Thursday, June 30, 2005


Government crime laboratories should be abolished and all analyses farmed out to private laboratories under "double blind" conditions

A decade ago, as Earl Washington Jr. neared his execution date, a leading DNA expert first suggested an analyst in the vaunted Virginia state crime lab might have erred in the case. The lab's director, Paul Ferrara, rejected the criticism as unfounded. In April, when a second expert hired by Washington 's lawyers questioned another round of tests, Ferrara dismissed him as a "hired gun" and rebuffed calls for an outside review. Several months later, three other experts--this time not paid by the defense --reached the same conclusion. The lab's analyst, they said, had misinterpreted the evidence, but Ferrara again balked at an outside review. "I'm not going to admit error when there is none," Ferrara said in a recent interview at the highly regarded Richmond facility, the first state lab to build a database linking evidence from unsolved crimes to suspects through their genetic profiles.

Within days of that statement, the lab experienced another first. On Sept. 30, the governor of Virginia ordered an audit of the lab's work on the Washington case. That it took a governor's edict to force one of the nation's most-respected labs to allow such a review illustrates the broader problems undermining confidence in the nation's crime labs. Revelations of shoddy work and poorly run facilities have shaken the criminal justice system like never before, raising doubts about the reputation of labs as unbiased advocates for scientific truth.

The far-reaching crime lab scandals roiling the courts are unlike other flaws in the criminal justice system--the rogue prosecutor, the incompetent defense attorney, the unscrupulous cop--because for years the reputation of the labs had been unquestioned. But the consequence of lab errors, whether due to incompetence, imprecision or fraud, is frequently the same--an innocent person behind bars. A Tribune examination of the 200 DNA and Death Row exoneration cases since 1986--including scores of interviews and a review of court transcripts and appellate opinions--found that more than a quarter involved faulty crime lab work or testimony.

In recent years, evidence of problems ranging from negligence to outright deception has been uncovered at crime labs in at least 17 states. Among the failures were faulty blood analysis, fingerprinting errors, flawed hair comparisons and the contamination of evidence used in DNA testing.

Scandal also has hit the FBI crime lab, long considered the nation's top forensic facility. In the mid-1990s, a lab whistle-blower touched off a broad inquiry over allegations of improper handling of evidence. It led to the firing of several lab officials and the overhaul of protocols and procedures. In May of this year, an FBI analyst, Jacqueline Blake, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of making false statements about following protocol in some 100 DNA analysis reports. Though the FBI said its review found no wrongful convictions resulting from her work, the Justice Department's inspector general concluded that the lab's failure to detect her misconduct "has damaged intangibly the credibility of the FBI laboratory." Blake was dismissed from the lab and last month was placed on 2 years of probation.

Veteran lab directors around the country contend the exposure of such scandals is evidence that labs are policing themselves. In most cases, however, lab problems have come to light only after defendants have challenged their convictions. "Virtually every major lab scandal has been broken by a post-conviction DNA exoneration," said Barry Scheck, a founder of the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic that has helped exonerate dozens of inmates.

Given the sheer volume of cases that labs handle, the discovery of even a single flawed analysis raises the prospect of re-examining hundreds, if not thousands, of cases. In many jurisdictions, the task of re-evaluating that many cases is so daunting that authorities have declined to conduct broad audits, despite evidence that analysts have committed errors or engaged in fraudulent practices. One of their well-placed fears: that uncovering additional problems in a lab would spawn lawsuits or unravel an untold number of convictions.

Two of the nation's highest profile crime-lab scandals--involving analysts Fred Zain in West Virginia and Joyce Gilchrist in Oklahoma --resulted in the exonerations of at least 10 defendants, millions of dollars in settlements and broad reviews of hundreds of their cases. Both were accused of falsifying test results and giving false testimony; both denied any wrongdoing.

Earlier this year, in response to the DNA exoneration of a man who served 13 years in prison for rape, the city of Cleveland appointed an independent special master to review all the casework and, if necessary, retest the evidence handled by one analyst, and conduct a random audit of others in the lab. But such a response has been uncommon. In Texas , Gov. Rick Perry has rejected a plea from Houston 's police chief to halt executions of inmates convicted in Harris County until the scope of problems at the police crime lab can be determined.

Two inmates from Harris County have been executed in recent weeks since Chief Harold Hurtt announced the discovery of 280 boxes of evidence from at least 8,000 Houston cases spanning 25 years. The boxes contained everything from clothing and weapons to a fetus. Even before the latest crisis, revelations of incompetent analysts in the police lab's DNA section forced Houston authorities to shutter it. The new questions cover everything from firearm identification to blood typing in a jurisdiction that has sent 75 people to the death chamber, more than most states.

Earlier this year, Boston police admitted that two fingerprint examiners had linked Stephan Cowans to the 1997 shooting of a police sergeant, even though a later review found that the comparison, in the words of Massachusetts Atty. Gen. Thomas Reilly, "wasn't even close." An outside consultant then conducted a broader examination of thousands of prints in the Boston police fingerprint unit, "and the only error he found was in the Cowans case," said police spokeswoman Beverly Ford. Last week, the department turned over all fingerprint examinations to the state police until it can get its own lab accredited.

In Montana , the state Supreme Court narrowly voted last month to dismiss a petition seeking an independent audit and retesting of evidence in hundreds of cases handled by a former state crime lab examiner whose erroneous hair-comparison testimony contributed to three wrongful convictions. Among other revelations, the scandals have exposed the lack of independent oversight and the often-ineffective standards governing the labs that analyze forensic evidence. Lab directors contend that the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors' accreditation board, which will review Virginia 's work in the Washington case, are sticklers for quality and accuracy. But even some tough-on-crime politicians question the effectiveness of the board's review teams. "Everyone boasts that their labs are certified by them," said James Durkin, a former Cook County prosecutor and former Republican state representative. "I believe they are more of a fraternal organization than an authoritative scientific body.".....

Lots more here

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005


20 years to enforce a sentence!

The Supreme Court ruled today that a lower court improperly gave a Tennessee death row inmate a second chance, infringing on the state's right to execute the man. But four justices said the judicial system failed the inmate. Justices found that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati abused its discretion when it reopened Gregory Thompson's case. Thompson had already lost an appeal there, and at the Supreme Court.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, said that the appeals court's action was extraordinary, and that it infringed on the state's right to execute Thompson.

Thompson was convicted of using a rusty butcher knife in 1985 to kill Brenda Blanton Lane, a 28-year-old former newspaper reporter, whom he abducted from a Wal-Mart parking lot in Shelbyville, Tenn., drove to a remote area and killed. Thompson confessed to the crime. "Tennessee expended considerable time and resources in seeking to enforce a capital sentence rendered 20 years ago, a sentence that reflects the judgment of the citizens of Tennessee that Thompson's crimes merit the ultimate punishment," Kennedy wrote.

Thompson was to be executed last year, but that was called off after the appeals court vacated an earlier ruling against him. The change of heart stemmed from the research of appellate Judge Richard F. Suhrheinrich, who found the opinion of an expert witness who believed Thompson suffered from schizophrenia. The expert's opinion had not been entered into the record.....

The high court's ruling clears the way for the Tennessee Supreme Court to set a new execution date, according to the state attorney general's office. Tennessee's victory follows several state losses in death penalty cases. In the past two weeks, the Supreme Court has thrown out the death sentences of inmates in Pennsylvania and Texas. Earlier this year, the court ruled 5-4 that states could not execute juvenile killers.

More here

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Arrogant medical authorities, secretive courts and careless bureaucrats sent many innocent parents to jail on charges of child abuse. Certain patterns or "syndromes" of illness and injury were deemed proof of child abuse without any substantial consideration of alternative explanations. Once again "beyond reasonable doubt" was ignored

Nonetheless, the facility with which the syndromes could bring to light covert abuse concealed from view their poor evidential basis. The causal link between the putative mechanism of assault and subsequent injury could be neither independently confirmed nor experimentally investigated. It might seem reasonable to extrapolate from the presence of retinal and subdural haemorrhages in the battered child that these features had the same significance in a child with no other circumstantial evidence of injury. Certainly the powerful imagery of violent shearing forces disrupting the blood vessels was persuasive, but shaking has never been directly observed or proven to cause such injuries; the supposition that they do is based on (contested) theories of biomechanics

Rather, the legitimacy of the syndromes was predicted on two related and highly improbable assumptions, scientific and legal. The scientific assumption was that there could be no other explanation, either known or that might be discovered at some time in the future, that might explain these 'characteristic' presentations. Meadow's 'rule', for example, precluded the possibility that there might be some unknown genetic explanation for multiple unexpected childhood deaths in the same family, while the 'characteristic' pattern of shaken baby syndrome precluded the possibility of some alternative explanation for the retinal and subdural haemorrhages - such as an acute increase in retinal venous pressure from intracranial bleeding caused by accidental head injury. The legal assumption presupposed that these presentations were so specific for abuse that they were by themselves sufficient to secure a conviction - even in the absence of the sort of circumstantial evidence of violence or neglect that would normally be required to return a guilty verdict in a court of law.

Put another way, the 'characteristic' presentations of the syndromes could not sustain the interpretation placed upon them: they might be 'consistent with' but could not, by themselves, be 'diagnostic of' child abuse. Thus some at least of the parents contributing to the statistics of the fourfold rise in child abuse were likely to be innocent. Three additional factors, in particular, bolstered the credibility of the syndromes in the family and criminal courts.

