News 02.29.08

Mississippi cases continue to draw national attention

Questionable forensic practices in Mississippi have remained in the national news in the wake of the hearings earlier this month clearing two men after they served 15 years for separate murders they didn’t commit. The exoneration of Kennedy Brewer and release of Levon Brooks on Feb. 15 has led to serious questions about the work of medical examiner Steven Hayne and forensic dentist Michael West, and the Innocence Project has been joined by several other organizations in calling for forensic reform in Mississippi. Here are excerpts from an Associated Press article running around the country today:

The turn of events has shocked the community, especially the victims' families, and led to accusations that West deliberately falsified evidence.

"You have people who engaged in misconduct and manufactured evidence and we've proved it," said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, which has won the exoneration of more than 200 inmates nationwide and assembled the expert panel that examined the Brewer case. "These two cases are going to be an eye-opener for the people of Mississippi about some of the problems they have in criminal justice and how easy it will be to make it right."

Brewer, who was released on bail last year, a few years after DNA tests excluded him as the rapist, was finally exonerated by a judge on Feb. 15.

"I ain't worried about the past. I'm thinking about the future," Brewer said. But he offered some advice to prosecutors: "They need to get the truth before they lock up the wrong somebody. It doesn't feel good to be called a rapist and murderer."

The district attorney who prosecuted both defendants, Forrest Allgood, disputed any suggestion that his office knowingly sent the wrong men to prison.

"It torments the innocent individual, undermines the public confidence in the justice system, and the bad guy is still running loose," he said. "Why people would believe that's something we would want to do is beyond me."

Allgood said he has not used West as a forensic expert since the mid-1990s. He said West was once considered one of the world's foremost authorities in his field, lecturing in China and England.

"Subsequently the whole situation turned into a train wreck," the district attorney said.


Read the full story here

. (Associated Press, 02/29/08)


Read more about calls for reform in the wake of the Brewer and Brooks cases here

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