Patterico's Pontifications

1/17/2010

In Which I Declare Radley Balko to Be Correct About Something

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 4:27 pm



A leftist at “Bitch, PhD.” writes to defend Martha Coakley for her crusade to keep Gerald Amirault in prison:

Nevertheless, being a prosecutor who is stalwart when presented with evidence of innocence or prosecutorial misconduct is so common as to be banal. Which is why I think her lobbying for Amirault’s continued incarceration isn’t, in itself, enough to make her a morally suspect choice for senator…

Radley Balko responds that the leftist is

conceding that the Amirault case was a travesty of justice, and that Coakley was wrong for her extraordinary efforts to keep Gerald Amiralut in prison. But she’s then arguing that Coakley deserves a pass specifically for her actions in the Amirault case, anyway, because all prosecutors do it, and because it’s what Coakley had to do to accumulate political power and move on to higher office.

That is one hellaciously disturbing statement of values.

It sure is.

Now, I don’t know enough about the Amirault case to render a useful opinion about the defendant’s guilt. I won’t simply take Dorothy Rabinowitz’s word for it. (More on that here.) As a friend wrote me today, the case “has been discussed with far more smoke than fire.”

But let’s assume for the sake of argument (as it appears many do) that the prosecution was bogus and that the Amiraults were innocent. Do we just shrug our shoulders at a prosecutor who argues to keep someone innocent in prison?

Of course not. Balko is right.

Prosecutors are not charged with obtaining as many convictions as possible. We are charged with seeking justice. I have dismissed cases before where I had concerns that the defendant was innocent. That’s what we’re supposed to do.

If the Amirault prosecution was bad, and if Martha Coakley knew that but crusaded for him to remain in prison anyway, that is a travesty.

I disagree on Balko on only one point:

There’s a broader point here, too. Even the left—even the far left—seems to find it difficult to hold bad prosecutors accountable, at least when they happen to be Democrats.

Balko suggests that this is bulletproof evidence that nobody will hold prosecutors accountable if the “far left” won’t. I say this is just more evidence that politics blinds people to truths they otherwise have an easy time seeing. The far left will make any old argument that supports its candidate. Here’s a secret: so will the far right. Politics makes people stupid and impervious to logic.

That is the real lesson here.

But that’s a minor point. The takeaway here is that prosecutors should always seek justice, and Balko is right to be appalled at the suggestion that it’s no big deal for prosecutors to shrug their shoulders at injustice. On the contrary, that’s a very big deal.

35 Responses to “In Which I Declare Radley Balko to Be Correct About Something”

  1. Patterico,

    Some of the testimony presented is flat out incredible. That a jury should have considered this type of crap and convicted is unbelievable.

    That a DA would present this as evidence boggles the mind.

    as for Coakley’s role up front? she was an ADA, and then or later was in charge of the sex crimes unit of the DA’s office. Her boss was the DA of record, but Coakley was there and knew what was going on.

    Here is a section of evidence as cited by Rabinowitz:

    Gerald, it was alleged, had plunged a wide-blade butcher knife into the rectum of a 4-year-old boy, which he then had trouble removing. When a teacher in the school saw him in action with the knife, she asked him what he was doing, and then told him not to do it again, a child said. On this testimony, Gerald was convicted of a rape which had, miraculously, left no mark or other injury.

    a 24 inch butcher knife that the perp had difficulty getting out of a 4 y/o’s rectum, didn’t cut him?

    The Drill SGT (b22d1e)

  2. > The far left will make any old argument that supports its candidate. Here’s a secret: so will the far right.

    While I will concede the underlying truth of this to you, there is one distinction:

    The far Right may well make any old argument to support their man, the non-far Right won’t accept “any old argument” to support their man.

    This is why Right-leaning politicians who fail to support The Contract With America, who fail to uphold their moral values, get the boot.

    All the while self-evidently corrupt and blatantly unprincipled Left-leaning politicians — even when caught with their hands in the cookie jar — get re-elected.

    It’s also why Leftist politicians who disagree with any single point of the left (see Lieberman), and have the principles it takes to stand on them (few and far between among any politicians, Left or Right, mind you) gain pariah status, as well.

