"I wouldn't wish it on a snake." So says Julie Rea of the life she has had since Oct. 13, 1997. That was the day she awoke to a scream and tussled with an intruder in her Illinois home. Her 10-year-old son, Joel Kirkpatrick, had been stabbed to death. Then, three years later, she was charged with and convicted of his murder. In a lengthy piece for the New York Times Magazine, Pamela Colloff dives into the "deeply flawed" investigation and reliance, at trial, on the shoddy forensic discipline of bloodstain-pattern analysis. Though the divorced mom had a black eye, abrasions, and a cut on her right arm that needed stitches from her fight with the masked man, police immediately viewed her as a suspect in part because there was no sign of forced entry. Her son had been stabbed in the heart with a knife taken from her kitchen, but police didn't dust the butcher block it came from, nor did they dust Joel's bedroom.
Investigators dug up Rea's septic tank, examined her home's drains, and sprayed the blood-detecting chemical luminol around the house looking for blood evidence. Nothing. But at her February 2002 trial, one of the prosecution's bloodstain-pattern analysts argued a bit of blood on her T-shirt's right shoulder that was Joel's could not have been transferred onto her shirt during her fight with the intruder, as the defense claimed, but was more consistent with her having been the attacker. This though the analyst offered no proof to back it up: no experiments, data, or breakdown of his methodology. Rea was found guilty and sentenced to 65 years. Colloff's story unpacks what happens next: a serial killer's confession to the crime, a retrial, a not guilty verdict, an exoneration, and a life that remains shattered. Read it in full here. (Or read more about why blood spatter analysis may be bogus here.)