Eddie Lee Howard: Mississippi's Next Exoneration?


Now that Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks have been freed, the Innocence Project is calling for a criminal investigation into Dr. Michael West. Innocence Project Co-DirectorPeter Neufeld is asking that every case in which West has ever testified be reviewed. The linked article notes that there are 20 or more Mississippians in prison right now due at least in part to West's testimony.

West still stands by bitemark nonsense in the Brewer and Brooks cases. He's now saying that even if Brooks and Brewer did not commit the two murders a third man has since confessed to committing, his testimony wasn't incorrect: Brewer and Brooks still bit those little girls. To believe West, you'd have to believe that in two cases that occurred at about the same time, two men living just miles apart coincidentally each repeatedly bit a little girl in their care just hours before a third man unknown to either of them abducted, raped, and killed said little girls.

Alternately, you could believe that Dr. West is a quack who says whatever prosecutors tell him to.

The next case involving the unholy triumvirate of West, Hayne, and District Attorney Forrest Allgood that may come to be embarrass Mississippi is that of Eddie Lee Howard, currently on death row in Parchman Penitentiary for the gruesome murder of an 82-year-old woman named Georgia Kemp. The assailant stabbed Kemp to death, then set her house on fire and left her to burn. Dr. Hayne testified at trial that Kemp was also raped, though no semen or second-party blood or pubic hair showed up in the rape kit. Hayne did not find any bite marks on his initial examination. The victim was then buried.

In a now-familiar pattern, Hayne then brought his collaborator Dr. West onto the case. Three days later, the police detained Howard without a warrant, then immediately took him to Dr. West's dental practice, where West took an impression of Howard's teeth. Police then exhumed the victim, at which point West once again claimed to find bite marks no one else could see. He then noted there were similarities between Mr. Howard's dental impression and the bite marks he said he'd found on the burned body.

There was no biological evidence linking Howard to the crime scene. The sole evidence against him was West's testimony and the testimony of a police investigator who says Howard basically confessed to him, though the investigator never asked Howard to sign a statement of confession, nor is there any recording of it.

Eddie Lee Howard clearly has some psychological problems. The Mississippi Supreme Court granted him a new trial in 1997 after finding the trial court improperly allowed Howard, who is mentally ill, to represent himself in his own murder trial. Howard was convicted in the second trial, too. In 2006, the Mississippi State Supreme Court upheld the second conviction, and explicitly refused to throw out Dr. West's testimony. Remarkably, this was well after West's credibility had been thoroughly dismantled in the national media, after DNA proved he'd been wrong in the Kennedy Brewer case, and after he'd been thrown out of several professional organizations.

Bizarrely, the court determined that it was Howard's fault his attorney didn't call an expert witness to rebut West's testimony but that, at the same time, the fact that his attorney neglected to do so didn't amount to ineffective assistance of counsel. After acknowledging that Howard's new lawyers filed piles and piles of affidavits from experts attesting to Dr. West's quackery, the court awkwardly came to this astonishing conclusion:

Just because Dr. West has been wrong a lot, does not mean, without something more, that he was wrong here.

If Howard is cleared, it will be the fourth (that I know of) Mississippi murder exoneration involving District Attorney Forrest Allgood. Three of those people were sentenced to death. It will be the third (that I know of) involving Dr. Hayne and Dr. West. I'm investigating several more. The Innocence Project chapters in Mississippi and New York are looking at hundreds.