The Aftermath

As Pointing From the Grave comes to a close, it is evident that Weinberg forms a relationship with Frediani that would raise a couple eyebrows had she developed the relationship during the trial. In my opinion, it was strange for Weinberg to continue a working relationship with Frediani after his conviction. Did she have doubts? In addition, did she think Frediani was capable of love? At first, I did not believe Frediani could be capable of real emotions because of the stereotypes surrounding sociopaths and his history of manipulating and hurting his partners. But I was wrong. “Inside the Mind of a Sociopath” describes the type of love Frediani was capable of.

“whatever it is that we feel affection, for me it’s maybe 70 percent gratitude, a little bit of adoration, a little bit of — if it’s a romantic relationship — infatuation or sexual attraction”

It was still wrong, in my opinion, for Weinberg to get wrapped up emotionally with Frediani, but we benefited as readers because we read more of Frediani’s personality and gained possible evidence that he did commit the crime.

The Aftermath

“Ambiguous” DNA Tests

“Taylor’s laboratory had spent the last year running all sorts of tests on the Profiler Plus system and the 310 Genetic Analyzer, he told Bartick. On numerous occasions, the results had been, at best, ambiguous.” -Weinberg 259

I find it very astounding to think that DNA tests that were being used to test people’s innocence or guilt in certain situations were not giving clear results. I think that when people’s lives are at stake, everything should be as blatantly clear as possible. This obviously ties in to the Innocence Project and its purpose of freeing wrongly convicted people, but it was from the other side: using DNA evidence to show that people were innocent. I think that it is a hard line to walk, especially because DNA evidence has the power to be so influential, so it is important that it be used ethically and carefully.

This also brings into question the nature of the court system and prosecution. Why were they so quick to accept the lab results given to them? I think it was because they were amazed by the infallibility of DNA. But as infallible as science is, it can be fallible when handled or interpreted incorrectly, either on purpose or unknowingly. I think that the best solution for this is to do all testing blind, but most importantly, make sure the technology is 100 percent accurate before it is used to convict someone of a crime. I think the end goal of the courts should be to find the person who committed the crime, not just person.

“Ambiguous” DNA Tests

Planted or Not?

In Chapter 17 of Pointing From The Grave  by Samantha Weinberg, David Bartick, the defense lawyer hired by the Frediani’s considers using the defense of planted evidence to get Paul acquitted of his charges. In tv shows on a regular basis cops plant evidence on criminals to get convictions. But how often does this happen in real life? how many times do the police get caught doing it? This article sheds some light on cops planting evidence. It would have been completely possible for police to plant Frediani’s dna since it had already been collected by law enforcement, so is there a federal agency watching over this case like in the ones mentioned in the article? Perhaps the lab did in fact plant the dna to get a conviction since Frediani was the only suspect.

Planted or Not?

Not All Investigations Were Created Equal

 

Lately in class we have been talking police cover-ups and planted DNA at crime scenes to convict certain individuals, which poses the question, how would someone manage to do this? Moreover, if authorities are in control of all of the evidence present in a case, what are the chances that the police decide “speed up” a case progression by planting evidence, or convicting the wrong person? I recently read an article about tactics police sometimes use called “coaxing”, which is a tactic that tries to force a confession out of person, guilty or not. This method was brought to the public’s eyes after Stephen Avery (Netflix series Making A Murderer) was wrongfully convicted of a crime he never commit. Aside from disregarding some potentially case changing evidence that would have cleared Avery’s name, they forced his cousin into a confession without the presence of council. Unlike something like a murder, planting evidence usually doesn’t leave behind any traces of and is probably most unexpected thing a prosecutor/detective would be looking for. With our sophisticated methods of analyzing DNA and matching it to people, it would be extremely hard for a jury to believe something that the DNA evidence doesn’t directly point to, especially in a case like Helena’s where DNA evidence and 1 measly fingerprint were the only tangible evidence against Frediani. In this decade we have seen hundreds of overturned cases and people exonerated of their crimes because of the incredible technology we have at our disposal. However, sometimes I believe that too much faith is put into our justice system, and certain unfortunate individuals are caught in “wrong place, wrong time” moments and find themselves staring at life in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.

Not All Investigations Were Created Equal

Evidence Planting

“Why would we want to plant evidence?”

