Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Brown's Chicken Massacre and Expert Testimony

People v. Luna, 2013 IL App (1st) 72253
Appellate Court of Illinois
Filed: April 25th, 2013
Precedential Status: Precedential
Citations: 2013 IL App (1st) 72253
Docket Number: 1-07-2253

¶ 34       Cecilia Doyle, chief of the Biology-DNA section of the ISP laboratory, testified as an expert in the field of DNA analysis. As explained in greater detail in the analysis section below, Doyle used STR DNA analysis on the swabs from the two bones and was able to obtain a nine-loci DNA profile from the bones. She explained that in 1998, the laboratory was only looking at 9 allele locations for DNA profiles and did not advance to 13-loci DNA testing until 1999.

  ¶ 35     The testing revealed that each sample contained DNA from multiple contributors. Doyle testified that a DNA profile, viewed on a graph called an electropherogram, normally has just two peaks at any one area of the DNA (i.e., any locus), because half of the DNA is inherited from the mother and half from the father. When an allele (i.e., an area of genetic variation that analysts measure and use for comparison) is detected at a particular locus, it is represented by a peak plotted at a point on the electropherogram. Here, Doyle saw more than two peaks at two of the nine loci tested, indicative of a mixture. To bring up more alleles from the “minor profile” (the one with lower peak heights), Doyle repeated the analysis using more of the sample. That test revealed alleles at four more loci.
Accessed 22 April 2020

On January 8, 1993 Juan Luna and James Degorski entered Brown’s Chicken, a restaurant, in Palatine, Illinois, USA.  They ordered the two owners and five employees into a cooler and a refrigerator room and shot them all in the head.  When the owners and employees did not return home, relatives called police. Police showed up at the restaurant and found the bodies.  A sum of about $1900 (now about $3400) was taken.

The crime went unsolved until a girlfriend of Degorski came forward and implicated Degorski and Luna. The reason that Luna was convicted of all seven murders was his DNA which amazingly was still among the chicken bones of some of the chicken he had eaten.

As we read above: “Cecilia Doyle, chief of the Biology-DNA section of the ISP laboratory, testified as an expert in the field of DNA analysis.” Doyle’s analysis of these two chicken bones established beyond a reasonable doubt that Luna had been on the scene of the crime and eaten some meat of those chicken bones.  His DNA was present. Luna confessed in 2002, nine years later.  He was finally convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2007. Degorski was also convicted in 2009 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Because of a new scientific technique of DNA analysis developed after the murders, Doyle was able to prove Luna had been at the scene of the crime.  Her testimony and evidence proved he had murdered these seven people. Her education: a Bachelor of Science in Biology from DePaul University in Chicago and a Masters of Science in Molecular Biology from Northeastern Illinois University gave her the tools to make this very highly skilled, expert judgment.

We trust expert such expert witnesses because they have special knowledge and skills to prove or establish things that we who do not have that knowledge or skills cannot prove.

In my last note I introduced the idea of Richard Swinburne’s Principle of Credulity.  I would like to consider a second form of this principle.  Again I cite from David K. Clark’s book, To know and love God.

When someone tells me something that seems to him true, it probably is true, and I may take it as true, especially if he is an expert in that field of knowledge, unless either he or I know of some special disqualifying circumstances or evidence to show that what seems true is not actually true.

Swinburne as cited by David K. Clark. To know and love God. (Grand Rapids, MI: Crossway, 2003), 66.

In this form of his Principle of Credulity Swinburne introduces the idea of an expert testimony. It’s a bit broader than that, but that is one feature of it.  In fact he says that we may believe anyone who tells us something as being true, as long as we do not “know of some special disqualifying circumstances or evidence to show that what seems true is not actually true.”

In other words, if Joe says to me, “Phil, today is Tuesday.” I can believe him and I am likely to believe him; he’s a friend.  However, with us being quarantined due to Coronavirus, I wonder about his statement and happen to look up at my computer at the time and date bar and see, actually, it’s Wednesday.  He has lost track of his days. Unlike a prisoner in his cell making marks on the wall, Joe has not kept careful track.  Normally I trust Joe.  He’s a reasonable guy.  He’s known to be trustworthy.  But in these circumstances he has for obvious reasons lost track of his days.

So we may believe anyone, educated or uneducated, white or black, male or female, whomever as long as we know of no “special disqualifying circumstances or evidence to show that what seems true is not actually true.”  He or she doesn’t have to be an expert.  They could be anyone.  Anyone can tell us the truth.  Unfortunately, almost anyone can lie to us.  If we have some reason to suspect that someone is confused or lying, we must check their statements against evidence (in my case the date line on my computer).

The issue of an expert is harder, at least for most of us.  Most of us will not question a doctor’s diagnosis or prescription, unless we have some real reason, say that another doctor disagrees.

However, sometimes we can be stubborn and refuse to believe a trustworthy expert.  Some people think that anyone with a college education is untrustworthy.  Only people of the working class are trustworthy.  This may be due to not understanding what the experts are actually saying or it may be due to the fact that expert is opposed to some of our cherished beliefs.

This is a two edged sword.  We must judge whether an expert may speak authoritatively in a certain area or not. If the expert speaks within his or her field of expertise and we reject the expert’s testimony, then we would simply be fideists, believing what we want with no evidence.

Simply because someone is educated or uneducated doesn’t make them a credible or incredible source.  We must examine what they say and who they are.  This is what I would call the “Expert Form” of the Principle of Credulity.

