crime

Frederick Bell: Parole Board pulls plug on release

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Outcry prompts Parole Board to pull plug on releasing convicted killer

A Mississippi man serving life for murder will not be paroled, the Parole Board decided Wednesday, reversing a previous decision to free him after more than 30 years in prison. 

Frederick Bell was convicted of capital murder for the May 1991 shooting of 21-year-old Robert “Bert” Bell (no relation) during a store robbery in Grenada County. 

Gene Bell, Bert’s younger brother, told Mississippi Today that Frederick Bell won’t be reconsidered for parole for two years. Frederick Bell had been set to be released at the end of September. 

He had originally received a death sentence, but several court rulings in the past decade paved the way for him to be resentenced and become eligible for parole. Frederick Bell was resentenced to life without parole when the found he was mentally disabled and then life with possibility of parole. 

One reason Bell was denied parole is because of how his pending release was advertised to the public. Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-, had questioned whether the Parole Board followed state law, which says notification must go in a newspaper published or circulated in the county where the was committed. 

In a Monday interview with Supertalk Radio, Gene Bell said the notice of Frederick Bell’s release was advertised in the rather than the local paper, the Grenada Star. 

In July, the Parole Board sent a letter to Gene Bell about its decision to parole Frederick Bell because members found he had been rehabilitated. 

In response to the board’s actions, Bert Bell’s family members, Grenada community members, lawmakers and law enforcement groups around the state signed a petition and wrote letters to the Parole Board and Gov. Tate Reeves to ask that Frederick Bell’s parole be denied. 

Bell remains at the at Parchman, according to prison records. 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Marijuana possession: State urged to follow Biden in pardoning simple offenders

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State urged to follow Biden’s lead in pardoning simple marijuana possession offenders

Criminal justice groups in Mississippi say pardoning people for simple marijuana possession could help remove barriers when applying for jobs or securing housing.  

Following President Joe Biden’s announcement to pardon all federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, the Mississippi Center for Justice is figuring out how that action could be applied locally, who it could affect and what kind of impact that action could have, said Charity Bruce, deputy director of consumer protection and public benefits. 

“Pardons of a nonviolent offense such as possession in the of Mississippi should be done,” she said. 

A pardon is a way to legally forgive someone of a and restore lost during conviction such as voting. However, a pardon doesn’t remove the offense from a person’s criminal record. That would need to be done through expungement. 

Earlier this month, when Biden announced he will pardon all federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, he encouraged governors to do the same with state offenses. 

A spokesperson for Gov. Tate Reeves did not respond to a request for comment. But at an Oct. 10 event, he called Biden’s action “a political stunt” and “a pretty naive request.” 

Biden also directed the secretary of Health and Human Services and the to review how marijuana is under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Marijuana currently is Schedule 1, which is a designation for the most dangerous substances such as heroin and LSD, but a higher classification than fentanyl and methamphetamine. 

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” Biden said in a statement. “It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

Black and brown people have been disproportionately arrested, prosecuted and convicted for marijuana possession, he said, noting that a criminal record can put up barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities. 

Six people have been convicted of at least one count of simple marijuana in the federal district courts in Mississippi, according to an analysis from the U.S. Sentencing Commission. This is out of thousands of people, most of whom were convicted in district courts in California and Arizona near the border with Mexico. 

As of January, tno one convicted of simple marijuana possession is in federal prison, according to the commission. 

People may be eligible for a federal pardon if their simple marijuana possession offense happened on or before Oct. 6, 2022, even if a conviction hasn’t been made by that date, according to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. 

During his three years in the governor’s office, Reeves said he hasn’t issued any pardons because it is an authority he takes seriously and would only do if convinced it is necessary. 

Reeves said he recognizes the justice system isn’t perfect and that there have been people in state prison convicted of marijuana charges, even as Mississippi has legalized

About 18 percent, or nearly 3,500 people, who are in state prison have a drug charge as their primary offense, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections in its 2021 annual report. A of drug charges is not listed. 

“(The system) is certainly not perfect and there are mistakes made, and when there are mistakes there is a (pardon) process through the executive branch to deal with it,” Reeves said.  

Through its expungement clinics around the state, the Mississippi Center for Justice has worked with people with drug possession charges and have seen how having a criminal record has impacted them. 

