2 years ago

How junk science puts innocent people in jail

On TV crime shows like “CSI,” “NCIS” and “Law & Order,” science gets the bad guys.

In real life, “science” often ensnares the innocent.

Former NYPD Detective Harry Houck gets annoyed when TV shows make forensic science look infallible.

“You watch a detective get down and look at a body (and say), ‘He’s been dead for three hours now… (H)e ate dinner four hours ago,'” scoffs Houck. “I can’t do that.”

On TV, experts identify killers by their bite marks. In real life, experts claim they can do that.

The TV show “Cold Case Files” covered the trial of Alfred Swinton. He was convicted of murder because a bite-mark expert said his teeth matched a bite on the victim.

“A perfect match!” said Dr. Gus Karazulas, the “forensic odontologist” whose testimony clinched the conviction.

Karazulas sounded impartial and objective. “A forensic scientist is not on the side of the prosecutor or defense,” he said on “Cold Case Files.” “We look at the evidence.”

But Swinton was innocent. Lawyer Chris Fabricant helped get him released from jail by doing a DNA test, a much more reliable, less subjective form of science.

Fabricant scoffs at bite-mark testimony: “The doctor was just wrong. It’s an unreliable technique.”

The more room there is for an expert witness’s unique interpretation of the data, the more that can go wrong, says Fabricant. “Bite mark is similar to you and I looking at a cloud. I say to you, ‘John, doesn’t that cloud look like a rabbit?’ And you say, ‘Yeah, Chris, I think that does look like a rabbit.'”

That kind of junk science puts innocent people in jail.

I told Fabricant that I assumed most people in jail are guilty. Also, many people say crime is down because aggressive law enforcement has locked so many people up.

“If you think that maybe even 1 percent of convicted defendants may be innocent,” replied Fabricant, “we have 2.6 million people in prison today, (so) we are talking about tens of thousands of (innocent) people!”

Fabricant works with the Innocence Project, a group that works to get innocent people freed from prison. Through DNA evidence, the project’s lawyers have helped free 191 people.

That confident bite-mark expert who got Swinton convicted now admits he was wrong. “Bite mark evidence is junk science,” he told us via email. He resigned from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

But police still trust bite marks.

“Let’s say one tooth is missing in the front” of a bite mark, explains Houck. “You’ve got to go, well, our suspect’s got one tooth missing in the front. That’s pretty good!”

Houck says he’d demand other evidence. But not all cops do — especially when scientific “experts” say someone’s guilty.
Bite marks are just one dubious method police and prosecutors use.

FBI researchers claim fingerprints are right more than 99 percent of the time. But that still leaves plenty of wrongful convictions.

After terrorists killed 193 people in Madrid, the FBI matched a fingerprint on a terrorist’s bag to a man in Oregon named Brandon Mayfield. They arrested him. But Mayfield was innocent. Weeks later, Spanish investigators compared the prints more carefully and found the real terrorist.

Other techniques are even less accurate: carpet-fiber evidence, gun tracing, use of psychics, hair matching.

“A dog hair was associated wrongfully with a human hair,” says Fabricant. “Since the turn of this century, there have been 75 wrongful convictions (based on hair matches).”

Why do judges and lawyers accept such dubious evidence?

“We all went to law school because we don’t know science, we don’t know math,” he replied. “If somebody comes in in a white lab coat, and says, ‘I’ve been accredited by the American Board of Forensic Odontology,’ that’s good enough for government work.”

That shouldn’t be. Too much is at stake.

Jurors tend to believe people who call themselves “scientists.”

Judges should be more skeptical. They should ban junk science from courtrooms.

John Stossel is author of “No They Can’t! Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed.”

(JFS Productions, copyright 2018)

25 mins ago

Ivey allots $26M to help stabilize farmers and cattle producers

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Wednesday allocated $26 million to help stabilize businesses in the state’s agriculture industry.

The funds will establish the Alabama Agriculture Stabilization Program, which will be administered by the Department of Agriculture and Industries under the leadership of Commissioner Rick Pate.

Ivey’s apportioning of the $26 million comes out of the $1.9 billion Alabama was given as part of the federal government’s CARES Act that was passed in March with the goal of helping the country get through the coronavirus pandemic.