“To close the case.” -(Weinberg 230)

While reading this chapter of Pointing From the Grave, Frediani’s interrogation by the police struck me.  When asked why they would have his DNA, Paul claimed that the police must have planted evidence against him.  Based off what I know about Paul and the case so far from the book, I do not think the officers involved with Frediani’s crimes framed him at all, but hearing about this type of tampering got me curious.  After a quick google search on evidence planting, I found this article  .  The article does a good job explaining how it is very much unclear how often evidence is planted by cops.  There are no agencies run by the government that look out for and track this type of injustice and it seems the only way people get caught is in the act itself.  The New York City example from 2008 is fascinating based off of the guilty officer’s quote.  He went on to testify that nothing will happen to the wrongly convicted, although he is being completely blind to the fact that these people he planted evidence on will have records of drug possession.  Besides trying to meet an arrest quota, like the New York cop, some officers plant evidence for personal and vengeful reasons.  The article mentions how a police sergeant planted meth in his ex wife’s car as an attempt to win custody of their kids.  How can these types of evidence planting be stopped?  Should there be more agencies that look into and monitor these falsehoods, or should policemen have no quotas and less pressure to meet a certain number of arrests?

 

Evidence Planting

DNA and Innocence

“For every case in which the criminal justice systems of the world has been proven  – primarily through the agency of DNA – to be too eager to convict the innocent, there are multiple examples of guilty people slipping through their nets and escaping punishment” -Weinberg, pg 201

It has been a great topic of controversy whether people should go to jail if their fingerprint is found in the place where the murder happened or if the person that was murdered had the DNA of someone else. However, the Innocent project tries to calm down convictions so that people that could be innocent do not go to jail. In my opinion, someone who goes to jail only in the basis of DNA should not be found guilty. So the Innocent project makes a lot of sense, because it is not fair for people to convicted in a crime with only one compromising evidence. Therefore, it is important that they do not act with eagerness.

DNA and Innocence

OJ Simpson vs. DNA

“Pre-O. J., few people had ever heard of DNA; the trial changed all that; to this day, in the US at least, its three initials are inextricably linked to Simpson’s two.”- (Weinberg 202)

Few cases have ever garnered so much media attention at once. However, the OJ Simpson case was one of those few cases that become a media sensation. DNA was a piece of evidence rarely used in court before however, due to the magnitude of the case it was essential. It appeared in the text that the DNA used in court was tampered with and switched leading to believe that Mr. Simpson did not commit the crime. Recently I saw the ESPN 30 for 30 on the Duke lacrosse scandal. The documentary pointed out the prosecution running his own DNA test and thus tampering with the results leading to believe that the lacrosse players committed the crime. Eventually all players were found innocent and prosecutor was disbarred. Both these high profile cases illustrate the issues with DNA testing. Once brought up in court it is very hard to argue DNA tests even if in the end they are wrong. This brings up the issue of the negatives of DNA testing and how science can easily be manipulated.

OJ Simpson vs. DNA

What Evidence We Actually See

“‘I am a psychologist,’ Thompson says. ‘My research is on how people make judgements. And if I know one thing it is: what you expect to see and want to see influences what you do see, when you are looking at something ambiguous'” – Weinberg, p194

I thought this quote was extremely well put and really captures the essence of what I was thinking while reading about how the forensic scientists know exactly which sample comes from the victim, and which sample comes from the suspect. It is clear that if the forensic scientists know the information about the case it would be very hard for them to keep their biased opinion from playing a role in the results of their work. As I was reading this section of the chapter I was questioning why forensic scientists do not go into a case blind, similar to how a scientist who tests finch paternity goes into the experiment blind. I understand that the forensic scientists are considered part of the prosecution team, but I believe that in some cases scientist’s feelings and opinions would be very hard to keep separate from the case, and therefore must play a role in the results. Thompson referenced cases where questionable DNA results came out as matches, and I wondered to myself whether these were cases in which the scientists knowledge of the case impacted the results. I believe that scientists should have to look at the DNA and samples blind, without any knowledge of who the suspect or victim is, or any details about the case.

What Evidence We Actually See

Is what you see what you get?

