Another bumper harvest for National Registry of Exonerations

March 20, 2017

“America saw another record year for the number of prisoners being exonerated, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science & Society, University of Michigan Law School, and Michigan State University College of Law.

“For 2016, 166 people were exonerated of crimes and released from prison, 52 of them for murder. Of all the exonerations, 70 cases involved official misconduct of some sort, and in 74 of the cases, convictions came from guilty pleas. And in 94 cases (also a record) it turned out that no actual crime occurred at all. These were mostly drug cases but also some child sex abuse cases. Most famously, the San Antonio Four, four women convicted in 1998 in a fabricated satanic child sex abuse ring scandal, were released in 2016 after it finally became clear the crimes never occurred.”

– From “Decades of exoneration stats show blacks more likely to wrongfully convicted” by Scott Shackford at (March 7)

Of the Edenton Seven, only Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson, whose convictions were overturned, qualify for the National Registry of Exonerations. As spokesman Ted Koehler told me five years ago, “The Edenton case was a terrible witch hunt. Regretfully, though, [Betsy] Kelly’s and [Scott] Privott’s guilty pleas and the dropped charges against [Robin] Byrum, [Shelley] Stone, and [Darlene] Harris do not fit our definition of an exoneration….”

Some journals getting better at correcting mistakes

March 9, 2017

“As a result of complaints, [scientific] journals have been posting notices of problems with Dr. [Carlo] Croce’s papers at a quickening pace. From just a handful of notices before 2013 – known as corrections, retractions and editors’ notices – the number has ballooned to at least 20, with at least three more on the way, according to journal editors….”

– From  “Years of Ethics Charges, but Star Cancer Researcher Gets a Pass” by James Glanz and Agustin Armendariz in the New York Times (March 8)

Yet another example of professional journals responding with new vigor to faulty articles.

By contrast, no retraction has ever appeared in those journals that lent credence to testimony by the prosecution’s expert witnesses during the day-care panic. Or perhaps some author or editor still wants to defend the likes of “Stress Responses of Children to Sexual Abuse and Ritualistic Abuse in Day Care Centers” and “Satanic Ritual Abuse: A Cause of Multiple Personality Disorder”?


‘Sybil’ came clean, but psychiatrist wasn’t interested

Shirley Ardell Mason

Shirley Ardell Mason

“[Shirley Ardell] Mason was the real person behind the 1970s best seller ‘Sybil,’ which sold 6 million copies with its riveting account of an abused woman inhabited by 16 different personalities. Sally Field won an Emmy for her 1976 portrayal seen by 20 percent of the nation.

“In the process, Mason popularized the condition known as multiple personality disorder – a trendy 1970s diagnosis. The number of cases mushroomed from about 75 to 40,000 after ‘Sybil’ was published….

“In the trove of records kept on her case, Mason actually admitted making up the many personalities.

“ ‘I do not really have any multiple personalities,’ she wrote in a letter to her psychiatrist. ‘I do not even have a “double.” … I am all of them. I have been lying in my pretense of them.’

“Her doctor chalked it up to a defensive ploy to avoid deeper therapy….”

–  From “The Minnesotan behind Sybil, one of America’s most famous psychiatric patients
by Curt Brown in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Feb. 25)


Letters claiming wrongful conviction couldn’t be true – could they?

Benjamin Rachlin

Feb. 22, 2017

“[When Rich RosenTheresa Newman and Jim Coleman began planning the state’s first innocence project], not everyone agreed their work was worth doing. To many… colleagues, in North Carolina and across the country, the letters they were reading were no more than acts of desperation: There was zero chance these inmates were innocent, only that they had nothing to lose by filing paperwork. The American criminal-justice system had always trivialized its own chances at convicting anyone wrongly, feeling certain – as lawyer Christine Mumma no longer could – that protections at trial made that outcome impossible….”

– From “A Justice Startup” by Benjamin Rachlin in “Innocent: The Fight Against Wrongful Convictions,” a Time special edition

Rachlin’s piece is excerpted from “Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption,” to be published in August.


As Indiana governor, future VP let request gather dust

Christy Gutowski

Feb. 12, 2017

“One day after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb pardoned him for a 1996 armed robbery he did not commit, [Keith] Cooper, 49, said he was grateful to the new governor for doing something his predecessor, Vice President Mike Pence, long had refused to do….

“Cooper spent nearly a decade of a 40-year sentence behind bars before he was released in 2006. Nearly three years ago, after the victims who had identified him as the shooter recanted and DNA evidence pointed to another man, the Indiana Parole Board unanimously recommended Cooper be pardoned. His request, though, sat unsigned on Pence’s desk….

