Patterico's Pontifications


L.A. Times Misrepresents Holding of Federal Decision in California Murder Case

Filed under: Crime,Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 8:23 am

A front-page story in the L.A. Times this morning is titled She killed her husband — or did she?

Police got a confession from Kristi Lyn Bateson nine years after her husband was found shot to death while she was shopping. Tests showing her emotional vulnerability helped overturn the verdict.

No, they didn’t.

The story is certainly set up to suggest otherwise. The story is by Carol J. Williams, a name that will be familiar to Patterico readers from her 2009 article mischaracterizing the holding of a court decision concerning the war on terror. (We used to have one.) My refutation of her errors was vindicated in a remarkably lengthy and detailed correction that noted the mistakes that I had pointed out on my blog.

Today, Williams again misleads readers — including her own headline writer — concerning the real reason that Kristi Bateson’s murder verdict was overturned.

Bateson’s husband was shot to death at his home in 1992, while Bateson was ostensibly shopping with the kids. Cold case detectives interviewed Bateson in 2001 and obtained a confession from her that she had murdered her husband because he was controlling. A friend testified that she and Bateson had a running joke about whether they could murder their husbands and get away with it. A rifle that her husband owned, which had been seen in her husband’s truck a week before the murder, was never found.

Still, the key evidence showing her guilt was her confession. Regarding that, reporter Williams writes:

Word of the case reached UC Berkeley sociologist Richard Ofshe, an expert on false confessions. He suggested that Kristi be subjected to psychological screening for vulnerability to stress-compliant confession.

“False confession comes about almost all the time due to police misconduct, but there are a small number of people so stress-sensitive that they can’t withstand the pressure of even a legitimate interrogation,” Ofshe said recently. “In Kristi Lunbery’s case, it appeared she was one of those people so unable to deal with stress that she would comply as a way of escaping the stress without thinking about the consequences.”

Ofshe, who has testified in more than 300 trials, described Kristi as “one of the most easily dominated people I’ve ever met.”

Williams spends several paragraphs discussing Ofshe’s testing and proposed testimony. The reader is left with the impression that the defense failure to present this testimony was central to the court’s decision.

Late in the article, Williams writes:

On May 25, the panel overturned Kristi’s conviction.

Judge John T. Noonan Jr., a tough-on-crime conservative, shot holes in the prosecution’s theory. Kristi had spent a third of Charlie’s life insurance on his funeral. Troy Lunbery “was not on the scene in 1992.” Kristi’s claim that Charlie was “controlling” was an idea suggested by the detectives.

Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wrote that the “only evidence linking Kristi to the murder was her own statement, which she claimed was false. She had confessed, and it is hard to imagine anything more difficult to explain to a lay jury. After all, people do not just confess to crimes they did not commit, do they? Well, it turns out they sometimes do.”

Neither the state nor Shasta County appealed the 9th Circuit ruling. That left the county with a Sept. 1 deadline to set a retrial date or free Kristi.

Given the focus of Williams’s story on Ofshe and his testing, you can hardly blame the headline writer for concluding that “[t]ests showing her emotional vulnerability helped overturn the verdict.” After all, that is what Williams’s story seems to imply was the central finding of the Ninth Circuit.

But it wasn’t.

It doesn’t take specialized legal knowledge to see that tests showing Bateson’s emotional vulnerability had nothing to do with overturning the verdict. Here is the court’s key passage on Ofshe’s testimony:

Petitioner presses her claim that counsel was ineffective because they failed to call Professor Ofshe and failed to investigate further the validity of Kristi’s confession. These failures, if established, constitute errors requiring the grant of the petition. . . .

Failure has yet to be established. As evidence so far, we have only a memorandum in trial counsel’s file stating why counsel decided not to call Ofshe and an affidavit of federal habeas counsel stating that she had interviewed Kristi’s two defense counsel on the subject and that each had put responsibility on the other for not putting on expert evidence. To decide petitioner’s claim we need the live testimony of her
trial attorneys. . . .

We do not, however, need to delay our decision on her other contention.

Her other contention is that the California state courts improperly ruled inadmissible evidence that the murder had been a mistake by a drug dealer who had targeted a previous occupant of the home.

The exclusion of that evidence was the sole basis of the reversal. Judge Hawkins’s quote above is from a concurrence that has no legal effect.

It’s a dramatic quote, though — so why not make it sound like it was central to the decision? After all, in a contest between drama and truth, which is likely to win out?

This is the L.A. Times we’re talking about.

24 Responses to “L.A. Times Misrepresents Holding of Federal Decision in California Murder Case”

  1. All drama, all of the time. Sounds like my ex-wife!

    Icy Texan (d79ee4)

  2. I guess it takes little intelligence or honesty to be a journalist.

    The Ninth Circuit decision was right in this case.