“Due to COVID-19, numerous farms and processing facilities have struggled to remain open and sell their products,” Ivey said in a statement on Wednesday.

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“Establishing the Alabama Agriculture Stabilization Program is not only the right thing to do to protect our farmers, but it also key to stabilizing Alabama’s economy,” she continued.

The Stabilization Program will split the money among seven categories.

Those categories, per the governor’s office, as follows:

1. Direct Payment Business Stabilization Grants to Cattle Producers- $10.5 million
2. Meat Processing Plant Reimbursement Program- $1.5 million
3. Poultry Farmer Stabilization Grant Program- $4 million
4. Catfish Processor Reimbursement Program- $500,000
5. Fruit & Vegetable Processor Reimbursement Program- $500,000
6. State Supplemental CFAP Grant Program- $8 million
7. Nursery Grower Reimbursement Program- $1 million

“I want to thank Governor Ivey for her continued support of Alabama agriculture and for providing much needed assistance to farmers and processors adversely effected by COVID-19,” remarked Pate.

The specifics on how farmers may apply for the assistance are not yet available.

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell said on Wednesday that ALFA “will continue to work closely with Commissioner Pate and the Department of Revenue to provide details on how to apply for assistance as soon as they become available.”

“We appreciate Gov. Ivey and Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate working with our members and other stakeholders to assess losses resulting from market disruption and identify urgent needs for stabilizing Alabama’s agricultural economy,” added Parnell.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

53 mins ago

Documentary shows Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program as model of excellence for rest of nation

A documentary film being released digitally this week focuses heavily on the State of Alabama’s First Class Pre-K Program as an example of sterling quality that other states should emulate.

The film, titled “Starting at Zero: Reimagining Education in America,” lasts about one hour, and over half of the running time is devoted to extolling the virtues of Alabama’s Pre-K program.

The film was funded by the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation and produced in partnership with FireStarter Interactive. It is designed to lay out the positive effects of investing in early childhood education.

“Alabama is one of the shining stars, not only in the southeast, but in the country,” says Joe Squires, Ph.D., of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) around the midpoint of the movie.

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Starting at Zero features footage of Governor Kay Ivey and extended testimonials from former Department of Early Childhood Education Secretary Jeana Ross, former Business Council of Alabama Chairman Jeff Coleman and Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield.

Many other Alabamians affiliated with the First Class Pre-K program are also featured, including students, parents, teachers, and employees of the Department of Early Childhood Education.

Multiple individuals featured spoke to how investing in early childhood education is not just the morally right thing to do, but is also the best thing to help the economy.

“Children who have the benefit of quality pre-k education are better prepared for a future education,” remarks Canfield in the movie, adding that good pre-k puts children on a path to be capable members of Alabama’s workforce which is currently on track for a shortage of qualified workers.

First Class Pre-K has long been one of the Yellowhammer State’s most lauded policy accomplishments.

(Starting at Zero/Screenshot/Contributed)

“Alabama is a model for what other states can emulate,” Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) says near the end of the documentary.

Bullock details in the picture how he invited then-Secretary Ross to Montana to inform the key policymakers in his state how Alabama had built such an enviable program.

“Our children are our future, and what we do as a state today will determine who we are as a state tomorrow,” says Ivey in the documentary.

More information on the movie, including how to view it, can be found on the film’s website.

Watch:

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

1 hour ago

Jack’s offering free coffee to teachers August 17–21 — ‘A small way we hope to say thank you’

Jack’s Family Restaurants is celebrating teachers as they kick off the 2020 school year by offering free coffee at all of its locations from August 17–21.

According to a release, all teachers can receive their free coffee from Jack’s, in the drive-thru or in the restaurant, Monday through Friday until 9:00 a.m. with a valid school ID.

No purchase is necessary to redeem the offer, and teachers can choose between a hot or iced regular-sized coffee, limit one per guest.

“Being a good neighbor and supporting the communities we serve is part of the Jack’s DNA,” stated Jack’s CEO Todd Bartmess.

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“Offering free coffee to our hardworking teachers as they kick off an unusual school year is a small way we hope to say ‘thank you’ for everything they do,” he added.

