Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Manufactured crimes

Radley Balko has an explosive article published last week at Reason on the uncovering of manufactured evidence in the cases of death row convicts by two medical examiners.

The article, Manufacturing Guilt, (warning - the article contains some images and video that may be disturbing to readers) is centered around the case of a man, Jimmie Duncan, who has been convicted of raping and murdering a 23-month-old girl and sits on death row in Louisiana as a result. Originally he had been charged with negligent homicide (he says he had left her in the bathtub and came back to find her drowned there), but his charges were increased when bite marks were found on her cheek. The medical examiners who found the marks, West and Hayne, have a shady past, and it's just gotten a whole lot more questionable.

Don't ask me how, but Reason somehow got a hold of a 24-minute video that shows one of these medical examiners methodically and deliberately pressing a plaster cast of Duncan's teeth into the girl's face, creating the bite marks used to increase the charges and as evidence in Duncan's conviction.

In spite of this, Duncan is still waiting on death row.

Two other men convicted on rape and murder charges based on bite mark analysis by the same medical examiners were released (one from death row) after 30 years in prison when DNA evidence exonerated them and found the real criminal (who confessed to both crimes.) These examiners have carried an impossibly high case load for the states of Mississippi and Louisiana and are responsible for thousands of forensic medical examinations over the past 20 years.

It's unclear why either state would continue to employ these men almost exclusively in spite of questions about their work, including a recommendation for expulsion of the bite mark analyst from the American  Academy of Forensic Sciences by their own ethics board. 

The article is, as I've written, explosive, and can be read here. Again, though, be aware of the nature of the images and video on the site before visiting.

Cross-posted to The Shotgun.

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