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An Interesting Case Showing How Easily One Can Be Falsely Convicted Of A Crime

Discussion in 'North American Politics' started by Revoltingest, Feb 16, 2020.

  1. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest I am the one who naps.
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    In the news....
    A Texas jury found him guilty of murder. A computer algorithm proved his innocence.
    Excerpted....
    Nearly a decade into his life sentence for murder, Lydell Grant was escorted out of a Texas prison in November with his hands held high, free on bail, all thanks to DNA re-examined by a software program.

    "The last nine years, man, I felt like an animal in a cage," Grant, embracing his mother and brother, told the crush of reporters awaiting him in Houston. "Especially knowing that I didn't do it."

    Now, Grant, 42, is on a fast-track to exoneration after a judge recommended in December that Texas' highest criminal court vacate his conviction. His attorneys are hopeful a ruling is made in the coming weeks.

    But for Grant, to get to here hinged on two necessary prongs: the DNA evidence, which was reanalyzed through an emerging software that has also come under scrutiny, and an unprecedented decision to use the findings to conduct an FBI criminal database search that was initiated by a third party not part of the initial investigation. That ultimately led to the discovery of a new suspect, who has been charged after police say he confessed.

    The search process used in Grant's case has enormous potential to solve cold cases or re-evaluate other convictions that could pave the way for more exonerations nationwide, forensic scientists say.

    "There's probably 5,000 or 6,000 innocent people in Texas prisons alone," said attorney Mike Ware, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas, which is representing Grant. "How many of them could benefit from such a reanalysis of DNA that was used to convict them? I don't really know, but this is a historic case that could open the door for those who thought it was shut forever."
    A match in the database
    Grant's ordeal began in December 2010, when Aaron Scheerhoorn was stabbed outside a Houston gay bar. Authorities said Scheerhoorn, who was bleeding from his abdomen, had run to the bar's entrance seeking help from horrified bar patrons and employees. The witnesses described the killer as a black man, about 25 to 30 years old, and around 6 feet tall. Police told local media it may have been a "crime of passion."

    A tip came in about a car that might belong to the suspect. Five days later, an officer pulled over a vehicle matching its description and Grant, who at the time was driving on a suspended license, was taken in for questioning.

    Investigators also interviewed seven witnesses, all but one of whom picked out Grant as the suspect from a photo lineup.

    Grant, then 33, had a criminal record going back several years, including for aggravated robbery, marijuana use and theft. But he maintained his innocence in the stabbing, said he never met Scheerhoorn and produced an alibi for his defense.

    At Grant's 2012 trial, prosecutors centered their case around the eyewitness testimony — a practice that the Innocence Project argues plays a major role in defendants being wrongfully accused. In addition, jurors heard about DNA collected from fingernail scrapings from Scheerhoorn's right hand. The DNA was actually a mixture of two people: the victim and a second male profile.

    Houston's police crime lab at the time was unable to conclude that the other genetic material was Grant's, and the state's expert's testimony suggested to the jury that it "could not be excluded."

    Jurors also heard from Grant's alibi, who said he was with him on the night Scheerhoorn was murdered, but his testimony failed to sway them, court documents show.

    Grant was found guilty of first-degree felony murder. From his jail cell in Harris County, he began writing to anyone he thought could help.

    A letter eventually landed on a pile at the Innocence Project of Texas, which receives hundreds of inmate mail each month. In 2018, it was referred to the Texas A&M School of Law, which partners with the Innocence Project of Texas.

    "We knew at the very least the prosecutor put on inaccurate testimony at trial," Ware said. "We didn't know where the facts were going to lead to."

    The law students got to work, paying particular attention to the DNA report that described the mixture of genetic materials. In 2011, the Houston crime lab had analyzed it using a traditional method in which a forensic scientist studies the genetic makeup of the DNA sample, which is translated into a type of graph that can be reviewed manually, and determines the probability that a particular person's DNA matches the sample. But when a sample includes a mixture of DNA from more than one person, it is increasingly difficult to separate and interpret the data. Flawed DNA readings by analysts have been known to ensnare innocent people.

