Laugh, So You Don’t Cry

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

There have been some developments in the Mississippi case of Eddie Lee Howard, which I first wrote about here. I’ll have more on those developments in an upcoming column. But in the meantime Ican’t resist sharing a short passage from the Mississippi Innocence Project’s pleading in Howard’s case that relates to Mississippi District Attorney Forrest Allgood.

First some context. Allgood, remember, is the DA who wrongly convicted Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks. He’s also the DA who put Steven Hayne on the stand in the Tyler Edmonds case to deliver his infamous “I can tell by the bullet wounds that there were two hands on the gun” theory. The key to Eddie Lee Howard’s case, just as in the cases of Brewer and Brooks (and Jimmie Duncan), was bite mark testimony from our favorite forensic odontologist, Michael West.

Michael West is the man who claims to have invented  a method of bite mark analysis that only he can conduct, and that can’t be duplicated by anyone else. He’s the man who claimed he could trace the teeth marks in a half-eaten bologna sandwich found at a crime scene to the defendant, to the exclusion of everyone else on the planet. He’s the man who, in a sting orchestrated by a defense attorney, not only claimed that a dental mold made from the teeth of the defense attorney’s private investigator was a definite match to photos of bite marks on a corpse from a case ten years prior, but also claimed the odds that anyone else made those bite marks were “astronomical,” and sent back a 20-minute video in which he explained, step by step, how he was able to match the dental mold to the completely unrelated bite marks.

(I could go on.)

So here’s what Forrest Allgood told the jury about Michael West’s genius during Eddie Lee Howard’s murder trial:

“[W]hether we like to think so or not, the progress of mankind has been carried forward on the backs of people like Michael West. . . The church threatened to burn Copernicus because he dared to say that the planets didn’t revolve around the earth. So it was with Michael West.”

And so it was.

I believe Allgood meant to invoke Galileo, not Copernicus. But otherwise, bravo, Mr. Prosecutor. One day children all over the world will read in their textbooks about this humble dentist from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and how the wicked fate of history cursed him to be unappreciated in his own time.

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24 Responses to “Laugh, So You Don’t Cry”

  1. #1 |  BSK | 

    It sounds like the prosecution is charging Mr. West with transcendent brilliance. Luckily with Mr. Allgood’s track record, he is typically erroneous when it comes to things like “making determinations of whom to charge and with what.”

  2. #2 |  Bob | 

    I’ve developed a foolproof method of finding lies in Police Reports using 2 stones and a hat. Where’s my 15 minutes of fame?

  3. #3 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #2 Bob

    I’ve developed a foolproof method of finding lies in Police Reports using 2 stones and a hat. Where’s my 15 minutes of fame?

    That’s no fair. If they’re in a police report, they are lies by default. If you really want 15 minutes of fame, you have to find a way of detecting the truth in a police report. But, if that is too daunting a challenge, you could invent a way to locate unicorns.

  4. #4 |  craig | 

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolaus_Copernicus

    I think both Nick Copernicus and Galileo were advocates of the sun centric model of the galaxy.

    Copernicus’ epochal book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), published just before his death in 1543, is often regarded as the starting point of modern astronomy and the defining epiphany that began the scientific revolution. His heliocentric model, with the Sun at the center of the universe, demonstrated that the observed motions of celestial objects can be explained without putting Earth at rest in the center of the universe. His work stimulated further scientific investigations, becoming a landmark in the history of science that is often referred to as the Copernican Revolution.

  5. #5 |  Radley Balko | 

    Re Craig:

    True, but only Galileo was threatened by the Catholic Church.

  6. #6 |  random guy | 

    craig the difference is that Copernicus wasn’t persecuted for his writings, as you mention he died shortly after publishing them. If the prosecutor was trying to make a comparison to someone who ‘suffered for science’ he would have to go with Galileo who was put under house arrest by the church, had his works banned, and died in custody of the church.

    Its clear that the prosecutor was trying to compare Mr. West to some persecuted figure in the annals of science. Galileo is the go to guy for that analogy, in the same way that he confused Mr. West for a valuable witness he seems to have confused two very prominent scientific figures.

  7. #7 |  Mannie | 

    Crap like this is why none of us will ever be allowed within a thousand yards of a jury room.

    The US legal system (I can’t comment on others.) is singular inept at dealing with scientific evidence. It can’t discriminate between science and witch doctory. (With apologies to honest witch doctors)

  8. #8 |  Cornellian | 

    I still don’t understand why we don’t have a Daubert-like system for weeding out junk science in criminal proceedings the way we do in civil proceedings.

