Friday, February 15, 2019

Lost, Buried, Burned: Oklahoma's Rape Kit Scandal

If you are puzzled by the nationwide rape kit testing backlog, Oklahoma provides maddening insight on the bureaucratic forces that create intolerable inertia — and injustice.

An estimated 225,000 rape kits have gone unprocessed across the country; more than 7,200 have been neglected in Oklahoma. Last month, a woman who reported an Oklahoma City sexual assault to police back in 2011 discovered that her rape kit had gathered dust on a shelf in Tulsa's police department for seven years — after the Oklahoma County district attorney had informed her he was dropping the case because no rape kit existed.

Police, prosecutors and politicians do not have a sense of urgency about the issue. Why? My ongoing investigation shows that status quo obstructionists don't want to clear the backlog because they don't want the public poking around government-run crime labs — especially ones with a shameful history of forensic misconduct and a culture of destruction.

Solving the rape kit testing problem requires accountability and transparency. That means shedding light on long-buried secrets that go well beyond the usual incompetence and inattention that have led to backlogs. It's not just rape victims who suffer when criminal justice agencies shut out the public. It's criminal defendants trying to prove their innocence against charges of sexual crimes.

Consider Rayshun Mullins, who petitioned the state of Oklahoma three times for post-conviction testing of DNA evidence used against him in 2009. (The Sooner State was last in the nation to adopt a post-conviction DNA testing statute in 2013.) Three times he was denied. Why? Shockingly, dozens and dozens of crucial forensic items in Mullins' case have been destroyed or "lost."

Gone. Poof. Disappeared.

Oklahoma requires that criminal justice agencies "retain and preserve" biological evidence for as long as a person convicted of a violent felony offense is incarcerated. Mullins certainly meets that criteria: He is serving a whopping 1,015 years plus six consecutive life terms behind bars for multiple rapes and robberies.

There is an exception allowing destruction of biological evidence if a criminal defendant is notified in advance and given 90 days to object. But as Mullins revealed to me last week:

"They never told me that they would destroy them. I found out when I got them papers."

The papers are part of an inventory compiled by the Oklahoma County district attorney's office, which I obtained exclusively. Among the destroyed or lost pieces of evidence in Mullins' case:

—34 items collected in one victim's case, including SANE/Rape kit, clothes, buccal swabs (taken from the cheek for DNA), sheets, cuttings and sexual assault trace evidence from the victim and Mullins, which were all "destroyed in 2013."

—A second victim's purse, photographs, check card, calendar book, checks and papers, which were released to Oklahoma City Det. Kim Davis. According to the documents, "their current location is unknown." Davis claimed D.A. David Prater's office had them. The D.A.'s office denies having them after a "thorough investigation."

—A third victim's swabs and trace lifters, which "were destroyed in 2013."

—A fourth victim's SANE/rape kit, swabs, buccal swabs, clothes, bedding, swabs of persons of interest, Mullins' swabs and buccal swabs, which were all "destroyed in 2013."

—A fifth victim's SANE/Rape kit, clothing, toilet paper, bedding, disc containing photographs and fingerprint cards, which were all destroyed on an unknown date.

The Oklahoma City forensic analyst responsible for analyzing evidence in Mullins' case is former crime lab employee Elaine Taylor. She is the same analyst who confessed to her OCPD supervisor Byron Boshell back in 2000 that she destroyed untold numbers of rape kits after two years at the behest of her colleague and infamous OCPD rogue chemist Joyce Gilchrist (who said she was authorized to destroy evidence by former D.A. Bob Macy) because "the only thing I could do was follow her orders or else pay the consequences."

Taylor was conducting tests on rape kit evidence in Mullins' case less than three years after this shocking admission. It is unknown for how long and in how many other cases this routine evidence destruction continued. What is known: Gilchrist facilitated several wrongful convictions (including two exonerated death row inmates) over more than a decade by falsifying blood evidence, destroying human hair evidence, concocting junk science testimony on dog hair, and lying about and destroyed semen evidence while Taylor worked under her.

Taylor is also the analyst at the center of former OCPD officer Daniel Holtzclaw's wrongful conviction, which he is appealing. Six internationally renowned scientists called for a retrial after examining Taylor's faulty work on the case. Like Mullins, Holtzclaw was charged with serial rape. Like Mullins, Holtzclaw was investigated by sex crimes Det. Kim Davis, who worked closely with Taylor for nearly 20 years.

At a recent deposition in federal lawsuits against Holtzclaw, who is represented in the civil litigation by famed exoneration attorney Kathleen Zellner, Taylor admitted she personally witnessed boxes of evidence from sex crimes, homicide and other cases being burned and shoved "in a big ole hole" down by the Oklahoma City river.

