The Duke case was a horror for the innocent suspects and their families and friends, of course.
But there are other prosecutorial horror stories too, some stranger than the Duke case.
The Evans, Seligmann and Finnerty families must have a special insight into the ordeal of the Finnegan family.
In August 2007, Roman Finnerty told me about his family's abuse by the criminal justice system, succinctly summarizing it as "a mini-lacrosse case."
In "Not Nifonging in Indiana too!," posted on September 18, 2007, I asked: "Is the State of Indiana's pending prosecution of Lynette S. Finnegan on two counts of medical neglect relating to her daughter, Jessica, who died on December 20, 2005 at age 14 prosecutorial abuse, aka Nifonging?"
Mr. Finnegan had provided me with plenty of documentation in support of his contention that the prosecution never should have been initiated and I consulted with a forensic expert about it.
The Finnegans were willing to take a polygraph test. They knew they were being wrongly prosecuted.
First, all charges against the Finnegans finally were dismissed.
Second, the local newspapers took note.
Third, the Finnegans have their other children back.
Fourth, Mr. Finnegan is again qualified to work (a bogus felony charge had disqualified him).
Fifth, at least someone in the prosecutor's office had a conscience.
What, if anything, will be done, voluntarily or under legal compulsion, to compensate the Finnegans remains to be seen, however.
How the prosecution went horribly out of control needs to be determined, for the sakes of all of us, especially the Finnegans.
Set forth below are four poignant articles on the end of a legal abomination.
Bout with legal system breaks family's heart
By JOE LARSON
FRANCESVILLE -- The sign along U.S. 421 describes this town of 900 as a "A SMALL TOWN WITH A BIG HEART."
But Jessica Salyer's heart was troubled. She was born with tricuspid atresia, a heart defect that causes the right ventricle to be underdeveloped. She had her first heart surgery at the age of 2, and was on medication to treat her heart condition and seizures for much of her life.
"At first, she just wanted to be a doctor and help little children like her," said Lynnette Finnegan, Salyer's mother. "After her grandmother died of cancer, she wanted to work at Riley's to help little children with cancer."
On Dec. 20, 2005, Salyer, 14, died from sudden cardiac arrest caused by a prescription error. Her dose of Coumadin was inexplicably increased to many times the safe limit while she was taken off her seizure medication altogether.
Lynnette Finnegan and Salyer's stepfather, Roman, thought the worst was over when they buried their little girl. But at a time when the family tried to pull together, it was torn apart by criminal charges.
The Pulaski County prosecutor's office alleged that Salyer died from head trauma.
Salyer's mother was charged in April 2007 with neglecting a dependent resulting in serious injury, a Class B felony. Lynnette and Roman Finnegan were both charged with neglecting a dependent, a Class D felony.
The Indiana Department of Child Services in Pulaski County removed Lynnette's other two daughters from her Francesville home when the investigation began in November, 2006. Her son, who was old enough to live on his own, moved out.
Roman Finnegan, who worked for the Indiana Department of Corrections, was suspended from work because he was charged with a felony. Lynnette could not work because she suffers from epilepsy.
Together, they faced the daunting challenge of fighting criminal charges and trying to get their children back while living on virtually no income. For the next six months, their full-time job was investigating their daughter's death.
"There are some days you sit here and there's no gas in the car and you can't go anywhere," Roman Finnegan said last week.
The Finnegans' living room is largely empty because they sold much of their furniture to make ends meet. One of the items they were forced to sell was a cabinet where they kept pictures of their deceased daughter and her collection of angels.
Last week, the bank foreclosed on their home.
Then, nearly as swiftly as they begun, the Finnegan family's legal troubles began to wind down.
Lynnette Finnegan was reunited with her daughters in August.
Jasper County Coroner Gordon Klockow -- who dealt with Salyer's case because she was taken to the Jasper County Hospital the day she died -- said in his verdict July 17 that the skull fracture investigators alleged was caused by head trauma was actually caused by the autopsy itself.
