February 28, 2008

My favorite judge passes away

In the course of my work as a legal affairs journalist, I got to know many judges. But none came close to matching Alfred Delucchi in compassion, integrity, fairness, intelligence or humor. Delucchi rose from humble roots as the son of an Oakland, California garbage collector, and perhaps it was his working-class roots that made him so common-sensical and down to earth. He has been described as "a judge from the old guard," whose winning personality permeated the courtroom. Delucchi's biggest moment of fame came after his retirement, when he was appointed to preside over the circus-like Scott Peterson trial, but he will be remembered by many people who had the good fortune to encounter him in lesser-known cases as well. As one reporter who met him while covering the Peterson trial put it, "He was one of those people in life that you run into and you just never forget."

The full obituary is here. Here is an older profile of the remarkable jurist, again from the
S.F. Chronicle. And here is an interview entitled "Lawyers who lead" from Santa Clara Law.

Video: Never-released Abu Ghraib photos

As an expert witness on behalf of a guard at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, psychologist Philip Zimbardo of Stanford prison experiment fame was privy to many photographs taken by the abusive guards. Today, Wired magazine published a short video by Zimbardo that includes previously unreleased photos. The video is explicit, gruesome and troubling, so "viewer discretion is advised." Wired has an accompanying article with additional resources. Also see Zimbardo's book, The Lucifer Effect (look for my online review on the book's Amazon.com page.)

February 27, 2008

Justices sound cautionary notes on "expert" witnesses

The scandal involving Canadian pathologist Charles Smith is continuing to send shock waves through forensic circles. This week, leading justices gave some cautionary advice in the ongoing judicial inquiry.

First, judges need to become more scientifically literate, so they can critically analyze expert witness testimony and spot junk science. That was the advice from Justice Marc Rosenberg of Ontario, who runs a program that provides such education to judges.

Second, expert witnesses who stray outside their area of expertise need to be reined in. Justice Patrick Lesage, former chief justice of the Ontario Superior Court, told the tribunal that such "roamers" need to be kept on a short leash.

Dr. Smith, the subject of the inquiry, violated both of these tenets. First, he was not trained as an expert in forensic pathology. Second, he often strayed outside his supposed field of expertise. His testimony was central to the convictions of at least a dozen parents and caregivers in the deaths of children.

Lesage said he hesitates to even use the term "expert" because it conveys too much authority. He prefers to call such witnesses "people who, because of their training and experience, were permitted to give an opinion."

The full article, from the Toronto Star, is here. My previous coverage of the Smith scandal is here, here and here.

February 22, 2008

Recovered memory therapist placed on probation

Before today's sexual predator hysteria came the satanic ritual abuse scare of the 1980s. Many of the day care providers prosecuted and imprisoned in that era have quietly won their freedom due to flaws in the cases against them. But what about the therapists who helped in their prosecutions?

This week, one of the key therapists involved in the satanic ritual scare agreed to be placed on professional probation for violating Utah codes of professional conduct.

Barbara Snow, a licensed clinical social worker, wrote one of the academic articles credited with fueling satanic hysteria. The article, "Ritualistic child abuse in a neighborhood setting" (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 5 No. 4, pp. 474-487), described secret, organized rings of satanists preying upon suburban children - claims that have never been verified with any credible evidence.

The Utah therapist was involved in several of the 1980s prosecutions in Utah. Children she interviewed described satanic rituals, cross-dressing, and the consumption of human excrement. One man she testified against was later granted a new hearing after the Utah Supreme Court questioned Snow's credibility.

The current case involved allegations that Snow planted false memories in two of her relatives, convincing a female relative that she was the victim of satanic abuse and military testing, and convincing a male relative that his father had sexually abused him. When investigators looked into the matter, she allegedly provided them with doctored notes of those therapy sessions.

More information on the current case is available from the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret Morning News. Additional background on Snow is here, here, here, and here.

It's fascinating historical reading, but it unfortunately shows that people don't learn from history.

Do sex offenders have right to confidential therapy?

Normally, conversations between an individual and his or her therapist are confidential. But do convicted sex offenders lose that legal right to confidentiality?

That was the issue decided by a California appellate court this week.

Reynaldo Corona was mandated into sex offender treatment after being convicted of molesting his teenage stepdaughters. He complied with required group treatment through the Parole Outpatient Clinic (POC). But in addition, he voluntarily sought his own private therapy, for which he paid out of his own pocket.

When his parole agent found out, Corona was threatened with a return to prison unless he signed a waiver of privilege allowing his private therapist to communicate with parole officials.