The authority of the child abuse expert

By the close of the 1980s, the leading experts in child abuse had acquired an international reputation and were thus called on to instruct and educate not just their fellow paediatricians but also the police, lawyers, social workers and judges in the child abuse syndromes. Their persuasive expert opinion, when expressed in court, was guaranteed a sympathetic hearing, while their confidence in the syndromes they had discovered was virtually unchallengeable. Further, they could scarcely accept the force of contrary evidence since to do so would require them to concede that their expert testimonies might, in similar cases, have resulted in wrongful conviction. Meanwhile the costs of the process of investigating allegations arising out of the child abuse syndromes rose to an estimated £1billion per year, with the more prominent experts receiving fees for the preparation of their reports and appearances in court in excess of £100,000 a year

The circular argument of successful convictions

The validity of the child abuse syndromes would appear to be confirmed by the high proportion of successful convictions that followed the courts' careful scrutiny of the allegations against parents. These convictions, however, came to rely increasingly on a circular argument - whereby the main evidence for the child abuse syndrome of which the parents were accused was that parents had been convicted of it in the past. Thus parents whose child presents with subdural and retinal haemorrhages are accused of inflicting shaken baby syndrome because, in the vast majority of cases, parents of children with subdural and retinal haemorrhages are convicted of causing shaken baby syndrome. Similarly, Meadow argued that 'the likelihood that the court verdicts about parental responsibility for [causing their children's death] were correct was very high indeed', without making clear that it was his expert testimony that repetitive SIDS was 'murder unless proved otherwise' that had been a major factor in securing those convictions.

There is a further element of circularity in the presumed pathogenesis of the syndrome of which the parents are accused. The theory of shaken baby syndrome presupposes that violent, abusive force (comparable, it is claimed, to that sustained in a high-speed road traffic accident or a fall from a second storey window) is necessary to cause retinal and subdural haemorrhages. The parents are then caught in the catch-22 of either confessing to the alleged assault (for which they might be offered the inducement 'if you say you did it we will let you have your child back') or denying it, in which case their denial is evidence they must be lying about the events surrounding their child's injury, which is then further evidence of their guilt.

The silencing of parents

The forces of expertise ranged against the parents were formidable enough, but it is apparent too from their personal accounts that they were subjected to a series of intimidatory tactics to silence their protestations of innocence and deny the validity of their testimony as the only witnesses of the circumstances surrounding their child's injury or death. Thus parents describe how, when summoned to see the consultant to learn (they presume) about their child's progress, they were 'ambushed' with the diagnosis of, for example, shaken baby syndrome, presented to them as irrefutable fact ('your son must have been violently shaken for several minutes to cause these injuries') without any suggestion that there could be some alternative explanation.

The prompt involvement of the police and social workers would lead to further accusatory interrogations that begin from the principle that the parents must be guilty - as the doctors would not have made such serious accusations if they were not convinced they were true. The transcript of these interrogations would subsequently be turned against them in court so that any inconsistencies in their explanations of how their child's injuries might have occurred were then presented as evidence of their efforts to conceal their guilt . Parents describe the same pattern of events where they would only be informed late on a Friday evening that a preliminary court hearing had been arranged for the following Monday morning - thus leaving them the weekend to find a lawyer (who was unlikely to have any expertise in this field) to contest their child being taken into foster care

These psychological tactics were a prelude to the yet more powerful intimidatory weapon of technical obscurantism - the description of their child's injuries and couching of the charges against them in a language in which the professionals were fluent but the bewildered parents were not. How could they hope to dispute the allegations when they did not know what was being talked about? Parents are of course entitled to seek their own expert opinion, but soon discovered that the overwhelming consensus about the validity of the child abuse syndromes meant it was very difficult to find anyone to argue in their defence; or worse, the expert reports they requested were actively detrimental to their case

This silencing of parents was made more effective still by the rules of confidentiality that wrap the proceedings of the family courts in a cocoon of secrecy, making parents liable to a charge of contempt of court if they sought advice or support from anyone not directly involved in their case. This secrecy in turn protected the proceedings of the court, and in particular the testimony of expert witnesses, from external scrutiny while concealing from public view the spectacle of so many apparently respectable parents being convicted of inflicting these terrible injuries on their children - without any circumstantial evidence that they had done so.

The unmasking of the child abuse syndromes and the crisis for paediatrics

For parents there was no escaping their fate. From the moment of the initial allegation against them, the alliance of medical experts, police, social workers and an unsympathetic judiciary - well organised, experienced and well financed - meant that their eventual conviction was almost a foregone conclusion. Nonetheless, the two assumptions, scientific and legal, of the specificity of the syndromes as being diagnostic of abuse remained as insecure as ever, with the courts' willingness to convict parents in the absence of circumstantial evidence of abuse resting almost entirely on their faith in the reliability and trustworthiness of medical expert opinion.

The first sign that such faith might be misplaced came in 2003 during Sally Clark's successful appeal, with the revelation of 'fundamental errors' in the testimony of Meadow and other prominent experts that had resulted in her original conviction. Their credibility was further undermined by Justice Judge's Appeal Court ruling exonerating Angela Cannings of murdering her two children. Justice Judge dismissed the central plank of the prosecution case, Meadow's claim that there had been a 'pattern of events' leading up to the deaths of children that was 'characteristic' of smothering: 'We doubt the aptness of the description "pattern"...the history of each child was different from every other child.' Further research would refute Meadow's claim (as reflected in his 'rule') that recurrent SIDS in the same family was 'extremely rare' - in other words, that in such cases the cause was likely to be unnatural. On the contrary, a follow-up study of SIDS families found two or more deaths in the same family to be 'not uncommon' with the overwhelming majority (80-90 per cent) due to natural causes. There are, it has subsequently emerged, several genetic mechanisms that could account for recurrent SIDS including congenital visceroautonomic dysfunction and cardiac dysrhythmias.

Similarly, further research has undermined the validity of retinal and subdural haemorrhages as being characteristic of shaken baby syndrome, with an evidence-based review finding 'serious data gaps, flaws of logic and inconsistency of case definition' in the relevant scientific work. Shaken baby syndrome was not, as its name implied, a 'syndrome', but rather encompassed several different forms of brain injury, with different clinical history and neuropathology, involving some mechanism other than shaking to account for the presence of retinal haemorrhages. Thus a series of independently witnessed accidents confirmed that, as parents had maintained, minor falls could cause an acute subdural bleed with the retinal haemorrhages being due to a sudden rise in retinal venous pressure. Further, parental histories of a preceding episode of respiratory collapse were compatible with the very different pathological findings of anoxic brain damage, with disturbance of the microcirculation causing thin subdural and retinal haemorrhages.

Meanwhile, the widened definition of Munchausen's syndrome by proxy based on 'diagnostic pointers' has also resulted in wrongful convictions, with the child's unexplained symptoms proving to be due to some rare or unusual medical condition with which the doctor was not familiar. Subsequently the syndrome would be renamed 'factitious illness' in recognition of the fact that, while some parents may fabricate the symptoms of their child's illness, the combination of unexplained symptoms and the mother's personality profile did not constitute a syndrome of abuse. Finally, radiologists' misinterpretation of normal variants of ossification in the first year of life as being metaphyseal fractures accounts for the obvious discrepancy between the findings of multiple fractures on skeletal survey and the absence of any clinical signs of abusive injury.

This serial collapse of the improbable scientific assumption that there could be no explanation other than abuse for the characteristic presentation of these syndromes has exposed in turn the equally improbable legal assumption that, contrary to sound judicial practice, it is possible to convict parents without there being additional circumstantial evidence or reasonable motive for their abusive intentions. Thus Justice Judge would, in his exoneration of Angela Cannings, draw attention to 'the absence of the slightest evidence of physical interference which might support the allegation she had deliberately harmed them'. And, again, he emphasised how 'the absence of any indication of ill temper or ill treatment of any child at any time' and 'the evidence of both her family and outsiders about the love and care she bestowed on her children' made it extraordinarily unlikely that she might have smothered them. Justice Judge's exoneration of Angela Cannings' character as a loving mother focuses attention on the moral and judgmental dimension of the child abuse syndromes, arising from extrapolation from Meadow's original description of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, that all parents are potential child abusers. Is this extrapolation plausible? The psychological profile of those who unambiguously have harmed their children reveals, as would be expected, them to be psychopaths, criminals, opioid abusers, alcoholics and so on. So when parents such as Angela Cannings, with no blemish on their character, appear as loving, concerned parents, the likelihood must be that it is because they are loving concerned parents - and very powerful evidence is required to argue otherwise.

Meadow and the proponents of the child abuse syndromes necessarily take the contrary view, and in so doing are required to portray parents' protestations of innocence as deceitful. That moral judgment, together with the failure to recognise that medical knowledge may be incomplete, meant that Angela Cannings' wrongful conviction for infanticide was almost inevitable. The question remains how many other parents have similarly been wrongly convicted of the terrible crime of injuring their children, and been robbed of their families, livelihoods and good name.

More here

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Monday, June 27, 2005


How disgraceful that it took an unfair dismissal tribunal to expose corruption. None of the supposed safeguards in the bureaucracy worked at all. It was a coverup all the way.

