Criminal Justice

More on Dr. Michael West

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The ACLU blog follows up on my story about Mississippi's Dr. Michael West:

As Balko notes, the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project Director John Holdridge has successfully challenged West's findings in the past. In 1993, John freed Larry Maxwell, an innocent man charged with three capital murders in Mississippi, and later helped to exonerate Anthony Keko, who was wrongfully convicted in Louisiana of killing his ex-wife. Both men had faced West's dubious science in court.

John also filed ethics complaints against West with three professional organizations to which the doctor belonged; those complaints resulted in West's resignation from two of the groups, and suspension from the other. Despite this loss of standing in the forensic community, he's still routinely called to testify in death penalty trials, almost always for the prosecution.

Defense atttorneys tell me Dr. West's frequency of court appearances has dropped pretty dramatically in the last few years, to the point where District Attorney Forrest Allgood is really the only prosecutor who still uses him regularly. Of course, that's bad enough. And there's also the matter of revisiting all the cases in which Dr. West has testified in the past, which should certainly be done. But check the pages of reason in the coming months for more craziness from forensic witnesses in Mississippi. Dr. West isn't alone.

The Innocence Project's blog also weighs in, noting that faulty bite mark evidence has sent at least four other innocent people to prison.

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  1. Do you suppose he was always wrong on the side of conviction? If he was just wrong, it stands to reason that he might have set guilty people free while he was banking innocents. Or is everyone guilty in Dr. West’s view?

  2. If anyone travels to Forest County I highly recommend the restaurant Coney Island in Hattiesburg. The “Hot Hamburger” is an open face hamburger covered in gravy-get it with the lettuce tomato and mayo on the plate.As the name implies the chili dogs are excellent too.Downtown Hattiesburg on the tracks (open breakfast and lunch).

    Otherwise Pine belt MS is pretty much a shithole.Avoid Laurel and Lucedale at all cost.

  3. I don’t know of any case where he testified for the defense, Free Four. There may have been a time or two, but I’m told he almost always testifies for the prosecution. And of course, prosecutors wouldn’t call him to the stand if he wasn’t going to help their case.

    If there are reviews of every case he’s testified in (as I believe there ought to be), I’d say it’s entirely possible that someone who is guilty may get a new trial or even set free because the prosecutor’s decision to use Dr. West tainted the trial. Particularly if the evidence West used wasn’t preserved (or if it’s one of those times when his “method” can’t be duplicated by a more reputable forensic odontologist).

    All the more reason for Mississippi’s prosecutors to make sure they aren’t using frauds and quacks to prove the state’s case, I guess.

  4. Mr. Balko,

    Is there any movement afoot to call District Attorney Forrest Allgood to the carpet for his continued use of Dr. West in prosecutions?

    Is Dr. West claiming some sort of bizarre Heisenbergian position that the “West Phenomenon” cannot be photographed because it would somehoe taint the observation?

    Godspeed on your investigation of other MS forensic shenanigans.

    You’re doing a man’s job, BTW.

  5. Is Dr. West claiming some sort of bizarre Heisenbergian position that the “West Phenomenon” cannot be photographed because it would somehoe taint the observation?

    Heisenbergian? It’s more like Uri-Gellerian

  6. neither. blondlot is the appropriate analogy.

  7. is dr. west going to face criminal charges at any point?

  8. I believe Forrest Allgood is a low down s.o.b, and it doesn’t suprise me he would rely on a quack to help him win a case. He is only in this gig for his power trip. I speak from personal experience- I honestly believe this man has no soul.

  9. I think Forrest Allgood is a low down S.O.B. He believes in guilty until proven innocent, I know this from personal experience. He needs to be voted out so we can get a real man in there to really take care of those in need. He needs to get off this power trip before someone really knocks him down. Hopefully my fellow voters can accomplish this in our next election. I’ll try and get this ball rolling if I can only get some help….

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