Monday, June 25, 2012

America as South Park Nation: Where Life is a Bad Cartoon, Part I

In the bawdy, satirical cartoon show, South Park, one episode seemed to be something akin to life imitating art (if one calls the show "art"). Called "The Wacky Molestation Adventure," the children in town are able to make their parents legally "disappear" simply by accusing them of molestation.

Not surprisingly, the children revel in their newfound power and the authorities are happy to go along, since everyone is against child molestation. The town soon is denuded of adults.

While South Park is supposed to be farce, nonetheless its plot is not far from the current situation in the United States, where a mere accusation of child molestation, child abuse, sexual abuse, or even rape can end in a legal nightmare for anyone falsely accused. As in the cartoon, when the epidemic of false accusations created circumstances that got out of control, we are seeing what happens in a country when people are empowered to make others disappear by the simple uttering of a lie.

As I have read the horrific story of the school bus monitor who was harassed to tears by a group of seventh graders, I cannot help but wonder if this whole "experiment" in empowering children to falsely accuse adults because we must "protect" children at all costs has played a role not only in that case but in the way children now interact with adults. On top of that, the regular use of accusations of child molestation in child custody battles certainly cannot help how children view adults, especially when the authorities literally coach them to lie.

When I was a student at Baylor School more than 40 years ago (at that time, Baylor was an all-boys military school), students often would find unpopular teachers and make things difficult for them. However, none of us could have imagined acting as the children on that bus did, especially when we were seventh graders. This would have fallen into the "unthinkable" category.

Of course, back then we did not have the authorities actively encouraging us to make accusations of serious crimes against adults, or at least accusations that patently were false. Unfortunately, since then we have seen the advent of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, or CAPTA, also known as the Mondale Act. This law plus subsequent federal statutes not only made false accusations more likely, but also placed government authorities in a position where they were to believe that ANY accusation was true and must pursue the charges as far as they possibly could take them.

The Mondale Act included two important provisions that would eviscerate rule of law and also empower children to go after adults that they didn't like. The first was money that was promised to state and local agencies to assist in prosecuting alleged abusers and for treating children that were abused. The second provision simply did away with the bedrock of Anglo-American law: due process, and in so doing eliminated many evidentiary standards that guaranteed innocent people would be convicted.

At the time, authorities needed corroborating evidence to go along with an accusation, as the simple word of a child with nothing else to help confirm the charges (such as evidence that the accused actually was in that place when the alleged molestation/abuse occurred) was not considered to be credible enough to put someone behind bars for a long time. By ridding the authorities of that troublesome requirement that the accused actually might have committed the acts, the wrongful convictions came and came and came.

During my coverage two years ago of the Tonya Craft case, I heard from another private investigator in Georgia, Ron DeLaby, who told me of a very sad situation. Schools regularly have assemblies in which students are told about "good touch, bad touch" situations with students then urged to report anyone who has given them a "bad touch."

One does not need much of an imagination to know what has happened because of this "touch" emphasis: students try to outdo each other in reporting these alleged crimes. Furthermore, if an adult has upset them, or maybe a parent or grandparent has punished a child for something or has kept a girl from seeing a certain boy, the incentive is there simply to get that person out of the picture.

In the case of which DeLaby spoke, after the girl and her friends went to the assembly, a number of them reported "bad touches," and the girl in question felt left out. She then accused her grandfather of molesting her, and he went to prison. Some time later, she recanted her story and told the authorities the truth, but already having nailed their prey, prosecutors were not interested in hearing what she had to say; her usefulness to them ended when the jury declared, "Guilty."

A number of prosecutors in this country have used the Mondale Act to catapult themselves to the national scene. Janet Reno engaged in especially abusive and dishonest tactics in securing high-profile child molestation cases and her crusading landed her the job of U.S. Attorney General during the Clinton years. (Reno demonstrated her love for children by massacring a large number of them in Waco just weeks after she was sworn into office.)

