$28 million award for “Beatrice 6” whom police psychologist helped railroad to prison

“For years, a group of outcasts in Beatrice, Neb., were convinced they had brutally raped and murdered an elderly woman named Helen Wilson one night in February 1985, even though they couldn’t remember any of it.” That’s the lead of today’s story in the Washington Post, announcing a $28.1 million award to the “Beatrice Six” who spent a collective 70 years in prison before being exonerated a decade ago. Of interest to this blog’s audience is the role of the police psychologist. As I blogged about back in 2008, Wayne R. Price, PhD saw no ethics conflict in helping to…

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Four brilliant podcasts

As voracious corporations suck the lifeblood out of print newspapers, a golden age of creative online journalism is also blooming. The art of podcasting is one example, with diverse content increasingly accessible via an abundance of free apps. The viral success of Serial in 2014 popularized podcasts on criminal justice topics in particular. Some, like the much-hyped Atlanta Monster about serial killer Wayne Williams, are unabashed Serial imitators, cashing in on an innocence porn fad by casting doubt on the guilt of convicted criminals. But others are venturing beyond that now-hackneyed genre in creative and engaging ways. Here are a…

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Psychologist sues California prisons over anti-LGBT harassment

Housing unit at Vacaville Prisons are not known as bastions of healing energy. One of the challenges faced by prison clinicians in the violent and hypermasculine culture of prison is how to uphold their professional ethics when they witness abuse of prisoners by staff. Psychologists may feel internally conflicted, but they rarely file formal complaints that might jeopardize their careers or even their personal safety. So a lawsuit brought by a California psychologist against the Department of Corrections for alleged harassment of sexual minority prisoners is both rare and potentially groundbreaking. Lori Jespersen, who identifies as “an openly genderqueer lesbian,”…

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Dylann Roof: How to make a rampage murderer

As the penalty-phase trial of young white supremacist Dylann Roof gets underway this week, reporters have asked me to explain the psychological dynamics that trigger deadly rampages like Roof’s at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. My answer: Although the specifics such as locale and target shift, the broad contours of such spree killings remain remarkably constant. Here is my recipe of key ingredients: 1. Alienation We humans are tribal animals. For millennia, we lived in tightly knit, cooperative societies where individuals were rarely alone. As author Sebastian Junger explores in Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging,…

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“In the Dark” shines brilliant light on bungled Jacob Wetterling case

Long-dormant case spawned today’s sex offender registries. But would these laws have made a difference?  Twenty-seven years ago, a perfect storm struck a small town in central Minnesota, when a stranger jumped out of the shadows and snatched an 11-year-old boy out bicycle-riding with friends. It was the rarest of crimes. But the Oct. 22, 1989 abduction of Jacob Wetterling struck at a pivotal moment in U.S. history, igniting a conflagration that still burns today. Stranger-danger hysteria was sweeping the nation. Day care providers were being rounded up and accused of Satanic ritual abuse of children. And in that potent…

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Hebephilia flunks Frye test

Photo credit: NY Law Journal In a strongly worded rejection of hebephilia, a New York judge has ruled that the controversial diagnosis cannot be used in legal proceedings because of “overwhelming opposition” to its validity among the psychiatric community. Judge Daniel Conviser heard testimony from six experts (including this blogger) and reviewed more than 100 scholarly articles before issuing a long-awaited opinion this week in the case of “Ralph P.,” a 72-year-old man convicted in 2001 of a sex offense against a 14-year-old boy. The state of New York is seeking to civilly detain Ralph P. on the basis of…

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The Trauma Myth, Revisited

The Trauma Myth may be one of the most misunderstood books of the past decade. Based on its regrettable title, pedophiles erroneously believe it minimizes the harm of child sexual abuse; in the opposite corner, some misguided anti-abuse crusaders have demonized the Harvard-trained author as a pedophile apologist. As guest blogger Jon Brandt explains in this review — first published in the Summer 2016 issue of The Forum, the newsletter of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) — both fans and detractors of Susan Clancy have gotten the courageous researcher all wrong. The Trauma Myth by Susan…

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Non-testifying consultants: Does attorney-client privilege apply?

Is the work product of an expert who is retained only as a consultant — not as a testifying witness — confidential under the doctrine of attorney-client privilege? With courts around the United States divided, that was the question before the Georgia Supreme Court in the case of Henry Neuman of Georgia, which I reported on back in 2012. During Neuman’s high-profile murder trial, the trial judge had allowed prosecutors to introduce the notes of two confidential defense consultants, whom they had identified by snooping through jail visiting logs. The notes contradicted the testimony of the defense’s testifying experts, and…

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The Psychology of Arson

Each year, about 60,000 bushfires rage across Australia, wreaking environmental devastation and costing lives and economic losses. An estimated half or more are deliberately set. Considering arson’s devastating toll, surprisingly little is known about who sets fires, and why. Intensive efforts to catch and prosecute firesetters have also done little to douse the flames. It is no surprise that Australia is the epicenter of efforts to fill that gap, with several ongoing research and intervention programs. Now, two forensic psychologists and a mental health nurse have published a book that brings together cutting-edge theory and practical advice grounded in empirical…

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What’s Wrong With “Making A Murderer”?

Making A Murderer is generating huge buzz on social media; dual petitions calling for Steven Avery’s exoneration have garnered more than 600,000 signatures to date. But after slogging through the 10-hour Netflix “documentary,” I was left feeling disturbed by the drama’s narrative and premises. Here’s why: 1. The narrative is grossly misleading. The hook to this story is protagonist Steven Avery’s prior exoneration: He served 18 years in prison for a rape of which he was ultimately exonerated by DNA evidence; just three years after his release, he was arrested for the unrelated murder and mutilation of another young woman…

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