Free At Last? Brewer May Go Free Friday | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Free At Last? Brewer May Go Free Friday

Two men who have served a combined 34 years behind bars for crimes they apparently did not commit may walk away free men on Friday, Feb. 15.

On Feb. 7, Attorney General Jim Hood announced the Feb. 4 arrest of Justin Arthur Johnson, 51, for the 1992 rape and murder of 3-year-old Christine Jackson of Noxubee County. Johnson's DNA is a match in the Jackson case. In a taped interview, Johnson confessed to the Jackson killing and to the 1990 rape and murder of 3-year-old Courtney Smith, saying that he acted alone in both cases, according to an Innocence Project press release.

Kennedy Brewer served a total of 16 years, including six years on death row, for Jackson's murder. In 2001, DNA testing proved Brewer was not the rapist.

"In most jurisdictions around the country, faced with this type of proof of innocence, prosecutors would have moved to dismiss the charges," said Vanessa Potkin, Innocence Project staff attorney.

Noxubee District Attorney Forrest Allgood, who originally prosecuted Brewer, vacated the original sentence, but then changed his theory of the crime. Originally saying that Brewer acted alone, Allgood re-arrested Brewer, now saying that he had assisted the actual rapist. Allgood announced that he would again seek the death penalty for Brewer.

For six years, however, Allgood failed to bring the second case to trial, leaving Brewer to languish in the Noxubee County jail, ineligible for bail because of the potential death sentence. In the summer of 2007, André de Gruy of the Office of Capital Defense Counsel in Jackson finally got Brewer released on bail after Allgood recused himself from the case.

"The state has filed a motion to dismiss the charges," Potkin said. "Our expectation for Friday's hearing is that the charges will be dismissed against Mr. Brewer, and he will finally be completely vindicated, officially." A hearing for Brewer is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 15, in the Noxubee County Circuit Court in Macon.

With Johnson's arrest, the Innocence Project also expects to see the release of Levon Brooks. In an earlier case with near identical circumstances, Brooks has served 18 years of a life sentence for the murder and rape of Courtney Smith in 1990. Recent attempts to exonerate Brooks through DNA were unsuccessful because the evidence proved too degraded to make an identification.

In both cases, police investigated Johnson as a possible suspect, but settled on the mother's boyfriends, not having tested any suspect's DNA.

Also in both cases, the killer abducted the toddlers from their homes in the middle of the night, and police found their bodies in water.

Dr. Michael West, a Hattiesburg dentist, testified that bite marks on both bodies came from the upper teeth of the defendants, although defense experts refuted his testimony, saying biting only with upper teeth was not possible, and that animals and insects had most likely bitten the girls.

DNA evidence has contradicted West's findings in at least two other cases. The New York Times reported in September 2007 that the American Board of Forensic Odontology suspended West, and that he had resigned from the American Academy of Forensic Science and the International Association of Identification, pending expulsion at the time he testified in the Brewer case. Recently, Potkin added, the ABFO began an investigation of six cases that West had been involved in, and the doctor resigned rather than be the subject of their scrutiny.

"Dr. West has routinely offered evidence that has no scientific basis, but it's been allowed in the courtroom," Potkin said. Even when an expert's testimony is unfounded, it is often still persuasive to juries.

The Innocence Project is concerned about the "hubris and misconduct" of West and Dr. Steven Hayne, whose autopsy report, filmed by West, was judged inadmissible in the Jackson case, and who brought West in to consult on both cases. Hayne performed autopsies on the victims in both cases, and he completes more than six times the recommended number of autopsies per year by his own admission in an unrelated deposition. Hayne nets roughly $1 million annually for performing as many as 1,800 autopsies a year at $550 each, and as a forensic expert for prosecutors two to three times a week, according to Radley Balko, editor of Reason magazine, in a widely circulated story titled "CSI: Mississippi."

"I'm not aware of their comments about the work I did (on these victims)," Hayne said Tuesday about statements made by the Innocence Project and Balko. "They will get their chance to address this in a legal arena." Hayne would not comment on specific statements made by either source.

"It's outrageous that such testimony is allowed in American courtrooms," Potkin said. "People are being sent to death row and prison for the rest of their lives based on testimony that's essentially made up. Something needs to be done to police that testimony and keep it out of courtrooms."

Dr. West did not return calls.

With such striking similarities between the two cases, the Innocence Project requested that Hood's office intervene to bring the investigations to a close.