By eviscerating due process and rules of evidence, federal law has empowered prosecutors and has protected them when they engage in outright criminal activities. The Craft case was especially egregious, as prosecutors Chris Arnt and Len Gregor, "judge" brian outhouse, and Det. Tim Deal colluded to let Deal fabricate a document during the trial in order to fill a giant hole that the prosecutors had dug for themselves.

(Even in Georgia, fabricating evidence in a criminal trial is a felony, except that a representative from the Georgia State Bar told me that prosecutors only were "doing their jobs." So, if one wishes to live a life of crime and do it under color of law, prosecution should be the chosen profession.)

Furthermore, under the non-rules of evidence from the Mondale Act, Arnt was able to claim that molestation occurred without giving place, date, or time. In one ridiculous act, he even charged Craft with molesting Sandra Lamb's daughter in the house that Craft had purchased. However, the alleged molestation was supposed to have taken place long before Craft even lived there.

(Let me note that after the prosecution rested, "judge" brian outhouse upheld that charge, claiming that the prosecution had given "compelling evidence" for the truthfulness of that charge. What outhouse did not realize was that by then the jurors already had concluded that Arnt and Gregor were feeding them lies and that outhouse was enabling the whole sorry show.)

It is true that Craft was acquitted, but only after having to spend more than a million dollars in her defense to debunk charges that were transparently false. Sandra Lamb, who was ground zero for the false accusations, and her daughter knew exactly what they were doing. Arnt advised them that they had to get three children to make accusations, so they chose Tonya's daughter, who was the subject of a custody battle between Tonya and her ex-husband, Joal Henke, and the daughter of Jerry and Kelli McDonald, a child who simply did not make a particularly good witness, judging by her claim on the stand that she knew where Tonya had touched her because her mother said that was what happened.

Pre-Mondale Act, no prosecutor could have made the charges that Arnt and Gregor brought into the "judge" brian outhouse's courtroom. There was no corroborating evidence, nothing. However, Arnt wanted to use the case to catapult himself to stardom, Sandra Lamb wanted to get back at Tonya Craft for whatever petty reasons would motivate "Mommie Dearest," and Joal Henke and his wife, Sarah, wanted Tonya out of the way so that they could have her children. (Gregor just wanted another opportunity to impress people as "the man," not realizing that his courtroom antics revealed him as the buffoon he really is.)

Unfortunately, the Mondale Act is not the only federal statute that has made a mockery out of due process and rules of evidence. The Violence Against Women Act provides the same legal framework, which means that any woman can accuse any man of rape, and no matter how incredible or ridiculous the accusations, authorities MUST investigate them as though they were true, even if it is obvious they are a lie.

Remember the Duke Lacrosse Case? The charges stayed up for a year even though the authorities knew from the beginning that they were false. It was not the power of the accusation or the supposed "mountain of evidence" that prosecutor Mike Nifong claimed to have possessed (with the "mountain" really being a giant hole), but rather the provisions of the VAWA that kept the case alive and forced the families of the accused to spend about five million dollars even though the case never went to trial.

From Durham, North Carolina, to Narragansett, Rhode Island, the VAWA, like the Mondale Act, has enabled false charges of sexual assault and rape against people who were convenient targets for the authorities. As in the old Soviet Union, where anyone could make a troublesome neighbor "disappear" with a false accusation, the United States of America has become a place where innocent people don't have a chance when faced with judges, police, and prosecutors that prefer lies to the truth.

Next Up: The Violence Against Women Act and the injustices that it has spawned.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Victoria Sprouse and "Outcome Driven" Federal Prosecutors

Recent news from North Carolina that federal prosecutors have imprisoned “scores” of men who apparently broke no laws might have been shocking at one time in our nation’s history, but no more. Misconduct and lawless behavior by federal prosecutors in that state is approaching something of legendary proportions, but the immunity-protected lawbreakers have nothing to fear – unlike the innocent.

According to a USA Today investigation, federal prosecutors in North Carolina, who apparently were ignorant of the law (as were the judges that heard the cases) garnered convictions of men on federal weapons charges even though the law was clear that these men had not committed violations. According to the investigation:
Terrell McCullum did not commit a federal crime by carrying a shotgun and a rifle out of his ex-girlfriend's house.

