This week, we chat about rude shaped shortbread and add a dash of positivity with three good things. We review The Innocence Files and then ask would you flash a StreetView camera car.
The Innocence Files
The new Netflix series, The Innocence Files, debuted on 15 April 2020 and is broken down into three, three episode, chunks which each look at a different cases being fought by the Innocence Project. These three chunks each have a focus on why the purported perpetrator of these crimes was found guilty, the first being evidence, the second being witness testimony and the third being the prosecution attorney.
In this first three episodes we hear the story of the brutal murder of three year old, Courtney Smith, on 15 September 1990. She was abducted from a room she shared with her two other sisters, then aged 5 and 1. Her body way found close to the family home, in a pond two days later. Courtney’s sister, Ashley, became a key witness in the case as she said that she saw the man who took her sister. She had identified a man called Levon Brooks and he was arrested.
The pathologist who conducted the autopsy found possible bite marks on her wrist and called in forensic dentist, Dr Micheal West. The pathologist also concluded that she had been sexually assaulted. They took dental impressions from Levon and Dr West testified “It could be no one but Levon Brooks that bit this girl’s arm”.
Levon was found guilty, despite having an alibi and unreliable eyewitness testimony and was sentenced to life. He was just 26 years old when he was convicted in January 1992.
In May 1992, another three year old, Christine Jackson, was abducted from her home, raped and murdered. This occurred in the same town that Courtney Smith was murdered in. She was also found in a body of water, 500 yards from her home. Christine’s mother’s boyfriend – Kennedy Brewer – became a suspect.
Similar to the first case, the medical examiner who conducted Christine’s autopsy found what he believed to bite marks and called in Dr Micheal West. Dr West, again, concluded that the 19 marks found on her body were“indeed and without a doubt” made by Kennedy. The court allowed his testimony. Kennedy was eventually convicted of capital murder and sexual battery on 24 March 1995. He was, however, sentenced to death.
The cases came to the attention of the Innocence Project who began investigating and asking for DNA to be tested. The results from these DNA test excluded both Levon and Kennedy from the murders they were incarcerated for.
The DNA did, however, match someone else. Justin Albert Johnson. It matched him in both cases. Johnson was arrested and interviewed. He admitted to committing both murders. After his confession, Levon and Kennedy were freed from jail. Levon had served 16 years and Kennedy had served 15 years on death row.
But let’s circle back to the bite mark evidence which effectively sent both of these men to jail. Forensic odontology is applying dental science to legal situations. It’s often used to identify human remains by comparing them to dental records or putting an age on unidentified remains. Bite mark analysis or comparison, however is a bit less cut and dry as it boils down to the interpretations and assumptions of the odontologist. We all bruise and mark differently and we all have different teeth. This became pretty popular after Ted Bundy’s arrest and conviction. The documentary actually features Dr Richard Souviron who testified in Bundy’s case.
Dr West, the presiding forensic odontologist in the documentary is, in my opinion, a terrible human. The National Academy of Sciences published a study in 2009 which effectively discredits bite mark analysis/comparison as a means to identify and/or convict defendants. In 2011, West, at a deposition, said that he no longer believed in bite mark analysis and DNA should be used instead. This deposition, parts shown in the documentary, was also a grade A shit show. This is a quote from a Washington Post journalist via abovethelaw.com: “West frequently has been brash, prickly, and prone to fits of braggadocio on the witness stand. This time, he was also belligerent, profane, and combative. He was openly contemptuous of the entire process — which again was at heart about whether or not the state of Mississippi should put a man to death. The transcript records that he belched before one answer. On two occasions, as he grew increasingly annoyed at Fabricant’s questions, West offered hypotheticals that involved him killing Fabricant”. Despite discretisation of bite mark analysis/comparison – Dr West doesn’t back down from his stance. He staunchly believes he was correct. He even goes so far to say that the two men probably assisted with the murders.
If that isn’t enough of a kicker, the real perpetrator, Justin Albert Johnson, after admitting to the murders is asked by the investigators whether or not he bit either of the girls during the attacks. He replies no. The “bite marks” were probably from crayfish residing the water where both girls bodies were found.
The Innocence Project https://www.innocenceproject.org/cases/kennedy-brewer/
The Innocence Project https://www.innocenceproject.org/cases/levon-brooks/
Academic OUP https://academic.oup.com/jlb/article/4/3/617/458430
CBC – https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/gunman-restrained-girlfriend-stole-victim-vehicle-ns-1.5543194
CBC – https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/gunman-restrained-girlfriend-stole-victim-vehicle-ns-1.5543194)
ABC – https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-01/google-street-view-flasher-reported-for-exposing-breasts-in-sa/6365682