Posts Tagged ‘prosecutorial misconduct’

Recently Overturned Convictions in New York

Alejandra de la Fuente — July 12, 2016 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (0)

New York has seen a series of overturned convictions recently, including those of Wayne Martin, Myron Green, Carl Dukes, and Lavell Jones.

Wayne Martin

Martin was convicted in 2010 for the 2005 execution-style murders of Donald Turner Sr. and Ricardo Davids during a robbery-gone-wrong at a tire shop in Brooklyn, in which Turner’s son, Donald Turner Jr., was also injured. Despite his incessant claims of innocence and a hat containing his DNA being the only evidence placing him at the scene, Martin was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutorial misconduct ultimately led a judge to overturn Martin’s double homicide conviction.

Pending a hearing to overturn the conviction, an “irregularity” was found in the homicide investigation report. Prosecutors with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Appeals Bureau discovered that the name of an alternate suspect, Jeffrey Joseph, was included in the report, which was altered to exclude Joseph as a possible shooter—information that was not handed over to the defense. The Brooklyn DA’s Office then asked that Martin’s conviction be set aside and stated that the issue would be investigated further. They went on to say that although they have completed their investigation into Martin’s constitutional violations, they still need to look into the underlying facts of the case. One of Martin’s attorneys joined the prosecution’s motion to vacate the conviction and requested that the indictment be dismissed and his client be released.

In addition to the information regarding the homicide investigation report, it was revealed that former Assistant District Attorney Marc Fliedner failed to provide Martin’s attorney with a police report that could have helped his client’s case. That report contained a statement from Michael Belgrove, who claimed that he recognized Allan Cameron as the man that opened fire at the tire shop when he saw him on television in police custody for the murder of NYPD Officer Dillion Stewart. Both alternate suspects in the 2005 murders are currently in prison, as Joseph was convicted of a different murder and Cameron was convicted of Stewart’s murder.

As prosecutors decide whether to retry Martin, the judge ordered that he would remain in prison until a hearing on July 21.

Myron Green

Green was convicted of manslaughter and reckless endangerment after a driver killed Donald Norton, a pedestrian, in 2012. Green told officers who responded to the incident that he had taken anti-anxiety medications that made him sleepy. He was facing two to six years in prison when the New York Appellate Division overturned his conviction and ordered a new trial.

Police had ignored Green’s request for a lawyer and took his statements and blood tests. The judge during his trial permitted those statements and tests to be presented, which the appeals court ruled the judge improperly allowed. The Appellate Division Justices stated that although he failed a field sobriety test according to that information, along with other admissible evidence, the evidence that was improperly allowed possibly could have contributed to his conviction.

Carl Dukes and Lavell Jones

Dukes and Jones were convicted for the February 1997 murder of a University at Albany student, Erik Mitchell. Police alleged that they killed Mitchell so that he would not be able to testify against them for an October 1996 robbery of his apartment. Dukes and Jones have long admitted that they were involved in the robbery, but had nothing to do with Mitchell’s murder a few months later. Their murder convictions were largely due to a false confession that Jones, who was represented by the Exoneration Initiative when his conviction was overturned, made after police interrogated him for 36 hours.

A judge overturned their convictions last week after the Albany County District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to dismiss the murder charges. Dukes and Jones were also allowed to plead guilty to single counts of robbery for the crime in October 1996. They were sentenced to the maximum of 14 years, but received time served for the past almost 20 years they have spent behind bars, and were released.

The Albany County DA’s Office’s motion to dismiss Dukes’ and Jones’ convictions came after Jeffrey Conrad confessed to Mitchell’s murder. They stated that prosecutors believed him because he was able to provide details about the murder that only the killer could have known. Conrad is currently in an Ohio prison for another murder.

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Canadian Exoneree Receives Compensation for His Wrongful Conviction

Alejandra de la Fuente — June 15, 2016 @ 4:00 PM — Comments (0)

Ivan Henry, who was exonerated in 2010, was awarded the equivalent of $6.3 million USD on Wednesday, June 8 for his wrongful conviction. The $8 million in Canadian Dollars compensated him for the 27 years he spent behind bars for the ten 1981 through 1982 sexual assaults of eight women that he did not commit.

