Wednesday, February 24, 2010

CA prosecutors dismiss high-profile case based on false results from Texas forensics expert

A speaker at today's Indigent Defense Summit referenced a high-profile case dismissed in northern California this week after it was discovered that Houston-area forensic lab called Expertox allegedly generated false lab results that were later debunked by multiple other scientists.

The speaker from the San Mateo County private defender office used the case as an example why attorneys for indigent defendants need access to money to hire experts. In this instance, he said, if attorneys hadn't had resources to secure specialized labwork from France and elsewhere, they couldn't have debunked what turned out to be faulty (and possibly fraudulent) labwork performed in Texas.

Interested in the local connection, I Googled and found this account of the story from the San Jose Mercury News ("Molestation case against San Carlos man dropped," Feb. 22), describing dismissal of all charges against a fellow:

who was arrested and charged in 2007, adamantly denied all of the allegations and is currently in divorce proceedings with his wife, defense attorney Geoff Carr said.

Carr said Monday's decision came after the defense raised doubts about the credibility of lab results from a forensic expert in Texas who tested a sample of the woman's hair for GHB.

"It's pretty damn clear what we've been saying for some time is true, that this lab had fraudulent results," Carr said.

Carr said the expert's results showed very high levels of the drug, while a lab in France hired by the defense showed naturally occurring levels of GHB in the woman's hair.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said prosecutors intended to call a Southern California expert to explain the discrepancy between the Texas and French lab tests. But Wagstaffe said prosecutors discovered last week that a third forensic expert in Hayward also tested the hair before it went to Texas and similarly cast doubt on the Texas lab's findings.

"This expert over in the East Bay did not believe the results from Texas were reliable," Wagstaffe said. "With that information, it became apparent to us this was not evidence we could rely on in attempting to convict a man."

Another story declared that "labs in France, Canada and Chicago who looked at the [Texas lab's] work said it was 'completely wrong and actually fabricated,'" identifying the scientist who performed the tests as Dr. Ernest Lykissa.

Indeed, Lykissa's results were so problematic that it's possible they'll result in their own criminal case: "Prosecutors have also not ruled out criminal charges in the chain of events which led to the test results on which they based their case," reported the San Mateo County Daily Journal yesterday. Today's speaker also said it was his understanding prosecutors are considering charges against the Texas scientist.

Beyond the links provided, I don't know anything about the lab or this case and perhaps there'll turn out to be a good explanation for the error. But that was a pretty big bomb dropped at the summit in the midst of an otherwise mundane discussion of indigent defense economics!

1 comment:

Ryan Paige said...

"But Wagstaffe said prosecutors discovered last week that a third forensic expert in Hayward also tested the hair before it went to Texas and similarly cast doubt on the Texas lab's findings."

So they had results yet the sent the sample out to be tested again?

Kind of a Mike Nifong approach to forensics. Keep testing until you get the answer you want (even if it means finding a lab willing to fabricate evidence when none exists, or as in the Duke case, fail to report evidence favorable to the defense).