Manufacturing Guilt

I very much doubt and—even more—hope you'll not read a more disturbing news story this year. 

I am vehemently opposed to the death penalty. But I'm not sure I'd fight it were it handed down to a few of the people inexplicably walking around free in this case. 

For most of the last 20 years, doctors Steven Hayne and Michael West have served as expert forensic witnesses for the state of Mississippi. Until 2008, Hayne served as the de facto state medical examiner, dominating a criminal autopsy market in which prosecutors contract out examinations to favored private doctors. West, a dentist, served one term as the elected coroner in Forest County, Mississippi in the 1990s and partly through his work with Hayne became a popular bite-mark examiner among prosecutors. Both men have come under intense scrutiny for questionable working procedures and dubious testimony—West off and on for 15 years, Hayne mostly in the last two.

Last year, two men that Hayne and West helped convict of murder in the early 1990s, Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer, were exonerated and freed from prison through DNA testing afterserving more than 30 years combined behind bars. Both men had been accused of raping and murdering the daughters of their respective girlfriends. In what has come to be a pattern with the two doctors, in each case Hayne claimed to have found in an initial autopsy what other examiners missed: bite marks on the victim's body. He then called in West, a forensic odontologist (dental examiner), who definitively matched bite marks to the defendants. Partly because of the testimony from Hayne and West, Brooks was sentenced to life in prison, and Brewer to death (he spent 14 years on death row). DNA testing in 2008 determined that the semen found on both girls belonged to a third man, 51-year-old Albert Johnson. As Brooks and Brewer were freed, Johnson confessed to both crimes.

The Brooks and Brewer cases form their own forensics riddle: How could West and Hayne have definitively linked previously undetected bite marks on the victims to two men who didn't commit the murders?

Reason recently obtained shocking video from another Hayne and West collaboration that may shed light on the question. In 1993, the two conducted an examination on a 23-month-old girl named Haley Oliveaux of West Monroe, Louisiana, who had drowned in her bathtub. The video shows bite marks mysteriously appearing on the toddler's face during the time she was in the custody of Hayne and West. It then shows West repeatedly and methodically pressing and scraping a dental mold of a man's teeth on the dead girl's skin. Forensic scientists who have viewed the footage say the video reveals not only medical malpractice, but criminal evidence tampering.

How Hayne and West are not behind bars right now is beyond me. I assume it's because a significant number of the officers of the court knew or at least strongly suspected that they were crooked and kept employing them anyway, and it's simply too big a can of worms to open.

Too bad. Open it. 


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About the other scott peterson

Writer of comics and books and stuff.
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3 Responses to Manufacturing Guilt

  1. shannon says:

    Holy cow. These guys should definitely be in jail right now. This is the kind of story that makes me angry. Two men lost huge parts of their lives to wrongful imprisonment because of these doctors. It’s unconscionable. And people, aside from the doctors should be held accountable for allowing it to go on.

  2. scott says:

    The fact that Hayne and West were not arrested within days of the video breaking is shocking, and seem evidence that much of the judicial system there is corrupt; it seems highly unlikely to me that there’s not a preponderence of judges, sherrifs and DAs who suspected something was amiss with Hayne and West and hired them anyway…or because of it.
    But the other thing that really gets me is that, yes, they deprived, in at least a few cases, innocent men of their freedom—but that means they knowingly let the real guilty party go free.

  3. KC says:

    This is horrible on many levels. It’s no wonder people can’t trust the justice system sometimes. I can’t imagine how horror of being innocent and no one believing you.

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