"We, as prosecutors, have a duty to protect the innocent as well as prosecute the guilty," Hood said in a statement. Hood credited the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and sheriffs in Noxubee and Chickasaw counties, who also worked on the investigation.

The Innocence Project filed a motion for post-conviction relief with the Mississippi Supreme Court for Brooks on Friday, Feb. 8, asking the court to expedite a decision in his case, meaning that Brooks may also walk out of Noxubee County Circuit Court on Friday a free man.

Previous Comments

ID
98428
Comment

"Walking out" is a good thing. It is better late than never. My question is: What will this State do financially to aide these men in putting their lives back together? This is still another reason why the death penalty should be outlawed.

Author
justjess
Date
2008-02-14T11:52:27-06:00
ID
98429
Comment

Ledger following up on Innocence Project criticism of Hayne, as explained in Ronni's story above, today.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-02-14T12:10:52-06:00
ID
98430
Comment

Prosecutor Allgood refused to bring the case to trial for several years although I personally made calls and wrote letters trying to force him and the judge to set a trial date for the case for about 2 years. I said if you're so sure he's guilty then prove it against the resolve and might of a ready defense. No trial date was ever set, and I was called truculent, forceful and no telling what else behind my back. This is the story before the story that we're reading about all over the country right now. To overcome any unforseen developments and last minute trickery with respect to DNA I personally brought in Peter who added his assistant Vanessa. None of the above revelations will get any ink in the press, and that's fine with me, since it all worked out perfectly in the end. I'm so happy to see Kennedy walk free. The long way, without me, got perfect results.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2008-02-14T13:43:15-06:00
ID
98431
Comment

Here's the full text of the Innocence Project letter regarding Dr. Hayne. To read more about him, here's CSI: Mississippi by Radley Balko.

Author
Ronni_Mott
Date
2008-02-14T15:54:02-06:00
ID
98432
Comment

Ray, Thanks for everything you do. You may have only been the thorn in the lion's paw, so to say, but I'm sure you were part of the solution.

Author
Ronni_Mott
Date
2008-02-14T15:56:40-06:00
ID
98433
Comment

Ray-I am thoroughly convinced if you would have written the letters as the "Mr. Ray Smarta$$ Carter" the JFP bloggers know...they would have thrown you the keys to the cell and run in the other direction. :) Too bad your all pent in with all that nansy pansy "legal writing"... Thanks for fighting the good fight...many wouldn't have done what you did.

Author
Lori G
Date
2008-02-14T19:03:40-06:00
ID
98434
Comment

Yep, Ray is a hero. And hated by bigots. Nice going.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-02-14T20:04:24-06:00
ID
98435
Comment

Thanks Peeps. I do try to serve my purpose in this game of legal maneuvering. But I'm hero yet. So far, I'm still a mere country boy who would have been hauling pulp wood if he didn't hate hard physical work, have courage and a vivid imagination, two of which are gifts of the Almighty. I don't know where the hatred of hard physical work came from, but I remember my daddy telling me, boy, as lazy as you are, you had better gain some knowledge or skills else you might starve to death some day. Too many prosecutors and judges on criminal cases expect criminal defense lawyers to just go along weakly and never challenge them. When you do challenege them many of them get offended and start to treat you with disdain. I don't care how they act because I consider the system greater and bigger than the judge, prosecutor and me. I'm not worried about any prosecutors kicking my butt in the future either as a result of the turbulence. It can happen, it does happen occasionally, but it won't ever be a walk in the park. And I know too well that prosecutors like walking in the park.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2008-02-15T10:46:01-06:00
ID
98436
Comment

Ray Carter, no matter who gets the credit for Brewer going free, we now know that you were the germ for the eventual SOLUTION. Today I SALUTE Ray Carter.

Author
justjess
Date
2008-02-15T11:15:00-06:00
ID
98437
Comment

but I remember my daddy telling me, boy, as lazy as you are, you had better gain some knowledge or skills else you might starve to death some day. HA! I swear, my daddy said almost the same thing to me!! Replace "boy" with "girl" and "knowledge or skills" with "rich man" and you've got my father's sage advice! Thank the Lord, I took YOUR daddy's advice and went for the "knowledge and skills" over the "rich man". I'm still lazy as all get out, though. ;)

Author
Lori G
Date
2008-02-15T11:26:28-06:00

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