Founded in 1960 in Homewood, Alabama, Jack’s Family Restaurants started as Jack’s Hamburgers in a walk-up hamburger stand that served burgers, fries, sodas and shakes.

The chain over the past 60 years has grown to almost 200 locations in four states across the South.

This is merely the latest in a long line of examples of Jack’s continuing to support its local communities as the chain grows.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Michael Jordan speaks to Univ. of Alabama football team — ‘Winning has a price’

Basketball legend Michael Jordan on Tuesday spoke via video conference to the University of Alabama football team.

The program, led by head coach Nick Saban, routinely has some of the most successful, well-known athletes and leaders from across the nation address the team each summer in preparation for the fall season.

Previous examples reported by Yellowhammer News include the late Kobe Bryant, as well as speakers from the business and political sectors such as world-famous entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk.

Alabama Athletics shared a one-minute video clip from Jordan’s virtual visit. Players seen in the video were socially distanced and wearing masks at the team facility.

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“This guy — I have the most respect for, of anybody, as a competitor. This guy is a great competitor,” Saban said introducing Jordan to the team.

The Crimson Tide coach also praised Jordan in recent months during the premier of the popular 10-part documentary “The Last Dance.”

Jordan spoke to the team on Tuesday about what it takes to be a champion.

“Winning has a price,” the six-time NBA champion said. “You have to put forth the effort every single day.”

“Coaching can only give you the motivation — they can give you plays and they can give you all that — but at the end of the day, you’ve got to have self-determination. You have to want to be the best,” Jordan advised.

He added, “If you’re all on the same page and everybody wants to win, that’s the whole process. If you guys are sitting there putting on that Alabama uniform, your attitude is about winning. Winning is a part of me. I will do anything to win. Your energy should be towards winning.”

Watch:

Alabama Football also shared this famous quote from Jordan in a tweet: “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

The program, led by its players with support from the staff and administration, are currently trying to save the 2020 fall college football season.

RELATED: Alabama Senate majority leader to SEC: Let them play

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Alabama’s small business community needs Congress’ support

Affordable health care has long been a cause of concern for small business across our country with the cost of coverage has consistently ranked at the top of small business owners’ concerns. And now, amid a global health crisis, health coverage is more important than ever. As someone with years of experience working in the healthcare industry and alongside businesses, I have seen firsthand how the small business community faces unique challenges when it comes to employer-sponsored benefits.

There is no doubt that each employer wants to give employees the best benefits possible. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it makes small businesses competitive, attracting a more skilled workforce and helping to keep employees healthy. However, the large majority of small business owners run on extremely small margins, and as health care costs continue to rise, it is even more difficult to provide employees with quality health care coverage.

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Alabama is known for our friendly small business community, inviting many small employers to plant their roots in the Yellowhammer State. This is why we’re proud to have over 380,000 small businesses that employ over 765,000 of our state’s residents. Small businesses are, and always have been, the backbone of our economy. Alabama laws historically promote competition and small business growth but despite this, we still need our federal lawmakers to support us, especially at a time when businesses are struggling.

Today, with the pandemic continuing to spread across our state, small business owners are struggling to stay in business, and they are bracing for the full financial impacts of COVID-19. It is a devastating situation to be in and our small business community cannot survive on its own.

Fortunately, we have very dedicated small business champions in Washington, D.C. who have been working tirelessly to ensure any federal COVID-19 relief includes small businesses.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Senator Doug Jones and Congresswoman Terri Sewell supported bipartisan legislation that in 2019 repealed an Obamacare tax known as the Health Insurance Tax (HIT). This erroneous tax increased the price of health insurance for small business owners. Now we need them to further continue that work and work to implement policies that will continue to lower the cost of health care for small business owners, their employees, and their families, especially at a time when having health care is so crucial. A healthy workforce that is ready, and able, to get back to work is vital to our state, and country’s economic recovery.

Small business owners want to continue to provide health care for their employees, but they need Congress’ help to do so. I ask that our elected officials continue to come together to support Alabama’s small business community, especially when it comes to lowering health care costs and making health care more affordable — both as we continue to overcome COVID-19 and long beyond.

Curtis Cannon is a Managing Partner at Axis Recovery and has over 15 years of experience working with health insurance companies, brokers and consulting firms.