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.

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  • Devildog  On January 17, 2013 at 8:39 PM

    UMOC writes that there has been much talk the past few years about Constitutional violations and the overreach and incompetence of governments and opines that some of the loudest complainers “are perfectly okay with permitting these abuses on their own turf…”.

    While UMOC does not identify who he believes those “complainers” to be, I am about to venture a guess as to whom he has in mind (at the risk, of course, of being wrong). Despite his claim to be an independent (since he has voted, at least once, for a Republican), my guess is that the “complainers” are Republicans, conservatives and/or tea(baggers), those evil people without a heart.

    Am I just being paranoid?

  • Devildog  On January 18, 2013 at 12:29 AM

    Well, when you talk about the “past few years of about Constitutional violations and overreach and incompetence of governments”, it might depend on how you define “past few years”. Seems to me that if you go back a “few years” to Bush and his administration, the “complainers” were progressives (née liberals), Democrats and “left-wingers”.

    Your factual research is, most times, to be admired. Your conclusions, at least as often,leave much to be desired as they are not supported by any facts-as in this case. Unless, of course, you think merely citing Texas and Mississippi is a sufficient basis for categorizing the “other side” as evil.

    • umoc193  On January 18, 2013 at 1:07 AM

      If you want to argue person by person who on either side of abyss has called the other out for constitutional violations, go ahead but I’m not going to participate.

      You can argue whther the use of the phrase you find so offensive was gratutitous or not, but it’s my blog and I set the rules for what I write and the language I use and I take full responsibility for it. good or bad.

      However, by concentrating on that phrase you make no tenable argument against the thrust of the piece which is that some terribly egregious violations of justice are occurring in these criminal investigations. I have presented examples of other questionable actions in other pieces I have written that are not tied politically to any particular party.

      I heartily and thoroughly object to the approach to investigating and prosecuting crimes, especially murders, where the expediencey of finding someone guilty outweighs any interest in ensuring that that someone is…in fact…the guilty party.

      If you can provide any reasoned argument that refutes that conclusion I’d love to hear it.

      I won’t hold my breath.

      • Devildog  On January 18, 2013 at 1:56 AM

        I believe I complimented you on your factual research but found something to be desired with your blatantly political conclusions which are that not only is the right wrong but that they are evil, heartless people (all of them, always). Try misguided once in a while.

        I have no argument against the thrust of your piece (though I believe you overstate the “problem”-but one executed innocent person is one too many). Yes, it is your blog and you make the rules-including cutting me off if you like (I can survive that) but why are you so offended by what I wrote. You are the one who admitted who you had in mind by implication as to whom “those people” are, I merely pointed out you provided nothing to support your implication and, since I didn’t take a position one way or the other but merely challenged your position, I have no intention of refuting your conclusion. I merely urge you to present facts to support your conclusion, whether that conclusion be stated or implied, which you didn’t do in this case.

        • umoc193  On January 18, 2013 at 3:48 AM

          Why you are so focused on a mild general insult (I did not use heartless…you did) to your side of the political fence than an outrageous affront to a criminal justice system that is supposed to treat everyone fairly is beyond me.

          You are a relative newcomer to my blog (and I hope you stick around) but I have written a few other pieces with the same general theme that the American justice system does not operate in the manner which so many of us presume is occurring. A lot of folks are just so happy when someone is sent to jail or eliminated through lethal injection that they simply don’t care how that result was attained.

          Seeing equal justice done has been a near lifelong pursuit of mine, at least so long as I have been able to understand when injustice is done, regardless of the nature of the crime committed.

          Okay, I made an offhand insulting remark that seemed to touch a nerve with you. I have called Barack Obama a murderer for his use of drones. Does that make you feel better? My reference in the subject blog piece to folks accusing him or others of constitutional violations for crazy stuff was mainly directed at Mississippi where Haley Barbour and others have been quite vocal complaining about Barack and Texas where Rick Perry is a true idiot who has no qualms about nonsensically attacking the Prez. Okay, they happen to be GOPers/conservatives. I say let them get their own houses in order.

          Now, if they had been saying drone strikes were wrong, which they most certainly have not, and that was the extent of their allegations of abuse of the Constitution or government powers, I would have had no basis for that one particular paragraph. But Rick Perry is entirely untroubled that he may have sent an innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham, to his death, even if no actual crime had been committed. In addition he thwarted a process that may have led to a truth he did not want to hear. That just pisses me off and is about as damnable an action as one could imagine…in my mind equivalent to murder.

