Thursday, April 2, 2015

When injustice is so blatant . . .

Anthony Ray Hinton is finally a free man after 30 years on death row for murders he did not commit.  He had no history of violent crime and passed a polygraph test, which the trial Judge refused to admit as evidence.  And his alibi was as airtight as you can get.  Here's how this awful conviction went down.
In 1985, two Birmingham area fast-food restaurants were robbed and the managers, John Davidson and Thomas Wayne Vason, were fatally shot. There were no eyewitnesses or fingerprint evidence; police had no suspects and pressure to solve the murders grew as similar crimes continued. On July 25, 1985, a restaurant in Bessemer was robbed and the manager was shot but not seriously wounded. Anthony Hinton was arrested after the manager identified him from a photo lineup, even though he was working in a locked warehouse fifteen miles away at the time of the crime. Police seized an old revolver belonging to Mr. Hinton’s mother, and state firearm examiners said that was the gun used in all three crimes. The prosecutor—who had a documented history of racial bias and said he could tell Mr. Hinton was guilty and “evil” solely from his appearance—told the court that its experts’ asserted match between Mrs. Hinton’s gun and the bullets from all three crimes was the only evidence linking Mr. Hinton to the Davidson and Vason murders.
The prosecutor was not only biased but exuded a hubris that terrifies me.  But what about the state firearms examiners, who are they?  How many others did they assist in wrongfully convicting?  Were they  incompetent? or careless? or malicious?  Whatever you want to ascribe to their motives and/or intent, you cannot deny that they were a very big part of the problem.

The similarities to Scott's case are striking.  4 responding officers decided that very night that Scott was responsible for Laci's disappearance and he in fact had murdered her; that's exactly why Duerfeldt called for a homicide detective.  And Brocchini knew Scott was guilty that same night.  2 of those responding officers told Greg Reed that very night that they already knew what happened.  All they had to do was prove it.

Experts are a very necessary element to ensure a wrongful conviction.  Distaso said in his closing argument that the jury could convict on Cheng's testimony alone.  Yet, Cheng used the wrong NOAA reporting station to obtain his tidal data, failed to use verified tidal data instead of predictions, grossly exaggerated the strength of the winds in the storm on April 12, prepared a PVD that still had Conner a ways off shore at high tide on April 13, and apparently didn't know anything about the massive breakwater that Conner would have to cross to come ashore.

In spite of what Distaso said in his closing argument, he and Harris knew that Conner's age was such a strong exonerating factor that they needed an expert to "prove" Conner died on the night of Dec 23 or morning of Dec 24, and so they employed Devore to do just that.  When his first results produced a death date of December 25, he was sent back to the drawing table.  Finally he produced 3 possible death dates, only one of which helped the State, but, sadly, that was enough.  It's like the phrase they use, "consistent with" -- it doesn't prove that the defendant committed the crime, it only raises the possibility that he did.  Forget beyond reasonable doubt -- if it's possible he did it, then he did it, because we already knew he did it.  Devore's death date was deed sufficient to offset all of the other evidence that Conner couldn't possibly have died on December 23-24.

For some reason, jurors think every member of every State Crime Lab is integrity personified, always to be trusted, never to be disbelieved or doubted.  The same with other experts working for other companies.  There's never any reason to doubt their integrity -- most don't even know that they get paid for their services, though the media and public are quick to raise the cry of "hired gun" when the Defense calls experts.  I hope the Hinton exoneration finally starts to make people think.

One last comparison -- a faulty defense.
 Mr. Hinton was appointed a lawyer who mistakenly thought he could not get enough money to hire a qualified firearms examiner. Instead, he retained a visually-impaired civil engineer with no expertise in firearms identification who admitted he could not operate the machinery necessary to examine the evidence. With no credible expert to challenge the State’s assertion of a match, Mr. Hinton was convicted and sentenced to death. Last year, the United States Supreme Court unanimously overturned his conviction based on his attorney’s deficient representation, and Judge Petro ordered a new trial.
Geragos did hire two top-notch experts -- Henry Lee and Cyril Wecht -- but these two failed Scott miserably.  They either didn't notice or didn't have the courage to present some very exonerating evidence for Scott.  Dr. March tried his best, but he wasn't the right expert to call.  And Geragos failed to call an expert to counter Cheng.