On Wednesday, a Second District appellate court upheld the trial court's opinion that the parole requirement is unreasonable. As the court pointed out, such oppressive restrictions would discourage parolees from obtaining treatment that might reduce their risk to society.

Corona's decision to seek private therapy "would seem to be something for which he should be credited, rather than penalized," the court commented. "The People have not identified a nefarious reason for Corona's decision to engage in additional therapy."

The opinion is here. Hat tip to Adam Alban, who has further commentary at his Clinical Lawyer blog.

February 21, 2008

Mississippi: Forensic "science" train derailing

Last August, I blogged about forensic odontologist Michael West of Mississippi, whose testimony had sent dozens of people to prison, including at least five to death row. West has been the subject of exposes on 60 Minutes and in Newsweek and the National Law Journal. Last week, two of his victims were finally freed after serving a combined total of more than 30 years in prison.

In addition to both being African American, Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Each was dating a woman whose female toddler was kidnapped, raped, murdered, and dumped in the woods. In each case, Dr. West testified at the behest of District Attorney Forrest Allgood that he had found bite marks that other professionals missed, conclusively tying them to the crimes.

In each case, West was wrong. Two weeks ago, police arrested the true culprit, whose DNA matched that found at the crime scenes. Albert Johnson promptly confessed, leading to the release of Brewer and Brooks.

"The bite-marks men: Mississippi’s criminal forensics disaster" is the title of a report in yesterday’s Slate magazine about the cases and their implications:
These may turn out to be the first in a string of exonerations we'll see coming out of Mississippi. For the last 20 years, the state's criminal autopsy system has been in disrepair. Nearly every institution in the state has failed to do anything about it….

According to the National Association of Medical Examiners, a doctor should perform no more than 250 autopsies per year. Dr. [Steven] Hayne has testified that he performs 1,200 to 1,800 autopsies per year....

Hayne isn't board-certified in forensic pathology, though he often testifies that he is. The only accepted certifying organization for forensic pathology is the American Board of Pathology. Hayne took that group's exam in the 1980s and failed it. Hayne's pal Dr. West is even worse.... He once claimed he could definitively trace the bite marks in a half-eaten bologna sandwich left at the crime scene back to the defendant. He has compared his bite-mark virtuosity to Jesus Christ and Itzhak Perlman. And he claims to have invented a revolutionary system of identifying bite marks using yellow goggles and iridescent light that, conveniently, he says can't be photographed or duplicated.

Mississippi's system is set up in a way that increases the pressure on forensics experts to find what prosecutors want them to find. The state is one of several that elect county coroners to oversee death investigations. The office requires no medical training, only a high-school diploma, and it commonly goes to the owner of the local funeral home. If a coroner suspects a death may be due to criminal activity, he'll consult with the district attorney or sheriff, then send the body to a private-practice medical examiner for an autopsy. The problem here is that a medical examiner who returns unsatisfactory results to a prosecutor jeopardizes his chance of future referrals. Critics say Hayne has become the preferred medical examiner for Mississippi's coroners and district attorneys, because they can rely on him to deliver the diagnoses they're looking for.
The article continues here.

February 20, 2008

Ohio sex offender law not retroactive, justices rule

If there's one legal issue that may trump sex offender hysteria, it's the rights of property owners. So, what happens when those two issues collide head-on, as in the case of retroactive residency restrictions against property-owning sex offenders?

That's what the Ohio Supreme Court tackled today, in the case of Hyle v. Porter.

Appellant Gerry Porter Jr. and his wife bought their home in Cincinnati in 1991. Shortly thereafter, Porter was convicted of two sex offenses (sexual imposition and sexual battery). Some years later, in 2003, the state legislature passed its law forbidding convicted sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school. The city attorney ordered Porter out of his home. A trial court approved the order, and an appellate court agreed.

With one justice dissenting, the state Supreme Court held today that the residency law is not retroactive because its text does not specifically say that it is. The justices thereby sidestepped the more sticky issue of whether such a law, if expressly made retroactive by the legislature, would violate the Ohio Constitution's prohibition against retroactive laws that infringe on an individual's substantive rights, such as property rights.

Commenting on today's decision, the law profs over at Sentencing Law & Policy note that the Court "essentially kicked this hot-potato issue over to the Ohio state legislature. It will be VERY interesting to see how the Ohio legislature responds, especially since the defendant here is asserting property rights that can often change the usual political dynamics that surround crime and punishment debates."

The full opinion is here; a summary is here. The Sex Crimes blog has additional commentary.

