Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mississippi Innocence Project, Joe York, Radley Balko

I went to a screening of Joe York's Mississippi Innocence Project film last night, and I was moved nearly to tears, even though I have been following Radley Balko's coverage of the cases covered in this film, as well as other cases in Mississippi and Louisiana involving  former Mississippi medical examiner Steve Haynes and proported "bite-mark expert" Michael West.

As a former medical secretary who worked in two different hospital pathology departments, even having been in this admittedly peripheral position, I could recognize some areas of suspension of normal protocols (at least they would have been in the Memphis hospitals in which I worked). And more astonishing, I have not worked in that field since 1973, when one would expect things to have been in a more rudimentary and less professional phase than now.  Apparently not in the state of Mississippi.

I had kept up on these cases and hadn't yet gone to see the film, but I'm glad that I finally did (drawn by the chance to hear Balko in person).  A few things had slipped by my mind without sticking, and this was a chance to have it graphically glued to my admittedly "holey" memory; plus there were a few tidbits served up that I don't remember hearing before. For those of you who are not familiar with these cases or the Mississippi Innocence Project, I highly recommend that you view this film.  You will be touched, outraged, and frightened by what you will see - although true, it is a horror story to beat anything presented by Stephen King or John Carpenter.

That old thing about a picture being worth a thousand words is as true now as it was centuries ago.  Seeing these two innocent men, Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer and what they went thru because of our fractured  criminal justice system, and having it brought home that these miscarriages of justice do not simply affect the wrongly accused and their families, but also allow the real criminals to continue to roam free and carry out further crimes at will, was powerful, frightening and disturbing. Hats off to Tucker Carrington and the other folks at the Mississippi Innocence project for getting out there and doing the hard work of holding our criminal justice system accountable, from law enforcement to pathologists to judiciary, and to Joe York and his team for the marvelous presentation and the incisive presentation of the facts in his documentaries.

Pondering the fact that one little girl is no longer with us, because the criminal justice system broke down and allowed her rapist and murderer to stay free and do the same thing to her that he had done to the first little girl is deeply sad and disheartening.

Thank God for those like Mr. Balko (journalist), Joe York (filmmaker) and Tucker Carrington (of the Mississippi Innocence Project) and all those others who helped make this documentary and these groundbreaking investigations possible (folks like John Grisham, Barry Schenck and Peter Neufeld, et al).

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