Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fingerprint mismatch led to false homicide accusation

Here's a remarkable story casting light both on a) the power of fingerprint evidence and b) its higher-than-expected error rate, from the Houston Chronicle ("Fingerprint error led to 4 months in jail," June 19):
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.

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.
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.

See related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

Ho hum...A mistake made 14 years ago that was actually caught and corrected in 4 months is hardly indicative of any systemic problem a decade and a half later. As an aside, failure to recover latent prints is something far different from misidentification. Once again, the Houston Comical has gone out of its way to suggest a problem in the criminal justice system where none appears to exist. But then again, when the editor-in-chief goes to bed every night with a flaming anti-death penalty criminal defense lawyer, what should we expect? That paper has absolututely ZERO credibility on criminal justice issues. What a joke!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, there are already other indications of systemic problems. Misidentification is a problem, systemic or not, particularly since it took the FBI to catch the mistake. Before now, Houston could (and did) claim they'd never misidentified anyone, but if there's one there might be more.

Anonymous said...

I bet if they look hard enough, The Chronicle can find some mistakes that were made in the 19th Century too. Stop the presses!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If the same guy wasn't still working there and still being reprimanded for sloppy work, you might have a point.

Anonymous said...

Thank heavens for civil service. His employment is guaranteed, competent or not.

TDCJ EX said...

We should not look a false convictions o caused by incompetence or worse deliberate wrong doing to put a person in prison . I suggest any one who thinks we should not be righting wrongs take the place of the falsely and wrongly conviction prison . It is a big deal that a increasing number of people are in prison wrongly . I would rather pay for that than more cops
Yes it is areal big deal if fingerprint evidence is deeply flawed and are just more junk science .

Now it is the Huston Chronicles fault ? This getting really bizarre .

I cannot image being locked up for something I did not do and not being able to gain my freedom that has to be horrific beyond belief . Any one who thinks it is not a big deal to be in prison wrongly is both sick and lacks any human empathy whatsoever . That would make you a sociopath .

Maybe by the time we are dome we will find a lot of people have been sent to prison wrongly is that was anonymous Asshole fears?

I think The anonymous asshole wants to make himself the issue . .Or has as very serous psych issue and as psychologists and psychiatrists call it decomposing . I have a a image of him sitting in his moms basement veins bulge out of his neck and face turning read as his blood pressure increase with each comment he disagree with and has deluded himself into thinking a commenter means things they do not . His mouth is foaming as he yells at the monitor and spittle flies on to the key board and monitor in ever lager amojts as his anger riseto a state of uncontrollable psychotic rage . . Maybe he should take a break . I don't think he has had such a online ass kicking or he is one masochistic SOB

Sorry anonymous asshole bu the world has moved in 2010, you are just a bitter pathetic wingnut and ate terrified of rapidly changing demographic which is gong to make you the minority in less than five years . What will you do them . when Us Hispanics are the majority in south west? You can go to Alaska . Oh wait they do not have a death penalty or a life sentence ! More likely you will be moving to Rusk

You have received a Blog slapping anonymous asshole .

TDCJEX said...

I mean we should look into flase convictions

Anonymous said...

Started to take your blog seriously until I read you worked for ACLU and innocence project. Ha, ha,

The only reason the bum ident was ever caught is because the original examiners made the call, then had some doubt and wanting to do the right thing, called the FBI themselves to have an outside party verify their findings. The only systemic problem in the lab is that our examiners were too conservative to keep from making possible bum hits and were way overworked and under supported. Ask HPD if the Chief of Police has steered any of the Houston Police Foundation funds to the Latent Print Lab (or the Crime Lab for that matter) for equipment or facility upgrades that the Chiefs knew were needed. The remaining examiners are still to this day being denied requests to attend professional continuing education such as IAI conferences, etc. Do an open records request and see for yourself. They find money for things they want to support (i.e., SWAT, Mounted Patrol, Patrol, K-9, Helicopters, TAC Units).
Support Operations gets left in the dust.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So 11:34, the equipment is inadequate, the employees poorly trained, but there's no "systemic" problem? Interesting.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, indeed--how can you possibly take someone seriously who worked for the ACLU and the Innocence Project? Must be one of them thar bleedin' heart liberals that are ruinin' the country fer God fearin' law and order Americans.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure most sane Americans will say that the ACLU is one of our country's biggest systemic problems.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Grits thinks OJ was innocent too...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:46, you'll be happy to learn then that I haven't worked for them for years and when I did a bunch of race baiting liberals ran me out on a rail.

