Fitted In – An Integrated Approach
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 1st 2011)
Cyclone of Injustice – Joyce Gilchrist
Joyce Gilchrist was once fêted – the go to analyst, but there was a hidden story. Gilchrist swept through Oklahomaʼs criminal justice system – a cyclone of injustice – leaving a trail of devastated lives in her wake. This included victims of miscarriages of justice and the original crimes too as well as the people of Oklahoma whose interests were betrayed by Gilchristʼs failures.
Among the cases that she got horribly wrong was that of Jeffrey Todd Pierce. He was convicted of rape, largely due to evidence manipulated by Gilchrist. Pierce had a strong alibi and no previous convictions. He lost fifteen years of his life for a rape he did not commit. There is no doubt that he is innocent as the real rapist Omer May Jnr. was identified by DNA testing, but May has not and never will be charged with the vicious offence that he committed.
Why? Because the statute of limitations ran out while Pierce was wrongly incarcerated. That is obscene. There should be no statute of limitations on justice, especially when it expired due the criminal justice system persecuting an innocent man. Whether it takes days, years, decades, or even centuries, there should never be a statute of limitations of any kind on the search for justice.
This is not the only vindication case involving Gilchrist. Even now, after her appalling practices were exposed at the cost of her job and others their liberty – possibly lives even – Gilchrist sees herself as the victim, outrageously claiming that she is being punished for alleging sexual discrimination, rather than her practices, which were hopeless at best and more likely corrupt.
Even the vindication of people like Pierce did nothing to chasten Gilchrist, let alone convince her that she was wrong. As with Michael Heath in Britain, the investigation into her practices slammed the lid shut on a scandal of epidemic proportions, especially regarding those who had already been executed.
Gilchrist could not have thrived in the grey areas of disclosure had there been an integrated approach between the forensic sciences and the judicial processes. Oklahoma put funds aside for DNA testing in the wake of the Gilchrist Affair, but the fallout was controlled, meaning a perfect opportunity to deliver important changes to the system that could have prevented repetition was needlessly lost.
The use of Police Laboratories is a case in point. There is no doubt whose side scientists working in those labs were on and were meant to be on. And that creates the conditions where ʻscientistsʼ like Gilchrist can operate, but Gilchrist did not function in a vacuum.
The criminal justice system of Oklahoma is culpable too. Colleagues that opposed her were marginalised and accused of professional jealousy. Meanwhile, prosecutors loved her and senior jurists defended her tooth and nail. She flourished through this dark alliance of injustice.
She wrecked many lives with impunity and the system tolerated it and encouraged it even by failing to heed the warning signs repeatedly. At least eleven sentenced to death in her cases were executed.
Some were freed from Death Row, but the Gilchrist Scandal demonstrates the need for eternal vigilance throughout the forensic science and legal communities. Sadly, there are some experts who not only cannot be relied on to tell the truth, but are also not deterred from shoddy practices even with lives at stake.
The death penalty has gone in Britain, but powers of life and death remain. Nothing illustrates this better than cases where there is no doubt about innocence because no crime occurred, or the real perpetrator was caught and convicted, or identified if dead. It does not even require a trial to ruin lives. For example the tragic story of Jaycee Lee Dugard claimed another victim.
Her step-father Carl Probyn witnessed the then 11-year-old girl being kidnapped by two people near her home in Lake Tahoe, California on June 10th 1991. Nancy Garrido bundled Jaycee into the car that Probyn described, while her husband Phillip, a registered sex offender, drove the car.
School-children witnessed the kidnapping too. Probyn gave chase on a bicycle, but could not keep up with the kidnappers. After an eighteen year ordeal Jaycee was found alive on August 26th 2009, having been kept captive by the fiendish couple for almost two decades. Her eighteen year disappearance had been resolved, but the girlʼs childhood had been stolen.
Garrido had repeatedly raped her and Nancy was culpable too. Jaycee had two daughters by him, both the result of the rape of a minor. The girls were told that Jaycee was their sister. They know the appalling truth now. The Garridos pleaded guilty to kidnapping and sexually assaulting Dugard on April 28th 2011.
Investigative opportunities were missed and vital time was wasted, investigating Probyn, whose marriage to Jayceeʼs mother Terry was destroyed by the kidnap and suspicion directed at Probyn, who was not only innocent, but had provided solid investigative leads.