Henry’s conviction was overturned due to the prosecution’s failure to disclose evidence to the defense, including witness statements, along with fingerprints and tool marks that were found at the crime scenes. In addition, the prosecution also neglected to inform Henry that in at least one of the sexual assaults for which he was convicted, police believed someone else was responsible for the crime. The judge who overturned his conviction stated that had prosecutors disclosed that information, Henry most likely would have been acquitted at his trial in 1983. The judge added that weak eyewitness identification was the main reason Henry, who represented himself at his trial, was convicted.

The state was permitted to incarcerate Henry for the rest of his life because the nature of the sexual assaults labeled him as a dangerous defender.

Another man, who confessed to three of the crimes decades later, was sent to prison for them and died shortly thereafter.

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Kerry Max Cook Gets One Step Closer to Full Exoneration

Alejandra de la Fuente — June 15, 2016 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (0)

Kerry Max Cook, who has been fighting for his exoneration since his wrongful conviction decades ago, got one step closer to that goal when a judge dismissed the charges against him on Monday, June 6. Cook was convicted of the 1977 murder of a 21-year-old East Texas woman and sentenced to death in 1978, but has always insisted he was innocent of killing Linda Jo Edwards. He was released from prison in 1999 after he accepted a plea deal that prosecutors offered him, which entailed a sentence of time served—meaning he would not have to return to prison—as long as he plead no contest. Despite his freedom, Cook remained a convicted felon, and has continued fighting for his full exoneration.

Cook’s attorneys argued in court recently that from 1999 to 2015, after six rounds of DNA testing were performed, results determined that no evidence was identified proving Cook was at the scene of the murder. The testing did, however, confirm that semen present in the victim’s underwear belonged to James Mayfield, Edwards’ boss and ex-lover. According to Cook’s attorneys, the extramarital affair that Mayfield had with his employee did not end well. Mayfield, who has denied any involvement in Edwards’ murder, has never been charged in relation to the crime, despite authorities considering him a longtime suspect. According to several interviews with authorities and his original testimony, Mayfield claimed that his affair with Edwards ended three weeks before she was killed. In April, however, he admitted that they had sex the day before her murder after authorities re-interviewed him and granted him immunity from prosecution. That April confession suggested that Mayfield’s original testimony was false.

Cook’s attorneys and prosecutors came to an agreement to dismiss the charges against him, which a judge approved on June 6. The judge’s order claimed that in addition to a witness’ false testimony, the prosecution failed to disclose a taped interview with a manager of the apartment complex where the murder took place that would have bolstered Cook’s defense, both of which contributed to a violation of Cook’s rights.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will now hear the case. If the court grants Cook a full exoneration, he could be eligible to receive more than $3 million from the state of Texas, along with additional benefits, in compensation for the almost 20 years he spent wrongfully incarcerated on death row.

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Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct Released on Fifth Anniversary of Connick v. Thompson Decision

Alejandra de la Fuente — April 06, 2016 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 29 marked the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Connick v. Thompson, a case involving John Thompson, who was convicted in Louisiana in 1984 for robbery and murder that he did not commit. After being prosecuted for the robbery, the district attorney was able to secure the death penalty for Thompson’s murder charge. While Thompson was at the Louisiana State Penitentiary known as Angola facing his seventh execution date, his appellate attorneys hired a private investigator that discovered scientific evidence suggesting he was innocent of the robbery. That evidence had been concealed by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office for 15 years.

After spending 18 years in prison, 14 of them in solitary confinement on death row, Thompson was exonerated of both crimes in 2003. When he was released, he was given $10 and a bus ticket from the state of Louisiana. Thompson subsequently sued the district attorney’s office and was awarded $14 million for his years spent on death row. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court after the state appealed the $14 million verdict. A decision was reached in Connick v. Thompson on March 29, 2011 with Justice Clarence Thomas presenting the 5-4 majority opinion. The Court granted prosecutors broad immunity for their misconduct after ruling that the district attorney’s office could not be held liable. This ruling voided the hefty award given by the jury to Thompson.

