withdrawn from writing about SBS-related cases and issues (shaken baby syndrome). The reasons for this are many, complicated, and really of no consequence to the reader. However, a recent article about the role that child abuse pediatricians (CAP’s) play in these travesties of justice demands widespread exposure.
Please see our earlier post: The Child Abuse Pediatrician (CAP) – Just Another Term for Medical “Cop.”
The recent article by Monica Mears for the Health Impact News goes to the heart of the problem with CAP’s. This from the article: “More shocking are the many ways in which the medical profession and its child abuse pediatric specialty hide stereotyping, arrogance, abuse of authority and twisted “science” when it claims to “diagnose” child abuse – which is in fact a legal allegation, not truly a medical diagnosis.”
Please see the powerful and compelling Health Impact News story by Monica Mears here.
Anyone who has followed my stuff on this site knows that prosecutors are not my favorite people. This is not because they are inherently bad, evil people, but it’s because of what the structures and incentives of the justice system turn them into – personally ambitious and politically motivated inquisitors with practically ultimate power and little regard for true justice.
As I’ve studied prosecutorial abuses of the justice system over the last eight and a half years, there are two prosecutors that emerged as what I would term the “most vicious.” Those would be Anita Alvarez (Cook County, IL – Chicago) and Angela Corey (Florida 4th Judicial Circuit).
Anita Alvarez was defeated in her primary re-election bid last March. See our previous story on this here.
I can now also report that Angela Corey has lost her primary re-election bid to a challenger by a margin of 64% to 26%. Corey’s most infamous cases include the failure to convict George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the unfortunately successful and ugly conviction of Marissa Alexander for firing a warning shot at her abusive boyfriend. Please see the USA Today story here.
Johnson, Wheatt, Glover – this was the very first case I worked on with the Ohio Innocence Project eight and a half years ago. At the time, it was a GSR case (gunshot residue). The GSR evidence was always highly questionable, but it was a major factor in their conviction. As it turns out, not only was the GSR evidence bogus, but the case is also an example of egregious prosecutorial misconduct.
Please see the story by Maurice Possley on the National Registry of Exonerations website here.
Posted in Commissions/Innocence Commissions/Governmental Case Review Agencies, Editorials/Opinion, Exonerations, Junk science, Post-conviction relief, Project Spotlights, Reforming/Improving the system, Uncategorized, wrongful conviction
Tagged Death Penalty, exoneration, miscarriage of justice, police misconduct, wrongful conviction
We have previously written about the Jack McCullough case here, here, and here.
Jack was convicted in 2012 of the 1957 abduction and murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, IL. Jack was a neighbor of the Ridulph’s at the time. This used to be called the coldest case ever “solved.”
The current DeKalb County prosecutor, Richard Schmack, felt ethically compelled to review the case, and determined that evidence proved Jack could not be guilty. Consequently, he filed a motion with the court to dismiss charges. Just this past April, Judge William Brady did dismiss the charges, but declined to do so “with prejudice.” This now leaves Jack vulnerable to being re-charged and re-tried. Maria Ridulph’s brother is continuing to seek appointment of a special prosecutor to re-open the case against Jack.
Now, a witness for the prosecution, who was incentivized to testify at Jack’s trial, has come forward to claim the the state did not live up to its part of the deal they made with him.
Well, if you’ve ever doubted the politically-driven and self-serving nature of the justice system, please see the recent CNN story HERE.
“Culture and law conspire to make prosecutors hostile to constitutional rights.”
Ken White is a former prosecutor who now practices criminal defense law. Consequently, he has unique insight into what causes prosecutors to act the way they do. As we have posited on this blog before, it’s not because prosecutors are inherently unethical or evil people (although the position does tend to attract people who seek power). It is the inescapable end result of how the justice system is set up and administered, and how the motivational incentives of the position are structured.
Mr. White has authored an article titled “Confessions of an Ex-Prosecutor,” and you can see that article by Ken White on reason.com here.
This quote from the early section of the article:
“…. nobody taught me to think that way, and nobody had to. I learned it by watching how the system ground up clients indifferently and mercilessly. I learned it by watching prosecutors make the sorts of arguments and decisions I had made, and seeing how they actually impacted human lives. I learned it by watching prosecutorial suspicion—and even paranoia—from the wrong end. I learned it by watching how the system crushed indigent clients, and by how it could destroy the lives of even wealthy clients with minimal effort or cause.”