"I've always been crazy . . .

. . . but it's kept me from going insane"

Those Waylon Jennings lyrics echoed in my head upon seeing today's article in the New York Times differentiating craziness from legal insanity.

The article, "Actions Considered Insane Often Don't Meet the Standards of New York's Legal System," highlights the case of David Tarloff, a chronic schizophrenic awaiting trial in the slashing death of a Manhattan therapist. But it is relevant across the board to the insanity defense, which is widely misunderstood by the general public and even many in the mental health professions.

The defense, which varies by jurisdiction but generally requires that the defendant did not know the difference between right and wrong, is rarely employed and is even more rarely successful.

As Ronald Kuby, a criminal defense lawyer, put it in the article, "You can be extremely crazy without being legally insane. You can hear voices, you can operate under intermittent delusions, you can see rabbits in the road that aren't there and still be legally sane."

Another public misconception is that successful use of the insanity defense allows people to "get off" for the crime. In reality, most insanity acquittees are sent to locked state hospitals that look very much like prisons. They often spend more time locked up than if they had been convicted of their crime.

The New York Times article is temporarily available here. A previous blog post of mine on high-profile insanity cases is here. Wikipedia has more information on the insanity defense.

More research debunking Internet predator myth

American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the 150,000-strong American Psychological Association, is tackling the hysteria surrounding sexual predation on the Internet.

This week's issue highlights new research showing that the risk to children - especially young children - of surfing online is greatly exaggerated. Those adults who do interact sexually with minors online generally target adolescents who are confused about their sexuality and interested in sex. In general, the adults are frank with the teens about both their own age and their sexual intentions.

In other words, most adult-child sexual encounters initiated online are consensual interactions and are illegal solely due to the minor's age. Youths with histories of sexual abuse, concerns about their sexual orientation, and patterns of risk-taking are especially vulnerable.

The data come from national surveys of children ages 10 to 17 augmented by hundreds of interviews with Internet sex crimes investigators.

The latest findings echo research presented last year by a panel of leading experts to the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus. See my blog post of June 27, 2007; that research is also available online (here), as is a video of the panel's presentation.

"There's been some overreaction to the new technology, especially when it comes to the danger that strangers represent," said lead researcher Janis Wolak, a sociologist at the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

The full article, "Online 'Predators' and Their Victims," is available here. An APA press release summarizing the research is here. More information on the research project is available at the Crimes against Children Research Center website.

February 17, 2008

Houston's embattled DA finally steps down

Allegations of racism in prosecutions

If Houston was a state, it would rank second only to the rest of Texas in the number of executions carried out in the past three decades. And behind this unprecedented juggernaut stands one man - Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal.

Rosenthal resigned from office Friday amid a high-profile scandal involving the release of dozens of pornographic, racist and political e-mails on his office computer.

Of potential interest to my readers, the scandal almost coincidentally brought out allegations of racism in the prosecution of crimes: Black potential jurors were allegedly struck because they were perceived as soft on crime; code names for blacks were bandied about in e-mails, and black leaders believed that prosecutors worked to punish blacks more harshly than whites.

The Houston Chronicle has the complete story, along with a timeline of events and links to other coverage. For more on capital punishment, including in Harris County, check out the amazing set of links at the prosecutor’s office of Clark County, Illinois.

February 15, 2008

Looking everywhere but straight ahead

The Kazmierczak school rampage and toxic culture

Pundits commenting on yesterday's Northern Illinois University shooting are doing the usual – feverishly searching everywhere but at the immediate environment for the causes. Was it a "copycat" crime or was Steven Kazmierczak mentally ill? Next, we'll likely hear about gun control, Hollywood movies, the Internet, and video games. (Perhaps it's the pundits who are the real copycats!)

It's hard to vilify Kazmierczak. He wasn't a neo-Nazi or a Trenchcoat Mafioso. As his photo hints at, he was a thoughtful, studious, respectful, and award-winning young man.

Coincidentally, I just today finishing reading expatriate journalist Mark Ames' masterful analyses of such rampages, "Going Postal." Rather than blaming all of the usual external and individual suspects, Ames points straight at the institutional environments in which these crimes occur. The killings are doomed rebellions by normal people stressed and bullied until they break, he argues.

Yesterday's case is unusual in that we have a more direct document we can examine – a scholarly article co-authored by the killer himself. Kazmierczak was, after all, a would-be scholar with interests in corrections, political violence, and peace and social justice.