Employers and landlords often background checks on applicants and can see if someone has a criminal record. Even if the offense on a person’s record is nonviolent and the person is a first-time offender, a record can still be a barrier, Bruce said. 

“Being in the community and seeing how that affects people in their lives and how one mistake can derail a person or cause a person to be in a cycle of constantly finding ways to pay the fines and fees,” she said. “It can do a lot to a person mentally, physically and financially.” 

Most misdemeanors except traffic violations can be expunged. For most felonies, a person can petition to have one criminal conviction from their criminal record five years after completing all terms and conditions of release. 

Beyond pardons and expungement, Bruce said other states are introducing efforts that could help people who have a criminal record. Some states are introducing legislation to seal a person’s record, which could give some the opportunity to apply for jobs and housing and not have their record be the first thing the person reading their application sees. 

“It can help the person get a foot in the door before they are placed in the box,” she said. 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Coach Prime has ‘old school’ football approach

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He may not look it, but Coach Prime has an ‘old school’ football approach

You see all the the gold chains around his neck, including the one that spells out “PRIME.” You see the reflective sunglasses he so often wears. You see the cameras and microphones that follow his every move on the sideline. You see the hoodies he wears and often flips over his head. 

You see Deion Sanders along the Jackson sidelines or at a postgame press conference and you think: Man, this is an avant-garde football coach. This is new wave. This is football meets hip hop. We’ve never seen this flashy a college football coach before.

Rick Cleveland

But then you watch his team play. You watch how the players respond to him. You watch how he teaches. You see his attention to detail. And then you listen to him talk, and you hear him wax on about the value of discipline, about doing things the right way, about the value of hard work, about striving for consistency and about how special teams are so important to winning.

And then you think to yourself: There’s a lot of “old school” football coach in Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders.

I mentioned this to Sanders at his weekly press conference at the Walter Payton Health and Recreation Center. I told them that when I listen to him much of what I hear sounds like an old school football coach with old school values.

Said Sanders, “Your analysis is 100 percent correct.” And then he talked about following the lead of many of his football coaches — all “old school” — through the years.

“Dave Capel, my peewee coach who has passed away, was old school,” Sanders said. “My high school coach Ron Hoover, who died this past spring, was straight old school.”

Sanders then talked about the late Bobby Bowden, his decidedly old school and folksy head football coach at Florida State, and about Mickey Andrews, the long-time, fiery Seminoles defensive coordinator.

“Coach Andrews is still alive and I talk to him usually once a week,” Sanders continued. “A lot of the people guiding and shaping me were old school football minds, and I have adopted their ways. I am not going to change any time soon because their way works.”

Sanders wasn’t finished. He talked about his “old school” parents and how he strives to be an old school parent himself.

“I am not going to say it’s the right way or the only way, but it’s the way I know,” Sanders said.

With his players, Sanders is nothing if not demanding. You can see it on the sidelines. You can hear it in his interviews. Indeed, you could hear it Tuesday afternoon. “I want to see some of the guys we have been waiting on get up and play up to expectations,” Sanders said. “We got several of those guys and I am waiting. I am waiting. Some of the guys have to wake up or they will be replaced.”

Message delivered.

Old timers, including this one, can close our eyes, think back and remember coaching legends such as Bear Bryant, Eddie Robinson, John Vaught, Marino Casem and W.C. Gorden sounding much the same. They didn’t dress like Sanders but they surely had some of the same values when it came to toughness and discipline.

You can’t argue with the results. In the four seasons prior to Sanders’ arrival, Jackson State won 15 games and lost 29. In his first full season (2021), Sanders’ Tigers finished 11-2. They are 6-0 this season, ranked No. 1 among HBCUs heading into Saturday’s homecoming game against Campbell University.

And that brings up another way Sanders can sound old school. Tuesday, he made the Campbell University Camels sound like the Green Bay Packers. (The Camels are 4-2 and have won three straight.)

“They are tough, really tough. This is not going to be a cakewalk,” Sanders said.

With Sanders, we usually get more than just football talk. Tuesday was no exception, He talked about JSU homecoming and how it should be a boon for the city of Jackson.

“The city is going to be swamped,’ he said. “This should be a windfall for the whole city…”

Sanders paused before continuing. “The one thing I do desire is for us to unite and put a cease on the for this weekend. I wish it could cease forever but let’s take one step at a time. No crime this weekend. No killings this weekend, no robberies this weekend. No aggressive nature. Let’s just show love this weekend. That would be a true blessing and that’s what I want to see this weekend.”