But he is serving a federal prison sentence for it. And the fact that everyone — including the U.S. Justice Department— agrees that he is legally innocent might not be enough to set him free.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on court records and interviews with government officials and attorneys, found more than 60 men who went to prison for violating federal gun possession laws, even though courts have since determined that it was not a federal crime for them to have a gun.

Many of them don't even know they're innocent. 

That is bad enough, but what follows is worse:
Still, the Justice Department has not attempted to identify the men, has made no effort to notify them, and, in a few cases in which the men have come forward on their own, has argued in court that they should not be released.

Justice Department officials said it is not their job to notify prisoners that they might be incarcerated for something that they now concede is not a crime. And although they have agreed in court filings that the men are innocent, they said they must still comply with federal laws that put strict limits on when and how people can challenge their convictions in court.

"We can't be outcome driven," said Anne Tompkins, the U.S. attorney in Charlotte. 

Indeed, Tomkins added, “We've got to make sure we follow the law, and people should want us to do that.” This is from someone whose prosecutors already did not “follow the law” in gaining convictions of innocent people, yet another example of the “heads I win, tails you lose” system of federal “justice.” It was “their job” to convict these men and have them sent to prison, and now that the incarcerated people are behind bars, federal prosecutors suddenly claim that even if they don’t have to follow the law, people wrongfully convicted are bound by it – in more ways than one.

If anything, federal prosecutors are totally “outcome-driven.” Their survival as federal employees, including promotions and raises, are determined by their conviction rates, the more convictions the better. Because they are protected by “absolute immunity,” they never have to worry about facing lawsuits or criminal investigations for wrongdoing. (Yes, criminal investigations supposedly are on the table, but it is a rare thing for federal officials to investigate themselves.)

Perhaps it is fitting that this latest scandal occur in North Carolina, as that state has been a cesspool of “justice” in both state and federal courts. North Carolina gave us the infamous Michael Nifong, the district attorney who fabricated charges against three Duke University lacrosse players, charges that Nifong knew from the start were false.

While Nifong was disbarred for his actions, one of the few prosecutors in the country ever to be disciplined at all, federal authorities refused even to investigate his actions even though his office made use of thousands of dollars of federal money in order to pursue the fraudulent lacrosse case. (State prosecutors are able to obtain federal money to aid with prosecutions in sexual assault, rape, and child abuse/molestation cases, and Nifong’s office used thousands of federal dollars to provide the false accuser, Crystal Mangum, with living expenses. They also used federal money in helping to pay for the actual investigation.)

Although federal prosecutors in North Carolina see no reason to pursue justice, they are quite zealous when it comes to going after people for non-crimes or “crimes” that are the product of the imaginations of prosecutors. The recent farce of a trial involving John Edwards ended somewhat appropriately when federal prosecutors decided not to retry the former U.S. Senator after comments from a deadlocked jury essentially ensured that getting a conviction would be impossible.

Edwards had huge amounts of personal resources to fight the “novel” charges by the feds (even federal prosecutors admitted they were stretching campaign finance law in order to make their claims) but others in North Carolina are not so fortunate. The vast numbers of wrongfully-convicted people there have no personal wealth by which to pursue appeals and even their actual innocence claims and, as the USA Today article points out, are derided by federal prosecutors not because they are untrue, but rather because prosecutors don’t want to be bothered by the inconvenience.

(The irony here is that the people convicted are expected to know the law backwards and forwards. The people that put them there, however, bear absolutely no responsibility to know the law and are not held responsible for their wrongful actions.)

 It is not just Edwards or the people featured in the USA Today investigation that are on the receiving end of wrongful behavior by federal prosecutors in North Carolina. Three years ago, Candice E. Jackson and I wrote about the wrongful conviction of Victoria Sprouse, a real estate attorney who was railroaded in a federal trial in Charlotte. As noted in that article and another one later, the prosecutorial misconduct was pervasive and dishonest.

