EDITORIAL: Commend Schuster Institute's investigative journalism
On Jan. 26, Massachusetts state judge Robert J. Kane overturned George D. Perrot’s 1987 rape conviction. Kane ruled that the hair microscopy analysis and evidence used in Perrot’s original case is scientifically inaccurate and deeply flawed and that it would no longer be admissible evidence today. Although this case is not binding on other courts, Chris Fabricant, the director of litigant strategy for the Innocence Project, described the decision in a Jan. 28 Globe article as “upsetting a century of precedent” and said that it will hopefully lead to new exonerations in other states. It is always exciting when a wrongfully convicted prisoner is released, but this case is especially significant to the University community, as it was the Brandeis-based Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism that first investigated the flaws in Perrot’s conviction when no other group would take his case.
This board offers our congratulations and admiration regarding the important work the Schuster Institute does through the Justice Brandeis Law Project, the Political & Social Justice Project and the Gender & Justice Project to promote social justice, human rights and non-profit journalism. As the University reflects on the importance of social justice during the annual ’DEIS Impact festival and the centennial of Justice Louis D. Brandeis’ nomination to the Court, this board hopes that the community remembers the important work that the Schuster Institute does to promote social justice, both in our backyard and in the world around us. Often, the University celebrates the spirit of social justice, but the work at the Schuster Institute goes beyond just the theoretical and shows how to achieve justice in the real world.
While this case is closely tied to the University, given the Schuster Institute’s important role in seeking Perrot’s exoneration, the decision also has national implications. In an email to the Justice, Tate Herbert ’15, assistant editor at the Schuster Institute, explained that the FBI has been using hair microscopy, a method of using chemical analysis to determine whom a hair sample belongs to. The practice began to fall out of favor in the 2000s, when DNA technology became more reliable for testing hair. However, groups like the Schuster Institute have found that, after reviewing old cases, FBI hair examiners overstated the results of the hair microscopy analysis up to 90 percent of the time. Perrot was one of those cases.
The Schuster Institute does invaluable work as an investigative body, looking into “significant social and political problems and human rights issues,” according to its website. Through the Justice Brandeis Law Project, part of the national Innocence Project, which works to help prisoners who have been wrongfully convicted of serious crimes like rape or murder, the Schuster Institute brings social justice to life as it investigates cases where innocent men and women have been betrayed by the justice system. Perrot’s case is just one of many cases that the Schuster Institute has worked on that have helped exonerate an innocent person. In fact, in May of last year, the Schuster Institute helped win Angel Echavarria an exoneration for a murder he was convicted of despite a faulty eye witness and lack of physical evidence.
Although it is unclear if Perrot will immediately go free for his rape conviction — he technically also is serving time for a break-in, although the average sentence for a break-in is far shorter than the 30 years Perrot has already served — he is expected to have a new bail hearing that will hopefully end with his release. Regardless of the final outcome of Perrot’s case, the Schuster Institute has proved itself to be both an advocate for those who have been harmed by the criminal justice system and a shining example of the power of good investigative journalism.
—Editor’s Note: Tate Herbert ’15 was a news editor, editor in chief and senior editor of the Justice during her time as a student.