[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, VA., OKLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Jul 1 11:52:41 CDT 2005
Probe finds HPD crime lab got scant backing----First report details a lack
of funding and supervision
The Houston crime lab struggled with inadequate resources and support for
at least 15 years as employees failed proficiency tests, botched analyses
and taught themselves scientific technique by reading books at home, an
independent investigator reported Thursday.
Michael Bromwich, a former U.S. Justice Department official hired to probe
the Houston Police Department's forensic work, issued a summary
highlighting sources of the crime lab's problems, such as poor leadership
and inattention from the department and city, and revealing new details
about how the problems manifested themselves.
"We do not yet know whether the well-publicized cases of the crime lab's
failures are isolated analytic breakdowns or only the tip of an iceberg of
widespread analytic failures, incompetence, or worse," he said in his
report on the investigation's 1st phase.
Among the causes of HPD's forensics woes, investigators identified these:
-Administrators offered little support for disciplining problem analysts.
Even then-Police Chief C.O. Bradford intervened to reinstate Vipul Patel,
an analyst accused of fabricating drug-test results.
-The crime lab received insufficient funding. Analysts were paid as much
as 40 % less than their peers in public crime labs in places such as
Kansas and Arizona.
-The DNA division did not ensure the quality of its work with regular
inspections, and analysts in the DNA and serology sections made numerous
errors in routine exams to test their basic abilities.
-Evidence was stored without temperature controls and, at times, was
exposed to leaking rainwater and rats that gnawed through boxes.
The team developed its findings based on a review of documents from the
police department and extensive interviews with personnel, including
former administrators such as Bradford, lab director Donald Krueger and
DNA division leader Jim Bolding.
The only person who would not meet with investigators, Bromwich said, was
former DNA analyst Christy Kim, who performed tests that helped send an
innocent man to prison for rape.
Bolding became the lab's only serologist in 1982 after less than one year
of training, he told investigators.
"He had not yet received any formal training in fundamental serological
techniques, including ABO blood typing," the reports states. "Mr. Bolding
told us that he 'took books home and did the best he could.' "
He went on to become one of the lab's highest-ranking supervisors,
overseeing the DNA and serology divisions.
Lack of supervision
Bolding said he knew the DNA division's "ship was sunk" when it went
without a key supervisor for 6 years, according to the report. Bromwich's
team cited the absence of that supervisor as a primary reason problems in
the DNA division, where undertrained analysts performed sloppy work in
poor conditions, went unchecked for so many years.
Bolding also told investigators that Baldev Sharma, another DNA analyst
who later was in charge of quality control, could not perform a widely
used technique for analyzing DNA.
Sharma also failed to identify semen on a sample because, rather than
perform routine chemical tests, he simply examined it with a stereo
microscope, according to the report. Chemical tests later revealed that
there was, in fact, semen on the sample.
But "by the time Dr. Sharma's error was discovered, the assistant district
attorney involved in the case already had agreed to a lesser-charge plea
bargain based on Dr. Sharma's original assessment," the report states.
HPD officials will talk with Bromwich about possibly reviewing Sharma's
work, Police Chief Harold Hurtt said.
The special investigator's report also shed new light on the previously
reported problem of 280 mislabeled boxes of evidence at the HPD property
room - including the revelation that evidence in 33 closed cases was
Poor evidence-keeping Beginning in the early 1980s, the crime lab and
police divisions stored some evidence in an HPD facility known as the
Volker Building, where rain leaked through the roof and windows, and rats
ate through some of the 283 boxes of crime lab evidence, according to the
The evidence was placed in new boxes and moved to the police property room
in 2000. However, the new labels on the boxes erroneously indicated that
each contained evidence from a single case when, in fact, each contained
Subsequently, while carrying out a routine destruction-of-evidence order
concerning only one case, property-room personnel unwittingly destroyed
evidence from 33 cases.
In a news conference Thursday with Hurtt, HPD Capt. David Watkins said
investigators have identified those 33 cases, which he described as
closed, nondeath-penalty cases from the late 1970s and early 1980s.
But Watkins, a liaison between the department and the special
investigator, said he could not say for certain whether any of the
destroyed evidence was important to a case on appeal or under review.
The investigation team also reported that HPD completed retesting recently
on more than 350 toxicology cases in which analyst Pauline Louie tested
blood and urine for drugs or alcohol. The retests were ordered in March
2004 after Louie failed a proficiency test.