Don’t know if that qualifies as “old school” — but, surely, we can all agree on the message, can’t we?

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

AG opinion spurs questions about voting for incarcerated Mississippians

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New attorney general’s opinion spurs questions about voting rights for incarcerated Mississippians

A Mississippi ’s opinion last month on absentee has thrown into confusion the voting rights of individuals in jail.

The Sept. 29 opinion addressed the question of whether qualified electors held in the county of their residence in jail can select disability on their absentee ballot, saying disability and other reasons for voting absentee are decided on a case-by-case basis by local election officials.

The absentee ballot application requires the person check a box stating the reason for voting absentee. Incarcerated individuals have typically checked disabled.

However, the opinion didn’t provide clarity about incarcerated individuals’ access to voting, said Jarrius Adams, a research associate for Mississippi Votes.

Mississippi residents can vote if they are in a county jail awaiting trial or serving time in prison, and they are able to exercise that right through absentee mail-in ballots, voting advocates say. 

Many people think any interaction with the criminal justice system makes them ineligible to vote, but that isn’t true, Adams said. People who are convicted of most felonies, misdemeanors, out-of-state convictions or federal convictions don’t lose their right to vote. 

The opinion did go on to say: “We do note that a qualified elector who is otherwise eligible to vote does not lose the right to vote because he or she is being detained.” 

Adams said guidance from the secretary of state’s office for circuit clerks who manage voter registration is if someone hasn’t been convicted, they can say their reason for voting absentee is because they temporarily live outside of their place of residence. 

The secretary of state’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  

Mississippi Votes aims to educate people about their voting rights and combat rhetoric that can discourage incarcerated people from voting, he said. 

“Folks should be able to exercise their right to vote,” he said.

Absentee voting by mail is the main way incarcerated people are able to vote. Once determining they are eligible to vote and register, an incarcerated person can request an absentee ballot from their county circuit clerk’s office by mail. 

Voting groups including Mississippi Votes visit jails and prisons throughout the year to get people registered to vote and help fill out voting materials. 

Adams said the organization can provide sample ballots, information about voting procedure and help people notarize documents. 

“We do it like we do with anyone else,” he said. “The only thing we don’t do is tell them who to vote for. We encourage them to vote up and down the ballot. Their opinion matters.” 

Representatives from Mississippi Votes, the , the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Mississippi Center for Re-Entry visited women at the Flowood Community Work Center last month. The work center is by the Mississippi Department of Corrections and is for people who are close to release. 

Cynetra Freeman, founder of the Center for Re-Entry and a formerly incarcerated person, said the visit was the first of several planned visits to facilities around the state. 

So far, voter advocates on the tour have helped educate 200 incarcerated people, she said, and 35 people have registered to vote. 

“It was a great response,” Freeman said. “Everyone was engaged and everyone wanted to learn if they could register to vote.”

Once people leave incarceration, there can also be challenges to being able to vote. 

A form of picture identification such as a driver’s license or passport is required to be able to vote in Mississippi. Obtaining a driver’s license requires a certified birth certificate and Social Security card – documentation that can be difficult for a formerly incarcerated person to gather, Freeman said. 

She said the center is working with local Social Security offices and the Office of Vital Records to help people use their prison license as a form of identification to obtain their birth certificate, which can be used to get a Social Security card and driver’s license. 

While most incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people don’t lose their right to vote, those who are convicted of 22 designated crimes in Mississippi lose suffrage. 

Among the disenfranchising crimes are nonviolent offenses such as timber larceny, issuing a bad check and receiving stolen property. Murder, rape and armed robbery were added later in 1968. 

Eleven percent of the state’s population is unable to vote because they were convicted of a disenfranchising , Adams said. That’s about 236,000 people and 62% of those people are Black. 

Framers of the 1890 Constitution placed a lifetime voting ban for those crimes because they believed Black were more prone to commit them. That provision has been challenged in court for having discriminatory intent, but in August the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld it, saying “the racial taint” had been

A person convicted of a disenfranchising crime can regain the right to vote through a bill passed through the Legislature or an executive order or pardon by the governor. 

“That’s a lot of people who can decide whether a person gets the right back,” Adams said, adding that the process can be hard to start if you don’t know your state lawmakers who would have to file a bill on your behalf. 

