Prosecutors Don't Care About Innocence

Prosecutors Don't Care About Innocence March 9, 2012

Here’s another appalling but entirely unsurprising story of a man who was railroaded and falsely convicted as a teenager, has now spent nearly half his life in prison, and has to overcome the objections of the prosecutors to even get the chance to prove his innocence. And you aren’t gonna believe the shoddy “science” used to convict him.

Charged with molesting two young cousins, Michael Arena was summoned to a psychologist’s office to measure his sexual attraction to children.

The test given required the 16-year-old to click through images of swimsuit-clad people of various ages while the computer secretly measured how long he viewed each photo. The results, according to the prosecution-hired psychologist who administered the test, showed Arena to be a pedophile who was a “high risk” to strike again.

Bell County prosecutors hammered the finding during Arena’s 1999 trial, urging jurors to choose prison over probation to protect children from a teen “diagnosed as a pedophile by an expert.” The jury responded with a 20-year sentence.

Now 29, Arena still has 7½ years left on his sentence.

But now both of the victims have recanted their testimony and said that they were pressured into making the false accusation. And the prosecutors don’t give a damn.

In the years since Arena’s trial, however, both of his accusers have recanted, saying they lied about being sexually assaulted at the urging of their mother, who was embroiled in a bitter custody battle.

Troubling details about the psychological test also have emerged, prompting Arena’s lawyers to begin a two-part appeal designed to gain his freedom based on innocence or, at the very least, grant Arena a new sentencing trial that excludes a psychological test that defense lawyers deride as junk science.

The Texas Supreme Court is weighing both requests, which are opposed by prosecutors.

They simply don’t care whether Arena is innocent or not, or that both the testimony and the “scientific” evidence used to convict him was false. All that matters is protecting their sacred conviction rate and never, ever admitting that they may have screwed up. But this is Texas, so there’s a pretty good chance the courts will agree with the prosecutors. The justices did seem skeptical during oral argument, according to the article, so maybe that’s a good sign. We’ll see.

"Even as a non-american, I have some respect for the office of president.This respect is ..."

Scalise: We Always Treated Obama with ..."
"I thought there are really good people on both sides..."

Prosecutors Reveal Epstein Used Fake Passport ..."
"Got to be careful with Moose and Sqvirrel..."

Prosecutors Reveal Epstein Used Fake Passport ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I take it there was a major failure of public defense if the reliability of that test wasn’t challenged in court.

  • slc1

    It is my information that, before scientific testimony can be allowed into court, there has to be a Frye hearing held to determine the reliability of the science. Has there ever been a Frye hearing held to evaluate the suitability of this type of evidence? As I understand it, this is a federal requirement that is also imposed on state courts.

  • F

    Texas is well-known for even denying such requests, even based on re-testing DNA evidence from the time before DNA tests were done. I’m impressed that the court is even entertaining the notion.

    But no, prosecutors mostly don’t care about truth or innocence as they pervert the adversarial system for conviction stats.

    And cue the Emarays in 10, 9, 8…

  • Yeah, some guy in Frye boots read the report and said, “Yep, sounds like a prevert to me. Get him off the streets!”

  • There’s a good chapter on this problem in the book ‘Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)’ by Tavris and Aronson; basically, the human psychological process of self justification make it all but impossible for prosecutors to admit to themselves that they have put innocent people in jail and ruined their lives, and therefore anyone they’ve put in jail must be guilty, so they refuse to consider it a legitimate project to reconsider the evidence. And often the only way to avoid this is to have robust evidence-reconsidering departments in place that specifically exclude the people that were originally on the prosecution.

  • What’s next? Phrenology going to make a comeback?

  • Forbidden Snowflake

    bolesecta, that book was the first thing on my mind, too, even as I saw the headline of the OP. Its discussion of the science of false confessions was very interesting as well.

  • Generally, the acceptable standard is a 95% chance that a Dx is valid. And in addition, you’d want to see that cross-validated by other tests and interview material.

