Saturday, April 26, 2014

Framing the Guilty, Framing the Innocent

There is an all-too-common practice in our justice system known as Framing the Guilty. A police officer (or crime lab supervisor or medical examiner or district attorney) is convinced of a suspect's guilt but fears the bastard will walk free. The police officer (or other administrator of justice) will therefore bury exculpatory evidence, manufacture or plant inculpatory evidence, coerce a false confession, or provide favorable treatment to a third party in exchange for false testimony.

Since the dirtbag being framed is guilty, no harm is done.

A greater harm would be to allow the sleaze ball to walk free so that he could rob or rape or kill again.

It's okay because everyone does it.

No need to lose any sleep over it.


Sometimes, however, the police arrest the wrong person. They are loath to admit it, but sometimes they do arrest the wrong person. Sometimes, district attorneys convict innocent defendants. They never admit it, but sometimes district attorneys do convict innocent defendants. In those cases of actual innocence, Framing the Guilty becomes Framing the Innocent.

The classic movie frame up is more fiction than reality. A bad guy wants to deflect suspicion away from himself. A vengeful partner wants to extract revenge. A mob boss wants to eliminate competition. Those evil private citizens therefore manufacture a case against an unwitting foe. The police and district attorney fall for it. An innocent man is convicted through no wrong-doing whatsoever on the part of the State.

I repeat, the classic frame up is more fiction than reality. In the real world, nearly all the framing is done by the State. In those frames, the administrators of our justice system are the bad guys, the vengeful partners, the mob bosses. They serve at our pleasure. We must therefore bear our share of the blame.

I now take another break from my blogging sabbatical to write this series about the State of Texas framing its citizens for capital murder. I do so because Larry Swearingen, The Most Innocent Man on Death Row, has a critical hearing on 15 May. Larry Swearingen is one of those innocent people who has been framed for a crime he did not commit. The State and People of Texas still hope to execute him as soon as they can.

I will intersperse this disturbing series with posts about the framing of Larry Swearingen. I will also discuss other instances of Framing the Innocent.

One of those cases will be that of Preston Hughes III, the most thoroughly framed person ever executed in this country. It was my failed effort to save Hughes that led to my sudden and unannounced sabbatical from blogging. Before too long, I will publish my book revealing all of what I learned both before and after the execution. Here, in this series, I will give but a brief overview.

Another case in the series will be that of Cesar Fierro. Even the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that Fierro confessed to stop the police from physically torturing his parents. The TCCA agreed also that the police perjured themselves at his trial. The TCCA, however, ruled that the framing of Cesar Fierro was a harmless error, and they refused to grant a new trial. Cesar Fierro will not be executed, however, since he has gone undeniably insane while incarcerated on death row.

Another case in this series will be that of Robert Otis Coulson. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the police had, in that case, planted an envelope on a desk. The court found also that the district attorney improperly used the envelope as evidence against Coulson. "We agree," the judges wrote in their opinion, "that the evidence regarding the location of the envelope was false. We also agree that this knowledge may be imputed from the police to the prosecution." The 5th Circuit then ruled that the framing of Coulson was a harmless error, and they refused to grant a new trial. Robert Otis Coulson was executed by the State and People of Texas on 25 June 2002.

Yet another case in this series will be that of Derrick Leon Jackson. Jackson was convicted of capital murder based on the work of the notorious HPD crime lab in general and the work of the notorious James Bolding in particular. The independent investigators hired to review the HPD crime lab saved their most scathing words for James Bolding. "We have identified three cases in which Mr. Bolding was involved in the wholly inappropriate and unethical alteration of bench notes reflecting the serology results obtained by either himself or another Crime Lab serologist. Each of these cases reflects a disturbing lack of integrity on the part of Mr. Bolding. … James R. Bolding appears to have committed scientific fraud and perjury." The investigators identified the Jackson case as one that needed to be reinvestigated. Derrick Leon Jackson was nonetheless executed by the State and People of Texas on July 20, 2010.

I write this series to inform the public, and the judges who serve the public, that the State and People of Texas have framed innocent defendants all too frequently, and that Larry Swearingen is one of those innocent defendants who has been framed.

For a status of the series and for ease of navigation, see the Table of Contents.