“In the forensic world, the people who are doing the interpretation are, in most cases, considered part of the prosecution team; they meet with the detectives, they know the particulars of the case, often they have strong expectations of what they are going to see…’I am a psychologist,’ Thompson says. ‘My research [says]…what you expect to see and want to see influences what you do see…” -Weinberg, 194

Since forensic scientists are working with the organic evidence and DNA of a case, they should be objective members of the prosecution team. They work directly with the only true links to a crime scene and should be examining the evidence without a personal agenda. However, since they are given all of the information of the case, and are usually hired by the defense or prosecutor to prove that particular side’s case, it becomes difficult to not become personally invested in the research.

William Thompson points out that what a person expects and wants to see will affect how they see what is in front of them. So if a scientist, believing that the accused is guilty, sees an ambiguous analysis or interpretation of evidence, it is possible that they will see a link to the crime. Weinberg gives the example of the scientist who found DNA that could only possibly match the suspect, but insisted that it matched because of there circumstances in which the investigators found the evidence.

This problematic form of scientific analysis poisons the justice system, and gives objective, true evidence the potential to be unreliable.

Is what you see what you get?

Matching Hairs and Blood Types

Two types of evidence found at the crime scene of Helena Greenwood’s assault were three strands of pubic hair, and a semen sample. Mona Ng, the criminologist who examined each piece of evidence, noted that:

“Two of the hairs could not be associated with the suspect Fredriani. The third hair could not be excluded as possibly coming from him.”  – Weinberg, p89

After checking the FBI website for information on forensic hair analysis, I learned that hair evidence can easily determine the race of a suspect and even the sex or age, albeit with more difficulty. Even though two of the strands found couldn’t be linked to Fredriani, the third could have belonged to a number of other men of the same race; Dr. Ng further explained that 14% of  population shares the blood type found in the semen sample, a statement which also expands the number of possible suspects when applied to the Bay Area alone. For these reasons I find it slightly illogical to convict Fredriani with what appears to be coincidental evidence.

https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/lab/forensic-science-communications/fsc/july2000/deedric1.htm/

Matching Hairs and Blood Types

Invasion of Privacy or Concrete Evidence?

” Tell her that this is the man who murdered and raped her predecessor” (Weinberg, pg. 136).

In the middle of chapter 9, Weinberg reports that someone had called Helena’s old work at Genprobe and requested to talk to her successor. The message he had to leave was that he killed and raped Helena. Than he hung up. It was confusing at first because I was curious as to why they didn’t trace the phone line to see where it came from but maybe in 1985 they didn’t have such technology. However, this reminded me of a popular show called “Person of Interest”. Basically is about two men who created a machine that monitors every means of surveillance. By this technology, it somehow is able to predict within 24 hours of a crime that was pre meditated. One of the main things it uses are cell phones. Most everyone has a cellphone and its easily traceable. But even if someone used a pay phone, the street cameras placed everywhere has a clear direct view of the people using them. Assuming that this technology is not available in 1985, how can someone confessing over the phone be handled? It does not make sense that Frediani made the phone call seeing how he was placed in jail at the time but maybe he had an accomplice? This call may indicate that another person could be involved or a third party that we are not expecting could be the cause of Helena’s death.

We discussed in class how Iphones have the ability to tract every place you go and how long you were there for. It makes me questioned if the government should have the ability to access this information and know my whereabouts daily.

Sometimes people have difficult finding alibi’s in a court case, such as Frediani did, so I wonder if using the tracking technology of cellphones could of changed the result of his conviction if in 1985 they had them. It seems as if someone had claimed that they were with the person and there phone indicated that they were also present at that location, the alibi would hold stronger. However, since Frediani was guilty of the sexual assault, having a cellphone track his whereabouts may have been considered an invasion of privacy. I do not know much about the law but it doesn’t seem likely that the court would care much about someones privacy in this
particular case.  camera

Image Source

 

Invasion of Privacy or Concrete Evidence?

Reasonable Doubt: When is a Person Wrongfully Convicted

“Reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt, because everything relating to human affairs and depending on moral evidence is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. It is that state of the case which after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence leaves the minds of the jurors in that consideration that they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction to a moral certainty of the of the charge. “ -Weinberg (p. 107)

I really enjoyed reading this quote in chapter 7 because reasonable doubt is the biggest obstacle that prosecutors must overcome to get a conviction. This quote got me sparked my interest to find cases where the sentence can be either overturned or reversed in the defendant’s favor.

