Patricia Stallings

Re: Patricia Stallings

Postby Chris_Halkides » Wed Feb 15, 2012 9:24 pm

Patricia Stallings case (circa 1990)

Main Factor leading to a wrongful conviction
Confirmation bias: One laboratory claimed to find ethylene glycol even though its retention time (the period it takes for a compound to traverse a GC column) was not identical to a standard sample of ethylene glycol. Another laboratory did not even bother to run a standard. One laboratory did not calculate that Ryan would have had to consume 300 liters of ethylene glycol to account for the results of the chemical analysis

Additional factors
Ineffective assistance of counsel: Ms. Stallings first attorney failed to present the possibility that Ryan suffered from a metabolic disorder, but the judge may have also circumscribed the defense.
Limitations of the analytical methods: More modern methods of chemical analysis are less prone to misidentification of compounds.

Synopsis of the Patricia Stallings case
Missourian Patricia Stallings was convicted of murdering her infant son Ryan by poisoning him with ethylene glycol. At least four separate samples of evidence showed the presence of ethylene glycol by gas chromatography (GC). Her second son David (who had no contact with his mother) showed similar symptoms to Ryan’s and was found to have a rare metabolic disorder called methylmalonic acidemia (MMA). The defense did not raise the issue of David's diagnosis, perhaps misunderstanding the judge's directions with respect to what was or was not allowable. She was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. After a biochemist became interested in the case, he and others were able to show that Ryan also had MMA, and the compound identified as ethylene glycol was shown to be propionic acid instead. Ms. Stallings was eventually released from prison.

Additional take-home messages
This case shows that private citizens can make a difference, but only when they are in possession of the facts. The biochemist who became interested only heard about the case from an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries.” This is one wrongful conviction in which neither the police nor prosecutor committed any ethical improprieties. As is also the situation for false arson convictions, poor forensics created an apparent crime where there was none.
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Re: Patricia Stallings

Postby Sarah » Tue Feb 21, 2012 3:23 am

How does the Patricia Stallings case shed light on the murder of Meredith Kercher?

http://viewfromwilmington.blogspot.com/ ... -shed.html
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Re: Patricia Stallings

Postby Clive Wismayer » Tue Feb 21, 2012 3:52 am

Sarah wrote:How does the Patricia Stallings case shed light on the murder of Meredith Kercher?

http://viewfromwilmington.blogspot.com/ ... -shed.html

I read that with interest. As a civil lawyer, I have mostly instructed experts in dry and dusty fields like surveying (damage to property) or accountancy, but, if it is my expert (i.e. I am not instructing a single joint expert agreed by the parties or nominated by the court) I exercise no restraint at all in explaining my client's case and getting the expert onside. And often there is little difficulty persuading the expert to reach the view you want them to reach.

Chris Halkides describes processes which, to my lay eye, seem to be susceptible of scientific proof to a high degree of accuracy, but often the expert is merely exercising a judgment, just doing so to a much higher standard than an unqualified person (hopefully) but still with a margin for error.

I was recently asked by an opposing lawyer, representing a goverment body, to agree a joint letter of instruction to a forensic handwriting expert. The draft was completely amatuerish in its obvious bias and leading questions and would have been shredded had the litigation not taken a course rendering the instructions otiose. Had this person been instructing the expert out of my sight I have no doubt at all that the bias would have been even more unrestrained.

Transplanting that to Perugia and to Stefanoni just gives me the creeps. There is no doubt in my mind at all that she will have been operating under conditions so inimical to scientific objectivity as to render her work valueless as the product of an independent scientific mind. Admittedly, my own view is affected by confirmation bias resulting from having seen all the criticisms of her methods (and lies) but my starting point, based on experience, is to assume that she knew what it was Mignini was trying to prove and to have seen it as her task to give him what he wanted.
Sample 36B: not blood, not human and not a sample (no cytology!!). Sample 36I: Amanda's LCN profile, ergo the knife is the murder weapon. :boggled:
When do we get the fibre analysis results?
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Re: Patricia Stallings

Postby Chris_Halkides » Sat Feb 25, 2012 4:33 pm

anglolawyer,

There are a couple of solutions to the problems of investigator bias in forensics. One is to make all labs independent of law enforcement. That is what the National Science Foundation suggested, IIUC. Another is to for a forensics counselor to be appointed to indigent defendents. I think that Radley Balko and Roger Koppl have made a suggestion along these lines ("CSI For Real" is an article that Koppl wrote). I agree that one of the most serious problems in Perugia was that the arrests were done before any forensics came back. This put pressure on the forensic police to back up their colleagues (who may also have been their superiors in the command structure). It is a recipe for the creation of conscious or unconscious bias. MOO.
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Re: Patricia Stallings

Postby Clive Wismayer » Sat Feb 25, 2012 4:42 pm

Chris_Halkides wrote:anglolawyer,

There are a couple of solutions to the problems of investigator bias in forensics. One is to make all labs independent of law enforcement. That is what the National Science Foundation suggested, IIUC. Another is to for a forensics counselor to be appointed to indigent defendents. I think that Radley Balko and Roger Koppl have made a suggestion along these lines ("CSI For Real" is an article that Koppl wrote). I agree that one of the most serious problems in Perugia was that the arrests were done before any forensics came back. This put pressure on the forensic police to back up their colleagues (who may also have been their superiors in the command structure). It is a recipe for the creation of conscious or unconscious bias. MOO.

