Folks may recall Michael West, the dentist who could look at a bug bite and declare under oath it was caused by human teeth, even identifying the person whose teeth produced the bug bite. His testimony (often paired with testimony from Dr. Steven Hayne) played a part of putting a number people in Parchman, including at least a few innocent ones, and even an innocent man on death row.
Forensic dentistry was not his only area of claimed expertise. It turns out he was just as much an expert in areas as diverse as trace metals, gun shot residue, wound patterns, blood spatters, tool marks, and…
And it turns out that the designated gatekeepers for scientific expert testimony in Mississippi were quite willing to let his testimony reach over such a broad range of subjects.
Radley Balko writes in the Huffington Post about a case being pursued by the Mississippi Innocence Project at Ole Miss. After a woman was hospitalized for an oxycotin overdose, law enforcement decided she’d been assaulted (she had no memory of it) and prosecuted the women who were with her at a local motel.
Dr. West (A dentist. Really) was given a surveillance video tape from the motel that the FBI had declared unusable and unenhancable (the prosecutor, Dunn Lampton– at the time the district attorney, later the US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, apparently interpreting Brady v. Maryland according to precepts of the Connick school, thought the FBI report not worth mentioning to the defense). West declared himself an expert in video enhancement:
He elaborated on that enhancement, saying: “Ten years ago, I would have to send photographs off to the FBI … [and it would] cost us $20,000 to get them back and enhanced. Now, you can sit at home, with your own computer, with $1000 software and do enhancements that used to only NASA could do. … And that’s what we did in this case.”
West then testified that using his enhancement software, he was able to determine that the figures entering and leaving the frame in the video were wearing different clothing (one wearing shorts, the other wearing blue jeans) and were two different women, thus incriminating both Stubbs and Vance. Where the FBI could only determine that someone had removed an object — possibly a bag or suitcase — from the toolbox in the truck bed, West claimed repeatedly that he could make out hair, legs, and blue jeans, leading him to conclude that the object was clearly a body. “She takes a body out of this toolbox,” West conclusively told the jury. “That’s what I see.”
West also claimed he could actually read the body language of one figure in the footage, that she appeared “anxious,” and was exhibiting the sort of adrenaline-fueled “fight or flight” response one shows after committing a crime.
West also testified that bite marks on the alleged victim were the sort he’d expect from an assault perpetrated by a homosexual. Yep! He can tell lesbian bite marks!
The man was magic!
The defendant, Leigh Stubbs, was sentenced to 44 years in the state pentitentiary.
Balko’s whole piece is worth reading.