(After reading the LRC pieces, lead prosecutor Matt Martens first claimed that I was a fictional character and that Sprouse herself had written the first article. However, to quote Descarte, “Cogito ergo sum,” and I really was the main author. Martens then claimed in court that Sprouse had dictated to me the contents of the piece, telling me what to write. That fell into the “howler” category, as people know better than to do something like dictate such things to me.)

Last year, a federal judge overturned Sprouse’s conviction, and federal prosecutors in Charlotte were not pleased, and their revenge was brutal and swift. This past week, Sprouse was arrested and charged with “bankruptcy fraud,” with the charges (while sounding “breathtaking” to the judge) based upon the flimsiest of reasons.

For example, because Sprouse already had lost her law license due to her criminal conviction, she had to do other work while under house arrest. The terms of her house arrest (while her case was being appealed) were draconian and she stayed within them, which meant that she was unable to have enough for living expenses.

Her sister wrote a check from a fund that the sister controlled, so now federal prosecutors are claiming that Sprouse had a “secret fund” that she kept hidden from the court. That is akin to a claim that because the Maryland State government pays me for my teaching at Frostburg State University, I “control” the state treasury.

However, the feds were not satisfied with dumping more felony charges upon Sprouse. She currently is being held without bond in the Mecklenburg County lockup, and is being kept in solitary confinement. To make matters even worse, because of all that was done to her, she was taking medication for depression, anxiety, and to be able to sleep. At the present time, all of those medications have been denied her.

We need to call this by its proper name: torture. Without medication, she will be sleep deprived, and solitary confinement also has been a mechanism used by police and prosecutors to break the will of targeted people and to cause them to lose hope, thus making a plea bargain easier. Federal prosecutors also were able to have her attorney removed because of alleged “conflicts of interest.”

Indeed, as I see it, what is being done to Victoria Sprouse is the epitome of “outcome driven” behavior by prosecutors. Sprouse had the effrontery to win an appeal against her federal masters, and their revenge was brutal and not unexpected. These are people who do things because they can do them, and they will not be satisfied until they either have driven Victoria Sprouse into her grave or into prison.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Will Campaign Signs Bring Down the Outhouse?

During Tonya Craft's trial, "judge" Brian House acted according to signals given by prosecutor Chris Arnt, and that was the least of his wrongdoing. In a previous post on this farce of a "judge," I listed a number of things that House did, all in violation of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct that supposedly governs Georgia judges.

At best, House is a dishonest judge. At worst, he is a criminal.

Because the Judicial Qualifications Commission in Georgia is toothless and because, frankly, people at the Georgia State Bar are completely impervious to wrongdoing by judges and prosecutors, House and his friends have figured that they are invulnerable. That is why House, Arnt, and Len Gregor, along with Tim Deal, figured they could get away with shredding the law during the Craft trial and why House figured that Catoosa County jurors were as craven as were he and his friends.

But now, "judge" Brian House is in hot water with the JQC. Why, as Callie Starnes of WRCB-TV says in her story, it seems that not only did "judge" House have campaign signs in his yard in violation of Georgia's ethics code, but then lied about it when she asked him about the signs:
"A judge, or a candidate for judicial election shall not publicly endorse a candidate for political office," said Jeff Davis, Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission's Director.

Channel 3 called the Judicial Qualifications Commission, or JQC, after receiving numerous tips about two local judges.

Pictures provided to Channel 3 show a banner on part-time Juvenile Court Judge Michael Giglio's law office endorsing Michael Caldwell for superior court clerk.

Superior Court Judge Brian House, who serves in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, leases the building to Giglio.

House also currently employees Caldwell as his assistant.

Channel 3 found a similar sign in front of House's Ringgold home.

According the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct, judges are not allowed to publicly endorse a candidate for public office.
 But it gets even better. When Starnes confronted House about the signs, he engaged in what law schools call "Kettle Pleading" in which the person being accused tells three different -- and mutually-exclusive -- stories. Here is House's own version of Kettle Pleading:
Commission Director Jeff Davis says all judges know the rules.

"Every judge in the state is provided a copy of the code of judicial conduct, and is expected to know it, and expected to adhere to it," he told Channel 3 in a phone interview.