    Not only did the psychologist overstate the validity (at 85%), but the test supposedly detects attractions to children under age 14. Arena was actually 15 at the time of the accusation and his fellow accused was 14 (that case ended up in juvenile court, treated as a civil matter).

    From the state disciplinary findings:

    “At the time the Abel Assessment was administered to the juvenile patient, the scientific literature had not established the instrument’s accuracy in predicting sexual interest in adolescents. The scientific literature at the time called the instrument a “nonvalidated instrument” for adolescent subjects. . .

    Further, it is alleged that Respondent falsely testified in

    October 1999 that the above-referenced article critical of the

    Abel Assessment’s use with adolescents actually supported

    his work. At the time of the Respondent’s testimony, the

    instrument had not been independently validated by scientific

    literature outside of the originator of the test (Dr. Abel). In

    addition, it is alleged that Respondent misrepresented in his

    testimony the accuracy rates for the assessment. . . .

    Finally, Respondent erred in making a diagnosis of

    “pedophilia” for the patient, in that the testing instrument is

    not designed to produce a DSM-IV diagnosis.

    Another aspect of the case I didn’t see mentioned in the article is that in addition to making an accusation in Iowa a year later, the accuser did the same thing in 1993 during a custody battle with her first husband.

    Accusations of abuse/neglect should be regarded with extreme skepticism (and usually the are) when they emerge for the first time in the heat of a custody battle.

  • D. C. Sessions

    The justices did seem skeptical during oral argument

    The legal profession routinely reminds us that we don’t have a system of justice, we have a system of laws. So perhaps we should change the title from “Justice Foo” to “Processor Foo” or something similar.

  • Accusations of abuse/neglect should be regarded with extreme skepticism (and usually the are) when they emerge for the first time in the heat of a custody battle.

    Incidents like this make me glad I had decent parents who didn’t use me as a weapon in their marital disputes. The kid(s) involved in this case may not have been victims of sexual abuse, but they were victims of extremely blind, stupid parental abuse of a different sort. I don’t even want to guess how I’d have turned out if this had happened to me.

    Back to the OT, this “test” is bogus on more levels than I can count. For starters, the time you spend looking at this or that photo is affected by MANY factors other than sexual arousal, most of which can’t be predicted from one person to the next. I’ll spend more time looking at a map of Iran than at a photo of a Victoria’s Secret model; but that says nothing about who I want to shag.

  • And do I really have to remind anyone that looking at a photo has absolutely bugger-all to do with actually trying (or even wanting) to have sex with the subject? Britney Spears looks hot, but there’s no way I’d ever try to put my hands on that walking train-wreck, under any circumstances.

  • LightningRose

    Like the real estate, life is cheap in Texas.

  • @Raging Bee:

    It’s okay, I know what you mean. I’m a geophile, too. Iran is a sexy, sexy country. Mhm… my personal favorite is Estonia. Oh yea.

  • We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives.

    Third prize is you’re fired.

    A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Convicting. Always be convicting, always be convicting.

  • d cwilson

    In theory, prosecutors are supposed to be held to the standard of not prosecuting anyone unless they themselves are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defedent is guilty, unlike defense attorneys who are supposed to zealously represent their clients even if they know for a fact that their client is guilty. In practice, however, having a high conviction rate is the key to advancing ones career in the DA’s office, so taking any out of the win column is detrimental to a prosecutors own interests.

  • Rob Monkey

    Whenever I hear a story like this, it for some reason really gets the ol’ vigilante blood boiling. This guy is younger than me but his life is basically a ruined road stretching out in front of him. Not that I think vigilantism is a good cause or anything, but if I were him and got out, suicide by cop after exacting revenge on these guys might seem like a not-too-bad option.

