Sunday, October 30, 2016

Laboratories Of Democracy

Meanwhile next door in Ohio, it seems that one of the state's chief forensic experts had her thumb on the evidence scale in favor of Ohio cops for, oh, about 30 plus years.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of criminal convictions in Ohio could be in jeopardy because a longtime forensic scientist at the state crime lab now stands accused of slanting evidence to help cops and prosecutors build their cases.

The credibility of G. Michele Yezzo, who worked at the Ohio attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation for more than three decades, has been challenged in two cases in which men were convicted of aggravated murder. One has been freed from prison because of her now-suspect work.

A review of her personnel records by The Dispatch shows that colleagues and supervisors raised questions about Yezzo time and again while she tested evidence and testified in an uncounted number of murder, rape and other criminal cases in the state.

Their concerns included that she presented evidence in the best light for prosecutors instead of objectively, used suspect methods while examining trace evidence from some crime scenes, and made mistakes that, as one former attorney general put it, “could lead to a substantial miscarriage of justice.”

Yezzo, 63, of West Jefferson, told The Dispatch that the accusations about her work being biased are wrong and that she approached her work objectively.

“I have never done anything to overstate analysis of evidence, nor have I done anything, for lack of better a word, to taint the evidence,” Yezzo said. “No, I didn’t appease prosecutors and law enforcement. I bent over backwards to try and find out whatever evidence was there, and that’s the best I can tell you.”

But two former attorneys general, defense attorneys, a judge, a former BCI superintendent and a nationally renowned forensic expert from the FBI all say that Yezzo has credibility issues that may have poisoned cases she touched.

Lee Fisher, who served as attorney general from 1991 to 1995, and Jim Petro, who served as attorney general from 2003 to 2007, both said they didn’t know of Yezzo when they were in office, but they now have concerns about her work.

I would call for an investigation into every case where her findings and conclusions were instrumental in the final result of a case,” Fisher said. “We have an obligation to the integrity of the criminal-justice system to investigate every case. We have to determine whether her findings or conclusions were suspect.”

So Ohio BCI knew Yezzo was crooked and let her continue to work anyway for 32 years. And if you think the Kasich administration is going to even think about touching this mess with a 100-foot pole, you don't know Ohio politics very well at all.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Friday that his office was alerted to the concerns about Yezzo in 2015 and has since conducted two separate reviews of her work. One involved examining 100 criminal cases where Yezzo’s evidence analysis played a role in a conviction.

DeWine said they found no issues with her work.

Moving forward, DeWine, who did not serve as attorney general during Yezzo’s tenure, said he has no plans for an internal investigation into Yezzo’s history, but he will have open discussions with defense attorneys on a case-by-case basis if they raise questions.

He said the BCI, which handles about 37,000 cases a year, has a “long history of doing good work” and has received the highest level of accreditation.

AG DeWine of course is running for governor in 2018, so you can expect this entire Yezzo issue to magically vanish.  Ohio BCI certainly isn't going to do anything.

Maybe the courts will do something about it.

But we should trust law enforcement because they are just and fair, right?

Fouling Up The Rigging

As Think Progress reminds us, two thirds of US states have elections controlled by the GOP, so if the election is "rigged" to keep Trump out of the White House (and it's not) then GOP Secretaries of State would have to somehow be in on it (which they aren't.)

So can we please stop this stupid notion that the election is rigged?

Because that's covering up what Republicans really are doing to stop Democrats from voting.

Sunday Long Read: Demon In A Bottle

Deadspin's Dave McKenna takes a look at the messy, tumultuous life of Washington Post sportswriter Jennifer Frey, whose talent burned brightly enough that it consumed herself in the process as she died earlier this year from a two-decade long fight with alcoholism.

Jennifer Frey drank herself to death.

Frey’s obituary in the Washington Post, her last full-time employer, merely gave “multiple organ failure” as the cause of her March 26 death. But alcohol killed her as surely as a bullet killed Lincoln.

She died abusing a drug that kills millions of people every year. But the life of Jennifer Frey was not a common one.

Frey was a can’t miss kid in sportswriting in the early 1990s. Just months out of Harvard, she was subjected to a high-profile episode of sexual harassment on the job. In response, Frey spoke forcibly and with righteousness for her gender and her profession in print and on national television as the controversy over women in locker rooms crested.

