Yes, it seems that along with foisting lies and bad services, governments also like to provide us with fraudulent "expert" witnesses, and perhaps the worst offenders are the prosecutors of Mississippi. Now, Mississippi has been a study in injustice for a long time, given its awful civil rights history which, like that of Georgia, includes numerous murders for which there were no prosecutions, much less no convictions. Georgia and Mississippi both made it de facto legal for whites to kill blacks and people of both states seemed to take pride in the fact that murder was legal there.
Today, the politicians and the "justice" system players like to claim that things have changed, but I don't think so. In Catoosa County, the authorities still are trying to wrongly convict Eric Echols who the last time I checked still was African-American. Mississippi does Catoosa County one better: the state has a number of blacks on death row, put there due to the fraudulent testimony of Steven Hayne and Michael West.
This latest dispatch from Radley Balko is the kind of thing that should make one's blood boil, as Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is trying to railroad a man to the execution chamber despite the fraudulence of the "expert" testimony that put him there. Mr. Balko writes about the upcoming execution of Eddie Lee Howard:
In 1994 Eddie Lee Howard was convicted of raping and murdering 84-year-old Georgia Kemp. Kemp was found dead in her Columbus, Mississippi, home by firefighters after a neighbor noticed smoke coming from the house. Investigators determined the fire was set intentionally.Now, if you think Jim Hood is a liar and a charlatan, you are right. But, replace his name with Thurbert Baker or Len Gregor, Buzz Franklin, or Chris Arnt, and you have the same kind of person.
Kemp's body was taken to controversial Mississippi medical examiner Steven Hayne, who would later lose his lucrative niche as the state's go-to guy for autopsies after years of criticism for sloppy work that rarely failed to confirm prosecutors' suspicions. Hayne concluded that Kemp died of knife wounds and said he found signs of rape, although the rape kit taken from Kemp turned up no biological evidence that the technology available at the time could test for DNA.
Three days after Kemp was buried, District Attorney Forrest Allgood, the chief prosecutor for the four counties of Mississippi's 16th District, zeroed in on Howard, who at the time was unemployed and living with a relative down the street from Kemp's house, as the culprit. Once Howard was identified as a suspect, Hayne suddenly recalled seeing marks on Kemp's body that could have been made by human teeth (Hayne's original autopsy report makes no mention of the bite marks). So Kemp's body was exhumed and given to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, dentist Michael West, a self-proclaimed expert in bite mark analysis and frequent beneficiary of Hayne's referrals. West confirmed that the marks were indeed bite impressions and that some of them could only have been made by Howard's upper teeth—a puzzling claim, since Howard's upper teeth were a mass-manufactured denture. Howard was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994. The Mississippi Supreme Court later gave Howard a new trial, ruling he was unfit to represent himself at trial. He was again convicted and again sentenced to death in 2000.
West's bite mark testimony is the only physical evidence linking Howard to the crime scene. (The other evidence against Howard includes incriminating statements he allegedly made to a police officer that were not recorded or written down and testimony from an ex-girlfriend that Howard smelled of smoke the day after Kemp's murder.) At the time of Howard's conviction, West was a star forensic witness, claiming to have perfected a method of bite mark analysis no other forensic specialist could duplicate. But since Howard's conviction, West has become the poster boy for forensic fakery.
West, who once claimed he could trace the tooth marks in a half-eaten bologna sandwich at a crime scene to a defendant while excluding everyone else on the planet, has had to resign from two professional forensics organizations due to his habit of giving testimony unsupported by science. In 2001 (as I reported last year) a defense lawyer caught West in a sting aimed at revealing him as a charlatan: West matched the dental mold of a private investigator to unrelated photos of bite marks from a crime committed eight years earlier. West even sent back a video in which he methodically went through his technique. Despite all this, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld Howard's conviction and death sentence in 2006. With respect to West, the majority concluded, "Just because Dr. West has been wrong a lot, does not mean, without something more, that he was wrong here."
Since then a wave of new revelations (described in more detail below) has confirmed that Steven Hayne and Michael West are not credible expert witnesses. Last month Howard and his attorneys at the Mississippi Innocence Project cited some of that evidence in asking the Mississippi Supreme Court for a new trial. In response, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood does not argue that Michael West is a credible expert or that his testimony in Howard's case had any scientific foundation. Instead Hood argues that because the Mississippi Supreme Court already has upheld West's testimony in the face of criticism, Howard is procedurally barred from again citing West's quackery in a bid for a new trial.
The argument may arguably be legally correct, but Hood is not obligated to make it. Hood, whose duty is not just to win cases but to pursue justice, should have the decency to review every case in which West has ever testified. Instead, in the face of growing evidence that the criminal justice system he presides over has been corrupted by unreliable expert witnesses, Hood is essentially arguing that Eddie Lee Howard should be sent to the death chamber on a technicality.
More and more, we are seeing dishonest and venal people self-selecting into the office of prosecutor. For the most part, Americans are quite satisfied with this sorry state of affairs -- or they are satisfied until something happens to them and then they begin to understand what is happening.
Prosecutors are more likely to try to get fraudulent "expert" witnesses because they are more likely to lie, as we saw Suzi Thorne do during Tonya Craft's trial. When I asked Ione Sells about Nancy Aldridge having testified for the prosecution, she laughed and said, "She has not testified for the prosecution since 2007." My sense is that she is right, but if I understand the present mentality in the typical prosecutor's office, the last thing prosecutors want is an expert witness who is both competent AND truthful.
No, prosecutors are quite happy with people like Steven Hayne and Michael West. The LMJC is not alone in being Perjury Central.