A popular figure in the late 20th century and early 21st century was the astrophysicist, Dr. Stephen Hawking.  He was a living legend.  Stephen Hawking had a PhD in astrophysics.  He was an expert in that field.  He could speak credibly (not unerringly, but credibly) in his field.  We would be wise to believe his astrophysics. I’m sure I could not really judge his scientific works as I don’t have the math or science background to judge his works.

At the same time I doubt that Stephen Hawking knew anything about the Russian religious philosophy of the Silver Age, the topic on which I wrote my doctoral dissertation.  At least in 2004 I was an expert in that field.  I know who Sergei Bulgakov was and Vladimir V Solovyov and Pavel Florensky and the Brothers Trubetskoi, as well as Nicholas O Lossky on whom I wrote.

If Hawking were to argue with me about what Sergei Bulgakov said in his book the Lamb of God, I would be skeptical.  Since I didn’t write my dissertation on Bulgakov, I might need to check his statement, but I would know where to go and how to find it.

But suppose Hawking said something about fusion and black holes. I am familiar with these ideas, but I am not an expert. I mentioned before my friend, Dr. Robert, who is an immunologist.  Imagine if I said to Hawking, “My friend, Robert, would understand that.” If Hawking were incredulous and replied, “But he is an immunologist.  He only has an MD!” I’m sure Hawking would be surprised to know that my friend, Robert, also has a Masters in Nuclear Engineering and a PhD from MIT in plasma physics (besides his life long interest in astronomy). It would be a qualifying credential.  Robert can speak authoritatively about immunology and plasma physics.

Imagine again that I was discussing the South Pole with someone and I said that my friend, Dr. Mark, would know.  That person might reasonably say, “How would an MD who practices gastroenterology know anything about the South Pole?” Well, Mark was stationed as a Navy doctor for one stint at the Naval base on the South Pole.

So, naturally we tend to accept the word of someone in their field of expertise.  It makes sense. I can’t know about immunology.  I’m too old to go back to medical school.  I have to rely on someone who is trained. If someone cares to know about Plato’s dialogue The Timaeus or to study the first epistle of St John, I can help.

As another negative sort of example, when I was a Master’s student at the Catholic University of Leuven (Louvain) in Belgium I mentioned having lived in Yugoslavia during the Bosnian war (which was still going on) and having traveled in Macedonia and Bulgaria during the Communist period.  Some other American students thought that I was “blowing smoke” and trying to impress people.  However, when I sat down and started speaking Russian with a Russian from Ukraine, they stopped talking about my pride (but still didn’t like me as I was competition in their minds).

Yet they had every right to question my “expert testimony.” I sounded like just another American. I speak as an American with no noticeable accent.  They knew other braggarts.  They didn’t know my history.  I was unusual. (I still am.)

So back to Hawking… Because Stephen Hawking was a brilliant astrophysicist he was given a lot of space to make all sorts of pronouncements.  Other well known atheists have used their credentials in some field, philosophical or scientific, to bash Christian belief.  Some feel that for this reason we cannot trust a person who has advanced education.

In fact the answer is both easier and harder.  Hawking had every right to advance his theories about astrophysics.  He had a PhD in the subject.  However, others in the same field had every right to question or challenge his ideas.  I don’t. I must rely on someone else to deal with his astrophysical ideas.

I am reasonable to trust his cosmological, astrophysical ideas.  Cosmology is the study of the cosmos, the universe. As Hawking dealt with various astrophysical ideas about the universe his credentials gave him credibility.

 However, when Hawking expounded about the origins and beginning of the universe, he was no longer speaking in his field.  This is harder. He was an astrophysicist and he believed that he had reasons for his beliefs about the origins of the universe.  People tended to believe him for this reason.

But cosmology is not cosmogony.  Cosmogony is an attempt to explain how the universe came to be and why.  Cosmology may answer the how (the mechanism), but it cannot answer why (“Why is there anything rather than nothing?” Where did the stuff, the “matter,” of the universe come from).

When one passes from cosmology to cosmogony one moves from science to philosophy or religion.  Both philosophy and religion offer answers to these questions.

Hawking offered a naturalistic, materialistic explanation.  He argued that there was not point in asking when the universe began.

“Asking what came before the Big Bang is meaningless, according to the no-boundary proposal, because there is no notion of time available to refer to,” Hawking said in another lecture at the Pontifical Academy in 2016, a year and a half before his death. “It would be like asking what lies south of the South Pole.”

Natalie Wolchover, “Physicists Debate Hawking’s Idea That the Universe Had No Beginning” June 6, 2019. Quantamagazine Accessed 22 April 2020

Some believe that the universe just popped into being in a Big Bang.  We might agree that there may have been a Big Bang, but we may still ask: “Where did the ‘stuff’ or matter come from?”

Philosophers and religionists offer explanations about where the stuff came from and who the designer was, if there was one. Theists (philosophers and religionists who believe in a Creator God) argue for a God who created the matter and started the universe.  Atheists and naturalists argue that matter just was and is and that order is the result of some sort of evolution.

My point is that we must judge whether the friend or expert are correct.  We may believe their word, their testimony, unless or until we are challenged, until we learn of a disqualifying circumstance or evidence against their claims.

We are reasonable to trust university, medical school trained immunologists to tell us what to do in a pandemic.  We are reasonable to trust a stock broker about when and how to invest in the market.  We are foolish to trust a stock broker to give us wise advice about immunology, just as we would be unwise to trust an immunologist to say which stocks will rise.

We may believe anyone we want until we know of some circumstances or evidence which disqualify that person’s claim.  But to cling to believing someone’s statements, when circumstances say otherwise is foolish and blind belief.

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