new "evidence" that the state is seeking to use against Graves will likely cause yet another pretrial hiccup. Specifically, prosecutors this summer brought in Fort Bend County Deputy Keith Pikett to conduct a "scent lineup" – a practice of dubious scientific validity that was recently the subject of a scathing report from the Lubbock-based Innocence Project of Texas. This type of lineup, with dogs supposedly matching a scent from a crime scene to a scent collected from a suspect, is junk science, the Innocence Project charges, while questioning Pikett's techniques in conducting the dog-led lineup. The procedure has indeed been implicated in a number of wrongful arrests and convictions. According to the report, released Sept. 21, Pikett has no formal training in the practice – nor does he apparently think any is necessary. Pikett has testified in court (in a matter unrelated to Graves) that there is no need for formal training or for scientific rules or protocols when conducting such lineups, and Pikett has rejected the importance of scientific studies regarding scent identification. Nonetheless, prosecutors across the state – including with the Texas Attorney General's Office – have relied on Pikett for "expert testimony" in a number of criminal cases.
In the Graves case, Pikett's dogs apparently "hit" on two items of clothing evidence taken from the scene of the 1992 murders – linking them to Graves' scent during a lineup conducted in a parking lot. But the validity of those results is hardly credible, says Scardino. For starters, the evidence was collected from a burned-out house 17 years ago and then was part of evidence that was "lost" for years, until the state finally found it among a host of evidentiary items that had been stored in a cell in the old and unused Caldwell jail. The notion that the evidence has not been compromised and that dogs could smell Graves on two of six items presented to them by Pikett is simply ludicrous, says Scardino. The "evidence was burned," she said, and Graves' "scent wouldn't be on evidence after it burned." Scardino said Graves' defense team has not yet filed a motion seeking to exclude the evidence but is likely to do so. Given Towslee-Corbett's rulings thus far, Scardino isn't confident that Pikett's evidence will be excluded. But if it's allowed, she said, the Graves team has a nationally renowned FBI expert who will take it apart in court.
To Scardino, the bottom line is that the state has no case against Graves but is going to extremes to pretend that it does: "It's junk science," Scardino said. "I am embarrassed and ashamed of my fellow lawyers who would agree to use that kind of evidence in a case where a man could die."
This would be an excellent case for Texas appellate courts to reexamine precedents related to dog scent lineups and start getting this type of garbage forensics out of Texas courtrooms.
See prior, related Grits coverage:
- CNN profiles cop wrongly accused by dog scent lineup
- A 'scent lineup'? Rover in the witness box
- DNA exoneration indicts Rover in the witness box
- 'Scent lineups stink to critics'
- 3 false convictions relied on dog-based scent lineups in Florida
- Scent lineups by dogs don't pass the smell test
- Texas Innocence Project vetting dog scent lineup cases
- Evidence mounts against dog handler, scent lineups
- Texas Innocence Project report discredits dog 'scent lineups'
- More innocent people accused by dog 'scent lineups,' but FBI now using technique