Television

'Frontline' on 28 June Looks at Unreliable Evidence in 'The Child Cases'

Tonight's Frontline reveals how the pursuit of truth can be derailed by the faulty work of medical examiners.

Investigating the deaths of children, says medical examiner Dr. Jon Thogmartin, is especially difficult, given "the emotional content that comes with them." And for this reason, investigators must be especially careful: "You have to objectify the kid and find out what happened to them." As the new Frontline reveals, however, in at least 20 cases, the pursuit of truth has been derailed by the faulty work of medical examiners. Premiering tonight and also available online, The Child Cases returns to the investigation of medical examiners and forensic pathology initiated in Post Mortem, this time with particular focus on prosecutions in children's deaths. As least 20 of these cases in the U.S. and Canada, where medical examiners don’t need to be licensed, are founded on evidence later found to be unreliable. Reporter A.C. Thompson investigates the case against Ernie Lopez, in Amarillo, Texas, convicted of raping and killing a six-month-old girl, based on a medical examiner's flawed testimony. Thompson speaks with Patrick Barnes, the doctor whose diagnosis of "shaken baby syndrome" helped to convict nanny Louise Woodward in 1997. Now, he says, "There are number of medical conditions that can affect a baby's brain... and look like child abuse," when they are not.

The Frontline episode also includes Educating Sergeant Pantzke. Here correspondent Martin Smith follows up on College, Inc., looking at how for-profit colleges recruit war veterans whose education is at least partly funded by the G.I. Bill. As the segment shows, the schools regularly make promises that don't pan out, taking taxpayers' money without delivering usable degrees or educations.

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