Can you imagine yourself, Chris, in Stefanoni's position? I would be interested to know whether you have ever thought about it.

To the two suggestions you mention (which sound interesting) I add a third: continuing professional development for lawyers and others to facilitate a better understanding of science and scientiic method.
Sample 36B: not blood, not human and not a sample (no cytology!!). Sample 36I: Amanda's LCN profile, ergo the knife is the murder weapon. :boggled:
When do we get the fibre analysis results?
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Re: Patricia Stallings

Postby Skind » Sat Feb 25, 2012 5:43 pm

I would have thought the requirements of CPD would obligate you to review your understanding (as indicated to you by self analysis, peer review or group review) of the scientific method and the science that is relevant to your work, assuming any is relevant.

HPC registrants are certainly obligated to take reasonable steps to review current and likely professional load, and seek out oppourtunities to develop practise as far as is reasonable.
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Re: Patricia Stallings

Postby Chris_Halkides » Sun Feb 26, 2012 9:18 am

anglolawyer wrote:
Chris_Halkides wrote:anglolawyer,

There are a couple of solutions to the problems of investigator bias in forensics. One is to make all labs independent of law enforcement. That is what the National Science Foundation suggested, IIUC. Another is to for a forensics counselor to be appointed to indigent defendents. I think that Radley Balko and Roger Koppl have made a suggestion along these lines ("CSI For Real" is an article that Koppl wrote). I agree that one of the most serious problems in Perugia was that the arrests were done before any forensics came back. This put pressure on the forensic police to back up their colleagues (who may also have been their superiors in the command structure). It is a recipe for the creation of conscious or unconscious bias. MOO.

Can you imagine yourself, Chris, in Stefanoni's position? I would be interested to know whether you have ever thought about it.

To the two suggestions you mention (which sound interesting) I add a third: continuing professional development for lawyers and others to facilitate a better understanding of science and scientiic method.

anglolawyer,

I could easily see myself testing the knife extra hard: multiple locations, pushing the limits of detection, whatever. But I would still do the controls, and I would still report the results correctly. I once talked with someone in forensics in a nearby police force to where I live. Before I finished telling her about the knife, she asked if anyone had opened it up. I would have wanted to do that, too.
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Re: Patricia Stallings

Postby Clive Wismayer » Sun Feb 26, 2012 9:29 am

Chris_Halkides wrote:
anglolawyer wrote:
Chris_Halkides wrote:anglolawyer,

There are a couple of solutions to the problems of investigator bias in forensics. One is to make all labs independent of law enforcement. That is what the National Science Foundation suggested, IIUC. Another is to for a forensics counselor to be appointed to indigent defendents. I think that Radley Balko and Roger Koppl have made a suggestion along these lines ("CSI For Real" is an article that Koppl wrote). I agree that one of the most serious problems in Perugia was that the arrests were done before any forensics came back. This put pressure on the forensic police to back up their colleagues (who may also have been their superiors in the command structure). It is a recipe for the creation of conscious or unconscious bias. MOO.

Can you imagine yourself, Chris, in Stefanoni's position? I would be interested to know whether you have ever thought about it.

To the two suggestions you mention (which sound interesting) I add a third: continuing professional development for lawyers and others to facilitate a better understanding of science and scientiic method.

anglolawyer,

I could easily see myself testing the knife extra hard: multiple locations, pushing the limits of detection, whatever. But I would still do the controls, and I would still report the results correctly. I once talked with someone in forensics in a nearby police force to where I live. Before I finished telling her about the knife, she asked if anyone had opened it up. I would have wanted to do that, too.

Another idea is unlimited time and funds for defence lawyers :mrgreen: I'm only half joking. The practice is criminal law in England is presently subject to very tight funding making almost any other area of law financially more attractive. Inevitably, this will have some effect on the calibre of criminal practitioners in general. But when it comes to a major case the time and money required may not always be there.

I have an impression that public defenders in the US don't always enjoy a great reputation and I think we are headed in the same direction. I gave up criminal law a long time ago (apart from the odd dull and boring regulatory case for fee-paying clients) partly because there was no money in it and things only seem to have got worse since.
Sample 36B: not blood, not human and not a sample (no cytology!!). Sample 36I: Amanda's LCN profile, ergo the knife is the murder weapon. :boggled:
When do we get the fibre analysis results?
Clive Wismayer
 
Posts: 10075
Joined: Fri Oct 07, 2011 5:40 am
Location: Surrey, England


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