Thorman’s testimony had been critical, because the state’s theory of the case posited an extraordinary sequence of events. Prosecutors asked the jury to believe that between 9:15 p.m. on Oct. 14, 1985, when the Bryans spoke by phone, and the following morning, when Mickey was found shot to death, Joe slipped out of his hotel in Austin; drove 120 miles to Clifton, at night, through heavy rain, even though he had an eye condition that made night driving difficult; shot his wife, with whom he had no history of conflict; drove 120 miles back to Austin; re-entered the hotel; and stole upstairs to his room — all in time to clean up and attend the conference’s morning session, and all without leaving behind a single eyewitness.
So what forensic evidence did the state have?
The main piece of evidence they had was the blood-speckled flashlight that Charlie Blue found four days after the murder in the trunk of Joe’s car. What connection it had to the crime, if any, was unclear; the blood on it was type O, which corresponded not only to Mickey but also to nearly half the population. To secure a guilty verdict, the prosecution needed to tie the flashlight to the crime scene. With the unassailable certainty of an expert, Thorman testified that the flecks of blood on the flashlight lens were “back spatter” — a pattern that indicated a close-range shooting. He wove a narrative that placed the flashlight in the killer’s hand. He also allowed the prosecution to explain away the lack of blood in the interior of Joe’s car when he asserted that the killer had changed his clothes and shoes before fleeing the house. Thorman’s testimony was decisive, making the state’s tenuous theory seem plausible. But jurors at the first trial did not know that, at the time, the only formal training Thorman had in the forensic discipline was a weeklong class. He took it four months before Mickey’s murder.
In other words, as Colloff goes on to demonstrate in detail, he was convicted of the crime based almost solely on junk science described in testimony by an “expert” with no actual expertise.
BREAKING: Joe Bryan, whose case I chronicled for @ProPublica & @NYTmag, was denied parole. He's 77, in poor health, has spent 30+ years in prison & has pristine disciplinary record. And the forensic science that helped convict him is questionable at best. https://t.co/vfNULFCxSq
One of the glories of our criminal justice system is that the fact that Bryan is almost certainly innocent and won’t pretend otherwise actually makes it harder for him to get parole, as parole boards want to see contrition.
Basically, although at least Bryan didn’t get executed this is Cameron Todd Willingham Part II — someone convicted of a horrible crime it’s very unlikely he committed based on “science” with about as much value as astrology. Indeed, in some respects the case against Bryan is even weaker; at least Willingham was clearly physically present in the house when the fire started.
ABC News reports: “An FBI agent got himself into an embarrassing situation on Saturday when his service weapon fell out of its holster while dancing at a Denver club and he accidentally shot a fellow patron while retrieving it.”
An FBI agent struts his stuff on the dance floor, when his firearm slips from its holster, accidentally discharging it and hitting a patron in the leg as he attempts to pick it up. The victim is in "good" condition, according to police. https://t.co/KUALuOZpHnpic.twitter.com/kNIVZFu4Av
“Denver police responded to Mile High Spirits Distillery and Tasting Bar for an accidental shooting at about 12:45 a.m. on Saturday,” according to ABC News. “The victim was taken to a nearby hospital in ‘good’ condition, according to police.” The FBI has not commented on the incident, the network reports.
If you caught John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight this past Sunday, you saw a lengthy segment detailing the atrocities of the rehabilitation industry. As Oliver pointed out, it’s largely an unregulated, unstandardized market rife with bad actors, scams, and bunkum that offers little help to patients desperate to recover from deadly addictions. With some charging tens of thousands of dollars for a month of treatment, rehab facilities often rely on therapies with little evidence of efficacy—such as horse petting—and report largely made-up percentages for their success rates.
Even experts in the field find themselves at a loss for how to identify effective, quality facilities. The result is that many patients pay large sums only to go on to struggle with or die from their condition. And these devastating consequences are only heightened by the country’s current epidemic of opioid addiction.
While Oliver gave a skillful overview of some of the rampant problems, an ongoing investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting picked out a particularly egregious case this week—Recovery Connections Community, a rehabilitation program outside of Asheville, North Carolina.
There, director Jennifer Warren spent years recruiting poor and desperate patients suffering from drug addiction into her rehabilitation program, offering free treatment in exchange for unpaid labor. With the promise of counseling and a path to recovery, patients cleaned her house, babysat her children, cared for her large collection of exotic pets, and worked 16-hour days at adult care homes—with little to no state-required training.
“It’s like slavery,” Denise Cool told Reveal. Cool was addicted to crack cocaine when a judge ordered her to Warren’s program in 2011. It was “like we were on the plantation,” she added.
