The military's premier crime lab has botched more evidence testing than was previously known, raising broader questions about the quality of the forensic work relied on to convict soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
Now, two senators want the Pentagon to open a full investigation. If they start looking, Pentagon officials will find that the crime lab's problems extend beyond one discredited analyst.
The scrutiny comes after McClatchy published a series of stories detailing how a former longtime forensics analyst at the Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory made false statements and mishandled dozens of tests.
A follow-up McClatchy investigation reveals that a second lab analyst, responsible for firearms, was fired for making a false statement and destroying evidence. The lab subsequently had to review 541 firearms cases to make sure they were thorough, properly conducted and met legal requirements. Ultimately, officials determined that none of them needed full retesting.
More recently, a third lab analyst, who handles fingerprints, was found to have erred in at least three cases, one involving murder.
But the previously undisclosed problems go beyond discredited or flawed individual analysts. Some lab employees "do not like . . . (the) leadership style" of a top lab manager, an Army official said in a court deposition in March. Six discrimination or retaliation complaints have been filed against lab management in the past three years. One was filed by the lab's former chief attorney, who had helped oversee previous internal investigations into the lab's mistakes.
"The problem is not with just one person, but systemic," said David Sheldon, an attorney for a former Navy man who is challenging the lab's work in an appeal to the Supreme Court. "It's as if (the lab) has had no oversight, and one has to seriously question whether or not it can effectively police itself."
The Atlanta-based lab, commonly known as USACIL, serves all the military branches, handling evidence in more than 3,000 cases a year. The director, Larry Chelko, has been in charge since 1993.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Mounting errors at military crime lab
Since Grits has focused quite a bit on forensic errors and problems at Texas crime labs, I thought I'd mention that similar problem have surfaced at the main military crime lab, which has a tangential home-state angle because of all the military bases here. From McClatchy newspapers, the story opens: