Back in 1974, on a weekend visit with some fraternity brothers to other fraternity brothers in the Washington, D.C. area we were in one of the Virginia suburbs. Our driver was, like me, a visitor, but one of the then locals to the area was a passenger and directing us. We neared an intersection, not a 3 or 4 way one but with seven different roads competing for their share of vehicles. George, our local, advised the driver to proceed cautiously but added, “Chuck, don’t let ‘em bluff you!”
Now I find this remarkable story about the American (in) justice system that sees the clash of its own seven competing elements—poverty, incompetence, prosecutorial misconduct, Jim Crow, the death penalty, the Innocence Project, misapplication of forensic science—that in combination reeks of NOT proceeding with caution while simultaneously crying out…both in warning and in poignancy…”Don’t let ‘em bluff you!
At the heart of this tale is one murder and its investigation and prosecution which manage to implicate for condemnation the arrogance of self-appointed experts whose actions blatantly advertise their lack of credibility and the gullibility and hubris of prosecutors perfectly willing to let innocent men rot in prison or even sit on Death Row simply to satisfy their unprincipled desire to appear to be tough on crime.
We have Kathy Maybry found brutally raped and murdered in March 1997 in Belzoni, Mississippi. seat of Humphreys County. She was a 39 year old mother of two who, unlike her siblings, had been unable to escape the poverty and despair in her home county, one of the poorest in the poorest state in the union. She had fallen into drug addiction.
Enter one James Earl Gates, the last abusive boyfriend of Kathy’s patehtic and far too short life. He was arrested for the crime based on very dubious forensic work by two underqualified overrated so called experts in the field.
Stephen Hayne was the doctor who conducted the autopsy on Mabry and claimed to have found bite marks. Know that Hayne was uncertified in forensic pathology and performed as many as five times the optimal number of autopsies per year as the maximum of 325 permitted for proper accreditation.
Hayne’s partner in crime was one Michael West, a dentist, who asserted that his method of identifying bite marks and the teeth they belonged to was so accurate that he could narrow down any bite mark to only one person exclusive of all other inhabitants of this planet. Remarkably, this system he developed was so sophisticated only he could use it.
Together these two Gill Grissom clones were responsible for putting hundreds, if not thousands of men in prison and even on Mississippi’s Death Row at the Infamous Parchman Farm, venue of John Grisham’s novel The Chamber and the subject of the blues including this song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM23S12LXaE
Gates spent a year in jail until he was freed.The work of Hayne and West has been so discredited that most of the convictions they contributed to are in doubt. Yet, the Mississippi Attorney General, Jim Hood a former prosecutor, and other prosecutors have evinced little interest in investigating these possible, nay probable miscarriages of justice.
It recently took the intervention of the renowned Innocence Project, partially financed by Grisham, to identify the real killer, quite apart from its usual task of freeing the innocent.
All this and more is recounted in this article. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/17/kathy-mabry-murder-steven-hayne-michael-west_n_2456970.html
It is quite long with much discussion of other forensic abuses and it contains some videos of actual autopsies or the dental exams conducted by West, most especially one used as a sting against him in an Arizona case where it became obvious his analysis was full of shit.
What is so bothersome, even egregious about these events is that in these days of the various TV CSI franchises the police, prosecutors, judges and juries as well as the public have come to rely on these experts though some of them are no more qualified or honest than the snake oil salesmen who used to ply their trade from the rear of their brightly decorated wagons pushing nostrums that usually did not work and were at times extremely harmful.
The victims of these deceits are not simply the convicted but also the families of murder victims seeking satisfaction and closure and our justice system itself. Moreover the offenses of Hayne and West have been duplicated in other states by other perpetrators of faux expertise. Fred Zain, a lab technician spread his brand of poison in both West Virginia and Texas.
Texas was also the scene of one of the more infamous examples of the genre, the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. He was convicted of the arson deaths of his two children and murdered by lethal injection. I say murdered because it is almost 100% certain that the fire that killed his kids was accidental, not an arson. This is the exquisitely detailed story of the atrocity perpetrated upon Willingham. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann
Most of my readers are familiar with my long time and inflexible opposition to capital punishment, only partially due to its finality that has resulted in the deaths of innocents. In Mississipi, the main venue of my present ire, not all of those wrongfully convicted based on the nonsensical testimony of Hayne/West (Hayne had submitted absurd and patently false autopsy reports such as having weighed the spleen of a decendent whose organ was removed several years prior, and having examined the ovaries of another body which happened to be a man’s) were subject to the death penalty.But they were imprisoned for long terms at Parchman Farm, perhaps almost a fate worse than death. See this report on conditions there. http://www.aclu.org/images/asset_upload_file829_41138.pdf
With all the talk in these past few years about Constitutional violations and the overreach and incompetence of governments, it seems that some of the loudest complainers are perfectly okay with permitting these abuses on their own turf so far as it outwardly, at least rhetorically, appears that they are 100% for Truth Justice and the American Way.
To hell with the innocent lives they destroy perpetuating this lie.