While Warren collected wages from the adult care homes, many rehab patients worked as janitors, cooks, or personal aids. Being an aid meant dispensing prescription drugs—even ones the rehab patients were addicted to—as well as bathing disabled and/or elderly residents and changing their diapers. Many rehab participants succumbed to temptation and relapsed, stealing residents’ prescriptions. For those that did dispense drugs, they sometimes gave residents the wrong medications. Others were accused of sexual misconduct or assaults while caring for the residents.
History of abuse
Despite those stories, some still say that the therapy Warren promised rehab patients was the worst part of the program. In the little time when rehab patients weren’t working, patients recounted traumatic therapy sessions involving patients hurling insults and screaming at each other to break people down. The tactic has its roots in the controversial Synanon organization, which has been called a cult.
Meanwhile, Warren benefited from her patients. She reportedly took lengthy vacations at the beach and places such as Paris and Greece. She had rehab participants solicit donations for the program—which she set up as a nonprofit—but kept those donations for herself, including concert tickets and free appointments at beauty salons (meant as empowering opportunities for low-income rehab patients.)
In 2015, Warren pled guilty to illegally collecting thousands of dollars’ worth of food stamps. Rehab participants told Reveal that Warren continued to take their food stamps to stock her own kitchen despite the legal trouble.
Warren declined to answer questions but said in an email to Reveal, “I have no reason to believe that you will report anything positive about our program or are interested in the people’s success stories, of which there are many.”
The many complaints and concerns about Warren and her program have largely gone ignored or neglected by state agencies, Reveal reported. In 2012, Warren was stripped of her counseling license. After Reveal began asking questions, the state health department banned the program from sending participants to work as caregivers in adult care homes. But that was just last week. Otherwise, agencies have mostly let her continue, citing incomplete paperwork on complaints and loopholes in regulations. Because Warren claims to the state that she operates a “12-step, self-help” program instead of a treatment program, she mostly skirts government oversight. State hospitals, psychiatric facilities, and social workers continue to send patients to the program.
Lately, most Americans, regardless of their political leanings, have been asking themselves some version of the same question: How did we get here? How did the world’s greatest democracy and economy become a land of crumbling roads, galloping income inequality, bitter polarization and dysfunctional government?
.. the celebrated American economic-mobility engine is sputtering. For adults in their 30s, the chance of earning more than their parents dropped to 50% from 90% just two generations earlier. The American middle class, once an aspirational model for the world, is no longer the world’s richest... too few basic services seem to work as they should. America’s airports are an embarrassment, and a modern air-traffic control system is more than 25 years behind its original schedule. The power grid, roads and rails are crumbling, pushing the U.S. far down international rankings for infrastructure quality. Despite spending more on health care and K-12 education per capita than most other developed countries, health care outcomes and student achievement also rank in the middle or worse globally. Among the 35 OECD countries, American children rank 30th in math proficiency and 19th in science...
...many of the most talented, driven Americans used what makes America great–the First Amendment, due process, financial and legal ingenuity, free markets and free trade, meritocracy, even democracy itself–to chase the American Dream. And they won it, for themselves. Then, in a way unprecedented in history, they were able to consolidate their winnings, outsmart and co-opt the forces that might have reined them in, and pull up the ladder so more could not share in their success or challenge their primacy...
The result is a new, divided America. On one side are the protected few – the winners – who don’t need government for much and even have a stake in sabotaging the government’s responsibility to all of its citizens. For them, the new, broken America works fine, at least in the short term. An understaffed IRS is a plus for people most likely to be the target of audits. Underfunded customer service at the Social Security Administration is irrelevant to those not living week to week, waiting for their checks... On the other side are the unprotected many. They may be independent and hardworking, but they look to their government to preserve their way of life and maybe even improve it. The unprotected need the government to provide good public schools so that their children have a chance to advance. They need a level competitive playing field for their small businesses, a fair shake in consumer disputes and a realistic shot at justice in the courts...
The protected need few of these common goods. They don’t have to worry about underperforming public schools, dilapidated mass-transit systems or jammed Social Security hotlines. They have accountants and lawyers who can negotiate their employment contracts or deal with consumer disputes, assuming they want to bother. They see labor or consumer-protection laws, and fair tax codes, as threats to their winnings–which they have spent the last 50 years consolidating by eroding these common goods and the government that would provide them.
That, rather than a split between Democrats and Republicans, is the real polarization that has broken America since the 1960s. It’s the protected vs. the unprotected, the common good vs. maximizing and protecting the elite winners’ winnings...
“American meritocracy has thus become precisely what it was invented to combat,” Markovits concluded, “a mechanism for the dynastic transmission of wealth and privilege across generations. Meritocracy now constitutes a modern-day aristocracy.”