I wanted to have a little more understanding of what reasonable doubt meant. I did some online searching and sound some YouTube videos that explains reasonable doubt a little better. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezGcrdklYh0,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQw8r1xW4CM

After looking over some cases involving reasonable doubt, I stumbled upon the Manuel Velez case of 2013. This case involves a construction worker named Manuel Velez who got convicted for killing his girlfriend’s child, Angel. Velez was sentenced to death row in the state of Texas. Velez could have been killed by the state of Texas until a team of civil litigators working pro bono with the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project tried to appeal the case. Looking through the medical files of deceased baby Angel the team of lawyers found an unusual file. In Angel’s pediatrician files, the attorney found that Angel’s head circumference had grown rapidly before Velez moved in with the mother. Forensic witness expert, Dr. Daniel Brown testified that the abnormal and rapid growth of baby Angel’s head is a sign of reoccurring violent head trauma. It was also noted that Angel was also vomiting and convulsing months before his death. These signs and symptoms point towards  Velez’s girlfriend. This new evidence displays that the death of Angel could not be confirmed without a doubt Manuel Velez’s involvement with the murder of his child Angel.   After nine 9 years in prison and in death row, Manuel Velez was found innocent on the grounds of reasonable doubt. The jury during the trial found that the death of Angel could not be attributed to Manuel Velez based on the newly found evidence.

 

Resources :

http://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/reasonable-doubt-the-manuel-velez-case/

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/oct/08/texas-releases-death-row-inmate-manuel-velez

https://www.aclu.org/blog/speakeasy/after-9-years-manuel-velez-innocent-man-free-last

Reasonable Doubt: When is a Person Wrongfully Convicted

Circumstantial Evidence’s Value

In chapter seven it seems that circumstantial evidence is able to place Frediani in jail. While there is some direct evidence such as the fingerprint it is largely circumstantial evidence. I did some research and found an article which talked about why some juries cant convict with circumstantial evidence. It gave examples such as the Casey Anthony case where there was a lot of circumstantial evidence but not were not able to convict because there was not enough physical evidence. The article included a quote which I liked which says its  “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” This made me think that while a lot of times circumstantial evidence may make people look very guilty physical evidence should be the top priority every time.

 

Circumstantial Evidence website

Circumstantial Evidence’s Value

Pot prints vs Suspect description

The pot was found outside with Paul’s prints on it, but originally was inside. Clearly this should be enough proof that he had to at some point enter the house. Regardless of whether the pot was outside with his print, that must mean he took it from inside the house, which should be able to further the case against him. Although there was no prints of Paul’s inside the house, I believe the prints on the pot will be substantial evidence against Paul. On the other hand, the description of the suspect in court did not match Paul. Is this description discrepancy enough to overlook the prints on the pot?

Pot prints vs Suspect description

Significance of Fingerprints in Criminal Cases

“A single print found under the lip of the teapot .. after studying it using a microscope, he found sixteen separate points of comparison, all of which matched.” .. “He (Frediani) cannot believe that he will be convicted on such flimsy evidence” – pg. 56

What constitutes significant evidence in a criminal case like this? I had to read this quote twice to make sure I was reading correctly that Frediani didn’t think his own unique fingerprint– on a teapot inside the house of the woman he is accused of sexually assaulting, would convict him of a crime. Honestly, I think this is one of the best pieces of evidence that Chaput and his team could have taken from that crime scene. Fingerprints are unique to individuals, meaning that no two people have the same fingerprint. Frediani’s fingerprint in Helena’s house is a nail in the coffin for at least burglary, and should prolong a further investigation into this incident. Highlighting the circumstances, here you have a man (Frediani) who is already a sex offender and has been convicted for public indecency and stalking in the past, who is the only suspect in this sexual assault case. With the addition of his fingerprint being found on a teapot inside the victims home, I don’t think you can classify this finger print as “flimsy evidence”.

