Monday, February 15, 2016

Disturbing handling of dna in Lundy case.

Most people knew before the Lundy retrial about the officer in charge Ross Grantham overlooking the advice of a NZ pathologist and going to another in Texas who claimed dna found on Lundy's shirt belonged to his wife. What probably wasn't as widely known, although it did surface in the first trial, was that Grantham handled what would become the dna exhibit in a way that the exhibit officer said he had never heard of happening before. Grantham uplifted the key to the exhibits fridge for perishable exhibits and placed the exhibit there without telling the exhibit officer.

It seems that this is a major clue in understanding what has happened in the Lundy case, including 1 of the reasons Grantham gave in evidence for not having the dna handled in the normal way. More on that later. Firstly however, it's becoming clear that the Lundy case is at the cross roads of the way NZ handles Miscarriages of Justice (MOJ). The case already fits as a MOJ by virtue not only of the first trial and conviction which was overturned as a MOJ, but also the second.

There is a lot to be concerned with in Lundy's conviction. Foremost could be that after 15 years the Crown abandoned their theory on how Lundy had killed his wife and child, that is the time when it happened. Considering that time of deaths the Crown first said was relatively early in the evening, their basis for that was the contents of the stomachs of Lundy's wife Christine and their daughter Amber, someone allegedly saw Lundy running away shortly the pair were said to have been killed, this fleeing all part of a breakneck drive from Wellington and back, the clock settings on the Lundy home computer which the Crown alleged had been changed by Lundy in order to shift the presumed times of death from earlier to later - that's a lot to change. However all these alleged events changed for the 2nd trial. With that change any person watching the proceedings would have been entitled to think something along the lines 'Hold on mate, You said it happened 1 way at a particular time and had evidence to prove it, now you are saying it happened hours later.'

Well, that would be a fair enough observation and I still don't know why the Courts allowed the Crown to essentially bring another version of events after bitterly defending the first trial verdict for over a decade. Particularly, when the Crown had deliberately not told the defence at the first trial of evidence strong enough to help overturn the Lundy conviction 12 years later. Let's think about that first evidence, a high speed car trip which no one saw. A pathologists who claimed to be able to determine the time of death by smelling the stomach contents of the deceased. A computer expert who claimed that the Lundy computer time clock had been manipulated (to give Lundy an alibi). A witness who saw a fat lady running away from the vicinity of the Lundy house at around the time of the 'then' confirmed time of death. There was no doubt that the Crown inferred that the 'fat lady' that was never found was Lundy dressed as a woman. So a defendant who made a car trip at breakneck speed but who was never seen, running away from an address in woman's clothing as a disguise, supported in time by a pathologist who could 'smell' the time of death, in turn supported by an 'expert' who said that the Lundy computer clock had been manipulated in effect to misrepresent the time of death as Christine always used the computer before going to bed - her being up late didn't work for that particular police theory.

Anyone who has read my last post on the Lundy subject will know that I had correspondence in reply to questions I had about the fairness of the Crown coming up with a 'new' story. Despite, and leading from, that correspondence, I want to now know how could the pathologist's defeated smell test, the computer expert, the woman who saw the fat lady running suddenly no longer be relevant when for a dozen years it was a large part of why Lundy stood convicted. The public needs an answer to that or fear that the wool is being pulled over their eyes, again.

Reading some old reporting on the case there was evidence of a person being offered immunity as they were suspected of being an accomplice to the murders of Christine and Amber, when did that trial go cold and why? Recalling in particular on that subject is that there are people who claim to be afraid to speak out on the identity of at least 1 suspect. Why was the offer of immunity abandoned years before the smell tests, running fat ladies and computer fiddling were also retired? That's a lot of abandonment in a case, it's also a lot of skepticism the public are asked to swallow.

There's something bloody fishy going on. The Crown have had 2 bites at the cherry. Let's not forget that Ross Grantham was told that dna allegedly found on Lundy's shirt should never be used to convict Lundy because it was too down graded. Now that didn't stop Grantham going to Texas because he found some body willing to say otherwise with what at the time was a virtually untested procedure that I understand still seeks criticism nearly 2 decades later. Why did he reject the first opinion only to settle on the second - what could he have known? Was it gut instinct or tunnel vision, if it was either he had lost the plot. In as much as we have to look at the suspect or convicted person in a controversial case, we must also look at police tactics but more particularly the man or woman in charge of the inquiry - even to observing whether or not they 'trusted' their own team or were trusted by their own team. Where things don't stack up in a logical way matters of concern must be looked at closely for clues and balance.