Between 2007 and 2017, the considered 128 suffrage applications and 45 people had their voting rights restored, according to a 2021 report about felony disenfranchisement by Mississippi Votes and One Voice. 

During the recent legislative session, five people had their rights restored because their suffrage bills became law without the governor’s signature. 

Multiple groups including Mississippi Votes, the ACLU of Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center help people with voting rights restoration and have information online about the process and ways to contact staff to help. 

“Our votes matter, too,” Freeman said. “It matters just as much as someone who has never been involved in the criminal justice system.” 

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba subpoenaed to state crime hearing

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rssfeeds.clarionledger.com – Mississippi – 2022-10-14 08:55:00

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba speaks at City Hall regarding updates on the ongoing water infrastructure issues in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, September 6, 2022.

A Mississippi House committee, which met Thursday to discuss in the capital city, issued a subpoena to Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba ordering him to appear at their next hearing on Nov. 17.

Lumumba had been invited to speak at Thursday’s hearing, but on Wednesday he informed House Judicial B Committee Chair Nick Bain, R-Corinth, that he was sick and would not be attending.

Earlier in the week, Lumumba was absent from Tuesday’s city council meeting, also citing illness, nor was he at a Moral Monday rally held the day before — after having been present at the previous rally two…

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Bennie Thompson receives ‘suspicious’ mail as he preps for another Jan. 6 hearing

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Rep. Bennie Thompson deals with ‘suspicious’ mail as he prepares for another high-profile Jan. 6 hearing

A suspicious package was delivered to the Washington office of Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson as he prepares to lead another hearing investigating efforts of former and his supporters to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election.

What is being called the last Jan. 6 Committee hearing before the November midterm elections is to begin at noon on Thursday. It is slated to be aired by most cable channels, but not Fox, and will again focus on efforts of Trump supporters to invade the U.S. Capitol to try to block Congress from certifying the election results.

READ MORE: ‘An attempted coup’: Rep. Bennie Thompson tells the world what happened on Jan. 6, 2021

Against that backdrop, various national news outlets reported on Tuesday that law enforcement descended on Thompson’s congressional office after a suspicious package was found. Thompson has been in the national news throughout the year as chair of the Jan. 6 Committee. He was appointed to the post by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Late Tuesday, the Democrat and only second African American from Mississippi to serve in Congress in the modern era, said on social media, “A suspicious package was delivered to my office in D.C., and it is under investigation. All the staffers in my office are safe. We will continue to monitor the issue and update you all with more information.”

A report by CNBC said the U.S. Capitol investigated mail containing “concerning language” and possible “suspicious powder or substance.” Reports concluded that no dangerous substance was found in the letter.

Thompson has been outspoken in his belief that the depth and seriousness of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol should be revealed for the nation to see. Most Republican politicians in Washington, including members of the ’s congressional delegation with the exception of Rep. Michael Guest, opposed the investigation.

READ MORE: Rep. Bennie Thompson’s Mississippi colleagues have no comment on his Jan. 6 hearings

The committee already has found bombshell evidence, including testimony that Trump tried to go to the Capitol as his supporters were invading on Jan. 6 and that he rejected pleas for hours by Republican elected officials and members of his staff to make a statement to stop the attack.

“We still have significant information that we have not shown to the public,” Thompson told The New York Times.

Among the topics that could be discussed Thursday include information gathered by documentary filmmakers, the role of the Secret Service on that day as Trump expressed interest in going to the Capitol and possible details of the testimony of Ginni , wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Ginni Thomas testified to the committee behind closed doors.

She supported efforts to throw out the votes of millions of people to ensure Trump was reelected. Her husband was the only member of the nation’s high court to oppose efforts to provide texts such as his wife’s to the committee.

One of the multiple texts from Thomas now in the committee’s possession reads: “Biden family & ballot fraud co-conspirators (elected officials, bureaucrats, social media censorship mongers, fake stream media reporters, etc) are being arrested & detained for ballot fraud right now & over coming days, & will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.” The email was sent to Trump’s chief of staff.

