If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

WWK's May interviews will be: 5/2--indie author Bobbi Holmes, 5/9--TG Wolff (aka--Anita Devito), 5/16--Chocolate Bonbon author Dorothy St. James, 5/23--Lida Sideris, 5/30--Food Lovers' Village (and multiple Agatha winner) Leslie Budwitz. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

Our May Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 5/5--John Carenen, 5/12--Judy Penz Sheluk, 5/19--Margaret S. Hamilton, 5/26--Kait Carson.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Tina Whittle's sixth Tai Randolph mystery, Necessary Ends, debuts on April 3, 2018. Look for it here. Tina was nominated for a Derringer Award for her novelette, "Trouble Like A Freight Train Coming." We're all crossing our fingers for her.

James M. Jackson's Empty Promises, the next in the Seamus McCree mystery series (5th), will be available on April 3, 2018. Purchase links are here.

Dark Sister, a poetry collection, is Linda Rodriguez's tenth published book. It's available for sale here:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with the authors in this anthology on 4/14! Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

Shari Randall's second Lobster Shack Mystery, Against the Claw, will be available in August, 2018.

In addition, our prolific KM has had the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," appears in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Righting wrongs

by Julie Tollefson

Last week, my Sisters in Crime chapter hosted two speakers who gave us a peek into the horrifying true story of a man wrongly convicted of murder. Jean Phillips, director of the Project for Innocence at the University of Kansas School of Law, and Floyd Bledsoe, who served 16 years in prison for crimes committed by his brother, led us through the perfect “firestorm” of everything that went wrong in his case, from sloppy police work to bad science, that led to his conviction.

Jean Phillips and Floyd Bledsoe at the October meeting of
the Border Crimes chapter (Kansas-Missouri) of Sisters in Crime.
In 2000, Floyd was convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated indecent liberties in the death of his 14-year-old sister-in-law. Floyd was convicted even though he had an alibi (he was at work) and even though his brother, Tom, confessed. Twice.

So let’s hit pause, here, and ask how is it possible, in general, for juries to send innocent people to prison? Jean outlined three broad reasons:

1. Bad Science
Despite popular television shows depicting the wonders of forensic science, much of what we think of as “science” doesn’t meet rigorous standards for evidence. Take the field of ballistics, for example. Because of the assembly line nature of gun and ammunition manufacturing, Jean said, it’s impossible to tie a bullet to a specific gun to the exclusion of all other guns. Similar problems exist with hair analysis, fingerprints, tool marks, bite marks, arson—virtually everything we’ve come to think of as solid, incontrovertible evidence. Only DNA stands up to scientific scrutiny, Jean said, and even DNA evidence can be ambiguous. 

2. Bad eyewitness ID
The part of the brain engaged in witnessing a crime is related to the part that kicks in with your fight-or-flight response to dangerous situations, Jean said. It’s busy analyzing, trying to figure a way out of the bad spot you’ve gotten yourself into. It’s not recording events accurately, making eyewitness ID an extremely unreliable bit of evidence.

3. False confession
Though this was not a factor in Floyd’s conviction, false confessions play a significant role in many wrongful convictions. Police are skilled at extracting information from people—and sometimes that information is just plain wrong.

Back to Floyd’s case…

Floyd’s brother turned himself in to authorities and led them to the body. The murder weapon, a gun, belonged to Tom. 

Yet within a few days, suspicion shifted from Tom to Floyd, in large part, Jean and the other Project for Innocence lawyers believe, because of lie detector tests. Tom recanted his confession, saying Floyd coerced him. Test results indicated Tom was truthful while Floyd was not. Later, when the Project for Innocence became involved in the case, re-analysis indicated the initial readings of the tests were incorrect. 

At trial, Floyd’s ineffective and inexperienced attorney didn’t challenge key evidence. Later, Floyd asked his attorney how many murder cases he’d handled. The answer was five, and he’d lost all of them. “You never stop to think and ask those questions,” said Floyd, who had just turned 23 when he was charged with murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The KU Law School’s Project for Innocence (officially the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence & Post-Conviction Remedies) took on Floyd’s case in 2007. Last year, finally, new DNA tests linked his brother to the crime. As results revealed the truth, Tom committed suicide and left a note—a third confession—that led authorities to additional evidence, erasing doubts about Floyd’s guilt.

Floyd was released from prison in December 2015, more than 16 years after he was first incarcerated.

Extras: Read more…

…about Floyd’s case

After Floyd’s release from prison, the Topeka Capital-Journal ran a three-part series examining the case: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

… about forensic science

1. Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods (pdf), released September 20 by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.


Art Taylor said...

A fascinating—and heartbreaking—story, Julie. Thanks for sharing this information and the background/perspectives.

Margaret Turkevich said...

A powerful story. Thanks for the overview.

Julie Tollefson said...

You're welcome, Art. It really is heartbreaking, yet the way Floyd is putting his life back together is inspiring.

Julie Tollefson said...

Thanks, Margaret - a difficult, important topic for sure.

Grace Topping said...

Unfortunately, this happens all too often. Tragic in the case of people subject to the death penalty.

Jim Jackson said...

Although not a factor in this situation, race often plays a role in these cases. The Central Park Five is an example that has again entered the news cycle after Donald Trump insisted in a CNN interview that those originally accused are guilty despite DNA evidence and a confession from the real perpetrator of the crime.

At least in your example, the death penalty was not involved. It's unlikely we can do anything to make up the years lost to someone falsely convicted and imprisoned; it's impossible if the state kills the innocent person.

Julie Tollefson said...

Jim and Grace - that's one reason I am opposed to the death penalty. It's horrific to think of killing an innocent person in the name of "justice." As for making up for the lost years due to wrongful conviction, Floyd talked about some of the things he'd lost during his 16 years in prison. A biggie: His kids were 2 years old and 9 months old when he was incarcerated. They're now young adults. There's no way to make up for missing your kids' childhoods.

I agree with your point about race, too, Jim, the Central Park Five being a prime example.

KM Rockwood said...

Thank you for such a detailed look at a serious miscarriage of justice.

Eyewitness identification in notoriously unreliable, esp. across racial lines. Sometimes I'm surprised it's used at all, except to eliminate groups (if the perpetrator was a white man, we can dismiss women and obviously non-white men)

Despite encountering many people convicted of serious crimes when I worked in a state prison, I have never met anyone who claimed they were wrongly convicted.

Julie Tollefson said...

KM - Jean said the Project for Innocence gets hundreds of applications each year, but investigates only a few. They represent claims of actual innocence - like Floyd's - but also ineffective counsel, self-defense, and other arguments.

Warren Bull said...

Fingerprint evidence does not have a standard number of points needed for identification. Like all evidence it must be interpreted which brings in humans and interpreter error.

Kait said...

This is chilling.

Julie Tollefson said...

Warren - you're right. That was one of the points Jean mentioned. There are no uniform standards or certification for fingerprint evidence.

Kait - So chilling. Hard to believe it can happen so easily.

Gloria Alden said...

Julie, such a touching story. Unfortunately, I've heard too often of other stories like this. I also don't believe in the death penalty.

Julie Tollefson said...

Thanks, Gloria. I admire the work of the Innocence Projects across the country.