Archive for June, 2011

30
Jun
11

truth

A couple days ago I told you I was keeping my fingers crossed about something that was about to happen in James Prindle’s hearing, held yesterday morning in the Criminal Court Division 3 courtroom of Judge Bobby Carter, a former prosecutor and new judge who, curiously enough, was sworn in on the day James was arrested.

Now I can speak.

James has been under intense pressure from the prosecutor (whose name the General Sessions court clerk refuses to release to us) and his court-appointed public defender Jane Sturdivant to accept a plea deal and admit to a rape of his baby sister—a crime he did not commit. Their latest inducement for lying about the crime is a sentence of 9 years versus 60 years if the case goes to trial.

But James is adamant that he will not confess to a crime of which he is innocent and be forever labeled a sex offender. James is convinced his public defender is not working in his interest, but playing along with the corrupt practices of the justice system in Memphis.

Yesterday James bravely stood up and asked Judge Carter to replace his public defender with an attorney who would actually defend him rather than being a participant in the perversion of justice that is presently underway.

James told us that he got the impression Judge Carter seemed to stifle a scoff at the request, even though the judge said he would take it under advisement and announce his decision at James’ next hearing on July 22nd.

If the judge denies James’ request for a lawyer who will work for James and not against him, James will have no choice but to defend himself pro se. Wouldn’t that be a media spectacle, for a young boy to be forced to defend himself alone against the abusive power of the state?

The way this bizarre case has been going from the start, it may just come to that.

At every turn, in large ways and small, the authorities have prevented James from defending himself. We still haven’t received the “discovery pack” file of papers which are sitting with James in his cell. His commissary order for an envelope and stamps arrived without the stamps.

The authorities are also suppressing the names of key people involved in this case in their public records—even the prosecutor (only his ID number, AT8866, appears)! I just spoke to both the adult and juvenile sex crimes units of the Memphis Police Department, and no one can tell me who “T. Edwards” is, who was supposedly the detective who interviewed James and his mother on the night of the incident and told James they were “throwing away the key.” Isn’t this strange?

You can see how this is going. Our appeals for local help are still falling on deaf ears.

We are all very proud that James is standing up for himself in his belief that the truth can and must prevail. James may well be the only person in this whole disgraceful affair who is committed to the truth.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Andrew Swait performing “I Would Be True” 

 

I would be true for there are those that trust me.

I would be pure for there are those that care.

I would be strong for there is much to suffer.

I would be brave for there is much to dare.

I would be friend of all, the foe, the friendless.

I would be giving and forget the gift.

I would be humble for I know my weakness.

I would look up, laugh, love and live.

 

Lyrics: Howard Walter

29
Jun
11

junk justice

Yesterday a story was aired on public radio and TV about an investigation launched by NPR News Investigations, ProPublica and PBS Frontline, which analyzed nearly two dozen cases in which people have been accused of killing children based on flawed work by forensic pathologists. The story highlighted the use of so-called “Junk Science” by unethical (and, in my opinion, criminal) prosecutors to secure the convictions, imprisonment, and even executions of innocent people.

Because we are seeing the use of flawed and fraudulent forensic “evidence” in the cases of both Jordan Brown and James Prindle, it may be useful for us to explore today the broader context of the role forensics plays in American injustice.

Even before the television show CSI became so popular, juries and judges have tended to believe what “scientific experts” say in criminal cases. While scientific evidence can be a tremendously beneficial crime-solving tool, the use of inaccurate and fraudulent junk science has plagued our criminal justice system for years.

Junk science takes the form of false autopsies, inaccurate evaluations of hair and fiber evidence, dog scent lineups, grossly misleading reports and testimony by corrupt, incompetent or shoddy crime labs, and the use of disproven arson investigation techniques.