And your little OJ addendum just shows you couldn't argue these points credibly if you tried - you're just ricocheting off different culture war touchstones, utterly disassociated with the topic at hand and probably reality, from all the outside reader can tell.

If you can't discuss the topic credibly, try not to fill up comment strings with a bunch of unrelated crap about OJ and the ACLU. If you must troll, troll on topic.

R. Shackleford said...

What brought the under-educated law and order brigade out today, on a Sunday, no less? Shouldn't you annies be bouncing your pointed heads off of the linoleum in some fire and brimstone church somewhere, maybe hatching a plot to execute some more mentally handicapped folks? How can you be so devoid of empathy, and so blindly supportive of such a seriously flawed system? Houston is fubar, on many levels, and locking an innocent man up for any length of time is anathema to the spirit of the Constitution and what used to be the American Way itself. But I see that lots of you folks would rather have a dubious 'safety' at the expense of innocence, which is part of the reason the justice system is so skewed. You shame yourselves and the spirit of what once was a great state.

kay sieverding said...

Speaking from experience, the assumption is guilty until proven innocent, not the opposite. I became aware of this when Elizabeth Wittemyer in the 14th Judicial District prosecuted me for accusing Kevin Bennett, city council president, of violating the zoning. There was no warrant, no arrest, and no statement of probable cause. Jane Bennett signed a criminal complaint as a police officer even though she was only Bennett's wife. After keeping the charges open for 6 months during which I refused to plea bargain, Wittemyer dismissed the charges and then told the press that Jane Bennett was my "victim" but a trial was too expensive. Wittemyer's husband is a real estate developer so it was good for them to have Bennett owe them a favor.

Bennett pled guilty and served time for conspiracy to sell hash but he kept that secret when he was in public office and the police reported to him. The three extra buildings he built at 701 Princeton Ave still aren't on the property tax rolls but he has got to keep them and my life and reputation were ruined. Based on Jane Bennetts' criminal accusation, Routt County Judge James Garrecht issued a statute-less order that if Jane Bennett could get within 30 feet of me I would be put in jail for 18 months. Jane Bennett followed me around asking the police to arrest me. She filed a police report saying she followed me thru a store trying to take my picture so that I would be put in jail for being near her.

Bennett's lawyer, as shown by his attorney bills from 2003, consulted with the city attorney, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and Ken Salazar who was then CO AG, about Bennett's NCIC records. However, Bennetts' lawyer got former judge Naughty Nottingham to ratify a NO PRO SE recommendation justified on the basis that I filed in court in 2003 that Kevin Bennett was probably involved with illegal drugs. Then Bennett's lawyer asked Judge Naughty to imprison me for petitioning to another court, which Naughty was glad to do. DOJ held me for 5 months without a criminal charge, arraignment, bail hearing, speedy trial notice etc.

I don't believe that DOJ is an honest organization. I sued DOJ for imprisoning me without a criminal charge. DOJ pled in federal court that I deserved to be imprisoned without a criminal charge. I emailed to DOJ counsel David Rybicki and asked him DOJ's position on discovery of the statutory basis of any charges against me. He was "opposed". If you don't believe me look up on PACER US Courts District of Columbia Case 1:09-cv-00562-JDB Document 47-2 Filed 11/12/2009 Page 26 of 141
DOJ and Judge Bates say DOJ is not liable for creation of Prisoner Tracking Records without a criminal charge because DOJ publishes in the Federal Register that it uses Prisoner Tracking Records when people are convicted of a crime and therefore DOJ has immunity to detain anyone without a criminal charge.

