Mississippi was one of a handful of states to hold statewide elections last night. Regular readers of The Watch will recognize a couple of the names on the ballot.
First, the good news: Longtime district attorney Forrest Allgood was defeated by challenger Scott Colom. Allgood had been DA for the state’s 16th judicial district since 1989. During that time, he became one of the most aggressive prosecutors in the country and a vocal defender of notorious medical examiner Steven Hayne and the disgraced bite mark “expert” Michael West. Allgood continued to both use and defend West long after he’d been widely considered a fraud, even within the already-suspect community of bite mark analysts. He, in fact, once compared West to Copernicus, calling him a man of science widely misunderstood by his contemporaries.
Allgood prosecuted Tyler Edmonds, a 13-year-old whose murder conviction was overturned after the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that Hayne gave testimony unsupported by science. In 1990, Allgood won a conviction of an 18-year-old mentally retarded woman for killing her infant son. The conviction was overturned when an appeals court found that Allgood had committed misconduct when he told the jury that the woman’s failure to testify suggested her guilt. She was later released from prison when the medical examiner Allgood used at trial (not Hayne) acknowledged that he’d made some mistakes and that the child likely died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or kidney disease.
It was also Allgood who prosecuted both Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, two Noxubee County men convicted of two similar murders of little girls just a couple of miles apart in the early 1990s. After the first murder Allgood brought in Hayne, who then brought in West. The two claimed to have found bite marks on the girl that no one else could see, and matched them to Levon Brooks, the chief suspect in the case. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. In 1992, the second girl was killed in a similar manner. This time, Allgood, Hayne and West zeroed in on Brewer, again implicating him with bite mark analysis. Brewer was convicted and sentenced to death. Though DNA exonerated Brewer in 2001, Allgood defended the conviction, forcing Brewer to remain in prison an additional seven years. In 2008, DNA from the cases was run through a criminal database and provided a match to a man named Justin Albert Johnson, who later confessed to both crimes.
In the years since, Allgood has staunchly defended his record, and his use of Hayne and West. In 2011, the Mississippi Supreme Court admonished Allgood for comments he made to the jury in another murder case.
Colom defeated Allgood with a campaign that stressed treatment over incarceration for drug crimes and a promise not to seek long sentences for nonviolent crimes.
The bad news is that Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has again won reelection. (A few years ago, Hood defended Allgood as a “straight arrow” who “always played it by the rules.”) On a bad night for Southern Democrats, Hood remained the only member of the party to hold statewide office in Mississippi. Hood has managed to hold on to office in Mississippi despite his party affiliation by mixing his attacks on technology companies with a host of “tough-on-crime” policies, including a particular enthusiasm for the death penalty.
Like Allgood, Hood has been a staunch defender of Hayne over the years. (Hood often utilized Hayne himself when he was a district attorney.) In fact, when Hayne was effectively fired from conducting state autopsies a few years ago, Hood led a failed effort to bring him back. Hood did recently acknowledge West’s credibility problems, but he has done very little to address them, and, in fact, his office is still defending convictions won with West’s testimony, including at least one death penalty conviction.
Hood, of course, has had other problems, too, including long associations with shady characters; an ill-informed vendetta against Google in conjunction with Hollywood; and an utter contempt for free speech and personal electronic privacy (despite demanding considerable privacy protections for himself as a public official.)
In short, the good news from last night is that one of the worst prosecutors in the United States was defeated. The bad news is that one of our worst attorneys general won another four-year term.