Posts tagged ‘innocence project’

More Victims of the 80's Child Abuse Panic

Younger readers will be forgiven for not fully understanding just how credulous the American public became during the late 80's and early 90's as the media, prosecutors, and various advocacy groups worked hard to convince us every school was a sort of Road-Warrior-like playground for child predators.  Adult after adult were convicted based on bizarre stories about ritual murder, sexually depraved clowns, and all kinds of other dark erotic nightmares.  In most cases there was little or no physical evidence -- only stories from children, usually coerced after numerous denials by "specialists."  These specialists claimed to be able to bring back repressed memories, but critics soon suspected they were implanting fantasies.

Scores of innocent people went to jail -- many still languish there, including targets of Janet Reno, who rode her fame from these high-profile false prosecutions all the way to the White House, and Martha Coakley, just missed parleying her bizarre prosecutions into a Senate seat  (Unbelievably, the Innocence Project, which does so much good work and should be working on some of Reno's victims, actually invited her on to their board).

Radley Balko has yet another example I was not familiar with.   The only thing worse than these prosecutions is just how viciously current occupants of the DA office fight to prevent them from being questioned or overturned.

I am particularly sensitive to this subject because I sat on just such a jury in Dallas around 1992.    In this case the defendant was the alleged victim's dad.  The initial accuser was the baby sitter, and red lights started going off for me when she sat in the witness box saying that she turned the dad into police after seeing another babysitter made a hero on the Oprah show.  The babysitter in my case clearly had fantasies of being on Oprah.  Fortunately, defense attorneys by 1992 had figured out the prosecution game and presented a lot of evidence against, and had a lot of sharp cross-examination of, the "expert" who had supposedly teased out the alleged victim's suppressed memories.

We voted to acquit in about an hour, and it only took that long because there were two morons who misunderstood pretty much the whole foundation of our criminal justice system -- they kept saying the guy was probably innocent but they just didn't want to take the risk of letting a child molester go.  Made me pretty freaking scared to every put my fate in the hands of a jury  (ironically the jury in the famous McMartin pre-school case was hung 10-2 in favor of acquittal, with two holdouts).

Anyway, one oddity we did not understand as a jury was that we never heard from the victim.  I supposed it was some kind of age thing, that she was too young to testify.  As it turns out, we learned afterwards that she did not testify for the prosecution because she spent most of her time telling anyone who would listen that her dad was innocent and the whole thing was made up by the sitter.   Obviously the prosecution wasn't going to call her, and her dad would not allow his attorneys to call her as a witness, despite her supportive testimony, because he did not want to subject his daughter to hostile cross-examination.  This is the guy the state wanted to prosecute -- he risked jail to spare his daughter stress, when in turn the state was more than happy to put that little girl through whatever it took to grind out a false prosecution.

update: This is a tragic and amazing recantation by a child forced to lie by prosecutors in one of these cases.  Very brief excerpt of a long article:

I remember feeling like they didn't pick just anybody--they picked me because I had a good memory of what they wanted, and they could rely on me to do a good job. I don't think they thought I was telling the truth, just that I was telling the same stories consistently, doing what needed to be done to get these teachers judged guilty. I felt special. Important....

I remember going in our van with all my brothers and sisters and driving to airports and houses and being asked if we had been [abused in] these places. I remember telling people [that the McMartin teachers] took us to Harry's Meat Market, and describing what I thought the market was like. I had never been in there before, and I was fairly certain I was going to get in trouble for what I was saying because it probably was not accurate. I imagined someone would say, "They don't have that kind of freezer there." And they did say that. But then someone said, "Well, they could have changed it." It was like anything and everything I said would be believed.

The lawyers had all my stories written down and knew exactly what I had said before. So I knew I would have to say those exact things again and not have anything be different, otherwise they would know I was lying. I put a lot of pressure on myself. At night in bed, I would think hard about things I had said in the past and try to repeat only the things I knew I'd said before.

Worst Anti-Death Penalty Argument Ever

Long time readers will know that after years of being a death penalty hawk in my younger years, have turned against the death penalty because I do not think that our government run legal system is capable of handing out death sentences fairly.  In particular, we see too many case overturned 20-30 years after the fact by DNA and other evidence, as well as changing social pressures (e.g. increased sympathy for blacks in the deep south) that I don't like the death penalty because it cuts off the ability to appeal.  Sure, folks on death row get a zillion appeals, but after 6-8 years these run out and the person is killed.  How is that going to help the black man convicted in 1962, when changing societal dynamics might only offer him a fair hearing in 1985, or DNA evidence in 1995, or help from the Innocence Project in 2005?

