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February 11, 2008

Another Nifong

Another reminder that our system ultimately relies upon the good judgment and good faith of prosecutors -- and some just don't seem to have any of it at all.

Over the weekend, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced that 51-year-old Albert Johnson had been arrested for the brutal rape and murder of two three-year-old girls in the 1990s. Johnson had been an early suspect in both cases, but despite the fact that the state had samples of his DNA on file for more than a decade, it never bothered to test it against the DNA found in the little girls.

That's because Mississippi District Attorney Forrest Allgood decided early on in both cases that he had his man, and little could convince him otherwise. One of those men is Kennedy Brewer, a mentally handicapped man who served more than a decade on Mississippi's Death Row, then served another five years even after DNA evidence had cleared him. Allgood insisted on retrying Brewer anyway, arguing that bite marks on the little girl's body matched Brewer's teeth.

Curiously, Allgood resisted testing the DNA from the crime scene against that of a man he had earlier convicted of an eerily similar crime—another rape and murder of a young girl in the same area. It now seems clear why Allgood resisted the test. As it turns out, the man he'd convicted for that crime, Levon Brooks, is innocent, too. Brooks had been sentenced to life in prison.

Hood is expected to announce on Thursday that Brewer has been completely exonerated. A similar announcement for Brooks could also come Thursday, or perhaps a few days after.

Had Allgood not fixated on Brooks after the first murder, he may have been able to prevent the second. Instead, we have two little girls dead, one man wrongly incarcerated for nearly two decades, and another who came perilously close to execution. And of course, there's also the matter of a two-time child rapist and murderer running free for 15 years.

It actually gets somewhat worse, if you can believe it. This isn't a lapse.


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posted by Ace at 04:50 PM

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