Mississippi District Attorney Forrest Allgood has come under fire since two men he prosecuted for murder were exonerated last month. Allgood kept Kennedy Brewer in prison an extra six years after DNA testing cleared him, because he clung to the testimony of bite mark fraud Dr. Michael West.
Nevertheless, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood recently defended Allgood in the Columbus Commercial Dispatch.
“Forrest Allgood has been a straight arrow. He's always played it by the rules,” Hood said. “I don't think there was any prosecutorial misconduct on his part.”
He said any jury would have rendered a guilty verdict based on the circumstantial evidence and witness testimony Allgood believed to be true when he prosecuted the two defendants. “There was no rush to judgment,” Allgood said. “It was done as best as it could be.”
"Straight arrow?" The guy has now convicted three people of murder who were later exonerated or acquitted. In the case of Kennedy Brewer, whom Allgood prosecuted for raping and killing his girlfriend's daughter while babysitting her, Allgood defended his pursuit of the wrong man to ABC News by noting there was no sign of forced entry into the home, and that there "cobwebs" on the window to the little girl's room. Actually, the window had a gaping hole in it. Allgood next told ABC News that Brewer became a suspect because he showed little interest in the girl's disappearance. Actually, as ABC News notes, Brewer joined family and neighbors in a frantic search for the girl.
So not only has Allgood not been a "straight arrow," he's still not telling the truth.
In my article on Dr. Steven Hayne last fall, I noted that when Dr. Lloyd White left his contentious tenure as Mississippi's second-to-last medical examiner, he wrote a letter to a local newspaper laying out his frustrations with Hayne and the state's coroners and district attorneys. That letter contained an interesting passage about Allgood:
White also cited a case in which he had performed an autopsy on a woman who’d been found dead in her bathtub. White concluded it wasn’t immediately possible to determine a cause of death; he needed to wait for the results of toxicology and microscopic tests. According to White’s letter, he soon received a phone call from Hayne, who told him the body had been taken to Hayne’s office for a second examination at the request of Forrest Allgood, the district attorney for Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee, and Oktibbeha counties. Although White was the state medical examiner at the time, he said the second autopsy was performed “surreptitiously, without my knowledge or permission.”
Allgood already had a suspect he wanted to charge with the crime, White said, and “he was afraid my autopsy wouldn’t provide him with the evidence he needed.” (Allgood’s office did not respond to requests for an interview.) According to White, Hayne told him he had concluded that the woman was strangled. White said Hayne then suggested it would be in White’s “best interest” to issue a report agreeing with him.
It would be bad enough if Allgood had gotten a second opinion because he didn't like the state medical examiner's conclusions. But it wasn't even that. It was that he didn't want to wait for the tests to come back, in case they proved him wrong.
Attorney General Hood has conceded that he himself used shady medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne back when he was a district attorney in Mississippi's third district. That means any investigation of Hayne may include looking into Hood's convictions, and may call into question Hood's own judgment in using Hayne.
Which means that not only should we we take Hood's defenses of Hayne, Allgood, and Mississippi's forensics systems with a handful of salt, it means that any honest look into Mississippi's forensics problems will have to come from outside of the attorney general's office.