Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Mississippi man sent to death row by faulty forensics to get another day in court

Extracts from The Innocence Project:

Kennedy Brewer was sentenced to death in Mississippi of the 1991 murder of a 3-year-old girl. His conviction was based largely on the testimony of Dr. Michael West, forensic dentist who claimed that multiple abrasions on the child's partially decomposed body matched the upper bite of Brewer. The incorrect matching of bitemarks has been a cause of at least four wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence, and West’s unorthodox methods have been debunked by many experts and he has been expelled from several professional associations.

DNA testing in 2002 excluded Kennedy Brewer as the source of the semen recovered from the child. Even though the court threw out the conviction and death sentence based on the new DNA evidence, the local prosecutor announced he would re-try Mr. Brewer and use Michael West again as a bite mark expert. The Innocence Project is co-counsel, along with Brewer's local counsel for the retrial.

Description of West's "science":

West claims to have invented a system he modestly calls "The West Phenomenon," in which he dons a pair of yellow goggles and, with the aid of a blue laser, says he can identify bite marks, scratches, and other marks on a corpse that no one else can see — not even other forensics experts. Conveniently, he claims his unique method can't be photographed or reproduced, which he says makes his opinions unimpeachable by other experts.

This goes even beyond what Drs. Devore and Cheng did in the Peterson trial. Devore used a very proven method in a very unproven way with results that contradicted Laci's doctors and the forensic anthropologist, both State "experts," to persuade the jury that baby Conner died in just the right window of time for only Scott to be guilty. Cheng also used a proven method but in an unproven way and with falsified data to persuade the jury that baby Conner and Laci washed ashore right from where Scott was fishing. Scott's defense team did make a valiant effort to expose Devore's junk science, but unfortunately did not seize the opportunity to expose Cheng's junk science to the jury. Given the fact that jurors said that the location of the bodies was the key factor in the conviction, this was a fatal flaw in the defense strategy. Had Cheng been properly exposed by the Defense, Devore would have also suffered a loss of credibility, because Cheng's conclusions were the kingpin of the evidence against Scott.

Junk science, prosecutors who will not admit they have fingered the wrong person, and defense attorneys who do not adequately expose the junk science -- a formidable triad of power for a guilt-prone jury to overcome.

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