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Special master urged for Houston crime lab review
Posted: August 21, 2007 2:27 pm
In testimony yesterday before two Texas House of Representatives committees, the independent investigator who recently completed an extensive audit of Houston’s crime lab called for the appointment of an independent official to review cases for possible retesting.
Michael Bromwich, a former U.S. Justice Department Inspector General, found extensive problems with training and testing at the Houston lab during the two-year review he led. Bromwich yesterday repeated his call for a special master to evaluate more than 600 cases in which inconsistencies were identified by the audit. But Houston’s mayor, police chief and district attorney, have all rejected Bromwich’s request.
(Police Chief Harold ) Hurtt and (Harris County District Attorney Chuck) Rosenthal again rejected the idea of appointing a special master.Read more about the history of the Houston crime lab scandal in previous blog posts.
Rosenthal said his office has already contacted the judges in almost 200 cases where problems with evidence analysis may have affected the outcome.
He said those judges will appoint attorneys for defendants who want one, and they will go through the evidence.
Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 08/21/2007)
Read about the exoneration of George Rodriguez, which helped uncover the problems in the Houston crime lab.
Tags: George Rodriguez
Legal help scarce in cases uncovered by Houston lab audit
Posted: September 10, 2007 2:30 pm
Nearly five years after the Houston Police Department suspended DNA testing due to the discovery of lab errors, dozens of defendants who may have been convicted based on faulty forensic evidence have received little legal assistance. An extensive independent audit of the crime lab, conducted from 2005 to 2007, found at least 61 cases in which forensic analysts had made errors in reporting their findings. And a Houston Chronicle investigation released yesterday shows that defendants in two-thirds of these cases have received little to no legal help in determining how their convictions could be affected by the faulty testing.
The Chronicle found 24 cases among the 61 in which attorneys appointed or hired to represent people in the crime lab controversy have taken little meaningful action with new test results. In 15 other cases, defendants received no representation at all.
Robert Hayden, convicted in a 1994 assault, discovered six months ago while searching the Internet that investigators had found major issues with the DNA testing in his case.
"No one contacted me or asked me if I wanted an attorney," said 48-year-old Hayden, who completed his sentence and now lives with family near Atlanta. "All I want is to have an independent attorney look at this on my behalf."
Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 09/10/2007)
At least two people – Josiah Sutton and George Rodriguez – were exonerated after DNA testing proved that Houston lab analysts testified incorrectly in their cases. Read more about the Houston crime lab scandal and audit.
Tags: George Rodriguez, Josiah Sutton
George Rodriguez celebrates two years of freedom
Posted: September 27, 2007 7:00 am
Saturday marks the second anniversary of George Rodriguez’s exoneration. Rodriguez, who was wrongfully convicted of rape and kidnapping, served 17 years of his 60-year sentence before DNA testing proved his innocence. His wrongful conviction was based largely on faulty analysis of hair and other biological evidence by the Houston Police Department crime lab.
The faulty forensic testing involved in Rodriguez’s case helped bring to light the unsound practices of the Houston crime lab. In 2002, all DNA testing at the lab was stopped after an audit raised questions about the integrity of the lab’s work. Following Rodriguez’s exoneration, a more thorough probe into the lab’s practices began. This examination revealed over 400 cases in which lab work was flawed.
Read more about the recent audit of the Houston crime lab.
Other exoneration anniversaries this week:
Today: Frederick Daye, California (Served 10 years, Exonerated 9/27/1994)
Tags: Frederick Daye, George Rodriguez
Houston inmates ask to reopen their cases
Posted: November 2, 2007 3:20 pm
During the last two weeks, groups of inmates convicted of crimes in Harris County, Texas, gathered at various state prisons for a conference call with officials in Houston. The court representatives were asking the inmates if they would like to have their cases reexamined due to possible forensic errors at the troubled Houston Police Department crime lab. Most inmates said “yes.”
In July, an independent auditor completed a review of hundreds of cases handled by the crime lab. The audit’s report identified 180 cases with “major issues” in forensic analysis. Of that group, 160 inmates have been offered legal representation and a case review thus far. Ten additional inmates are out of prison and will be contacted. The remaining 10 were executed. This review stems from the problems first identified in Houston’s crime lab in 2002. The Innocence Project has recently called for community support to review hundreds of additional Houston cases (beyond the initial 180) where serology in the crime lab was incomplete. Last month, Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor was released from prison after DNA testing showed that he did not a commit for which he was convicted. Taylor’s conviction was caused, in part, by incomplete serology work at the crime lab. Two people – George Rodriguez and Josiah Sutton – have been exonerated by DNA testing after they were wrongfully convicted based partly on faulty testing in the Houston lab.