The Innocence Project, the Veritas Initiative at Santa Clara University, Innocence Project New Orleans, and Resurrection After Exoneration formed the Prosecutorial Oversight Coalition following the Supreme Court’s decision. The purpose of the coalition focused on prosecutorial error and misconduct and the many instances in which no one was seemingly being held accountable for those actions.

The Prosecutorial Oversight Coalition released a report this year on the anniversary of the Connick v. Thompson decision, titled Prosecutorial Oversight: A National Dialogue in the Wake of Connick v. Thompson. The report, which calls for greater prosecutor transparency and accountability, details the coalition’s original research findings. Over a five-year time span, the coalition reviewed court findings of misconduct for five geographically diverse states, including California, Arizona, Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York. Likely an undercount due to the difficulty of identifying this type of behavior, they documented 660 findings of misconduct.

The coalition also assembled a number of forums in those five states with panelists from all facets of the criminal justice system in order to start a meaningful dialogue about the issue and to suggest system recommendations that would promote more accountability. Highlights from those forums were also included in the report. Current and former prosecutors, ethics professors, members of state bar disciplinary committees, exonerees, defense lawyers, and judges all participated in the forums.

The report’s recommendations, which are geared towards prosecutors, courts, state lawmakers, and state bar oversight entities, were greatly influenced by the forum discussions.

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More Than a Mistake: The Manipulation Inherent in False Confessions

Alejandra de la Fuente — January 27, 2015 @ 10:22 AM — Comments (1)

It is difficult to learn that people are convicted for crimes they did not commit. Accepting the existence of wrongful convictions means facing the fact that America’s criminal justice system is not infallible. But we must acknowledge that while our legal system portrays itself as only punishing those who are guilty, there are many weak areas where the innocent can mistakenly slip through the cracks. For example, it is extremely common for eyewitnesses to inadvertently identify an innocent person, as did Jennifer Thompson when she wrongly identified Ronald Cotton as the man who raped her. The jury, strongly influenced by the eyewitness testimony, thus convicts the innocent man. In such a case, neither the jury nor the eyewitness intends to be unjust; they mistakenly believe that they have correctly identified the criminal.

Unfortunately, there are also instances where wrongful convictions are more than a mistake. While some wrongful convictions can be at least partially explained away by human error, other cases show signs of outright manipulation. A strong indicator that some sort of deception or coercion was inherent in the wrongful conviction is the existence of a false confession.

Police interrogations are a common source of manipulation leading to false confessions. In a recent study, psychologists Stephen Porter and Julia Shaw found that not only is it surprisingly easy to create false memories of committing crime, but also that many of the methods that lead to the creation of these false memories are commonly employed in police interrogations as part of the Reid technique. For example, interrogations following the Reid technique are designed to be accusatory and to elicit a confession from the suspect, and often make use of false evidence and social pressures. All of these methods were employed by Porter and Shaw in their study, and contributed to the creation of the participants’ false memories. In other words, police interrogations are not always intended to correctly identify the culprit; rather, the police often assume that the suspect is guilty and do whatever it takes to force a confession out of him or her, including manipulating the suspect’s memory and producing a false confession.

Eddie Joe Lloyd’s case provides an even more straightforwardly deceitful example of how police interrogations can lead to false confessions. Police convinced the mentally ill Lloyd that by incriminating himself in the 1984 murder of a 16-year-old girl, he would influence the real culprit to confess and thus be helping the police solve a crime. Of course, police instead used his confession to implicate Lloyd himself, and he was sentenced to life in prison, which he served until being exonerated with DNA evidence in 2002. It’s clear, then, that the manipulation involved in police interrogations is not harmless. Confessions are extremely powerful evidence that often lead to conviction, and police who use these sorts of coercive strategies to encourage suspects to falsely confess are a major player in wrongful convictions.