I doubt very many people will even notice the Hinton exoneration, much less learn anything from it.  But perhaps when Scott is exonerated, because his case is so high-profile,  it will shine the necessary spotlight on cops, prosecutors and experts who corrupt the system.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Justice For Scott Peterson Facebook Community Page is open for discussion

On August 21, 2010, I created a Facebook Community Page to complement this blog and SII.  In August 2011, the public interest in this case had diminished and I got quite busy with other things, so I deactivated the page.

Now seems a good time to reactivate the page to provide an opportunity for public discussion.

Check us out at Justice for Scott Peterson Community Page.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Scott's Changing Alibi

A favorite talking point for those who believe Scott is guilty is that he changed his alibi.  One poster on the Facebook page, Truth Be Told, claims Scott changed his alibi "multiple" times.  And of course, ADA Rick Distaso claimed he changed it from golfing to fishing.  I discussed this briefly in my recent article, "Argument - Counter Argument."

What are the facts?  Did Scott really change his alibi?  First, what is an alibi? answers the question this way:  An alibi is evidence showing that a defendant was somewhere other than the scene of a charged crime at the time that the crime occurred.

Let's go through this methodically.  Scott wants to get rid of Laci, so he plans to kill her.  He knows he has to prove he was somewhere else at the time to be sure he didn't become a suspect.  He's got plenty of time to plan this out, from at least December 8, if not earlier.  That's more than 2 weeks to plan the alibi.

For the alibi to be effective, that is, to succeed in turning attention away from himself, he has to have witnesses to his claim of where he was.  He can't just say, I was here, or there, or doing such and such.  He has to have evidence, either eye witnesses or some paper trail or some computer evidence -- just something tangible that he can present as evidence that he was somewhere else.

Are we all on the same page?  Do we agree that Scott is smart enough that he would know he had to "prove" he was somewhere else when the crime was committed?

The State argued, and many believe, that Scott setup Laci's walk as part of his alibi.  He was going to claim she was going on a walk, and as evidence of the walk, he leashed up McKenzie and let McKenzie out of the yard, or simply left the gate open so that McKenzie would eventually wander out by himself.  Someone would find McKenzie running loose and everyone would assume that Laci had been abducted while on her walk.  He doesn't seem concerned that there would be absolutely no possibility of any eye witnesses seeing Laci going on this fictitious walk.  He was just content that the leashed McKenzie running loose would be sufficient evidence because it would be supported by his own alibi -- evidence that he was somewhere else at the time of the crime.

Since Scott planned to leave in the morning, and setup a morning walk for Laci, he has to prove where he was in the morning -- the same time he wanted people, especially the cops, to believe Laci was abducted.  His alibi had to be a morning alibi in order to be convincing.

Are we still on the same page?  Do we all agree that if he sets up a morning walk for Laci as a basic element of his alibi, that he has to have his own fool-proof alibi for the morning?

After over 2 weeks of planning, Scott kills Laci in the home on the night of the 23rd and then loads her body into his pickup and drives out to some remote area to dump her body.  Of course he might be seen coming or going in the middle of the night, but there's always some risk involved when you have to dispose of a dead body.  But you do your best to reduce the risks to practically nil.  And it seems that in the early morning hours when the neighborhood is settled down for the night would be present the least risk of being seen.  Of course, he would spend at least a few nights watching the activity patterns in the neighborhood -- when the lights went off at each home, when they came back on?  He wouldn't want to be surprised by a neighbor routinely going out to feed all the neighborhood stray cats in the early morning, or a neighbor who habitually rises very early in the morning, or a neighbor who works the graveyard shift, or even the paper delivery boy.  He would be sure that he didn't go anywhere that would leave tell-tale evidence on his truck. And he surely wouldn't want to leave any paper trail or computer searches that could pinpoint where he disposed of the body.  He had over 2 weeks to plan, so there is no reason to expect that he wouldn't address these issues in his planning.

So comes the 23rd.  He goes about a perfectly normal day, including going to Laci's prenatal doctor's visit.  At the Salon, both are just as cheerful as can be, and he establishes his intended alibi with Amy, telling her he's going to be golfing the next day and will be glad to pick up the gift basket for her.  He also puts up a good pretense by inviting her over for pizza that night, which she declined, but it would have been even better if she had accepted, because that would been even more evidence that he and Laci had no problems between them.  He does have the good fortune to have Laci call her Mom, so her Mom would be evidence that Laci was perfectly alright with no problems at all.  He makes sure Laci has nothing at all to complain about to her Mother.

