"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Innocence Project Gets It Wrong Again

OK let's try this again. The "Innocence Project" yet again has proven how inappropriate their very name is. This time, they claim: "After 19 Years in Prison for One of the Most Heinous Crimes in NJ History, Byron Halsey Is Proven Innocent through DNA" (emphasis mine). Byron Halsey was convicted of the sexual assault and murder of two children he was babysitting for girlfriend:
Halsey was convicted of sexually abusing, mutilating and murdering the children of a girlfriend he lived with at a Plainfield rooming house. The bodies of Tyrone, 8, and Tina Urquhart, 7, were found in the home's basement in November1985.
According to accounts of the trial, Tyrone had been smothered with a pillow and stabbed with scissors; Tina had been choked, sexually assaulted, and her skull fractured with a brick. The killer also drove four nails into Tyron's skull.

The bit about driving nails into little 8-year old Tyron's skull is important for reasons that will be clear in a moment.

At the time of the trial, all that could be determined was that the semen was of a consistent blood type with Halsey. Years later, with more sophisticated DNA testing, the evidence has been shown to belong to another individual, not Halsey. So, as the IP says, he must be innocent, right?

Not so fast.

Here are some other salient facts (from the New Jersey appellate opinion which ruled Halsey was not entitled to new DNA testing) about this case that the IP chose to simply ignore:

According to the proofs at defendant's trial, after defendant was told he failed the stipulated polygraph test he started talking "gibberish" and muttered: "work all week, get paid, want to go out, have to babysit for the kids, mother goes to bingo, left alone, no time to go out,"See footnote 44 and then said the following while in "a trance-like state":

Talking to Shy, kids making noise, told them to shut off, hung up the phone, told them to shut off, started beating them, Tyrone said he was going to call mommy. Grabbed them both by the throat, stop screaming, started saying, Tyrone, Tina, wake up, they didn't respond. Fuck up, you really fuck up now. Madman. Hid the
bodies, bring them downstairs, want speedy trial, needs help, get drunk, act crazy, have to piece things together, losing control, things got bad, committed a violent crime, Margaret please come home, can't come home. What are you all doing? All fucked up. Committed a crime, can't get rid of them, got all fucked up, can't call police. Thereafter, Miranda warnings were administered and defendant gave the following statement following waiver of his rights: I
hung up the phone and I started beating them. They said, "I am going to call mommy. Mommy will leave you, anyway she don't like you." They were both saying it. Started beating more. I don't know what happened, telling Tina I messed up. I beat them and grabbed them before they ran out of the house. I grabbed them by the throat one in each hand, I was squeezing them. There was no more life left in them . . . I sexually assaulted a seven year old girl. Where and how I can't remember . . . I can't recall if the basement door was unlocked or I used a key but I remember carrying the two children to the basement at one time. I walk out the basement, go to the side door and vomit. I say, oh man what did I do this time. I went back to my room. At this time my mind told me I didn't do nothing. Watching TV like nothing ever happened. I called Margaret . . . I ask her "where are the children?" And thereafter, defendant provided the following:
It is dark in one room. Now there is a red brick here. I accidentally hit her (Tina) with it. I ran out of the room, ran in the other room. I assumed that I didn't have nothing in my hands but I did. I hit Tyrone several times in the head with a brick. He was on the floor when I hit him. I hit Tyrone in the head several times. In
the basement I found some scissors and some nails and I left the nails in his forehead. I used the brick to put some nails in his forehead . . .

And lo and behold, forensic testing showed that "a substance found on the head of the nails removed from Tyrone was consistent with the components of the brick."

Now if Halsey did not leave behind any evidence of sexually assaulting the victims (and note that one can commit a crime like this without leaving trace evidence), and someone else's DNA was present, it by no means follows that Halsey is innocent.

What it means is that Halsey committed the murders, and there was someone else involved. Indeed, the DNA in question belongs to a convicted rapist who was a neighbor to Halsey and the victims and whom Halsey knew. This person, Cliff Hall, testified against Halsey, and certainly had ample reason to place all the blame on Halsey to cover his own involvement. Nevertheless, Hall's involvement with the crime does not lessen Halsey's own involvement.

I don't know if New Jersey can convict Halsey or intends to re-try him. Even if they don't, one thing is clear: Byron Halsey has by no means been proven innocent. At best, the fact that someone else was clearly involved in the sexual assault might exonerate him of the crime of sexual assault. The other evidence in the case still strongly points to his guilt in the murder of these children.

Yet the ludicrously self-labeled "Innocence Project" claims that the DNA alone proves Halsey's complete innocence of all charges.

As I've shown before, these guys are obviously more concerned with their own self-glorification and in their extremist anti-death penalty activism than in the facts or the truth.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Scheck noted that in about a quarter of the 201 wrongful convictions that have been overturned with the use of DNA evidence, people had confessed or admitted to crimes they did not commit. Mr. Halsey signed a confession after 30 hours of interrogation, Mr. Scheck said. Mr. Halsey’s lawyers said he had a sixth-grade education and severe learning disabilities.

Dolores Mann, one of his original lawyers, said Mr. Halsey had maintained his innocence from the beginning.


Margaret Urquhart, the victims’ mother, said in a statement: “I knew Byron loved Tyrone and Tina. It didn’t make sense to me that he could have done this. I always had my doubts, but I didn’t know what to do about them. I am thankful that the DNA testing has identified who really did this to my children and that Byron is being released today. I want justice done in this case.

Dude, I think you have a future at Abu Ghraib.

Tom McKenna said...

Apparently the jury, who actually considered the facts in much greater detail than you or me, concluded that the confession was genuine. Certainly it was voluntary and constitutionally sound, or it would have been suppressed.