A prison service whistleblower who alleged a litany of abuse at a high-security jail is set to gain a six-figure sum in compensation after winning a claim for unfair dismissal. Carol Lingard, 37, saw her promising 15-year career as a prison officer destroyed when she reported claims of prisoners being bullied and intimidated at Wakefield prison in west Yorkshire. An employment tribunal earlier this year, where Lingard won her case, heard that colleagues treated her as 'a grass' and her managers failed to take her complaints seriously. Examining the two unsuccessful investigations into her claims, the tribunal heavily criticised the Prison Service management, including the former governor John Slater, the former deputy governor Colin Blakeman - now governor of Leeds prison - and the deputy director of the service, Peter Atherton.

Lingard has since received an apology from the director general of the Service, Phil Wheatley, who acknowledged that the organisation, its Professional Standards Unit (PSU) - established by new whistle-blowing legislation - and his deputy all failed to deal properly with her allegations.

Today, although she can toast her victory, Lingard is angry that she lost her job as a senior prison officer over her allegations - which have still not been fully investigated. 'I began losing my hair, large clumps of it,' she said. 'I've been out of work for two-and-a-half years and I am still taking medicine for anxiety. 'I don't think any prison employee today would go to the PSU with their concerns. I was consistently deemed the problem, all the way to top management.'

Lingard got her first job in the prison service aged 20, and after 10 years' service she was no stranger to the harsh realities of life behind bars when she joined Wakefield as a senior officer in January 1999. Wakefield has around 580 inmates, including Roy Whiting, the killer of eight-year-old Sarah Payne and Ian Huntley, who murdered Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, both 10.

In August 2002, when Lingard first made her allegations, she ran B-wing with 180 prisoners and 40 staff. 'My appraisals had been fantastic. I was the only senior officer picked for fast-track governor assessment,' she said. The tribunal heard that Lingard was vilified as a whistleblower after her string of allegations, which centred on one prison officer. She claimed the officer warned a sex offender he could get slashed by other inmates if he was found with images of children. Lingard alleged that the officer then attempted to have the material planted in the prisoner's cell. Tensions were running high against paedophiles at Wakefield after the murder of Holly and Jessica. Whiting had been attacked and there was more trouble brewing. Lingard alleged that the officer had forged another prisoner's records to show poor behaviour and that he was involved in a suspicious assault allegation against the same inmate. She claimed that the officer had performed Hitler salutes at the probation board of a German inmate. Lingard highlighted her concerns to her line managers. Within 48 hours, she said, 'word spread that I was "a grass" and suddenly I was discriminated against, intimidated and stonewalled. 'Work became a very hostile, unsafe environment. Backs literally turned whenever I entered a room or corridor and gates slammed in my face. I was made to feel as if I had done something dreadful, and that I was going to pay for it.' she said. 'I just couldn't carry on. I couldn't sleep or eat. I was 32 weeks pregnant, had previously suffered two miscarriages and I was losing weight.'

An initial investigation - later described as 'poor' and 'not professional' by the tribunal - found 'no evidence' to support Lingard's allegations. Despite approaching Slater, the prison governor, and the PSU - which briefly investigated her claims but failed to discover the truth - her complaint went no further. Demoralised, Lingard turned to her brother, John Sturzaker, a lawyer, for help. 'Carol was right to report the allegations but I was astonished that the matter had not been sorted out in 18 months and was appalled at how it was handled,' said Sturzaker.

In April 2004, Lingard brought a claim before the employment tribunal. She found out that Wakefield had taken steps to medically retire her. 'Their own doctor told them that my illness was caused by their actions,' she said angrily. The tribunal attacked the senior management at the prison and the service. Its judgment was peppered with damning judgments: 'startling and disturbing,' 'seriously flawed judgement,' 'collective failures,' 'beyond belief,' 'miscarriage of justice,' and 'serious misgivings'. 'Carol was a successful, highly regarded member of staff who made five serious allegations and was instantly regarded as the problem' said Sturzaker. 'A corporate inability to properly investigate and a contempt for those who are brave enough to report wrongdoing emerge from this judgement - she was failed all the way to the top.'

Report here

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Police Chemist may have Destroyed Evidence in Death Row Case

Disgraced Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist doctored trial evidence and may have destroyed hair samples that could have exonerated a man now on death row, according to a confidential police memo obtained by The Associated Press. The memo said Gilchrist not only altered her own case notes, but "there is compelling circumstantial evidence" that she "either intentionally lost or destroyed" crime-scene hairs used to convict Curtis Edward McCarty of murder so the evidence could not be retested.

The Oklahoma City Police Department memo, written by then-Deputy Chief Bill Citty to then-Chief M.T. Berry, is dated Sept. 21, 2001, and details 14 days of deliberations and testimony heard by a department review board. The board, consisting of two police chemists and three high-ranking officials, recommended Gilchrist be fired. Four days later, she was.

Citty and Berry declined to comment on the board's findings. Gilchrist, who has sued various city officials for wrongful termination, has long said she is innocent, but declines interviews. Her attorney did not return calls from the AP. Her dismissal followed disclosures she helped send at least two innocent men to prison during her 21-year tenure as a forensic chemist and prosecution witness in hundreds of cases. Those men were released after DNA testing proved they were not guilty.

Since she was fired, two secret criminal investigations - one by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the other by the FBI - have produced no charges. Officials from both agencies refused to comment, saying the probes are confidential.

The police memorandum details alleged wrongdoing by Gilchrist in 11 cases from the 1980s. The most significant misconduct alleged was in the McCarty case, and those findings are the crux of McCarty's latest appeal of his conviction in the 1982 murder of a young woman, sources familiar with the case told the AP on condition of anonymity. Attorneys on both sides are prohibited from discussing details of that appeal because a federal appellate court, at the request of Oklahoma City officials, has taken the unusual step of sealing the case. The city cited the confidentiality of personnel records in its request.

Detailing Gilchrist's alleged misconduct in the McCarty case, the memo revealed that her case notes - which she testified to at McCarty's trials - had recently been sent to a document examiner at the Tulsa Police Department for independent review. The results, the memo said, showed that Gilchrist "wrote over" her original notes from 1983 that concluded McCarty's hair was "not consistent" with strands found at the crime scene - meaning he was excluded as a suspect.

Three years later, McCarty was tried for murder. During that trial, the memo said, she testified from her altered notes, saying McCarty's hairs were consistent with strands found on the body of 18-year-old Pamela Willis, the daughter of a police officer.

The Tulsa police analysis indicates "Gilchrist wrote over the word `not' to reflect the word `show,'" the memo states. In another instance, Gilchrist added the word "completely" underneath the word "not," the memo says. "The impact of this alteration was that McCarty was left in as a potential suspect rather than excluded," the memo says. "The Board has tremendous concerns and suspicions concerning Gilchrist's analysis of this case."

McCarty, who had a prior conviction for statutory rape, consistently declared he was innocent of the Willis murder. He submitted hair samples to police in 1983 along with those of several other acquaintances of the victim who had seen her in the hours before her death.

His first conviction, in 1986, was overturned by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which ruled Gilchrist's hair evidence testimony was riddled with error and personal opinions. Two subsequent trials, with evidence again submitted by Gilchrist, resulted in convictions and death sentences. His third appeal is now before the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

The review board's finding that Gilchrist may have destroyed evidence is based on her written assertion to prosecutors in 2000 that she had possession of the McCarty hair evidence and that enough remained for DNA testing. Two months later, the memo said, she wrote to her supervisor that evidence was missing. According to the memo, Gilchrist wrote that she discovered the evidence was gone when McCarty's attorneys came to her office to examine it.

The memo said Gilchrist's misconduct in other cases included incorrect hair and fiber analysis, withholding evidence from defense attorneys, and failing to analyze evidence before trial. One example concerns the attempted-murder conviction of Harold "Gene" Weatherly. Gilchrist wrongly testified that fibers on his tennis shoe came from the victim's house, and mistook an animal hair for a human hair, the memo said.

Weatherly served 15 years in prison and was released. He asked the governor for a pardon and was denied.

The state, which separately reviewed hundreds of cases based on Gilchrist's testimony, has recommended 196 be re-examined. Details of that recommendation are also confidential; the recommendation now sits in the office of state Attorney General Drew Edmondson.

He has not decided whether to pursue charges against Gilchrist, according to prosecutor Jennifer Miller, who worked on the McCarty case. Asked when a decision might be made, Miller replied, "I can't comment on that."

In 2001, the FBI subpoenaed evidence from 10 Gilchrist cases - nine of them involving defendants already executed - for a federal grand jury investigation of possible civil rights violations. "I can't understand what's taking so long. I can't understand why they haven't charged her," said defense attorney Garvin Isaacs, who represented Robert Lee Miller Jr., sentenced to death in 1988. Miller was convicted of murdering and raping two elderly women, based in part on Gilchrist's testimony that crime-scene hairs were consistent with Miller's hair samples. He spent 10 years in prison. He was released after DNA analysis showed the hairs found near the victims belonged to another suspect.

The secrecy surrounding McCarty's case and the two criminal probes of Gilchrist's career has demoralized families of those convicted, who accuse investigators of dragging their feet to avoid more embarrassing prisoner releases. More disturbing, they say, is the question of whether innocent men were executed. "I'm just afraid it's going to be one those hush-hush things," said Jim Fowler, whose son, Mark, was executed three years ago for a murder conviction that relied on Gilchrist's hair comparisons. "It's the best-kept secret in Oklahoma City."

