We know that interviews with children are easy to screw up; children can be led through malice or over-enthusiasm, and even come to believe that they experienced things they did not. The courts themselves admit it, and have tried to remedy potential misconduct through taint hearings and greater regulation of the interview process. Medical examinations, though, seem like they’d be more concrete. You can’t argue with physical signs of abuse, can you?
Please take a look at the 2003 conviction of Ernie Lopez of Amarillo, Tx for a truly horrifying example of what can happen when only the prosecution calls medical witnesses. Convicted of raping a tiny baby to death, the Court of Appeals eventually released him when doctors and forensic specialists declared it more likely that she died a natural death of something called ‘Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation’. The lack of damage to her outer parts did not indicate sexual assault; no hair or semen was found on her.
Notwithstanding, Lopez served 9 years of a 60 year sentence for one of the most disgusting crimes imaginable based on an apparently flawed examination. Again, that case was in Amarillo; it has nothing to do with the Harris County justice system except to demonstrate how one mistake can rip years away from an innocent man’s life.
In 2004, hundreds of physical examinations performed by a nurse at the Children’s Assessment Center turned out to be flawed; news articles from the time suggest that she was bent on obtaining evidence for police and prosecutors to use.
This was eventually brought to light by another doctor at the University of Texas Health Science Center; the D.A’s office led the investigation, although their court cases would have benefitted from the interviews. I can find no record of the outcome, just vague assertions that 300 of her 800 cases were called into question, the nurse was let go, (she soon turned up at another clinic ( performing the same work), and that defense lawyers were definitely notified.
Shortly after this, the CAC decides to stop videotaping examinations, even though these records are the only way Taft’s wrongdoing could be discovered. There was some attempt to force them to continue recording through legislation.
No one else that I can find was ever called to account; apparently this nurse operated in a complete vacuum where no one who worked with her or received her reports ever thought to question her methods.
In 2004 another man, Kevin Sauceda, was convicted of molesting a young relative, aged 9. At the time he was alleged to have committed this crime he was recovering from a 21-day coma after being shot in the head; he couldn’t even feed himself. The child changed her testimony in the courtroom to include guns and knives, when previously, after apparently being brow-beaten into confessing to family members, she made no mention of these.
The taped interview was unusable; it seems the child and interviewer talked about other accusations against Sauceda at the time, accusations which he was never indicted for. Because of some legal gymnastics used to prevent the interviewer being called as a defense witness, the appeals court was eventually forced to send the case back for a harm analysis, which is where they try to decide whether or not they hurt Sauceda’s case by not allowing him to prove that his accuser lied on the stand.
This was the state of the Children’s Assessment Center, which processed Coy’s accuser, Jane Doe; but not until days after the Houston Police Department conducted their own interview; the written statement given by her mother at this interview was discarded, and in court they claimed that, because of an equipment malfunction, there is no record of the interview. Interestingly enough, the same social worker in Kevin Sauceda’s case, Fiona Stephenson, interviewed Jane Doe the second time.