Friday, March 02, 2012

'Inmate challenges pedophilia test as junk science'

The Austin Statesman's Chuck Lindell reports ("Inmate challenges pedophilia test as junk science," March 2) on a legal challenge by TDCJ inmate Michael Arena - who was convicted of sexually assaulting two young cousins when he was a teenager - to use of a particularly insidious brand of junk science aimed at sex offenders called the Abel Assessment, which is based on similar principles to the penile plethysmograph. (Try saying that three times fast.) Neither forensic technique is allowed to be used at trial under modern evidence standards - and probably shouldn't have been in this case - but the plethysmograph is still used rather frequently in post-conviction settings in Texas, particularly among parolees who're assigned sex-offender conditions. The Abel Assessment suffers from an error rate of 35-48%, according to various estimates in Lindell's article. One study found "a 42 percent false-positive rate when non-molesters were tested."

In Arena's case, his claims about the test's inaccuracy are bolstered by the recantation of both alleged victims, who say they were encouraged to lie by their mother who was going through a bitter divorce. Writes Lindell:
Though interest in Arena's case tends to focus on his claim of innocence, his attack on the psychological test could influence future attempts to challenge allegedly bad science in the courtroom — a continuing problem that the nation's appellate courts have struggled with for decades.

The test, defense lawyers say, had an unacceptably high 35 percent error rate that was not disclosed to Arena's judge and jury. It was never intended to be used to identify pedophiles, they claim, and a university study found that its results were little better "than chance" when trying to distinguish pedophiles from non-pedophiles.

In addition, the psychologist who examined Arena inflated the test's effectiveness and scientific support when he testified at Arena's trial, leading to a reprimand from a state regulatory agency four years later, court records show.

Issues with the test seemed to resonate with many of the Supreme Court's nine justices during oral arguments in January.

Justice Nathan Hecht dismissed the test as "bordering on hokum" and less likely to yield valid results than lie-detector tests, which are not admissible in criminal court proceedings.

Justice David Medina noted that a 65 percent accuracy rate would have earned the test an F in a school setting. "To incarcerate somebody for one day, you use a standard that's not even A-plus?" Medina asked lawyers for Bell County. "That seems wrong on its face."

Lawyer John Gauntt Jr. with the Bell County attorney's office acknowledged that a 35 percent error rate was "not a suitable standard" for use in court. He also acknowledged that the prosecution's expert, Georgetown psychologist Fred Willoughby, provided false testimony about the test's effectiveness in the Arena case.

Even so, Gauntt told the court, the 20-year sentence should not be overturned because Arena cannot prove he was harmed by Willoughby's testimony — a necessary step toward earning a new sentencing trial.
Lindell includes an interview with Michael Arena, speaking from a Texas prison:

Notably, this case is being heard by the Texas Supreme Court instead of the Court of Criminal Appeals because Arena was convicted as a juvenile. That's important because civil courts generally have much more rigorous standards for scientific evidence, in part because both sides in civil litigation have money to routinely hire experts. By contrast, in most criminal cases the prosecution has most if not all of the access to lab resources and forensic expertise unless the defendant pays for it or a judge orders it. These are judges who're used to seeing science in the courtroom held to much higher standards than their counterparts on the Court of Criminal Appeals, and Lindell's account of oral arguments in Arena's case shows the Abel Assessment is getting a more skeptical reception from the Texas Supreme Court than junk science sometimes receives from Judge Keller and Co. on the other side of the building.


rodsmith said...

it might just be me! but i think that lawyers stupid enough to make criminal statements like this!

"Lawyer John Gauntt Jr. with the Bell County attorney's office acknowledged that a 35 percent error rate was "not a suitable standard" for use in court. He also acknowledged that the prosecution's expert, Georgetown psychologist Fred Willoughby, provided false testimony about the test's effectiveness in the Arena case.

Even so, Gauntt told the court, the 20-year sentence should not be overturned because Arena cannot prove he was harmed by Willoughby's testimony — a necessary step toward earning a new sentencing trial."

Need to be EXECUTED on the steps of the court house where they made such a STUPID and CRIMINAL statment!

i'm sorry there is no way in hell you can legally stand there with a straight face and announce that even though YOUR witness LIED and comitted PERJURY on the stand...That there was no HARM done to the defendant!