PODCAST: Rep. Bennie Thompson discusses Jan. 6 committee work

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

‘Murder She Wrote’ actress Angela Lansbury dies at 96

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www.wxxv25.com – WXXV Staff – 2022-10-11 14:59:57

Angela Lansbury
FILE – Angela Lansbury poses for a portrait during press day for “Blithe Spirit” in Los Angeles on Dec.16, 2014. (Photo by Casey Curry/Invision/AP, File)

By MARK KENNEDY
AP Entertainment Writer

NEW YORK (AP) – Angela Lansbury, the big-eyed, scene-stealing British actress who kicked up her heels in the Broadway musicals “Mame” and “Gypsy” and solved endless murders as novelist Jessica Fletcher in the long-running TV series “Murder, She Wrote,” has died. She was 96.

Lansbury died Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles, according to a statement from her three…

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Brett Favre on welfare scandal: ‘I have done nothing wrong’

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Brett Favre on welfare scandal: ‘I have done nothing wrong’

Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, who has become a central figure in Mississippi’s ongoing welfare scandal, broke his months-long silence in a statement to Fox News on Tuesday.

Favre has been a subject of Mississippi Today and national reporting this year for being the inspiration behind at least $8 million in welfare misspending. While the former quarterback has not been charged with a , he had been ordered to pay back $1.1 million in welfare dollars he received.

Earlier this month, Favre hired Trump White House attorney Eric Herschmann as his lead counsel. And in recent weeks, several sponsors have reportedly distanced themselves from the the Hall of Fame quarterback and native Mississippian.

“I have been unjustly smeared in the media,” Favre said in a statement to Fox Digital. “I have done nothing wrong, and it is past time to set the record straight.”

Among the welfare expenses Favre inspired was a $5 million payment to University of Southern Mississippi, his alma mater, for a volleyball center. The planners of the project called the building a “wellness center,” claiming the building would serve needy families in the Hattiesburg area.

When Mississippi Today asked Favre in 2020 if he had discussed the volleyball center with then-Gov. Phil Bryant, who oversaw the welfare agency, Favre said, “No.” But text messages uncovered earlier this year and published in Mississippi Today’s “The Backchannel” investigation show Favre had several conversations with Bryant about the project.

In his statement to Fox News this week, Favre said he did not know that project was funded with welfare dollars, and that attorneys vetted the project before it was approved. But he did acknowledge in the statement that the funding came from the government, and he admitted he took money from Mississippi Community Education Center, the nonprofit that facilitated much of the misspending, calling it a “charity.”

“No one ever told me, and I did not know, that funds designated for welfare recipients were going to the University or me,” Favre said. “I tried to help my alma mater USM, a public Mississippi state university, raise funds for a wellness center. My goal was and always will be to improve the athletic facilities at my university.

“State agencies provided the funds to Nancy New’s charity, the Mississippi Community Education Center, which then gave the funds to the University, all with the full knowledge and approval of other State agencies, including the State-wide Institute for Higher Learning, the Governor’s office and the ’s office.”

Mississippi Today and other outlets have reported for years the fact that the Attorney General’s Office and the Institutes for Higher Learning board approved the Wellness Center agreement.

READ MORE: ‘You stuck your neck out for me’: Brett Favre used fame and favors to pull welfare dollars

Separate from the USM volleyball center, Favre also solicited and received welfare funding to launch a pharmaceutical company called Prevacus, which purportedly aimed to develop drugs that would prevent concussions. Favre’s statement to Fox News this week did not allude to this aspect of the welfare scandal.

While Favre has previously said he didn’t know the funding he received was from a program that is supposed to help the poor, text messages published in our “The Backchannel” investigation show he knew he was dealing in government grants. Favre has not been accused of a crime within the scheme and declined to interview with Mississippi Today.

In 2020, Favre told Mississippi Today that the Prevacus project was “about economic development plain and simple!!!” But text messages revealed that Favre had personal motives at heart.

The week Prevacus was supposed to receive its first round of funding from New, Favre texted his partner of top welfare officials: “This all works out we need to buy her and John Davis surprise him with a vehicle I thought maybe John Davis we could get him a raptor.”

Minutes later, Favre followed up: “Honestly give me your thoughts on what you think all this means … When we will make money.”

Favre also once texted: “Call me crazy but my goal is to take home 20 million.”

Text messages also show Favre also briefed Bryant on when the company began receiving funding from the state and that Bryant agreed to accept stock in Prevacus after he left office – until State Auditor Shad White’s early 2020 arrests derailed the arrangement.

Bryant explained to Mississippi Today that he didn’t read his texts carefully enough to appreciate what the men were saying or asking of him.

