KJ Online Article: Was cause of justice served by judge’s ruling?
The many recent exonerations of wrongfully convicted persons because of improved scientific forensic tools have exposed flawed judicial systems nationwide.
Too often the prime focus of courts is on a strict adherence to legal procedures that stifle the search for the truth. As a result, a number of state courts now accept overriding pleas of “actual innocence.” Regrettably, Maine Superior Court Justice Carl Bradford, in a 2011 ruling, denied a claim of actual innocence entered during a preliminary hearing on Dennis Dechaine’s 2008 motion for a retrial.
In 2009, famed trial lawyer F. Lee Bailey, after mounting a pro bono investigation of the Dechaine case, concluded that Dechaine was innocent. Forensic pathologist Dr. Walter Hofman and I were consulted concerning the critical issue of time-of-death.
After independently reviewing the evidence, we both concluded that the victim died of rapid strangulation at a time after Dechaine had been detained by the police.
Hofman is the coroner of Montgomery County, Pa. I am a board-certified forensic pathologist and also hold a law degree. I am past president of the American College of Legal Medicine and of the American Academy of Forensic Science and am the author of more than 550 professional publications.
I serve on the editorial boards of more than 20 national and international medical-legal and forensic scientific publications, and I have edited standard works on forensic sciences and medical negligence.
Bradford denied the claim of actual innocence on the grounds that no such claim had yet been accepted by a Maine court. He previously had disallowed any testimony regarding time of death to be presented in the upcoming hearing. One must ask whether the cause of justice was truly served by this ruling.
Cyril H. Wecht, M.D., J.D.