Friday, May 18, 2012

New sentencing hearing ordered based on junk sex-offender 'science'

Good news out of the Texas Supreme Court today, if not all one might hope from them. They ordered a new sentencing hearing for a man who's spent 13 years in prison on a 20 year sentence, granting resentencing not because he's innocent and the victim says the offense never happened (which happens to be the case), but because an expert at his trial based his opinions about future dangerousness on an instrument called the "Abel Assessment" whose ability to distinguish pedophiles from “nonoffenders was not significantly better than chance." Via the Austin Chronicle:
A unanimous Texas Supreme Court ruled today that Michael Arena, sent to prison for an alleged sexual assault that even the victim says never happened – is entitled to a new sentencing hearing.

Arena and his brother, John, were each accused as teens of sexually assaulting their young cousin, Stephanie Arena, when the girl was just seven-years-old. Stephanie soon recanted, however, and has been adamant that she was coerced into accusing her cousins at the behest of her mother, who was in a bitter divorce from her husband and had illegally removed Stephanie and her brother from Texas in violation of a court order. You can read the entire back story here.
According to the Austin Statesman:
The court ruled that Arena deserves a new sentencing trial because of false testimony by a psychologist, who during Arena’s 1999 trial labeled him a pedophile who was likely to strike again.

The psychologist, Fred Willoughby, based his conclusion on a test that required the then-16-year-old to click through images of swimsuit-clad people of various ages while the computer secretly measured how long he viewed each photo.

According to the unanimous opinion, written by Justice Eva Guzman, Willoughby testified that the test had an 85 percent accuracy rate. In reality, it was 65 percent.

Willoughby also misstated the scientific support for the test, saying independent studies had verified its effectiveness (none had) and quoting a Brigham Young University study as establishing its accuracy. Instead, the study raised serious questions about the test, noting that its ability to distinguish pedophiles from “nonoffenders was not significantly better than chance.”

Had he testified truthfully, Guzman wrote, “the trial court would have excluded Willoughby’s testimony.”
RELATED: 'Inmate challenges pedophilia test as junk science.'


Anonymous said...

New sentencing. So does that mean he plead guilty and the plea stands? Or is it all new trial?

Scott in South Austin said...

So what happens to any of the individuals convicted in Fort Bend County whose douchebag deputy had a dog that sniffed and smelled evidence? Good lord, what a crock of horse $hit.

doran said...

I'm guessing the Texas Supreme Court, rather than the CCA, handled this because of Arena's age at the time of trial made his trial a juvenile proceeding. But, a 20 years sentence in a juvenile proceeding seems out of place. Was he certified as an adult?

Only legal geeks would care about such points, obviously.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Doran you're right about the original juvie conviction. They can give "determinate" sentences that are quite long and just move them to TDCJ when they're older, but the case goes back to the TSC instead of the CCA because that's the side the conviction first occurred on.

Scott in South Austin, most of them are still inside, and there's been no official effort even to try to identify them bad cases from that batch.

And anon, it's new sentencing only, but most folks think he'll get time served since, you know, he didn't do it. You never know, though.

John K said...

More evidence, if any were needed, the justice system begrudgingly, superficially respects process but cares not a jot about justice.

Anonymous said...

Junk scientist gets rich in post Salem witch hunt. Where is the class action against Mr. Abel? I think that test costs each defendant about $500 usually payable only by cash.

Anonymous said...

The signle witness is not 70% sure, not 50% sure, but recanted, 100% sure this fellow didn't do it! Yet the prosecution won't back down and the TSC judges support it? Truth and justice don't trump due process? In a state that can't properly educate its children, it is more important to throw money at cases like this?

Miss Rachel said...

Thank you for sharing this. Maybe one day... maybe just one day, it won't be about how many folks a DA can bankrupt, torture, and exhaust into making a plea deal just so the DA's office can have ONE MORE conviction for political reasons.

Anonymous said...

It's nice the TSC is looking out for the taxpayers just as much as they look out for the interests of corporations. Had they ordered a new trial and the defendant was found no guilty and wrongly convicted the taxpayers may have had to pay a lot of money. We just can't have that. We need a completely new TSC.

Chris Halkides said...

Any guess as to how many people have been sentenced on the basis of this test?

sunray's wench said...

I guess if the victim now says it never happened, there cannot be a new trial. That would be why they are having a re-sentencing hearing.

Can the hearing find the "defendent" not guilty and make a compensation order?

Anonymous said...

If people are truly outraged and Barina and Willoughby (as they certainly should be), they can take some actions.

Barina actually has had the gall to run for County Attorney in Bell County. People can post to his election facebook page as to what he has done, they car write letters to the paper, they can show up at the forums and ask questions. The idea of this person being County Attorney is appalling.

Willoughby is a partner in the Center for Cognitive Education in Georgetown. People can email and call his partners urging them to boot Willoughby from the practice. They can call officials in
Williamson county who still rely on Willougb\hby

Anonymous said...

Barina is the one that represented Michael at his trial.

The facebook page is

Anonymous said...

Willoughby is co-owner of The Center for Cognitive Education. His partner is Ignacio De La Rosa. Business is booming for In the court transcript from the Arena case in 1999, Willoughby was asked if he was an expert witness for any other counties. His answer "Williamson". According to their website, they provide services to Williamson, Bell and McLennan counties. The Center does quite a bit of court appointed assessments, evaluations and treatment for WilCo CSCD. The Center offers a wide range of court ordered treatment including hot checks, battered intervention/prevention, anger management, cognitive education, sex offender treatment. One of the treatment providers, Dean Eddy, used to work for WilCo CSCD. Eddy's wife still does. In 2002 Willoughby sponsored Wilco's CSCD's Annual Christmas Party and Awards Luncheon. The Center still treats juveniles as well as adults. Most of their adult sex offender treatment classes are required to pay cash only and the Center refuses to give receipts.

If an offender falls behind in their fees, The Center will file "theft of services" charges on the offender.

Willoughby is also providing services to Central Texas Veterans Health Care.

The Center is currently located in a building owned by Maryanne and Francisco Choi. Maryann Choi is a Council Member on the Texas Department of Health and Human Services Commission. She was appointed by Rick Perry.

Anonymous said...

People need to complain and put people like this out of business once and for all