The New New

But is SMARTWATER CSI just ‘scientific hogwash’?

All photos by Alex Welsh

It started about two years ago, when David Machado was held up at gunpoint. He was working in his shop in Tulare, the county seat of Tulare County, California, when he heard the house alarm go off. He jogged to the home he shares with his wife and saw a car parked out front. Initially, he thought the car belonged to a friend. Perhaps someone had accidentally pushed open the front door, which had a faulty latch. He went around to the back door and turned off the alarm. Then he heard the car horn.


(Mike Mozart / Flickr [CC])

It was late afternoon on Dec. 26, 2016 — the day after Christmas, a day when most stores are busy processing the returns for unwanted gifts — when Curtis Lawson entered a Walmart in Knoxville, Tennessee. He had a receipt for $39.57 in purchases made earlier that month. He needed cash. He walked through the store, picking up the same items he had purchased previously — dishwasher detergent, Oral-B refills, and a pair of girl’s jeggings — and put them in a shopping bag. He brought them to the register, returned the items using his receipt, and received $39.57 in…


A confederate monument still stands in front of the courthouse where Rodricus Crawford was sentenced to die. (Michael Barera / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

John Thompson was convicted of murder in Louisiana in 1985 and exonerated in 2003. When he walked free, he had survived 14 years on death row and seven execution dates. His story illuminates how difficult it is to hold prosecutors accountable for their misdeeds, and the need for new legislation that would provide concrete ways for the public to monitor and control prosecutorial discretion run amuck.

Just 30 days before Thompson’s seventh scheduled execution and his son’s high school graduation day, a defense investigator found the results of a blood test that pointed to another perpetrator buried in the police…


In March of 2010, Jesus Aguirre, Jr. had just turned 16 and was hanging out with a group of friends in Buena Park, California, when a fight broke out amongst nearly 20 boys. One of the boys fired a shotgun full of birdshot at another teen, who sustained “superficial” injuries, according to the Buena Park Police Department report. …


Under District Attorney Steve Wolfson, prosecutors in Las Vegas have led the nation in new death sentences, repeatedly engaged in racist jury selection, and maintained a secret bank account to pay witnesses for their testimony in criminal cases.

During the opening credits of Las Vegas Law, a 2016 Investigation Discovery show, a voice over announces, “Vegas. It’s exotic, exciting, excessive,” and the evenly-tanned face of the Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson appears. “I’m Steve Wolfson,” he says, “I’m not afraid of the cameras seeing what we do.”

Las Vegas Law is COPS for the lawyer set. There are men in suits — Clark County prosecutors — sitting around a sexy polished conference room table talking about evidence that is “devastating” to the case and problems involving proximate cause and admissible evidence: “That’s opinion; it’s not evidence.” …


Mecklenburg County Courthouse. By Upstateherd, via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Mecklenburg, North Carolina District Attorney R. Andrew Murray doesn’t seem to understand the problem with the county’s deferred prosecutions system, even after a group of faith leaders held a press conference Monday morning, arguing that the current system discriminates against the poor most in need of help.

The protest was timed with a hearing in the case of Charlotte resident Rahman Bethea, who was arrested and charged in March 2016 for stealing audio-visual components from his workplace. Bethea, who already was paying over $500 monthly for child support, found himself in a crushing financial situation — he lost his home…


Photo credit: Flickr user Heath Alseike

Texas residents have recently been coming around to the idea that carrying small amounts of pot shouldn’t be a crime. Houston’s current district attorney Kim Ogg announced in this year that she would no longer prosecute cases involving small amounts of marijuana, instead recommending a diversion program that would prevent a criminal record. DA Nico LaHood also announced a policy in Bexar County that would be more lenient on marijuana charges. And Nueces County DA Mark Gonzalez — of the “not guilty” chest tattoo — substituted jail time with a $250 fine.

Dallas is now the most recent Texas town…


In this Oregon capital case, it could ensure that the state doesn’t execute the wrong man.

Photo: DNA Lab at University of Michigan

On March 20, 1998, Harriet Thompson was found dead in her Salem, Oregon, apartment. The scene was gruesome, “a scene from a slaughterhouse” the District Attorney would say — blood stains on the floor, bloody shoe-prints, bloody towels, a bloody bathroom and a broken, bloody knife. The police formulated a theory that the crime was a murder-robbery.

A week later, the police arrested Jesse Lee Johnson because he had some of Thompson’s jewelry, allegedly giving earrings to his girlfriend and selling a ring. Johnson admitted he had been in Thompson’s apartment — he knew her — but denied being involved…


Leon Cannizzaro faced off against the New Orleans City Council this past Wednesday. What began as a request for the council to restore $600,000 in funding to the District Attorney’s office turned into a referendum on Cannizzaro’s punitive tactics and general lack of concern for people’s constitutional rights. He’s been written about before for harassing defense attorneys, threatening eyewitnesses who change their testimony with perjury charges, and ignoring compelling cases of actual innocence.

Cannizzaro’s overall budget is about $15 million, one of the highest prosecutor budgets in the state of Louisiana. Cannizzaro has long bemoaned his office’s budgetary restraints, arguing…


Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy (Source: Wayne County)

Jamal Segars and his friend Brian Minner were shot near the Detroit airport in 2004. Thelonious “Shaun” Searcy became the prime suspect, and investigator theorized he had meant to kill someone else and shot Segars and Minner by mistake. Officers from the scene were unable to identify Searcy, but four other random eye-witnesses did. Searcy presented eight eyewitnesses who placed him at a family barbeque.

Despite what would appear to be solid alibi evidence, then-25-year-old Searcy was convicted to first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.

Since then, Searcy has filed any number of appeals to get his case…

Jessica Pishko

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