Monday, April 5, 2010

Actual Innocence Scorecard: What Does it Mean?

Last time we spoke seriously, I introduced my use of an Actual Innocence Scorecard as a means of ranking the likelihood that an innocent person was executed. In this post, I hope to clarify the meaning of the Actual Innocence Score. I'll use the case of Michael Blair as an example.

You can see Michael Blair's scorecard by clicking on the image to the right. Since it's an information-dense image, maximize the window in which it appears. Most browsers will allow you to enlarge the image further by simply clicking on it.

From the scorecard, you can get a quick overview of the case. "On September 4, 1993, seven-year-old Ashley Estell was with her family at  ... 
Carpenter Park in Plano, Texas, watching her older brother play a soccer game. She disappeared from the park that day and was strangled to death. Her body was found the next day by a roadside."

Blair had recently been released from prison after serving only 18 months of a 10 year sentence for indecency with a child. Multiple witnesses placed him at the park from where Ashley disappeared. Others placed him cruising the area and offering to help search for the missing girl. A search of his truck uncovered a stuffed animal, a blanket, a knife, and hairs. Fibers from the stuffed animal matched those found on the body. The hair found in the truck matched Ashley's. A clump of hair found nearby in another park included hairs from both Blair and the victim.

Despite his protestations of innocence, Blair was convicted and sentenced to death. The jury was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he had killed Ashley Estell. It took them 27 minutes to reach their verdict. It took them only a little longer to set the penalty as death by lethal injection.

Based on my scoring, Michael ended up with an Actual Innocence Score of 45. It is my intention that this score indicates that from a random sample of 100 cases having identical evidence, an all-knowing, all-seeing, impartial judge would find the defendant to be factually innocent in 45 of those cases, and factually guilty in 55.

That is my intention. In reality the score means that given the numeric values I assigned to each of the evidentiary categories (based on the information gleaned from my research, and based on my own set of biases), and given the weighting I assigned to each of the evidentiary categories, and given the algorithm by which my program converts values for the individual evidentiary categories into an overall weighted score, Michael Blair scored a 45. 

In other words, garbage in, garbage out. Bias in, bias out. Non-representative programming, non-representative result. In summary, my scoring program is far from being an all-knowing, all-seeing, impartial judge.

In the next post on this subject, I'll discuss why I will rely on this scoring program, despite it's deficiencies, as I continue my search for the 54  innocent people I calculated to have been executed by Texas.

Until that time, consider a second scorecard for Michael Blair. The second one includes post-conviction DNA results based on testing unavailable at the time of his trial. It turns out that Michael would have been one of those people an all-knowing, all-seeing, impartial system would have known to be factually innocent.

6 Apr 2010

**** Clarification ****

Michael Blair was not executed. Six years after DNA testing exonerated him, Texas conceded the point and joined with the defense team to have the death penalty revoked. Michael Blair will spend his life behind bars for molestation crimes he has admitted to.

1 comment:

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