An outside lab replicated her results in all cases except one, the report
says. In that case, Louie's conclusions appear to be correct but cannot be
confirmed, possibly because of a problem with the sample.
Bromwich and his team of lawyers and scientists now are moving into the
investigation's 2nd phase, which will include a review of about 2,000
crime-lab cases from divisions such as controlled substances, DNA,
ballistics and serology.
The team also will conduct an in-depth study of several controversial
cases, including those of Josiah Sutton and George Rodriguez, who were
released from prison after the discovery of errors in HPD's lab work, and
Nanon Williams, who was convicted of capital murder, partially on the
basis of faulty ballistics work.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Officials Ignored Houston Lab's Troubles, Report Finds
For years, while rain from a leaky roof contaminated evidence in the
Houston Police Crime Laboratory, and thousands of backlogged rape kits
from sexual assault victims went untested, city and police officials
turned their backs as the laboratory became a "shambles," tainting an
untold number of cases, an outside investigator reported on Thursday.
Officials even failed to take proper action when 2 laboratory analysts
were cited for four instances of fabricating scientific evidence, or
drylabbing, said the investigator, Michael R. Bromwich, a Washington
lawyer and former Justice Department inspector general called in by the
city to conduct the review.
The DNA section of the laboratory was shut down in scandal in 2002, but
other units continued operating and have been accredited under new
Wrapping up a 90-day investigation into general management problems going
back to 1987, Mr. Bromwich said he was now preparing a second phase
examining more than 2,000 criminal cases handled over the years by the
laboratory's 6 sections including DNA and serology, or bodily fluids. That
section is the only Houston unit still shut down, requiring the department
to send out its DNA evidence for analysis.
Yet to be determined, the report said, was whether the lapses were
"isolated breakdowns or only the tip of an iceberg." Among cases to be
studied were three high-profile convictions, including one for murder,
based on faulty laboratory evidence.
"The findings are extremely troubling," said Mr. Bromwich, a partner at
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, in an interview after presenting
his report. But he said, "Houston is not alone in having this problem." As
the Justice Department's top internal watchdog from 1994 to 1999, he
exposed sloppy work and false testimony by F.B.I. laboratory scientists.
Other state crime labs have also come under fire.
But some of the Houston's report's language was particularly scathing. By
the time a state audit in 2002 confirmed problems exposed by a local
television station, KHOU, Mr. Bromwich reported, "the DNA Section was in
shambles - plagued by a leaky roof, operating for years without a line
supervisor, overseen by a technical leader who had no personal experience
performing DNA analysis and who was lacking the qualifications under the
F.B.I. standards, staffed by underpaid and undertrained analysts, and
generating mistake-ridden and poorly documented casework."
By 2002, the number of untested rape kits had grown to 19,500, some dating
back to 1980, and the backlog is still about 10,000, the report said.
Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 flooded the laboratory, and in 33 homicide
and rape cases, employees were quoted as reporting, "this biological
evidence had become so saturated with water that they observed bloody
water dripping out of the boxes containing the evidence and pooling on the
In another location, the property room - where 280 cartons of misplaced
evidence from 8,000 cases dating back to the 1960's were discovered last
year - rats were found eating through evidence boxes.
The laboratory was established in 1953, but the report said the problems
multiplied in the 1980's with the growing complexity of DNA breakthroughs
and other advances.
A drug chemist who joined the laboratory in 1979, James R. Bolding, was
pushed up the ladder under former Police Chief Lee P. Brown, who later
became mayor, and his police successor, former chief Clarence O. Bradford,
to fill vacancies in serology, despite inadequate training, the report
It quoted Mr. Bolding as telling investigators he "took books home and did
the best he could." Mr. Bolding did not respond to a phone message left
with his son at home.
And Chief Bradford, it went on, refused to spend a City Council grant to
hire more workers because once the money ran out, the department would
have to pay them. His phone number has been disconnected.
Meeting with reporters after the report's release, the current police
chief, Harold L. Hurtt, said: "We know that we have to regain the public's
trust and confidence in our crime lab and its operation. To that extent,
we will do whatever it takes to make sure that we achieve that goal."
Mayor Bill White said he found the report sobering "because the city ran
the crime lab." It showed, he said in an interview, "that good scientists
are not always good managers and good managers and not always good
But he said he was encouraged by the growing accreditation of the
laboratory and cited an allocation for a new $10 million police property
Barry Scheck, a lawyer with the Innocence Project working on criminal
defense appeals in cases of questionable evidence, said he was eager for
the results of the next phase of Mr. Bromwich's investigation into
evidence reviewed by the laboratory. "They haven't even gotten to the good
stuff yet," he said.
