Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Keystone Kops at the Crime Lab"

The title of this post is the headline from an excellent piece in Miller-McCune about problems at forensic crime labs, in which naturally the Houston crime lab figures prominently. But they also mentioned another Texas connection:

In West Virginia, criminalist Fred Zain showed just how much damage a compromised police forensics laboratory can cause. In the 1970s, Zain, a gun-toting West Virginia State Police officer, was assigned to the state crime laboratory as a serologist. He entered the job with minimal training, a corner-cutting attitude and a pro-prosecution bias. If the evidence appeared weak against a defendant whom Zain considered a sleazeball, the criminalist made the evidence look stronger by exaggerating or falsifying test results.

For many years, prosecutors did not publicly question Zain's competence or honesty; after all, he told them what they wanted to hear. Many defense lawyers, jurors and judges lacked the scientific knowledge to question Zain's results. As for Zain's laboratory colleagues, some maintained ignorance, while others suspected wrongdoing but feared the consequences of whistleblowing. ...

By 1993, the extent of the damage done by Zain had become so evident that a prosecutor petitioned the Supreme Court of West Virginia, requesting an investigation. The justices appointed James O. Holliday, a retired judge, to lead the inquiry.

Holliday filed a report that had to horrify anybody who believed in the integrity of the justice system. At least 134 cases relying in significant part on Zain's findings needed re-examination. In the end, Zain's misconduct led directly to the release of five West Virginia inmates and one inmate in Texas. (Zain had moved to Texas in 1989 where he worked in the Bexar County crime laboratory, [emphasis added] which serves greater San Antonio.)

Criminalists traveling from outside West Virginia to conduct a scientific inquiry for Holliday determined that Zain was guilty, among other misconduct, of:

  • Reporting "scientifically impossible or improbable results"
  • Stating that "multiple items had been tested when only a single item had been tested"
  • Offering "inconclusive results as conclusive"
  • Failing to report conflicting results
  • "Implying a match with a suspect when testing supported only a match with the victim"
  • "Repeatedly altering laboratory records"

Holliday concluded that evidence offered by Zain "at any time in any criminal prosecution should be deemed invalid, unreliable and inadmissible."

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

After such a long time working crime labs, it is going to be difficult to find all the cases on which he worked, and even harder to find all of the people he found 'guilty' with his results...

Boyness said...

The state will spend whatever is necessary to deprive you of liberty and possibly take your life if they see fit. The "scientific" labs used to help convict you are full of liars ready to manipulate the evidence to accomplish the same. Since almost no one accused of a crime has the monetary resources to properly fight, who has a gross unfair advantage? The state. God help any one of us who is ever accused of a crime that we did not do.

Informed Citizen said...

The focuse should be on the Keystone Prosecutors and Keystone Judicial Officials. ----------
To evade their overriding complicity in their crimes against THE STATE, and its laws that were intended to find them; they have been shifting the blame to the clerks in the crime lab and to "science", when it was science that exposed their treason & malfeasance.

Informed Citizen said...

typo: meant Laws intended to BIND them. ...........
In practice, they are no longer bound by the Law. And they have chosen to act dishonorably. ie; they will not voluntarily comply with the law.
They violate the law with impunity. We now live in a Land without Law, only the pretence of Law.
Yet we still address them as "honorable". What a joke.

gravyrug said...

This attitude is only exacerbated by the plethora of CSI and Forensic Files type shows on TV, where the lab workers are shown as heroic defenders of truth. That's what they should be, but even on the shows I've seen, there are moments that seem to me to be looking for specific results, rather than for the actual facts.

Anonymous said...

Very old, recycled news. You must be running out of people to trash.

Anonymous said...

"Very old, recycled news. You must be running out of people to trash."

Very uninformative and without merit, You must be the pride of the trailerpark!

Boyness said...

Anonymous said...

Very old, recycled news. You must be running out of people to trash.

6/18/2009 02:58:00 PM

----------------
Another Anonymous idiot. This is HUGE news. There is a major federal civil trial going on right now (TODAY) in Houston. At issue is the Houston Police Department's Crime Lab and a man who spent decades in prison for a crime he did not do. Pretty timely stuff unless you live in a cave or uhm a trailer-park!

michael connelly said...

similar news coming out of Oklahoma City.

http://www.okgazette.com/p/12776/a/4138/Default.aspx?ReturnUrl=LwBEAGUAZgBhAHUAbAB0AC4AYQBzAHAAeAAslashAHAAPQAxADIANwAyADkA

Anonymous said...

Good ending for this work week: Kent has been impeached. See http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_federal_judge_impeachment

Anonymous said...

Former Houston PD Chief and Mayor, Lee P. Brown (AKA Outta Town Brown),
testified in this trial that he did his best to prevent this mess and was totally unaware of the crime lab problems.
Someone needs to find the smoking gun memo to Brown.