  9. #9 |  wheeler | 

    because the unstated goal of daubert is tort reform, not better evidence.

  10. #10 |  Mattocracy | 

    I’m sure there were some eugenicists who felt the same way about their research.

  11. #11 |  SJE | 

    I think we need a reverse of Godwin’s Rule (whenever you compare any contemporary to Nazi’s or the holocaust you immediately lose). I don’t know what to call it, but you should lose the argument whenever you compare criticism of a contemporary person with Christ’s crucifixion, the trials of Gallileo, or the struggles of Nelson Mandela or MLK.

  12. #12 |  SJE | 

    re: Daubert.
    Daubert standards may not be the state evidence std in MS. Daubert procedings are proper in Fed criminal trials, but they are apparently rare. I am not sure why.

  13. #13 |  EH | 

    (whenever you compare any contemporary to Nazi’s or the holocaust you immediately lose)

    That’s not what Godwin’s Law says. It says that the longer a discussion continues, the probability of someone invoking Hitler and/or Nazis approaches 1. Nothing about winning or losing, it’s just a comment on overly-facile analogies.

    Back on topic, I couldn’t find anything to laugh about here, so I had to stop reading. Therefore I feel a little wimpy, but I’m OK with that for now.

  14. #14 |  StrongStyle81 | 

    Thank God for Super-Dentist. Thank God says I! Imagine all the innocent people that would be walking around free if not for this real life super hero protecting all the guilty people from having to face repercussions from their crimes. The guilty can be free to murder, steal and rape because of Super-Dentist’s amazing power to conjure up “scientific evidence” against any name that the DA randomly picks out of a hat. They are like the evil, goatee having alternate dimension twins of Penn and Teller.

  15. #15 |  Joan of Arc | 

    Re Craig:

    True, but only Galileo was threatened by the Catholic Church.

    Hey there!

  16. #16 |  Elemenope | 

    That’s not what Godwin’s Law says. It says that the longer a discussion continues, the probability of someone invoking Hitler and/or Nazis approaches 1. Nothing about winning or losing, it’s just a comment on overly-facile analogies.

    Technically, it’s a corollary of Godwin’s Law that Godwin himself endorsed, and is so widely coupled with the original law that most people assume it to be a part of the original law and act accordingly.

  17. #17 |  Mike | 

    You know, I’m an astronomer and I don’t remember reading Galileo (or Copernicus) violating the corpses of toddlers to try to prove the case for the prosecution.

  18. #18 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Sheriff’s son gets beat by Denver police. The son, not part of the union, is not protected.

    http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_15808654?obref=obnetwork

    Confiscated recordings, cell phones, “resisting arrest”, union support of their members, internal investigation recommends paid vacation…usual stuff.

  19. #19 |  Highway | 

    Boyd, it’s sad, but maybe that’s another opening for the forces of rationality against the police being out of control. The union head whining about this investigation being ‘politically motivated’ is galling. Of course it’s politically motivated. Finally we get some politicians realizing that these cops are bad actors and not being punished at all. Docked 3 days pay? Seriously? Yeah, that’s all they deserve after beating a kid so much he goes to the hospital with a face looking like that.

  20. #20 |  spudbeach | 

    Well, West is ridiculous, as usual, and doesn’t know his history. Copernicus wasn’t threatened because he had the good sense to not publish his theory while alive.

  21. #21 |  Fully Accountable | 

    Laugh all the way to the bank.

    Brent Turvey – The Forensic Agitator

    http://www.corpus-delicti.com/forensic_mis.html

    There’s got to be millions to be made being an expert on police video recording.

  22. #22 |  ChrisD | 

    That is a malapropism worthy of Tony Soprano.

    If only he would refer to Radley as “an albacore around my neck.”

  23. #23 |  Mike T | 

    Not only is he defending an asshole (West), but he didn’t even get his history right. Gallileo was actually invited by the Pope himself to lecture on his new theories. Heretics didn’t receive such a warm invitation from the pontiff in the middle ages. It was only after Gallileo repeatedly insulted the Pope that the Pope, in a childish fit, effectively proscribed Gallileo. In other words, it was personal, not about science or religion.

  24. #24 |  Is it Taxation, Censorship, or Both? | The Freeman | Ideas On Liberty | 

    […] Mississippi prosecutors gain a conviction employing “expert” witnesses whose testimonies go beyond the […]

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