    Incidentally, if the mental health professionals in this world want to stop hearing people claim their work is complete bullshit, maybe you should look into tests like this a little more often. Seriously, this is the exact kind of shit you hear when people claim the mental health profession is a scam, and damned if it doesn’t make a convincing argument. I’m a big fan of those who work with mental problems, they’ve helped family and friends of mine, but if I were a (competent) prosecuting attorney and my “expert” brought this crap in, I’d throw him off the stand myself. Physically.

  • kermit.

    Reminds me of medieval tests for witchcraft. They were good for establishing the piety of the testers, and establishing imaginary crimes, some of which didn’t exist at all, many of which simply had no evidence for particular instances, only magical tests: testimony of witchcraft, random bad events (e.g. cows’ milk drying up), trial by water, witch spots (areas of the body that don’t feel pain when jabbed by a needle), confession under torture, etc.

    And now we have conviction based on recovered memories, psychological tests like measuring time spent looking at photographs, written personality tests, personal traits, lie detectors (still!), groomed testimony by children, confessions under torture prolonged questioning, etc.

    If some member of my family had been wronged by a rapist or whatever, I wouldn’t want to send an innocent person to jail, especially knowing that this would mean the real criminal goes free.

  • Aquaria

    Back to the OT, this “test” is bogus on more levels than I can count. For starters, the time you spend looking at this or that photo is affected by MANY factors other than sexual arousal, most of which can’t be predicted from one person to the next.

    Factors like drifting off, looking around a lot because you’re rightfully skeeved out that people are watching you, dealing with assorted discomforts like itching, coughing or being hungry, environmental factors like a cold or too hot room, and so on.

    Hell, I’m not even a shrink and I can see problems with the test!

  • Rob Monkey:

    Incidentally, if the mental health professionals in this world want to stop hearing people claim their work is complete bullshit, maybe you should look into tests like this a little more often.

    The test was “looked into.” The literature indicated that it was not validated for assessing adolescents; the literature also reported its dismal 65% accuracy. The psychologist misused the test and testified falsely about the accuracy of the test. That’s why he faced professional discipline 10 years ago.

    The court in this case also refused to consider a defense challenge to disqualify this “Doctor” as unqualified to give expert testimony. Take that up with the trial judge and the prosecutor who got the testimony he wanted from this “expert.”

    So-called experts go into court and testify to all sorts of bogus nonsense not supported by their professions. Medicine is not complete bullshit because quacks exist and some of them give false testimony in court. So-called arson experts have been known to give bullshit testimony at odds with the research and standards of their profession. That doesn’t mean arson investigation is a bullshit field. We don’t live with little monitors recording our daily activities for review by the rest of our profession. The only thing that can be done is to address problems with the state DPR when and if they are exposed.

    How often does something like this happen? In 25 years, I’ve never encountered a single clinician who uses anything but tests validated by extensive research that lays out exactly when, how and with whom to use the tests. And I’ve reviewed hundreds of evaluations.

    If some guy decides he’s going to go off the reservation and engage in quackery, he’ll just do it. The only thing that can be done is bring charges against him and sue if the statute of limitations hasn’t passed.

  • laurentweppe

    Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self; the heavenly by the love of God (St Augustine)

    Then, two casts of unaccountable jerks where put in charge of both, and both casts decided that sacrificing innocents to temporaly preserve the reputation and authority of their cast was an acceptable deed.

  • zmidponk

    The test given required the 16-year-old to click through images of swimsuit-clad people of various ages while the computer secretly measured how long he viewed each photo.

    I wonder how this test was actually carried out as, when I was 16, if I was sat in front of a computer to look at pictures as part of some kind of mysterious test, I would be more likely to quickly click past pictures I found sexually stimulating simply to avoid the embarrassment of being caught staring at them if the person setting up this test suddenly came back.

  • carolw

    I read this article in the local paper the other day. There were two photos of Michael Arena, one of him in his football uniform, sixteen years old, smiling, the sun in his hair. The other one was of him today, the hard prison look on his face, hair buzzed off, the hopelessness in his eyes. It was so sad to see those two photos together.