Consequently, Probyn is a victim of this disgraceful case too – nowhere near the same extent as Jaycee and her daughters – but a victim nevertheless. He was never charged, let alone wrongfully convicted or charged, but such accusations are soul-destroying.
There was smoke – hot air actually – but no fire there, although the suspicion still managed to burn Probyn, who lost his marriage and family to it.
The State of California let them all, especially Jaycee, down appallingly. She has been compensated and is trying to rebuild her life, but nothing can ever compensate her for that ordeal, or for the failed opportunities to rescue her.
Garrido was a convicted rapist and subject to probation visits and from police over the eighteen years. He had pleaded guilty to several counts of kidnap and rape and was jailed for 431 years on June 2nd 2011. His wife got 36 years to life, agreeing to waive appeal rights.
While the overwhelming measure of sympathy and support must go to Jaycee, her mother, daughters, biological father and Probyn are victims too.
Horrid as it undoubtedly was to be wrongly suspected of involvement in such an offence as the kidnap of Jaycee Lee Dugard, it doesnʼt and cannot compare to actual incarceration for crimes committed by others. There are, according to the Innocence Project, over a hundred cases in the USA where the real perpetrator has been identified after a miscarriage of justice.
The American definition is however inadequate in our opinion as it does not include people like Probyn, but we have clearer examples that illustrate the point. There is no doubt about the vindication cases, yet there are no investigations of what went wrong – no attempt to understand how justice miscarried and why.
Not even attempts to establish if forensic science could have prevented it with one exception in Britain. But the USA is not alone. It has happened in Canada; it has occurred in Australia and New Zealand too and even in the Netherlands. Spain has suffered it too. Even China, Hungary, Belarus, Russia and a strange one in South Africa too have experienced them.
This does not mention jurisdictions where the supposedly deceased people turned up alive and well later. Mpagi Edward Edmary spent eighteen long years on Death Row in Uganda for a murder he not only did not commit, but for a crime that did not happen. His cousin, Fred Masembe died on Death Row awaiting execution for this non-crime, untreated as he was there to be killed – an innocent man!
Meanwhile, George William Wandyake was alive and well, and even thought to have attended their trial. Why did the Ugandan authorities not demand proof that Wandyake was dead before trying, let alone convicting, innocent men of murder? Where was the compelling medical evidence justifying this prosecution?
It disgraces every concept of justice that this shambolic prosecution was allowed to pollute a court of law. It is also interesting that in all the discussion of human rights abuses in China, not a word is spent on vindication, despite a few cases where cases were solved by confessions secured by beating suspects until they confessed.
A notorious double murder of police officers – they were executed – was solved in this manner. The defendant showed his injuries to the judge. He was sentenced to death, but it was suspended later.
Du Peiwu could easily have rotted in a Chinese prison for a crime he did not commit, but for sheer luck. The real perpetrators were arrested on other matters and confessed to the crime that Du had been convicted of.
It was a shocking miscarriage of justice in every way, especially regarding its victim. The man police officers tortured into confessing to a crime he did not commit was no ordinary victim of injustice. Du Peiwu was a fellow police officer, but that didnʼt save him.
There are other extraordinary cases of vindication in that jurisdiction too. If ever a criminal justice system cried out for an integrated approach between forensic sciences, investigative methods and court procedures, surely it was China.
These injustices were secured through torture, but let us not cast the first stone against China until we address the glaring flaws in our own system. We have tolerated rendition and the abuse of our citizens in the name of the ʻWar on Terrorʼ, while condemning other governments over their records.
By what right can we condemn other governments while tolerating these abuses and others that are ignored, undiagnosed even – abuses that shame and disgrace our society? We permit undeniably innocent people who have been wronged in our name to be treated shamefully.
Let us remember Jaycee Lee Dugard and her family. They were betrayed by their own criminal justice system. No compensation can ever make amends. $20m does not return her stolen life and innocence to her.
It does not justify the failure to protect them – rights they had every right to expect and demand. Compensation does not, or at least should not, cater for their care needs. The psychological damage that has been done to them all needs to be addressed at state expense.
They were failed by the system that had a duty to protect them, so it owes each of them restitution to the lives that were stolen from them. And that duty extends to other innocent victims of injustice, especially the vindicated and that should begin here.
 I intend to highlight the effect of Oklahomaʼs cyclone of injustice in a forthcoming book.
 I am currently researching a book on these cases and others like them, which I hope will be published next year.