Saturday, August 08, 2009

'Nuther exoneration implicates Houston PD crime lab

While I was away from the blog this week, Texas saw its 42nd DNA exoneration, this time out of Houston - another case stemming from flawed analyses from the Houston PD crime lab. Here's the New York Times' description:
It was a scene replayed with alarming frequency in Texas: a 46-year-old man walked out of prison here Friday afternoon after spending 23 years behind bars for a sex crime that the evidence suggests he did not commit.

The man, Ernest Sonnier, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison largely on the strength of the victim’s testimony, even though the forensic evidence gathered from her body and clothes showed that someone with a blood type different from the defendant’s had raped her, lawyers from the Innocence Project in New York said.

“It’s just sloppy science, at best,” said Alba Morales, who represents Mr. Sonnier.

Over the last 18 months, genetic testing of evidence found on the victim’s clothing and at the scene of the attack had yielded no trace of Mr. Sonnier, the Harris County district attorney’s office said. Instead, it has implicated two other men. Both are felons and known associates. One is awaiting trial for a different rape.

In light of the new evidence, Judge Michael McSpadden of Harris County District Court on Friday ordered Mr. Sonnier to be released pending further investigation, a first step toward exoneration, which under Texas law can be granted only by the state’s highest criminal court. ...

Texas leads the nation in cases in which convicted men have been exonerated through DNA tests. Thirty-eight of the nation’s 241 people cleared since 1989 were convicted here, according to the Innocence Project, a charity dedicated to such cases.

Another four Texas inmates — among them Mr. Sonnier — have been released from prison but are still waiting for to have their convictions overturned.

Mr. Sonnier’s case is the latest in a string of faulty convictions linked to the Houston Police Department Crime Laboratory, the center of a long-running scandal over sloppy procedures.
Given that one of the men implicated in the crime is awaiting trial for another rape, one wonders how many more victims were racked up in the years since Sonnier's false conviction? I don't know the answer, but apparently at least one too many.

4 comments:

Boyness said...

After reading the voluminous report on HPD's crime lab, we will dwarf Dallas County in DNA exonerations. Harris County is just getting warmed up.

The report says convictions over an entire decade are questionable and the shadiness doesn't stop with DNA. A term used by scientists called "drylabbing" in which staff made up reports without testing evidence sending people to prison happened here on several occasions.

The report specifically mentions hundreds of questionable cases tested while this rogue lab was in operation.

All of this begs the question, where in the hell was the oversight? You cannot convince me that people just had no idea this was happening until KHOU-TV reported it.

Shady City...Shady State...is anyone in Texas really guilty?? Of course they are but honestly, how can we be sure?

Vox Populi said...

this gets kinda close to the point ALWAYS MISSED. IF we're going to pretend that dna is the be-all end-all then labs must be above reproach. Which means that every human in them must be above reproach.
Neither of these two things are the case.
DNA is the pinnacle of the basis for selective prosecution.
You're a poor lab-tech. Without morals. Or even with a few. What would it take to throw a test? Redistribute some DNA? Sell some from a state database to a dirty cop? Or even just make things up.
I've never heard of dry-labbing. New to me.
People should really wake up about this.

Boyness said...

DRYLABBING: Fabrication, in the context of scientific inquiry and academic research, refers to the act of intentionally falsifying research results, such as reported in a journal article. Fabrication is considered a form of scientific misconduct, and is regarded as highly unethical. In some jurisdictions, fabrication may be illegal.

The word falsifying used above should not be confused with the legitimate and essential activity of finding and sharing evidence that contradicts a hypothesis (see falsifiability) but is used in the sense of deliberately presenting known false information as true with the intent to deceive. Neither should the concept be applied to a scientist or a group of scientists deceiving themselves; this behaviour is sometimes called pathological science.

Examples of activities which constitute fabrication include:

* Outright synthesis of experimental data; reporting experiments which were never conducted. Sometimes referred to as "drylabbing".[1]
* "Fudging", "massaging", or outright manufacture of experimental data.
* Inappropriate, and statistically invalid, "culling" of experimental data, such as the intentional exclusion of experimental runs which contradict the hypothesis the scientist is trying to demonstrate, or excessive filtration of "noise" which suggests a correlation where none can be shown to exist.
* Intentional portrayal of interdependent events as independent.
* Ordering subordinates or research assistants to participate in any of the above.

In addition, some forms of (unintentional) academic incompetence or malpractice can be difficult to distinguish from intentional fabrication. Examples of this include the failure to account for measurement error, or the failure to adequately control experiments for the parameter(s) being measured.

Fabrication can also occur in the context of undergraduate or graduate studies, wherein a student fabricates a laboratory or homework assignment. Such cheating, when discovered, is usually handled within the institution, and does not become a scandal within the larger academic community (as cheating by students seldom has any academic significance).

I HAD NEVER HEARD OF THIS UNTIL I READ THE HPD CRIME LAB REPORT...

Vox Populi said...

dear boyness, thank you !

Of course my understanding is enriched and I will copy it and study it. Now, my next question, of course ... is if someone is going to be thrown into prison or exonerated after this filthy practice ... why would it not always be A CRIME???? MY GOD.
Is this some kind of joke?
I have long been decrying the use of DNA for pardoning because of this drivel. I mean it's letting some innocent (we hope) people out. Thank god. BUT, through this deception even more will go in. AND although many seemed to miss this: that company DHL which was the yellow vans with the big red letters? Very ugly. They were very intrusive people and rude. In Florida they were 'losing' evidence of obviously guilty parties' murder trials on the 'way to the retrial'. ummm. hmmm. So this guy here got out of prison on a murder charge. 'he just killed a prostitute'. As if that's not murder.
What I'm saying is they appeared with the bush regime and then went back to imagine your surprise germany when he finally left office.
So a lot of guilty people were probably set free in this fashion. I'll just venture that guess. AND with the states collecting DNA from everyone that goes to jail it's kinda obvious that they'll be 'finding' evidence until the cows come home if you step wrong according to someone in a position to f you over. Which these days ... there's a long list.
Thanks for your time. I appreciate the info. I will look for the link to this report. Florida is shady enough without total scumbags having access to someone's dna to leave at a crime scene and/or just pay a lab tech to ummm fabricate.