Death Penalty and Death Row in USA

Fight the Death
Penalty in USA

The use of "expert" witnesses

Dr. Death - James Grigson

If an individual as a child growing up did have the first three: Bed wetting, fire setting, cruelty to animals, but also had difficulty in school getting along with peers and authority figures, this was an indication of possibility of future acts of dangerousness as an adult.

Dr. James Grigson, in an interview with Danish TV

After a defendant, during the guilt phase, has been found guilty of a capital offense, the next goal for the prosecutor (especially if he is politically elected and needs to prove his "toughness on crime") is to have him sentenced to death during the penalty phase.

In Texas, jurors are required to determine "whether there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society."

To reach this goal the prosecution in Texas often calls upon an "expert" witness to testify that the defendant would pose a future danger to society, a prediction which only very few professional and decent psychiatrist would be willing to present.

But for many years, the prosecutors in Texas made good use of Dr. Death, AKA James Grigson, a Dallas forensic psychiatrist, who was more than willing to certify that the defendant was "absolutely" and "most certainly" a danger in the future, and thereby urge the jury to impose death. So in 98% of the 140 cases where Dr. Death was being used as an expert witness, the result was the death penalty.

Not surprisingly, an investigator for the Dallas County District Attorney's Office (in 1988) provided unequivocal proof that Dr Death's predictions of the danger posed by a defendant in the future was in fact wildly inaccurate.
Among others, 10 of Dr Death's cases in which the defendant either had his death sentence commuted or reduced to a term of imprisonment were investigated, and in none of the cases Dr. Deaths's predictions came true.

For example, in the case of Doyle Boulware, convicted of capital murder in 1976, Dr Grigson testified that Boulware had a "sociopathic personality disorder" that was "as severe as one can become."
According to Dr Grigson, the "prognosis" for Boulware was that his "antisocial behavior" would "only continue" and "become gradually and increasingly worse," regardless of whether Boulware were released into society or incarcerated in an institution. Dr. Death went so far as to claim that Boulware would "certainly" kill someone "if there is any way at all he was given the opportunity to." Boulware was sentenced to death.
During the 12 years of imprisonment following Dr Grigson's testimony, Boulware had only one disciplinary report, for an unarmed fight with another inmate. The report also noted that Boulware was a State approved trustee who "causes no problems" and was at that time up for Parole Review.

Randall Dale Adams spent twelve years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and he was granted a review of his case only after the documentary film 'The Thin Blue Line' raised serious questions about the case against him, and an appeals court judge stated that "the state was guilty of suppressing evidence favorable for the accused, deceiving the trial court...and knowingly using perjured testimony."
During Adams first trial in 1977 Dr. Death said that Adams had a "sociopathic personality disorder," and was "at the very extreme, worse or severe end of the scale." According to Dr Death, Adams would "continue his previous behavior," and his behavior would "ascend" and he may even kill again. According to Dr Grigson, "nothing known in the world today" could help to change Adams.
Even after Adams had been proven innocent Dr. Death maintained his prognosis was correct, and he claimed that Adams was guilty of the crime.

Dr. Death II - Ralph Erdmann

Ralph Erdmann
"If the prosecution theory was that death was caused by a Martian death ray, then that was what Dr. Erdmann reported."

Special prosecutor Tommy Turner

When Erdmann's methods and testimony came under increasing criticism in death penalty cases, some prosecutors retaliated by prosecuting Erdmann's critics. Two police officers, Patrick Kelly and William Hubbard from Lubbock County, who had testified about Erdmann's misdeeds, were indicted for alleged perjury. And nationally famous death penalty defense attorney, Millard Farmer of Atlanta, was indicted for supposedly tampering with a witness. However, this effort to cover-up the growing scandal around Dr. Erdmann fell apart.

Dr. Erdmann had earlier pleaded no contest to seven felony charges. He was sentenced to 10 years probation, and fined $17,000 for botched autopsies and exhumation expenses. He also surrendered his medical license and moved to another state.