The prophetic 2006 article, "Self-Injury in Correctional Settings: 'Pathology' of Prisons or of Prisoners," strikingly parallels Ames' thesis.

"When conditions of existence become overwhelming, people may either acquiesce or resist," wrote Kazmierczak and colleagues. "Rather than see SIB (self-injurious behavior) as only the acting-out of aggressive prisoners or simply as an attention-seeking activity, we should examine the debilitating conditions of prison existence and culture as contributing factors. In this view, SIB becomes symptomatic not only of individual mental health, but of the pathology of prisons as well."

Replace the word "prison" with "school" or "workplace" and, voila, you have the answer.

I recommend Ames' original and provocative analysis of the "toxic culture" that produces these doomed rebellions. My review is on the Amazon page for "Going Postal." See also my related post about the Virginia Tech shooting massacre. Kazmierczak's article was published in the February 2006 issue of Criminology & Public Policy; a subscription is required to view it.

February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

It's been a busy week, with little time for blogging. So, without further ado, I present a few highlights from the news media and blogosphere:

Of apes and jurors

You may have heard about this new study; researcher Jennifer Eberhardt and colleagues were shocked to find people subconsciously associated black faces with apes. (It's in the current issue of the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology.) Jury consultant Anne Reed (of the Deliberations blog) has some astute thoughts on how this unconscious bias factors into jury deliberations, and what can be done to combat it. She's also collected some additional resources on the topic; see also my earlier posts and resources on race and juries, here and here.

Trolls evicted

I wrote awhile back about the sex offenders in Florida who had set up an exile community under a freeway overpass because they weren't allowed to live anywhere else. Now, those men are being evicted from their open-air tents. Some men evicted from under another overpass have set up camp in the remote Everglades; maybe the latest evictees will join them.

Religion and child custody

Remember the circumcision battle I blogged about a few months ago, in which one parent characterized the Judaic practice as religious freedom and the other called it sexual abuse? In recent decades, child custody disputes pitting different faiths and religious practices are on the rise due to an increase in interfaith marriages and a broader rise in custody conflicts. Although family court judges try to avoid rulings that favor one faith over another, it doesn't always work. New York Times reporter Neela Banerjee chronicled the complex dilemma yesterday in "Religion Joins Custody Cases, to Judges' Unease."

Bounty hunting: A corrupt American institution

Speaking of religion, have you heard of "Dog the Bounty Hunter"? I happened to catch it on cable TV when I was channel-surfing at a hotel recently. The show glorifies born-again Christian bail bondsman Duane "Dog" Chapman, a foul-mouthed religious convert who brags of capturing 6,000 runaway felons.

But from another perspective, Adam Liptak of the New York Times has written an expose on the bail bonds industry which, as it turns out, is a corrupt and uniquely U.S. institution. "In England, Canada and other countries, agreeing to pay a defendant's bond in exchange for money is a crime akin to witness tampering or bribing a juror - a form of obstruction of justice. Courts in Australia, India and South Africa [have] disciplined lawyers for professional misconduct for setting up commercial bail arrangements," writes Liptak in "American Exception: Illegal Globally, Bail for Profit Remains in U.S."

As Liptak chronicles, bounty hunters have enormous extrajudicial power. In many states, they can legally break into people's homes without warrants, temporarily imprison them, and force them across state lines without an extradition process.

"Most of the legal establishment, including the American Bar Association and the National District Attorneys Association, hates the bail bond business, saying it discriminates against poor and middle-class defendants, does nothing for public safety, and usurps decisions that ought to be made by the justice system," writes Liptak.

The full story is here, along with a short video.

Yet another call for juvenile justice reform

Last but not least, An Illinois group has called for an end of life-without-parole sentences of juveniles, based on interviews with 100-plus prisoners who received such sentences when they were ages 14 to 17. The oldest of the men is now 47. The report, entitled "Categorically less culpable: Children sentenced to life without possibility of parole in Illinois," is here. A press release is here, and The Northwestern Law School website has more resources.

February 11, 2008

Competency hearing exposes clinical feud

Competency to stand trial: Flip of the coin?

Whether a defendant is found incompetent to stand trial is based mainly on "luck of the draw," that is, which psychologist or psychiatrist happens to be assigned by the court.

That's the controversial thesis of law professor Michael Perlin, who's written an excellent book on competency that's due out this spring. As evidence, Perlin cites a study in which forensic evaluators split almost evenly in their opinions about a hypothetical vignette. Perlin lambasts the current system as a "fraudulent" one in which the courts abrogate their decision-making responsibilities to "imperial experts" who decide competency based largely on idiosyncratic approaches and moral stances.