    There IS a difference between the Right and the Left —

    The Right has standards.

    The Left is graced with two of them.

    Sometimes, “more” is not “better“.

    O Bloody Hell (79d71d)

  3. Coakley is where she is today cause of the hoochie got the benefit of the doubt in spades already.

    happyfeet (e9e587)

  4. “Some of the testimony presented is flat out incredible. That a jury should have considered this type of crap and convicted is unbelievable.”

    Do you know it did?

    Maybe the jury rejected the more unbelievable evidence but found other evidence convincing. I have a link in the post that sets forth some evidence you might not have heard about.

    Patterico (eaf05f)

  5. Patterico,

    I read the linked stuff. Though credible, nothing there ties any physical symptoms to the 3 accused.

    While the Rabinowitz cited stuff just could not have happened.

    question for you: What are the limitations on a DA in presenting evidence that the DA knows or should know is false?

    Isn’t it at least clearly prejudical, if not illegal?

    The Drill SGT (b22d1e)

  6. oh. But that sounds like I maybe disagree with your take doesn’t it?

    That would not be the case.

    happyfeet (e9e587)

  7. I have a link in the post that sets forth some evidence you might not have heard about.

    This one is worth pausing over…

    Dr. Jean Emans, a pediatric gynecologist, examined five of the female victims who testified in this case and made positive findings as to four of them. One child had a small hymenal bump (caused by rubbing, touching, irritation, or masturbation). Two suffered vulvitis (caused by irritation such as rubbing, nylon tights, leotards, irritating soaps, or sexual abuse). One child had a hymenal scar (extraordinarily rare in nonabused children) and a healed anal fissure; another suffered a labial adhesion (

    caused by rubbing, irritation, or sexual abuse).

    However, the following also makes me think there is enough ambiguity in the case — admittedly more than indicated in Rabinowitz’s column — to theorize it’s just as possible the children analyzed were dealing with sexual abuse at home, perhaps instigated by a father, mother, siblings, relatives?

    Twenty-two teachers and teachers’ aides, full and part-time employees of Fells Acres, testified on behalf of the defendant. Teachers testified that they never saw the defendant dressed as a clown, never saw a robot at the school, never heard of the magic or secret rooms.

    They testified that they were never restricted or denied access to any rooms in the school, that they never lost track of the children in their care for any length of time, never saw anything indicative of sexual abuse, and that the defendant was well-liked by the children.

    Mark (411533)

  8. I have to say, if I spend a long time in prison for this, from the evidence I’ve heard which so blatantly makes false and senseless a conviction, they damned sure better NOT let me out, because I’d spend the free time until my next arrest hunting down and killing every sonovab****ing last one of them.

    There are some people who morality demands be removed from the gene pool. The prosecutors in some of these cases fit the bill. A reasonable error is one thing — knowingly convicting an innocent person is another.

    O Bloody Hell (79d71d)

  9. Patrick, I first became aware of the day care child abuse cases when I saw a PBS show on the Little Rascals Day Care in North Carolina. Then we had the McMartin case here and a couple of others, including the Fells Acres case. There was also another Mass case that involved a young gay man named Bernard Baran. That case was quite similar to a case in San Diego involving a young mentally retarded man named Dale Akiki. One of the unique aspects of the Akiki case was that gang members in the San Diego jail became convinced that he was innocent and protected him during his incarceration. Unfortunately, Bernard Baran was not that lucky.

    Common to all these cases are fantastic allegations that were clearly created by coaching of the small children by psychologists who had been trained to “detect” abuse by Children’s Institute International, which was funded by federal grants created by legislation sponsored by Al Gore.

    Kee McFarlane was a big part of the McMartin case and developed a romantic relationship with a TV reporter. The initial complaints at McMartin ballooned when the parents were informed that insurance was available for those harmed by abuse. I don;’t know if that was a factor in the fells Acres case.

    I have read six or seven books about this scandal and the similar scandal of recovered memories, which involved older people, often college girls with bulemia. There was a significant incentive for these “therapists” to discover abuse and the findings you describe have been disputed by others who were less involved in the grants and therapy business.

