Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Another Bad Prosecution in Colorado

Balko links to this Denver Post article about what looks like a classic case of a prosecutor never admitting they may have the wrong person no matter what the evidence says. Here’s the background:

Residents were alarmed last summer by a rash of thefts, trespasses and burglaries in Stonegate, a neighborhood in Douglas County.

Fear turned to panic in July after an intruder reportedly climbed into a second- story window and groped an 8-year-old girl in her bed.

A sicko was on the loose and pressure was on to catch him.

A week later, Sheriff David Weaver announced that his office had made an arrest.

The person arrested was a skinny, redheaded 19 year old. The 8 year old girl had described her assailant as a “40ish, stockier, brown-haired intruder.” He’s also hearing impaired and mentally challenged. But after more than a day and a half of continuous browbeating, he “admitted” to the crime — by retelling the details the police had been telling him during the interrogation:

What the news release failed to mention was that investigators’ only evidence against him is a short statement that seems to repeat what Sanchez was told about the crime during 17 hours of interrogation by detectives who didn’t seem to catch that he’s mentally disabled and hearing impaired…

Detectives’ methods seem coercive at best. Sanchez’s so-called confession mirrors details about break-ins that investigators told him as they wore him down during 38 hours with little food or sleep.

Bear in mind, folks, that in the 250 exonerations the Innocence Project has won based on DNA evidence, a full 25% of them had “confessed” to the crime. False confessions are absolutely routine, especially for young people with cognitive difficulties after they’ve been browbeaten by the police for hours on end.

And in fact, the only DNA evidence that exists in this case rules him out:

And what prosecutors continue to ignore is the key physical evidence in the case.

Records show underwear the victim says her molester yanked to her knees bears the DNA of two other people: her father and an unknown male. Neither of the genetic profiles match Sanchez. The young man who continues to be charged is excluded from the only piece of physical evidence that would tie him to the assault.

And wait till you hear the prosecutor’s argument for why this DNA evidence doesn’t mean they have the wrong person:

District Attorney Carol Chambers’ office should have dropped the case when the state released its DNA report in November. Instead, the 18th Judicial District official keeps pressing charges because she says the results don’t prove anything.

“With the low-cut jeans that girls wear, she could have picked up anyone’s DNA off any surface her panties touched while they may have been riding up above her pants. I hate those low-cut pants,” Chambers said Friday, swear to God.

“Depending on how long she had been wearing those panties and where, they could have rubbed up against the back of her chair at school, a restaurant, the couch at home that someone else had been sitting on, a bus seat, someone’s toilet seat if she did not pull them down far enough — there are many ways to get unknown DNA on clothing. Another kid could have snapped the elastic on her underwear — kids do that sort of thing.”

Did I mention that this girl is 8 years old? The issue, of course, is not how someone else’s DNA got on those panties; the issue is how the person they think committed the crime managed not to get his DNA on them. They don’t have any other real evidence, no fingerprints or hair samples or anything that might tie him to even being in the room, much less committing the crime.

Oh, the other bit of evidence the prosecutors presented? The suspect has a history of crime:

What prosecutors say is a pattern of escalating behavior is nothing more than a deferred judgment from a 2007 juvenile graffiti case followed by a probation violation when Sanchez was caught with the smell of alcohol on his breath.

Well that proves it.

Just once I’d like to see a prosecutor willing to admit that they’ve got the wrong person. But I’m not holding my breath.