While many might argue with this rather extreme position, proponents could point to the unfolding murder trial of Thomas Shane O'Hagan as a perfect example.

O'Hagan allegedly stabbed his girlfriend to death while she was taking a shower and then put her body in a small plastic box.

In the 3 ½ years since then, the Pierce County (Washington) Superior Court has issued nine orders for competency evaluation and treatment. But the experts can't seem to agree on whether he is competent to stand trial.

"First doctors said he was competent to stand trial and could understand what was going on and help his attorneys defend him. Then they said they weren't sure. Then they said he wasn't competent anymore," according to news coverage a year ago.

The saga has grown to farcical proportions, with a dispute between opposing experts spilling into court and forcing the judge to remove herself from the case.

In an unusual twist, two opposing experts, one a psychologist and the other a psychiatrist, both work for the same state hospital that has repeatedly evaluated and treated O'Hagan.

Psychologist Barry Ward, who has evaluated O'Hagan at least three times, testified at a hearing last September that the defendant was not competent to stand trial. Psychiatrist William Ritchie took the opposite position.

Further muddying the issue, the judge invited a third doctor from Western State Hospital who was observing the proceedings, psychiatrist Margaret Dean, into her chambers to view some artwork. Ward, the psychologist who testified that O'Hagan was incompetent, emailed attorneys and told them that Dean was a member of O'Hagan's hospital treatment team, something the judge says she didn't realize when she issued her invitation. When Dean found out about Ward's email, she called the judge to complain.

Thrust into the middle of this feud among clinicians, Superior Court Judge Beverly Grant Ward was forced to remove herself from the case. The state hospital, meanwhile, is reportedly conducting an internal review.

Washington is among a decreasing number of states with a centralized competency evaluation system in which defendants are evaluated while hospitalized in state facilities. O'Hagan's attorneys are now arguing that their client cannot receive an unbiased evaluation at the hospital, and so should be evaluated at a "nonstate-run facility."

Of course, if Professor Perlin's controversial thesis is correct, a change of setting won't make any difference: Luck of the draw will still decide whether O'Hagan is found competent or incompetent to stand trial.


Morris, G.H., Haroun, A.M., & Naimark, D. (2004). Health Law in the Criminal Justice System Symposium: Competency To Stand Trial on Trial. Houston Journal of Health Law and Policy, Vol. 4, p. 193

Perlin, M.L. (2004). Health Law in the Criminal Justice System Symposium: "Everything's a Little Upside Down, As a Matter of Fact the Wheels Have Stopped": The Fraudulence of the Incompetency Evaluation Process. Houston Journal of Health Law and Policy, Vol. 4, p. 239

Lynn, Adam, “Feud makes a mess of murder case," News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington), Feb. 10, 2008

Hucks, Karen, “Judge keeps suspect on drugs for disorder; Attorneys argue whether a man charged with killing his girlfriend must continue to take anti-psychotic drugs. A judge says yes,” News Tribune, May 27, 2006

February 8, 2008

Can insane killer inherit mother's estate?

Under most circumstances, killing your mother is a sure-fire way to lose out on the inheritance. But what if you were legally insane at the time of the killing?

That's the issue in a case that may set legal precedent in Washington.

Joshua Hoge, a 37-year-old man with schizophrenia, has been locked up on the forensic unit at Western State Hospital (where I happened to do my forensic postdoctoral fellowship) since being found not guilty by reason of insanity in the stabbing death of his mother and half-brother in 1999. Hoge was experiencing a so-called Capgras delusion at the time, believing identical-looking impostors had replaced his family members.

We're not talking chump change.

After the death of Hoge's mother, her family won $800,000 because two days before the killings a public health clinic had refused to give Hoge his antipsychotic medication. The family wants the money to go to the deceased woman's third son, who is also mentally ill and in need of lifelong care.

In some U.S. states, the question of whether someone found not guilty by reason of insanity can inherit from the estate of his or her victim has been decided by case law. Not so in Washington.

The legal issue here is whether the killings were "willful" and "unlawful," which would preclude Hoge from getting the money under Washington's "Slayer Statute." Hoge's attorney is arguing that the killings were not "unlawful" because Hoge was found not guilty. In a preliminary ruling, an appellate court held that while Hoge's mental illness absolved him of criminal responsibility, the killing was still unlawful. Whether the killing was "willful" remains to be decided.

The case has been remanded to the trial court in King County for a determination of "the degree to which Hoge's delusion prevented him from forming the intent to kill." A court date has not been set.