    After Ware and the students gave a fresh look at the original DNA report, they were convinced Grant's DNA could not have been a part of the mixture. In March 2019, Ware began working with Angie Ambers, a DNA expert and an associate professor of forensic science at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.

    Ambers was familiar with a type of DNA technology known as "probabilistic genotyping."

    "Years after Lydell Grant was convicted and sent to prison, there was a paradigm shift in how we interpreted DNA mixtures in criminal casework," she said. "Rather than having a human DNA analyst interpret a mixture of DNA, computer software programs were developed to reduce the subjectivity in interpretation."

    Ambers learned of one such software program created by Cybergenetics, a small company in Pittsburgh that had done work analyzing DNA samples from unidentified victims of the 9/11 terror attacks.

    It was worth a shot: Ware requested the raw DNA data from the Harris County District Attorney's Office, and then it was shared with Cybergenetics and run through its program, TrueAllele. (The name is a play off the word that signifies the different forms that a person's genes can take.)

    The company offered a free preliminary screening, and the software did what a human could not: determine that Grant's DNA did not match the unknown male profile.

    Ambers had a hunch that something was off when she first reviewed the case because of a large number of alleles present in the DNA mixture that were inconsistent with Scheerhoorn's or Grant's profiles. But she said that TrueAllele's discovery alone wouldn't guarantee Grant would be cleared of a crime.

    Armed with this new evidence, the Innocence Project of Texas went a step further, prompting Cybergenetics to work with a partner crime lab in Beaufort County, South Carolina, which has access to a powerful FBI database known as the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS.

    Typically, federal, state and local law enforcement and government crime labs can upload an unknown profile into the database and compare it to one of the more than 14 million convicted criminals and those arrested already in the system for a possible match. The process, for instance, can help authorities link crimes from several scenes to a single person.

    The South Carolina crime lab's search resulted in a hit. The DNA profile belonged to a man in Atlanta named Jermarico Carter, who police say left Houston shortly after Scheerhoorn's murder. Carter also has a lengthy criminal record, and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement in December that he confessed to the killing.

    Acevedo at the time also issued a rare apology to Grant and his family "as they have waited for justice all these years."

    Trusting the source code
    Mark Perlin, the CEO of Cybergenetics and developer of TrueAllele, said the use of a probabilistic genotyping software's findings in CODIS is significant as it's the first time it was attempted because an independent party, the Innocence Project, requested it and not law enforcement. And most remarkably, it resulted in a match.

    He touted his software, which runs DNA data through a statistical algorithm with some 170,000 lines of code, for being able to untangle DNA mixtures.

    Those mixtures "have a complex pattern based on how much of each person is there along with distortions," Perlin said. "A computer can account for that and dig deeper into the data to get far more information."
     
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  2. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest I am the one who naps.
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    Eye witness testimony is so often bunk.
    They saw him do it.
    Only one big problem...
    He didn't do it.
     
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  3. ChristineM

    ChristineM "Be strong" I whispered to my coffee.
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    Eye witness testimony is different for each eye witness.

    When i was studying psychology the professor slipped a sly test in. During a lesson someone walked into class, spent hslf a minute whispering to her then left, the class continued. Half an hour later she asked the class to describe the visitor, what he wore and what he did. Out of 18 witnesses no two descriptions were the same.

    His shirt was blue, white, striped
    His wore a tie, he didn't wear a tie
    He wore a tee shirt. He wore a button shirt, could not see his shirt because he wore a polo neck sweater in red, blue, green, brown
    Jacket, no jacket
    Etc, etc
     
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  4. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest I am the one who naps.
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    When you mentioned a test, I was hoping for an invisible gorilla.
     
  5. ChristineM

    ChristineM "Be strong" I whispered to my coffee.
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    That was the week before and only 3 people saw it.


