Netflix Show ‘Exhibit A’ Profiles Innocent Convicted Killers. Oh, Really?

The Netflix series “Exhibit A’ claims to show “how innocent people have been convicted with dubious forensic techniques and tools such as touch DNA and cadaver dogs.” Cashing in on the idea that “many people in prison are innocent” theory, the series investigates crime cases that, in the eyes of the defense, the perpetrator, and the perpetrator’s friends, plant just enough seeds in the viewer’s minds that the convicted has been railroaded into prison by shoddy science. Oh, really?

One of the segments, “Blood Spatter,” tells the story of Norma Jean Clark, convicted in 2013 of the shooting death of her husband, Ed, which occurred in the early morning of April 22, 1987. The episode suggests the case was built entirely on blood spatter found on the nightgown Norma was wearing the night she “found” Ed’s dead body. Ed was lying face down in his bed, shot with his gun discovered on the nightstand beside the bed. Norma’s appeals attorney argues the blood spatter so minuscule. She also asks why no one investigated a Mr. Michael Todaro, the “original owner” of the handgun; but, Todaro has mysteriously moved out of the country. The attorney points out Todaro’s mugshot, where his mouth is agape, and he is disheveled. Norma’s best friend argues the same and says that Norma left an abusive husband in her first marriage, and “if she woulda killed somebody, it woulda been him.” Norma and her friends reveal Ed reportedly had multiple enemies due to how he conducted business as a construction supervisor. The professionals and experts in ballistics and blood spatter made to appear questionable, including Tom Bevel, probably the foremost expert in the United States in blood spatter patterns. (When investigators tell Norma “blood was found” on her nightgown, there is a pause, and then she asks, “is it Ed’s blood?”) And the Clark home had been vandalized in the past, with anonymous threatening phone calls and letters (made from newspaper lettering), all suggesting the same person had murdered Ed. 

What “Blood Spatter” doesn’t reveal:

 

Norma said a door was open when she ran out of the house to get help on April 22, 1987. Otherwise, there were no other signs of forced entry. 

The home security alarm either had not been set that night or off. This was entirely out of the ordinary as Ed always complied with setting the house alarm at night.

Norma ran to the home of the Manack family for help when she “heard something.” She had never checked on Ed or investigated the “noise.” Later she would contradict this statement multiple times. Mrs. Manack would tell police that Norma stated she had run through dark woods to arrive at the Manack home, but her feet, legs, and nightgown were clean of debris. 

Norma returned to the Clark home and changed clothes. She brought the nightgown back to Mrs. Manack, asking her to wash it. Mrs. Manack did not wash it but turned it over to police, adding, “Norma’s first concern did not seem to be that Ed was dead.”


The Clarks were close to divorce. Ed was preparing to tell Norma she had days to get out. “Exhibit A” does not detail how Ed was secretly moving money into accounts, seeing someone else, how Norma grew up poor and had been left destitute from her first marriage, and how she had told friends she was not about to be left in that state again. Later, there would be bitter feuds over Ed’s estate with Norma in the fray.

 On April 22, 1987, after Ed’s body was found, and while Norma was at the Manacks’, Norma telephoned her employer, a doctor. She requested that the doctor hospitalize her; “she ‘needed’ to be admitted to the hospital because the police wanted to test her hands for gunshot residue.” Norma also asked her employer for $10,000 for a defense lawyer. When the doctor advised to cooperate with police and refused to have her admitted, Norma had herself admitted for what would later appear to be a false medical claim.

The day of the murder, Norma went to the bank as soon as it opened to withdraw money.

Norma had Ed's body cremated as soon as  possible, did not attend services, nor did she have any sort of services for him. 

Norma refused to give a formal statement to police, refused to testify before the grand jury, continuing to provide contradictory statements to friends, law enforcement, and officials. Norma added, “she ‘didn’t feel like’ she was a suspect.”

Michael Todaro’s mug shot is frightening. This is because he was intoxicated.  Extensive research proved, “Todaro had no connection to the case other than that he was the original purchaser of Ed’s gun. … The gun likely changed hands several times through legal sales before Ed bought it at a gun show or from a private seller.” No one associated with Ed knew Todaro or had ever seen him. 

Norma’s angry son was a long-time suspect in the vandalism and threats. He had been kicked out of the home before these crimes. 

Many of Norma’s close friends believed she had committed murder based on her actions and behavior, despite the fact they did not want to find their friend had committed a crime.

In 1987, the District Attorney felt the evidence was strong but too circumstantial to go to trial. Thus, the case sat dormant.

In 2010, the nightgown was tested, this time with forensics testing much improved since 1987. The assistant director of the lab at the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences and Tom Bevel both ran laborious tests.

Norma had claimed she had gone nowhere near the body, but there was blood on her nightgown. A husband’s bodily fluid on the wife’ lingerie is not proof; the blood spatter patterns were consistent with blowback patterns.

Dr. Bill Davis, an expert in the field of gunshot residue, testified there was some gunshot residue discovered on the nightgown, which was rare due to the 1987 testing and handling of the garment through time. 

 

In 2013, Norma Jean Clark was found guilty of murdering Ed Clark and sentenced to 25 years in the Texas prison system. She currently resides in the Young Unit. According to Netflix’s “Exhibit A” she is an “innocent” woman railroaded by the justice system “convicted with dubious forensic techniques.” 

The issue with these types of shows is that they will make people lose faith in the justice system, particularly in the current times. It will solidify the belief “many people in prison are innocent.” Most importantly, it will make a martyr out of guilty murderers who have left surviving victims emotionally crippled for life. Surviving victims again lose their voices while the guilty shout, “I’m innocent!” And without examining the whole story, television creates its own version. 

 

 



Resources


Final Report on Complaint by The Harris County Public Defender’s Office Against the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, Harris County Sheriff’s Office And Houston Police Department. (February 2, 2018).  Texas Forensic Science Commission. https://www.txcourts.gov/media/1441773/16-40-final-report-harris-co-public-defenders-office-for-norma-clark-02022018.pdf

 

Loudenberg, K. Creator. “Exhibit A.” Blood Spatter. [Netflix.]

 

McDaniel, K. Assistant District ­Attorney in Harris ­County (no date). A long-dormant Houston case is cracked. Texas District & County Attorney’s Association. Online journal. 

https://www.tdcaa.com/journal/a-long-dormant-houston-case-is-cracked/

N Series “Exhibit A.” (2020, July 20). Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com/title/80245117


Norma Jean Clark v. The State of Texas Appeal from 228th District Court of Harris County (memorandum opinion by Chief Justice Radack). No. 01-13-00373-CR. 228th District Court, Harris County, TX. Trial Court Case No. 1295757

 

The Texas Tribune (2020, July 20). Norma Jean Clark. 

https://www.texastribune.org/library/data/texas-prisons/inmates/norma-jean-clark/1100190/

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. According to the show, only one of the specks tested positive for blood, and it was not even determined to be Ed's. So how does this equate to blood spatter?

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