Expert illuminates perjury problem involving experts; There is virtually no accountability.
Paul Carpenter Of The Morning Call
Allentown Morning Call, Sunday, March 31, 2002
A fee of $30,000 for a few hours of work is not bad.
That is how much Dr. Michael Welner was paid last year to testify
for the prosecution in the case of Richard Baumhammers in
I mentioned that case Friday when I discussed legislation to
exempt the so-called mentally retarded from the death penalty.
Baumhammers is not retarded; his defense was based on mental
illness, but the issues are similar.
The defense in that case attacked Welner's testimony, saying it
was influenced by his $30,000 fee. It didn't work. As I noted
Friday, Baumhammers is on death row, right where he belongs.
Still, that kind of money for a witness, along with other
influences, is worrisome.
I have long argued that there are two harmful dynamics in
criminal proceedings -- the money paid to expert witnesses and the
excessive zeal of some prosecution witnesses, especially police
Welner brought up a third. Testifying March 18 before the state
Senate Judiciary Committee, he said "a personal agenda" often skews
That committee was holding hearings on Senate Bill 26, which
would ban the death penalty for anyone with an intelligence quotient
I oppose that bill, as does Welner, a professor at New York
University's School of Medicine and a prominent forensic
After explaining why a simple IQ test would be a bad idea for
exempting a class of individuals from legal accountability, Welner
talked about expert testimony in general.
"I need to address the state of affairs of forensics, as it
relates to the death penalty," he told the committee.
"The passions of those who are endeavoring to abolish capital
punishment are vocal and influential," Welner testified. "I have
witnessed colleagues, so personally moved by this issue, to testify
on behalf of capital defendants with history they make up
"This is, basically, perjury," he said, referring to "test
results that are spurious or are purposely altered so as to
maximize the perception that the defendant is incapacitated.
"Forget the defendant faking," he said. "Nobody can fool a court
more effectively than a trained professional who knows more than the
court, and has a personal agenda."
Having spent time in court listening to criminal cases, I do not
dispute one word of that, but I have focused on two other problems.
First, expert witnesses testify the way they are paid to testify,
and it is almost always the prosecution that has all the money. Some
paid experts testify exclusively for the prosecution side, knowing
that if they ever testify for the defense, they will be blackballed.
(That is not the case with Welner. He has testified for both the
prosecution and defense, depending on merit, such is his stature in
the forensic expert community.)
Second, I have seen police officers and other witnesses commit
perjury to gain convictions in cases ranging from traffic tickets to
That happens because there is virtually no accountability for
such an offense. No prosecutor, police officer or other prosecution
witness is likely to face charges, no matter how flagrantly he or
she commits or suborns perjury.
Now that Welner has articulated the problem of perjury by expert
witnesses, perhaps somebody will move to do something about it,
whether it involves a personal agenda, prosecutorial zeal or money.
Laws along those lines would do far more than SB 26 to improve
the legal system.