Navajo man loses appeal based on exclusion of expert testimony

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DENVER – A Navajo man convicted of abusive sexual contact with a child unsuccessfully argued in federal appellate court Sept. 9 that expert testimony concerning false confessions should not have been disallowed in lower court.

Albert Benally, formerly of Casamero Lake, Navajo Nation, was sentenced in federal district court in New Mexico to 20 years in connection with the abuse of the sixth-grade niece of a woman with whom he lived.

He contended that oral and written confessions to two FBI agents were coerced by threats and aggressive questioning, and that expert testimony would have supported his claim of false confession.

Testimony by transcript and PowerPoint presentation related to a similar case was ruled invalid in the lower court. The testimony was that of a University of Nevada psychology professor who is an expert witness on false confessions.

Benally’s first court appearance ended in a mistrial, but his second trial resulted in his conviction and sentencing for the maximum 20 years.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld both his conviction and his sentence, which he contended did not follow the correct legal guidelines.