    I think the Amirault case was the worst because other cases all were dropped by prosecutors eventually and there were even some apologies. In the Amirault case, Gerald was kept imprisoned because he would not admit guilt. He would have been eligible for parole had he confessed but he has always maintained his innocence. The involvement of the case in Mass politics contributed to the injustice as Harshberger and Swift both blocked the parole or pardon for reasons of political ambition. Coakley applied pressure to Swift to prevent Gerald’s release.

    I have contributed to both the Amirault family and to Bernard Baran.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  10. By the way, I have treated anal fissures in very small children which are fairly common.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  11. So Tookie — the son of the school’s owner — put on a clown’s costume one day? Or he or someone else put on a robot costume another day?

    And one of the children said she was cut on the wrist? That should have resulted in evidence visible from a mile away. But it apparently wasn’t detected by any of the experts? Or was it noticed by certainly the parents of the child, but their testimony wasn’t admitted as evidence!?

    This definitely is not an OJ type of case, where the gray area extended from point A to point B. The gray area in this instances stretches all the way to, say, point N or X.

    In matters like this, you really do have to rely on the common sense and logic of decisionmakers, including prosecutors and judges. Oh, oh, that rules out the dependibility of a good percentage of emotion-laden liberals, including those like Martha “no-more-terrorists-in-Afghanistan” Coakely.

    Some of the children described the abuse as being perpetrated by a bad clown. The bad clown made the children taste ice cream from his penis and made them touch his penis. One child described the incidents in terms of playing an elephant game at school, licking ice cream from the trunk of a pink elephant. The children related that the incidents occurred in a magic or secret room. The magic room was described to be the bathroom on the second floor of the school.

    Some children described seeing, or being photographed by a big camera with wires, a red button, and pictures that came out of the camera. One child, while at home, emerged naked from a closet, struck various poses and stated that this was what she had to do at school.

    The children stated that they were threatened by Tooky or Miss Vi that if they told anyone about the incidents, that their parents, or family, would be killed, or cut up in pieces, or that the children would be sent away. One child described the killing of a bird, squirrel, and dog in his presence. Another child said her wrist was cut and that blood came out. Some of the children described a robot that threatened them, and told them not to tell their parents. Another child described being blindfolded during the incidents.

    Mark (411533)

  12. “I read the linked stuff. Though credible, nothing there ties any physical symptoms to the 3 accused.”

    Except that they were all from children going to the same place.

    Rabinowitz says there was no shred of evidence that could remotely implicate the defendant.

    Mike K acknowledges its existence and disputes it.

    I find Mike’s approach more credible.

    By far.

    Patterico (eaf05f)

  13. Mark,

    As I said, maybe jurors threw out the more fantastical claims.

    Patterico (eaf05f)

  14. As I said, maybe jurors threw out the more fantastical claims.

    I wonder if they were the flip side of the OJ jurors? Or people who, instead of taking a pile of evidence and converting it into a tiny speck, take a micron of material from the prosecution and turn it into Mount Everest?

    Mark (411533)

  15. How do you know the less fantastical parts were the micron?

    Patterico (eaf05f)

  16. The McMartin case and the Fells Acres case were very similar in most respects. California, as screwy as it is in most instances, still acquitted the McMartin defendants.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  17. I still think that the McMartins being able to pay for decent attorneys helped immensely.

    Dianna (f12db5)

  18. How do you know the less fantastical parts were the micron?

    Based on the admittedly public-only information contained on the web site you linked to, the only thing that stood out to me in favor of the prosecution was the statements from the pediatric gynecologist. But even some of the force of her part of the case was blunted by what Mike K mentioned above regarding anal fissures. That then leaves the main bit of possible a-ha! evidence being the particular condition described as “extraordinarily rare in nonabused children.”

    I’d say the case against, for example, Michael Jackson was far more definitive and one-sided than what I’m seeing in the case involving the daycare school in Massachusetts.

