Who: GEORGE SCHIRO is lab director at Scales Biological Laboratory, Inc. in Brandon, Mississippi and a nationally known forensic scientist expert witness. Over 30-plus years, Schiro has examined evidence in approximately 3,600 criminal investigation cases. While most were in Louisiana, he has also consulted on cases in 28 other states, for the U.S. Army and Air Force, and in New Zealand, Panama, and the United Kingdom. See more at: http://www.witnessdirectory.com/georgeschiro#sthash.Tp078asO.dpuf
Schiro reached out to me during the Christmas holidays offering tremendous praise for FAILURE OF JUSTICE wbp.bz/foj “This great study in the human cost of wrongful convictions should be mandatory reading for all of those involved in the criminal justice system,” Schiro wrote.After a couple of email exchanges, Schiro agreed to do a question-and-answer reflecting on the saga of the Beatrice 6. Schiro, interestingly enough, has close ties to Joseph White’s hometown.
Question 1: Talk about your familiarity and personal connection to Cullman County, Alabama.It’s quite possible that at some point in our lives, Joseph White and I crossed paths. We were about the same age and I spent all of my summers as a youth in Cullman County. My mother’s family is from Cullman County and she grew up there. As I child, I spent all of my summers with my grandparents in Garden City. Most of my best childhood memories are from those summers. My mother lives up there and I still visit the Cullman area two to three times a year. I’ve been to the sawmill in Garden City where Mr. White was arrested and my uncle worked at and retired from ABC in Tarrant, the place where Mr. White’s life was tragically cut short. Given the work that I do and my connection to Cullman, I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard about Mr. White’s case until I read your book.
Question 2: What was your takeaway with the result of Joseph White’s murder trial?I think that by the time his trial started, the result was a foregone conclusion. The deck had been stacked against him from the beginning. Like most catastrophic failures, which his trial was, there isn’t one giant factor that causes the ultimate failure. It’s always a series of small failures called compounding or cascading errors that lead to the end results. Had any of these small errors been recognized and addressed early on, Joseph White might never have crossed paths with the criminal justice system.
Question 3: Were you surprised with how the wrongful convictions occurred?No. This case had all of the ingredients for wrongful convictions. It was a heinous, high profile murder with public pressure to solve it. There was an investigator who only used the “evidence” that fit his hypothesis of the crime while rejecting evidence that did not support his hypothesis of the crime (this is known as confirmation bias). There were supposed witnesses whose stories weren’t properly vetted and investigated. There was manipulation of psychologically vulnerable individuals by poor interviewing techniques; suggestible interrogations and sessions; and highly questionable polygraph examinations. Correct forensic science results that were ignored and incorrect forensic serology results also contributed to the wrongful convictions. There was also an overzealous prosecution and a lack of independent investigations by the defense. Finally, the press didn’t dig into the details of the case at the time. If they had, they may have exposed the flaws in the case sooner.
Question 4:Why do you think the forensic evidence was so downplayed at the trial of Joe White? The law enforcement and prosecution side of the case let their hypothesis of the crime shape the “evidence” that they used and rejected the evidence that didn’t fit their hypothesis. A proper investigation would have used the forensic science evidence and other legitimate evidence to shape the hypothesis of the crime instead of the other way around. Confirmation bias is why the prosecution wanted to minimize the relevance of the forensic science evidence at trial, and, therefore, offered the stipulation. As for the defense, I don’t think that they actually understood what the forensic science evidence meant. Back then, it was uncommon to have forensic science consultants for the defense. Today, it’s much more common to have forensic scientists consulting with the defense to help them understand the forensic science evidence, explain the context of the evidence, and provide possible alternate hypotheses regarding the evidence.
Question 5: What were your impressions of Joe White? Can you think of a more tragic figure?Mr. White was an independent, smart, tough, forge ahead despite adversity type of guy, much like many other people from Cullman County. The 19 years of his life when he was wrongfully imprisoned and his death at all too young of an age were indeed tragic, but he seemed to make the most of the remainder of his short life after he got out of prison. He had a positive impact on many people and seemed to harbor no ill will toward anyone. I’ve met and talked to a few people who were wrongfully convicted then exonerated. Those that I have met have all made positive contributions to society and have spoken out to raise awareness about wrongful convictions despite having survived conditions that would break most people. Your book has done an excellent job of telling Mr. White’s story, and as such Mr. White can continue to have a positive impact by educating people about wrongful convictions and inspiring them to get involved in rectifying and preventing wrongful convictions.