Dr. Death, II
Another critical element of the prosecution's case in a capital trial is proof that the victim's death resulted from the defendant's violent actions. To tie that knot, many prosecutors in Texas have utilized a pathologist by the name of Ralph Erdmann, who has also earned the name "Dr. Death." Erdmann received his medical degree in Mexico in the 1950s and traveled to 40 Texas counties supposedly performing 400 autopsies a year in capital and non-capital cases. Lubbock County alone paid Dr. Erdmann $140,000 a year for his work. Now the verdicts in at least 20 capital murder cases and dozens of other prosecutions are being appealed because Erdmann lied, falsified reports and even neglected to perform some of the autopsies he testified about. [18]

Erdmann's word began to be doubted when one family read his autopsy report indicating that the deceased's spleen had been examined and weighed as part of the examination. However, the family knew that the dead man's spleen had been removed years earlier. As a result of the family's intervention, the body was exhumed and no incision marks from an autopsy were found. [19] At that point, attorney Tommy Turner of Lubbock was appointed special prosecutor to look into Erdmann's deceptions. Turner concluded that Erdmann was a liar and a con man: "If the prosecution theory was that death was caused by a Martian death ray, then that was what Dr. Erdmann reported." [20]

The pressure on prosecutors and police to succeed in death penalty cases has resulted in miscarriages of justice all over the country. Representative Don Edwards, Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, released a staff report in October, 1993, recounting 48 cases since 1970 in which the defendants were sentenced to death but later exonerated and released. [24] In many of these cases, the prosecutors or police illegally withheld vital information from the defense, encouraged witnesses to lie, and deceived the court in a variety of ways. In other cases, prosecutors pushed for the death penalty in headline cases in which they lacked sufficient evidence even to sustain a conviction. For example, when Attorney General Janet Reno was a prosecutor in Dade County, Florida, she helped uncover a pattern of official abuse in the death penalty conviction of James Richardson. Richardson had been sentenced to death for poisoning his own children in 1968. He was spared the electric chair when the Supreme Court overturned all existing death sentences in 1972, but he remained in prison. Reno's 1989 investigation affirmed what had long been claimed by the defense: the state had "knowingly used perjured testimony and suppressed evidence helpful to the defense." [25] Richardson was released in 1989.

Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: THU 06/18/98
Section: A
Page: 37
Edition: 3 STAR

Man indicted in mishandled '89 death

Associated Press

LUBBOCK - A grand jury indicted a man Wednesday on a murder charge in the 1989 death of a 14-month-old boy who discredited pathologist Ralph Erdmann had ruled died of pneumonia.

Swisher County District Attorney Terry McEachern told jurors that David Earl Johnson Jr., 36, was a live-in boyfriend of the baby's mother when he smothered Anthony Lynn Culifer with a pillow because he could not stop him from crying.

McEachern said the baby's autopsy was one of many Erdmann mishandled during his years in West Texas. Witnesses came forward in February claiming the baby had been killed, prompting officials to exhume the body for a second autopsy.

"Even almost a decade later, there were clear signs of physical injury and facial injury that are consistent with smothering," McEachern said. "This was not pneumonia."

McEachern said Culifer's mother, Rhonda Culifer, was not present when the baby was killed and is not expected to face charges.

Erdmann pleaded no contest in 1994 to six felonies tied to falsified evidence and botched autopsies.
He surrendered his medical license and was sentenced to 10 years' probation.

Earlier this week, Erdmann declined to comment on the Culifer case.

Johnson was already serving a six-month sentence in Potter County for assaulting a police officer and was scheduled to be released in July.

A $500,000 bond has been set on the murder charge, but McEachern said Johnson will probably remain in the Potter County jail. Johnson faces life in prison if convicted.

The baby was suffering severe breathing problems when he was taken to Swisher Memorial Hospital on March 20, 1989, less than 24 hours after the baby's father, Norman Ballard, had visited him and Culifer. The baby was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital.

McEachern said Erdmann might have performed the autopsy by merely looking over the body at the funeral home and without using any instruments. Although Ballard did not believe the pathologist's diagnosis, there was no investigation.

When the witnesses came forward with new information earlier this year, the Texas Rangers took over. They were skeptical until discovering the autopsy had been performed by Erdmann .

"A team of six or seven pathologists and an anthropologist were brought in to look at the baby's body, and the results were conclusive - there were no signs of pneumonia, but there were signs of suffocation," lead investigator DeWayne Williams said Wednesday.

Erdmann , 72, was West Texas' main forensic pathologist in the 1980s, handling bodies for 48 counties. A 1992 investigation by other medical examiners found that about 100 of 300 cases he handled had serious omissions.

