Authorities on Friday identified an ironworker with no criminal record as the suspect held in jail for four months in 1996 after the Houston Police Department's troubled fingerprint analysis unit wrongly tied his fingerprint to a homicide, records show.Perhaps most telling about the whole episode: The guy responsible for the misidentification 14 years ago is still with the department and still the source of problems.
In July that year, two Houston fingerprint analysts identified Manuel Quinta Guerra's fingerprint on a bloody fork found at the scene of a slaying in southwest Houston. The next day he was arrested, booked into the Harris County Jail and held on $20,000 bail. Guerra wasn't released until December, when the FBI confirmed the print belonged to someone else, according to the Harris County District Attorney's Office, which discussed the case Friday. The killing is still unsolved.
HPD leaders were not aware of the misidentification until the Houston Chronicle brought it to their attention this week.
The discovery raises questions about whether there could have been more misidentifications by the unit in the 1990s, although police say they don't know of any.
It also focuses attention on whether the department's review of fingerprint evidence spanning 2004-2009 should be expanded. It was launched after an audit last year found lab employees were missing viable fingerprints on evidence. Police say they know of no misidentifications except for Guerra's, although they have identified vast technical errors in the unit's analysis of fingerprints.
Fingerprint analyst Rafael Saldivar, one of the people responsible for the 1996 misidentification, received a reprimand this spring for destroying notes. He was also reprimanded in writing in 1997 for his role in the misidentification.
Police will not say whether they'll expand the review of fingerprint evidence and declined comment Friday on Guerra, saying they were reviewing the case.
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