Truth in Justice Newsletter - August - September, 2006

RECENT CASES

Think it can't happen to you?  Think only people who live on the edge, run with the wrong crowd, get into trouble can be charged with crimes they didn't commit?  And do you think the "system" will sort it out?  Think again.  Look at what happened to Lisa Hansen.  And she's lucky, because a year later, she was exonerated.  That's a rare good ending.

Twelve-year-old J. Daniel Scruggs of Meriden, Connecticut was bullied so relentlessly at school that the Conn. Dept. of Children and Families, after inspecting his home, suggested his mother keep him out of school until a transfer could be arranged.  A few days later, the boy hanged himself in his closet.  Then the local prosecutor charged his grieving mother, Judith Scruggs, with keeping such a dirty house that it prompted the boy to commit suicide.  A jury agreed and convicted Scruggs of causing her child's suicide.  The Connecticut Supreme Court has overturned her conviction.

A man in prison since 1991 after being convicted of raping and killing a Peekskill High School classmate will go free now because a DNA match has linked another inmate to the crime.  Jeffrey Deskovic was 17 when a jury found him guilty of murder in the Nov. 15, 1989, death of Angela Correa. The jury knew then that DNA evidence did not match Deskovic, but jury members convicted him based on testimony from a Peekskill detective that Deskovic had confessed to the crime.



INNOCENT IMPRISONED


What trumps DNA excluding a suspect as the killer in a homicide case?  In Clark County, Nevada, a checkered past and a jailhouse snitch are more believable than the gold standard of forensic science.



False Confessions: An Important Series from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
and The Innocence Institute of Point Park University

False Confessions:  How and Why
False Confession Cases:
Tiffany Pritchett
Da'Ron Cox
Troy Joseph

HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

New York  How would you like to be the defendant in a high-profile murder case and have Carlos Perez-Olivo representing you?  In closing argument, he told the jury, "There's more, but I've forgotten it."  Perez-Olivo has finally been disbarred, not for his performance in the murder case, but for lying to and stealing from his clients.  A true criminal lawyer.


POLICE/PROSECUTOR/JUDICIAL MISCONDUCT

New JerseySuperior Court Judge Wilbur Mathesius thinks two N.J. Supreme Court justices are too prejudiced against him to be objective when they review the 6-month suspension Mathesius caught for, among other things, berating a jury for acquitting a defendant of illegal handgun possession; talking ex parte to jurors in the midst of deliberations in a murder case; making derogatory comments, some in public, about appellate judges; and gratuitous remarks that show bias about cases or defendants.  Can't They Take a Joke?

South CarolinaAn investigation by The Post and Courier (Charleston) uncovered endemic failures in the state's system for tracking police officers that allow problem cops to keep their badges despite histories of misconduct and even criminal behavior.  Systemic Failure

North Carolina:  The Robeson County District Attorney has had to dismiss 180 drug cases because a state and federal investigation has led to corruption charges against former drug enforcement deputies.  Three of those deputies — Roger Taylor, C.T. Strickland and Steven Lovin — have been charged in a 10-count federal indictment. The indictment alleges that they burned two homes and a business, assaulted people, paid informants with drugs, and stole and laundered public money.  Power Corrupts

Wisconsin
John Maloney’s family - with the help of a high-profile private investigator - has accused a state Justice Department fire investigator of lying about tests he conducted before declaring the fire at Maloney’s estranged wife’s home an arson.  Ira Robins, who garnered much of his fame for helping press for Laurie “Bambi” Bembenek’s release from prison, announced Wednesday that he has filed a petition with the state Supreme Court citing new burn tests by Dr. James Munger and alleging a Department of Justice arson investigator Greg Eggum lied while testifying during John Maloney’s homicide trial.  Forensic Fraud and Perjury

To see still photos of Dr. Munger's fire tests, click HERE.

To see a short video presentation of Dr. Munger's fire tests, click HERE.