In 2009 Texas Governor Rick Perry was involved in the wrongful execution of Todd Willingham, a man accused of burning down his house with his three small children inside. By the time of Willingham’s execution, it had been established that Willingham had been wrongfully convicted based on junk science evidence and testimony, but Perry allowed the execution to proceed. If Perry decides to take a run at the Presidency in 2012 (as seems likely), the issue of junk science in the Willingham case will likely achieve national prominence as Perry’s role in the state murder of an innocent man is examined. Many Texans seem to take bloodthirsty delight in their executions, but Perry is likely to receive harsh criticism outside of Texas for sacrificing an innocent man to his selfish political ambitions.

Yet junk science is not just a Texas problem. There are politically ambitious prosecutors everywhere in America who regularly take advantage of the gullibility of jurors and the willingness of courts to allow the use of junk science to railroad the innocent. In case after case, prosecutors have used phony “experts” with little or no training or education, false information from labs, and dubious theories with no basis in fact to get convictions.

The use of such “evidence” is not limited to the courtroom: as we have seen in the Jordan Brown persecution, law enforcement agencies have come more and more to rely on fraudulent evidence and interpretation in making arrests and getting indictments.

Our adversarial, dog-eat-dog criminal justice system in practice places a higher value on prosecutors winning at all costs than discovering the truth. In such a system, dishonest and lazy prosecutors find the use of junk science an irresistible temptation. 

In his 2006 book Junk Science, Dan Agin says the two main causes of resulting wrongful convictions are fraud and ignorance.

Fraud

Too often, forensic analysts’ testimony goes further than the science allows. Many forensic techniques that have been practiced for years—but not subjected to the rigors of scientific research—are accepted and repeated as fact. Juries are left with the impression that the evidence is more scientific than it is, and the potential for wrongful convictions thus increases.

However, improper forensic testimony is not limited to unvalidated disciplines. For example, among DNA exoneration cases pursued by various Innocence Projects all over the country, scores of people were found to have been wrongfully convicted after forensic testimony misrepresented serology (blood testing) results. In some cases, analysts failed to disclose that a biological sample could be a mixture of fluids from the victim and perpetrator, and that the victim’s blood type could mask the perpetrator’s—thus making it impossible to know the perpetrator’s blood type. In other cases, expert witnesses have provided inaccurate statistics for the percentage of the population that shares the perpetrator’s blood type.
 
In many cases, the science—rather than the scientist—is inadequate. In other cases, forensic analysts make mistakes that could result from lack of training, poor support or insufficient resources. But in many cases, forensic analysts have engaged in outright lying.

For example, in some wrongful convictions later overturned with DNA testing, forensic analysts fabricated test results, reported results when no tests were conducted, or concealed parts of test results that were favorable to defendants. In virtually all of these cases, analysts had engaged in misconduct that led to multiple separate wrongful convictions, sometimes in multiple states.

This chart summarizes the analysis of the types of misconduct in 74 wrongful conviction cases the national Innocence Project has overturned:

The Innocence Project has uncovered forensic misconduct by scientists, expert witnesses, and prosecutors that leads to wrongful convictions in many states. The following are among the more notorious:

•  A former director of the West Virginia state crime lab, Fred Zain, testified for the prosecution in 12 states over his career, including dozens of cases in West Virginia and Texas. DNA exonerations and new evidence in other cases have shown that Zain fabricated results, lied on the stand about results, and willfully omitted exculpatory evidence from his reports.

•  Pamela Fish, a Chicago lab technician, testified for the prosecution about false matches and suspicious results in the trials of at least eight defendants who were convicted, then proven innocent years later by DNA testing.

•  A two-year investigation of the Houston crime lab, completed in 2007, showed that evidence in that lab was mishandled and results were misreported.

Unvalidated or improper forensic science contributes to over 50% of the wrongful convictions which have been overturned with DNA testing. Yet while DNA exonerations provide a window onto the effects of unvalidated or improper forensic science in wrongful convictions, DNA does not solve the problem.

Experts estimate that only 5%-10% of all criminal cases involve biological evidence that can be subjected to DNA testing. In the other 90%-95% of crimes, DNA testing is not an option—so the criminal justice system relies on other kinds of evidence including forensic disciplines that may not be scientifically sound (like dog scent lineups or bite mark analysis), which lack accepted scientific standards or are improperly conducted.

