Monday, February 23, 2009

Besides bad forensic science

The National Academy of Science's report on the sorry state of forensic science in America continues to garner attention in the press, but two other articles caught my attention today. The first is about the use of jailhouse snitches in the Virginian-Pilot in Hampton Roads.

Police in Norfolk labeled Timothy W. Gurley unreliable and a liar, according to court documents. But his long criminal history didn't prevent him from helping authorities in several high-profile cases including the prescription drug trafficking case of Dr. Sidney Loxley and the double murder trial of Eddie Makdessi, extradited from Russia to face charges that he killed his wife and her lover. In December, Gurley testified in the trial of Navy Lt. Michael Lee Everage, who was convicted of murder in the bludgeoning of his wife with a truck mirror.

Gurley hopes a judge will slash his 25-year sentence as thanks for his cooperation.
And then this hilarious money-quote. Kudos to the author for this juxtaposition of facts:
"It is our duty to put forth only the credible witnesses who have valuable testimony to provide, no matter who they are," said Norfolk's Commonwealth's Attorney Robert C. Slaughter III.

[Jailhouse snitch] Jamaal Skeeter has lied about his own name.
Second, there's a piece on Grits for Breakfast about the unreliability of polygraph tests, "no matter who uses them, or why." In particular the blog refers to the common use of polygraphs to screen job applicants.
Equally unfair would be to rely on polygraph testing, which amounts to junk science at its worst, to deny potential troopers employment. I don't know why anyone still thinks these things are reliable. As one critic put it, "There's something about us Americans that makes us believe in the myth of the lie detector. It's as much of a myth as the Tooth Fairy."
Lie detectors were ruled to be generally inadmissible in court in the landmark 1923 case Frye, but played a part in police investigations far into the late 20th century, and therefore might have contributed to wrongful convictions which are being served today.

1 comment:

OliveRose said...

This sounds all so familiar, didn't we just execute someone who had a jailhouse snitch as a "creditable" witness. Sad, really sad.