The opinion in Estate Of Pamela L. Kissinger v. Joshua Hoge is here. The Seattle Times has news coverage.

Hat tip: Andrew Scarpetta

February 7, 2008

"Police Interrogation and American Justice"

Richard A. Leo, a law professor at the University of San Francisco and one of the top scholars in his field, has just published what promises to be an excellent analysis of modern police interrogation techniques.

Here’s the book blurb:
"Read him his rights." We all recognize this line from cop dramas. But what happens afterward? In this book, Richard Leo sheds light on a little-known corner of our criminal justice system--the police interrogation.

Incriminating statements are necessary to solve crimes, but suspects almost never have reason to provide them. Therefore, as Leo shows, crime units have developed sophisticated interrogation methods that rely on persuasion, manipulation, and deception to move a subject from denial to admission, serving to shore up the case against him. Ostensibly aimed at uncovering truth, the structure of interrogation requires that officers act as an arm of the prosecution.

Skillful and fair interrogation allows authorities to capture criminals and deter future crime. But
Leo draws on extensive research to argue that confessions are inherently suspect and that coercive interrogation has led to false confession and wrongful conviction. He looks at police evidence in the court, the nature and disappearance of the brutal "third degree," the reforms of the mid-twentieth century, and how police can persuade suspects to waive their Miranda rights.

An important study of the criminal justice system, Police Interrogation and American Justice raises unsettling questions. How should police be permitted to interrogate when society needs both crime control and due process? How can order be maintained yet justice served?
See more at the Harvard University Press website, where you can browse the table of contents or bibliography and read the introduction online before deciding whether to buy it.

February 5, 2008

First "Dr. Phil," now "Dr. Bob"

Psychology credentials at issue in Illinois murder trial

Two decades ago, imprisoned murderer Brian Dugan volunteered to participate in a study of sexual predators being conducted by a psychologist with the state of Illinois. That has come back to haunt him, as government attorneys try to introduce the old audio recordings in an effort to get him executed.

In a bizarre twist, Dugan's attorneys are claiming that the researcher was a "fraud" who was never properly licensed or credentialed despite years of practicing in the state of Illinois.

The allegations against Robert Thorud first came to light in 2004, when the Chicago Daily Herald conducted an investigation into his background.

At the time, "Dr. Bob" - as he was known - was the CEO of a group home for abused and neglected children that was under state investigation over allegedly dangerous and unsanitary conditions. According to an AP story at the time:
[D]ocuments told of slow responses to suicide attempts, physical restraint of children and a report fabricated to cover up one suicide attempt. In one case, the documents said, 12 girls were confined to a single room for 30 days without school because they wouldn't behave. Other reports told of children being restrained against floors and walls by staff and peers and of a broken window that wasn't cleaned, allowing children to sneak pieces of it into their beds. Most of the children who live at The MILL have been abandoned, beaten or neglected, and nearly all suffer from some form of mental illness.
The Daily Herald investigation revealed that Thorud "performed psychological work throughout Illinois government for 25 years, including work with the state police that included courtroom testimony," despite not being licensed as a clinical psychologist in Illinois or any other state.

At the time, Thorud told reporters that he had received a Ph.D. in family therapy and psychology from Columbia Pacific University. Columbia Pacific, labeled by the federal government as a "diploma mill," was a private, unaccredited institution that had been shut down by a California judge for, among other things, issuing diplomas via the mail and Internet without meeting the appropriate requirements, according to the Daily Herald expose.

Despite Thorud's lack of licensure, I found an appellate case in which his juvenile psychological evaluation was used as evidence against a man at a later sexually violent predator commitment proceeding. In that appellate opinion, Illinois v. William J. Stevens, Thorud is referred to by the title of “Doctor.”

All of this is irrelevant to the admissibility of the audiotaped statements, say prosecutors in Dugan's murder trial.

News coverage does not explain how the tapes got into the government's hands in the first place or whether their admission might be precluded by statutes protecting research confidentiality.


" 'Dr. Bob' defends himself, credentials," by Dave Orrick,
Chicago Daily Herald, August 12, 2004

"Head of youth home replaced," by Dave Orrick, Chicago Daily Herald, September 11, 2004

"Rockford youth center faces uncertain future amid DCFS probe," Associated Press, September 20, 2004

"Dugan defense attacks expert; Psychologist's troubles could defuse evidence," by Christy Gutowski, Daily Herald, February 5, 2008

Hat tip: Ken Pope

Prison rape: Chat with experts this Thursday

Harvard University and the National Institute of Justice are cosponsoring a free "online chat" with experts this Thursday, Feb. 7, about sexual victimization patterns in U.S. prisons and efforts to prevent and eventually eliminate this widespread problem.

