Will a court pay attention?

April 13, 2021

If I had harbored even an iota of doubt about Junior Chandler’s innocence, it would’ve been vaporized by the podcast episode below.

Most dramatically, the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic’s meticulously assembled “Impossibility Exhibit” demonstrates that Junior was nowhere near the scene of his imaginary crimes….

But is the court paying attention?


Today’s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….


Can we cope with seeing wrongful convictions?

150220FordFeb. 20, 2015

“Exonerations, which were once exceedingly rare, have become regular features of the American justice system. The National Registry of Exonerations records 1,535 exonerations nationwide (including Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson) since records began in 1989….

“The 125 wrongful convictions thrown out in 2014… might seem paltry compared to the estimated 1 million felony convictions per year, but the number of wrongful convictions is likely far higher. Many jurisdictions don’t devote the same level of resources towards exonerations that North Carolina does (with its Innocence Inquiry Commission), and even then the process can be achingly slow.

“For a justice system that exalts due process and the presumption of innocence, any wrongful conviction represents a serious breakdown of justice. Even a handful of high-profile wrongful convictions can ripple throughout the public consciousness, undermining confidence in the system. ‘The country is having to psychically cope with conclusive evidence that we make, with some regularity, errors in criminal trial outcomes,’  said (Mary Kelly Tate, director of the University of Richmond law school’s Institute for Actual Innocence).”

– From “Guilty, Then Proven Innocent” by Matt Ford at The Atlantic (Feb. 9)

For Junior Chandler, one door opens – will another open?

131116SealNov. 16, 2013

An update from Mark Montgomery, Junior Chandler’s appellate attorney: “[The N.C. Center on Actual Innocence] reviewed Junior’s case but could not find anything that would help him.  The ‘kids’ were too young at the time to have anything helpful to say now.  Of the two retarded adults who rode Junior’s bus (and testified against him), one is dead and the other incompetent.”

On a somewhat more encouraging note, Mark reports that the governor’s office has notified him that Junior’s clemency application is being considered.
Want to put in a word on Junior’s behalf? Here’s where to write:

Executive Clemency Office
4294 Mail Service Center
Raleigh NC 27699-4294

Lamb ‘continues to hold herself out as an expert’

120323WyattApril 23, 2012

In 2007, W. Joseph Wyatt, writing in the professional journal The Behavior Analyst Today, looked back at the Little Rascals case:

“Prosecutors appeared to have little appreciation for the possibility, or likelihood, that they were pursuing innocent people. Prosecutorial fervor for the case evidently persisted long after it had become clear that the case had taken a series of wrong turns.

“Despite the disastrous results, one of the prosecutors continues to hold herself out as an expert. As recently as November, 2006, Nancy Lamb, still working as an assistant district attorney, was co-presenter of a training program for professionals titled ‘The Necessary Components of a Legally Defensible Child Sex Abuse Investigation.’ ”

If for no other reason, the Little Rascals case demands continued public attention as long as Nancy Lamb remains at large, presenting her cruelty and deviousness as a model for future prosecutions.

Update: At a 2010 workshop for the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, “Nancy Lamb… presented on how to defend the forensic interview in the courtroom.”

Junior Chandler victimized by overreaching experts

111017MontgomeryJan. 31, 2012

Expert vouching.

That odd little legalism is the crucial issue in Junior Chandler’s latest – and perhaps last – shot at justice. Durham attorney Mark Montgomery has just filed an appeal on Junior’s behalf in the N.C. Supreme Court.

In Junior’s 1987 trial in Buncombe County, the prosecution ran out no fewer than six expert witnesses, including three pediatricians.

Each expert testified that Junior’s alleged victims had in fact been sexually abused “as they described” – but none could cite definitive physical evidence on which they based their validation.

In the years since, higher courts have seen the reversible error of those ways. Expert vouching is now inadmissible in the absence of physical evidence “diagnostic of” – not just “consistent with” – sexual abuse.

The case against Junior was weak and weird on all fronts. No credible eyewitnesses or physical evidence. No storyline that made a lick of sense. (Although prosecutor Bill Hart must have liked the kidnapping-and-boat-ride scenario – he called on it again four years later in the Little Rascals trial.)

