December 10, 2007

"The Scary Doodles Case"

The tale of a teenage doodler,
a disputed confession,
and a forensic psychologist

One of the most interesting disputed conviction cases in the news these days is the case of Tim Masters in Colorado, which I first blogged about back in July. If you haven't read up on it yet, it's worth checking out.

The Rocky Mountain News is pulling no punches in calling for a new trial for Masters, who was only 15 when the murder in question occurred. The News' most recent editorial, entitled "In need of a new trial: Prosecution handicapped Tim Masters' original defense," begins like this:
The worst thing you can say about a legal system is that it railroads defendants - convicts and sentences them without allowing juries to hear the full story and without investigators pursuing equally viable suspects. That's why the case involving a Colorado prisoner named Timothy Lee Masters is so important - and why it is critical that he be granted a new trial.
For purposes of this blog, the case is intriguing because of the disputed confession (see my earlier post) and also because of the central role of J. Reid Meloy, a prominent forensic psychologist. Meloy "worked hand-in-glove with prosecutors," even reviewing the arrest warrant before it was served. The News editorial comments:
Forensic psychologist Meloy's analysis, so crucial to the prosecution's theory, at times has the tone of a pulp crime thriller. Portentous but debatable conclusions are scattered throughout, such as: 'Sexual homicides are often unconscious displaced matricides'; '[the victim] also resembled his deceased mother, which is of enormous psychological significance . . .' ; and, Masters 'knows the distinction between slicing and stabbing, terms that generally would not be distinguished by the lay person.'
Indeed, it was largely on the basis of Masters' violent doodles – and Meloy's interpretation of them – that the boy was convicted, legal observers say. Prosecutors "bombarded" jurors with blown-up images of the doodles, projected onto the wall of the courtroom.

The News article continues here.

My more recent posts on this case are here and here.

The Denver Post has additional coverage of the case and an online video, "Sketchy Evidence: The Story of Tim Masters." The Pro Libertate blog has case analysis, graphics, and links. And there's even a blog devoted solely to the case, Free Tim Masters Because, which has a lengthy page devoted to the role of Dr. Meloy. See further commentary on this topic at the Witness LA blog.