(source: New York Times)
The expert panel looking into how the state crime lab handled DNA evidence
in scores of cases isn't redoing the tests. It's doing a desk review:
examining data from the tests and looking to see whether proper procedures
were followed, particularly in a special type of case, those in which very
small samples of DNA were examined.
That review was ordered by Gov. Mark Warner when an independent audit
found that in one high-profile case, that of Earl Washington Jr., the lab
deviated from those standard procedures. It was wrong, twice, in its
analysis of DNA samples when two different governors were considering
post-conviction claims of innocence for Washington, who was pardoned after
coming within days of being executed for a crime he did not commit.
If irregularities are found among the more than 160 cases under review,
including every death penalty case since 1994 relying on DNA evidence, the
state will find itself negotiating a legally and morally delicate path. If
there is a case or cases in which the lab deviated from proper procedures,
the decisions that must be made will focus first on whether evidence
should be retested, assuming there is enough to allow that. Then, based on
the results of new testing, there may be complications that could only be
speculated about at this point, depending on the case and what role DNA
testing played in it.
One case in which those complications have been sidestepped is that of
Robin Lovitt. The panel had to tackle Lovitt's case quickly, since his
execution date - July 11 - is quickly approaching. He was sentenced to die
for the 1998 robbery and murder of an Arlington pool hall manager. But the
panel's preliminary review found no indications of problems in the
original DNA testing, which had yielded inconclusive results.
That's good, since retesting wouldn't have been possible. Much of the
physical evidence was destroyed, wrongly, on order of an employee in the
Arlington County court clerk's office and with the approval of a judge.
Additional review may be ordered by Warner if, as expected, Lovitt's
attorneys file a clemency petition.
Inconclusive results. Evolving technology. Post-conviction confirmations
of evidence. These are the reasons the General Assembly, wisely, passed
legislation in 2001 requiring that biological evidence in death penalty
cases be retained until execution is carried out. At the request of
defendants or their attorneys, evidence in other felonies is retained for
up to 15 years.
Valuable lessons can be learned here: about the importance of preserving
evidence, of scrupulous adherence to procedures in testing that evidence
and of independent oversight of the lab that conducts those tests. The
rationale for all those practices is the same as the rationale for the
current scrutiny of the lab's handling of so many DNA cases: to safeguard
access to the truth.
Because unless judges and juries, prosecutors and defense attorneys have
faith in the lab's ability to perform and interpret tests with accuracy
and reliability, it cannot fulfill its mission in helping courts arrive at
the truth. And unless the public has confidence in the courts' ability to
do just that, they will have no stomach for permitting them to impose the
Judge refers murder charge to Suffolk grand jury
In Suffolk, prosecutors and lawyers for 33-year-old Korey L. Jacobs of
Suffolk made their cases Tuesday in what could become Suffolk's 1st
capital murder trial in 6 years.
In April, Suffolk police charged Jacobs, of Battery Avenue, with capital
murder after finding 48-year-old cook Terrence K. Britt dead in his
apartment April 1. Jacobs could face the death penalty for the charge.
Police also charged him with robbery and armed burglary.
During a preliminary hearing Tuesday, Judge James A. Moore found enough
evidence to move the capital murder and the robbery charges to the grand
jury, which may indict Jacobs when it meets on July 25. Moore reduced the
armed burglary charge to unarmed burglary.
After a night of smoking crack cocaine with friends and wandering around
downtown Suffolk on or about April 1, Jacobs went to Britt's apartment,
according to a statement read Tuesday by G.D. Myrick, the detective who
investigated the case. Jacobs, who was an acquaintance of Britt, kicked
the door open and got into a fight with Britt, Myrick said. Jacobs grabbed
a knife in Britt's apartment and stabbed him about 3 times in the back.
After the fight, Jacobs snatched Britt's wallet.
Jacobs told police that there was no money in the wallet.
Jacobs was arrested on April 1 after he was stopped by police because of a
damaged taillight on a truck he was driving. Police also charged Jacobs
with defective equipment, obstruction of justice and with being a habitual
offender. Jacobs was charged on several occasions in the past for traffic
violations. On Tuesday, his lawyers asked the judge to dismiss the capital
murder, robbery and the armed burglary charges.