    Mark (411533)

  19. Patterico,

    I’ve seen interviews with jurors (yes I know not admissible, but still probative in any examination searching for truth in what the process resulted in) from this case, their take on the fantastic claims was that the children had suffered so much that something /had/ to have happened, that children that age are incapable of making up these sorts of claims on their own. The fantastic claims actually made them more willing to believe the credible claims even where evidence was lacking.

    That of course has no bearing on Coakley but does speak to how the case was handled in general.

    Soronel Haetir (2b4c2b)

  20. Patterico,

    You write:

    “Prosecutors are not charged with obtaining as many convictions as possible. We are charged with seeking justice.”

    Stipulated: That prosecutors are charged with seeking justice.

    Stipulated: That most prosecutors probably accept the job of prosecutor with exactly that intent.

    But, the incentives don’t necessarily push them toward keeping that charge.

    Who gets promoted — the assistant prosecutor who looks at cases, pronounces them BS, and dismisses them, or the prosecutor who lands the most convictions?

    Who gets the most media attention (important for someone with political or promotion ambitions) — the prosecutor who says “there’s no there, there” or the prosecutor who tries a controversial case versus someone accused of a heinous crime?

    I don’t know that I necessarily have a solution to the problem of these incentives, but I believe the problem exists and that if it doesn’t necessarily turn prosecutors into bad people, it does push them toward giving in to the temptation bad behavior.

    You are, of course, correct that it’s not a “left or right” thing.

    Thomas L. Knapp (f1a580)

  21. Thomas L. Knapp:

    Who do you think people should vote for in Massachusetts? Scott Brown or some nobody libertarian?

    Have a nice evening!

    Patterico (c218bd)

  22. Thomas Knapp never links any good songs.

    happyfeet (e9e587)

  23. To be fair, neither do you.

    I mean, you do link songs . . .

    Just . . .

    You know.

    Patterico (c218bd)

  24. Patterico,

    I’m going to answer your question at tedious length. Since you considered it important enough to ask, you deserve a full answer.

    I think people should vote for the candidate whose policy positions best reflect their own.

    Of course, I also think people’s policy positions should be those best reflected by Joe Kennedy, the Libertarian running as an Independent, but I don’t think they should vote for him if that’s not the case.

    I’m a Kennedy supporter, and a Kennedy volunteer (from afar, doing some data entry work for GOTV and so forth).

    As to which of the major party candidates I’d rather see win, that would be Brown, for various reasons which break down to him being the candidate who, if victorious, is likely to deal the most damage to both major parties (there’s just the barest chance that he might have an opportunity to bust Cannibal Care, and if he wins on Tuesday, he’ll have cost the GOP at least two pickups in each house of Congress come November by remobilizing the Dem base).

    Here you go, happyfeet.

    Thomas L. Knapp (f1a580)

  25. Who gets promoted — the assistant prosecutor who looks at cases, pronounces them BS, and dismisses them, or the prosecutor who lands the most convictions?

    Let’s clear up some misconceptions about prosecutors that are unfortunately being perpetuated.

    First, number of convictions has nothing to do with whether you get promoted or not. Anyone can take a plea. Number of jury trials are a infinitely more important factor, as it reflects on your trial experience, not number of convictions.

    Second, the prosecutor who dismisses a BS case is doing the right thing, which can’t be faulted. On the other hand, failing to dismiss a case against someone who is innocent, especially a media case, is a sure recipe for political disaster. Remember Mike Nifong? Hopefully the same can be said of Coakley come Tuesday.

    sclawyer (f1b2bf)

  26. Knapp:

    I already knew that. I just wanted to watch you discredit yourself further by arguing it here.

    Knapp is the kind of guy who wants to give the election to Coakley to be a libertarian purist.

    This is who you’re dealing with.

    Idiot.

    Have a nice evening!

    Patterico (c218bd)

  27. Sclawyer is right. Number of trials is the big statistic, although statistics aren’t everything.

    With a high profile case the motivation is no different from a standard case: you want to do it right.

    That might mean a prosecution and trial. It could mean a rejection or dismissal. You just don’t want to screw up.

    But then, who does?

