Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ellsworth Toohey as DA

The crime lab for the Houston police department has been under fire for years for less than stellar handling of evidence. It has also become clear that the District Attorney's office is just as guilty of pursuing convictions instead of justice. A few weeks ago a convicted rapist--Lawrence Napper--appeared at a hearing to determine if he should get a new trial.

The Chronicle reports:

Wicoff [Napper's attorney] told the judge a $5.3 million independent study of the HPD crime lab by former federal prosecutor Michael Bromwich cited Napper's case as a prime example of the substandard DNA lab procedures and protocols before it was shuttered in December 2002.

The report said HPD criminologist Joseph Chu prepared a report claiming evidence contained DNA from the victim along with DNA that could “only” belong to Napper, a claim he would repeat to a jury later in the year.

It's bad enough that such "evidence" is used to convict someone, but the prosecutor on the case doesn't think the issue is relevant. Prosecutor Jack Roady argued:

During the hearing, prosecutor Roady told the judge that while sloppy lab work may have been involved, it did not rise to the malicious or bad-faith destruction of evidence that would warrant a new trial. And he said the HPD lab work did not exclude Napper.

‘‘Negligence, even gross negligence, is not enough,“ Roady argued, later adding. “There is no evidence anyone was hiding the ball.“

In other words, false testimony alone isn't sufficient for a new trial. That testimony must also be malicious. It doesn't matter if someone is convicted on the basis of untruths--testimony that conflicts with the actual facts--unless that testimony was given in "bad faith".

I'm no lawyer, and I don't play one on the Internet, but this is a travesty. The purpose of a trial is to determine the truth--what actually happened. But if it is acceptable to deliver false testimony, so long as it is not intentional, then how is the truth to be determined? And how is the jury or the judge to determine the intentions of those testifying? Further, if incompetence is an excuse for offering false testimony, what is next? "Sorry Judge, I'm a pathological liar. It's in my DNA, and I have a report from the Houston crime lab to prove it."

In a criminal trial the burden of proof is on the state, and it must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. (Incidentally, in Texas the state does not and cannot define "reasonable doubt", which itself is travesty.) Leonard Peikoff, in his lecture series "The Philosophy of Objectivism", indirectly addressed this issue while speaking about certainty:

Idea X is “certain” if, in a given context of knowledge, the evidence for X is conclusive. In such a context, all the evidence supports X and there is no evidence to support any alternative. . . .

You cannot challenge a claim to certainty by means of an arbitrary declaration of a counter-possibility, . . . you cannot manufacture possibilities without evidence . . . .

From my layman's perspective, this is the proper standard for "reasonable doubt"--all of the evidence points to guilt, and there is no evidence to the contrary. For this to occur, all of the relevant evidence, and nothing but the relevant evidence, must be considered. In Napper's case, the state's witness literally manufactured evidence pointing to his guilt. Which means, the state entered arbitrary declarations in support of its position. If this is acceptable, and not cause for a retrial, then I submit that the state could find anyone guilty of virtually anything.

Consider also Roady's claim that the DNA evidence did not exclude Napper. There is no limit to the "evidence" that would not exclude the accused--Napper's favorite ice cream flavor doesn't exclude him either--but such "evidence" is irrelevant. Roady wants to assert the arbitrary--since X does not exclude the accused, it is "possible" that he is guilty.

For a statement to be considered "possible" there must be some facts indicating that it is true. A mere assertion does not make a claim possible. For example, I could claim that you are a bank robber and concoct any number of outrageous additional assertions to support my position. No matter your response, I could continue to invent further assertions. So long as you allow the arbitrary to be considered valid, you will unable to prove anything, including your innocence.

(Lest anyone think that I am soft on crime, or anti-police, or anything of the sort, I should point out that Napper should have been in prison at the time of his arrest in this case. He was on parole for a prior rape conviction, which is just another rock in this mountain of travesties. But with the prisons filled with those who have violated nobody's rights--such as drug offenders--an actual criminal was set free. That prior conviction however, says nothing about his actual guilt in this case.)

To Roady, Lawrence Napper is disposable. Napper is simply the means to the prosecutor's ends--convictions. It doesn't matter how those convictions are achieved, or how many lives are destroyed. After all, he has been taught that we have a moral duty to serve others, that we must place the welfare and interests of others before our own, that we must sacrifice for others. Napper is "selfish" to proclaim his innocence--what about Roady's needs? Napper must set aside his own desire for freedom and justice--the desires of others are more important. Napper shouldn't think about himself--Roady has a career to build, and it is Napper's moral duty to help him.

Roady is Ellsworth Toohey--the collector of sacrifices. (Roady is hardly alone in this regard.) But unlike Toohey, Roady has a gun to back him up. Like Toohey, Roady is not interested in truth or justice, only "prestige"--the "prestige" that comes from convictions. The truth, and justice, can go to hell if they serve that purpose. Lawrence Napper can go to prison.


Rational Education said...


your post makes excellent points on the criminal justice system.

I am however, not quite sure that I necessarily see Toohey in Roady. The reason I say that is because in my estimation Toohey hated extraordinary human qualities and values of ability, intelligence, integrity, intransigience, genius. To destroy the individuals who possesed such qualities he promoted the inane, mediocre. If all that Toohey wanted was "prestige" -that would merely make him a rank and file second-hander, who bases his values on others estimation. Toohey was way more evil than that-he was a destroyer of lviing men, i.e. men capable of producing values (material and spriritual) for living on earth.

I would consider the DA as a mere small time disciple of the philosophy that has been propagated by men like Toohey to destroy the spirit of mankind. (I will submit that the number of human bodies that Roady is willing to mangle, walk over, and destroy in order to reach his irrational goals of "prestige" for his position as DA and the dept. under his leadership make him fully culpable for those crimes.)

Strictly my estimation and two cents on the subject!

Brian Phillips said...


You make good points. Perhaps I overstated my point. Roady and Toohey share a common philosophy, but Toohey is much more viscious and destructive.