Significance of Fingerprints in Criminal Cases

Locard’s Exchange Principle

“One of the fundamental tenets of crime detention, Locard’s Exchange Principle, states that a cross transfer of evidence takes place whenever a criminal comes into contact with a victim, an object or a crime scene. When the victim has died after a violent struggle, it is almost inevitable that in the course of the fight, as they claw each other, the victim might manage to scrape vital pieces of evidence with their fingernails– skin, dirt, hair” Weinberg 75

This process really stood out to me, particularly, how true is it? I am sure that it is a well established principle in the forensic science world, and has been used over and over to find and convict guilty offenders. But in real situations, it does not seem like it is as guaranteed as the principle makes it seem. Especially since there was not enough evidence under Helena’s fingernails to identify anyone’s DNA. Maybe it is because I watch too many CSI shows and am not immersed in any way with the actual process of real cases and forensic data collection, but it seems to me that this principle applies more in theory than in real life. This seems plausible especially for well planned out murders. The murderer probably tries to decrease physical contact as much as possible, and probably tries to get it over with as fast as possible without leaving behind any evidence. I think in cases where the murderer is somewhat mentally unstable or has a personal vendetta or wants revenge on someone, then they might attempt a hand to hand murder or come in close physical contact with the victim. This seems to be the kind of case that CSI shows deal with anyway.

Locard’s Exchange Principle

Fingerprints: Solid or Flimsy Evidence?

“Of all the fingerprints Hill had examined from the scene, only one was clear enough for full analysis, a single print found under the lip of the teapot. After studying it using a microscope, he found sixteen separate points of comparison, all of which matched” -Weinberg, p56

This quote really stuck out to me as I was reading this chapter because it shocked me that only one fingerprint from the scene was good enough to be analyzed. This was surprising to me because the attacker broke into Helena’s house through the window, therefore he had to open the window, and I assumed that some of the fingerprints that were found on the window frame would have been good enough to use. I wondered if some of the fingerprints that were lifted off the window frame were ruined because of the possibility of inexperienced police officers lifting the prints. It was also interesting to me that the attacker and his lawyer considered the sixteen points of comparison, all of which matched, as flimsy evidence. This seems like very concrete evidence to me. Is it possible to have a fingerprint that similar to someone else? These points of comparison also seemed to strike the Judge as solid evidence, but the attacker’s lawyer was able to convince him that the situation was not as serious as he was treating it. Personally, I think the fingerprint that was found on the teapot was substantial evidence, enough to assume that Frediani was Helena’s attacker, and the case should have been dealt with more seriously and in a quicker time frame.

Fingerprints: Solid or Flimsy Evidence?

Place of Flower Pot

One thing that struck me from chapter 5 was the way the hearing for Paul went down.  Collins brings up a decent point about the description of his client.  Paul is described in court as a 6’3 white man in his early thirties, and even without the stretch that his eyes are hazel and not brown, he doesn’t fit the description of the criminal.  This brings up the whole idea of the location of the flower pot that held his print on it.  Even though it was once inside the house, the pot was outside of the house when it was found.  I was wondering if this lessons the credibility of the his print that the prosecutors have against him?  The semen analysis is still waiting to be done, but it is mentioned that none of Paul’s fingerprints are inside of the house.  It is very early on in the case, but at this point I believe that the prosecutors are going to need a lot more evidence than Paul’s print placing him outside of the house.

Place of Flower Pot

Evidence

“He could not believe that he will be convicted on such flimsy evidence, but Collins has warned him that he must be prepared to go to trial.” – Weinberg, page 56

Whether he is guilty or not, his DNA was found in a pot outside Helena’s house. We are aware that DNA is a very concrete evidence, however the fact it was outside changes a lot of things. Anyone could have touched that pot and could have been wrongly convicted. When there is a DNA role I believe that it has taken from a place that prosecutors are certain that only them could have committed the crime. If there is something that plays such a big role in finding criminals like DNA, we should be more careful of where we find it. If not, a lot of people may be convicted for wrong things.

Evidence

Lack of Evidence

“It wasn’t enough. With no physical evidence, Joe Farmer knew he was going to have problems persuading the DA’s office to prosecute Frediani for anything other than the indecent exposure.” (Weinberg 26).

How many cases get thrown out due to a lack of physical evidence? According to the Yorkshire Post, a newspaper based out of England, almost 2/3 of police rape investigations in Yorkshire in 2014 ended with no one being charged because of this lack of evidence. Often times, eyewitness testimonies in such traumatizing cases, like sexual assault cases, are unreliable and inconsistent due to high anxiety, stress, and paranoia. The best bet for a conviction relies on physical evidence, such as semen and pubic hair DNA sampling, but these are hard to find matches for. The victim must still have this DNA on his or her body, meaning that unlike Helena they mustn’t wash off after the assault. Does the failure rate of sexual assault cases influence victims and future victims? Are victims less likely to make a case out of their assault if they were to know this statistic?

Source

Lack of Evidence