Friday, July 27, 2012

#SheriSangji updates: more coverage, Harran defense springs an odd tactic

  • The Los Angeles Times reports the Harran defense has come up with a fascinating tactic: digging up the past of the lead Cal/OSHA investigator in the case, Brian Baudendistel:
Criminal proceedings against UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran took a bizarre turn Thursday when the defense alleged in court papers that the state's chief investigator in the accidental death of a lab worker committed murder as a teenager in 1985. 
The investigator, Brian Baudendistel, denied it. 
"It's not true," he told The Times earlier this week. "Look, it's not me." 
Baudendistel, a senior special investigator for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, was instrumental in building the criminal case against Harran and UCLA with a 95-page report that blamed both in the death of 23-year-old Sheharbano "Sheri" Sangji. She suffered fatal burns when a experiment burst into flames in December 2008.
Read the Los Angeles Times article to note how the defense is trying to use this to invalidate Professor Harran's arrest warrant. Also, it's completely baffling to me whether or not Mr. Baudendistel was actually involved. (Does it matter? From a moral/ethical perspective, I can't imagine that it does. From a legal perspective, I have no idea.)

What does it say about Professor Harran's defense team that they're playing this card at this relatively late time? I speculate that plea negotiations may be going poorly and this is a long shot, but I dunno. 


  1. It's a pretty good gamble:

    "If the warrant were quashed, Harran's lawyers contend, it would mean that 'no prosecution was properly brought' against Harran within the three-year statute of limitations. That could mean the charges would have to be dropped."

    It seems a bit out of the ordinary, but it's a pretty standard practice to try everything and see what the judge will let you get away with.

  2. "the defense alleged in court papers that the state's chief investigator in the accidental death of a lab worker committed murder as a teenager in 1985."

    Really? I used to try a similar tactic, when I would get in trouble for fighting with my little sister, when I was 7. Mom usually realized it was a crap argument, though, and I'd inevitably be sent to my room.

    Funny to see highly paid legal counsel use the same tactic. I assume they can't have much confidence in their case, if they're resorting to such childish tactics. I hope taxpayers aren't paying for that garbage defense.

  3. Hey, if this thing is really succesful, do you think it will be the end of the PI as a paper-pusher and postdocs as researchers model? Maybe after this, small and streamlined groups of researchers will be working in the lab and writing grants together, to make sure nobody new was poorly trained so that the rest of them would get sued in case an accident happened.

    At the very least, maybe we'd have better research outcomes since a trainee would be assigned to a postdoc for at least a year. It takes that long to learn all the basic organic chemistry techniques and to repeat them enough times in front of your mentor to make sure you're not doing anything stupid (like making tBuLi flaming syringes on purpose because you think it looks cool -- that was one of my mistakes). At least in my book.

  4. Unstable IsotopeJuly 27, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    So, the defense theory is what, exactly? That the investigator's possible criminal acts 30 years ago mean Sangji didn't die? I don't get it.

    1. no, the theory would be that the chief investigator is a habitual liar who also was convicted as a juvenile meth gangsta and murder mastermind. A person who as recently as few weeks ago lied to the prosecution and defense, and media, trying to cover up his past. That if he were truthful about his past the judge would not signed the search warrant solely based on his report - hence everything discovered in such search is inadmissible as the evidence. Since there is no other evidence in the case and the deadline for prosecution is about to expire...

  5. Unstable IsotopeJuly 27, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    From the LAT article:

    "From the outset, UCLA and Harran have cast her death as a tragic accident and said she was a seasoned chemist who was trained in the experiment and chose not to wear a protective lab coat."

    Tragic accident - YES
    Seasoned chemist - who really thinks this?
    Chose not to wear a protective lab coat - that's the heart of the case right there

    1. You have to FORCE students to wear lab coats, gloves, goggles, closed-toe shoes, long pants, socks, etc. every day. Very few of them get it.

  6. Unstable IsotopeJuly 27, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    Sorry, I'm spamming your comments here. If the defense gets the investigator's evidence thrown out, won't it endanger any case that Baudendistel worked on?

  7. Seasoned chemist - who really thinks this?

    All they really need is to convince one person on that jury that this is true. Being that most jurors have little science background, it is quite plausible. Any perspective juror with a chemistry background is going to be excused by the defense lawyers, most likely.

    If they haven't managed to reach a plea at this point, the prosecutor must be playing hard-ball in terms of what they are willing to accept.

  8. Ah, a character attack, the oldest trick in the book. Not surprising.


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