More here

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Saturday, June 25, 2005


A 55-year prison sentence for a convicted Utah marijuana seller was challenged in a federal appeals court yesterday as unconstitutional by 163 former U.S. attorneys general and retired federal judges and prosecutors. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver, they urged the court to vacate the sentence of Weldon H. Angelos, 25, saying it violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Angelos, a first-time offender, was sentenced in November under the federal mandatory minimum sentences law. At the time, U.S. District Judge Paul G. Cassell called the sentence "unjust, cruel and even irrational," but said he had no choice under the law. Yesterday's brief called Angelos' sentence "grossly disproportionate" to the offenses on which he was convicted and "contrary to the evolving standards of decency which are the hallmark of our civilized society." Harry H. Rimm, a former federal prosecutor now at the New York law firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP, wrote the brief. He said he was astounded at the support among former federal judges and prosecutors for Angelos' position.

Before Angelos was sentenced, Rimm filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the recommended sentencing was unconstitutional and disproportionately harsh for a first-time offender. That brief was signed by 29 former federal judges and prosecutors, including nine from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The 163 who signed yesterday's brief pointed to the growing interest in the case in legal circles. The signers included appointees of every president from Lyndon B. Johnson to Bill Clinton, including 17 from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Since the mid-1980s, Congress has passed a series of anticrime measures, including the 1987 federal sentencing guidelines, and has added escalating mandatory minimum prison terms for a number of crimes. Congress argued that the changes were a reaction to disparities in sentencing among federal judges. But many judges have said the laws limited their discretion to impose sentences tailored to the individual before them.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal sentencing guidelines were advisory, making it easier for judges to depart from them.

The father of two young children, Angelos was a producer of rap records. He was convicted in 2002 of selling marijuana to a police informant - two half-pounds at $350 each - and faced a likely eight years in prison. But three gun counts involving a concealed handgun in an ankle holster he wore during the sale and guns found later by police in a search of his home, triggered escalating, mandatory and consecutive prison terms that boosted Angelos' sentence to 55 years.

The U.S. attorney in Utah argued that the sentence was authorized by Congress and was constitutional.



And you risk prosecution if you say so

The Jamaican Government is exploring what legal action can be taken against an Amnesty International official who argued, in Monday's Observer, that Reneto Adams - like other Jamaican lawmen before him - will be acquitted of murder. The comments made by Piers Bannister, according to Justice Minister and Attorney-General A J Nicholson, amounted to contempt of court. Said Nicholson: "This statement. purports to prophesy what the result of the trial will be and to assert, in effect, that this result will not only be a miscarriage of justice in itself but will be typical of the way in which certain categories of cases are dealt with by our judicial system." He added: "This official would not have dared to make such a comment in England in respect of a case pending in their courts."

Bannister is the London-based researcher on Amnesty International's North American/English-speaking Caribbean team. His original comments were made in an exchange of emails with Desmond Allen, whose extensive interview with Adams was carried in the Sunday Observer on June 5 and 12. Bannister had argued that the ground was being prepared for Adams' return to front-line duties.

Adams, the former head of the now-disbanded Crime Management Unit, was given a desk job after he and other CMU members were charged with murder after a May 2003 shooting in Crawle, Clarendon, left two women and two men dead. "I think that everyone knows that Mr Adams and his colleagues will be found not guilty in September just as (in the case of) the Braeton Seven," Bannister told Allen via email.

On February 11 of this year, six police officers were freed of the March 2001 murder of seven young men at a home in Braeton. The cops were also members of the CMU.

Arguing that no police officer had been convicted of murder in Jamaica in the last six years, the Amnesty official said Jamaican police are "immune from effective prosecution and are allowed to carry out killings with impunity".

Bannister's comments, Nicholson said yesterday, were a " kind of broadside attack upon the integrity of the judicial system" and also threatened Adams' ability to get a fair trial. Though there was "an absence of specific statutory enactment in Jamaica", the justice minister said, there is a remedy for this swipe at the country's judicial system at common law. "I am therefore considering," Nicholson said, "along with the legal officers of the government, what steps may be taken in order to protect the good name of our country, its reputation for strict adherence to the rule of law and to prevent this kind of mischievous and damaging allegation being made in the future."


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Friday, June 24, 2005 seem to have had another one of their glitches. All users of the template I was using have suddenly found their posts headed by at least a page of blank space! So I have chosen a new but similar template which seems to be OK so far.

The $200 Billion Miscarriage of Justice

Asbestos lawyers are pitting plaintiffs who aren't sick against companies that never made the stuff--and extracting billions for themselves.

"You indicated that you walked three or four miles a day?" a defense lawyer asked plaintiff James Curry this past October in a rural courthouse in Lexington, Miss.

"Correct," answered Curry, a 65-year-old former railroad worker in seemingly good health. Curry and five co-plaintiffs were in court seeking compensation for exceedingly mild cases of asbestosis and other "asbestos-related conditions." Such conditions--scars, marks, opacities, and other imperfections in the lungs that show up in X-rays--are not necessarily accompanied by any impairment or symptom severe enough to spur someone to see a doctor. Nevertheless, most state courts recognize these conditions as "compensable injuries," that is, the proper subject of lawsuits.

Like most asbestos plaintiffs today, Curry and his co-plaintiffs were never asbestos workers per se. They were, rather, laborers, janitors, plant workers, or general maintenance men who, once in a while during their long working lives, allegedly either handled asbestos-containing products or worked in the general vicinity of others who did.

"And you also jog?" the defense lawyer asked Curry.
"No, I don't jog anymore.... I stopped after '96."
"Did you tell them at your deposition [in March 2001] that you jog?"
"Possibility that I did.... Just made a mistake."

This past Oct. 26 the jury returned a verdict for Curry and his five co-plaintiffs against three defendant corporations of $150 million--$25 million per plaintiff--in compensatory (not punitive) damages. Four defense doctors had testified that none of the plaintiffs suffered from any asbestos-related condition whatsoever, but the plaintiffs' doctor, a Jackson pulmonologist, had disagreed. None of the plaintiffs claimed to have incurred any medical expenses or to have ever lost a day of work due to asbestos exposure.

The prospect of winning verdicts like Curry's has turned the original mass tort--asbestos litigation--into the ultimate mass farce. There are now about 49,000 asbestos plaintiffs awaiting trial in Lexington, Fayette, Port Gibson, Pascagoula, and other propitious plaintiffs' venues in Mississippi, and at least 200,000 more cases nationwide--mainly concentrated in other favorable plaintiffs' locales sprinkled across such states as Texas, Louisiana, West Virginia, New York, and California. The nation's dockets are now so jammed with asbestos suits being brought on behalf of minimally injured people that lawyers who represent the truly ill are teaming up with asbestos defendants to demand reform.

More here


In 1985, one Muzaffar Ali Shah was released from Lahore Mental Hospital after 37 years of confinement. On migration to Pakistan in 1947, Muzaffar had opened a shop. Some time later, his shop was burgled and when he went to file a report, he was arrested under the Lunacy Act. Record, or rather the lack thereof, showed that he was wrongly arrested and never produced before a court.

One Mukhtar, a former subedar-major in the British Indian Army, was arrested and convicted for attempted murder in 1952 in Kohat and sentenced to seven years, but spent the next 18 years in jail. Released in 1970, he was arrested again in Karachi, and was not released until 1987. Mukhtar, who had land and business in Kohat, said he was framed by someone on the attempt to murder charge, which led to his conviction in Kohat. The same man later followed him to Karachi and had him arrested again, without any lawful authority whatsoever.

In acquitting Mukhtar, a district bench of the Sindh High Court, observed: "There is no mention of any remand order having been issued by any court. Therefore, the detenue has been kept in detention without any lawful authority. It has also been stated that he is under trial, but no documents to that effect have been shown by the Advocate General or the Home Department".

Then there is the case of Meher Din, who came out of jail in 1987. He was arrested by Lahore Police in 1966, when he was 20, falsely accused of murder. His two-decades incarceration began thus: "Are you Meher Din?" the Lahore Police asked. "Yes", he replied. "Where do you live?" "In Badami Bagh", he answered. "Is not your father's name Imam Din?" "No, my father's name is Yameen". "You are not Meher Din, son of Imam Din, who has committed a murder?" "No, I am Meher Din, son of Yameen, and I have killed no one." "Well," said the policeman, "you come with us anyway."

Meher Din was arrested, prosecuted and acquitted. But instead of being released, he was handed over to Karachi Police, who were also looking for the elusive murderer Meher Din, son of Imam Din. Having failed to catch him, the police put poor Meher Din, son of Yameen, in jail for the next 17 years in jail.

The above happy endings, for lack of a better word, should draw attention to the scale of lawlessness of the law-enforcing agencies in Pakistan. The few cases of illegal detention that have come to light represent merely the tip of the iceberg.

More here

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Thursday, June 23, 2005


But they sent someone else to death-row for the crime!