In late October, charges were dropped against Roman. Friday, they were dropped against Lynnette as well.
Roman Finnegan expects to be able to return to work next week.
But as of Friday, the Department of Child Services still had a case involving the Finnegan family pending in court, according to DCS staff counsel Mike Boonstra.
Roman and Lynnette Finnegan said Friday that they weren't quite ready to celebrate the end of the criminal charges against them. They were still emotionally and financially devastated by what in their opinion was an unwarranted ordeal.
"It's going to be hard for me to have any relief," Lynnette Finnegan said, "until they stand in front of the judge and explain why this happened."
Charges dropped against mom in daughter's death
By JOE LARSON
FRANCESVILLE -- Charges were dropped Friday against a Pulaski County woman accused of contributing to the death of her 14-year-old daughter.
Jessica D. Salyer was found unresponsive in her Francesville home on Dec. 20, 2005. Jasper County Coroner Gordon Klockow ruled in July 2007 that she died from cardiac arrest resulting from a medication error.
Salyer's mother, Lynnette S. Finnegan of Francesville, was charged in April with neglecting a dependent resulting in serious injury, a Class B felony, and neglecting a dependent, a Class D felony.
Those charges were later reduced to just the Class D felony. Friday, that charge was dismissed with prejudice by Special Judge Patrick Blankenship in Pulaski Circuit Court.
"The motion to dismiss explains that the medical opinions relayed to us and the witness statements that convinced us to file the (charges) in the first place were not supported by statements in deposition and the written medical information in the final autopsy report," Pulaski County Prosecutor Stacey Mrak said Friday.
A charge of neglecting a dependent filed against Salyer's stepfather, Roman J. Finnegan, also of Francesville, was dropped in late October.
Lynnette Finnegan said she was relieved that her daughter can finally rest but is still angered by the hardships the charges inflicted on her family.
"These people need to explain to me how they can do something like this to someone who's innocent, with a daughter (born) with a heart defect," she said.
The Jasper County Coroner's Office handled Salyer's autopsy because she was taken to Jasper County Hospital the day she died.
Although his final verdict was not issued until this summer, Klockow said Friday that he never saw any evidence to support the idea that Salyer was abused or neglected. He said he was surprised when the Pulaski County prosecutor's office filed charges against the Finnegans earlier this year.
"When they said there was going to be a criminal prosecution in this case," Klockow said, "I still had not received any evidence to that effect."
Neglect charges dropped against Francesville couple
By Scott Allen - Charges against a Francesville couple accused of neglect in the death of their daughter were dropped this week.
Roman and Lynnette Finnegan were charged with neglect of a dependent on April 26, 2007, nearly 1.5 years after the death of Lynnette's daughter and Roman's stepdaughter, 14-year-old Jessica Dawn Salyer.
Roman was charged with one D felony count of neglect, while Lynnette was charged with one B felony and one D felony charges of neglect by Pulaski County Prosecutor Stacey Mrak.
Mrak filed a motion to dismiss the charge against Roman Finnegan Wednesday, Oct. 24. Lynnette's charges were dropped Thursday, Nov. 1.
The charges came after a long investigation by the Indiana State Police, Department of Child Services, and the Pulaski County Prosecutor's office alleged that more could have been done to prevent Jessica's death.
"I've never been accused of a felony before. Most of my co-workers, friends and family were supportive but there is always doubt in people's minds because the charge was made," Roman said.
Counter evidence that the Finnegans took every reasonable precaution to ensure Jessica's wellness may have led to the State's dismissal of the case against Roman.
Jessica Dawn Salyer suffered from a lifelong heart condition, discovered when she began having seizures as a young child. Initial evidence from state investigations suggested that Jessica had not received sufficient medical care throughout her life; however, evidence gathered by the defense, represented by Winamac attorney Kevin Tankersley, tells a much different tale.