"There is no evidence that he entered the apartment with the intent to
rob," said Nancy Kight with the Virginia Capital Defender office in
Norfolk. "It was a mere afterthought. It was not the reason for the
If the grand jury decides there is enough evidence to indict Jacobs, the
case will go to trial. This would make it the 1st capital murder trial in
Suffolk since 1999, said Diana Kling, the community outreach coordinator
with the commonwealth's attorney's office.
Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Will H. Jamerson said he expects the grand
jury to indict Jacobs on the charges. In the past 2 years the region saw
15 capital murder cases, according to the southeastern division of the
Virginia Capital Defender office.
(source for both: Daily Press)
Inmate awaits DNA tests
DNA testing sent Glen Gore to death row. Now he's hoping it will release
him, like it did two men wrongly convicted for the same crime.
Gore is waiting for the state Court of Criminal Appeals to rule on an
appeal for new DNA testing of a pair of jeans belonging to murder victim
Debra Sue Carter. The ruling is expected any day.
Pontotoc County District Attorney William Peterson said Tuesday he doesn't
think test results will make any difference.
"She was found dead with his semen and his hair on her," Peterson said.
"We've already done DNA. DNA is what convicted him -- his DNA."
The attorney general's office didn't oppose Gore's attorney's request for
more DNA tests, spokesman Charlie Price said.
"His attorney did approach us about doing some DNA testing, and we said
that would be fine for them to do," Price said.
Defense attorney Gloyd McCoy declined to comment on what, if any, tests
had been done. McCoy said he and Gore are waiting for the ruling.
"We're just continuing to try to vindicate Mr. Gore and doing the best we
can in representing him," McCoy said.
Gore was sentenced to die in 2003 for the 1982 strangulation of Carter,
21, who was found dead in her garage apartment with the word "Die" painted
on her body in nail polish.
Dennis Leon Fritz and Ronald Keith Williamson were convicted in 1988 of
killing Carter, but exonerated in 1999 after DNA tests showed it was
Gore's semen and hair found on Carter's body. Fritz had been sentenced to
life in prison. Williamson had been sentenced to death and once came
within five days of execution.
The 2 filed a $100 million lawsuit against several people responsible for
their incarceration. They were awarded an undisclosed settlement.
Peterson said he doubts that even if DNA from a third person was found on
Carter's jeans that it would result in a change in Gore's conviction. The
prosecutor said he thinks the tests are a waste of taxpayer money.
"Let's assume DNA is found on it that belongs to you, what difference does
it make? Does that mean you were there -- that you had something to do
with the murder?" Peterson said. "Somebody else's DNA doesn't have
anything to do Rwith Glen Gore."
Man pleads guilty in 2003 sniper shooting deaths
In Muskogee, a man charged with the 2003 sniper slayings of 2 Ouachita
Forest campers pleaded guilty Thursday.
However, Edward Leon Fields Jr. still faces a federal sentencing trial and
a possible death penalty.
U.S. District Judge Ronald White has set aside a week for jury selection,
beginning Tuesday, for Fields' sentencing trial. Up to two weeks of
testimony will follow.
Fields, 38, admitted Thursday that he shot Charles Glenn Chick, 47, and
his wife, Shirley Elliott Chick, 50, during a July 10, 2003, robbery at
the Winding Stair campgrounds in Le Flore County.
The victims lived in Hurst, Texas, where Charles Chick worked for
Lockheed-Martin. His wife was a freelance computer programmer.
Fields, who didn't know the Chicks, gave no reason for the killings and
didn't specify what he stole from the victim's van.
Shortly after the killings, Fields showed a friend a .22-caliber rifle and
a "gilly suit" consisting of burlap straps woven into clothing to serve as
Investigators suspected Fields of using that suit to sneak up on his
He pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of 1st-degree murder and 2 counts
of using a firearm during a violent crime, and single counts of robbery
with a firearm and auto burglary.
U.S. Attorney Sheldon Sperling said he couldn't speculate why Fields chose
to plead guilty without an agreement from prosecutors for a lesser
Fields' sentencing trial will be the 1st in a death-penalty case at the
Muskogee federal courthouse in 12 years.
In 1993, jurors declined the death penalty for John Javilo McCullah and
instead sentenced him to life without parole for his role in an interstate
drugs and murder conspiracy. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld
that sentence last week.
(source for both: The Oklahoman)
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