Channel 3 took a copy of the code of conduct when we paid a visit to Judge Brian House's home to ask about the signs.

He changed his story three times.

"I didn't put it there," said House, standing on his front porch Monday.

"I guess Mr. Caldwell did, I didn't put the sign up," he said, when asked who placed the sign on his property line.

"I have no idea who put it up there," House then said when asked if he believed Michael Caldwell would take responsibility for the sign's placement.

House then told us the sign was on his neighbor's property.

"I didn't put it there, I assumed Anthony put it there," he said.

Channel 3 talked to Judge House's neighbor, who tells us the sign is not his. He says it belongs to Judge House, and House didn't ask before placing it on the property line.
Granted, this is penny-ante stuff compared to the massive misconduct that "judge" House committed during the Craft trial and his actions that observers have told me occur in other judicial proceedings. In fact, I would say that one would need no more proof than this to declare that the JQC approaches issues in the same manner of which Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing when he told them that they will "strain out a gnat and swallow a camel."

Nonetheless, like Al Capone going down on tax evasion, I would say that anything which calls attention to the fundamental dishonesty and utter lack of integrity that characterizes Brian House is a good thing. Thus, in honor of this latest caper, I would like to present a new symbol for the "judge's" campaign, complete with inside decor:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Alcohol, Lies, and Ambition: Another Texas “Justice” Outrage

“Good fences make good neighbors,” – Robert Frost in “Mending Wall”

 A Texas jury in 2007 believed prosecutors that claimed Hannah Overton deliberately force-fed salt into her foster child (whom she and her husband were going to adopt) four-year-old Andrew Burd until he became so ill that he soon died. Overton received the sentence of life without parole and is in prison.

The lead prosecutor, Sandra Eastwood, had desperately wanted to win and had told her second chair, Anna Jiminez, later would testify under oath that Eastwood had told her, “I will do anything to win this case.” Before the trial, Eastwood, the police, and, of course, the local media, already had demonized Overton and her family. During the trial, the prosecutors, judge, jurors, and the media pointedly ignored the very complex medical evidence that pointed toward the child having a rare disorder, and why not? These are people who hate complexity; simple narratives and villainous witches are much more preferable, especially when the accused might have religious beliefs that “sophisticated” people might discard.

The Overtons are Pentacostals and to Progressives that populate the mainstream media, Pentacostals are even stranger than men from Mars and have no place in a Progressive society. To make matters even worse, Nueces County District Judge Jose Longoria clearly sided with the prosecution and ensured that at best it would be a show trial. Jurors did what Texas jurors usually do: ignore any exculpatory evidence and convict, many times sending the accused to the execution chambers that are so frequently used in the Lone Star State.

Yet, things did not seem to make sense. Hannah Overton had no police record, was highly-regarded in her church, and had never engaged in any acts of violence against her children. Nonetheless, jurors and Longoria believed Eastwood and Jiminez when they claimed Overton somehow snapped under the pressure of having a fifth child and killed her soon-to-be-adopted son.

As often is the case in Texas, there was a story that was not told, and evidence that neither jurors nor the defense had seen, but that prosecutors knew. But Nueces County prosecutors also knew something else: Sandra Eastwood was an alcoholic and drug addict, and was well-known for lying. She was ambitious, and often impaired, and those two characteristics meant that defendants, and especially high-profile defendants like Hannah Overton, would be tried in circumstances not unlike what was known to happen in communist countries like the former U.S.S.R.

 Prosecutors are officers of the court, and they also are required by law and by the rules set by the Texas State Bar not only to act ethically, but also to report unethical or dishonest actions of themselves or their peers to the authorities. Instead, as is usually the case in all prosecutorial offices in this country, both state and federal, the “ministers of justice” of Nueces County were silent, as they protected their own.