But whatever the case, the point of this post is that the so-called Innocence Project is unwilling or unable to tell the truth: there IS evidence showing that Halsey is guilty; the IP just wants to pretend it doesn't matter.

Anonymous said...

"there IS evidence showing that Halsey is guilty"

Of course there is. Very few people wind up in custody by sheer accident. What you did not write was "there is sufficient evidence showing that Halsey is guilty."

The whole idea that "you can't prove he didn't do it," is intellectually dishonesty. We both know that there is no way to prove a negative. (ex: You can prove that I ingested cocaine. I can't prove [and am not required to] that I didn't.)

cc said...

Well I looked at not just the footnotes, but the whole page. The expert witness for the prosecution wasn't very helpful so the document states..in any event given the lexicon most likely used by Mr. Halsey, his confession sounded a little too erudite, I would say, given his background, lack of education and language difficulties.."I sexually assaulted."..that sounds like something the detective put in there and boy do they ever twist words,if he was really clever he would have used the language and syntax that most likely Mr.Halsey would have used. But since people in power get away with the most egregious and outrageous in your face behavior why should this be any different? wait a minute did someone just write " very few people end up in custody by sheer accident" see what I mean? who would want a simple minded person judging you on a jury, who doesn't have a clue? you are dangerous, please don't sit on a jury..you are going to hurt somebody.

and for you.. who states "obviously the jury who knew the facts better than you or me concluded that the confession was genuine"..well not so fast as you like to say, you don't know WHAT was allowed to be heard by the jury. Lots of confessions are coerced, you are assuming that justice was operating full speed. What folly. your statement that "it would have been suppressed if it was unconstituional or coerced" what?? yeah you got a future at Abu Ghraib alright..and you would have ended up in prison..just like those who were in power thought that they had a right to trample justice..so now what?I guess justice was working full speed? In any event if someone you loved dearly was "saved" by Barry you would be extolling the virtues of the Innocence Project. Done.

Tom McKenna said...

Anon: you misunderstand: there is enough evidence to find this guy guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The serology was never the "silver bullet" in this case; the confession was.

Nothing has changed the fact that he confessed. I understand the IP wants to suggest that the confession was coerced; either Halsey's attorneys did not agree and therefore did not seek to suppress the statement, or they sought to suppress it and a court ruled that the statement was not coerced. Either way, the jury certainly was informed of the surrounding circumstances of the interview and assessed it as not affecting the admission of guilt.

Again, the point is, the IP is lying when they claim Halsey was "proven innocent." Far from it, and NJ could re-try him successfully if they think it worthwhile.

I'm not suggesting Halsey has to prove anything. I merely maintain that the IP is grossly exaggerating about the evidence and falsely claiming that Halsey's innocence is "proven." It's clearly not.

I'd respect the IP if they stuck to the facts: after-discovered DNA evidence in this case undermined the prosecution theory of a rape + murder, necessitating a retrial on the remaining evidence in the case if NJ is so advised.

Anonymous said...

"after-discovered DNA evidence in this case undermined the prosecution theory of a rape + murder, necessitating a retrial on the remaining evidence in the case if NJ is so advised."

And should the state choose not to seek a retrial and Halsey is freed, with his conviction now voided, he is once more presumed innocent, no?

Tom McKenna said...

Of course... actually, right now he's legally presumed to be innocent because his conviction was voided. It does not, however, mean he is factually innocent, much less that he's been "proven innocent" as the IP claims.

Sadly, people still confuse the legal presumption of innocence with actual innocence, an error of which OJ Simpson's situation should have cured us all. What the IP is trying sell is that Halsey didn't do it. Sorry, but they haven't come close to demonstrating that.

Anonymous said...

"“Today, we can say with scientific certainty that Byron Halsey is innocent. Every piece of physical evidence connects Cliff Hall, not Byron Halsey, to these murders,” said Vanessa Potkin, Staff Attorney at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. “It has taken more than two decades, but DNA has finally revealed the truth in this case.”

The physical evidence that was subjected to DNA testing over the last 14 months includes key evidence that was used at Halsey’s trial (when advanced DNA testing was not available):

• Semen on the seven-year-old girl’s underwear (which was stuffed into her mouth during the rape and murder); the prosecution said during the trial that the semen came from someone with the same blood type as Halsey, but DNA testing now shows that the semen was from Cliff Hall.
• Semen at the crime scene, which was also matched to Halsey’s blood type but is actually from Cliff Hall, DNA shows.
• A cigarette butt found at the crime scene, which was central to the initial police investigation of the crimes. DNA testing shows that the cigarette butt was Cliff Hall’s." (From IP)

So your take on this is that Cliff Hall abuses the kids and then has a smoke while his buddy, who leaves no DNA behind (including blood or semen)[notice I did not say that he did not participate in the sexual assault but its a short jump to that conclusion] hammers nails into the heads of two kids with a brick? And furthermore, his buddy confesses but does not implicate Hall?

Tom McKenna said...

Hall and Halsey had been together that day and apparently were at least acquaintances. Could they have committed this crime together, Hall actually committing the rape and Halsey alone or with Hall committing the murders?

Absolutely. Halsey would not want to leave any witnesses to his crimes against these kids, who were his girlfriend's children. Also, he was probably drunk or stoned while committing these crimes, per his own statement.

As for not implicating Hall, if you do criminal trials, you know that some defendants simply will not implicate a friend. Many do under pressure of trial and conviction, but a good-sized minority do not.

Again, the point is not whether I think this is strongest case in the world. I'd like to know before I tried this case: were Hall and Halsey close friends; is there solid proof one way or the other about Halsey's alibi?

But the point is about the IP dishonestly portraying this as a case of an entirely innocent man ground up by the evil justice system. It's just not so... Halsey could still be convicted on this evidence, which is not much less now than it was at the original trial.