Moreover, Taylor contradicted her trial testimony, admitted the Holtzclaw forensic evidence could have been contaminated (by her son-in-law and co-lead Det. Rocky Gregory), and admitted to being involved in at least six other contamination cases (which Oklahoma officials, who held illegal secret hearings on Taylor's work, refuse to disclose to the public).

Lost, burned, buried, tainted: This is an alarming crisis, whether you are a rape survivor, criminal justice reformer, forensic scientist or taxpayer. And I'm certain it's not just an Oklahoma problem. Peel the layers of government intransigence enveloping a rape kit backlog and underneath you'll find much more than criminal neglect.


Stacey Abrams Promotes the Fallacy of Identity Politics

National unity cannot be achieved by pitting identity groups against each other

Stacey Abrams, the loser of Georgia’s gubernatorial election and the Democrat pick to give the rebuttal to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address last week, recently wrote an article for Foreign Affairs entitled “Identity Politics Strengthens Democracy.” Some may ask why a long-respected policy magazine such as Foreign Affairs would provide a platform for a political loser with little academic acumen in the field of foreign policy — she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies before a career as a pseudonymous romance novelist.

But to ask the question reveals that one has missed the argument entirely. It reveals one to be stuck in that “old liberal” ethic that believes respect is earned rather than demanded, and that sees victims as those to be pitied and protected, not praised and emulated.

The times, they have changed. With the rise of the Left’s “intersectionality” ethos, individuals don’t merit respect with accomplishments gained through hard work, discipline, and personal sacrifice; rather, respected status is determined via an entirely new paradigm based upon where one’s communal identity falls in the hierarchical scale of “victimization.” In other words, a person’s “real” value is not found in individual accomplishments but in identity classification.

You see, Abrams provides the perfect example of how the new “accomplishment” paradigm works. She’s a black woman, which ticks off two of the largest categories on the intersectionality checklist.

Arguing in favor of identity politics, Abrams, because of her leftist equity ethos, must construct a false historical narrative replete with straw men and non-sequiturs to make the argument for the demonstrably false notion that identity politics is a good thing. She then concludes that, “By embracing identity … Americans will become more likely to grow as one.”

The truth is unity only comes when individuals who come from a myriad of different backgrounds, experiences, and challenges can all identify with a common universal set of core values and beliefs. What makes Americans be and become Americans is not our DNA, nor the color of our skin, nor our ethnic heritage, nor our gender, nor our “victim” status; it’s found in our having a shared status of equality under Rule of Law and individual Liberty and rights espoused and protected by the Constitution. That’s why Abrams’s argument is entirely flawed. She attacks the God-given core value that makes the uniquely American experiment even a possibility.


A Travesty in New York murder
There were two victims in the horrific attack earlier this month on Jennifer Irigoyen in New York City. But the state’s law recognizes only one of them.

Anthony Hobson allegedly dragged his pregnant former girlfriend into the stairwell of her Queens apartment building and stabbed her in the stomach, neck and torso. Irigoyen was in her second trimester. Neither she nor her unborn child survived.

The Queens district attorney initially announced that Hobson would be charged with second-degree murder and abortion, reasonably enough, considering that he stands accused of killing both Irigoyen and her child. Then he dropped the abortion charge in light of the state’s radical new pro-abortion law.

The law aims to bless any abortion under any circumstance, and with a grim consistency doesn’t allow the state specially to punish even violent attacks on the unborn.

The New York State Catholic Conference warned of exactly this prior to passage. “Moving abortion from the Penal Law to the Public Health Law,” it warned, “is a major policy shift that removes accountability for those who would harm unborn children outside the context of medical termination of pregnancy.” No one cared.

New York is wildly out of the mainstream on this question. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of mid-2018, at least 38 states had fetal homicide laws, and 29 of them had laws that applied from conception. There is also a federal law.

It doesn’t take much moral insight to realize that stabbing to death an unborn child is a profound wrong that deserves to be treated as a crime. But America’s abortion advocates specialize in moral obtuseness. They are opposed to recognition of personhood of any sort for the unborn child, worried that such a concession might undermine the premises of our sweepingly latitudinarian abortion regime.

Such protections raise the question: If an assailant can’t kill a fetus, why can anyone else?

The pro-abortion advocates argue that there’s no practical need for fetal protection laws. Judges, they say, can increase the penalty against an attacker who kills an unborn child. Yes, but there is no guarantee that any given judge will. The charges for a serious assault on a pregnant mother will be stiff regardless, they say. Perhaps, but why ignore one of the crimes?