Ignorance

Juries usually believe expert witnesses. Unfortunately, juries rarely understand the expert testimony they hear, and don’t know what weight—if any—to give to terms like “consistent with,” “matching,” and “virtually excluded.”  Lawyers and  judges rarely understand the science that is presented by these experts, either.  When an expert falls short of the minimum standards of the profession, or worse, is an outright fraud, it can spell disaster for the wrongly accused.

Forensic analysts sometimes testify in cases without a proper scientific basis for their findings. Testimony about more dubious forensic disciplines (such as matching a defendant’s voice to a voicemail recording) is cloaked in science, but lacks even the most basic scientific standards. 

Even within forensic disciplines that are more firmly grounded in science, evidence is often made to sound more precise than it should.  For example, analysts will testify that hairs from a crime scene “match” or “are consistent with” defendants’ hair—but because scientific research on validity and reliability of hair analysis is lacking, they have no way of knowing how rare these similarities are nor how meaningful this evidence is.

In many cases forensic science is falsely presented to juries to be 100% reliable when it is not so. In many DNA exonerated cases, serologists failed to disclose the limited reliability of the test or misapplied statistical principles. In such cases, juries were misled by the testimony and innocent people were convicted. The use of DNA has proven that these tests are unreliable and frequently produce erroneous results. Juries are presented with the evidence that matches the prosecutor’s argument, but are not told that the evidence may not be accurate, exact, or up-to-date.

This morning, in connection to yesterday’s story about a Texas man wrongly accused and imprisoned for the shaking death and rape of a 6-month-old baby, public radio aired this interview with the pediatric neurosurgeon who originated the diagnosis of “Shaken Baby Syndrome” decades ago. He worries that the diagnosis is too often used by medical examiners and doctors without considering other possible causes for a child’s death or injury.

In this interview he says there are too many cases like one he recently reviewed in Arizona after a defense attorney asked him to look at the case of a father who has spent 10 years in prison after being convicted of killing his 5-month-old son by shaking him.

Listen to Dr. Norman Guthkelch being interviewed on NPR’s “Morning Edition”

A couple days ago in Minnesota where budget wrangling between the Governor and the Legislature threatens a state government shutdown, a judge ruled that the courts should continue operating even if most of the rest of government goes into hiatus. It seems to me that this ruling underscores my belief that honest justice is foundational to the legitimacy of all government.

As long as widespread abuses in our justice system are allowed to continue, as long as corrupt prosecutors and dishonest police are allowed to act with impunity and without fear of accountability or reprisal, government loses all moral authority to collect taxes or to demand citizens’ compliance with any of its laws.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Thomas Dolby performing “She Blinded Me With Science”

28
Jun
11

tomorrow

All weekend long I was looking forward to refocusing my attention on the Diary this week. But now that “next week” is here, I find myself distracted by issues about which I can’t really write.

Much of my work involves confidential things.

For example, I devoted the entire morning to writing a letter to Alex, but it is all personal conversation—philosophical discussion—between us alone.

Today I took a call from someone who has tried to do Paul Henry a good turn and, through a set of circumstances which may have significance as an indicator of Pendleton’s intentions, has suffered some unintended consequences that are not particularly pleasant. But I can’t talk about that.

I’ve also been in discussions about James’ case, for which there’s a court hearing tomorrow. I will be keeping my fingers crossed, but I cannot tell you why.

(Sorry to be so maddeningly vague about all this, but you get the drift. My attention has been wholly consumed today by stuff I simply can’t write about.)

So I’m frankly at a loss of what I might say… There is always tomorrow; I’m pretty sure I’ll think of something by then… Oh just got it!

But it will have to be tomorrow.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Werner Müller and his Orchestra performing “The Typewriter Song”

27
Jun
11

whew!