          By the way, I do thank you for complimenting my research efforts. I prefer to get the facts out and then express my interpretation of the meaning of them. I have some close friends who are not always aligned with me but who say the same thing as you.

          Also I do like to hear a dissenting voice here since most of the comments have been more in agreement with my views. I need people to keep me on my toes.

          • Devildog  On January 18, 2013 at 11:27 AM

            Thanks. A far cry from when you called me a troll. I guess I am more trusting/ naive of almost all people in public life as to their (good) intentions albeit I may disagree with their policies. I prefer to call people with whom I disagree idiots rather than murderers. Just a matter of personal preference I suppose.

            • umoc193  On January 18, 2013 at 1:01 PM

              Well I call people murders who I beleive have taken a life unlawfully. Now we agree on the use of idiots to an extent. I try to do so not for someone who merely disgarees with me, but who disagrees while either lacking a factual basis to do so or their reasoning is not logical.

              I know we’ve clashed at times elsewhere. Unfortunately those forums tend to lend themselves to harsher words and I have contributed my share. But I want people who visit my blog and comment to feel comfortable doing so even when they dissent from my views. Of course they can’t just call me names either. Aside from spam I think I’ve deleted only one comment and it was a broad-based attack on me, not on what I had written.

              One final word on “those people”. I have strong opinions as you know. When certain behavior or words by public people, or a segment of them, offends me I’ll probably take a dig at them. When I do so, such as conservatives, I am really taking a dig at conservatives whose behavior or words offended me, not those who did not contribute to that offense.

              There are many Republicans/conservatives whose opinions I will readily listen to since they are well-thought out rather than what usually emanates from the worst of their “ilk”. That doesn’t mean I agree, though on occasion we are in concurrence.

              Recently on Facebook I have posted links to stories of GOP governors who are prepared to have their states in full compliance with the insurance exchanges and/or the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act despite their initial opposition to it. In my heart I believe they are putting the welfare of their citizens ahead of philosophical and political differences for which they are to be congratulated. That includes Jan Brewer of Arizona about whom I find much to dislike.

              But if you keep reading this blog you are almost guaranteed to see what you would consider a “cheap shot” every now and then directed towards conservatives. Consider the context and if I have done so because of a particular action or mindset, if that does not describe you or other conservatives you know, rest assured you and they were not my targets. Remember, if the shoe fits wear it. If it doesn’t fit, don’t.


  • Devildog  On January 18, 2013 at 3:22 PM

    By the way, I know what you think about drones and Afghanistan but as long as my brother Marines (and others) are there, “drone” those who are trying to kill them, even if there is “collateral damage”. Calling those responsible for using drones while we have troops there murderers is somewhat akin to those who opposed the use of the A bomb on Hiroshima/Nagasaki and those who spit on troops during Vietnam.

    • umoc193  On January 18, 2013 at 4:58 PM

      The only person I’ve called a murderer for using drones is Obama, and I hold him fully responsible. I have never addressed the potential culpability of those on the ground who actually implement Obama’s orders and really do not intend to.

      The only troops I have spoken ill of in any way in Iraq and Afghanistan are those who take it upon themselves to go outside what are the internationally agreed upon limits in war.

      But I have also been firm and consistent in maintaining that the best…and really the only way…to fully support our troops is to not place them in harm’s way in the first place.

      My position for over forty years is that we have not had any of our servicemen and women die in true defense of our freedom since WW II. That is not the fault of those who serve but rather lies with the craven politicians who have used them futilely and needlessly.

      If you have doubts about my respect for the troops, read my blog entry about four awardees of the Medal of Honor of the one titled Goodbye Mr. Chip about a dear friend’s death in Vietnam.

      • Devildog  On January 18, 2013 at 8:51 PM

        I don’t doubt your respect for the troops. Having said that, I ask you whether Truman was a murderer. And the difference between Truman using the bomb and Obama using drones is… Yes, Japan attacked us but so did those being droned (and civilians were targeted by Truman), either directly or by their direct ancestors.

        I’m sure you will be able to distinguish between the two but, as we both learned in law school, there is such a thing as a distinction without a difference.