Only four children testified against Junior, accounting for less than 2 percent of the 1,407-page trial transcript. Some claimed to have been abused by… Pinocchio. And jurors never heard from those children on Junior’s bus who denied seeing abuse.

Just how important was expert vouching in imposing Junior’s two consecutive life sentences?

On all charges supported by expert vouching the jury found him guilty. On all charges not supported by expert vouching it found him not guilty.

Psychiatric Times clings to embarrassing position

140214OranskyFeb. 14, 2014

Thanks to Ivan Oransky at Retraction Watch for spotlighting Psychiatric Times’ remarkably inept retraction of Richard Noll’s “When Psychiatry Battled the Devil.”

Don’t miss the update appended by Dr. Noll:

“On 16 January 2014 I received a gracious email from PT’s editor-in-chief, Dr. James Knoll, updating me on the status of my submission. This message cleared up the mystery of the published article’s disappearance from PT.

“According to Dr. Knoll, ‘In an effort to present both sides, PT contacted Dr. (Richard) Kluft (of Philadelphia). Please know that not only did he take exception to a number of your points, but he also raised the issue of legal liability. We are currently in the process of confirming that Dr. Kluft is willing to write a rejoinder to your piece.’

“Apparently he refused. About 10 days later I received another email from Dr. Knoll telling me that the reposting of my piece was to be put on hold at the advice of their attorneys. He did not outright reject the possibility it would be reposted, but I have heard nothing since….”

Followers of Retraction Watch – or even of littlerascalsdaycarecase.org – are not surprised to see editors go to absurd lengths to avoid candid correction. But the behavior of Psychiatric Times, billed as the most widely read psychiatric publication and boasting a lengthily-credentialed editorial board, seems especially unbecoming – even pusillanimous.

Dr. Kluft? Dr.Knoll? Can’t you do better?

We believe them, we believe them not….

Oct. 26, 2012

“As in the McMartin case, the North Carolina ‘experts’ dismissed absurd elements of the children’s stories and fixated on the guilt of the caretakers.

“When a child put two dolls together, it counted as evidence; when he claimed that Miss Dawn cooked him in the microwave, he was taken to be speaking figuratively.”

– From Day Care, Satanism and ‘Therapy’” by Alexander Cockburn in the Los Angeles Times (Sept. 5, 1991)

‘Evidence too compelling to dismiss’? Really?

121001SchumacherOct. 1, 2012

“Since 1983, public and professional interest in maltreatment of young children in day care has increased dramatically. It was then that children first began disclosing allegations of sexual and ritual abuse in the McMartin preschool.

“Although accounts of children being terrorized during satanic rituals seemed bizarre and unbelievable, alarmingly similar allegations against child care facilities throughout the United States prompted public officials, educators and parents to more fully examine the phenomenon. The sheer number of reports and amount of information collected (for legal and therapeutic purposes) provided a rich data base for study.

“Children reporting ritual abuse (RA) have described ceremonial animal and human mutilation and sacrifice, live burial, sacrificial participation or witness, ingestion of human blood, feces, urine and semen, and death threats should they disclose the abuse.

“It should be noted that some doubt the existence of RA….  The prevailing literature since the McMartin case, however, demonstrates that researchers find the evidence too compelling to dismiss…. Perhaps the most reasoned yet sensitive approach to validation is neither unquestioned acceptance nor unequivocal denial, but critical judgment….”

– From “Variables and risk factors associated with child abuse in daycare settings” by Ruth B. Schumacher and Rebecca S. Carlson in Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal (September 1999)

Predictably, the references listed by Schumacher and Carlson include an old-school Who’s Who of bad science: e.g., Kathleen Coulborn FallerDavid Finkelhor (misspelled “Finklehor”), and Susan J. Kelley (misspelled “Kelly”).

But the authors also cite skeptics Jeffrey S. Victor (“Satanic Panic”), David Bromley and Lee Coleman.

How can this be? How can Schumacher and Carlson have been exposed to such persuasive debunking, yet conclude that “neither unquestioned acceptance nor unequivocal denial” is called for?

Big Tobacco realized early on that instead of beating back every new attack on smoking’s health risks, it needed only to frame the issue as a continuing “controversy” with “two sides.” But what possible advantage accrues to social scientists who take that approach?