Monday, February 27, 2006

Another Reason I Oppose The Death Penalty

Watch any murder mystery on television, read any crime story in the papers, and there's bound to be a mention of a lie detector test. Today, most of us think of the polygraph's spikes and drops as a classic (but flawed) indicator of truth and deception. But a revolutionary technology called "Brain Fingerprinting" may be about to change our perceptions. This episode takes viewers onto Oklahoma's death row, where convicted murderer Jimmie Ray Slaughter is awaiting execution. In a last-ditch attempt to get the case back into court, Slaughter's attorneys have called upon Dr. Lawrence Farwell, the neuroscientist who developed this controversial new test.

While conventional lie detectors rely on fluctuations in respiration, perspiration and blood pressure, "Brain Fingerprinting" is based on a sub-set of brain waves that register as brief electrical patterns when a person recognizes familiar stimuli. Imagine, for instance, that a murder suspect maintains his innocence. While in custody, he is read certain words related to the crime in question. A computer measures the brain's response to these stimuli, yielding results that suggest whether or not the suspect's memory holds information about the crime that only the perpetrator could know. But is this emerging technology ready for public acceptance?

After performing the test on Jimmie Ray Slaughter, Farwell has announced that the inmate did not know certain key facts about the crime. Slaughter, who claims he is innocent, hopes his lawyers will be able to use the test to get him a stay of execution. But others, including the Oklahoma District Attorney, claim the "Brain Fingerprinting" test is severely flawed. Dr. Farwell's former mentor Dr. Emanuel Donchin, also weighs in with his viewpoints about applying the brainwave science outside of a laboratory environment.
Compelling evidence. The technology has existed for years now, and has been vetted many times over by scientific studies.

In Slaughter's case, brain fingerprinting showed he did not know such crucial details of the crime (despite the fact that he sat through a trial and who knows how many discussions of the evidence?) as the location of the adult victim's body, where the infant had been killed, or what the adult victim was wearing when she was killed. In addition, testimony given by a metalurgist regarding the bullets used to shoot the victims was cast in doubt, and a hair sample found at the scene, which could not be tested at the time of the original trial, was tested for DNA and showed that a completely different person had been at the victim's house.

Further, testimony given during the trial by a co-worker of the victim and Slaughter (and ex-lover of Slaughter) was shown to be unsubstantiated beyond hearsay.

An appeal was filed, but you read the rest:
Claiming the results of his brain fingerprint test and additional DNA testing on a hair found at the crime scene were new evidence not presented at the original trial, Jimmie Ray Slaughter petitioned the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for a new evidentiary hearing in March 2004. The judges found brain fingerprinting to have insufficient scientific documentation to be admitted as evidence and denied Slaughter¹s request in January 2005 and again on March 10, 2005. The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court¹s decision and denied the appeal, at which point a date for his execution was set. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his application for a stay of execution, and with all his appeal options exhausted, Jimmie Ray Slaughter was executed by lethal injection on March 15, 2005 in Oklahoma.
I should point out that the "brain fingerprinting" was done in a small window to file a final appeal.

Indeed. Not even "sentence commuted," which would have been a reasonable alternative until the evidence could be more thoroughly investigated. So here's a situation where clearly a man's guilt was reasonably in doubt, but the butchering red staters had to have blood on their hands and now.

If you get the chance to catch the episode of "Innovation" that featured this, I urge you to watch it.

And get angry.