Another “Hairy” FBI Tale
By William L. Anderson
Like so many other “official” social and governmental institutions that were birthed during the Progressive Era a century ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation – better known as the FBI – has been held up as a model of governmental professionalism. The G-Men, as they were called, were to be the cream of the crop of professional and “scientific” lawmen, incorruptible, diligent, and generally correct about everything.
Progressives believed that all of American life needed to fall under central governmental control, and law enforcement should be no exception. Journalists touted the “professional” lawmen of the FBI, contrasting them with the ignorant, slovenly, pot-bellied officers of local and county police forces. Radio programs, television shows, and cinema portrayed FBI agents as the very epitome of disinterested professionalism, always being right and always “getting their man.”
At the heart of FBI professionalism was its crime lab, located in Quantico, Virginia. Founded in 1932, the FBI lab was touted as providing the very latest in forensic science, and since science was at the heart of the American religious faith known as Progressivism, the lab was deemed to be the Holy of Holies of police “forensic” investigations.
Agents from the lab – looking proper and professional – testified at thousands of trials, convincing jurors that their nearly-perfect “science” pointed to defendants in the dock as the guilty parties. Especially authoritative to jurors was the FBI “hair analysis” in which agents claimed to be able to identify a single strand of hair as ironclad proof that the defendant was at the scene, even if there was no other evidence that could point to guilt. At least 32 defendants were found guilty of murder and sentence to death, with many of the men executed.
This past week, the FBI finally was forced to admit that the vaunted “hair analysis” was bogus, another episode of the “junk science” that Progressives have foisted on us for decades. When combined with the scandals coming from state crimes labs and the FBI crime lab scandal of the 1990s, what we know now – beyond any doubt – is that much of the so-called scientific analysis upon which prosecutors have depended to bolster their criminal cases in state and federal courts has been worse than worthless, since it often was used to convict innocent defendants and place some of them in death chambers.
The false testimony is not limited to forensics. We now know that much of what passes for “scientific” arson investigation also is bogus and in 2004, the State of Texas executed Todd Willingham, supposedly for setting the fire that killed his three young daughters, then-Gov. Rick Perry calling Willingham a “monster” before giving final approval to his execution. Subsequent investigations have demonstrated beyond a doubt that the original investigation was terribly flawed and Willingham almost certainly was innocent of the crime for which he was put to death. The State of Texas, not surprisingly, continues to insist that its agents did nothing wrong and that Willingham was guilty because the courts said so:
(Then) Gov. Rick Perry, who would have to approve a pardon based on any favorable recommendation from the board, approved the state’s first posthumous pardon in March 2010 — of Timothy Cole, who spent more than 13 years in prison — and died there — for a 1985 Lubbock rape it was later proven he didn’t commit.
Perry’s press secretary, Catherine Frazier, said the governor hasn’t changed his position: that courts upheld Willingham’s arson-murder conviction and the death sentence. She noted that Perry cannot grant a pardon without a favorable recommendation from the parole board.
“Todd Willingham was convicted and sentenced to death by a jury of his peers for murdering his three daughters, year-old twins and a 2-year-old,” Frazier said, echoing what Perry has said in the past.
Of course, the State of Texas did not depend solely upon false forensic “evidence.” Prosecutors also relied upon the testimony of the ubiquitous “jailhouse snitch” who testified that Willingham fully confessed while rooming with him in the same cell. The Washington Post reports:
Since Willingham was executed in 2004, officials have continued to defend the account of the informer, Johnny E. Webb, even as a series of scientific experts have discredited the forensic evidence that Willingham might have deliberately set the house fire in which his toddlers were killed.
But now new evidence has revived questions about Willingham’s guilt: In taped interviews, Webb, who has previously both recanted and affirmed his testimony, gives his first detailed account of how he lied on the witness stand in return for efforts by the former prosecutor, John H. Jackson, to reduce Webb’s prison sentence for robbery and to arrange thousands of dollars in support from a wealthy Corsicana rancher. Newly uncovered letters and court files show that Jackson worked diligently to intercede for Webb after his testimony and to coordinate with the rancher, Charles S. Pearce Jr., to keep the mercurial informer in line.
Not surprisingly, Texas officials claimed that Webb did not receive preferential treatment, which was another government lie, as the Post account points out:
Along with Webb’s account, the letters and documents expose a determined, years-long effort by the prosecutor to alter Webb’s conviction, speed his parole, get him clemency and move him from a tough state prison back to his hometown jail. Had such favorable treatment been revealed prior to his execution, Willingham might have had grounds to seek a new trial.
So, Texas officials to this day continue to lie about the Willingham case and continue to cover up that which has been exposed. In the end, the government’s strategy has been simply to ignore the obvious, make statements that everyone knows is false, and continue on its merry way because government officials are immune from the reaches of the law. In fact, Gov. Perry, before he left office at the end of his term, even intervened in the investigation, stacking the Texas Forensic Science Commission with people that actively kept the commission from further looking into the Willingham case
So it is with the latest “hair analysis” scandal from the FBI. On one hand, prosecutors will insist that not one of their convictions based upon this analysis was flawed and that the courts should at very least pretend that jurors did not hear false testimony that helped to convince them that the defendant was guilty.
On the other hand, we will hear lots and lots of calls for “reform,” and “reform” is a favorite term for Progressives. Indeed, our history books are full of statements calling Progressives “reformers,” and Progressives forever are calling for new “reforms” to deal with the problems that the old “reforms” have caused.
The problem is not the lack of “reforms” or even the lack of zeal to “fix” the problems. The problem is the mentality of Progressives and the tenets of their religion of State Worship. Progressives continue to insist that we should be governed by disinterested “experts” who, because of their infinite wisdom and because they work for the federal government, know what is best for everyone else.
Yes, science – and especially DNA analysis – can be very helpful in analyzing some criminal cases, and especially cases involving rape or other kinds of assault. (As we saw in the infamous Duke Lacrosse Case, Progressives also are quick to dismiss even the most authoritative DNA-based evidence when it does not fit their political agendas.) Unfortunately, much of the so-called science that has been used to convict innocent defendants is not science at all, but rather a form of convincingly-presented fiction, and American jurors, steeped in Progressivist propaganda for all of their lives, almost always swallow lies and half-truths more easily than they accept the truth.
As I see it, no meaningful “reform” is possible in the current intellectual and emotional climate of Progressivist thought. Progressives want us to believe that there can and should be no limits on the power of a few to govern the many, yet even the best science is beset with major limitations. The very heart of scientific inquiry – a methodological viewpoint that came about long before Progressives took over the United States – is skepticism.
So-called crime labs, however, do not operate on skepticism, but rather upon a set of beliefs that government employees in white lab coats will declare with authority that which may not be possible to know, and that jurors should send people to prison on the basis of what those people in the white lab coats tell them, and especially if those white-coated people are FBI agents.
In a recent article, Judge Andrew Napolitano asked simple-but-searing questions:
Will FBI agents who lie, cheat, break the law and testify falsely be brought to justice? Will their superiors who condone this be made to answer? Does the FBI work for us, or do we work for it?
We know the answers already: the FBI will announce it has introduced “reforms” to its system, and then claim 100 percent “success” in implementing those new “reforms.” And then the FBI and other police and prosecutorial agencies will go back to doing what they always have done: lie, lie, and lie some more.