“In response to a request for comment, the vice president’s spokesman did not address the Cooper pardon but said Pence ‘is proud of his record’ as Indiana’s governor.”

– From “Wrongly accused of armed robbery, he says Pence ‘abandoned me‘ ” by Christy Gutowski in the Chicago Tribune (Feb. 11)

It wasn’t easy, but Pence made North Carolina’s former governor seem absolutely eager to rectify a wrongful prosecution.


‘Satanic ritual abuse’: A product of its era’s mythology

Feb. 3, 2017

“Recall that after the 1970s there ensued a decade of moral panic over child sex abuse – including so-called satanic ritual abuse. Off-camera in The Exorcist [1973], the possessed Regan performed a Black Mass. In a film shot in the 1980s, her role in such satanic proceedings would have been quite opposite. In the mythology of that decade, the child is never a demon; the child is a victim of demons (i.e., pedophiles, satan-worshiping or not).

“Importantly, the tales of satanic ritual abuse that roiled the 1980s were nonsense, since discredited – as fantastical as any account of demonic possession. Yet they were believed, often beyond a reasonable doubt….”

– From “Fear of Children: What ‘The Exorcist’ Makes Us Confront” by Julia Yost at First Matters (Oct. 31, 2014)


When the people we trust can’t be trusted

Lawrence Wright

Jan. 25, 2017

“Why is there such a cultural bias toward stories of abuse – and especially toward grotesque and absurd tales, even when there is no reliable evidence that any crime occurred in the first place?

“The very people we count on to protect our society – prosecutors, police, social workers, jurors, even parents – are eliciting fantasies from children that express our worst collective fears. ….

“The libel that our society has imposed on child-care workers is a kind of projection of guilt for the damage that we ourselves have done, as parents and as a society. We have given our children to strangers to rear, and it makes us uneasy and fearful. Is it any wonder we have a bad conscience?…. ”

– From “Child-care Demons” by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker (Oct. 3, 1994)


For child witnesses, life was changed forever

Jan. 4, 2017

“[Richard Beck’s ‘Believe the Children’] is perhaps most poignant on the subject of the damage to the young people who acted as witnesses. ‘Children as young as three and almost never older than nine or ten,’ Beck writes, ‘children who previously understood their time in day care as essentially normal, whether happy or not, had their lives reorganized around the idea that they were deeply and irrevocably traumatized.’ ”

– From “Our Panics, Ourselves” by Rebecca Onion in Boston Review (Sept. 22, 2015)


Holdout jurors face – and often succumb to – relentless pressure

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Dec. 28, 2016

“The problem of juror pressure on a dissenting juror has long been known by defense attorneys and prosecutors.

“In a National Center for State Courts project on hung juries, researchers surveyed 367 unanimous decisions…. In nearly 40 percent of the cases at least one juror [disagreed] but went along with the majority and made the verdict unanimous….

“Research shows that dissenting jurors often go along not because they are convinced about points of evidence but because they bow to ‘normative pressure’: A lone holdout is under relentless and harsh pressure from other jurors to knuckle under. The pressure from the push for speed, the verbal battering and the threat of ostracism is virtually impossible to resist.

“The problem is made worse [in cases] when it’s impossible for a dissenting juror to say with absolute certainty whether the position of the majority is the right one and when the verdict could do horrible legal damage….”

– From “Why Zimmerman Juror B29 Believed in His Guilt But Still Voted to Acquit” by Earl Ofari Hutchinson on the Huffington Post (July 28, 2013)

Bob Kelly’s jury serves as a sad example of the contaminated chemistry of verdict making.


Fake news and ‘satanic ritual abuse’: Best friends forever!

Covers from the Weekly World News.

Dec. 15, 2016

You probably haven’t been asking Google to provide you with daily news alerts about “satanic ritual abuse,” but if you had , the popularity of fake news would come as no surprise.

Decades of debunking may have squelched the wrongful prosecutions of day-care providers, but beneath the surface… well, these headlines sprang from just one day’s news feed:

  • Ritual Abuse is Real: Cover-up of Child Sexual and Ritual Abuse

  • Cover-up of the Century: Satanic Ritual Abuse and World Conspiracy

  • Ritual Abuse: What It Is, Why It Happens, And How To Help

  • Breaking the Circle of Satanic Ritual Abuse

  • Child Trafficking/Illuminati-Freemason Ritual Abuse