    Patterico (c218bd)

  28. that was… that was just hurtful…

    thank you for the song about the white person Thomas that was very nice kind of

    here to enjoy – is what you get when you lock angsty australian kids in a room with smiths and the cure cds.

    And more Australian retro for you here… this one is more kind of like those josie’s on a vacation far away people. It’s my favorite song this weekend.

    happyfeet (e9e587)

  29. Patterico,

    Check your premises.

    Per Rasmussen, those who poll for Kennedy poll 2-1 for Coakley, not Brown, as their second choice, and his campaign has specifically targeted progressives who don’t like Coakley because she’s pro-war and pro-drug war.

    The better Kennedy does, the better Brown will do.

    Thomas L. Knapp (f1a580)

  30. FWIW, I think it is overwhelmingly likely that the Amiraults are innocent. I’ve taken an interest in these cases.

    I suppose it’s barely possible that they were guilty and (effectively) framed by the Satanic Child Molest Everywhere folks, but that seems wildly unlikely.

    But even there, Coakley’s wrong. I don’t believe there’s good reason to keep these people in. There is no rational view of the evidence that leads one to believe that they are probably guilty. They should not have been prosecuted in the first place.

    JRM (355c21)

  31. Clarification: Coakley didn’t prosecute them in the first place, and I knew that. She was wrong to argue against letting them out.

    JRM (355c21)

  32. “Politics makes people stupid and impervious to logic.”

    …except, of course, in the case of anyone making this observation: they are uniquely immune.

    Drew (d587d9)

  33. that children that age are incapable of making up these sorts of claims on their own. The fantastic claims actually made them more willing to believe the credible claims even where evidence was lacking.

    This was a big claim of CII at the time of the McMartin case but it has been disproven. There are ethical issues about trying to do research on the suggestibility of children but it has been shown in a couple of studies that small children are very, very suggestible and tend to confabulate additional details after the fact. One study (Obviously they are not going to use sexual topics) involved convincing little kids that they had been lost in a shopping mall. They hadn’t but they quickly expanded details and the details got more and more fantastic as time went on.

    It is now accepted by all serious psychologists that small children are totally unreliable witnesses.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  34. This long paper contains a number of experiments in which false memories were created in small children and in which real events were appropriated by children who were not witnesses to the event (One of which was traumatic). It’s probably more than you want to know but it concerns another day care case that was intensively studied because it was late in the series of cases and a good study was made of the case by psychologists who were not trying to generate grant money.

    It’s interesting to compare this story of hysteria to the AGW hysteria. Most people are not aware of the background of grants that were funded to study child abuse. It is also interesting to see the role of Al Gore in both examples. The false memory cases, in particular, followed the increasing threat to psychology as a field by the rise of HMOs in the late 80s. The HMOs were sharply limiting payment for psychology treatment. There were actually national meetings that conducted courses in how to elicit “repressed” memories of sexual abuse and incest. These were older patients, not the day care cases, but both scenarios took place in the 80s.

    There is also increasing research in anatomic findings.

    Acta Paediatrica. 2003 Dec;92(12):1453-62.
    Genital anatomy in non-abused preschool girls.
    Myhre AK, Berntzen K, Bratlid D.
    Department of Laboratory Medicine, Children’s and Women’s Health, Norwegian
    University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.

    RESULTS: A number of genital anatomical features and hymenal measurements were described and found consistent with previous studies. An important finding was outward folding of the posterior hymenal rim in many girls, a feature that could be difficult to distinguish from attenuation of the posterior hymen. A gaping hymenal orifice, previously suggested to be a supportive sign of sexual abuse, was fairly frequently found and significantly associated with a large horizontal hymenal diameter. CONCLUSION: To distinguish between girls with outward folding of the posterior hymen and those with attenuated hymens, we recommend the use of the saline irrigation method. Even though normative hymenal measurement data now exist from a reasonable number of girls, these measurements should be used with caution in sexual abuse evaluations.

    Prior to the day care abuse hysteria, nobody had studied normal anatomy. A number of the studies state that almost all of this research is American as the hysteria is what stimulated most of this.

    Mike K (2cf494)


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