False Allegations of Child Abuse
In what experts say is the first such ruling in the nation, a Greenup (Kentucky) Circuit Court judge has barred the prosecution from introducing expert testimony that a baby was injured by shaking, unless there is other evidence of abuse.  Issuing identical rulings in two cases, Judge Lewis Nichols cited biomechanical studies that have concluded it's impossible for an adult to shake an infant hard enough to cause the injuries used to diagnose the syndrome -- hemorrhaging behind both retinas and hematomas, or pools of blood, in the membranes of the brain.  Not Letting Doctors Diagnose Legal Conclusions


JUNK SCIENCE


Sloppy Work at NYPD Lab The NYPD is reviewing some 1,400 cases where a lab technician may have bungled fingerprint evidence. Officials pulled all cases handled by the lab tech after a sample review of 132 of them revealed she botched the evidence-collection process 20% of the time, police sources said.  "The common perception is that technology is always right, whether it is fingerprints or DNA, but this shows technology is only as good as the person who does the work," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.


Low Standards in Lowcountry.  The Charleston, SC Family Court relies on Robert Bennett's findings to decide crucial issues of custody and divorce. His words can ruin reputations, wrest children from their parents and cost people their jobs.  But a Post & Courier investigation shows Bennett's credentials, methods and the reliability of his findings are suspect or controversial.

Unreliable DNA Down Under
About 60 convicted criminals could have their cases reopened amid claims the DNA evidence used to incriminate them was unreliable.  Ron Grice, a former Queensland Health Scientific Services scientist, said he was haunted by memories of submitting potentially unreliable DNA evidence to the courts. He believed about 5 per cent of the 1200 cases he had handled relied on samples too small to be retested.

Why Experts Make Errors.  [Note: You need Adobe Acrobat to read this.]  An article by Itiel E. Dror and David Charlton of the School of Psychology, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK, published in the Journal of Forensic Identification, 2006. 

Abstract: Expert latent fingerprint examiners were presented with fingerprints taken from real criminal cases. Half of the prints had been previously judged as individualizations and the other half as exclusions. We re-presented the same prints to the same experts who had judged them previously, but provided biasing contextual information in both the individualizations and exclusions. A control set of individualizations and exclusions was also re-presented as part of the study. The control set had no biasing contextual information associated with it. Each expert examined a total of eight past decisions. Two-thirds of the experts made inconsistent decisions. The findings are discussed in terms of psychological and cognitive vulnerabilities.

Impact of Report in Scotland
Fresh doubts over the accuracy of fingerprint evidence in courts has been raised by new research showing experts can be easily swayed in their judgements by "background" information. 

RECOMMENDED READING
Cry Rape Cry Rape
A blind woman is raped, forced to recant her report, then charged with a crime.
by Bill Lueders

'In a textbook example of how not to investigate rape, Patty was disbelieved, humiliated, and treated like a criminal while promising leads were ignored. Her fight for justice is an important and inspiring story, as well as a warning that old ways of thought about women persist in sutprising places. As full of twists and turns as a msytery novel, and as tightly written, Cry Rape lays bare the underside of one of our nation's most liberal and attractive cities."
--Katha Pollitt, columnist for
The Nation

Learn more about this case, this book and the author at CryRapeBook.com


INNOCENCE PROJECTS

Innocence Projects provide representation and/or investigative assistance to prison inmates who claim to be innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. There is now at least one innocence project serving each state. Most of these innocence projects are new and overwhelmed with applications, so waiting time between application and acceptance is long. Wrongfully convicted persons should not be dissuaded from applying to Innocence Projects because of this, but should have realistic expectations regarding acceptance and time lags.  Check the list for the innocence project in your area; we update it regularly.


Since her days as a law school student, Katie Monroe has had a passion for criminal cases with more questions than answers.  In 1992, her professional interests and personal life collided when the death of her mother's longtime companion landed Beverly Monroe in prison for a murder she claimed she didn't commit. Katie Monroe's work led an appellate court to overturn her mother's conviction in 2002.  Now Monroe has begun a new chapter in her career as the first executive director of the Utah-based Rocky Mountain Innocence Center (RMIC), a privately funded organization that investigates claims of innocence in Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming.  Fighting Wrongful Verdicts a Passion

A murder and a long list of wrongful convictions have fired a public campaign that threatens to erode confidence in the justice system in Western Australia.  Western Australia Innocence Project

LINKS

The links pages at Truth in Justice are frequently updated.  Be sure to check them for resources, "must" reading, websites of inmates with compelling innocence claims and more.  Start at http://truthinjustice.org/links.htm

SITE SEARCH ENGINE

There are now over 1,200 pages at Truth in Justice.  The site search engine on the main page can make it faster and easier to find what you seek.

And remember, YOU can make a difference!

Sheila and Doug Berry


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