The USMS doesn't verify the accuracy or completeness of Prisoner Tracking System records. OIG warned USMS that there Prisoner Tracking System records are open to fraudulent use but DOJ doesn’t use computer systems to verify data with USCourts and it doesn't issue the reports about data matching required by 5 USC section 552a(u). That makes it easier for DOJ to hurt people and extort people by threatening to jail them if they don't do what they are told.

It is well documented that crime labs produce results that are requested. Also, if matching these smears and patterns were so easy, why are there so many misdiagnosis of cancer? The accuracy of pap smears is only 80%.

Anonymous said...

When liberals can't win the argument they just spout off about conservatives being "under-educated". Very weak. In this case Shackleford must have been referring to TDCJ EX by the looks of that "trolling comment string". I think he blog slapped his own post.

TDCJEX said...

Anonymous asshole : You really do not understand what this blog is about do you . You really are that goddamn ignorant arrogant and so rigid in your beliefs that you cannot comprehend that anyone will believe differently than you .

One I have given a argument .I it's just easy sport to humiliate ignorant assholes like you Why can't I both give a argument and get to slice and dice you while I am at it. If your going to come on here and troll hey you should accept that your gonna get your scrawny little ugly butt handed to you and be blog slapped. Hell you come on here and toss out insults and twist everyone words and think that they are just going to take it ? You are either seriously delusional or just enjoy trolling .Hell If you enjoy being kicked around and humiliated by all means continue . If you think that every one is withe4rr gong to agree with you or tolerate your abuse you are in for a grim life
That road leads directly to prison eventually .It is just a matter of time before you take things too far .

But back to the topic . It is a systematic problem is not isolated to Harris county . It is a nation wide problem .That has more to do with who goes into the field and the fact that most so called “ forensic science” is junk science with out any credible research to back it up almost all of it has been discredited by those “liberal academics “ who actually test this using these
scientific method and none of it can with stand the scrutiny only DNA has been shown to have any credibility outside of have an very high quality audio video recording of the entire event .

Please explain why the justice system is not broken beyond repair and needs o t be completely replaced .
What is wrong with saying we have gone badly wrong and that many innocent people are in prison and many people are in prison for far too long ,That prison is a failure . and find way to hold people accountable that work and reduce recidivism a Why not find out what causes crime and take care of that instead of mass incarceration ? If the system is wrong and broken fix it . If we cannot admit It we asa society have problem . It will come back to bite us big time if we don't fix it fast .

You are just pathetic loser and asshole who is very psychologically messed up an needs help before you hurt some one in your delusional state . you are very clearly decomposing rapidly and make increasingly incoherent comments . Seriously get help . Your inane rants have nothing to do with the fact that legal system is a serious failure headed for disaster . So what od ypu sugest more of the same ?

If you have issues ( you have lots of issues) as is apparent with Prison talk I suggest that you go there and take it up with them . I am sure they will welcome your comments. This is not that site .

Anonymous said...


They've got Lava soap on sale for your foul mouth that neeeds cleansing!

Clean up the language here Grits!

Anonymous said...

I agree Grits. How about a language filter? As much as I frequently disagree with you, at least you are literate, can spell correctly, and express your thoughts without engaging in language one typically hears in a Walmart parking lot.

R. Shackleford said...

Nope. Talking about you and your ilk, annie 2:26. TDCJ EX's grammar might be somewhat rough, but I find his grasp of these kinds of situations to be dead on, and obviously hard won. You guys are getting to be a real hindrance to any meaningful discussion around here. Your insults and juvenile comments are turning this blog (which I usually enjoy and learn from) into a running battle of feeble minded jeers and petty bullshit. This is the place for reasoned discussion, not party line spouting intolerance. There are plenty of other places to gibber on about how great this (horribly flawed) system is, do us all a favor and go play with each other there.

R. Shackleford said...

And frankly, this isn't a blog for children, it's a blog for grownups who are worried about the direction of criminal law and process in this county and elsewhere. We are allowed by law (so far, anyway, enjoy it while you can) to say whatever we damned well please using any combination of words we choose, even if they offend your lily white ears. Put your big girl panties on and pretend you're mature enough to look beyond some cussing. You whiny babies.