Thursday, January 18, 2024

Astrology, Palm Reading, and Bite Mark Analysis

Things that have no basis in science. "Bite mark analysis has no basis in science, experts now say. Why is it still being used in court?" An excerpt:

    Even now, as a free man, Keith Harward finds it hard to explain what it was like to sit in a courtroom, on trial for a rape and murder he knew he didn’t commit, watching someone considered an expert testify with certitude that bite marks on the victim’s leg matched his teeth.

    “I still to this day wonder what the hell just went on,” he told NBC News at his home in North Carolina. “Sometimes I break down and bawl, because I can’t explain to you or anybody else, other than people who’ve been in my situation.”

    No evidence connected Harward to the horrific 1982 crime, but he happened to be among a group of sailors from a Navy ship in dry dock in Newport News, Virginia, who were required to give dental impressions, since the assailant had been wearing a Navy uniform. Two forensic dentists told two separate juries that Harward’s teeth matched “to a scientific certainty” a bite mark on the rape victim’s skin. Harward spent 33 years in prison until, with the help of the Innocence Project, he was exonerated in 2016 by DNA evidence that pointed to another sailor as the killer.

    The Innocence Project says Harward is among at least 36 people who have been exonerated after having been wrongfully convicted based on now-debunked bite mark comparisons. One of them, Eddie Lee Howard, was on death row in Mississippi when he was freed in 2021 after crime scene DNA was matched to someone else.

    Four separate governmental scientific bodies have concluded that bite mark analysis has no basis in science. That includes the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which said in 2016 that “available scientific evidence strongly suggests that examiners not only cannot identify the source of bitemark with reasonable accuracy, they cannot even consistently agree on whether an injury is a human bitemark.” The National Institute of Standards and Technology, the gold standard of measurement science, said in 2022 that bite mark forensics “lacks a sufficient scientific foundation” because “human dental patterns have not been shown to be unique at the individual level.”

    One 2016 study found that self-described experts couldn’t distinguish between human and animal bite marks. Others have documented how marks in human skin change over time through healing or decomposition.

As for why bite mark analysis continues to be used in courts, the answer is that prosecutors are, for the most part, more interested in gaining convictions than in justice, and bite mark testimony makes it easier to get those convictions. As for the courts, they mostly just prefer finality over determining guilt or innocence. 

     Jon Low often comments about how it is morally wrong (i.e., lying) to plead guilty to a crime you did not commit. So this part from the article impressed me:

    Charles McCrory is spending his 38th year behind bars, convicted of killing his wife. The bite mark expert in his case recanted his testimony, saying he now knows he cannot say whether a bite mark on the victim matched McCrory’s teeth. Yet the Alabama courts have declined to free McCrory.

And yet the prosecutors refused to concede that their case was flawed. 

    Alabama’s Court of Criminal Appeals ruled earlier this year that the jury was capable of deciding on its own whether the bite marks matched, a finding that ignores science suggesting such perceived visual matches cannot be valid. The court also cited other evidence in the case, including a witness who said he saw McCrory’s truck at the house during the time of the murder. No physical or forensic evidence links him to the crime.

    Three years ago, after the bite mark evidence in his case collapsed, McCrory was offered a deal: Plead guilty and walk free. He refused.

    “I refused to take it because I didn’t kill her,” McCrory told NBC News from his prison facility. “I did not kill my wife.”

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