Never-the-less, I have to say this may be the worst appeal I have ever seen against the death penalty, with one man trying to hold up the process because the lethal drugs were obtained from a non-US supplier.  LOL, I don't think he is really worried about the drugs somehow being ineffective.  I sympathize with him, I would be doing everything I could too, particularly in a state like Arizona where law-of-the-west politicians compete to see who can send prisoners to the grave fastest.


Via TJIC, Radley Balko shares almost exactly my position on the death penalty:

I'm opposed to the death penalty not because I don't think there are some crimes so heinous that they merit death as a punishment. I'm opposed to it because I don't think the government is capable of administering it fairly, competently, and with adequate protections to prevent the execution of an innocent person.

This is an issue that I have moved pretty far on since my high school conservative days.  I used to be a death penalty hawk --  I suppose this was in part due to the natural tendency to take the opposite side of folks making bad arguments.  Death penalty opponents would argue that we just don't have the right to take away the life of that lady who drowned her three kids by sinking them in a car in a lake because she was tired of taking care of them.   Well, I felt she had pretty much forfeited her ability to fall back on the sanctity of life defense.

But I am increasingly pessimistic of the justice system's ability to adequately separate guilt from innocence (it is run by the government, after all).  We have far too many examples of people who have exhausted their normal appeals and have sat in jail, and even on death row, for years or decades before exculpatory evidence came to light (or, in situations of bias like in the deep south, where courts were finally willing to consider exculpatory evidence).   We can only tremble to think of how many innocent men were never cleared before the day of the fatal injection came.  Prosecutors, who often are using the position as a springboard for higher office, generally have the incentive never to back down from a case and to defend every conviction, no matter how clear the evidence becomes that an innocent person is in jail, to the very end  (see Janet Reno, for example, who in a twist of terrible irony now sits on the board of the Innocence project, while men falsely convicted in her day care pogrom still sit in jail).

Update: Speaking of prosecutorial abuse....

The Fruits of Over-Zealous Prosecution

Radley Balko has a roundup of stories of overdue freedom for the improperly incarcerated.  Its good to see this happening, though I must say I still have some mixed feelings about the Innocence Project after their staggeringly bad judgment of putting Janet Reno, Queen of Abusive Prosecution, on their board.

Prosecutorial Abuse vs. Parental Abuse

Apparently, the State of Texas is still trying to figure out what to do with those 400+ kids rounded up at the YFZ Ranch.  I don't really know enough about the case to comment on whether these kids were victims or not, though from reading this the evidence looks thin.

Here is my concern.  About 15 years ago I sat on a jury in Dallas.  The particular case was a child abuse case, with the state alleging a dad had sexually assaulted his daughter.  The whole case took about 3 days to present and it took the jury about 2 hours to find the guy innocent, and it took that long only because of one holdout.

The reason we found him innocent so quickly is because it became clear that the state had employed Janet Reno tactics (the Miami method, I think it was called) to put pressure on the child over a period of 6 months to break her out of her position that her dad had done nothing.  (By the way, is anyone else flabbergasted that Janet Reno, of all people, is on the board of the Innocence Project?).

Anyway, the dad was first arrested when the teenage babysitter told police that the daughter was behaving oddly and it seemed just like a story she had seen on Oprah.   Note, the babysitter did not witness any abuse nor did the girl mention any abuse to her.  She just was acting up one night.  At trial, the babysitter said her dream was to have this case propel her to an Oprah appearance of her own (I kid you not).

On that evidence alone, the state threw the dad in jail and starting a 6 month brainwashing and programming process aimed at getting the girl to say her dad abused her.  They used a series of negative reinforcements whenever the girl said dad was innocent and offered positive reinforcements if she would say dad had said X or Y.  Eventually, the little girl broke and told the state what they wanted to hear, but quickly recanted and held to the original story of her dad's innocent, all the way through the trial.

So, as quickly as we could, we set the dad free  (the last jury holdout, interestingly, was a big Oprah fan).  No one ever compensated for states abuse of the dad, and perhaps even worse, the states psychological abuse of his daughter.  I know nothing of what became of them, but I hope they are all OK.  I guess its lucky he did not get convicted, because while the Innocence project has freed a lot of people in Dallas, it sure is not going to work on this type of case with Janet Reno on its board.

Coming back to the YFZ case, I am worried that the state seems to be wanting to hold the kids for as long as possible, presumably to apply these methods to start getting kids to adopt the stories of abuse prosecutors want to hear.  In some ways, the YFZ case is even more dangerous from a prosecutorial abuse standpoint.  That is because there are a large number of people who think that strong religious beliefs of any type are, well, weird, and therefore are quicker to believe that other weird behavior may also be present.