Police are not the only ones guilty of manipulative techniques, however. Prosecutors also play a role in encouraging false confessions through the practice of plea bargaining. Judge Jed S. Rakoff has written an informative article about how prosecutor’s offers of a plea bargain can lead innocent people to plead guilty. While it may seem like plea bargains actually offer defendants a good deal, for example, serving life in prison instead of being charged with the death penalty if they simply plead guilty to the crime without a trial, we must remember that these bargains can be a deal with the devil. If an innocent person has been so far implicated in a crime that he or she is forced to go to court, he or she may believe there is no possibility of being proved innocent, and will instead resort to taking whatever scraps the prosecutor throws at them in the form of a plea bargain. The innocent person is then stuck with a charge and prison time, and faces the obstacle of going against his own confession if he ever wants to prove himself innocent. Rakoff notes that an estimated 2 to 8 percent of convicted felons are actually innocent and plead guilty to avoid harsher sentences, and that 10 percent of the Innocence Project’s exonerations had previously plead guilty to their charge. Plea bargains can certainly be a temptation that is hard to avoid.

Too many innocent people are being manipulated to falsely confess and subsequently convicted based on these false confessions. The fact that players in the criminal justice system are actually working in ways to encourage these false confessions is an unfortunate truth that must be recognized in the fight against wrongful convictions.

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Browsing the National Registry of Exonerations

Alejandra de la Fuente — October 30, 2014 @ 9:29 AM — Comments (0)

The National Registry of Exonerations is an outstanding source of information about exonerations in the United States since 1989. It is searchable, and recently, we took some time to create a short summary of exonerations in the State of Florida.

There have been 50 exonerations listed for Florida, including capital cases, since 1989. Fifteen have been based on new DNA evidence.  Florida leads the nation in exonerations for death penalty cases.

The factors contributing to Florida exonerations range from mistaken witness identification, official misconduct, perjury, false accusation, inadequate legal defense, and false or misleading forensic evidence. By far, the leading factor in Florida cases is perjury of false accusation.

Once you search for the exonerations you wish to examine, links will take you to case summary pages. Here are some examples. Click on the last names to learn more about these cases on the Registry website.

Neely, Todd; Florida; Exonerated 1989; Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct.

Townsend, Jerry; Florida; Exonerated 2001; Mistaken Witness ID, False Confession.

Britt, Cheydrick; Florida; Exonerated 2013; False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense.

Mr. Britt was exonerated with assistance from the Innocence Project of Florida just last year. In the coming months, we anticipate up to three more exonerations. Stay tuned and take some time to read about all of Florida’s exonerees, many of whom IPF has helped to free, and learn about all of the cases of injustice throughout the United States.

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Motivated by Innocence, Jabbar Collins Awarded $13 Million

Alejandra de la Fuente — October 22, 2014 @ 10:56 AM — Comments (0)

Jabbar Collins was wrongfully convicted at age 20 of the murder of a rabbi in New York.  Highly motivated by his innocence, Collins, who dropped out of school when he was 16, spent countless hours in the prison library learning what he needed to know to request case documents and trial transcripts and represent himself pro se.  Last summer, with the help of his lawyer, Collins was awarded a $10 million settlement by New York City and another $3 million by the State of New York.

Attorney Joel Rudin, who represents Collins, says the $13 million total ties the record amount for a wrongfully convicted defendant in New York City.

In 1994, Collins was arrested for the murder of a rabbi in Brooklyn, New York, during a robbery.  The three witnesses who testified against him had been coerced and bribed by the prosecutor, although during Collins’ trial, the defense was assured that these confidential informants received nothing in exchange for their testimony.

Although a rogue prosecutor eager to “solve” a high-profile slaying is blamed for Collins’ conviction, his case provided support for claims that the office of former Brooklyn district attorney Charles J. Hynes didn’t adequately rein in prosecutors who broke the rules.

Under Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who ran his election campaign on the promise that he would clean up the string of wrongful convictions and other shenanigans that occurred during Hynes tenure, the City and State of New York have paid out nearly $20 million and are currently being sued for more than $200 million.