In a stepped up effort to secure an indictment of Brian Dugan in the 1983 Naperville murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico, DuPage prosecutors will be presenting evidence to the grand jury in weeks ahead, State's Atty. Joseph Birkett said Monday. "I've said it before that Brian Dugan is the target and he remains the target," said Birkett. Birkett noted that grand jury proceedings are secret, "but I think people will soon be seeing a lot of familiar faces in the courthouse. The investigation has been ongoing, and the presentation of evidence to the grand jury is part of that."

The strongest reported evidence against Dugan is DNA samples that link him to the crime. Birkett declined to give a date when he would seek an indictment.

Thomas McCulloch, Dugan's attorney, said Monday that he hadn't heard anything specific about a current DuPage County grand jury investigation. "I assume there will be an indictment at some time," said McCulloch, who added he last talked to his client, who is in Pontiac Correctional Center, late last year.

Birkett has said previously that he would seek the death penalty against Dugan if he is indicted and convicted of the Nicarico murder. Dugan, 49, of Aurora, is currently serving two life sentences for the murders of a Geneva woman and a Somonauk child. He has been at the center of a 20-year firestorm since he confessed to killing Nicarico in a statement that couldn't be used against him in a criminal court. Dugan claimed that he was the sole perpetrator of the murder, kidnapping and sexual assault of the girl who was abducted from her Naperville home on Feb. 25, 1983, when she stayed home from school because of illness.

Three other men were indicted and tried for the crime: One eventually had charges dropped against him. Two were convicted and sentenced to death. Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez were both eventually freed from Death Row by judges who ruled there was a lack of evidence needed to convict.

Also, seven former prosecutors and police officers involved in the Nicarico death investigation were eventually charged with, and later acquitted of, malfeasance in Cruz's and Hernandez's prosecution.

Dugan has never been indicted in the Nicarico murders, but the possibility has been discussed for years. Some evidence in the case over the years has been presented to the grand jury. "We are still waiting for the results of some tests," said Birkett. "We want to be able to deal with every piece of evidence." The potential indictment comes as Birkett has announced that he is considering running for governor in next March's Republican primary. He lost the 2002 election for Illinois attorney general.

More here


Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the 1983 kidnaping, rape, and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in DuPage County, Illinois.

Prior to their 1985 trial the lead detective in the case resigned in protest that prosecutors were proceeding against innocent men. Nonetheless, prosecutors continued and won convictions, thanks to the testimony of officers who falsely claimed that Cruz had told them details of the crime that only the killer would have known.

Shortly after the trial, a repeat sex offender and murderer - Brian Dugan - confessed that he alone had committed the crime, as well as a series of other crimes, including two rape-murders and three rapes. Many of these crime were similar to the crime for which Cruz and Hernandez were sitting on death row, and several witnesses established conclusively that Dugan was the sole perpetrator in the other crimes he had described.

Although Dugan's confession that he alone killed Jeanine Nicarico was corroborated by overwhelming evidence - as shown by a Chicago Lawyer investigation headed by Rob Warden - prosecutors steadfastly refused to acknowledge that they had put the wrong men on death row. And, after the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the convictions, prosecutors retried Cruz and Hernandez and again won - largely because much of the evidence proving that Dugan had committed the crime was excluded from the courtroom.

In 1990, a volunteer legal team led by Lawrence C. Marshall agreed to represent Cruz on appeal. After four years of arduous litigation, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed Cruz's conviction in 1994, and granted him a third trial. Prior to that trial, newly available DNA testing excluded Cruz and Hernandez as the child's rapists and linked Dugan to the crime. Even so, prosecutors refused to drop the case.

At trial, Cruz was represented by a team of four lawyers, including Marshall. During the trial, a police officer admitted that he had lied under oath in relation to testimony about Cruz's purported statement. After hearing all of the prosecution's evidence, the trial judge directed a verdict of not guilty. Prosecutors later dropped charges against Hernandez.

The story of the Cruz-Hernandez case is told in a book by Thomas Frisbie and Randy Garrett - Victims of Justice, Avon Books (1998).

In the aftermath of the Cruz trial, a special grand jury indicted four sheriff's deputies and three former prosecutors for their roles in the Cruz case. Charges included perjury and obstruction of justice. Although a DuPage County jury acquitted these men of those charges, the County later agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle the civil rights claims that Cruz, Hernandez, and Stephen Buckley (a third defendant who had been charged in the crime) had filed in federal court.

In December 2002, Cruz received a pardon based on innocence from Illinois Governor George H. Ryan.

Report here

Fuller details here

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005


He has put more innocent people in jail than anyone outside a police force

Professor Sir Roy Meadow, whose evidence helped to send three innocent mothers to jail for killing their babies, misled a murder jury by giving naive and grossly misleading evidence as an expert witness, the General Medical Council was told yesterday. The retired paediatrician who, over decades, has convinced courts that at least 81 infant deaths were murders, told jurors that the chances of two cot deaths in a family were as unlikely as an 80-1 horse winning four consecutive Grand Nationals.

Professor Meadow was a witness in the trials of Sally Clark, Angela Cannings and Donna Anthony, who were each convicted of murdering two of their babies but later cleared on appeal. He also gave evidence against Trupti Patel, who was found not guilty of killing her three babies.

Details of the charge, which may mean one of medicine’s most distinguished careers ending in disgrace, were disclosed for the first time. Professor Meadow is being tried over a single claim of “gross professional misconduct” arising from his evidence against Mrs Clark, a 35-year-old solicitor from Wilmslow, Cheshire. The case against the former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health revolves around his use of statistics to explain in court how remote the possibility was that Mrs Clark’s sons, Christopher and Harry, died of natural causes. Eminent statisticians will be called to dispute his figures.

Professor Meadow told a jury that the chances of two cases of sudden infant death syndrome, or “cot death”, in one family were 73 million to one, or once every 100 years. He obtained this figure by looking at the probability of a single cot death in a family like Mrs Clark’s. Because the Clarks were non-smokers, were employed and the mother was over 26, the chances were calculated at 8,543 to one. Professor Meadow multiplied this figure by itself to reach his “astronomically increased improbability” for two such deaths. Using a National Lottery analogy, he said it was like “winning the jackpot”. Yet Professor Meadow was aware of findings which showed that if there is one cot death in a family the likelihood of a second is actually increased, the GMC disciplinary panel was told. The correct “odds” were nearer 75 to one.

He also failed to mention evidence which might help the defence — that babies who died without obvious cause were 25 times less likely to have been murdered than to have died of natural causes.

Robert Seabrook, QC, for the GMC, said:“This charge relates to his giving of evidence for the prosecution in a double murder trail in 1999 when it is alleged that he gave seriously misleading and flawed evidence and thereby was in breach of his duties as a medical expert witness.” His evidence was grossly imbalanced and extravagant. Mr Seabrook added: “When doctors offer themselves as forensic medical experts, increasingly a feature of consultant practice, they must be scrupulously fair. They are not hired guns. They are not advancing their own pet theories. Like all expert witnesses they must remember their duty is to assist the court by putting all relevant factors fully and frankly before the court. This is especially if the expert is a man of great eminence and therefore likely to be respected, effective and persuasive.”

From The Times

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Jurors in the Sion Jenkins murder trial at the Old Bailey were told today that they could be witnessing a historic miscarriage of justice. Jenkins, 47, a former deputy head teacher, is being retried for the murder of his foster daughter Billie-Jo, 13, who was battered to death as she painted patio doors at the family home in Hastings, East Sussex, in 1997. Jenkins, now of Belgravia, central London, was jailed for life in 1998 but the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial last year.

Christopher Sallon, QC, making his closing speech for the defence, said the case had the features of a miscarriage of justice. These included pressure being put on police to solve the crime quickly because of the public outrage.

Scientists and medical experts had been unwilling to admit they could have been wrong in the light of new findings, he said. Mr Sallon said that it appeared some of the investigators had put their careers and reputations first. He told the jury: “We say that a grave doubt has been established as to whether Sion Jenkins committed this crime. “In this investigation there have been oversights and mistakes which makes your task an extremely difficult one.”

The jury had heard evidence not heard by the first trial and he listed 12 reasons why jurors could not be sure of Jenkins’ guilt. These included lack of motive, the time-factor of three minutes to commit a “frenzied and psychopathic” murder, a history of prowlers in the area and inconclusive scientific evidence. “The prosecution have totally failed to produce any evidence which begins to explain why Sion Jenkins should have hit his daughter with such terrible force,” he said.

Current report here

Background report:

"The Court of Appeal has ordered a new investigation into the actions of a mentally ill man who was the police's first suspect for the murder. Lawyers for Jenkins have also obtained expert forensic analysis that challenges the prosecution's key evidence about bloodstains found on the teacher.

The third plank of the Court of Appeal challenge by Jenkins' legal team is two of his daughters, who the defence claim can provide their father with an alibi. They will be cross-examined and will give live evidence for the first time at the appeal hearing later this year. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which investigates suspected miscarriages of justice, referred the case to the Court of Appeal last year after re-examining the evidence given at the trial, and the fresh evidence produced by the defence. Nevertheless the police are adamant that they got the right man and the Crown Prosecution Service will be defending the conviction in court.

If Jenkins were to be freed at the hearing, which is expected to take place in the summer, it will be hugely controversial and lead to the obvious question: if he did not murder Billie-Jo, then who did? The brutality and apparent randomness of a crime committed by a churchgoer and a respected member of the community shocked the nation. At his trial in Lewes Crown Court, the jury heard that Billie-Jo's body was discovered on the patio at the back of the family home, where she lived with her foster family: Sion, his wife Lois, a social worker, and their four daughters.