Further state findings alleged that abuse had played a factor in Jessica's death, due to blunt force trauma to Jessica's skull. A pediatric pathologist even alleged a severe beating was the direct cause of mortality, but according to the defense there was no medical evidence to back that finding.
"The misunderstanding that there was a skull fracture prior to death was never a doctor's opinion!" Tankersley said.
Defense evidence suggests that mishaps by medical professionals may have been the cause of Jessica's tragic passing on Dec. 20, 2005.
"We had several opinions from experts that came forward free of charge," said Tankersley. "Very early on, contrary evidence began coming in."
In order to keep Jessica's heart condition in check, she had been prescribed a risky, yet common drug therapy. The risk of the drugs required that she have regular check-ups to monitor effectiveness and any negative effects, as well as to get refills on the medication, which included Warfarin and Phenytoin.
Warfarin is a blood-thinning drug that must be carefully monitored in even therapeutic doses. Increases in the drug's dosage must be small to protect the patient.
Records indicate that at what would be her final regular doctor visit before her passing, Jessica's prescription was changed in a way that doctors concluded led to her death.
The certificate of death in the case, normally completed in a timely manner after a person's passing, was not filed until July 18, 2007, 18 months after Jessica's death. This came after the body was exhumed and a second autopsy was performed.
Dr. R. Gordon Klockow, Jasper County Coroner completed the certificate of death, and commented that all skull fractures were artifacts of the autopsy, not prior to death. "The evidence in person and photographically indicates green stick fractures postmortem," commented the report. "There is no blood in the fracture line thus indicating it is postmortem."
With no signs of abuse, the certificate stressed a sudden death that resulted from medical complications of an overdose of warfarin.
At the time the charges were filed, Tankersley commented, "I am convinced the child died of a heart condition she has had since birth, and the Finnegans did everything good parents would do to care for her and her condition."
Since the charges were filed, Roman and Lynnette fought against the state's allegations as well as the removal of their other children from their home. Roman was also suspended from his position at the Medaryville Correctional Facility in lieu of the pending charge, where he had an outstanding record as corrections officer.
Despite a certificate of death that showed no signs of abuse and medical records that demonstrated regular inspections of Jessica's health, the allegations continued from the Department of Child Services (DCS) and the Indiana State Police. The charges were not dropped, despite a defense motion to do just that in May 2007.
Then, on Sept. 10, 2007, the State of Indiana modified its charges against Lynnette to dismiss the B felony neglect resulting in serious bodily injury to the lower charge of D felony neglect of a dependent. This came after the Finnegan's children were returned to their home in August after the DCS case against them was dismissed; a ray of sunshine in what was otherwise a dreary year for Roman and Lynnette.
The Finnegans continued piling on the evidence from pathology experts, who reiterated that Jessica had died from an overdose of warfarin and that the skull trauma occurred post-mortem.
The Finnegans, represented by Tankersley with the aid of Seattle attorney Heather Lockwood, who provided pro bono consult, continually filed motions to dismiss the cases against them.
"I can't say enough about Mr. Tankersley," said Lockwood. "Winamac is lucky to have him, and he's done worlds for the Finnegans!"
Lockwood has made about 10 trips to Winamac from Seattle to help the Finnegans.
Finally, on Oct. 24, the State of Indiana filed a motion to dismiss the charges against Roman. The progress for the Finnegans this move signified was huge, but the decision had not yet been made in Lynnette's fate.
Then, in the late hours of Nov. 1, the State filed a motion to dismiss the charges against Lynnette Finnegan.
After nearly two years of struggling against charges brought against them in the death of their daughter, the Finnegan family is now whole again.
"We have to patch the damage to our family now," said Lynnette. "A lot of tears have been shed. "We've had to go through counseling, supervised visitation, and a lot of tears.
"It was a big relief to my little one that she knows her mommy isn't going to prison," Lynnette said.
"It is not possible to go back to a normal life, but that doesn't mean you don't have a future. It's just altered," Roman said. "I had an interesting learning experience that I believe I can take back to work with me in corrections."
