Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood gave an interview to the Jackson Free Press last week. Most of it is the nauseating fluff you usually hear from politicians. Hood also wants to take a more active role in “policing the Internet,” whatever that means. He also wants to make it a felony to witness a felony and not report it. And he wants to do lots of things for the children. And orphans and widows. The man is nothing if not bold.
But here’s the fun part:
Last year, you spoke out against a bill that would require a pathologist in Mississippi to hold an American Board of Pathology certification saying it threatened cases involving Steve Hayne. Can you explain your position?
There has been a misconception, and (JFP managing editor) Ronni Mott did this. … She didn’t listen to what I had told her as well as that other guy who writes for the paper (freelancer and then-Reason magazine columnist Radley Balko). Dr. (Michael) West is someone we have investigated, and I don’t support him in any matter. It’s not that I have supported Steven Hayne in any matter. What I have said are the facts: When I was a DA, he testified against me in criminal cases. I always found him to do a good job. By saying that, they assume I am just supporting him all the way, which is absolutely not true.
I don’t know what Hood means when he ways that he doesn’t support West “in any matter,” but his office most certainly continues to defend convictions won based on West’s testimony. In at least two cases, Eddie Lee Howard and Leigh Stubbs, Hood’s office argued that the defendant was procedurally barred from asking for a new trial because of West, because they’d already challenged his testimony and had been denied. If Hood truly believes West isn’t a credible witness, why is he asking that people convicted due to West’s testimony be kept in prison (or in Howard’s case, on death row) on a technicality?
Hood has also previously mentioned some sort of investigation into West, but his office wouldn’t give me any specifics on what was being investigated, or who was doing the investigating. He has also yet to recommend a single conviction be overturned because it was tainted by West’s testimony. West’s lack of credibility has been common knowledge in the Mississippi legal community for well over a decade. What’s taking so long?
As for Hayne, Hood has also previously made the claim that Hayne often testified for the defense back when Hood was a prosecutor, thus I guess establishing Hayne’s impartiality. I’ve yet to find a single example of this. It may have happened, but it certainly wasn’t common, and was dwarfed by the thousands of times Hayne testified for the state. The last time Hood made this claim, I asked his office for a list of cases where Hayne testified for the defense, against Hood when Hood was a prosecutor. Hood’s office did not respond to my request.
More from Hood:
As far as the legislation goes, what I was saying was if Dr. Hayne has done all these examinations, and say it was several years before—and you know it takes two or three years sometimes before a case goes to trial—then when he goes to take the witness stand, and the statute passes, they are going to be hammering him with the law. And trying to keep him on and qualified in a murder case that occurred before we passed the law will be difficult. … The second thing about a pathologist is that very seldom do they make or break a case. All they say is the manner of death and cause of death, and that’s about it.
The first part of this graph is clearly incorrect. The law passed, and Hayne is still testifying in those old cases. Thing is, the scenario Hood fears should be happening in Mississippi—and a hell of a lot more. Mississippi should be reviewing every case in which Hayne or West has ever testified. But it isn’t. And the law in question wouldn’t have done anything of the sort. It only made sure someone like Hayne couldn’t do autopsies for the state going forward. Hood is either really dumb, or he knew this, and spread misinformation anyway. Neither scenario speaks particularly well of him.
The last statement in the graph above is also plainly false. It may be the case that the testimony from a competent medical examiner doesn’t usually make or break a case, but Hayne often gave testimony that turned a case, and in a number of cases, that testimony was later found lacking by more credible medical examiners. There are currently three men on death row (two in Mississippi, one in Louisiana) who are there because of critical testimony from Hayne (and in the Louisiana case, also because of West). And Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, both exonerated, would never have been convicted were it not for Hayne’s propensity to find bite marks no other doctor had seen, and for West’s “talent” to then match them to the state’s favored suspect. The state had no other evidence.