Thursday, April 30, 2009

Houston crime lab only reported prosecution friendly evidence

New evidence in a Houston case may or may not exonerate a man convicted of rape, the Houston Chronicle reports ("Houston man likely to be freed after 22 years," April 30), but it definitely exposed egregious misconduct by Houston crime lab personnel:
A Harris County man who spent 22 years in prison for a rape that forensic tests now indicate he did not commit is expected to be freed Thursday.

Gary Alvin Richard's expected release is the latest case to discredit the Houston Police Department's crime lab, which has been under scrutiny since 2002 because of inaccuracies.

Prosecutors and Richard's defense attorney said they will ask a judge to set him free on bail. But the two sides differ on whether recent tests clear Richard of a 1987 rape conviction that resulted in a life sentence.

Defense attorney Bob Wicoff said the new tests prove his client's innocence. Prosecutors agree that the new results contradict crime lab evidence but said they do not know if Richard is innocent.

If cleared, Richard would be the fourth Harris County man to have his conviction overturned because of faulty forensics from the Houston crime lab.

His case was revived as part of a review of more than 150 cases involving questionable blood-typing evidence from the lab. Lawyers discovered in Richard's case that crime lab analysts had conflicting results, but reported conclusions favorable only to the prosecution.

This is another example of a "team spirit" mentality that contributes to many forensic-based false convictions. Houston crime lab workers apparently weren't acting as scientists seeking independent answers but considered themselves part of the prosecution's team, omitting lab results that might not favor the side they wanted to win.

Before this, in the most recent, previous exoneration in Houston, Ronald Taylor's false conviction also resulted from HPD crime lab errors; in that case, bad forensic analysis from the Houston crime lab corroborated an incorrect witness identification. These examples show how a too-close relationship between detectives and crime lab workers can corrupt forensic results. When lab workers are told too much information about the case - e.g., "a witness ID'd him and we just need you to confirm" - they go into the test with a bias about what the results should be.

Such lab errors (if you can call knowingly withholding exculpatory findings an "error") constitute double tragedies because not only does an innocent person go to prison, the real perpetrator cannot be brought to justice. In both cases, the statute of limitations had run out for the actual perpetrator by the time the exonerating evidence was discovered.

While Texas and Houston have both made initial investments and taken first steps toward improving forensic science (by spending money to boost capacity, e.g., and requiring accreditation), the state has yet to do what it takes to make crime labs more independent from law enforcement or figured out how to change the institutional culture that encourages this kind of behavior.

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Anonymous said...

Holy Crap! If it isn't hard enough to find justice in Texas to begin with, but here we have confirmed fact that Texas could care less who is gulty or innocent as long as they get that 'win'...

Pathetic, we will see this disappear eventually, some minor cog in the machine will be blamed, given the pink slip and it will all be 'fixed'..

Anonymous said...

LIARS...There are too many liars empowered to make life or death decisions in the Texas justice system. What continues to astound me is the total lack of outrage over exonerations or stories like this about the HPD crime lab. I am beginning to think that Texans truly don't care and this is just the "acceptable" way Texas fights locking up ANYONE to make the numbers look good. Pardon me while I barf!

Anonymous said...

Disgusting. Appallingly disgusting.

How do we get rid of these types of people in our "Justice" system?