We don’t say of a mass murderer, “He will spend a lifetime behind bars for one killing, so why charge him with the others?” Justice demands that the state pursue charges in behalf of all the victims.

The pro-abortion forces blinker themselves against how the vast majority of people consider an unborn child. Even before her child is born, a mother — and her family — sacrifices for her child, protects her child, prays for her child and dreams for her child. She talks to her child, and often names her child. She takes her child to the doctor. She, later in her pregnancy, knows when her child is active and when her child is resting.

Her unborn child, in short, is already what it will be after he or she is born — a cause of worry and joy, and ceaseless wonder at the miracle of life.

It is telling that pro-abortion advocates resort to euphemism even in this season of extremism. The New York law is called the Reproductive Health Act, an audacious abuse of language; the law is hostile to reproduction and dismissive of the health of unborn children. Two New York legislators wrote a defense of the law that constantly referred to “abortion care,” as if the addition of “care” softens the reality of what they are supporting.

The wordplay is cute, but the fact is that they deliberately denied the most innocent and vulnerable any explicit protection from heinous violence. This isn’t pro-choice. It isn’t humane. And it doesn’t have anything to do with medicine. In New York, pro-abortion advocates have shown us what they really are, and no one should ever forget


Asset Forfeiture: Lessons from Mississippi

A  national movement to reform “civil forfeiture” is underway. In many states, current policy allows the government to confiscate property on the grounds that it is connected to a crime — without ever convicting anyone of the crime. In court, a lower burden of proof applies in these civil cases than in criminal cases, even when valuable property such as a vehicle is at stake.

Twenty-nine states have reformed their civil-forfeiture laws since 2014. Fifteen states now require a criminal conviction for most or all forfeiture cases. And the recent skirmish over forfeiture laws here in Mississippi — a “law and order” state by any measure — illustrated that the voting public does not believe there is a contradiction between upholding due process and enforcing the law.

In 2018, the Mississippi legislature allowed the law authorizing one especially troubling type of civil forfeiture, known as “administrative forfeiture,” to sunset. With administrative forfeiture, law-enforcement agencies in Mississippi could take and keep property worth $20,000 or less, so long as they believed it was connected to drug crime, simply by obtaining a warrant and providing a notice to the owner. If the owner did not file suit within 30 days, the property was automatically forfeited to the agency. And given that almost half of all administrative-forfeiture cases involved property worth less than $1,000, it was unrealistic and outrageous to expect property owners to incur court costs and attorney’s fees to bring those cases to court on their own.

In 2019 there was a concerted campaign to bring back the old regime — but it met with pushback led by liberty-minded conservative legislators and my colleagues at the Mississippi Justice Institute, the legal arm of the conservative Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

Keeping administrative forfeiture off the books was a modest reform. It simply ensured that all forfeiture cases go to court for a final adjudication. It did not affect criminal forfeiture, which is when authorities keep property after a criminal conviction. It did not even affect ordinary civil forfeiture, in which agencies keep property after filing suit and proving in a civil court that the property was connected to a drug crime. When asked, most citizens seem to believe that is the least the government should do before it gets to keep your iPhone, your cash, or your truck.

But that did not keep the law’s advocates from painting a doomsday picture of life in Mississippi after the demise of administrative forfeiture. One elected leader declared that drug dealers would move into Mississippi to “get a better deal.” An official for a state police agency took to the airwaves to warn, inaccurately, that drug money would have to be returned to convicted drug dealers after they got out of prison. Officials bluntly advised the public that opponents of changing the law back were “anti–law enforcement” and “pro–drug dealer.” Dozens of police chiefs and sheriffs canvassed the state capitol in full uniform to warn against ending the practice.

The message to legislators was clear: Oppose administrative forfeiture and you oppose law enforcement as a whole. The message to citizens was even more ominous: Choose between your rights and your safety.

Despite all of this, Mississippians made it clear they were overwhelmingly opposed to reinstating administrative forfeiture. Legislators were inundated with calls and emails from concerned citizens. Social media was awash in opposition to reauthorizing the practice. Callers flooded radio stations asking how this could ever have even been the law in the first place. Ultimately, Mississippi legislators listened to the voices of these ordinary citizens. The effort to reauthorize administrative forfeiture did not even receive enough votes to move out of committee.

The lesson for elected leaders in states still weighing forfeiture reforms is this: Don’t fall for false dichotomies. Trust your citizens. They understand that you can support strengthening constitutional rights and also support law enforcement. If you are brave enough to start the conversation, and to stand your ground, you may be surprised how many will stand with you.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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