The Night of the Sicilian Vespers and Other Mob Stories

May 29/2020 — I was interviewed about Charles “Lucky” Luciano and the “Night of the Sicilian Vespers” for the Gangland Wire podcast.

The podcast episode was posted May 11, 2020.

Gangland Wire is hosted by the loquacious Gary Jenkins, a former Kansas City police detective turned true-crime author and avid podcaster.

Did rising mobster “Lucky” Luciano orchestrate the widespread killing of rival gangsters following the assassination of dictatorial crime boss Salvatore Maranzano in 1931?

Click here to listen to the episode and find out.

I wrote about Luciano and Co. in two books: The Mafia: A Guide to an American Subculture (available at Amazon or directly from publisher ABC-CLIO) and Dutch Schultz: The Brazen Beer Baron of New York (available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Chapter-Indigo or in audiobook format at Audible or iTunes).

The Boy on the Bicycle: “Recommended Summer Reading”

May 15/2020 – The Boy on the Bicycle has been listed as “Recommended Canadian True Crime Summer Reading” by the Writing About Crime podcast.

Writing About Crime is a fine podcast that focuses on Canadian crime and criminals.

My book, The Boy on the Bicycle, tells the story of Ron Moffatt, who was wrongly convicted of murder in Toronto at age 14, in 1956.

It is available online at Chapters-Indigo, Amazon, Barnes and Noble or directly from Publisher, Five Rivers.

Click here for more information about the Writing About Crime podcast.

Netflix Series Spotlights Shoddy Forensic Science

APRIL 30/2020 – A shocking new Netflix documentary series called The Innocence Files has highlighted the role shoddy forensics plays in wrongful murder convictions.

The initial episodes focus on Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer, two African-American men accused of sexually assaulting and murdering little girls in Brooksville, Mississippi. The victims were both killed in the same community within a few months of each other, in the early 1990s.

Bite marks on the bodies of the two little girls matched the mouths of the two men. Or so claimed experts in the field of “forensic odontology” (as the application of dentistry in legal proceedings is called). Brooks and Brewer were both convicted in separate trials.

The Innocence Project—a legal/research organization founded to investigate wrongful convictions, got involved. DNA analysis revealed Brooks and Brewer were innocent. DNA taken from the victims was a match, however, for a sex predator named Justin Albert Johnson.

Johnson confessed to both crimes and Brooks and Brewer were released from jail, after spending years locked up, accused of horrendous offences.

As for the bite mark evidence that helped convict the two men, consider it junk science at best.

The 2009 report “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward” by the National Research Council of the National Academies, cast doubt on the reliability and validity of bite mark evidence. As the paper points out, swelling, healing, skin elasticity and the unevenness of bites “severely limits the validity of forensic odontology.”

“The scientific basis is insufficient to conclude that bite mark comparisons can result in a conclusive match,” adds the report.

A September 2016 report, made by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology had this to say:

“Bite mark analysis does not meet the scientific standards for foundational validity and is far from meeting such standard. To the contrary, available scientific evidence strongly suggests that examiners cannot consistently agree on whether an injury is a human bite-mark and cannot identify the source of a bite mark with reasonable accuracy,” reads the report.

The awful story of Brooks and Brewer sadly parallels Ron Moffatt’s ordeal, which I wrote about in my book, The Boy on the Bicycle: A Forgotten Case of Wrongful Conviction in Toronto.

In 1956, fourteen-year-old Ron was wrongly convicted of killing seven-year-old Wayne Mallette in Toronto, thanks to a coerced confession and bite mark “evidence”. It was claimed that bite marks on Wayne’s body matched Ron’s teeth.

Sadly, two more Toronto children died in similar fashion before the real killer, a sexual predator named Peter Woodcock was captured. Ron was given a retrial in May 1957. Dental experts testified they had made a mistake, and that Ron’s teeth were not a match for bite marks on Wayne’s body.

Ron was acquitted and Woodcock (who testified at the retrial that he was indeed the real killer of Wayne Mallette) was shipped off to a psychiatric facility.  

Unfortunately, as “The Innocence Files” points out, U.S. courts are still willing to accept bite mark evidence.

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