READ MORE: Former Gov. Phil Bryant subpoenaed again, this time for texts related to Brett Favre’s pharma project

Editor’s note: Mississippi Today Editor-in-Chief Adam Ganucheau’s mother signed off on the language of a lease agreement to construct a University of Southern Mississippi volleyball stadium. Read more about that here.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Black Americans seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted

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Black Americans are seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted

Eddie Lee Howard Jr. and Sherwood Brown each spent 26 years on Mississippi’s death row for murders they did not commit — only to walk free last year.

They are far from alone. They are two of 23 Black who have been exonerated in recent decades. Four other exonerees were white.

A new study by the National Registry of Exonerations shows that Black Americans are seven times more likely than white Americans to be falsely convicted of serious crimes.

Howard’s lawyer, Chris Fabricant, said picked up his client “because he was Black and because he had a record.”

Howard and Brown were the fifth and sixth exonerated Mississippians who were convicted as a result of the work of forensic odontologist Michael West of Hattiesburg, who has repeatedly testified he found bite marks on victims and then linked those marks to suspects identified by law enforcement.

Those wrongfully convicted in those cases served a combined 107 years in prison — more than half of them on death row.

In examining more than 350 DNA exonerations across the U.S., the Innocence Project found that 45% of these cases involved the misapplication of forensic science through such unreliable methods as bite marks.

“With notable exceptions, prosecutors and law enforcement are not going out of their way to convict innocent people,” said Fabricant, the author of Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System

What happens instead, he said, is once authorities have a target, the prosecutor tells forensic experts something like, “Here’s the guy. We really need the match to tighten this up.”

Experts in that situation are going to make the match because “our minds are programmed to match patterns,” he said. “And once you suggest a pattern, it’s easy to match.”

Junk science is hardly alone in leading to wrongful convictions. Mistaken eyewitness identifications make up about 70% of DNA exonerations. And 18% of these cases involve false or misleading testimony by informants.

‘It really constituted deliberate indifference’

Kennedy Brewer and Lavon Brooks each spent more than 15 years behind bars for murders of toddler girls they never committed.

Mississippi pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne performed autopsies on the two slain 3-year-olds in Noxubee County. He saw marks on the bodies and called in his friend, West, who identified 19 marks that Brewer “indeed and without a doubt” inflicted on the body of the victim he was charged with killing. He gave almost identical testimony in Brooks’ case.

The trial judge permitted West’s expert testimony in Brewer’s 1995 trial, despite the fact West had been the first member ever suspended by the American Board of Forensic Odontology. In 1994, an American Academy of Forensic Sciences committee suspended West, who was forced to resign in 2006.

DNA later cleared the two men and fingered the real killer, Justin Albert Johnson, who confessed that he raped and killed the two girls before throwing their bodies into ponds. Experts said what West identified as bite marks were actually insect bites.

“Michael West was so reckless with his pronouncements that non-human marks on people’s skins came from innocent people’s teeth that it really constituted deliberate indifference, which in many states you could be prosecuted for,” said Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, which represented Brewer and Brooks.

On the day the pair were exonerated in 2008, Neufeld spoke to the Black Mississippians gathered in the courthouse in Macon. “They told us that was the first day in their lives they felt they had a presence in the courthouse, and they felt the courthouse was theirs,” he said. 

That was revelatory, he said. “Steven Hayne was part of the machine that sent poor people of color to prison without due process.”

Even after their exonerations, West insisted Brooks and Brewer had bitten the girls.

West has made his mark as a self-proclaimed expert in many fields. In courts, judges in at least 10 states have permitted him to testify as an expert in shoes, footprints, fingernail scratches, trace metals, gunshot residue, scene reconstruction, blood spatters, wound patterns, and “liquid splash patterns.”

He believed so strongly in his expertise that he once bragged to a lawyer that his error rate was “something less than my Savior, Jesus Christ.”

He claimed to have a footprint on a slain child’s face to an athletic shoe found in a neighbor’s apartment, according to the ABA Journal. He claimed to have matched a bruise on a slain child’s abdomen to a suspect’s shoe. 

He claimed to have matched the bite marks in a half-eaten bologna sandwich to the primary suspect. He also claimed to have found bite marks on bodies using ultraviolet light — something no other expert was able to replicate.

100th Black American since 1973 exonerated from a death sentence 

In Brown’s triple homicide case, West wrote prosecutors: “The wound on the left wrist of Sherwood Brown is a human bitemark. It is a bitemark of great severity and is consistant [sic] with the time of the attack. The bitemark pattern is highly consistant [sic] with the dentition of Evanlie [sic] Boyd.”

The prosecution used West’s conclusion as evidence against Brown as well as the testimony of a jailhouse informant who claimed Brown confessed to the murders. At trial, prosecutors told jurors the blood found on the sole of Brown’s shoe came from the victims.

A jury sentenced Brown to death for the murder of 13-year-old Evangela Boyd. He also received two life sentences for the murders of her mother and grandmother. 

But DNA tests eventually done told a different story: the bloody footprints in and around the murder scene contained only female DNA and the blood spot on Brown’s shoe contained only male DNA. No evidence, including hair and DNA, connected Brown to the crime scene or the body. None of his fingerprints was found at the scene.

On Aug. 24, 2021, a circuit judge freed Brown at the request of the district attorney, who said his office lacked the evidence to prosecute. Brown was the 100th Black American since 1973 to be exonerated from a wrongful conviction and death sentence.

As for Howard, he was convicted of the 1992 rape and stabbing death of 84-year-old Georgia Kemp of Columbus. She had been beaten and stabbed to death, and the trauma to her body suggested she had been sexually assaulted. A rape kit found no semen.

Six days later, authorities charged Howard, a sex offender just released from prison, with the crime. 

The judge allowed Howard to represent himself at trial, even though he suffered from mental illness, and the ordered a new trial.

At the second trial, his former girlfriend testified that he sometimes bit her during sex.

The only evidence that linked Howard to the crime? West’s testimony that he found three bite marks on the victim’s body that matched Howard’s teeth.

But West didn’t stop there. He even claimed he could tell from the bite marks that Kemp was “fighting for her life” when she was bitten.

In his closing statement, then-District Attorney Forrest Allgood praised West as a visionary.

“The progress of mankind has been carried forward on the backs of people like Michael West,” he said. “The church threatened to burn Copernicus (actually Galileo) because he dared to say that the planets didn’t revolve around the earth. So it was with Michael West.”

The jury convicted Howard, and once again, an innocent man was sentenced to death.

In a 2016 hearing, Howard’s attorneys showed that none of his DNA had been found at the crime scene or on the murder weapon. (Another man’s DNA was found there.) There was also no DNA on the claimed bite marks or on the victim’s clothing, body or bed sheets.

Three forensic odontologists found the three bite marks West claimed to have found aren’t visible in autopsy photographs, “nor were the alleged bite marks visible by the naked eye or noted in the autopsy report.”

After winning a new trial, Howard saw all his charges thrown out on Jan. 8, 2021, after the district attorney concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute.

In 2009, Brewer sued Hayne and West for $18 million, but a federal judge dismissed the , saying qualified immunity protected the pair. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in 2017.

For his wrongful conviction, Brewer received $500,000 from the of Mississippi.

Tucker Carrington, co-author of a book about Hayne and West, The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist, said he believes there are other innocent people behind bars because of the pair’s testimony.

“After Brooks and Brewer were exonerated, we tried to identify as many cases as we could,” he said.

In addition to Brown and Howard, “we found a host of other cases that were problematic,” he said. “They were cases where I thought the facts were egregious involving Hayne or West or both, but we were unable to win, because the cases had lingered too long or the merits weren’t sufficient to prevail.”

Jimmie Duncan remains on Louisiana’s death row for the 1993 death of 3-year-old Haley Oliveaux. West claims he found bite marks on the child’s cheek, but a video shows no marks on her cheek until after West jammed a mold of teeth into the child’s cheek.

In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences reported that “imprecise or exaggerated expert testimony has sometimes contributed to the admission or erroneous or misleading evidence.”

The report concluded there was no basis in science for forensic odontologists to conclude someone is “the biter,” excluding all other suspects. The American Board of Forensic Odontology changed its guidelines to bar such testimony.

In 2011, West admitted the very methods he used to put so many behind bars were invalid. “I no longer believe in bite-mark analysis,” he said. “I don’t think it should be used in court. I think you should use DNA. Throw bite marks out.”

As for Hayne, there have been six Mississippians exonerated from prison related to his testimony.

In 2018, Jeffrey Havard was removed from death row after Hayne reversed himself, saying shaken baby syndrome wasn’t the cause of death as he originally ruled. 

