Thursday, October 15, 2009

'Scent lineup' evidence may be used in Anthony Graves' capital case

Jordan Smith at the Austin Chronicle reports that Fort Bend Deputy Keith Pikett's dogs generated a scent lineup hit in a 17-year old capital murder case. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Anthony Graves' conviction three years ago because the state withheld information that its lone witness had recanted. But prosecutors have still been hot to go forward despite the rather profound lack of evidence. Now Deputy Pikett's dogs have given them more ammunition, but will also likely cause more delays:
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:


Karo said...

So if Mr. Pikett claims a "match" on 17 year-old burned evidence shouldn't that fact itself be proof that Mr. Pikett's technique is full of poo. Might as well using a diving rod.

Texas Maverick said...

Nonetheless, prosecutors including with the Texas Attorney General's Office –

The TX AG's interpretation of state law and of the policies and practices of state agencies is valuable and that is part of the job, but it seems these decisions are more and more being questioned and the office must take a defensive posture; almost one of defend our decision at all costs. It is as if they are saying, "we couldn't possibly be wrong". Perhaps we need to look closely when the election for the AG position comes up for vote.

Anonymous said...

wow i just don't understand it seems like every test that anthony graves takes it is something wrong with the test first it was the lie detector test that he failed twice then it was the line up with the dogs its something wrong because it is 17 years old and it comes from a burned house what next i mean how many excuses or you guys going to come up with before you see this man for who he really is i know what will work take a moment out your busy day and get on your knees ask God that is if you know him ask God to show you this man for who he is. oh and lets see now when was robert carter telling the truth was it the 1st story he told or the 2nd one i often wonder why would robert lie on poor little anthony whom he says he didn't even know but yet he was very close cousin with cookie roberts wife and you don't know her husband okay out of all the people in this great big world anthonys name just drops out the sky why they both lied and anthony is still lieing he is really making you all look like dummies up there defending him and he knows what he has done oh and one more question or you all trying to prove that anthony is not guilty because you say the state has no evidence or because he is innocent can you prove that he is innocent instead of trying to prove that the state can't prove that he is guilty oh i know wish way it is suppose to go the state has the burden of proof but will that say that he is innocent or are you fighting to let a man out that really killed those poor little babies how could you live with your selves if that was to happen and he gets out and kill again oh because given that chance he will kill again be careful and prove his innocence not rather the state can't prove he is guilty is he really innocence thats my question? can you prove that

Anonymous said...

i feel this case has gone way out of context it appears that one team is fighting the other in trying to say who will win, and no one is focusing on is this man a murder or not i mean did he really do this and if he didn't can you prove he didn't or can you prove that the state has no evidence to prove he did what is most important at this point all i know is anthony has been saying he didn't do this from the beganing how and why would robert carter lie on him why would he make a deal with the state about not bring his wife in if would testify against anthony how did he come up with his name and if his wife wasn't in this why would he make such a deal even if it is true or not i think the pressure should be on his wife that is when the whole truth and nothing but the truth will come out and we all will see these people for who they really are they all are killers and need to burn in hell for what they done to those innocent helpless people.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:30/7:58 - Junk forensics like lie detectors and scent lineups are dangerous to the public. If they accuse the wrong person, it's not just that an innocent person can be punished, the guilty go free.

I'm glad science is beginning to evaluate outdated forensic methods. It's long overdue and in the end the justice system will be better as a result.