Anonymous said...

A few years ago, this story was documented on a 20/20 episode. After watching the program, it was clear that the allegation occurred due to a nasty custody battle. It is shameful that the courts are so quick to convict and so slow to grant relief to someone like Michael. The facts are all there.
20/20 video and more on the Arena story can be found on

Anonymous said...

"In addition, the psychologist who examined Arena inflated the test's effectiveness and scientific support when he testified at Arena's trial, leading to a reprimand from a state regulatory agency four years later, court records show."

It should be noted that this treatment provider is still in business. Scary......

Anonymous said...

No one who has followed this case, who knows the families and people involved, or who has any knowledge of what a travesty of justice was allowed with testimony that isn’t even up to the level of junk science, believes for one second that Michael was guilty. This is the state’s chance to finally right a horrible wrong that everyone knows was committed. It will not give Michael and his family back all of these years, but it will keep the rest of his life from being sacrificed to the pride of prosecutors and courts who refuse to say that they made a horrible and tragic mistake.
Sandi H.

Anonymous said...

There are far more cases similar to this where the alleged "victim" has lied. One would think that being a court of law, that one could expect to encounter rational thinking there. However, the opposite seems to be the case. Friends, you are, in fact, guilty until proven innocent.
All of the sex offender laws are in place due to politicians ignorance, and as we all know -including lawmakers, do little to nothing to protect the public. WHEN will they open their eyes and see what is going on?

Bill said...

I would love to know how many others have been screwed over by Fred Willoughby's testimony. He runs a huge outfit called the Center for Cognitive Education and is doing business in at least 3 counties: Bell, Williamson and McLennan. The Center provides assessments and evaluations, sex offender treatment, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence treatment, hot check treatment, anger management and cognitive education. This outfit requires cash only no receipts from the individuals required to attend sex offender treatment.

lovestowearhats said...

Sometimes we overlook the obvious. The guy is innocent. What needs to happen once it is proven, is the prosecutors need to be put on trial. I am tired of prosecutors doing anything they can to get another notch on their belt, even convicting the innocent!

Angee said...

A growing number of people are FED UP with this broken system. Nothing matters except a conviction. This young man is innocent yet he will probably never be able to prove it. Witnesses recant and judges shrug their shoulders. Witnesses lie and go on about their business. I thought there was a law against perjury but that does not seem to count if the expert is paid by the DA. And this is the norm. What an outrage.

Liz said...

"Justice Phil Johnson sounded a note of caution, however, expressing discomfort with "substituting our judgment for the trial judge" by ruling he "got it wrong."

The trial judge did get it wrong. Justice Johnson should be far more uncomfortable with the fact an innocent KID has grown up in prison and is still there today.

Anonymous said...

If that treatment provider practices in Williamson county I assume that he and John Bradley could be friends.

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with these people? Is Justice Johnson related to Bell County's Judge Edward Johnson?

Isn't Edward Johnson the same judge that threatened Stephanie Arena with perjury when she tried to recant at the time of the hearing?

Anonymous said...

Willoughby's in thick with community least for Williamson County. Probationers aren't given a choice on what treatment provider to see.

Conflict of Interest?
"On December 12, 2002, the Williamson County Adult Probation Department held the Annual Christmas Party and Awards Luncheon. The Event was held at the Georgetown Elks Lodge Facility. The Event was sponsored by Corrections Software Corporation, Inc. and Dr. Fred Willoughby. Door prizes were donated by various local merchants."

Top Gun awards were handed out. The awards went to 2 of the probation officers that handle the sex offender case load.

Anonymous said...

It matters that the kids were under their father's influence when they recanted, but not that they were under their mother's influence when they accused. Typical prosecutorial double-speak.

Doc Ellis 124 said...



Thank you for writing this essay

Doc Ellis 124

Anonymous said...

The 20/20 report on the Arenas can be seen at Lavonna, the mother, was interviewed. A must see.

Anonymous said...

Psychiatrists have documented evidence going back decades that proves child molestation isn't about sex so much as it's about power and control.

And none among us is about power and control more than those who choose careers in law enforcement.

Indeed, more police officers are convicted of child sex crimes than all other professions combined. It's law enforcement's "dirty little secret", and one we are committed to exposing. Police officers use their positions of trust to violate our children. Their victims are threatened with physical harm and told no one will believe their word over that of a police officer.