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Michigan Man Exonerated After 17 Years in Prison

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 09, 2014 @ 9:01 AM — Comments (0)

Jaime Lee Peterson was exonerated today after spending 17 years in custody and in a Michigan prison for the rape and murder of a elderly woman that he did not commit. He was serving a life sentence. The cause of his wrongful conviction stems from his false confession during the interrogation process which happened four months after the murder. Despite knowing that DNA testing of the victim’s rape kit excluded Peterson as the rapist, the jury convicted Peterson at a 1998 trial. The prosecutor led the jury to believe that semen found at the crime scene that was, at that time, untestable most likely belonged to Mr. Peterson. Along with his initial confession, this was enough to sentence him to life in prison. New DNA testing was conducted last year at the urging of Mr. Peterson’s new attorneys, the testing sought to prove that the previously untestable DNA belonged to the same person whose DNA was found initially with the rape kit. All of the male DNA  tested in this case was found to match a man named Jason Ryan (who was actually interviewed during the initial investigation).  Ryan was arrested last year for this decades old crime and currently is awaiting trial. Petersen’s case was led by the Michigan Innocence Clinic.

This case is just another one to add to the troubling ever growing list of coerced false confessions. After initially confessing Jaime (who is cognitively impaired) recanted his statements, but that usually does the person in such a situation no good. Roughly a fourth of those exonerated in America falsely confessed to crimes at some point during their interrogation. Jaime is the fourth man in Michigan to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

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DNA Evidence Clears Two men in 1983 North Carolina Murder Case

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 03, 2014 @ 4:03 PM — Comments (0)

After spending 30 long years in prison, two brothers in North Carolina were exonerated Tuesday by a North Carolina Judge. Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown were both released from prison today They had been found guilty of the heinous rape and murder of an 11-year old girl. The two African American men were 15 and 19 at the time of the murder are both considered intellectually disabled. After long hours of unethical interrogation with no lawyer present each separately confessed to the crime, by signing statements written for them by police officers. But when they were sent to trial they recanted all of their statements confessing to the crime. Key evidence was left unaccounted for at the time of the trial. A similar murder had been committed in the same town within a month of the brother’s arrest, and a local man, Roscoe Artis, had confessed to the rape and murder of an 18-year old. Artis lived just a block from where the victim’s body had been found yet he was not seen as a suspect. A cigarette butt found near the vicitim’s body was tested  to see whose DNA would show up on it — there was not a match for either of the exonerees — but their was a match for Roscoe Artis’s DNA. Artis is currently serving a life sentence for his other rape and murder.

Leon Brown was sent away for life and Henry Lee McCollum received the death penalty with no evidence connecting them to the crime, but because they confessed to it under duress they had a huge chunk of their lives stolen. This just furthers the evidence that just because someone confesses to a crime when they are under immense pressure, that does not mean they are guilty of said crime. Roughly 25 percent of those wrongly convicted of crimes have admitted guilt during their initial interrogation, the only way we can stop this cruel treatment is to change the way we interrogate suspects and make sure all interrogations are videotaped. Over the past 23 years there have been over 2,000 exonerations in the United States and with the great news of today we can add two more to that ever growing list.

McCollum and Brown were defended in their search for the truth by Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

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Hayne and West: Mississippi’s Corrupt Duo

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 10, 2014 @ 9:28 AM — Comments (4)

Medical examiners often play an integral role in criminal cases when they are called as an expert witnesses to testify on the behalf of the prosecution. In most cases, these medical examiners’ opinions are trusted and their testimony often heavily influences whether someone is found guilty or acquitted.

The infamous Dr. Steven Hayne of Mississippi has been regarded as an incompetent and unreliable medical examiner by the medical and legal communities for years now. Even though Hayne has not been a medical examiner since 2008, his legacy continues to wreak havoc on the lives of those whom he testified against.

Hayne began working with dentist Michael West, his frequent collaborator, in 1987 when he began performing autopsies in Mississippi. Despite lacking sufficient credentials, Hayne monopolized the autopsies performed in Mississippi, claiming he was completing 1200 to 1500 autopsies a year; working 365 days per year, that’s more than 3 autopsies per day. The National Association of Medical Examiners recommends about 250 autopsies per medical examiner per year.

