Saturday, August 11, 2007

Dream Confessions -- How reliable are they?

The star witness against Ronnie Kimble is Mitch Whidden, in whom Ronnie confided a dream he had about Patricia Kimble's murder. Whidden relayed this information to the investigators and testified at Ronnie's trial. This dream was interpreted as a confession. Ronnie Kimble was barely spared the death penalty, but was sentenced to life without possibility of parole.

Dream confessions have also played a prominent role in two other murder convictions. John Grisham wrote about the case involving Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz in The Innocent Man, and Bob Mayer wrote about the case involving Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot in The Dreams of Ada.

The two true stories are set in the same southeastern Oklahoma town and involved a young female victim, a dream-based confession, the same jailhouse snitch, and the same prosecutor.

Williamson's and Fritz's convictions have been overturned and they have been exonerated by DNA. Ward and Fontenot have not been so fortunate. While their first conviction was overturned, they were again convicted in 1988. Ward was sentenced to life without parole and Fontenot to death. Fontenot's sentence was later commuted to life without parole because of a judicial error. There is no DNA that can exonerate them.

Click here for the website that Grisham has created to highlight Ward's and Fonenot's innocence.

When Ronnie Kimble told his dream about Patricia's death to Mitch Whidden, he was simply sharing a dream. To dream about such a traumatic event as a murder that happens so close in your family is not at all uncommon. But apparently Mitch Whidden assumed that Ronnie would not have dreamed about Patricia's murder unless he was the one responsible for it, even though Ronnie could not give any details, not even where he put the gun.

Ronnie also had the curse of snitch testimony. Not snitches against him, but against his brother Ted, who was married to Patricia at the time she was murdered. After Patricia's murder, Ted spiraled into a moral decline, not only dating much sooner than most people think is appropriate, but also getting involved in a construction burglary ring with an employee and friend -- Robert Nicholes and Patrick Pardee. When Ted was arrested, both Nicholes and Pardee seized the opportunity to get their "get out of jail free" card from the ADA Richard Panosh by telling the investigators what they wanted to hear, that Ted Kimble confessed to them.

Nicholes alleged only a very general confession, that Ted admitted to being responsible but that he didn't personally do it. No details. Pardee alleged that Ted confessed that he hired Ronnie to do it, but again no details.

Whidden no details, Nicholes no details, Pardee no details. This lack of details is very convenient, because then the confessions can't be disproved. Less is definitely more when creating evidence.

Statistics on Child Murders -- Refuting Candace Delong

Recently on a Larry King Live show (Wednesday, August 8), Candace Delong was one of the guests discussing the Madeleine McCann abduction which happened in Portugal while her famiy was on vacation. Delong said:

KING: Candice Delong, is it logical for people to hint blame at the parents?
CANDICE DELONG, FORMER FBI PROFILER: Well, it's certainly not unusual, statistically, Larry. When children of tender years, such as Madeleine is, disappear or are murdered, around 75 percent of the time the person responsible for that is the parents. Now we don't know that she was murdered, but in answer to your question, no, it's not unusual.

We checked, and found these statistics:

Of all children under age 5 murdered from 1976-2005 --
31% were killed by fathers
29% were killed by mothers
23% were killed by male acquaintances
7% were killed by other relatives
3% were killed by strangers
Of those children killed by someone other than their parent, 81% were killed by males.
NOTE: Parents includes step parents Source

31 + 29 = 60%. Not 75%.

Why doesn't Delong accurately report the statistics? They are bad enough as it is, why exaggerate them? What purpose does it serve? Does she just pull a number out of her hat and assume that everyone will believe her? Perhaps so, because no one ever questions her statistics when she appears on these shows. She is definitely accepted as an authority.

Larry King should do more to keep his guests honest and accurate.

Scotsman on death row for 20 years has sentence overturned in US

Borrowed from

August 8, 2007

Kenney Richey has had his death sentence overturned in the US but is waiting to see if prosecutors will make a further appeal.

A Scottish man who has been on death row in the US for more than 20 years has had his death sentence overturned by a federal court of appeal.

But while family and supporters of Kenny Richey welcomed the decision, there were no immediate celebrations.

For while the Federal Court of Appeal in Cincinnati overturned Mr Richey's death sentence, it was expected prosecutors would make a further appeal.

A similar decision was made by the same court in 2005 but it was later challenged and set aside and Richey remained on death row.

If there is no appeal, the state of Ohio would have to release Richey or re-try his case within 90 days.

Richey was convicted of arson and murder in the state of Ohio in 1986 and sentenced to death on January 27 1987, but has always protested his innocence.

Richey's lawyer Ken Parsigian said: "Kenny is happy, but he is cautious.

"It is a giant leap, over a giant hurdle but we are not at the finish line yet."

If the state decide to retry Richey, Mr Parsigian said he would be applying for bail.

Mr Richey has a Scottish mother and an American father, and grew up in Edinburgh. Now 43, he was 18 when he left his mother's home in the Scottish capital to live with his American father in Ohio, where he joined the US Marines.

In July 1986 he was arrested for the murder of two-year-old Cynthia Collins, who died in a fire at her mother's apartment.

The prosecution claimed he started the fire because his estranged former girlfriend and her new lover - supposedly the intended targets - lived in the flat beneath.

Protesting his innocence, Richey refused a plea bargain which would have led to an 11-year sentence for arson and manslaughter.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

More programming news . . .

Tonite at 11 pm EDT, MSNBC is rerunning its 2005, "A Killer Among us" with Scott Peterson's sister (Ann Bird). Check your local listings for time. Note, the title only says MSNBC Reports -- you have to click Info to see that it's the right one.

For those of you who miss it, click here for the transcript.

For the movie buffs among us . . .

TODAY, August 8, 2007: TCM (Turner Classic Movies) is airing an old movie, "Beyond Reasonable Doubt." Here's the blurb:

Beyond A Reasonable Doubt (1956) A novelist frames himself for murder to prove the fallibility of circumstantial evidence. Cast: Dana Andrews, Joan Fontaine, Sidney Blackmer. Dir: Fritz Lang. BW-80 mins, TV-PG

check your local listings for time. If you miss this airing, check for repeat airings.

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.