“There is a lot of talk about the players’ indignation at being forced to allow women into their dressing room,” Frey wrote while still an intern at the Miami Herald. “Few people are aware of the indignities felt by women beat reporters who are frequently harassed by athletes who do not understand that the women are there to do a job, not enjoy a peep show.

“It is not fun for a woman to go into a male locker room. It is not exciting. It did not ‘turn me on’ when a major-league baseball player dropped his pants and asked me to evaluate his anatomy.”

Soon after, she was wowing her elders at the Philadelphia Daily News and New York Times, and, in an era before the internet, writing reported stories at a blogger’s pace. Frey was also living like someone ready to take Manhattan and then the world. Everybody who knew her through the 1990s remembers Frey as both the organizer and the life of every party, and a party could be found in every town Frey filed copy from.

“Along with everything else she had, she was so much fun,” says Chuck Culpepper, a writer at the Lexington Herald Leader when he met Frey at a 1991 NCAA tournament game. “My God, was she fun.”

Mike Wise, who first worked with her at the New York Times in the early 1990s, vouches for the good times that awaited anybody lucky enough to be near vintage Jennifer Frey. “Being around her, you were just in awe,” he says. “If friends are going out for dinner, she would find the best place, and it didn’t feel like you were meeting her for dinner, it felt like you were in a parade going down Broadway and she was leading it.”

Frey was recruited from the Times by the Washington Post in 1995, at a time when the sports section was as stacked with big names as at any time in the history of the newspaper. Frey was set to become as big a deal as anybody on the masthead.

That never happened.

“She was incredible, a shooting star,” says Jeff Bradley, an assistant athletic director at Harvard when she was sports editor at the school paper. “And then she just fell off the face of the earth.”

It turns out that Frey’s hard living outlasted her usefulness as a journalist. ThePost’s obit contained glowing quotes about Frey from a 1997 column by David Carr, the future New York Times icon, who back then was editor and media columnist for for Washington City Paper: “Frey is a certified prodigy who can do it all: X’s and O’s, empathetic profiles, and hard takedowns when the situation requires it,” Carr wrote.

Yet other parts of that same Carr column, unreferenced in the Post’s obit, foreshadowed Frey’s fall, hinting all those years ago that her admirers were so blinded by her talents that they were ignoring the closeness of her relationship with booze.

Jody Goldstein, a former Houston Chronicle reporter who became a running buddy of Frey’s in the 1990s, was among a few friends from journalism who stuck with Frey after her bylines stopped. She says Frey’s alcoholism never loosened its grip.

“I asked Jennifer once, ‘What made you drink today?’” says Goldstein. “And she said, ‘That’s just what I do. I get up. I drink.’ That was her life.”

And Frey kept drinking even after it cost her a career, custody of her child, her house, and most of her friendships. Whenever doctors told her she’d die if she didn’t give up alcohol, she tried to call their bluff—until earlier this year, when she was told her liver was beyond repair.

Frey hoped to get a new organ through donation, but her application was rejected. Being kept off the transplant list was a death sentence. Lots of people who considered themselves close to Frey during the early, enthralling portions of her career were brought up to speed by an internet posting from Goldstein earlier this year explaining that the end was near and asking for money for Frey’s only child. Jaundiced but booze-free, Frey hosted visitors in her hospital room to talk about the good old days. Her final audiences reminded longtime friends what they’d lost years earlier.

No appreciation of her life appeared in the Washington Post, as noted by acommenter on its website who rhetorically asked if one was coming. (“If not, shame on you ALL,” the reader posted). Perhaps nobody at the paper wanted to write it. Intellectually, her former colleagues know they weren’t equipped to fight the alcoholism and mental illness that took Frey down; many nonetheless have guilt that she was allowed to slide so silently.

“I still can’t wrap my arms around her quiet exit and decline,” says Vinnie Perrone, a longtime Washington Post writer who was close to Frey before and during her time at the paper. “She was brilliant, she was a worker, she lit up any room she was in. She knew everybody and was liked by everybody in the business. We were all moths to her porchlight. There was a time when all these people would be glad to see her and be around her. But when the need arose, when she needed people, where were they? Where were we?”

Having lost a grandparent to alcoholism 20 years ago, this story hit me kind of hard.  There but for the grace of God go I.
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