The following for example is something that needs to be thought about. When one pathologist rejected the reliability of the status of the dna to produce accepted results, why did Grantham go to another - outside NZ, rather than simply ask the same provider for a 2nd  or even 3rd opinion from other members of it's staff providing his reasons for the request in writing? It's easy to say that he did in fact seek another opinion but if that is an answer then another question needs to be answered - why did Grantham keep secret from the first trial  that first evidence from the Crown's own pathologist. Grantham knew it was material evidence from a qualified pathologist, it was his duty to disclose the evidence to Lundy's lawyers.

Asking these questions is important because they have given rise to doubts, therefore demand an answer that is comparative to the circumstances, the consequences, and on probability whether the answers satisfy inside a sound prosecution and conviction, or not. I've heard why Grantham said on oath that he broke normal procedures and handled the dna in secrecy even from the exhibits officer. A man who might well have been shocked to find out that he wasn't part of inquiry, fell into a catagory perhaps as to persons that Grantham didn't want to know along with Lundy in particular. Much of what happens to those experiencing a MOJ is that events that are odd are essentially blamed on them. Lundy already knew he was a suspect, knew what clothes he had been wearing that night, it was no secret to him and certainly not a reason why the officer in charge would be concerned about the information leaking out. What would Lundy have done if he'd known, there's only 1 answer - he couldn't do any bloody thing anyway. Grantham on the other hand could have trusted his own staff so no suspicion would fall upon the handling of the controversial dna.

Let's not forget that the dna, like the time of death, the computer tampering, the driving at breakneck speed for over 2 hours and not being seen on a busy road,  the running fat lady, the black magic of sniffing stomach contents and the possible accomplice who immunity was considered for. Let's forget none of that as the Crown now wish, but weigh that up in an overall Crown case, one that changed clothes and expected that would not be noticed. Why did Grantham accept the black magic test but not that of a pathologist employed by the Crown. It's easy to see from the 1st police case that a whole lot of stuff was made up, other information ignored - even hidden. Where does one take confidence from that? With real evidence - but we still don't have it, so Lundy should be let go.

Overall, if Grantham did not have confidence in his own staff, did they equally have less confidence in him than would be expected in any inquiry let alone one investigating the deaths of Christine and Amber? More so however, if Grantham was in charge of the case and all the evidence discredited at the Privy Council was his objectivity and methods to be trusted, again. Was it in the public interest for an officer who had overseen a deliberately perpetrated MOJ to continue with the case? Common sense and public opinion says no, remove the risk. Who was the alleged hit man or accomplice that it was considered to offer immunity against prosecution? Surely the public can have those details rather than a nagging doubt as to why Grantham could stay at the helm after the first trial was found to be a MOJ with critical evidence hidden and which relied upon unscientific data? The only material Grantham seems to have accepted was that which under a favorable light said Lundy but which under greater scrutiny was revealed to have fed a MOJ.

Let's look at case 2 briefly and make comparisons with case 1

Both cases have Lundy driving to Wellington and back and not being seen. However in case 2 he is required to have consumed an entire bottle of rum before the trip.
Case 1 has a tampered with time clock that now actually (in case 2) is where the Crown now want the time to be reading correctly.
The smell test is gone in case 2 and other methods of scientific weight are employed moving the times of death to where the Crown didn't want them to be in the first trial.
In case one the dna allegedly taken from Lundy's shirt weeks after the murders (always a sign of concern in any MOJ) was said to belong to Christine. The defence said that the dna could have arrived on Lundy's shirt accidentally and at some point from memory to have possibly been planted there. In case 2 an international forensic scientist whose work has been referenced over 3500 times said that the dna was not Christine although the prosecutor (wrongfully in my opinion) was allowed to claim that time and time again in his closing address - presumably without any censure by the Judge or objections from the defence. I am reminded here of the correspondent who's view was that the defence weren't prepared for the battle. On this basis what would Michael Reed have done to the Crown case had he defended as he did the Bain retrial - shredded it to pieces I believe. In case 2 the fat lady is gone along with, imo, the credibility of the Crown and our Courts. Michael Reed or someone his tenacity and clarity of thought would have had the real case echoing in the Jury's mind from the outset. But remember that's not Lundy's fault.

This Lundy conviction is not clean and transparent, it's a rehash of a failed case that relies on the goodwill of a Jury to accept the police made minor mistakes but overcame them to provide the right ending. That's simply bs. My opinion is that the prosecution should not have been allowed to change their case is such a material fashion, that perhaps even that it was too dangerous to put before a Jury because of how much it had become compromised from the original false case. Let's be clear the essence of the first case was false, and the second looks even weaker. For example if Lundy as alleged was so smart to alter the computer why didn't he also know that it would be difficult if not impossible for the bodies to not provide an accurate time of death. In fact the only time they didn't was when the police needed to establish an earlier time of death to make Lundy seen to be guilty.