Since the charges were dismissed, a review could allow Roman to gain another position with the Department of Corrections.
"I'm ready to go back to work!" Roman declared.
The details of their story are compelling, and the Journal will provide more in-depth coverage of this story in upcoming issues.
All charges dismissed in Finnegan child neglect case
by Dave Ake
The remaining charge in a child neglect case involving Lynette Finnegan of Francesville, was dropped on Friday in the Pulaski County Circuit Court.
Lynette and her husband Roman were charged in April with a Class D felony charge of neglecting a dependent.
A criminal investigation was launched in November 2006 after Indiana State Police.
Detectives suspected that Lynette's 14-year-old daughter, found unresponsive in the Finnegan's home in December 2005, had died of blunt force trauma to the head. Charges against Roman had already been dropped in October 2007.
In addition to neglecting a dependent, Lynette was also originally charged with neglecting a dependent resulting in serious injury, a Class B felony. These charges were later reduced to a single Class D felony.
According to court documents, Prosecuting Attorney Stacey Mrak moved to dismiss the remaining charge against Lynette for the reason that previous medical opinions and prior witness statements which led to the charges were not supported by subsequent written medical opinions and sworn statements in depositions.
Several sworn statements, including a written memorandum from forensic pathologist Dr. John Pless, were found to contradict what was claimed in the autopsy report. One of Pless' major areas of research as a forensic pathologist has been the differences between accidental and intentionally inflicted wounds.
Jasper County Coroner Dr. R. Gordon Klockow filed his verdict mid-July 2007.
"I find that the Finnegan's daughter died an accidental death from sudden cardiac arrest due to seizure due to cerebral anoxia [lack of oxygen to the brain] due to Coumadin [blood thinner medication] overdose and a loss and lack of Dilantin [medicine for seizures] as a result of medication errors," Klockow said.
Pulaski Circuit Court Special Judge Patrick Blankenship dismissed the charges with prejudice, meaning the plaintiff is barred from bringing forth any further action on the same claim.
"The medical examination did not support evidence of a homicide. No information was given saying that it might be [a homicide]. I want to believe that justice is served and it's a two way street," Klockow said.
Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member.
Gaynor graduated magna cum laude, with Honors in Social Science, from Hofstra University's New College, and received his J.D. degree from St. John's Law School, where he won the American Jurisprudence Award in Evidence and served as an editor of the Law Review and the St. Thomas More Institute for Legal Research. He wrote on the Pentagon Papers case for the Review and obscenity law for The Catholic Lawyer and edited the Law Review's commentary on significant developments in New York law.
The day after graduating, Gaynor joined the Fulton firm, where he focused on litigation and corporate law. In 1997 Gaynor and Emily Bass formed Gaynor & Bass and then conducted a general legal practice, emphasizing litigation, and represented corporations, individuals and a New York City labor union. Notably, Gaynor & Bass prevailed in the Second Circuit in a seminal copyright infringement case, Tasini v. New York Times, against newspaper and magazine publishers and Lexis-Nexis. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed, 7 to 2, holding that the copyrights of freelance writers had been infringed when their work was put online without permission or compensation.
Gaynor currently contributes regularly to www.MichNews.com, www.RenewAmerica.com, www.WebCommentary.com, www.PostChronicle.com and www.therealitycheck.org and has contributed to many other websites. He has written extensively on political and religious issues, notably the Terry Schiavo case, the Duke "no rape" case, ACORN and canon law, and appeared as a guest on television and radio. He was acknowledged in Until Proven Innocent, by Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson, and Culture of Corruption, by Michelle Malkin. He appeared on "Your World With Cavuto" to promote an eBay boycott that he initiated and "The World Over With Raymond Arroyo" (EWTN) to discuss the legal implications of the Schiavo case. On October 22, 2008, Gaynor was the first to report that The New York Times had killed an Obama/ACORN expose on which a Times reporter had been working with ACORN whistleblower Anita MonCrief.