Please visit out Facebook pages to learn more about this epidemic that plagues the entire law enforcement profession, and why no cop should ever be left alone with any child.

Vistagraphs said...

My unbelievqble autobiography PEDOPHILIA: A CAUSE AND A CURE provides the last forty years expert opinion on Pedophilia. It also cites the legal challenges to sex registration laws.
Although the "experts" say there is no known cause or cure, some hint it may have a genetic component.

Junk science should not be permitted in the court system.
I published my research for my autobiography to answer important questions, and make the amswers available to the public for $2.99 on Amazon to help set the record straight and op prevent future Arena-type trials.

TedByrd said...

There were a number of disturbing statements mad in this article.
1. Case was hard in Tx. S. Ct, because D was a Juvie and civil court standards for expert testimony are more rigorous, and in Criminal Ct. state usuallyhas the corner of=n expert testimony. really disturbing to think that when mone- and not freedom-is involved, expert standards are higher.
2. the Defense Attorneys may have done a good job, but they should have researched Abel a little deeper. In the literature-widwly available- it is well known that AASI is a tool for post conviction use, and not for use in the guilty/not guilty phase of trial. Did his attorneys object, not to just its conclusion, but its very mention, during the trial? Would the public accept anything with a 35% error rate? car brakes? medical diagnostic tools? computer programs? electric gid reliability? scandalous - appalling- and sadly typical

Anonymous said...

16 years OLD in the PEN!!!! False accusations, testimony by ONE so call Dr. that uses a flawed test of photos!! If that is the findings of this FLAWED test at age 16 he got excide over photos of females in bikinis Then just about all 16 year old boys will be pedophilias.

Willoughby shame on you!!!

Anonymous said...

A lot of credit is due to Clint Broden of Dallas and other attorneys who have given pro bono time on this case. The pleadings are available on the TX Supreme Court website if anyone wants to do some in-depth reading.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Willoughby is only the tip of this ice berg in this case. That is why the County Offical continue to deny justice.

Many question have not been answered concerning the missing medical records, the false statements (over statements)of Dr. Green from Scott and White(on 20/20show), The Nurse Lindner who stated that she was always supervised during the exam of the child and then two years later she said that was was alone with the child. She stated that she was a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, what she was is a nurse in trainning. The Nurse who signed the medical records was removed from the program within a short period after the exam. Then on top of everything the nurse who participated the second visit and took photograhs was allowed in the courtroom during the trial. They forgot to tell the defense attory that a material witness was in the court room.

Judge Johnson was aware of Dr. Willougbhy back in 2001; however failed to take action concerning his prejury, at the same time was telling S.A. that he would sent her to prison if she recanted
and admitted that she committed perjury during the trial. Judge Johnson threaten Michael attorney at the time. He was going to comedown from the bench a choke him.

Of course Bell County Judge are going to cover up for their own experts commiting perjury. Judge Johnson and Judge Adams have.
They blame the chidren (S.A. A.A. John Arena and Michael Arena) when it fact it was the adults involved with this case should have stoped and looked closer. It is the resposiabiltiy of all of us to ensure that we don't have Judge like Judge Johnson and Judge Adams sitting on the bench.

It took over 10 years for the Bell County to admit that Dr. Willoughby lied. Have they done anything to ensure other children have no suffered due to Dr. Willoughby lies and junk science? Whose family is next?

Oh yes I can't forget your taxpayer money paid Dr. Willoughby to commit perjury. Our County Commissioners was aware of the fraud back in eary 2001 and did not act upon the thousands of dollors Bell County Tax payers paid for Dr. Willougbhy juck science.

How many more of our innocent children are in prison or have been convicted because of our County Officical misconduct and obstruction of justice?

There is so much more then a news article could explain the injustice which has occurred to the Arena family.

Thank you for everyone that is getting the word out about the injustice that has occurred.

Anonymous said...

Maybe these defense attorneys should start having their licenses revoked. But at the least start prosecuting these DA's.

Anonymous said...

Young children will say exactly what their parents tell them to. I know because I have a family member serving time for something he did not do, because he is brain damaged and the neighbor wanted him out of the neighborhood.