A Bureau of Justice Statistics report released two months ago estimated that 60,500 prisoners reported sexual victimization within the past year alone. The research is mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

The chat features a panel of experts including criminology professor Barbara Owen, law professor Brenda Smith, and Bureau of Justice statistician Allen Beck.

Although the 2:00-4:00 p.m. (EST) event is free, advance registration is required.

My Dec. 18 "news roundup" has links to the Bureau of Justice Statistics research. Additional resources are here.

Hat tip: CrimePsych blog

February 2, 2008

"The Tim Masters Case: Chasing Reid Meloy"

That's the title of a hard-hitting article focusing on forensic psychologist Reid Meloy's troubling role in the Tim Masters case in Colorado that many of my forensic psychologist readers have been following closely. This continues to be quite the cautionary tale for the rest of us.

"Meloy's reports and opinions about Masters' artwork have been the source of controversy from the beginning, but never so much as during recent courtroom testimony in which reams of material was introduced for the first time that bring into question not only Meloy's objectivity but whether or not he even came to his conclusions independently," writes journalist Greg Campbell of Fort Collins (Colorado) Now.

Campbell hunted down Meloy at a 4-day youth violence risk assessment training course in San Diego, where Meloy was giving a talk entitled "Adolescent and Young Adult Mass Murder: Assessment and Management of a Catastrophic Risk." He describes Meloy as a "rock star" in the crowd of law enforcement officials, psychologists and education professionals:
" ... taking second billing in the world's small population of celebrity forensic investigators to Roy Hazelwood, Gregg McCreary and John Douglas if only because he never worked for the FBI as they did, and because he's not technically a 'criminal profiler,' a career that has proved so popular in recent American pop culture. His resume more than compensates for being just a step below these movie- and TV-show-inspiring pioneers, however. He is a professor at two San Diego universities, a faculty member of the San Diego Psychoanalytic Institute and former chief of the San Diego County Forensic Mental Health Division. He's written more than 170 papers published in peer-reviewed journals and has written or edited 10 books. Currently, he operates a private forensic practice, consults with the FBI on counterterrorism measures and works to analyze threats to British politicians and the Royal Family. He is a diplomate in forensic psychology of the American Board of Professional Psychology.

"Meloy made no reference to Masters in his presentation, which was focused on the characteristics of mass murderers like Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Omaha mall shooter Robert Hawkins, and Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho. In general terms, Meloy outlined traits of these killers that were similar to traits he attributed to Masters. They tend to be loners. They use fantasy to compensate for shortcomings in their lives. They have poor family relationships. They have a fascination with weapons and war."
Campbell repeatedly emphasizes Meloy's refusal to publicly comment on the case or his role in it. He quotes Meloy as telling him: "I don't want to say anything extrajudicially. It's just too sensitive. ... There will be a time and a place."
"The forensic psychologist has never been shy about his opinion that Tim Masters' doodles made him a killer ... but now that charges are dropped, Reid Meloy has only one thing to say: 'No comment.' "
"Although he now doesn’t want to say anything extrajudicially, Meloy was interviewed for a 2000 documentary about the case that appeared on the A&E Network's 'Cold Case Files.' The show is an uncritical ode to how Meloy, Broderick, Gilmore and Blair [the police detectives] joined forces to crack the case using something akin to mentalism.

" 'After spending six months on the case, I felt I understood the motivations for this homicide and that I had become convinced that Timothy Masters was the individual that had committed this homicide,' Meloy said on the show.

"For Meloy, Masters' drawings represented a 'fantasy rehearsal' for the crime, especially a doodle on Masters' math homework of a knife-wielding hand cutting a diamond shape that Meloy interpreted as a vagina, 'which may have been a rehearsal of the genital mutilation,' as he wrote in his first report to Broderick.

"Equally damning in Meloy's interpretation was a picture Masters drew [that] depicted one figure dragging another, which was apparently wounded or dead, from behind. The wounded figure was riddled with arrows and blood seemed to flow from its back. The figure's heels dug furrows in the ground similar to furrows found where Hettrick’s body was dumped.

