Death Row Inmate Freed After Bullshit Bite Mark Evidence Determined To Be Bullshit

from the better-late-than-never,-I-guess dept

The end of a crooked and corrupt era in Mississippi is still paying long-belated dividends to wrongly convicted criminals in Mississippi. The state that has defined "backwater" for so many years is slowly crawling out of its self-created gutter.

Eddie Lee Howard has been freed. And it took "only" 26 years. Howard was convicted of murdering Georgia Kemp back in 1995. He was 38 at the time he was arrested. He is now 67. And he is being freed.

The case was built on the testimony of two supposed experts, an overworked (and underqualified) coroner (Dr. Steven Hayne) and Dr. Michael West, a self-avowed "bite mark expert." In reality, state medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne was just another cog in the conviction wheel -- a coroner who somehow managed to perform more than six autopsies a day.

Radley Balko -- a longtime police accountability advocate -- has written a book about both of these men: "The Cadaver King and the County Dentist." Hayne only got his position because no one else stepped up to fill it. He certainly didn't have the credentials.

Hayne had wanted that job but was barred by his lack of certification. Instead, Mississippi officials simply left the office vacant, allowing Hayne to become the state’s de facto medical examiner, even though he wasn’t qualified to hold the title.

His long and prolific reign as the processor of corpses and provider of "expert" testimony led to an eventual denouement -- one in which a prosecutor specifically called him out for his willingness to generate autopsy reports that coincided with whatever law enforcement theory seemed likely to close a case.

During the State’s cross-examination of Dr. Hayne, the prosecutor asked Dr. Hayne: “You told me during lunch the reason you have to carry around that big notebook with you is you have to defend yourself nowadays for all the reversals you’ve had in the Mississippi Supreme Court; is that correct?” Rayner objected to the relevancy and improper questioning of Dr. Hayne; however, the trial court overruled the objection, finding that the question related to Dr. Hayne’s credibility, and allowed the prosecutor to proceed with his line of cross-examination questioning.

After presenting his case to the jury, Rayner renewed all of his previous motions, especially for a directed verdict/judgment of acquittal. The trial court overruled Rayner’s motions. During closing arguments, the State, on rebuttal, made the following comment: “Then you go to Dr. Hayne, a discredited doctor in the State of Mississippi.”

That's one half of this deadly equation. The other is Dr. Michael West. West testified that Howard was the most likely suspect because of evidence only he could see.

West examined the body, using ultraviolet light and “special glasses” to discover bite marks deemed invisible to the naked human eye, and therefore missed on the autopsy report, on three parts of the victim’s body.

Somehow, this guy and his mail order x-ray specs were able to see what idiot commoners couldn't: bites that led to a murder conviction because so many murderers take time out of their murdering to bite people.

This was pretty much the state's only evidence against Howard. Let's take another look at Dr. Michael West and his "expertise:"

Two men [were] convicted of raping and killing two 3-year-old girls in separate Mississippi crimes in 1992 and 1995. Marks on their bodies were later determined to have come from crawfish and insects.

Those glasses are special alright. How someone could mistake -- on the record and under oath -- damage from bottom feeders for that created by human suspects with human teeth is best left to the fevered imagination of whoever is ghostwriting James Patterson novels these days.

DNA testing later showed Howard's DNA wasn't in the supposed bite marks Dr. West spied with his faulty special eye.

Howard is now the seventh person on death row in Mississippi to have been exonerated following examination of "evidence" produced by these two men. And these exonerations have only further damaged Dr. West's already questionable reputation.

“Dr. West’s credibility also has been destroyed since Howard’s trial. In the intervening years, West and his methodology have plunged to overwhelming rejection by the forensics community to the point that today his methodology is not at all supported by mainstream forensic odontologists,” Associate Justice David Ishee wrote in a concurring option for the court.

Bite mark "science" is no longer considered science. It's considered junk, no more worthy of discussion than the earth's alleged flatness. And yet, it cost this man 29 years of his life because anyone in a lab coat is considered more trustworthy than anyone law enforcement wishes to pin a crime on.

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Filed Under: bite mark, death row, eddie lee howard, evidence


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 7:09pm

    And I am sure that the state will make every effort to offer the innocent man they helped railroad absolutely nothing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 11:00pm

      Re:

      Oh I'm sure the state will go above and beyond in addressing this very nearly lethal travesty by sticking their fingers in their ears and humming really loud until the recently incarcerated people get the message and bugger off.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 9 Mar 2021 @ 10:00pm

    A whole new meaning to, "Take a bite out of crime".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 10:59pm

    A good start, now the follow up...

    With it known that they were just making shit up to secure convictions, convictions that were serious enough to get literal death sentences the least that should be done is reversing any conviction where their testimony or 'evidence' had any notable impact at all, as they've shown that neither they or anything they present can be trusted to be accurate.

    After that's done a pile of perjury charges would seem to be entirely fitting, followed by whatever charge(and there damn well better be one) would fit 'very nearly got multiple people killed due to gross negligence if not malicious indifference.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Upstream (profile), 10 Mar 2021 @ 5:09am

      Re: A good start, now the follow up...

      reversing any conviction where their testimony or 'evidence' had any notable impact at all

      After that's done a pile of perjury charges would seem to be entirely fitting, followed by whatever charge(and there damn well better be one) would fit 'very nearly got multiple people killed due to gross negligence if not malicious indifference.'

      Unfortunately, this kind of thing almost never happens.

      What actually happens is that each and every one of the victims of Hayne and West will have to fight individually for their innocence to be recognized. Most will not succeed.

      Balko's excellent reporting has brought Hayne and West out of the shadows, but there are many more like them still selling their snake oil to juries and getting innocent people convicted.

      Most people like Hayne and West, even if they are exposed for the frauds they are, will be allowed to simply retire on their ill-gotten gains and quietly fade away, often while new shills for the law enforcement / prison / industrial complex take their places.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    buybestall (profile), 10 Mar 2021 @ 4:16am

    Cool one

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    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 10 Mar 2021 @ 8:17am

    At the very least those responsible for this absurdity should spend at least the same amount of time in jail as their victims, no? Remembering he was on the death row. Capital punishment must not be an option. Because humans.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DeComposer (profile), 10 Mar 2021 @ 2:51pm

    Let's extrapolate

    It's all too easy to imagine how many wrongfully convicted death-row inmates weren't able to get their convictions overturned before their sentences were carried out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    danderbandit (profile), 11 Mar 2021 @ 1:06pm

    There is something I am confused about in this story. It seems like the PROSECUTOR was arguing AGAINST the coroner. Could this have been in the retrial that got the guy released? Doesn't sound like normal practice for a prosecutor to question the state's experts qualifications.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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