A case originating in Waycross, Georgia that relied heavily on bitemark evidence is being challenged in a post-conviction proceeding. Bitemark comparison forensic evidence has been increasingly disfavored as the science that underpins it has been increasingly challenged, like some other forensic sciences that have been shown to be unreliable. Like hair-sample analysis, which was examined at length by the New York Times in 2015, these types of forensic testimony are being reconsidered as ‘junk science’.
11alive.com in Atlanta did a good deep dive on the case of State v. Sheila Denton, who was convicted with the only physical evidence tying her to the scene being bitemark evidence. She was also implicated by her crack dealer, who claims she admitted to the killing, but whose testimony shows indications of being coerced. The reporters, including former Fort Myers-based reporter Andy Pierrotti, do a great job on the story, and have a follow-up story coming on Sunday. The post-conviction hearing was a few weeks ago, and the State has another week or so to respond to the Defendant’s brief. The judge’s ruling will come some time down the road.
The Supreme Court
Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral argument on a case involving juror discrimination. The argument is that the government deliberately discriminates jurors by race; generally striking black jurors from the trials of black defendants. The case before the court is exemplar of the pattern: Georgia v. Timothy Foster. At his murder trial, every black juror was dismissed by the prosecutors. There were 5 potential black jurors on the panel from which his jury was selected, and all were struck with peremptory challenges by the prosecutor. He was convicted and sentenced to death.
However, the Foster case is unique, because over the court of the case winding its way through the appellate system, the prosecutor’s notes were obtained and included in the record. The notes offer substantial evidence that race was the determining factor in striking those jurors, though race neutral reasons were provided to satisfy the minimal legal threshold.
The notes makes this the perfect case to challenge the current procedure, which only requires the prosecutor to state a legally sufficient race-neutral reason when requested by the opposing party, known as a Batson challenge. In practice, the vast majority of Batson challenges are initiated by defense attorneys, almost always after prosecutors strike minority jurors. It remains to be seen what the court will do with the case, but some watchers noted that several justices seemed unhappy with the apparently discriminatory result of the peremptory challenges in the Foster case. Whether the overturn the Batson case and the longstanding peremptory procedure remains to be seen.
If you’re curious, I’d recommend the long article on the subject that the Daily Beast ran a few weeks ago…
Justin Harris Mug Shot
I have been busy and haven’t gotten to update the blog regarding Justin Harris, the man charged with murder for allegedly intentionally leaving his child in a car, who then died from the heat. The facts that have been released so far sound damning: apparently Harris did searches on his computer related to dying from heat, he ignored calls from the child’s day care, and he was sexting with women other than his wife on the day of the incident. He also had life insurance on the child that he is now seeking to collect. However, for as terrible as the facts sound so far, the case is far from proven. Attorney Mark O’Mara, who impressively defended George Zimmerman, filed an Op Ed encouraging people to reserve their judgment. Give it a read, O’Mara is frequently a well-spoken voice of resrevation. http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/01/opinion/omara-hot-car-dad-harris/index.html
Negligence happens, and unless malice or intent can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the case is substantially different. Just recently in Southwest Florida, Melissa Smith was acquitted of Aggravated Manslaughter when the jury did not find that her negligence rose to that level of criminality. She was found guilty of a lesser charge of Child Neglect and three counts of Culpable Negligence. She was sentenced to eight months in jail and 5 years of probation.
If you haven’t seen Savannah, Georgia personal injury attorney Jamie Casino’s crazy 2-minute commercial yet, you should immediately go check it out. It only ran in the local market, but has garnered national attention for how over the top it is. Also, it’s pretty well done. It looks like a full Hollywood movie trailer: and something I’d go see.
A lot is unexplained: why is he trashing defense work? Is it ethical to refer to your clients as cold-hearted villains? Apparently he still does defense work, per one of the commenters where I first saw the story, on Deadspin. Look closely for the personal attacks on the police chief. And, why does he vandalize he brother’s grave. This ad couldn’t run in Florida per our bar rules. Consider yourselves lucky, Georgia, and we can all appreciate the over-the-top “art” that is this commercial!
Well, not an axe-murderer, but possibly a serial killer…
Al Gentry spent 25 years trying to find out who killed his brother. His investigation turned up that his brother’s wife left behind a trail of five dead husbands. She was ultimately charged with solicitation of his murder, but died before she could be tried. Investigators were never able to build a case against a shooter, nor were charges filed in the other deaths, though several of them are suspicious. It’s a crazy story and a good read: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/07/17/nc-man-whose-long-search-for-brother-killer-led-to-elderly-georgia-widow-has/?intcmp=obnetwork
Three Florida siblings who went on a nationwide crime spree earlier this year were sentenced yesterday for the robbery they conducted in Georgia. The judge in that case gave them each 35 years. They had previously plead guilty to charges in Colorado, but did not get as long a sentence, there. They still face multiple charges in Florida, including charges for shooting a deputy, and they potentially face life in prison.