The prosecution successfully argued that Jenkins, now 46, had returned to the house in the afternoon of Saturday 15 February 1997 with two of his daughters, Annie and Lottie. He entered the house, where Billie-Jo had been painting the patio doors, and in an uncontrollable rage bludgeoned her death. He then took his two daughters out to a DIY store in order to create a false alibi for himself. On their return to the house he found the body and called 999 for help.

The prosecution was unable to suggest any reason why Jenkins might have committed the murder, although after his conviction it emerged that he had struck out at his wife on a number of occasions and had once kicked his stepdaughter. The police suggested that he simply lost his temper, possibly provoked by Billie-Jo playing loud music.

The crucial forensic evidence against Jenkins at his trial was the discovery of 158 microscopic bloodspots on his clothing. A forensic scientist successfully argued that the thin mist of droplets was created as Jenkins swung the 18in tent peg, striking his foster daughter at least nine times.

Jenkins' legal team challenged the forensic evidence in an appeal in 1999, but the court rejected the challenge. Since then, fresh evidence has emerged following inquiries by the defence team, headed by the lawyer Neil O'May, and investigators from the CCRC.
One of the principal issues surrounds a paranoid schizophrenic man who had been seen sitting in a park within eight minutes' walk of the murder scene at the time of Billie-Jo's death
. The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was arrested by the police after a guesthouse owner living on Jenkins' road reported that he had been behaving strangely on the night of the murder. He was later eliminated from the inquiry after Sussex Police found at least three witnesses who said he was in the park at the time of the murder.

But it has since emerged that when the man was arrested and placed in cells he tried to stuff into his mouth a piece of plastic that he had been keeping hidden in his clothing. It was later confiscated by police. This is considered potentially significant because part of a plastic bin liner was found buried deep in Billie-Jo's left nostril. The CCRC has now been asked to investigate whether the man had a fixation with plastic bags.

The man, who resisted arrest, was never questioned because he was considered medically unfit. Items of his clothing were forensically tested, but no bloodstains were discovered. But the defence believes that he may have destroyed some clothing. There are also questions being asked about the accuracy of the timings given by witnesses who saw him in the park.

There is also a dispute over the evidence given by Jenkins' daughters, Annie and Lottie, now aged 19 and 17.
Neither the police nor the defence called the girls to give evidence at the trial
, instead relying on a police video interview, which was interpreted as giving Jenkins a few minutes' opportunity to murder Billie-Jo.

The CCRC re-interviewed the girls in 2002 and the defence now believes that the original defence team were "wrong-footed" or misled at the trial and that the teenagers' testimony provides their father with an alibi for the time of the murder. Annie and Lottie will be cross-examined at the Court of Appeal in the summer and it will be up to the judges to decide whether their evidence is admissible.

The third area of dispute is over
the forensic evidence. In the appeal court, two professors from Sheffield University will argue that evidence given at the original trial was wrong
. The forensic specialists will say that air trapped in Billie-Jo's dead body, possibly by a blood clot, could have been released by her foster father as he attended her, and thus have produced the thin mist of blood droplets. They will also question why Jenkins did not have more blood on him considering the huge amount of fluid lost during the savage attack.

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Monday, June 20, 2005


Scotland Yard failed to investigate fully an allegation by a white woman of a rape involving an officer from an ethnic minority because of concerns that it would be accused of racism. Despite a secret two-year investigation into the woman's complaint, the officer, who was accused of being party to an incident in which the victim claims she was drugged before being raped, has never been interviewed or questioned because of fears that an inquiry would be seen as "a racist witch-hunt".

In cases of rape allegations it is normal procedure for anyone involved in the alleged incident to be interviewed under caution before a decision is taken on whether to press charges. In this instance, however, the Metropolitan Police was said to have been "walking on eggshells" in the wake of the Macpherson Report, published in 1999, which said that the force was "institutionally racist". As a result, the matter was never put to the officer - who serves with the Metropolitan Police and whose identity is known to this newspaper - because of fears that he would accuse the force of pursuing him for racist reasons.

The revelation of the woman's claim comes after a week in which the Metropolitan Police has faced multiple accusations of racism. At an industrial tribunal last week, the Commissioner Sir Ian Blair faced accusations of "politically correct meddling" in a disciplinary case involving white officers. He was said to have been keen to make examples of the officers, who faced charges of racist behaviour, even though an inquiry had already cleared them.

That charge is overshadowed by the latest unprecedented revelation, however, which demonstrates the extraordinary lengths to which the Metropolitan Police is prepared to go to accommodate officers from ethnic minorities. The rape complaint, which the force has attempted to keep secret for four years, was considered so sensitive that Sir Ian, then Deputy Commissioner, oversaw the inquiry himself. It was formally made by the woman, now 35, in 2001 and relates to an alleged incident which she said took place 13 years earlier. She said that she had not reported it at the time because she was afraid that the man would come after her. She claimed that the man, who she had been seeing for a few weeks, invited her to an address in west London where she began drinking with him and another man, whom he identified as his cousin.

She believes that she passed out after a drug was placed in her drink and says that when she awoke, she was being raped by the other man. She passed out again, waking to find the man naked beside her and her boyfriend lying on the floor nearby. She says that when she complained to her boyfriend that she had been raped he told her she had imagined it. She ended their relationship immediately.

Following her complaint in 2001, during which she made a full statement, Scotland Yard detectives spent two years secretly investigating the allegation. Several people gave the police statements, but detectives were told not to approach the officer and in 2003 the case was closed. The failure to question the officer because of the sensitivity over his race was confirmed by several sources. One said: "Scotland Yard was treading on eggshells with this and the feeling at the top level was that even putting the rape to this man would be too much."

The woman, who cannot be identified, said: "Due process has not been served. This man, who is now a serving officer, was party to my rape." Scotland Yard said that the allegation had been "thoroughly investigated". While awaiting their response, a man identifying himself as the officer's solicitor called the offices of The Sunday Telegraph in a state of agitation. Attempts to contact him subsequently failed, but Scotland Yard admitted that after this newspaper's inquiry, it contacted the officer. "We have a duty of care to him," said a spokesman, who declined to comment on the duty of care to the alleged rape victim.

The officer's solicitor said his client had been previously aware of the rape allegation, which he denied, and confirmed that he had never been interviewed formally or informally over it. He said that he took this as proof that the allegation was groundless.

Report here

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Sunday, June 19, 2005


Report from 2004:

Gov. Mike Easley pardoned Darryl Hunt yesterday in the 1984 rape and murder of Deborah Sykes, proclaiming Hunt innocent of the crime for which he served 18 years in prison. The pardon entitles Hunt to $20,000 for each year he was wrongly imprisoned, or about $360,000. Coming more than two months after a Superior Court judge vacated the murder conviction in the case, the pardon also gives him another chance to clear his name, Hunt said. "Finally, my innocence is recognized," Hunt said in an interview at his home, "in the sense that for so many years I have been trying to prove my innocence only to be told I was lying, and to finally have it official means a lot."

Easley issued a brief news release about 5:30 p.m., after notifying Sykes' mother and Hunt's attorney of his decision. "After careful, extensive review and consideration, I am granting a pardon of innocence for Darryl Eugene Hunt," Easley said in a statement. "This pardon exonerates Mr. Hunt of his October 1990 first-degree murder conviction. All parties have been notified of this decision and the facts and circumstances surrounding this case.".....

Hunt was freed Dec. 24 after DNA testing in the Sykes case identified the new suspect, Willard Brown, who authorities said later confessed to having committed the crime by himself. Brown has since been charged with murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery. No court date has been set for Brown, who is being held without bond.

Tom Keith, Forsyth County's district attorney, praised Easley's decisiveness on the pardon. "He knows it's a tough case, and he made a quick decision," Keith said last night. "I don't think there's anything he could do but that. "I think it was quickly done - in Mike's case, probably courageously," he said. "He could have waited until his last day in office. Politically, there's fallout on both sides."

Easley and his legal counsel, Reuben Young, declined to discuss the case yesterday. But the three-page document granting the pardon makes it clear that Easley accepts the recent developments in the case. He refers to testimony at Hunt's court hearing in February by Detective Mike Rowe of the Winston-Salem Police Department and Scott Williams, an agent with the State Bureau of Investigation, who both said that there is no longer any evidence that Hunt was involved in the rape or murder of Sykes.....

The Sykes murder and imprisonment of Hunt has long raised questions, largely along racial lines. Many people believe that Hunt was wrongly singled out in the brutal attack, while others believe that Hunt, who was found guilty by two juries, received special consideration because his supporters always raised race as an issue. The police never had any physical evidence to tie Hunt to Sykes' death, which occurred after she parked her car on West End Boulevard about 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 10, 1984.

The police relied on eyewitnesses, including a man named Johnny Gray, who first called 911 to report the attack using a false name - that of Sammy Mitchell, a friend of Hunt's. When Gray came forward to acknowledge making the call two weeks later, he identified not Hunt, but another man as the attacker. And that person was in jail at the time. Authorities later came to believe that Gray himself may have been involved in the attack on Sykes.

