A Second Look

Children bring out our protective instincts. It's a natural desire to want to defend children, who have so little power, against any hint of evil. Maybe that's why it becomes all too easy to presume guilt when an adult becomes a suspect of child abuse. It's the mark of a civilized society to attempt to protect the innocent.

Maintaining Objectivity

It can be hard to remain open-minded when the adult who stands accused must prove that something never happened. It's even harder to maintain objectivity when the accuser is a doctor with a pile of medical degrees and qualifications. But just as difficult to examine with any impartiality is the accusations of a child.

Because of these difficulties, many daycare providers, parents, teachers, and neighbors have been convicted on criminal charges of child abuse—even in cases where scientific evidence does not support the charges or there is no physical evidence.

Lawyers and judges who support changes in the judicial system that will encourage the truth are taking a second look at several such cases in an acknowledgment that innocent people have been convicted and that this leads to the destruction of the family and many childhoods. It is hoped that reevaluating these legal cases may help spot the mistakes that put the wrong people behind bars so that our legal system will not be doomed to repeat these mistakes. As John F. Kennedy said in this apt statement, "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

Sketchy Evidence

*Shaken Baby Syndrome—Two Wisconsin adults, Quentin Louis and Tammy Millerleile of Marathon County, were convicted of shaking babies to death. The conviction of Louis occurred in 2005, while the conviction of Millerleile was back in 2002. However, in August of 2009, Circuit Court Judge for Marathon Count, Judge Vincent Howard vacated Louis' conviction, granting him a new trial. He based this decision on a ruling that states that the medical evidence that is offered in shaken-baby syndrome cases is just too sketchy to trust. The prosecutors have submitted an appeal in an effort toward retrying the Louis case. Meantime, a month after Howard vacated the Louis conviction he authorized payments to expert witnesses so they might review the evidence pertaining to the Millerleile conviction.

*Error-Ridden Autopsy Results—In Toronto, 20 out of 45 autopsies performed by former pathologist Dr. Charles Smith were found to contain errors. The error-riddled cases over which Smith presided go back as far as 1991. Twelve of these mistake-filled reports resulted in criminal convictions, while one of them let a possible criminal off the hook.

Because of Smith's findings, William Mullins-Johnson spent 12 years in jail for raping and murdering his niece. But a 2005 review of Smith's autopsy report discovered that the victim hadn't been raped and strangled but had suffered from a chronic gastrointestinal ailment that caused her to choke to death on her own vomit.