With Hayne backing up West’s testimonies, and vice versa, the two frequently worked together, resulting in several men being sentenced to life in prison. One of these men was Levon Brooks in 1990. Brooks was convicted of raping and murdering 3-year old Courtney Smith in Brooksville, Miss. This occurred after Hayne found bite marks on the girl during the autopsy and called Michael West to take dental molds of several suspects and compare them to the marks found. Just ten days after the murder, Levon Brooks was identified as the abductor by Courtney Smith’s sister and was found to be the perpetrator through a dental mold test performed by West. Brooks was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1992.

Again the two collaborated in a strikingly similar case in Mississippi. In this case, a young girl was abducted, raped, and killed. The police focused their search on a friend of the girl’s sister. This man, Kennedy Brewer, was then tried and convicted thanks to another bite mark examination performed by Hayne and West. Brewer was sentenced to death.

One of the first instances in which Michael West used this dental mark examination was in 1989 with the case of Henry Lee Harrison. West used blue ultraviolet light to reveal bite marks on the body which were previously unseen. Just like Steven Hayne, Michael West’s methods have been criticized by many in the past. West and Hayne found that when the two collaborated using the bite mark examination they were very successful.

“He is clearly a sore on the body of forensic science,” says James Starrs, a professor of law and forensic science at George Washington University and publisher of Scientific Sleuthing Review, an industry newsletter. “He is forever going beyond what other scientists are willing or able to say.” – ABA Journal 

In 2001, The Innocence Project was investigating the case of Kennedy Brewer and found DNA evidence that proved he was not the perpetrator. However, authorities initially didn’t find the true criminal and Brewer remained in prison until Albert Johnson, another suspect in both cases, was re-interviewed by law enforcement officials. Johnson admitted to committing the crimes that Brewer and Brooks had been convicted of and the two men were freed in 2008.

Upon this news, Stephen Hayne and Michael West underwent intense scrutiny regarding their practices and methods. Hayne was found to be incompetent and overbearing by his peers and those who he worked with.

 For nearly 20 years, Hayne performed as much as 90 percent of the criminal autopsies in Mississippi, which by his own account could approach 1,800 autopsies per year. Over the last two years, The Huffington Post has reported on several other cases in which Hayne and his frequent collaborator Michael West have given questionable testimony or issued forensics reports that led to a wrongful arrest — most recently in January, with an investigation into the 1997 murder of 39-year-old Kathy Mabry.The Huffington Post

Although the media and the general public contended that Stephen Hayne and his partner were incompetent, Hayne still maintained a large following of supporters in his home state. This is only evident through the fact that he was allowed to continue practicing.

In 2002, Jeffery Havard was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s infant child. Hayne was an expert witness during the case of Mr. Havard, despite his own recent credibility issues. Hayne contended that Havard had sexually abused the child and then subsequently killed the child through violent shaking. Mr. Havard was sentenced to death even though he argued that the child had just slipped from his hands and hit her head.

 “Once Havard was convicted, his case was kicked up to the Mississippi Capital Post Conviction Office, a well-funded state legal defense agency that was started after several federal court decisions pretty much demanded it. That office hired former Alabama State Medical Examiner Jim Lauridson to review Hayne’s autopsy in the Havard case. Lauridson found it lacking.”The Huffington Post

Hayne’s autopsies were often lacking even though they were not reviewed consistently by his medical peers. Hayne’s work as an expert witness did not simply send one man to death row in Mississippi: Jeffery Havard is on death row as well as Devin Bennett, Eddie Lee Howard, and Jimmie Duncan thanks to Hayne and West.

Hayne does not continue to practice as a medical examiner, nor is it likely he will continue to act as an expert witness. He still is called to the stand to review and comment on postconviction cases in which he originally performed autopsies.  Hayne, and those who abuse their power within the justice system for their own gain, must be rooted out and expelled if we are to have a justice system that can be trusted to produce reliable outcomes.

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