 Anna Jiminez knew a lot of things about Eastwood, and later after Jiminez was elected Nueces County District Attorney, she fired Eastwood. As second chair, she knew the case file and she claimed later that she suspected Eastwood was withholding evidence in violation of the Brady ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, and by the Rules of Conduct for prosecutors in the State of Texas. But while Jiminez reported Eastwood to her superiors, according to later testimony, she never reported Eastwood to the Texas State Bar, as was required by the rules of conduct that govern her as a lawyer and as a prosecutor. (Not surprisingly, Eastwood’s superiors did nothing. They enjoyed winning and if a few innocent people went to prison, that was collateral damage. And, anyway, everyone already knew that Hannah Overton was a monster.)

Fortunately for Overton, a number of people were not willing to accept this conviction and began their own investigations. The best journalism was done by Pamela Colloff of Texas Monthly, who had this excellent and lengthy article in January of this year, and readers can find the particulars of the case if they so choose. Instead, I will deal with the police and prosecutorial abuse that sent Hannah Overton to prison for a “crime” that never happened.

 Nonetheless, one cannot blame police for being suspicious when the four-year-old child was brought to the emergency room and then later died. Colloff writes:
The death of a child – particularly a sudden, unexplained death in which abuse is suspected – evokes strong emotions, even among seasoned investigators, doctors, forensics experts, and prosecutors. A more thorough investigation would have uncovered ample evidence to suggest that Andrew had an undiagnosed eating disorder, raising the possibility that he had unintentionally consumed too much salt on his own. But law enforcement officials are accustomed to handling child abuse cases, not medical mysteries, and salt poisoning is rare enough that most emergency room doctors will never encounter a case during their careers. Against the backdrop of possible abuse, authorities wasted little time. Larry was charged with injury to a child for failing to get Andrew timely medical attention. The onus for the boy’s death fell on Hannah, who was charged with capital murder.
As they do in so many situations, the local journalists acted as little more than stenographers. Writes Colloff:
Corpus Christi’s introduction to Hannah came the following week, when she and Larry were arrested and led past a bank of TV cameras outside the Nueces County jail. News reports that followed, prominently featuring their grim-faced mug shots, cast the Overton home as a house of horrors. (“More shocking details on abuse suffered by four-year-old before death,” began one breathless report.)
Colloff adds:
The media coverage of the case stirred widespread outrage. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times’s online comments section filled with the vitriol of readers, some of whom called for Hannah to receive the death penalty. (“You can just tell by looking at her how evil she is,” one wrote.) Fueling the public’s antipathy was an affidavit written by a CPS child abuse investigator named Jesse Garcia, who claimed that Hannah had admitted to forcing Andrew to drink two cupfuls of “chili with water” and quoted her as saying that she then “beat the shit out of him.” Garcia never produced any documentation or witnesses to corroborate his claim, and internal police memos show that law enforcement officials doubted the veracity of his story. Hess disavowed Garcia’s account at a court hearing regarding the Overton children, and prosecutors never entered Garcia’s affidavit into evidence or called him to testify at Hannah’s trial. (He was subsequently fired by CPS after having three car accidents on the job in less than six months.) But the damage was done: that Hannah had confessed to force-feeding Andrew and beating him was repeated, uncorrected, on the local news.(Emphasis mine)
Rudy Giuliani said during his infamous Wall Street prosecutions in the late 1980s that once he made the accusations, the media would do his work for him. Whether it was the “sophisticated” New York media, such as the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, or the newspapers and television stations near Corpus Cristi, the relationship between prosecutors and the press has been insidious. Journalists rush to judgment, as they did in the case against Michael Milken, the Duke Lacrosse Case, and the case of Hannah Overton. Later, after the truth comes out, media representatives claim that they have “learned our lessons” and promise not to jump to conclusions. And then they repeat the process again and again.

In the area of “justice” and criminal accusations, narratives are a powerful force, and most journalists and government agents like to keep them simple: Michael Milken and Jack Abramoff were greedy Jews who lost their way and broke the law to get rich; the Duke lacrosse players were “privileged” white “jocks” in a violent sport who brutally beat and raped a poor black woman because they believed they were so “privileged” that they could get away with it; George Zimmerman was a white racist who hated blacks and gunned down Trayvon Martin in cold blood. The simple stories were so compelling; evidence that undermined the narratives was ignored or shouted down.

