There are few people more likely to rush to judgment when criminal charges are made than police officers and prosecutors that regard themselves to be the avengers of wronged victims. A rush to judgment almost always ends in tragedy with innocent people convicted and criminals running free.
What even is worse is when those "crusades" decide that a crime has been committed that in reality is non-existent. Mike Nifong went after the Duke Lacrosse players long after he was told that there was no evidence that anyone had raped Crystal Mangum. Likewise, Tonya Craft was railroaded even though she had molested no one, something that "judge" Brian House and his two henchman, Len "the man" Gregor and Chris "Cruisemaster" Arnt understood from the beginning.
From what I can tell, something similar is happening in Marion County, although I am reluctant to say that the detective involved is fundamentally dishonest like what we see in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit. Nevertheless, I am seeing a number of red flags that I believe need a hard and suspicious look from others.
Last month, a Marion County grand jury indicted Glenn Webster on 45 counts of child abuse and molestation, with the investigating detective being Beth Schindel. The story was in the Chattanooga TimesFreePress, and was the standard kind of piece one sees in such cases. The writer, Ben Benton, referred to the accuser, who is related to Webster, as the "victim," and not the "alleged" victim, as he should have done.
(Granted, the media in Chattanooga pretty much rushes to judgment in these kinds of cases. Witness how Channel 9 tried to convict Craft in its broadcasts, and even after the verdict, the WTVC news director told me that Craft very well could be guilty. In other words, according to some local media, the accusations are proof of guilt, a narrative that is not permitted to be disturbed under any circumstances, and certainly cannot and should not be dislodged by the facts.)
Benton's story mentions that Webster is a triple amputee (missing two legs and an arm), and that he has been well-known as a volunteer to the local Boy Scouts. I must admit this is interesting, First, how does a triple amputee do what was alleged, especially given that it should not be difficult for someone to get away from him?
Second, child molesters do not just do it to one kid. No, they almost always leave a trail, and what better place for a real child molester to do so than working as a volunteer with the Boy Scouts? I have not heard anything from other children or their families with whom Webster came into contact, and I would be quite interested to know whether other youngsters are making similar claims.
Unfortunately, the courts and the legislatures of this country have ruled that when it comes to rape, child molestation, and sexual assault, no corroborating evidence is needed for a conviction. The simple word of an accuser is all that is needed. In the Duke Lacrosse Case, a grand jury indicted Reade Seligmann for rape even though he had ironclad proof he was more than a mile away from the venue where the non-rape occurred. And I can guarantee you that a jury in Durham would have convicted Seligmann had the case come to trial, despite the evidence.
There was another story involving Schindel that also has made me highly suspicious of her investigative integrity, one involving the discredited "Shaken Baby Syndrome." The Marion County Sheriff's website says this about Schindel:
Detective Schindel works on a wide range of cases from property crimes to drug cases. While she has been successful in solving and convicting criminals in these situations, bringing justice to child sex crime and rape perpetrators remains a very high priority. Detective Schindel has put many offenders in such cases behind bars. Her goal is to be the voice for the victims in the courtroom and work every case aggressively. (Emphasis mine)While the words were written in praise, they also tell me that Schindel almost surely decides that the accusation is "proof" of guilt, and then she simply tries to pound the square evidence peg into the round hole of facts. Single-minded people like this are likely to aggressively put innocent people into prison and not lose sleep over their tactics.
Again, I don't know Schindel, and I don't know if she is a female version of Tim Deal, but I cannot be hopeful about her commitment to due process or the assumption of innocence. And then there is the "shaken baby" case, again from the TFP:
The "suspicious" death of a 3-month-old boy on Saturday triggered an investigation in Marion County, Tenn., and authorities say they're waiting for autopsy results to show whether a criminal act led to Colin Russell's death.
The baby's father has been named a "person of interest" in the case, but no charges have been filed, according to investigators.The story goes on:
Detective Beth Schindel spent several days in Nashville while Colin was being treated. She said medical scans and a magnetic resonance imaging scan done last week showed the baby had retinal hemorrhaging and brain trauma.
