Forensic Case Study 2: Man spent 20 years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit

Case Study 1

When discussing the age of the earth, fossils, rocks, organic material and other objects, there are some common themes that inevitably arise. One theme deals with how forensic science has been confused with operational science so that they’re morphed into one and the same.

But here’s a case study demonstrating the distinct differences between how science is practiced in the present vs. the past. Tragically, an Illinois man spent 20 years of his life in jail for a murder he didn’t commit.

But before examining the case further, let’s put this into historical context. Francis Bacon (1562-1626) was the scientist credited with formulating the scientific method and was known as the father of empiricism and advocated the advancement of scientific knowledge based on inductive reasoning and the observation of events in nature. The scientific method calls for observation, hypotheses, experimenting, developing theories, repeating experiments, and drawing a conclusion.

Understanding the scientific method is important because it means we can gain knowledge about the world we live in and seek truth. It relies on a world that operates consistently and obeys certain laws created by God. Bacon realized that the science of his day failed to recognize this consistency.

So then, how does the scientific method relate to a man being freed after 20 years in jail? Well, back in 1992, Juan Rivera Jr, then 19 years old, was convicted of rape and murder based on forensic evidence supplied over the course of three trials. Evidence included blood-stained shoes and Rivera’s own confession. Rivera was convicted based on scientific evidence.

In reality, however, the conclusion that Rivera was guilty was based on indirect evidence and unprovable assumptions about the past. In other words, no one was there to observe the murder, identify the murderer, perform experiments as the murder happened, or repeat the experiments. Therefore, once Rivera was pronounced guilty, no one could confirm with certainty that this judicial decision was correct. Whether or not justice was served was based strictly on faith in science. And since the scientific method can’t be utilized directly on the past, the scientists and prosecutors were successfully able to advance incorrect claims and get the conviction they wanted.

It’s also important to note that evidence and facts don’t speak for themselves. This sounds obvious, but when it comes to science, there are many who don’t recognize this; they claim that the evidence and facts prove evolution. But they’re redefining their terms and failing to realize that the evidence must be interpreted by fallible human beings. An incorrect explanation of the evidence may lead to an incorrect conclusion (or conviction), and that’s exactly what happened in the case of Juan Rivera. So, it was never a fact that Rivera was guilty; it was an incorrect interpretation of the evidence (the bloody shoes) and facts (his confession), based on unprovable assumptions about the past.

In 2012 Rivera was finally cleared of all charges when DNA evidence confirmed that the semen found in Staker’s body wasn’t his. It also turns out that Rivera’s confession was coerced, the murder weapon was destroyed by the police, and the blood-stained shoes couldn’t have been worn by him at the time of the murder because they weren’t even available for purchase in the United States at that time.

The point of this case study is to demonstrate the inherent weaknesses of forensic science. When dealing with the past, it’s impossible to confirm whatever conclusion is reached because no one was there to observe the said event. However, when utilizing the scientific method in the present, we’re able to achieve all kinds of technological advancements and medical treatments, such as the invention of computers, the discovery of electricity, and successful surgical procedures. These are examples of operational science, and we can always repeat the experiments if we question them.

The difference between how science is utilized in the present vs. the past should be apparent based on this case study. The difference is quantitative, yet there are those who refuse make any distinction because it flies in the face of certain ideological beliefs, like evolution. I’ve run across evolutionists who insist there’s only one kind of science, and claim there’s no difference between evolutionary theory and gravity- as if making this claim gives evolution credibility. But such a claim conflates the two. There’s no doubt that forensic science makes unprovable assumptions about the past, and the case of Juan Rivera demonstrates this. Consider, if the scientific method could be successfully utilized on historical events, then there would never be a false conviction. But the fact that we do have false convictions is evidence of the inherent weaknesses of forensic science. It’s nothing like the experiments conducted by Thomas Edison to invent the light bulb, or Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Now, one might claim that it was forensic science that freed Juan Rivera, and that shows how well science works. Still, the damage was done; Rivera can’t get back those 20 years, and the real murderer was free to commit other murders that remain unsolved. His case isn’t even an isolated incident. A short list of other convictions that have been overturned include Thaddeus Jiminez, who spent 16 years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit; Angel Gonzalez spent 20 years in jail for a 1994 rape he didn’t commit; Jerry Hobbs spent five years in prison for two murders he didn’t commit; and Alejandro Dominguez spent four years in jail for a 1989 rape he didn’t commit.

Keep in mind that all these convictions occurred within a few short years after the incident. But when we talk about evolution and the age of the earth, suddenly we’re going back millions and billions of years into the past. Why should we think the further back in time we go, the more certain we should be that scientists have discovered the truth? Why should we believe that the earth is 4.54 billion years old, or the universe is 13.8 billion years old, or that an ape-like creature evolved into a human, and that all life is related to a single common ancestor that spontaneously came to life from non-living material? In light of what we know about forensic science, I’d suggest all these claims demonstrate faith, not science, and it’s far more reasonable to believe in a young earth.

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