After being convicted at his first trial in 1985 in Forsyth County, where one black man served on the jury, Hunt won a second trial. That trial, in 1990, was moved to Catawba County, and an all-white jury convicted him a second time. He appealed that conviction, arguing first that prosecutors had withheld evidence and later that the DNA evidence developed in 1994 - excluding him as the source of semen found on Sykes - entitled him to a third trial. Hunt lost his last appeal in federal court in 2000. Judges ruled that the fact the DNA evidence did not match Hunt did not necessarily exclude him from having participated in the attack on Sykes.

Further testing of the semen sample showed that it failed to match Mitchell or Gray, the state's two other suspects in the case. Neither prosecutors nor police ever ordered a new investigation to try to find the person responsible for raping Sykes. Last April, a Superior Court judge approved, without opposition from Keith, a request to compare the DNA evidence in the case against state and federal databases of convicted felons.

An eight-part series by the Winston-Salem Journal last November documented flaws in the case against Hunt, showing that police used questionable tactics and witnesses to focus on him as a suspect. The series pointed out another downtown rape in 1985, which had characteristics similar to the attack on Sykes, a copy editor for The Sentinel newspaper. In that case, the victim had identified Brown, but decided not to press charges.

Under state law, Hunt is eligible for compensation from the state for wrongful imprisonment, but he must apply to the N.C. Industrial Commission, which routinely hears worker-compensation and other types of compensation cases. His attorneys said they will apply for Hunt's compensation immediately, and they plan to help him put the money in trust for a house, his education and his future financial security.

May 19, 2005 report:

The House unanimously agreed Thursday to require the criminal records of a person who receives a pardon of innocence from the governor be eliminated from the court system. The measure was filed in response to the case of Darryl Hunt, who spent 18 years in prison for the slaying of a Winston-Salem woman before DNA evidence exonerated him. "The state took away 18 years of his life," said Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, before the bill passed by a vote of 112-0. "This is a chance to give some of (his life) back to him."

Last year, Gov. Mike Easley issued Hunt a pardon of innocence, which means Hunt was officially cleared in the slaying. But a pardon doesn't mean the records chronicling the case automatically are removed from the official court files. If it becomes law, the bill would delete the records for Hunt and other individuals who have received such pardons. The expunction also would allow Hunt or others pardoned due to wrongful conviction to state truthfully in court or on a job application that they haven't been charged or convicted of a crime.

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Saturday, June 18, 2005


"The system" is still covering up for corrupt police. Once again "beyond reasonable doubt" is forgotten

One of the longest alleged miscarriages of justice cases took another twist this morning when Appeal Court judges rejected Stirlingshire man Stuart Gair's claims of innocence. Campaigners immediately expressed their disbelief at the decision in a case that is one of the highest profile in Scottish criminal history.

Stuart Gair arrived at the Court of Appeal today hoping his 16 year old murder conviction would be quashed. He said: "I'm hoping for the full justice, and I'm hoping that at the end of the day, the corrupt police officers involved are somehow, in some way, dealt with." Gair was accused of murdering Peter Smith in a Glasgow lane in 1989. At his trial, the key prosecution witness, William McLeod, said he saw Gair with a knife in the lane. Other witnesses, David Smith, Brian Morrison and Alan Gillon all put Gair at the crime scene. All four have since retracted their evidence claiming police officers blackmailed them into giving perjured evidence. Those retractions were effectively rejected in less than 20 seconds at the Appeal Court this morning.

Stuart Gair said: "I'm absolutely stunned that these people have refused an appeal that was absolutely solid. I'm absolutely stunned and shocked." John McManus from the Miscarriages of Justice Group said: "I must admit, I think we're all very shocked. I mean, Paddy Hill said something about 14 years ago, it was "it looks that these people can't spell justice, never mind dispense it", and I think that's what we've seen in there today. If this was about justice, then sure Gair would have won this today. I don't know what they're playing at. They seem to be scared of opening up the can of worms that shows the corruption that goes on in the convicts court."

The case does not end today. The judges will hear further grounds of appeal in the future.

More here


The children of a Chinese butcher executed for murdering a waitress have appealed against his conviction after the "victim" turned up alive, the second such judicial blunder to be made public in recent weeks. Shi Xiaorong was 18 when she disappeared in 1987 at the same time as six pieces of a woman's body, sliced off "in a professional manner," were found in a river in southern Hunan province, a newspaper said Thursday.

Police arrested Teng Xingshan because he was a butcher by trade and because of rumors he used to go to the hotel where Shi worked to find prostitutes, the Beijing News said. Hunan Provincial Court sentenced Teng to death for murder despite an appeal and a signature campaign by hundreds of local villagers and officials. He was executed by gunshot in 1989. "He cried out he was innocent until he was at the execution ground," the newspaper quoted one of Teng's lawyers as saying.

Waitress Shi was later found to be serving a prison sentence with her husband for selling drugs, the newspaper said.

Wrongful convictions are not uncommon in China where a campaign has been launched to clean up the interrogation and trial process. In April, She Xianglin was freed after serving 11 years of a 15-year jail sentence in central Hubei province for murdering his wife when she turned up not only alive but with another man.


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Friday, June 17, 2005


Convicted on the word of a crook who owed him money!

Attorney Jagdeo Singh, who has had the ominous cloud of a corruption scandal over his head for almost six years now, had his conviction quashed by the Privy Council yesterday. The attorney, who had been behind bars since 2001 on two seven-year terms, was released around 7 p.m. yesterday when the Director of Public Prosecutions intervened. He's now free to practise.

Singh was convicted of corruptly soliciting $40,000 from the wife of one of his clients, Sherry Ann Basdeo, between October and December 1999. The money, Singh had allegedly told Basdeo, was to be used to pay then Deputy Chief Magistrate Deborah Thomas-Felix to grant bail to Basdeo's common-law husband, Rudolph John, who was before the magistrate on a drug charge.

Singh was arrested in a sting operation on December 2, 1999, at the Curepe KFC outlet, along the Churchill Roosevelt Highway, when an undercover police agent, WPC Lystra Bridgelal, handed him the $40,000.

Singh's appeal was heard over two days, and the five Law Lords delivered their decision around midday, after about 15 minutes of deliberation ..... One of the Law Lords, Lord Bingham was reported to have said: "This was not an overwhelming case against (Singh), despite the fact that it could have been. "It was primarily the word of (Singh) against that of (Basdeo) who was not of good character and who had reason for fabricating a story. "On the other hand, all the appellant may have wanted was his fee which the complainant had admitted to owing."

Singh was represented by English lawyers Edward Fitzgerald QC and James Oury and local attorneys Desmond Allum SC and Rajiv Persad. Asked his personal views on the outcome of the appeal, Jairam said he never felt Singh should have been convicted. "He may not be without his faults, but he is a very good attorney and would have been nearing Senior Counsel status by now," he said. He said the criminal justice system had failed Singh, and asserted: "Given what has happened today, I don't think that we can abolish the Privy Council as our final appellate court".

The Court of Appeal, comprising Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma and Justices of Appeal Lionel Jones and Roger Hamel-Smith, dismissed Singh's appeal on November 16, 2002.

More here

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Thursday, June 16, 2005


I hope the cop ends up being put away himself. Fat chance, I suppose

Bob Lisker, Bruce's father, was visiting his son at juvenile hall just after the boy was booked for murder. Bob recalled a conversation he had with his wife, Dorka, the night before the murder. Dorka told Bob one of Bruce's friends, Mike Ryan, had come over, asking if he could do any odd jobs around the house in exchange for money. Bruce often did these odd jobs around his parents' home in Sherman Oaks, Calif., for money, and sometimes brought Ryan along so he could earn a few dollars as well. That particular day, Ryan showed up alone, and Dorka told him she had nothing for him to do.

Like Bruce, Ryan was also a drug addict going nowhere fast. The two had struck up a friendship while attending meetings for drug addiction rehabilitation in 1982. They shared a common bond: getting high. Ryan, also 17, was homeless and jobless. For half the rent, Lisker let his new friend sleep on his couch. The friendship ended after only a few months, when Ryan didn't pay his share of the rent as agreed and Lisker kicked him out. Ryan went to Mississippi.

Three weeks after the murder, ironically, on April Fools' Day, Van Nuys Police Detective Andrew Monsue paid a visit to Lisker at Sylmar Juvenile Hall. Lisker was desperate for the police to investigate Ryan for the murder; he had no evidence of his former friend's guilt, just a nagging suspicion. Bruce told the detective that Ryan had an unusual fascination with knives. Monsue said he would look into the whereabouts of Ryan on the morning of the murder. It was later determined that the detective did interview Ryan, but only so he could say he had cleared Ryan as a suspect so the prosecution of Lisker would not be derailed.

Ryan had been in Los Angeles for several days prior to the attack. He told Monsue that at the time Dorka Lisker was being beaten and stabbed to death, he was 12 miles away, in a knife fight with an unknown black male. He claimed to have stabbed the man in the shoulder. Ryan told the detective he had checked into a nearby motel that morning and hopped on a bus headed back to Mississippi the next morning. Monsue discovered that Ryan had checked in that afternoon, but had used the alias "Mark Smith." Unbelievably, Monsue never bothered to verify the alleged knife fight. The detective did do a records search on Ryan, but used the wrong birthdate. Had Monsue used the correct date, he would have found Ryan's conviction for a knifepoint robbery, committed 10 months before Dorka Lisker's murder.

Monsue never shared the contents of his interview and investigation of Ryan's story with the prosecutor assigned to the Lisker case, Phillip Rabichow. Subsequently, this information was never given to Lisker's attorney, Dennis Mulcahy, who could have possibly used it to free his client.

Mulcahy was not permitted to argue at Lisker's trial that Ryan was the real killer. No evidence had been presented to suggest that Ryan was even a suspect. The judge didn't believe there was a good-faith basis to allow the defense to pursue this theory. Alas, the jury never even heard the name Mike Ryan.

During Lisker's trial, prosecutor Rabichow relied heavily on the evidence given to him by investigators, in particular Monsue. Rabichow convincingly relayed to the jury that the bloody footprints at the scene "resembled quite closely" those of Lisker. He explained to the jury how it would have been impossible for Lisker to see his mother lying on the floor simply by looking in the window, as he had claimed. Conveniently, there was a jailhouse snitch who came forward to testify that Lisker confessed to him; but that was just icing on the cake. Rabichow truly believed Lisker killed his mother, and the prosecutor would see that justice was served. When the jury came back with a verdict of guilty, Rabichow considered his job done.

In 1995, Bob Lisker passed away. Bruce described his father as "a loving father and tireless supporter." On Bruce's website,, he writes, "My dad's memory fueled the next several years of progress towards justice in my mother's murder."

Lisker immersed himself in every legal document surrounding his case. In 2000, he discovered a 1998 letter to the parole board written by Monsue. In the letter, Monsue stated that the $150 missing from Dorka Lisker's purse—money that had allegedly been taken during the attack—had been discovered in the attic above Bruce Lisker's old bedroom. Lisker hired a private investigator, Paul Ingels, who contacted the homeowners. They stated they had never found any money and had never even heard of Monsue, much less spoken to him. Two years ago, Lisker filed a petition claiming wrongful conviction and lodged a complaint with the internal affairs division of the Los Angeles Police Department, along with an epilogue of his case to date.

Sgt. Jim Gavin was assigned in 2003 to look into Lisker's allegations. Gavin started from the beginning and attempted to reexamine all of the remaining evidence in the Lisker case.

He confirmed what private investigator Ingels had discovered: that the current owners of the Lisker residence had never found any money, and that Monsue had lied in his 1998 letter to the parole board. Once Gavin knew that Monsue had gone to such lengths to keep Lisker in prison, he started to question other facets of the case.

Report here

And now for the coverup:

The Los Angeles Police Department's civilian watchdog has launched an investigation to determine whether an internal affairs sergeant was improperly ordered last year to shut down his probe of a questionable 1985 murder conviction. The sergeant uncovered new evidence that contradicted the prosecution's case against Bruce Lisker, 39, now serving a life sentence for murdering his 66-year-old mother in the foyer of the family's ranch-style Sherman Oaks home on March 10, 1983. The sergeant, Jim Gavin, also expressed concern that the LAPD detective who investigated the murder may have prematurely dismissed a second suspect and possibly lied to prevent Lisker's release on parole. But before Gavin could complete his work, he said he was ordered by his superiors to stop investigating.

Inspector General Andre Birotte Jr., who reports to the Police Commission, confirmed last week that LAPD officials had asked him to investigate the case because allegations of wrongdoing involved officers from internal affairs and the department wanted to avoid any perception of a "conflict of interest." Additionally, Michael Cherkasky, appointed by a federal judge to monitor the LAPD, said in an interview that he also was reviewing the department's handling of the case. LAPD Chief William J. Bratton, who has been briefed by senior police officials on the Lisker matter, declined to comment.

The high-level interest in Lisker's case comes after a Los Angeles Times investigation last month detailed new evidence and findings that contradicted a prosecutor's claim that a teenage Lisker beat and stabbed his mother, Dorka Lisker, after she caught him rifling through her purse for drug money. Based on the new evidence and findings, uncovered separately by Lisker's defense team, Gavin and Times reporters, the prosecutor, Phillip Rabichow, now retired, says he has reasonable doubt about Lisker's guilt. At least seven of the 12 jurors who voted unanimously to convict Lisker also now say they would have favored acquittal, had they known all of the evidence at the time.

Lisker, imprisoned for the last 22 years, filed a complaint with internal affairs two years ago against the detective, Andrew Monsue, who arrested him for his mother's murder. In the complaint, Lisker alleged that Monsue had failed to investigate another suspect, solicited perjured testimony from a jailhouse informant and lied about finding $150 supposedly stolen from Dorka Lisker's purse. Monsue denies any wrongdoing.

Assigned by internal affairs to investigate the complaint, Gavin took previously unexamined crime scene photographs to an LAPD analyst, who made a startling discovery: A bloody footprint left in a bathroom that was attributed to Lisker at trial did not match Lisker's shoes, suggesting that there was another person in the house at the time of the killing. During Gavin's investigation, police also discovered an autopsy photograph of what appeared to be a footprint on Dorka Lisker's shaved head. The mark was not recognized as a shoe impression at the time of the trial.

At The Times' request, the LAPD further analyzed the impression and determined that it matched the bloody footprint in the bathroom. Gavin also expressed concern that Monsue, the detective, may have prematurely dismissed a second suspect, a friend of Lisker's named John Michael Ryan, who lied about his whereabouts at the time of the killing, had a history of violence and left town the day after the murder. A telephone call from the Lisker home around the time of the murder was made to a number nearly identical to that of Ryan's mother — a call that Rabichow, the prosecutor, now acknowledges could be used to link Ryan to the crime. Ryan killed himself in 1996.

In his complaint to internal affairs, Lisker also questioned Monsue's claim that a couple who purchased the Lisker home after the murder had informed him that they had found $150 in the attic above Bruce Lisker's old bedroom. Monsue made the claim in a letter he wrote to the parole board in which he said that the discovery of the money "confirmed our initial theory" that Bruce Lisker had robbed his mother before killing her. But Gavin could find no evidence that Monsue had ever documented the development in writing. Gavin then contacted the man who Monsue said had reported finding the money. The homeowner later signed a sworn declaration that he could not remember finding money in the attic or ever contacting Monsue.

Gavin had more leads to pursue. But his supervisors had grown impatient and told him that internal affairs was not in the business of investigating homicides, he said. "I was told to shut it down," Gavin said in an interview with The Times. "I was told I was done."

More here

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005


They are trying to discourage a lawyer who is the only hope of a man imprisoned on faked evidence

On Tuesday, attorney Noah Geary asked a visiting judge to put one of the Fayette County commissioners in jail until his counsel fees in a murder case are paid. And while Northumberland County Senior Judge Barry F. Feudale refused, the judge entered a judgment against the county to the tune of $123,232.49 plus 6 percent interest - and said he will sanction the cash-strapped county when he enters a ruling at a later date.

Geary, a Washington County attorney who successfully represented David J. Munchinski in a post-conviction appeal, has been trying to collect on court-ordered payments for his services since an order was handed down in December 2004. Six months later, Geary said, he has yet to see a penny from the county, so he went to court to get his payment......

Ferens called Geary's incarceration request "grandstanding," "ridiculous and ludicrous." He said Geary's court appointment to represent Munchinski 21/2 years after he took the case was akin to "giving him an open checkbook." "We feel this was improper, and that's why we aren't paying. We feel an obligation to the citizens of this county to protect their funds," Ferens said.....

"If they think $100,000 is a lot of money, wait until I file my (civil action)," Geary said. He indicated he intends to sue the county next month in federal court for Munchinski's wrongful conviction. "We'll see what 20 years of a man's life is worth," Geary said.

Munchinski, 52, was convicted of the 1977 shooting deaths of James Alford and Raymond Gierke. The men were shot and sodomized at a Bear Rocks chalet on Dec. 2, but police did not make any arrests in the case until 1982, when a witness came forward claiming to know details of what happened. Witness Richard Bowen first told police he was the getaway driver for Munchinski and Leon Scaglione, but later expanded his statement after prosecutors gave him immunity. Bowen told police he was inside the chalet when Munchinski and Scaglione killed the men. Munchinski and Scaglione were tried together in 1983, but jurors could not reach a verdict. Their cases were severed, and both were later convicted of two counts each of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Scaglione later died in prison, and Munchinski, who has continually proclaimed his innocence, has spent the past 19 years filing appeals and fighting to clear his name. In 2002, when Geary took over the case, he successfully petitioned for both county prosecutors and judges to remove themselves from participation. The state attorney general's office and Feudale were assigned to Munchinski's latest post-conviction appeal.

After a number of hearings, Feudale reviewed volumes of evidence and vacated Munchinski's conviction last October for a number of reasons, including questions about Bowen's first interview with prosecutors.

Geary contended a police report that was altered when given to Munchinski's former defense attorneys referenced a taped interview with Bowen. Prosecutors and police officers said no tape existed, but Feudale said he believed it did.

The report that referenced the tape was altered by former county prosecutor, now judge, Ralph C. Warman. He testified he folded the report and photocopied it because it said the interview was taped when it wasn't.

Feudale lambasted Warman and former district attorney, now judge, Gerald R. Solomon in his opinion, questioning if the men committed prosecutorial misconduct for not handing over the original police reports and several other pieces of evidence in the case.

Feudale's decision to vacate Munchinski's conviction is on appeal, and Munchinski remains in prison while that appeal is being resolved.

More here

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