Monday, February 23, 2009

Quacks With Bite: Forensic Fabrications Exposed

While we're waiting for the verdict in United States v. Melton, please pause for a bit and consider another possible criminal violation of the civil rights of Mississippians. A little more than a year ago, Reason magazine's Radley Balko published his devastating expose of pathologist Stephen Hayne and forensic dentist Michael West, who practiced misanthropy as State experts in Mississippi criminal cases.

Then in Spring 2008, the exonerations of Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks demonstrated the human cost of false forensic testimony -- two men sent to Parchman's death row for over a decade (although one was resentenced to life due to mental retardation). When they were finally released, District Attorney Ben Creekmore, appointed special prosecutor in the cases, apologized for the wrongful incarceration on behalf of the State.

Now Mr. Balko has dropped another bomb. In the attached article, he posts a video tape of an autopsy at which Dr. West is seen pressing a defendant's dental mold into the face of a young girl's corpse. Dr. Hayne is present. The link is to Balko's story; the video can be found there. DO NOT WATCH THE VIDEO IF YOU ARE LIKELY TO BE UPSET.

Balko reports:

"Reason recently obtained shocking video from another Hayne and West collaboration that may shed light on the question. In 1993, the two conducted an examination on a 23-month-old girl named Haley Oliveaux of West Monroe, Louisiana, who had drowned in her bathtub. The video shows bite marks mysteriously appearing on the toddler's face during the time she was in the custody of Hayne and West. It then shows West repeatedly and methodically pressing and scraping a dental mold of a man's teeth on the dead girl's skin. Forensic scientists who have viewed the footage say the video reveals not only medical malpractice, but criminal evidence tampering."

I used to think I was jaded, but I could never have dreamed that even Drs. Hayne and West would so boldly manufacture false evidence -- and record it on video.

For those of you who may think Mayor Melton should be acquitted because he is fighting the drug trade and "the end justifies the means," this video shows why we have to hold Government accountable to follow the law.

For those of you who think that prisoners who claim to be "framed" are delusional or mendacious, this video will make you re-think that attitude.

And for those of you who are still for the death penalty, remember this: false expert testimony could have sent two innocent men to their death. In our name.

It's time to get damn furious about those who misuse the public trust, and to change the criminal justice system to ensure that the all-too-human tendency to cut corners, assume guilt, and rush to judgment is curtailed and controlled by the rule of law.

Memo to our next United States Attorney: In Illinois, they indicted detectives who manufactured evidence in homicide cases.,0,4080114.story?page=1&track=rss-topicgallery

Sounds like a good idea for Mississippi.

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