While spending nearly a full May 5th springtime time day listening to the “Country Dentist” Dr Michael West lavish a Mississippi courtroom with his god-like powers of forensic observation aided by a blue light flashlight, I began to reflect on his statements in his previous courtroom narratives.
A short review.
Dr. West brings the power of religious faith into the court to bolster his forensic conclusions. He commonly he has done this in homicide cases involving the death penalty. West eagerly admits to testifying in 81 criminal cases as an expert. Literally using his beliefs and superior accuracy metaphors in combination with describing crime scene evidence and bitemark matching, Dr. West impresses the jury and clearly intimidates defense counsel with his incredible forensic fervor. Some of his favorite remarks show up in trial transcripts and recent testimony as……..
“He was a child-trafficker taking a 3 year-old girl from her bedroom at midnight. What else could it be?” This is Dr. West testifying at the recent Howard hearing about MS exoneree Levon Brooks, whom he mistakenly identified, as he also did with exoneree Kennedy Brewer and others. He uses a blue flashlight and supposed two-toothed bitemark bruises.
This was also at the hearing: “I used to think bitemarks were like fingerprints.”
Did I say Mr. Brooks and his fiance were sitting in the gallery during some of these declarations? Special Attorney General Jason Davis‘s courtroom opening statement when Dr. West took the stand accused Innocence Project’s co-founder Peter Neufeld of calling West a murderer in the court hallway. Davis ignored mentioning Dr. West’s scurrilous ethnic epithets soon revealed by Mr. Neufeld’s immediate standing objection to the judge. West soon called Mr. Howard’s co-counsel Chris Fabricant a “sociopath” in open court. His laced a repetitive rant through out the remaining hours about “conspiracies” against forensic science and the court’s now unrealistic needs for certainty that he cannot provide.
Well, at least that last is partly true. He can’t even get photographs of the evidence he used to help convict Howard twice. All he brings is talk of “certainty.”
The court adjourned in the pm and continued the hearing until October 2016 with Dr. West still saying he only “identified the biters, not the murderers.”
In contrast to his religious certainties and notorious ad hominem antagonistic demeanor, Dr. West, his Howard gallery buddy, the non-certified forensic pathology guy Steven Hayne, and now unseated county DA Forrest Allgood have had some catastrophic criminal investigation failures. For example, working together as public servants, all missed a serial child murderer living within their midst by convicting two innocent men.
Similar evocative tactics, easily described as zealous, over-enthusiastic or fabricated, appear in cases of other court proceedings considering charges of child homicide. Experts expound forms of testimony that elicit or border religious beliefs or at least righteous moral indignation. The 1990s come to mind…..
“The Syndrome” documentary is about the forensically questionable “triad” of Shaken Baby assertions and gives us an analogous situation to Howard:
“The Syndrome” tells the tale of how this new category of crime appeared seemingly out of nowhere in the mid-1990s. Goldsmith found that some of the same doctors who had actively promoted the Satanic Panic of the early ’90s — accusing daycare workers of things like sacrificing animals in the classroom and raping the tots in Satanic rites — abandoned that narrative when people started doubting its plausibility.”
“In its wake, those doctors found a new horror to focus on: shaken baby. As Goldsmith puts it, “They medicalized Satan.” Attention, donations and research money flooded in.”
It is no secret that legal rules of evidence are silent regarding invoking religious beliefs into criminal testimony (a real hot potato with any jury). Neither are the these rules absolute in dismissing weakly circumstantial medical opinions which evolved within each state’s list of convictions.
Courts being unaware or in recent years ignoring broader empirical proofs or non-proofs of “expert” testimony have brought us both the “Country Dentist” and “The Syndrome.”