Friday, April 24, 2009

Same song, different verse

Stop me if this sounds all-to familiar... a man, after spending decades in prison, based on forensic evidence examined and evaluated by the Houston Police Department Crime Lab, is eliminated as a suspect by independent forensic testing.
"This is yet another reason why we need an independent crime lab. How many more reasons will it take?" -- Pat Lykos, Harris County District Attorney

Gary Alvin Richard was convicted of rape and robbery in 1987 based, in large part, on testimony from James Bolding, a supervisor in the HPD Crime Lab. Ironically enough, an analyst named Christy Kim performed the lab tests. Ms. Kim was also the analyst who tested samples in the Josiah Sutton case (Mr. Sutton has since been exonerated). It turns out that the crime lab withheld exculpatory evidence that could have led to Mr. Richard's acquittal.

The victim identified Mr. Richard some seven months after the attack took place. Lab tests apparently came back with differing conclusions but only test results that confirmed Mr. Richard as the attacker were reported.

Mr. Richard's attorney, Bob Wickoff, is leading an investigation into 160 cases an independent investigator flagged as problematic.

This case, as well as other exonerations, points out what can go wrong when an investigation is tailored to prove a certain person committed an act. Of course it's always more efficient to start with your conclusion and cherry-pick the facts that lead you to it. However, it's much more intellectually honest to test the evidence and follow the trail to where it leads you.

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