At Havard’s original trial, Hayne went along with the district attorney’s suggestion that there had been a sexual assault, but Hayne reversed himself on that issue, too, saying he didn’t believe such an assault took place.

Despite those reversals, Havard remains behind bars. Hayne has since died.

Under the Law of Moses, false witnesses received the same punishment as those guilty of the crimes.

While that principle doesn’t appear in American jurisprudence, a police officer in California can be convicted of a felony for making a false statement in a report.

Mississippi has no such law.

Email Jerry.Mitchell@MississippiCIR.org. 

You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. 

This story was produced in partnership with the Community Foundation for Mississippi’s local collaborative, which is independently funded in part by Microsoft Corp. The collaborative includes Mississippi Today, MCIR, the Clarion Ledger, the Jackson Advocate, Jackson State University and Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jackson: City settles in JPD roadblock lawsuit, agrees to federal oversight

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City settles in JPD roadblock lawsuit, agrees to federal oversight

The City of Jackson has agreed to federal oversight of its roadblock policy in a settlement announced this week. 

The over the roadblock policy was filed in February by the (MCJ) and the MacArthur Justice Center, and has been in settlement negotiations since early March. 

The Jackson Department calls the roadblock policy “Ticket Arrest Tow.” It is used around the city to check if drivers have valid licenses, insurance and registration. Police officials say the roadblocks also allow officers to see if a driver has an active warrant.

Under the terms of the settlement, roadblocks will be required to be evenly distributed across Jackson, may not be used for general control, and may only be implemented in specific circumstances relating to alcohol and drug consumption or high rates of car crashes. It also requires the Jackson Police Department to record and report data regarding its use of roadblocks and to distribute know-your-rights flyers at each checkpoint. 

The federal court enforcement of this settlement will continue for the next four years. 

Between Jan. 4 to March 18, Jackson police officers made 208 arrests – 10 for felonies, 198 for misdemeanors – from its roadblocks, according to information obtained through a public records request shared with MCJ. 

During that period, Jackson police officers also issued 1,149 citations and towed 186 vehicles. 

Members of the Mississippi Alliance for Public Safety, who reached out to MCJ about the roadblock issues, spoke with over 80 people in South and West Jackson, where they said they’d heard most of the roadblocks were occurring, and found many had negative experiences.

People said they felt inconvenienced and unable to move in and out of their communities. Alliance members heard a story about a mother who walked home with her children in the rain because her car was towed after going through a checkpoint. 

Timothy Halcomb, expresses his gratitude regarding the outcome of a class action lawsuit calling for an overhaul of JPD’s “Ticket, Arrest and Tow” (TAT) program, during a press conference held Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, in Jackson’s Smith Park. the press conference.

Timothy Halcomb, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he got involved after his experience with a roadblock in his community in South Jackson.

‘We live in a poor neighborhood, but that doesn’t make us criminals,” Halcomb said at a press conference Friday. “Why are they doing this to us?” 

READ MORE: JPD roadblock lawsuit: Plaintiffs, city in settlement negotiations

Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center, said he believes this policy was borne out of concern about violent crime, but police officers address the problem by focusing their efforts on minor crimes.

“One thing I would urge the residents of Jackson to think about is, when we demand action from the police, we need to be careful what we ask for because we just might get it,” Johnson said. 

Johnson offered compliments to the city on its handling of the lawsuit for their willingness to negotiate, and in doing so, for saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation fees. 

The legal team said their goal was to have roadblocks completely eliminated, citing a body of evidence that roadblocks disproportionately impact poorer residents and do not meaningfully reduce crime. While this goal was not achieved, they said the settlement reduces harm to residents and they will continue to monitor Jackson’s adherence to it. 

“While we continue to hold Jackson accountable for violations just as we would any other police department across the , we do so because we want this capital city to be great, we believe that it can be,” Johnson said. “I believe that the settlement we’ve announced today, and the people who’ve put it together in the way they have, is really good that we are moving in the right direction.” 

Paloma Wu, MCJ’s deputy director of impact litigation, said they also have evidence that roadblock policies are a problem across the state, one she intends to continue pursuing. 

“(Roadblocks) waste precious police resources needed for responding to violent crime, and make poor residents poorer without making them safer,” Wu said. 

Editor’s note: Vangela M. Wade, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, is a member of Mississippi Today’s board of directors.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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