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


From Trump to Pizzagate, Internet is geyser of malinformation

Charles P. Pierce

Dec. 7, 2016

“If you do a Google search right now for ‘McMartin preschool tunnels,’ you will be inundated with ‘studies’ and ‘reports’ that ‘prove’ the tunnels did exist, and that the lurid fictions prompted out of the children by ambitious social workers were therefore true. Nothing dies on the Internet, not even the most arrant lunacy….

“One of [Donald Trump’s] primary surrogates, Scottie Nell Hughes, told an NPR panel that ‘There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.’ But we have not ‘entered’ an age of post-truth politics. We’ve been living in it for years. The Executive Branch of the government just has been slow to catch up. Now, it’s right there with the rest of us, god help the country. We’re all just the children of McMartin now. We’ll say anything we’re told until we come to believe it ourselves.”

– From “America Was Always a Nation of Conspiracy Theorists. Now, They’re Simply More Dangerous: Lessons from Pizzagate” by Charles P. Pierce in Esquire (Dec. 5)


Were tales any taller in Salem than in Edenton?

161204schiff200Dec, 4, 2016

“The testimony [in the Salem witch trials] is full of tall tales, unless you happen to believe – as one woman confessed, having vowed to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – that she flew on a stick with her church deacon and two others to a satanic baptism, and that she had, the previous Monday, carried her minister’s specter through the air along with her, having earlier conferred in her orchard with a satanic cat….”

– From “The Witches: Salem, 1692” by Stacy Schiff (2015)


Transgender movement compared to hysterias of 1980s and ’90s

161121corradiNov. 21, 2016

“Transgenderism would refute the natural laws of biology and transmute human nature. The movement’s philosophical foundation qualifies it as a popular delusion similar to the multiple-personality craze, and the widespread ‘satanic ritual abuse’ and ‘recovered memory’ hysterias of the 1980s and ’90s. These last two involved bizarre accusations of child abuse and resulted in the prosecution and ruined lives of the falsely accused.

“Such popular delusions are characterized by a false belief unsupported by any scientific or empirical evidence and have a contagious quality that overrides rational thinking and even common sense. …”

– From “Psychiatry Professor: ‘Transgenderism’ Is Mass Hysteria Similar To 1980s-Era Junk Science” by Richard B. Corradi at the Federalist (Nov. 17)

Dr. Corradi is professor emeritus of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, where his opinion of transgenderism is “in no manner shared by this department or by Case Western Reserve or… the American Psychiatric Association or mainstream psychiatry.”  A more widely accepted view: “You would think that a professor of psychiatry would know better” by David Cary Hart at the Slowly Boiled Frog (Nov. 18)

But what you won’t see debated among 21st Century psychiatrists and social scientists is Corradi’s characterization of  “satanic ritual abuse” as “a popular delusion.” Perhaps one day the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children will decide to join them.


Prosecutors must recognize vulnerability to cognitive flaws

Michael Shammas

Michael Shammas

Nov. 17, 2016

“It’s no secret that we humans grant far too much confidence to our opinions. But when powerful people do this, the dangers compound. Zealotry replaces fair-mindedness. The worst excesses happen when prosecutors forget they’re flawed humans, like anyone else, and that as a result they’re subject to cognitive flaws like tunnel vision, racial bias, and the desire to reduce cognitive dissonance through ‘cognitive consistency’ even at the expense of complicated, nuanced, self-contradictory, paradoxical truth….

“Cognitive bias and overconfidence touch us all. Only a conscious awareness that we might be wrong can counter unthinking heuristics, biases, and schemas that lead to imperfect conclusions….

“Wisdom counsels not the confident use of power, but the wise use of power. The first step of wisdom is recognizing how little we know….”

– From “ ‘Making a Murderer’ Attorney Highlights Our Troubling Rate of Wrongful Conviction — and Suggests a Solution” by Michael Shammas in the Huffington Post (July 12)

And the latest on the still-imprisoned Brendan Dassey.