    Michael Ejercito (249c90)

  3. It’s remarkable that only about a year after writing an embarrassingly sloppy article that required four paragraphs of corrections, Ms. Williams is apparently still on the legal beat for the Dog Trainer. If I were running that zoo, she would still be doing copy-editing and fetching coffee.

    JVW (eccfd6)

  4. But writing about the actual basis for the reversal doesn’t allow her to write about a new “technology” that can be used by defendants.

    Christian (2852e9)

  5. Truth? You readers can’t handle the truth.

    LA Times Editorial Board (fb8750)

  6. 3. It’s remarkable that only about a year after writing an embarrassingly sloppy article that required four paragraphs of corrections, Ms. Williams is apparently
    still on the legal beat for the Dog Trainer. If I were running that zoo, she would still be doing copy-editing and fetching coffee.

    You’re forgetting, by LAT standards she is a highly competent reporter.

    Soronel Haetir (fadc29)

  7. Six (now seven) comments?

    After the two previous posts, I expected more by now.

    Pious Agnostic (291f9a)

  8. If she wasn’t so compliant, she might have badgered her defense attorneys into working a bit harder. Sounds like they were ALL THREE too compliant, sitting around saying, “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?”

    Gesundheit (aab7c6)

  9. Never let the facts get in the way of a compelling narative.

    The LAT: descending into its’ own version of Hell!

    AD - RtR/OS! (578e62)

  10. Glad you finally got that note smuggled out so you could be rescued.

    Murder cases, other than the usual gangbanger thinning the herd type, are pretty interesting. I’ve read a couple of books about Jeff MacDonald and have mutual friends and I still don’t know if he is guilty.

    Mike K (d6b02c)

  11. I hate stories written in this format. I read them every now and then in the Statesman.

    An aggressive attempt to spin everything one way. Sometimes against someone, sometimes in their defense. Evidence against the POV is either ignored or briefly spat out and then ignored.

    So, if the LA Times’s version is right, a drug dealer assassin broke into the house, only a few days after it was moved into by the Bateson’s and then returned a while later to kill Charlie Bateson with a rifle while he was sleeping, thinking he was Frank Delgado.

    I’ve been in houses that were just moved into a few days ago… you can tell. This family didn’t look hispanic, either. And gang assassins do not kill dealers with large, clumsy hunting rifles. They certainly do not enter a place without a weapon, hoping to obtain one. And if they want to kill a dealer, the plan usually isn’t to sneak up to them in their sleep with their own gun in the middle of the day… though that does resemble a spouse murder situation.

    Leaving aside the bragging, the confession… the LA Times should be a little more skeptical of this gang theory.

    Instead, this is just passed over. And I have to filter the rest of the article’s aggressive spin.

    I found the phone calls, with the convenient alarm clock and neighbor having reason to enter the home, extremely unusual sounding and alibi convenient. the LA Times calls errors in explaining this stuff ‘minor discrepancies’. Why? They call showing an envelope of evidence presented to Kristi ‘brandishing’. Why? Do these people want to work for a comic book?

    She kept her story straight for many years… this isn’t someone who confessed easily. She survived the pressure of the initial investigation, but after many years, cracked. Does that sound like a thin skinned flake? It sounds to me like the guilt ate her up inside and she wanted to get this off her chest… in particular why she killed.

    I guess it’s just a coincidence that there actually is evidence bolstering her confession, such as the rifle, the alarm, the strange calls, the bragging, the ‘why’ and that there were, to use the LA Times’s words “minor discrepancies from her accounts nearly 10 years before.”

    This is a very interesting story, but it’s so difficult to process while figuring out what’s spin and what’s not. And this is the LA Times, so there are probably complete fabrications. Hell, they might even send a psycho PI after a reporter who doesn’t toe the line. I really can’t stand this paper.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  12. That doesn’t mean Ejercito is wrong. People deserve a decent defense.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  13. In her “defence”, isn’t this generally what passes for writing in most of our schools? Pick a conclusion from a list of the things the teacher is passionate about, and then come up with some “evidence” to back it up. And if anecdotal evidence is acceptable (a warm summer proving AGW, for instance) then why not anecdotes that are *almost* true? The important point seems to be whether the main assertion is true, right? (And of course it’s true because all the people we admire agree with it.)

    It’s not just this newspaper. Taking a page from Glen Beck, I’d say it’s the decay of our whole society. As a result, this woman can’t even understand what you’re so upset about!

    Gesundheit (aab7c6)

  14. The drama isn’t the issue. It’s which drama was chosen.

    Given a choice between the drama of a possible drug related mistake murder and a woman released because she may have been pressured by men into confessing that she killed her husband, Ms Williams made a predictable decision.

    There’s drama either way. The trick is to spin the facts to highlight only the drama you want people to hear.