A correspondent has sent me a video in which is made clear how a number of MOJs in America are overcome by civil cases on behalf of a defendant because more information becomes available. The same correspondent sent me the thoughts of an observer of MOJ's which concludes that police only look for evidence directed by their targets or suspects and not further - so of course they are not working to find any perpetrator but more to find the proof against 'their' perpetrator. That reminded me of an online 'expert' on the Bain case who wrote that he concluded that it was Lundy because the writer couldn't 'think' of anyone else that could have done the crimes. I think Grantham thought along similar lines. Even if he didn't, he has left behind deeper concerns about Lundy's guilt, not only by changing the theory, but increasing interest in parts of the 'new' theory that fail to make sense and have no independent corroboration. I don't believe that the many experts who gave evidence for the defence on the dna were wrong, particularly not the scientist whose work has been referenced in other cases over 3500 times world wide. I don't think anything substantially confirms that Lundy left his motel room that night and drove for hours while drunk and was not observed. I also think that the other suspects aspect needed greater attention from the police so that it could have been if not ruled out at the trial then put into perspective for the Jury, if indeed the case should even have been retried.

Does changing a clock change the time of death, are pathologists so redundant to the process of determining time of death that a mere changing of a clock makes a difference, that the transition to the state of rigor mortise is also changed, core temperatures and their fall compared to external temperatures also alter? No, not at all. Does hiding evidence and a presumption that police cannot be trusted by their superior give confidence, particularly where confidence had already been achieved only to disappear when a new version appeared? Never. When an investigation falls over in a spectacular way does the person in charge have credibility to be given a 'second go?'  You decide.

1 comment:

  1. I have been interested in the posting activity that Professor Chris Halkides has engaged in . Apart from a comment or two on this blog, I have found these.

    On NBR

    #7 by Christopher Halkides 10 months ago
    Kevin Stent's comments about Mr. Lundy's praying are bewildering to the point of being bizarre. How was Mr. Lundy supposed to know that Mr. Stent would arrive at a particular moment? Or does Mr. Stent suppose that Mr. Lundy was waiting for an indefinite period of time while pretending to pray? No one who has not been through what Mr. Lundy had been through should comment on whether his actions were that of an innocent or guilty man. I wonder whether or not anyone who had been through such a horror would want to.

    However, my main interest in this case is in its flawed forensics. The defense witnesses who testified on the subject of the RNA tests (one of whom may be the best qualified person in the world to examine it) were adamant that the tests were not fit for purpose and not up to the standards acceptable for publishing in a peer-reviewed journal. The decision to allow this evidence to go before a jury was a terrible mistake in my opinion.

    A review on Amazon

    5.0 out of 5 starsThe Mark Lundy case is front and center
    By Christopher Halkides on December 26, 2015
    Verified Purchase
    The Scene of the Crime gives vivid accounts of a number of murders interspersed with brief, though evocative, glimpses of New Zealand. The author spends much time on the Mark Lundy case, in which Mr. Lundy has now been convicted twice of killing his wife and daughter. The forensic science in this case is complex and contentious, yet the jury seemed to focus on Mr. Lundy's final interview with the police prior to his arrest and Mr. Lundy's reaction to it in court. Perhaps the jury was looking for clues in Mr. Lundy's body language (they would have been better advised to mark the indirect and inadvertent admission of tunnel vision that the police made during its course). Yet Mr. Braunias's retelling of this crucial detail reinforces the notion that juries are fickle and unpredictable.
    Comment 7 of 8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?

    Then on Sir Peter Jackson's unique facebook page.

    Christopher John Halkides Dear Mr. Jackson, Obviously I agree about the serious problems of false confessions and the the U.S. system of criminal justice is badly in need of reform. However, the New Zealand system is also badly in need of reform, as the Mark Lundy case amply demonstrated. This case is Lindy Chamberlain all over again. As a biochemist with an interest in forensics, I was appalled at the poor quality of the evidence that the jury was allowed to hear. Let's have a race to the top.

    And pointedly on Newstalk ZB weith Jack Tame

    ChrisHalkides • 4 months ago
    I look forward to reading Mr. Braunias's book. Mr. Lundy's conviction is a travesty; the forensic evidence put forward should never have been heard by the jury. For his sake, for Christine and Amber's sake, and for the sake of the New Zealand criminal justice system, I hope his conviction is overturned.

    I hope New Zealand politicians will ask why Professor Halkides is so interested. They can be totally certain that his interest will never wane. It is in the nature of wrongful convictions that they are solved.

    Maybe Professor Halkides has information not publicly known in New Zealand, because it would be inconceivable he would push the boat out like this without surety.

    His website describes everything about his career and credentials while the website of Doctor Rodney Miller from Texas who he disagrees with is also able to be analysed.