Posted March 10, 2008 – When Levon Brooks goes to court later this month, it will bring an end to a treacherous chapter in his life fueled by a rush to judgment, shoddy investigative work and the state of Mississippi ’s over-reliance on a shaky “expert” witness.
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Convicted in 1992 of raping and murdering a 3-year-old girl, Brooks, was sentenced to life in prison, mainly on the strength of testimony by Dr. Michael West, a dental expert who swore that bite marks all over the girl’s body were caused by caused by the defendant.
Three years later, West testified that another Black man, Kennedy Brewer, was responsible for inflicting the same bizarre wounds on another slain 3-year-old Mississippi girl, sending Brewer to prison for life.
Ten years later, both men have been released from prison after a third man confessed to both killings; DNA evidence connected the confessor to the crimes. Turns out that West isn’t much of an expert after all, and literally hundreds of his analyses used to convict defendants are being called into question.
Forensic experts now say that the wounds on the victim in the Brewer case “were not human bites at all but were likely were caused by crawfish and insects nibbling on the corpse, decomposition, and rough handling when the body was pulled from the pond where it was found,” The Associated Press reports. West also muffed up the Brooks case, identifying scrapes as bites, Brooks' lawyers say. Some are even saying that West’s missteps were no accident.
"You have people who engaged in misconduct and manufactured evidence and we've proved it," Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, told the AP. His project has led to the exoneration of more than 200 inmates nationwide and assembled the expert panel that examined the Brewer case.
"These two cases are going to be an eye-opener for the people of Mississippi about some of the problems they have in criminal justice and how easy it will be to make it right," Neufeld added.
Brewer, 36, was released on bail last year, a few years after DNA tests excluded him as the rapist; he was exonerated by a judge on Feb. 15, AP reported. Prosecutors are expected to drop the case against Brooks, 48, today. He now lives with his 83-year-old mother.
West, a 55-year-old in private practice, did not return numerous calls from AP’s reporters to his Hattiesburg office.
"I ain't worried about the past. I'm thinking about the future," Brewer said. But he offered some advice to prosecutors: "They need to get the truth before they lock up the wrong somebody. It doesn't feel good to be called a rapist and murderer."
In recent weeks, Justin Albert Johnson, 51, was arrested and charged in one of the murders. He later confessed to both killings after detectives told him that his semen tied him to the Brewer case.
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