Until the day that prosecutors are rendered subject to meaningful oversight and sanctions for wrongdoing, and until the day that state-level prosecutors are no longer politically elected, we’re going to be stuck with this problem.
“Complete and Utter Failure of the Criminal Justice System.” Michigan Radio
Davontae Sanford was 14 years old when he confessed to a quadruple murder after a police interrogation that lasted two days. His parents were not contacted. He attempted to recant, but was convicted and sent to prison. It didn’t help that he had a do-nothing, incompetent defense attorney. (In my experience, bad defense attorneys are responsible for as many wrongful convictions as anything else.)
Eight years ago the real killer not only confessed, and said Davontae had nothing to do with it, but he also led police to the gun that was confirmed to be the murder weapon.
Finally, after eight years, the state of Michigan has overturned his conviction, and he has been released from prison.
See the CNN story here.
What the hell happened (or didn’t happen) here?! We have yet to hear an explanation from the state of Michigan. I can only sit here slack-jawed, shaking my head in disbelief.
Furthermore, I’ll make a prediction. We’ll hear some kind of non-specific boilerplate excuses from authorities, but nothing substantive or fundamental will change in the system as a result of this. A few people may get a “wrist slap,” but then the whole thing will sink into the murky political-bureaucratic swamp and disappear.
If you were able to read my recent article, Comment on the Nature and State of the (US) Justice System, you’ll know that I bemoaned the fact that the justice system has become an end unto itself, and gets itself (and defendants) endlessly tangled up in “procedure,” ignoring actual guilt or innocence. And if you’re an actually innocent, wrongfully convicted defendant, the situation gets ten times worse.
Interestingly, here is a recent article from InjusticeWatch that underscores much of what I had to say.
Over the decades, driven by political expediency, “the law” has become ever more complex, restrictive, and punitive. U.S. Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski stated, “We need to repeal three felonies a day for three years.”
In Alaska, they haven’t repealed any felonies, but the state legislature has enacted a law to bring a higher level of common sense and fair treatment to the Alaska criminal justice system – Alaska Senate Bill 91. With a recidivism rate in excess of 60% in Alaska, they finally figured out that continuing to put people in prison with long sentences for just about any offense is not working.
The bill incorporates recommendations of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission to adopt data-driven and research-based criminal justice reforms. These reforms include:
- A new risk-based system for release of defendants from jail pretrial, and supervision of those defendants in the community;
- Sentencing reforms that focus prison beds for serious violent offenders;
- And evidence-based practices to strengthen probation and parole supervision.
See the Alaska Dispatch News story here.
Last report was that the bill was awaiting transmittal to the governor.
It’s long, long past time that the legislators around the country started actually looking at the DATA and RESEARCH on criminal issues before they go passing knee-jerk, blatantly political criminal justice legislation. Hats off to Alaska for this. At least it’s a step in the right direction.
Posted in Commissions/Innocence Commissions/Governmental Case Review Agencies, Compensation/Exoneree compensation, Conviction Integrity Units, Editorials/Opinion, Exonerations, Junk science, Post-conviction relief, Prosecutorial conduct (good and bad), Reforming/Improving the system, Uncategorized, wrongful conviction
Tagged compensation, Conviction Integrity Unit, Death Penalty, DNA, forensic science, wrongful conviction
While writing the latest post about Jack McCullough‘s exoneration, and while reading Courtney Bisbee‘s latest filing with the US District Court for Arizona, I got to reflecting on my experiences with the justice system over the past eight years, and I thought I would share some of my (unvarnished) observations. Clearly, this will be very editorial. It will probably help to understand my comments to know that I am not an attorney. I am an engineer by training, and that’s what I did for my entire working career – until I started doing innocence work pro bono. So I see the justice system with the naivete’ of someone who is an “outsider” and is not a functionary of the system; but I do see the system as someone who has spent his entire life founded in objective truth and logic and fact. Again, this article will be editorial in nature, and represents my views and only my views. It will also be pretty bleak; however, I see no viable path to fixing the monster we’ve created over the course of multiple decades of politics and the frailties of human nature. This has been bottled up inside me for some time, and the cork has finally popped. And just for reference, my definition of the justice system includes the law, legislators, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the police.
Posted in Compensation/Exoneree compensation, Editorials/Opinion, Police conduct (good and bad), Reforming/Improving the system, Uncategorized, wrongful conviction
Tagged compensation legislation, Connecticut Innocence Project, exoneration, exoneree compensation, forensic science, Gideon v. Wainwright, Police Accountability, police misconduct