And so it was with Overton. The police and prosecutors had their narrative, and they were not going to let their prey go free, and the media simply did what it always does. But the prosecution also withheld evidence, as was discovered in an evidentiary hearing that ended last month. Yes, while Texas is a place where at least two innocent men have been executed recently, and while prosecutorial misconduct has dominated other wrongful convictions in that state, even the Texas State Court of Criminal Appeals decided that the evidence that jurors said convicted Overton was questionable, and that the court needed to examine what had happened.

 For example, after he was brought into the hospital, Andrew vomited and doctors took samples, but the defense never was told about it nor given any information. Colloff explains:
Forensic pathologist Judy Melinek, an assistant medical examiner in San Francisco who had testified at Hannah’s trial, then took the stand to explain how critical this sample would have been to understanding exactly what had happened to Andrew. Determining the precise makeup of his stomach contents and the time they were collected, she said, would have been pivotal in a case in which the defendant was accused of poisoning the victim. After reviewing all the evidence, Melinek said, she firmly believed that Andrew had ingested a fatal amount of salt on his own. Her opinion was bolstered by the testimony of Edgar Cortes, an emergency medicine pediatrician who had seen Andrew twice before his death. Cortes maintained that he had informed Eastwood prior to trial that the boy had suffered from significant cognitive delays. These delays, Cortes now testified, put Andrew at greater risk for eating inappropriate items and ingesting something lethal. Yet Andrew was portrayed during the trial as a normal four-year-old. As for why the jury never heard his medical opinion, Cortes stated, “I felt like the prosecution had its own theory about what happened.” 
At the evidentiary hearing ordered by the appeals court, Dr. Michael Moritz, one of the world’s leading experts on salt poisoning, told the court that none of the scenarios painted by the prosecution made sense, given all of the cases of salt poisoning he had seen:
Intentional salt poisoning, the doctor went on to explain, is extremely rare. When it does occur, the victims are often bottle-fed babies whose food supply can be easily tampered with. Moritz stated that there was only one documented case in which an older child—a five-year-old—was poisoned with salt, and there were obvious signs of a struggle, including lacerations to his lips and gums. Yet Andrew had no such lacerations. Typically, Moritz added, someone who salt-poisons a child is mentally ill or a drug addict and has a well-documented history of child abuse. “So what we’re seeing in this case does not fit with any cases of intentional salt poisoning in the literature,” Moritz said.
Judge Longoria periodically glanced down at the doctor when he spoke of children poisoning themselves, studying him with skepticism. Moritz described how “voluntary salt intoxication” almost uniformly happened to children who fit a narrow profile: they were between the ages of one and six, they had been in the foster system or were from abusive homes, and they had some form of eating disorder, such as pica. Andrew, who had tried to eat everything from cigarette butts to glow sticks to toothpaste, fit this profile well. 
Moritz had not testified at Hannah’s trial, and his testimony would seem to have been authoritative, but Nueces County prosecutors Doug Norman and Bill Ainsworth claimed that there was nothing new and that the jury’s verdict should stand no matter what. And then Sandra Eastwood took the stand.

 Eastwood admitted to being a recovering alcoholic who abused prescription diet pills during the trial. (Notice that while prosecutors will go after others who do the same, Eastwood got a free ride.) While she claimed to have turned over everything to the defense, it was clear that she was less-than-competent to give any useful information at all:
Under withering questioning from (attorney Garry) Goldstein, Eastwood answered “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” 72 times when asked whether she recognized notes written in her handwriting, emails sent from her own account, and papers signed with her signature. “I have trouble remembering phone numbers,” she said. “I have trouble remembering what I had for lunch yesterday. I think that’s normal. I had hundreds of conversations and there were thousands of documents, so I don’t remember specifics.”

 Goldstein became so exasperated with her that he asked if she remembered the trial itself. “You recall the trial, do you not?” he said. “The individual got life in prison.”

“The question is . . . ?” said Eastwood.