Those injuries are similar to those found in cases of shaken-baby syndrome, she said.Except that so-called Shaken Baby Syndrome might well be yet another medical hoax that activists and the media and courts have foisted upon innocent people. A lengthy New York Times article last year by Emily Bazelon laid out the hard facts that a lot of people in the medical community now reject that diagnosis -- a diagnosis that possibly has sent hundreds and maybe thousands of innocent people to prison. Bazelon writes:
A dozen years ago, the medical profession held that if the triad of subdural and retinal bleeding and brain swelling was present without a fracture or bruise that would indicate, for example, that a baby had accidently fallen, abuse must have occurred through shaking. In the past decade, that consensus has begun to come undone. In 2008, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, after reviewing a shaken-baby case, wrote that there is “fierce disagreement” among doctors about the shaken-baby diagnosis, signaling “a shift in mainstream medical opinion.” In the same year, at the urging of the province’s chief forensic pathologist, the Ontario government began a review of 142 shaken-baby cases, because of “the scientific uncertainty that has come to characterize that diagnosis.”Before going further, I will add that in the Whitwell investigation, there also is evidence of broken ribs suffered by the child. However, until I know more, the fact still stands that there is considerable question about SBS. Bazelon writes:
As the diagnosis of shaken-baby syndrome took hold in medicine, and prosecutors began to bring charges based on it, doctors testified that shaking could generate the same terrible force as throwing a child from a second-story window. It turned out they were wrong. In 1987, a neurosurgeon named Ann-Christine Duhaime published a paper that included the autopsy results of 13 babies with symptoms associated with shaken-baby syndrome. In all of them she found evidence of trauma that was actually caused by impact. She teamed up with biomechanical engineers to create infant-sized dummies equipped with sensors to measure acceleration.“We shook them as hard as we could, and we thought something was wrong, because the accelerations we measured were unexpectedly low,” Duhaime says. Instead, the force level shot up when the testers released the dummies after shaking them, even if they hit a soft surface like a bed or a couch.Radley Balko, whose name has been mentioned many times before in this blog, also has taken on this questionable diagnosis:
Later experiments confirmed this finding and have made some doctors and biomechanical engineers skeptical that shaking alone can cause severe brain damage or death. At the same time, the experiments have not ruled this out, Duhaime says. Among other things, the dummies are not live children, and while their heads and necks can exhibit the effects of acceleration, impact on brain tissue is still hard to model.
...in the Washington University Law Review, DePaul University law professor DeborahTeurkheimer argues that the medical research has now shifted to the point where U.S. courts must conduct a major review of most SBS cases from the last 20 years. The problem, Teurkheimer explains, is that the presence of three symptoms in an infant victim—bleeding at the back of the eye, bleeding in the protective area of the brain, and brain swelling—have led doctors and child protective workers to immediately reach a conclusion of SBS. These symptoms have long been considered pathognomic, or exclusive, to SBS. As this line of thinking goes, if those three symptoms are present in the autopsy, then the child could only have been shaken to death.
Moreover, an SBS medical diagnosis has typically served as a legal diagnosis as well. Medical consensus previously held that these symptoms present immediately in the victim. Therefore, a diagnosis of SBS established cause of death (shaking), the identity of the killer (the person who was with the child when it died), and even the intent of the accused (the vigorous nature of the shaking established mens rea). Medical opinion was so uniform that the accused, like Edmunds, often didn't bother questioning the science. Instead, they'd often try to establish the possibility that someone else shook the child.
But now the consensus has shifted. Where the near-unanimous opinion once held that the SBS triad of symptoms could only result from a shaking with the force equivalent of a fall from a three-story to four-story window, or a car moving at 25 mph to 40 mph (depending on the source), research completed in 2003 using lifelike infant dolls suggested that vigorous human shaking produces bleeding similar to that of only a 2-foot to 3-foot fall. Furthermore, the shaking experiments failed to produce symptoms with the severity of those typically seen in SBS deaths.
The research implies that human beings simply cannot shake a baby to death without an accompanying impact to the head. SBS cases, however, frequently show no external injuries. This suggests that other causes are at work. Additional research has shown babies to be lucid up to 72 hours before classic SBS symptoms set in, casting doubt on the long-held theory that the child's caretaker at the time of death (or loss of consciousness) was the likely killer.Balko goes on:
Last year, Discover magazine published a provocative article laying out much of this new research. Notably, the magazine found several specialists who have since changed their minds after testifying for the prosecution in multiple SBS cases. (At a post-conviction hearing for Edmunds, all of her defense experts said that when the case was tried in 1995, they would have testified for the prosecution.) One of those specialists is Ronald Uscinski, a student of Ayub Ommaya, the scientist whose research on monkeys in the late 1960s is thought to be the origin of the SBS diagnosis. When Uscinski went back and reexamined the study, he found no support for the way Ommaya’s research is currently being being used in the courtroom.
"When I put all of this together, I said, my God, this is a sham,” Uscinski told Discover. "Somebody made a mistake right at the very beginning, and look at what’s come out of it."Now, I doubt seriously that Schindel or any prosecutor in Marion County would care to read any of this literature, since it would mean fewer murder prosecutions for them. Prosecutors love to convict, and from what I have seen from the area where I used to live, few, if any, prosecutors care if the defendant is guilty or innocent. To them, everyone is guilty no matter what the facts might tell us.
Furthermore, I doubt that any attorneys that represent people in Southeast Tennessee or Northwest Georgia who are charged with SBS actually know that the whole diagnosis is under attack by medical professionals and researchers. (And if Brian House's courtroom, I doubt scientific literature even would be permitted to be used by the defense, given House's open hostility to anyone charged with a crime.)
As I said at the beginning, I don't know Glenn Webster or anything about him. I don't know his family, the accuser, or anyone else associated with the case, but I will say up front that I am very, very suspicious. Reading about Schindel does not make me think that there is an investigator who actually cares about getting it right. She seems to be satisfied with a strategy of the ends justifying the means, even if the ends is the conviction of innocent people.