An Accident Compounded By Injustice

a large lake is surrounded by trees with green, yellow, and orange leaves. The sky is blue, with no clouds.
Photo by easchiff via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Wendell Lindsey is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison, convicted of murdering his 10-year-old daughter in a fake drowning. He’s consistently maintained his innocence. As Jordan Smith uncovers, investigating the incident and trial for The Intercept, there’s a lot that suggests he might be telling the truth — or at least, that the case was never as cut and dry as the prosecution made it out to be.

I’ve been writing about wrongful convictions for 20 years, and I’ve done a lot of reporting on junk forensics, but this was the first time I’d encountered a case in which the science of drowning was called into question. A year after Nadel first contacted me, I can now say that of all the cases I’ve investigated, Lindsey’s ranks among the most dramatic and confounding I’ve seen. There is certainly junk science, and plenty of it: Self-professed experts in the mechanics of drowning were unequivocal in backing the state’s contention that the only way Lindsey’s daughter could have drowned that day was if Lindsey had forcibly held her under the water until she died.

But that’s not the only thing that went sideways. There was a lackluster police investigation built on a foundation of flawed assumptions. There were witnesses with serious credibility issues — chief among them, Lindsey’s estranged second wife, Linda, who painted an elaborate picture of Lindsey as heartless and capable of murder. As it turns out, she was a serial bigamist who was never legally married to Lindsey, and a private investigator had tied her to at least two fake Social Security numbers. There were allegations that the local medical examiner’s office changed its manner of death determination in order to satisfy police, a bumbling defense attorney who managed to make the case even more convoluted, and prosecutors who carried on an injudicious relationship with Lindsey’s surviving daughter after she testified at trial on behalf of the state.

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