“Do you remember the trial?” Goldstein asked, his voice rising. “Yes,” she replied. “It ended in life without parole,” Goldstein scolded. “That means they spend the rest of their life in prison. You remember cases that have those kinds of consequences, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she said softly. 
When Anna Jiminez took the stand, she said that she believed that Eastwood “was not truthful,” and that Eastwood had told her there had been no vomit or vomit samples taken. She admitted that she had no proof of Eastwood’s alleged misconduct, but then added that the kind of circumstantial evidence that made her believe Eastwood had lied was the kind of evidence that gets people convicted in criminal court.

With the hearing ended, prosecutors parroted their own views that the hearing had produced nothing to make them change their minds about Hannah Overton’s guilt. However, it is a very rare prosecutor who even admits that any conviction was wrong and Texas prosecutors are, well, Texas prosecutors: even when the evidence against them is overwhelming, they make up fantasy stories or just lie.

I have no idea how this case will end. Judge Longoria, as one might expect, ignored all of the medical evidence given to him and recommended that Overton not receive a new trial. However, he does not have the final say in this situation. In retrospect, there was no way that Longoria ever would admit to having made errors during Overton’s 2007 show trial, and it is a rare judge anywhere that will admit to having been wrong. Nonetheless, I imagine that with the media now questioning the verdict with the same ferocity that they once condemned Overton, even the Texas courts cannot ignore the firestorm. So, while it seems certain that Longoria will claim that “no new evidence” was introduced during the hearing, his superiors will overrule him.

As I see it, however, this case is much more than just another example of prosecutors bringing junk science into the courtroom and trying to make facts fit their narratives. The real story is that nothing is done about it, and that is because the U.S. Supreme Court – and especially the conservative wing – has torn down all of the fences that are needed to give ordinary citizens an opportunity to keep police, prosecutors, and judges honest.

In decision after decision, the SCOTUS has ruled that prosecutors must be given absolute immunity from lawsuits filed by people wrongfully convicted. True, the high court has claimed that official remedies exist such as criminal prosecution for wrongdoing or discipline by various state bars, including disbarment.

While this may sound good, one should remember that the disbarment of Duke lacrosse prosecutor Michael Nifong was extraordinary precisely because such actions by a state bar are extremely rare. Two years ago, I spoke to a member of the Georgia State Bar about extreme misconduct by two prosecutors in the district where I once lived, citing chapter and verse from the Georgia State Bar Rules for Prosecutors, and the woman to whom I spoke blew it off. “They were just doing their jobs,” she replied.

I asked, “Do you mean to tell me that suborning perjury (and the perjury was obvious, and some of the dishonest witnesses even have admitted to lying since the particular trial), lying to jurors during the closing arguments, making outrageous public comments, disrupting the trial with catcalls and loud noises, fabricating evidence and such are ‘their jobs’?” She hung up.

While it may sound highly official that prosecutors, police, and judges have government agencies which can levy charges and punishment upon them when they engage in misconduct, in truth, these agencies really are the proverbial foxes guarding the hen houses. Lawsuits filed by people actually injured by misconduct, however, are the only real mechanism that people outside the employment of government can employ to gain at least some matter of redress. Texas happens to be a big offender, but the problem is universal in this country.

Government agents in the “justice” system protect their own, as those entrusted with overseeing wrongdoing within their ranks operate according to a perverse logic: if the public were to see just how often misconduct and wrongdoing are part of the prosecutorial process, then the public would lose confidence in the honesty of the people engaging in misconduct and wrongdoing, and then might question that system that sends innocent people to prison or even their deaths. Got that?

Thomas DiLorenzo has written more than once that the government now has become the final judge and arbiter of its own actions, which destroys any meaningful systems of accountability. While government repeatedly tears down the fences that restrict the actions of government agents, it increasingly is erecting arbitrary fences around everyone else who is not part of the “club.” In the situation of prosecutorial misconduct, the problem is not “a few bad apples,” as prosecutors, judges, and the media tell us ad nauseum.

No, the barrel itself is rotten, and the few good apples that are left either are corrupted, compromised, or get out before they lose their souls.