My writing project took a day longer than I’d anticipated, and I have finished it and just sent it off.

It is late—almost ten at night—so this post will be short. It has been a long and fruitful day, and I am ready to crash. But I’d first like to share news of what has happened today between my various stretches of clacking on the keyboard.

I heard this morning from Paul Henry’s mother Nicole. She told me the results of the standardized school testing at Pendleton are back, and Paul Henry is the only student in Pendleton’s entire population of students who passed every section of the test. From what Nicole tells me, he did it with flying colors.

Last week his behavior scores on one day consisted of fourteen 3s and four 2s—an almost-perfect day. I had asked Nicole to tell Paul Henry that he is my hero, and she said he beamed when she delivered the message.

Everything the kid does proves he does not belong in that awful place.

I spoke to Alex today and he has decided to start studying chemistry while he’s locked up. Thanks to a gift card sent by one of the Diary’s readers, I was able to order two of the chemistry books Alex wants. He is my hero, too—always so positive and cheerful, no matter what they do to him.

My first “Estrella Vista” t-shirts arrived in the mail today, and I love the design and the quality of the shirts and printing. Now I just need the Grub Shack to open so I have someplace to wear them. In that instance, too, there seems to be progress. Eva tells me they’re getting through the obstacle course created for them by the damned state inspectors (my characterization as “damned,” not hers).

The postman also delivered Gillian Welch’s new album, The Harrow and the Harvest, the release of which I have been waiting for a couple years. New tunes! I love the album. My favorite female vocalist.

I’ve met my writing deadline, there’s food in the fridge, gas in the tank, and a little money in the bank. All my kids are well and happy as far as I know. The cats and Otto are content and my chickens laid a couple eggs today. Still no rain, but even so, life could not be more perfect.

I am happy.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to The Turtles performing “So Happy Together”

26
Jun
11

summer songs 3

Apparently everyone is outside enjoying these deliciously long days.

I received only one suggestion of a summer song yesterday. Even my chickens aren’t laying eggs these days. (Only three eggs in four days!)

Everybody’s got other things to do.

But that’s okay. I have enough of your suggestions to serve as a starting-point today.

Most of the remaining recommendations from visitors fall into two additional thematic categories: songs about Freedom, and songs about Summer Romance.

 

Freedom

Matt wrote of the summer 1968 when he was eleven and working in the fields, and his transistor radio was blaring  Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild. He said that song reminds him of his dreams of freedom and having a different life.

Wolfgang suggested Marius Müller-Westernhagen’s“Freiheit” (freedom), an anthem-like 2003 song that’s popular with multiple generations of Germans and is widely associated with dramatic post-war world developments in which Germany has been ground-zero. “Freedom, Freedom / is the only thing that matters” goes the song’s refrain.

Also suggested were “Freebird by Lynard Skynard,” “Mother Freedom” by Bread, “People Got To Be Free” by the Young Rascals, “School’s Out for Summer” by Alice Cooper, and “Free Ride” by the Edgar Winter Group.

But of all the suggestions I received, I think you will be most interested in hearing Alex King’s suggestion of a song by his favorite Southern rock group, the Zac Brown Band:

 

Next week I will be asking you to help with an activity that Alex has asked me to carry out on his behalf—an act of loyalty and compassion that he himself is not free to do but which,  if he were free and not being held in solitary confinement, would command his full will and attention. In this respect—and through me and you—Alex will in a sense be free this summer, even though he is being cruelly and unforgivingly detained by the State of Florida.

 

Summer Romance

You gave me lots of suggestions that fall into this category. Wolfgang suggested Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry.” Diane suggested Robin Ward’s “Wonderful Summer ,” a song I’ve already put up as a Groove. Bill suggested Roy Orbison’s “Summer Song,” and his “Pretty Woman” was suggested by another reader.

Margo said the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime” were parts of the summer soundtrack of her youth, and Linda said Chad and Jeremy’s “A Summer Song” was a part of hers. Aerosmith’s “Girls of Summer” and  Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” were other suggestions.

I think this song by Brian Adams–an American classic—captures the feelings of a lot of the music you suggested:

 

Not all your suggestions recall pleasant summers. Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” and Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” remind us of those months when we found ourselves home alone. (Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” always reminds me of one lovelorn summer when I was home from school and separated from Holly.)

But I prefer to focus on memories of the happiest summers. I have good associations with today’s Groove, and hope you do too.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Janis Joplin at Woodstock performing “Summertime”

25
Jun
11

summer songs 2

We certainly are a like-minded group!

Whether we grew up near the corn fields of the Midwest, in the urban Northeast where we visited places like crowded Jones Beach, in California whose lifestyles colored so much of the popular culture, or even in Europe, most of the Diary visitors who offered suggestions of signature summer songs seem to be drawn to the early ‘60s when beach and surfer music was so popular.

Thanks to everyone who clicked in yesterday with suggestions. Please keep ‘em coming. (We have one more Summer Songs piece to do tomorrow.)

Your most-often-suggested song was “Under the Boardwalk” by The Drifters, a song about lovemaking under the boardwalk at Coney Island.

The song was set to be recorded on May 21, 1964, but Rudy Lewis, the group’s lead singer, died of a heroin overdose the night before. Rather than reschedule the studio session to find a new frontman, former Drifters lead vocalist Johnny Moore was brought back to perform lead vocals for the recording—a big success. After it was released in June, the recording went to number four on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and number one on Cashbox Magazine’s R&B chart.

Listen to The Drifters performing “Under the Boardwalk” 

Your most-suggested group was The Beach Boys, formed in 1961 in southern California by brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine. Their songs celebrated surfing, cars, and romance. Given that the band’s success in the mid-‘60s rivaled the Beatles’, this is not a particularly surprising pick. Rolling Stone magazine listed The Beach Boys as number 12 on their 2004 list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”

Following the release of their first single “Surfin’,” which had more of a doo-wop sound than we typically associate with The Beach Boys, this was one of three songs recorded in June 1962 and released in November by Capitol Records on their first album of the same name:

Listen to The Beach Boys performing “Surfin’ Safari” 

By 1966 The Beach Boys were doing a lot of innovation which resulted in this number-one single which many critics consider to be one of the best rock singles of all time. It was one of the most complex pop productions ever undertaken, and was said to have been the most expensive American single ever recorded at that time. Recording sessions stretched over several months in at least three major studios. The song’s innovative instrumentation included drums, Hammond organ, piano, tack piano, two basses, guitars, electro-theremin, harmonica, and cello. The Beach Boys say vocal sessions for this song were among the most demanding of their careers.

Listen to The Beach Boys performing “Good Vibrations”

That The Beach Boys’ surfer music has had an enduring impact on popular music is indisputable—a fact illustrated by today’s Groove by this British band which first found fame in 2004, the same year this song was recorded.

I hope you will enjoy it and are having a wonderful summer day!

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to McFly performing “Surfer Babe”

24
Jun
11

summer songs 1

I’m going to be busy working all weekend on a writing project, and I will not have the time or attention to create thoughtful posts until Monday morning.

So I have an idea with which I need your help.

Let’s devote the weekend to the music which epitomizes summer—songs from the summers of your youth, from vacations remembered, music that was played on transistor radios at the beach or on the car radio during nighttime summer drives with girlfriends and boyfriends.

Give me your suggestions of favorite summer songs in the comments to this post or send me an e-mail at sowelo2000@yahoo.com. If you’re so moved, share a favorite summertime memory with the suggestion.

Let’s have some fun with this.

I’ll start the beachball rolling with today’s Groove, an “earworm” song from 1958 when I was ten. It reminds me of lazy, hazy days spent at our club’s swimming pool while my mom was playing golf. This song may drive you nuts, but for me it is a signature summer song that reminds me of carefree childhood days when Mom and Dad paid for everything.

Now… share your favorite summer song.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to The Jamies performing “Summertime, Summertime”