Another botched autopsy in W. Texas /Toddler's death in'89 investigated
Associated Press

TULIA - Despite friends' pleas to get on with his life after the death of his 14-month-old son, Norman Ballard held firm in his belief that the toddler did not die of pneumonia as a medical examiner had ruled.

For nearly nine years, Ballard had little more than a nagging hunch to go on. Then, in February, new witnesses went to police with tips that the baby had been slain.

The case was turned over to Texas Ranger DeWayne Williams, who was skeptical - until he saw the signature at the bottom of the autopsy report: Ralph Erdmann .

Swisher County officials cringed at the memories evoked by Erdmann 's name - the dozens of falsified autopsies, seemingly botched at random; the murder mysteries solved years later because Erdmann initially dismissed the cases as natural deaths; and Erdmann 's inability or unwillingness to explain why he did it.

Williams said the rest of the pieces soon fell into place. The body of Anthony Lynn Culifer was exhumed and a second autopsy revealed Ballard's worst fear: His baby was killed. Investigators say they now believe a bone fracture may have been the cause of the baby's death.

Today, a Swisher County grand jury will be told how authorities believe it happened and who they think did it. Officials won't identify their prime suspect before then, other than to say the person is already in custody on other charges.

Erdmann , 72, was West Texas' main forensic pathologist in the 1980s, handling bodies for 48 counties. A 1992 investigation by other medical examiners found that about 100 of 300 cases he handled had serious omissions.

Among the more gruesome errors later discovered were a misplaced head and parts from two different bodies placed in the same container. A woman he ruled had died of choking on her own vomit later was found to have been smothered by her former lover. The man received a life sentence for the slaying; Erdmann was ordered to pay the victim's family $250,000.

Erdmann pleaded no contest in 1994 to six felonies tied to falsified evidence and botched autopsies in three counties. He surrendered his medical license and was sentenced to 10 years' probation, 200 hours of community service and repayment of nearly $17,000 in autopsy fees.

He was imprisoned in 1995 when police in Washington state found guns in his home. Two years later he was released and now lives in San Antonio.

Despite all the publicity surrounding Erdmann and Ballard's suspicions about his son's death, Ballard did not pursue investigation until others brought out the new information.

"Why Ballard didn't come forward sooner . . . I don't know," Swisher County District Attorney Terry McEachern said. "But as for the other witnesses, maybe their conscience has been working on them all this time."

McEachern, who remained tight-lipped about the case because of the pending grand jury hearing, said some information suggests Erdmann might have performed the baby's autopsy at the funeral home without any instruments.

"The baby did not have pneumonia, and any tests would have revealed that," he said.

Anthony was suffering severe breathing problems when he was taken to Swisher Memorial Hospital on March 20, 1989, less than 24 hours after Ballard had visited him and his mother, Rhonda Culifer.

Shortly after he arrived, the baby was pronounced dead. Erdmann ruled that the cause of death was pneumonia.

Rhonda Culifer, who no longer associates with Ballard, refused Tuesday to comment on the case to The Associated Press.

Ballard, who lives in this town of 5,000 about 90 miles north of Lubbock, says his friends didn't want to hear his persistent questioning of Erdmann 's ruling. They thought he was just obsessing over his child's death.

Now, he says, he feels vindicated.

"I've been griping about it for nine years now. I'm just glad to see justice is being done," Ballard told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. He did not return calls Tuesday from the AP.

Erdmann refused to comment on the case, but his wife told the AP her husband did not keep any records of the autopsies and that he doesn't remember the Culifer case.

"The media has never been fair to my husband so we really aren't interested in talking," she said, adding that police used Erdmann as a scapegoat to cover their own "shoddy work."

For law enforcement officers, Ballard's case is just another frustrating reminder that the truth, like many of Erdmann 's subjects, might remain buried.

Anthony's case revives the question that's haunted the region for nearly a decade: How many other families were told the wrong cause of death for a loved one because of Erdmann 's bizarre behavior?

"Perhaps dozens," said Williams, the Texas Ranger.

Lubbock police Chief Ken Walker is among those who believe there could be more mistakes, but he said it would be impossible to try to review all of the records from Erdmann 's tenure.

"He handled so many cases that we can only investigate the ones that present themselves," Walker said.

Perhaps what taunts authorities most is that they still don't know why Erdmann