    Amphipolis (b120ce)

  15. Having had a few of my civil cases written about in the local rag, my experience is that reporters rarely understand the issues or the decisions. every case I was involved with that was reported on the paper got wrong in its reporting.

    the same holds true for other things I have been involved with over the years that have made the papers. I find that reporters really aren’t the brightest bulbs and don’t generally understand things they are reporting on. We think that newspapers are dumbed down for the readers, but I think that is the best writing that these reporters can accomplish.

    Monkeytoe (5234ab)

  16. As a follow-up to my last comment,

    Our local rag turned off the comments to almost all of their articles. I suspect that is because the factual mistakes were being pointed out constantly, making them look terrible.

    Monkeytoe (5234ab)

  17. Heck, even just pointing out the spelling and grammatical mistakes would make most papers look stupid.

    Gesundheit (aab7c6)

  18. The OCRegister had an Ombudsman named Dennis Foley.
    He organized an informal group of readers who took the name “Foley’s Rangers” who turned up so much that was wrong in the paper in one year that they cancelled Dennis’ position, and kicked him upstairs (so-to-speak). Since I don’t read the paper regularly anymore, I can’t say whether or not our efforts have made any difference, can only hope.

    AD - RtR/OS! (578e62)

  19. and fetching coffee.

    Comment by JVW — 8/31/2010 @ 9:23 am

    You’d trust her fetching coffee? Really?

    GM Roper (5f13e9)

  20. Felching coffee sounds pretty gross.

    JD (d606fc)

  21. After all, in a contest between drama and truth, which is likely to win out?

    In any libtard paper (which the LAT clearly qualifies as), in a contest between Drama and TYruth, the winner, rather obviously, will be Douchebaggery … every single time.

    IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society (9eeb86)

  22. Why? Do these people want to work for a comic book?

    Well, this IS Hollywood. They’re not real reporters, but they do play them on TV — you know, Lois & Clark, and Smallville, and so forth…

    IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society (9eeb86)

  23. every case I was involved with that was reported on the paper got wrong in its reporting.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned about reporters, it’s how rarely they manage to get anything involving expert knowledge correct.

    There’s no question they can’t manage this with my own area of expertise — computer/IT knowledge — most of which writing and knowledge might work in a “B” movie but never in connection with Truth or Reality.

    Other areas of science which I am at least fairly familiar with — physics, math, etc., — they appear to my admittedly sub-complete-expert knowledge to be missing a few bottles out of the six-pack, too.

    Most so-called “tech” reporters for non-tech magazines (Time, Newsweek, the like) seem to get their scientific understanding from watching episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

    IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society (9eeb86)

  24. I know of Kristi Lunbery’s family and can tell you there is little to indicate that something like this could come from them. Her father was the coach of the Burney High School football team and also taught school. None of their family ever displayed even burst of anger that I saw during my years in the area. The local paper has a detailed article and of course followed this story in great detail through the years. It can be read on line here. After reading their report and others I have no idea or feel for who did what. It does seem that the evidence is weak (except for the “confession”) and Kristi is appears to people, to be malleable. She is not strong willed and like other women in her family it is possible to imagine her being drawn into a false confession if stress was applied. Other women in her family are of similar make up. The “confession” happened 8 years later during an interview in a work circumstance in which a patient she was caring for was moaning and making noises a severely mental handicapped man makes. This is heard on the tapes.

    After reading the local account it is possible that Kristi killed her husband but certainly not a slam dunk. As much as I hate to say it the ninth Circuit may have gotten one right.

    This is not a cunning, aggressive woman by nature. Just the opposite. It is not hard to be skeptical that she shot her husband as he slept in bed so quietly that neighbors did not hear. Dressed her kids and craftily wrote a letter to her husband which she put on the refrigerator, then went to her father’s house and then drove to Redding (60 miles) to shop the day in town. Redding is the closest mall and shopping area as Burney has only 2000 people in it IF you include the outline areas. When in Redding, you call your husband 3 times and finally a neighbor to ask for help for a flat tire (she was in Redding with her Father and 2 kids). The neighbor goes to get the husband and finds him dead on the bed and the investigation starts. Kristi is visibly shaken when the Sheriff contacts her in Redding. To do all this requires cunning and strict calculation and maybe help. No weapon found (one was missing of the approximate kind), no blood stains, no forensic evidence on her. The deputy who conducted the interview with her on the job is dead.

    It does seem she did not get a good defense.

    Leaves me with doubts. To build a case with no forensic evidence and an interview conducted with a moaning and other odd noises patient in the background 8 years later. Kristi’s had no money, her father lives on the retirement from teaching school and coaching. He has had a stroke. This must have been a court appointed lawyer.
    Read the account in the local news and see what you think.

    RoyBeans (7414d7)

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