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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Evidence is Overrated

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In February, based on DNA evidence, a Mississippi judge released two convicted rapists who had each been in prison for more than 12 years. The men had been convicted primarily due to the “bite mark” analysis of since-discredited dentist Dr. Michael West, who used iridescent lights and yellow goggles to demonstrate that scratches on the victims were bites by the two men. Subsequent independent analysis identified the scratches as just that: scratches, perhaps even made by West himself, according to a director of the Innocence Project. West’s bite “technology” has since been widely ridiculed by forensic professionals.

Yikes!
Since at least the early 1990s, trillions of discarded plastic items have converged in the Pacific Ocean, held together by swirling currents, to form the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This patch now covers an area twice the size of the United States and weighs about 100 million tons. “Every little piece of plastic manufactured in the past 50 years that made it into the ocean is still out there,” said one researcher quoted in a February dispatch in London’s The Independent. An oceanographer predicted that the patch would double in size in just the next decade. A 2006 United Nations office estimated that every square mile of ocean contains an average of 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.

CSI: Cats
(1) Luis Jimenez, 24, was arrested in Austin, Texas, in January and charged with having child pornography that police say he left behind when he moved. The subsequent tenant has a cat, which, in the process of exploring the new digs, got caught in a gap between a pantry and the ceiling where the DVDs had been hidden.

(2) In January, police testifying in the murder trial of David Henton, 72, in Swansea, Wales, said they made recordings (in his home, with hidden microphones) of Henton confessing to killing his longtime domestic partner. Since Henton lives alone, the wordy confessions were apparently to his cats, to whom he spoke frequently about a range of matters.

No Longer Weird
Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (87) The person arrested for drunken driving who decides to contest the charge, but is drunk again when arriving in court, as was Joseph Longfellow, 35, who blew a 0.32 blood-alcohol reading (four times the state driving limit). (88) People who live in airports, like Iranian Merhan Nasseri, who lived at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport for 18 years because of passport problems and who inspired the Tom Hanks film The Terminal (and, among others, Anthony Delaney, who was arrested at London’s Gatwick Airport in February after living there for nearly four years).

Least Competent Criminals
A 16-year-old boy was arrested in Toronto in February after he emerged from a CIBC bank with about $150,000 in Canadian money stuffed in a sack. Despite numerous Hollywood movies emphasizing the need for speed in a bank robbery, the kid had dawdled inside for more than 45 minutes after the silent alarm had been pressed, collecting cash from the vault, tellers and customers. By the time he walked out, the bank was surrounded by cops.

Pat Dykstra, 51, of Fox Lake, Wis., was persuaded by bar patrons, including her boyfriend, that she was too drunk to drive, so she decided to take responsibility by calling 911 on her cell phone— while driving—to ask that the sheriff send someone to follow her home, according to a January Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story. Dykstra then ended the call by telling the dispatcher how dangerous it is to drive while on a cell phone. When deputies caught up to Dykstra, she registered a 0.14 blood-alcohol reading, well over the maximum permitted.

Update
In February, televangelist Jim Bakker, who lost his Praise The Lord (PTL) ministry in the 1980s following fraud convictions that led to a five-year prison stint, began broadcasting from Morningside, in southern Missouri. His new religious development bears a strong resemblance to PTL’s Heritage USA project. According to a February report in the St. Louis Post- Dispatch, “hundreds” of Heritage contributors gave money yet again, despite the fact that each lost 99% of the value of their $1,000 investments. Some people even signed over their $6.54 restitution checks (following the fraud settlement) to Bakker’s new venture. The newspaper, observing Bakker’s debut from the new studio, noted that the first appeal for donations did not come until 41 minutes into the show.

2008 Chuck Shepherd