    Interesting side note. I was always in trouble for something i didn't do... Homework
     
    #5 ChristineM, Feb 16, 2020
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2020
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  6. Nowhere Man

    Nowhere Man Bompu Zen Man with a little bit of Bushido.

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    Now you know why I like real evidence rather than testimonies.
     
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  7. Jainarayan

    Jainarayan ॐ नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय
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    Along these lines, I don’t trust my memory on details. The mind often remembers what it wants to remember or thinks it should remember.

    Example: I once saw a very attractive young guy that has stuck in my head. He had longish blond hair combed back, wore a white open Oxford shirt, black jeans and black lug sole boots. He wore a t shirt under his open button down shirt.

    But what color was the t shirt? I want to say I remember it was black, to match his jeans and boots, and contrast with his white shirt. But for me, I wouldn’t wear a black t shirt like that, it would be white. So I want to say it was white. I remember everything else about this guy but not that detail. If I couldn’t remember a detail about someone I found very striking, and actually staring at (he was hot! :D) I don’t know if I’d trust myself for something even more fleeting.
     
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  8. ChristineM

    ChristineM "Be strong" I whispered to my coffee.
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    Should gave got an (I) frube to but alas, i see ai can only give you one
     
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  9. Shadow Wolf

    Shadow Wolf Crazy Diamond

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    And just to think: He was one of the lucky ones who got to leave breathing and on his own two feet instead of in a box.
     
  10. Stanyon

    Stanyon WWMRD?

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    Hopefully this will help far less innocent people be convicted and guilty convicted. Texas prisons are some of the most violent in the nation, lot's of horror stories come from them. Just hope he is well compensated especially since it appears the prosecutor was less than ethical, how do you compensate someone for ten years of their life?
     
  11. Howard Is

    Howard Is Lucky Mud

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    Off at a tangent - I am creeped out by the fact that the police have the DNA of everyone they fingerprint, because skin cells stick to the ’ink’. Not to mention that the print can be used to make copies...
    But I have always been unreasonably paranoid.
     
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  12. Valjean

    Valjean Veteran Member
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    Unreasonable? Hardly.
    What freaks me out is that my phone and car record my every move, and can pinpoint me at any moment; my every purchase and google search is recorded, and that the audio and/or video on my computer, TV, and phone can be accessed by third parties without my knowing I'm being observed. :eek:
     
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  13. Howard Is

    Howard Is Lucky Mud

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    Also, synthetic videos can be made of you doing anything, anywhere. And... it is now possible to convert text to precisely your voice and add it to the video of you planting a bomb in Grand Central Station.
     
  14. Valjean

    Valjean Veteran Member
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    "1984" ain't got nothin' on 2020!
     
  15. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest I am the one who naps.
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    I read 1984.
    It was worse.
     
  16. Howard Is

    Howard Is Lucky Mud

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    Except 2020 is real.
     
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  17. Valjean

    Valjean Veteran Member
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    Perhaps.
    Big Brother hasn't begun cracking down on thought-crimes as severely as in Orwell's novel -- yet. But the potential is there, and the technology in place.

    Me, I'd prefer a Brave New World. At least the sheeple were kept happy and amused. ;)
     
  18. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest I am the one who naps.
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    2020 isn't all that bad.
    Sure, sure, the left has been throwing fits the last several years,
    & this is bad for them, but only in their own minds. Here in the
    real world, the economy is good, no new wars have arisen,
    wrongful convictions are being overturned, & the internet has
    survived prediction of doom & gloom over net neutrality's demise.
    On top of that I had a warm & sunny day today.
     
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  19. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest I am the one who naps.
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    "Perhaps"?
    Oh, dear.
    If one is to believe things actually are terrible because they
    might become terrible, one is doomed to a sad & unhealthy life.
    Look on the bright side. There is one.
    And we can still guard against efforts to make things 1984ish.
     
    #19 Revoltingest, Feb 16, 2020
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2020
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  20. Howard Is

    Howard Is Lucky Mud

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