"I let her down," says Wendell Lindsey of his 10-year-old daughter Jeanette, who drowned on Feb. 27, 1990, despite his attempts to save her. Lindsey was 33 at the time; he's now 62, and serving a life sentence at the Alfred D. Hughes Unit prison in Gatesville, Texas, for her murder—which he insists he didn't commit. In a lengthy piece for the Intercept, Jordan Smith writes that she's covered wrongful convictions and "junk forensics" for 20 years, but this case stands out from all the other cases she has researched: It's the first to concern the science of drowning, and she found it to be "among the most dramatic and confounding [cases] I've seen" and one replete with junk science. On the day in question, Lindsey took Jeanette and his 9-year-old daughter Darlene fishing.
When they found the first spot overcrowded, they went to the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge and fished on a fallen tree trunk. As Darlene headed to the car, Jeanette fell in. Lindsey says he jumped into the 53-degree water muck to save her and struggled to find her but ultimately did. She was dead. It was considered an accident at first. Then investigators went out to the water and determined using what Smith writes was "fragmentary, occasionally inscrutable information" that Jeanette drowned in 17 inches of water. They learned of the insurance policy Lindsey had taken out on the girls 8 days prior, and heard from his estranged second wife, who spoke of his financial woes, drug abuse, and preference for Darlene. Smith's full story digs into the issues with Linda (she was a "serial bigamist" who was angry with Lindsey), Lindsey's shoddy defense, and the prosecution's drowning expert—whose testimony Smith's own drowning expert rejects. (Read more wrongful conviction stories.)