Saturday, January 28, 2012

TX conviction overturned because of failure to challenge junk sciene in child death case

Via PBS Frontline and ProPublica, a conviction for the death of a child was overturned this week by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals because the defendant's attorney failed to challenge bogus medical evidence presented in the penalty phase of the case that the infant had been sexually assaulted:
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals [on Wednesday] set aside the conviction of Ernie Lopez, an Amarillo man found guilty in 2003 of sexually assaulting six-month-old Isis Vas. The baby died shortly after the purported attack.

Lopez has been serving a term of 60 years in Texas prison for the crime. But a joint reporting effort by ProPublica, NPR, and PBS "Frontline" last year explored the possibility that Lopez might be innocent.
In the years since Lopez's trial, a host of physicians have reviewed the medical evidence in the case, raising questions about the soundness of his conviction. Many of these specialists have come to believe that Vas actually died of natural causes, and that Lopez never assaulted the child at all.

During a tearful prison interview, the inmate insisted he wasn’t a sex offender and killer. "That's not my character," he said. "That's not who I am."

"We are very pleased with the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision to set aside Ernie’s conviction," said one of Lopez’s attorneys, Heather Kirkwood, in an email. "The Texas courts deserve ample recognition for the careful review of the record that led to today’s decision."

The Lopez case highlights the growing international controversy about the reliability of the science used to prosecute cases of fatal child abuse and sexual assault. In Canada and the U.S. at least 23 people have been wrongly accused of killing children based on questionable medical evidence, and California Gov. Jerry Brown is currently considering commuting the sentence of a grandmother convicted of fatally shaking her 7-week-old grandson.

The Texas court didn’t rule on Lopez’s culpability and did not set him free. Instead, the court concluded that Lopez received ineffective legal representation during his trial because his lawyers failed to challenge the prosecution’s medical evidence. 
UPDATE: The Potter County DA says he will re-prosecute the case.


Anonymous said...

Can the State Bar Association investigate defense attorneys for this kind of poor representation? Has anyone reported this to them?

ckikerintulia said...

The DA in Amarillo has already announced his intention to retry Lopez.The same DA is convinced that all the Tulia defendants were in fact guilty as charged. But I suppose that's in the DA's JD, to believe that everyone charged is guilty?

rodsmith said...

hmm 2003 conviction been locked up almost a decade!

"During a tearful prison interview, the inmate insisted he wasn’t a sex offender and killer. "That's not my character," he said. "That's not who I am."

so i'm willing to bet this statment is no longer true.

He's certainly been turned into a killer now by the state. That's about the only way a sex offender can SURVIVE in prison.

even an innocent one like this!

and you just got to love it that the court choked at the end. They would have had to admit the state messed up if they had freed him!

Anonymous said...

The writ petition is an amazing read.

DeathBreath said...

In Texas, the AG office had to intervene when a jury of buffoons sentenced a law enforcement officer for a so-called Satanic killing. In Texas, we have many imbeciles in robes & the jury box. I believe there was a DA around Pampa who was strung out on methamphetamine. Let's not forget the man Texas murdered in Navarro county based on faulty expert testimony.

Anonymous said...

DeathBreath, I know the case you're talking about. Unfortunately, that was under a prior AG. The current AG's office is as bad as some of the DAs. For example, in the infamous Mineola Swingers Case, the DA attempted to give the case to the AGs office when he realized it was a mess and he didn't want the political fallout. Wisely, the AGs office refused to take the case. However, they did get involved briefly, long enough to see there had been significant prosecutorial misconduct and the case was garbage. But, what did they do about it. They just avoided any further involvement in the case turning a blind eye to the abuses and injustices. The current AGs will not do anything the local DA wouldn't like.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the State Bar can investigate, but they only do so if there is a complaint filed (or a referral from a court) and the sanctions, which are rarely imposed, are pathetic. A Bexar County attorney recently received a "probated suspension" for failing to file a capital habeas application on time, and failing to keep her client informed about his case. Failing to file such an application on time can result in the client's subsequent appeals being "procedurally defaulted" and automatically dismissed without consideration of the merits of his case. In other words, she could have killed her own client. The Court of Criminal Appeals removed her from three other cases in which there were also serious problems. But she's still practicing law ...

I'm an attorney, and I find the lack of real enforcement of professional conduct standards for the criminal defense bar to be a profoundly troubling issue. I suspect that the reason that the attorney in question was sanctioned at all was because she had infuriated the court with her sloppy behavior, and the court referred the case. Complaints from the clients or their families don't usually progress that far.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to obtaining Stuntz's book. Texas Tough was a very very good reading that was recommended by GFB almost a year ago. I expect this will be just as good.
Thanks for the suggestions.

Unfortunately the prison enterprise may be as strong and large as the lobbying power of insurance companies. Consequently it is here to stay and will continue going in the wrong direction.