        • umoc193  On January 18, 2013 at 11:39 PM

          I’ve always had problems reconciling the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. It’s only recently after seeing some excellent documentaries on WW II that confirmed the tenacity of the Japanese who would have been willing to take hundreds of thousands of casualties, if not more, in a conventional invasion of their homeland. Those casualties would likely have enatiled as many civilians as died in the two cities. I know that’s a rationalization but a logical and realistic appraisal of what it would take to end the war without nukes. Besides, bombing civilian populations had become common by that time ranging from Guernica to the London Blitz and Allied bombing of Berlin, Dresden and other cities. Plus we had been sending regular bombers over Tokyo.

          So, no, I wouldn’t call Truman a murderer.

          But that situation in no way compares to drone strikes so it fails as an analogy.

          Anwar Al-Awlaki was an American citizen. If he had been captured he would have been returned to the US and charged and tried as a criminal. Remember, that’s what these terrorists are…criminals. As such if they are not in combat against the US, and the victims of the drones most definitely have not been in combat, they should be treated as criminals. That means they cannot legally or morally be summarily executed. That is murder. I am not distinguishing the circumstances, I am bluntly saying there is no equivalency on any level.

          Before you attempt to refute that think about how…before 9/11…how we treated terrorists. They were charged in civilan courts , granted a trial, and…if convicted…sentenced just as any other criminals are sentenced.

  • Devildog  On January 19, 2013 at 12:37 AM

    With all due respect, I think you are creating a web in which you have become entangle.

    Citing al-Awlaki is a red herring because he is one of a kind and your objection is against all the drone strikes that are occurring. Why mention Guernica, Dresden, etc. as being customary at the time as some sort of justification unless your assertion is that we are now more civilized than then?

    So, these terrorists are mere criminals who are not in combat against the U.S. Hmmm, where have you been the last 10 years? They seem to believe they are at war against us, here and around the world, and have so stated, but you don’t think so, eh (no, I am not Canadian)? I know what you think about our Government (all governments) but do you really believe we are targeting people who are not trying to kill Americans? Whether we should be there or not is not the issue. My brothers (and yours) are there and the people being targeted are trying to kill them.

    And last, but not least, it is not a choice of try them or kill them if you can’t capture them. The choice is kill them (if you can-by any means)or let them live and try to kill you-as the choice re Hiroshima. And whether or not we should be there has no bearing on whether we should use drones, and neither should whether they are combatants or criminals. One need not have been in combat to know that so rethink your opposition to drones.

    One more thought. If it could be established to your satisfaction beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim of a drone strike who was killed had assassinated 10 captured Marines, and there was no collateral damage, was Obama (and some others) guilty in your opinion of murder in this cas? Tough cases make bad law!

    • umoc193  On February 5, 2013 at 8:14 AM

      “So, these terrorists are mere criminals who are not in combat against the U.S. Hmmm, where have you been the last 10 years?”

      And where were you the previous 200 + years of this nation’s existence when all such actions were treated as the criminal matters they are. SLA, Weathermen, WTC bombing, Oklahoma City, Unabomber, etc. etc. etc.

      Those folks also declared war on us in some manner or other. You know, people, not only kids, say the darndest things, eh?

      Check out my latest entry this morning for more.

      BTW, I was not ignoring you, I was ignoring my blog in toto while dealing with personal issues.

      • Little_Minx  On February 5, 2013 at 8:40 AM

        Such a bother when real life gets in the way of blogging, huh?

        • umoc193  On February 5, 2013 at 4:14 PM

          My problem is my real life keeps getting in the way of my real life.

  • Little_Minx  On January 20, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    UMOC, I recently watched a “Monk” rerun about a prisoner whose conviction — based on reliable eyewitness testimony as well as the ace detective’s work — was overturned using DNA testing at the behest of an “Innocence Project” type organization, so he was released. However, Monk eventually realizes that the exonerating DNA material that wasn’t the convict’s was that of a previously unknown accomplice, and that the convict was in fact guilty; although double jeopardy protects the convict from being retried for the original crime, the episode closes with him being arrested for the recent murder of said accomplice.

    But I digress.

    Returning to your topic, I’ve had this thought: Do you know of any convictions being wrongly overturned based on “exonerating” DNA testing that later proved to be erroneous?

    • umoc193  On February 5, 2013 at 8:17 AM

      I’m not aware of such cases though I seem to recall one in fact (and maybe another in fiction) where identical twins were involved. I simply don’t remember the details right now. As for the Pittsburgh domestic case I have not followed it closely but I believe it was determined the police did not follow written guidelines for such events.

  • Little_Minx  On January 20, 2013 at 11:05 PM

    At the risk of being utterly irreverent on such a serious topic, every time I hear of Parchman Farm all I can think of is Mose Allison.

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