He successfully kills Laci without  leaving any evidence -- so he doesn't even have to bother changing the bed or doing any cleanup.  He waits until the neighborhood is totally quiet, all the neighbors have had their lights out for long enough to ensure that they are indeed down for the night and he has plenty of time to get back before the early birds begin their daily routines.  He successfully loads her into the pickup without drawing any attention in the neighborhood.  He goes to the specified remote area and disposes of her body.  When he returns home, he notes that the neighborhood is still down for the night.  Success!

Now, the morning comes.  He wants to be sure he has Laci leave for her walk in her customary time.  He leashes McKenzie and opens the gate.  He then goes to work and starts creating his alibi.  He goes onto the computer and sends an email.  He downloads instructions for putting together his recently purchased mortise machine.  He decides it's a little too cool to golf, and he's got that 2-day fishing license so he changes his mind and takes the boat for a quick run in the San Francisco Bay.  Doesn't matter if he plays golf or goes fishing.  Either one, he'll have an iron-clad alibi for the time Laci was on her fictitious walk because her body is somewhere else -- not even on the way to either of those places.
So he gets his boat hooked up to the truck and makes the long journey to the Berkeley Marina, motors out to Brooks Island, and then returns home.

By now you should be seeing a lot of problems with this "alibi."  That's because Laci and the baby were found in the same general area where he went fishing.  Someone with over 2 weeks to plan a murder just doesn't do that.  Some have said that he returned to the Bay to be sure her body hadn't surfaced.  That's a very, very lame excuse for not admitting the painfully obvious -- a person with over 2 weeks to plan a murder just does not immediately return to the scene of the crime.

So, let's investigate a slightly different scenario.  He decides it's too risky to make a night-trip, so he will go to the Bay and dispose of her, and if he should be seen at the Bay, he will just say he was fishing.  And he purchased a fishing license a couple of days earlier just in case he decided to use fishing as his alibi.

Stop!  This is absolutely ridiculous to think that he would use the very place he disposed of her body at the very time he disposed of her body as his alibi.  An alibi puts you somewhere ELSE!  That's how it works.

But some adamantly argue that he thought he wouldn't be seen.  So, it's more risky to take her body in the dead of the night in a totally quiet, shut-down neighborhood, than to take her over 90 miles, pulling a boat that was supposed to be secret, going to a public Marina, going back to that same Marina, driving home over 90 miles pulling that same secret boat, stopping on the way to get gas?  And he had over 2 weeks to plan this out?

But let's continue on a bit longer.  He does take her to the Marina, motors out to Brooks Island, sees the way is clear, that is, no obvious spectators around, manages to get her over the boat and observes that she sinks, and then returns to the Marina.  He knows that he's been seen, so he decides he has to admit he was fishing at the Bay.  He returns home, calls his Mother-in-Law to see if she knows where Laci is, and then goes to the neighbors, Amy Krigbaum and Tara Venable, and tells them he was golfing all day.  Then he tells the police and everyone else that he was fishing.  Then along comes Harvey Kemple much later that night and Scott tells him he was golfing.

What happened to changing the alibi to fishing?  It doesn't make sense that he knows when he left the Marina that he had to change his alibi and admit he went fishing, and then tell someone that night that he went golfing!

The answer is really quite simple, and if people would take off their blinders for a few minutes they would see the truth.

Scott Peterson didn't change his alibi.

He and Laci got up that morning; she was going to go for a walk and then do a little bit of shopping, and he changed his mind from golfing to fishing.  He already had the 2-day fishing license, and since he had talked the sales clerk into illegally leaving the dates blank, he could fill them in whenever he decided to use it.  It was a 2002 fishing license, so he did have only a certain number of days left to use it.  He left for the office, did some piddling around, and then headed to the Marina to fish.  He forgot the new lures he had purchased in the truck, so he trolled awhile with lures he already had in his fishing tackle.  On this particular trip, he wasn't so much interested in fishing as he was in getting the boat out on the water, to test its seaworthiness because he did hope to do some sturgeon fishing in the Bay.  He went home, and found Laci to be missing.  Amy Krigbaum simply misunderstood Scott in that frantic conversation, and Kemple, well, I'm not sure he misunderstood or simply made it up because he didn't report it till some time after.

The truth is always simple.