Is the Lake Co., Ill. Prosecutor’s Office Turning the Page on Resistance to Science?

Posted: March 5, 2013 in Resisting Science, Wrongful Convictions
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Michael Mermel, formerly a lawyer in the State’s Attorney’s office in Lake County, Illinois, became famous as a the prototypical prosecutor resisting science — even DNA.  Readers will remember Mr. Mermel from my post “Resistance, Thy Name is Mermel” back in June of 2012.  When DNA results in four of the office’s cases did not support the guilty verdicts, Mermel made clear that the DNA results meant nothing to him.  Mermel eventually resigned from the office  after telling The Chicago Tribune: “The taxpayers don’t pay us for intellectual curiosity. They pay us to get convictions.”  Mermel’s boss,  State’s Attorney Michael Waller, was replaced after the last election by Mike Nerheim, who made restoring the damaged integrity of the office one of his top priorities.

Now Nerheim has acted.  He has appointed a special “case review board” to examine possible cases of wrongful convictions.   In a video clip posted on YouTube, Nerheim explained that since “Lake County, Illinois, unfortunately,  has been identified as having an issue  with wrongful convictions,” he had appointed a panel of “independent” lawyers  All of the six appointees “have no ties to these cases or to the office.”   According to Nerheim, an independent “fresh set of eyes” was critical in order to  “restore the public’s trust and confidence in the State’s Attorney’s Office.”

For making integrity of convictions a high priority for his office, Mr. Nerheim deserves credit and applause.  The only thing that seems off is the make up of the case review board.  According to The Chicago Tribune, four of the six members are former prosecutors; one of these four was a prosecutor in the Lake County office.  Without in any way impugning the integrity of the board members, their backgrounds may cause members of the community to perceive the board as less than fair — that the deck is stacked deck in favor of the prosecution.  I take no position on whether this is true or not; the concern is that if the function of this  very worthy panel is to restore trust and integrity, some citizens of Lake County may be less than fully impressed with the independence of the group.  One possible remedy would be to do what DA Craig Watkins has done with his Conviction Integrity Unit in Dallas: he has made the Texas Innocence Project an integral part of the Unit’s work.

Still, it’s important to congratulate Mr. Nerheim and everyone he serves in Lake County, Illinois.  Now things can start to get better, even if they aren’t perfect.

  1. tom rudd, ms, md says:

    I just came across this article and I can inform you that under Mr. Nerheim nothing has changed. I am the newly elected Coroner of Lake County, Il as of 12-10-12. When I entered the office I was asked to review the autopsy on a 16 month child in which the manner of death was determined as homicide. A 22y.o. day care worker was convicted of throwing this child to the ground which resulted in a ‘acute subdural hematoma and skull fracture.’ Unfortunately, this was only partially corrected. As a board certified physician pathologist, I reviewed the case and found that the child had a hit on the head 3 months prior to his death. This resulted in a developing CHRONIC subdural hematoma that was much larger and more dangerous than the acute injury. In fact, the old injury set this child up to die of the acute injury. The acute bleed and alleged skull fracture would by itself NOT have resulted in the child’s death because it was so small a bleed, ie 8cc of blood or about a teaspoon. But it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.”. It pushed the brain into a non- functioning state and the child died.Two forensic pathologists agree with my findings INCLUDING THE ORIGINAL PATHOLOGIST/CHIEF PROSECUTORIAL WITNESS WHO ADMITTED IN A SIGNED AFFIDAVIT THAT HE MISSED THE CHRONIC SUBDURAL HEMTOMA!!!!!!!!!!!!
    But what is even worse is that this new evidence is being ignored by states attorney Nerheim and his refusal to submit the case to the very wrongful conviction board that he set uP. This board is strictly advisory and has no authority to force the states attorney to act.
    So in closing all is not well in Lake county, Ill. Sad to say but resistance to science continues its hold on the States Attorney office

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