"Entirely discounting the presence of the arrows - which had nothing whatsoever to do with the murder - Meloy wrote in his report that this picture represented the crime as it actually happened."
Campbell describes Meloy's role as pivotal to Masters' conviction, providing the only "evidence" of guilt:
"Meloy was the cornerstone of that prosecution - without him, it's unlikely that Masters would have been arrested in the first place. To date, he has provided the only 'evidence' in the nearly 21 years since the murder that implicated Masters in any way: an analysis of Masters' boyhood doodles, crude sketches and violent short stories that - even in the complete vacuum of physical evidence connecting Masters to the crime - convinced Meloy he was guilty.

"Meloy drew his conclusion based on a review of certain evidence provided to him by [Detective] Broderick, including Broderick's own categorization and interpretation of Masters' fictional productions, police videotapes and suspect interrogation transcripts, among many more items.

"Meloy did not, however, speak to or interview Masters himself.

"It apparently wasn't necessary.

"In his first report to Broderick he plainly states in several places that Masters committed the crime - referring to him not as a 'suspect,' but a 'perpetrator' - and he was apparently so convinced that he sent a pretrial letter to then-Larimer County DA Stuart Van Meveren in which he hoped for a 'successful prosecution.'

"And thanks to Meloy's testimony, they got it.

"In court, the jury was bombarded with Masters' scary pictures that were shown on a large video monitor while Meloy pointed out features of them that he testified showed pairing of sex and violence; evidence of 'picquerism,' the sadistic pleasure derived from stabbing; degradation of women; and fascination with weapons and death.

"In his first report to Broderick, Meloy wrote that Masters killed Hettrick because he felt abandoned by his mother, who died unexpectedly almost exactly four years to the day before the murder. He opined that her death, an 'emotionally distant' relationship with his father who spent a lot of time away from home while on active duty in the Navy, the departure of his sister from their home to join the U.S. Army, and his retreat into a fantasy world combined to create a boiling kettle of latent violence just waiting to erupt.

" 'A retreat into such a compensatory narcissistic fantasy world, replete with sexuality and violence, works for awhile, but at a great cost,' Meloy wrote. 'The unexpressed rage continues, depression may ensue, and anger toward women as sources of both pain (abandonment) and erotic stimulation builds.'

" 'Sexual homicide represents the solution, particularly in the form it took in this case: If I kill a woman, she cannot abandon me; if I desexualize her (genital mutilation) she cannot stimulate me,' he wrote. 'These are not conscious thoughts for Tim Masters, but likely represent the unconscious beliefs that drove his behavior the night of Feb. 11, 1987, when he killed and sexually mutilated Peggy Hettrick, a victim of choice and opportunity. Ms. Hettrick represented all Women (sic) to Tim Masters.' "
The full article is online here. Also at that website are copies of some of Masters' so-called "scary doodles."

February 1, 2008

Violence among psychiatric patients

Psychiatric Services has just published an exciting special issue on violence among psychiatric patients, featuring some of the biggest names in the field.

First, and probably most controversial, is a heated debate looking back at the MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study, which some cite as proof that discharged psychiatric patients are no more dangerous than anyone else. Facing off are the big names - John Monahan, Hank Steadman, E. Fuller Torrey, and Jonathan Stanley.

Next, there's a review of all empirical studies of violence and victimization among people with severe mental illnesses in the United States since 1990, along with a discussion of the public health implications, by the esteemed Linda Teplin and colleagues.

Then, there's a very practical article on assessing risk for violence by psychiatric patients, aptly entitled "Beyond the 'Actuarial Versus Clinical' Assessment Debate."

And, there's more - online here. The lead editorial and the abstracts for each article are free, but the full articles require a subscription, unfortunately.

CA: Backlog causes dismissal of SVP petition

The backlog of sex offenders awaiting evaluation due to California's revamped Sexually Violent Predator law has led to dismissal of a civil commitment petition in San Diego County.

The District Attorney's office did not file its petition against Charles Thomas Small until one day after he was supposed to be released on parole, so a judge was correct in ordering the petition dismissed, appellate justices ruled.

Small is still not free, however. He remains jailed until exhaustion of all government appeals. Even if he is released he will still be on intensive restrictions as a "high-risk sex offender," and "you can't get closer to being incarcerated than that," said his lawyer.

The 62-year-old Small molested a 9-year-old girl a decade ago.

Under California’s new Jessica’s Law, an offender with just one victim may be civilly committed if he meets the other requirements of the law; previously, two or more victims were required. The change has caused a ballooning in referrals to forensic psychologists on the state's SVP panel, and a consequent backlog of cases pending evaluation.

The full story, from the North County Times, is here. My related post on the financial costs of the new evaluation procedures is here.