Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Christmas in March for Amarillo man freed due to flawed forensics in child death

In a story earlier featured on PBS Frontline, NPR, and ProPublica, which brings the latest news, Ernie Lopez returned home to Amarillo yesterday after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals invalidated his conviction because his defense attorney did not call expert witnesses to invalidate the science underlying his conviction for child sexual assault. The CCA "didn't absolve Lopez, but said there was a 'reasonable probability' that he would have been acquitted had his attorneys countered the medical evidence arrayed against him." Says ProPubica:
Lopez's story reflects a broader controversy. Increasing numbers of doctors and other experts are questioning 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 who were wrongly accused of killing children based on flawed or biased work by forensic pathologists have been cleared over the last 15 years.

The Texas court's ruling set the stage for Lopez to be released Friday on a $10,000 bond. His release order bars him from initiating contact with children, though he is allowed to spend time with his three children. It also requires him to wear an electronic monitoring anklet and to abide by a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

At his parents' home on the outskirts of Amarillo, Lopez celebrated the events and holidays he missed during his long confinement. The family even put up a Christmas tree.
Related: TX conviction overturned because of failure to challenge junk science in child death case.


Prison Doc said...

Junk Science is not that uncommon in medical practice either, so it's not too surprising that it spills over into expert testimony.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who has a young child die becomes immediately suspected of foul play by authorities in Harris county. And these suspicions are passed along to the medical examiners conducting the autopsy. If the pathologist cannot determine a specific manner of death, many will revert to the detectives "gut hunch" and arrive at a manner of death that supports this. http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Harris-Co-autopsy-changes-spur-plea-for-freedom-1732345.php

Harris county has a long, long history of corrupt and incompetent medical examiners. And dozens of innocent defendants have been convicted of murdering children when no real evidence supported the findings of murder other than the "gut feelings" of mostly inept detectives, and an opinion of a pathologist who was cop-friendly and had long ago ruled out any possibility of natural death due to SIDS, anaphylactic shock (a severe allergic reaction to vaccines), or other manners that aren't obvious like rare diseases and complications due to premature birth among many others. http://blog.chron.com/momhouston/2011/06/npr-case-of-mistaken-baby-homicides-in-texas/

In 1998, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Joye Carter (now with the Southeast Texas Forensic Center) fired an assistant medical examiner who had reported illegal activity at the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office. And no less than a dozen of the cases where Dr. Carter testified for the prosecution that a murder has indeed occurred have been overturned by appeals courts. Carter was soon sent packing when lawsuit awards began to be too expensive for the commissioner's court to pay. http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl/1998_3042264/medical-examiner-fires-whistle-blower-assistant-wa.html

Dr. Patricia Moore (also now with the Southeast Texas Forensic Center) was among the most "cop-friendly" medical examiners in Harris county. During her time in Harris County, Moore attributed infant deaths to shaken baby syndrome at a rate considerably higher than the rate at which it happens in the general population. Once even reprimanded for being "biased in favor of the prosecution" as the document reads. http://freetrenda.com/default.aspx


Be very careful when serving as jurors on these cases. And if you should have a child die make certain to retain legal counsel before speaking with detectives, and be sure to have a second autopsy performed by an independent medical examiner as soon as possible. Otherwise you could be mourning the loss of a child while behind bars just like Brandy Briggs: http://www.chron.com/default/article/Grudging-justice-Cleared-of-charges-in-her-1515206.php


Anonymous said...

It is not only a child'd death that causes the law to get a 'gut feeling' about the parents being the ones responsible, but anytime a spouse's death occurs the law also gets a 'gut feeling' that the living spouse has to be the guilty person. Then add to that the fact that the parents of the deceased person joins with law people, and the surviving person becomes the guilty person. Most MEs are more than willing to listen to the local law enforcement and their 'gut feelings' and come up with the same verdict.