The cases being reviewed, some which date back to the 1980s, include several death row inmates and others convicted of violent crimes such as robbery and rape.More news:
While some of the inmates simply said "yes" before shuffling back to their cells, for others it was more emotional.
"Some of them wanted to start talking about their case right away," said Bob Wicoff, a Houston defense lawyer assigned to lead the review. "One of them told me, 'I've been waiting for this day. I love you.'
Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 11/02/07)
VIDEO: A Houston news report today raises questions about current, ongoing problems at the Houston Police Department crime lab, based on allegations by a former lab analyst that officials at the crime lab ignored proficiency standards. Watch now. (KHOU, 11/02/07)
Read more about Ronnie Taylor’s release last month and the ongoing review of Houston lab cases.
Tags: George Rodriguez, Josiah Sutton
DNA testing suspended as more problems emerge at Houston crime lab
Posted: February 1, 2008 5:05 pm
The Houston Police Department again closed its DNA testing section last week after the lab’s chief resigned due to problems with the accreditation of lab analysts. Vanessa G. Nelson, the former chief of the Houston Police DNA lab, submitted her resignation earlier this month after it was revealed that she had improperly coached analysts on open-book proficiency tests. This is the second time in recent memory the lab has closed due to scandal. The Houston Police Department was closed from 2002 to 2006 after major flaws in testing procedures were revealed. An independent audit completed last year found that hundreds of convictions had been based on testing that was incomplete or may have been flawed.
And a Houston Chronicle article this week revealed that Nelson, the departed lab chief, had been hired subsequently by the state to oversee DNA testing in a Texas Department of Public Safety lab.
State Rep. Kevin Bailey, who sat on a committee that investigated problems in the DPS labs in 2003, said he was troubled that the agency would hire Nelson before the HPD cheating investigation was complete.
"It is shocking, to say the least, that they would hire someone who was giving out test answers," the Houston Democrat said. "The integrity of these DNA labs is so critical. Their work has life-and-death consequences."
Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 01/29/08) DNA testing has overturned three wrongful convictions caused, at least in part, by faulty testing at the Houston Police Department Crime Lab. Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor was released late last year after DNA tests proved that he didn’t commit the rape for which he had served 12 years in prison. His conviction was based partly on faulty tests conducted at the Houston lab. Read more about last week’s lab closure here.
Download the full report of the external lab audit completed last year.
Tags: Texas, George Rodriguez, Josiah Sutton, Ronald Taylor
Houston crime lab implicated in another possible wrongful conviction
Posted: April 28, 2009 5:00 pm
Twenty two years after being wrongfully convicted for a rape and robbery in Texas, a Houston man may be released on bail this week on the heels of new DNA tests proving his innocence.
Gary Alvin Richard was arrested for the January 1987 attack of a 22-year-old nursing student and was convicted based largely on evidence processed by the Houston Police Department crime lab, the same lab that came under fire in 2002 after local reports raised questions about the quality of DNA testing. According to the Houston Chronicle, there are a number of problems with Richard’s case:
The victim identified him some seven months after the attack. HPD crime lab analysts came to conflicting conclusions about the evidence, but reported only the results favorable to the case. Physical evidence collected in what is known as a “rape kit” has been destroyed, a victim of poor evidence preservation practices, leaving nothing for DNA testing now.During his original trial, HPD crime lab supervisor James Bolding testified that Richard was a non-secretor, meaning that analysts would not be able to determine Richard’s blood type through his body fluids. However, while tests done last week confirmed that semen from the rape kit came from a non-secretor, it also showed that Richard is a secretor. Therefore, the semen found on the rape kit could not be his.
Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 4/24/09)
While Richard’s defense claims that the blood tests prove his innocence, prosecutors aren’t as sure. The Houston District Attorney’s office concedes that Richard should be released on bail, but has said that it is too early in the reexamination process to clear Richard of all charges. Three Harris County men have already been proven innocent through DNA testing after mistakes at the HPD crime lab led to their wrongful convictions: Josiah Sutton, George Rodriguez and Ronald Taylor.
Read more about the history of the Houston crime lab scandal in previous blog posts.
Tags: Texas, George Rodriguez, Josiah Sutton, Ronald Taylor, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing