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MuckReads Podcast: Jim Dwyer on False Convictions

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(Right: Catherine E.B. Dwyer)

Jim Dwyer of The New York Times visited the Storage Closet Studio recently to talk to ProPublica’s Joaquin Sapien about his new book, “False Conviction: Innocence, Guilt and Science,” which melds beat reporting with interactive video, animations and demonstrations.

An old-school journalist with decades of crime reporting under his belt – “I remember black-and-white TV, let’s put it that way” – Dwyer says he never imagined creating a book made for an iPad. But the book is a natural extension of his life’s work, using today’s technology to explore the science of everyday mistakes that become grave errors in the criminal justice system.

In particular, Dwyer sees too little attention to the collection of “trace evidence in the social sphere,” that is, statements from witnesses and suspects.

“We’ve all seen the people with the hazmat suits on, and the big gloves, and the crime scene tape,” he says, “but none of that is used when a witness is asked to look at a lineup or when a suspect is interrogated. And it’s important to recognize that things can happen that influence or contaminate the person’s identification or can be suggested to a suspect in the course of an interrogation. “

In New York, the Etan Patz case epitomizes this, Sapien says: The suspect in the boy’s 1979 disappearance, Pedro Hernandez, “was interrogated not long after the Police Department was involved in a recommendation that interrogations ought to be taped, and nonetheless, the interrogation wasn’t taped, and only his confession was.”

Both reporters have devoted more than a little ink to pointing out the holes in the case, which Dwyer calls “a prime example of a lack of leadership in training.” Even as he works toward reform – and sees progress – he says, “it makes me crazy sometimes that these things go on.”

Listen to the podcast for more of Jim’s take on errors in the criminal justice system and the best ways to prevent them. You can hear it on SoundCloud, iTunes and Stitcher.

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