Washington State Patrol officials will notify prosecutors in seven counties that drug evidence handled by a crime lab forensic scientist facing termination has been called into question, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The announcement comes nearly a year after an internal audit found flaws in 30 out of 100 Eastern Washington drug-analysis cases assigned to Arnold Melnikoff.
State Patrol Chief Lowell Porter pledged to meet with the state prosecutors association to discuss the group’s demand that the crime lab notify every county where Melnikoff’s work helped convict suspects in recent years — potentially hundreds of cases.
A Seattle Post-Intelligencer investigation found that state officials had not notified anyone that the April 2003 audit had discovered serious flaws in Melnikoff’s work at the Spokane crime lab. In 14 of the reviewed cases, retesting of evidence was recommended. Twenty-two defendants were convicted in 17 cases. Five are still in prison –all on convictions for manufacturing methamphetamine. The lack of notification prompted outrage from defense attorneys and legal experts who said the State Patrol and the Attorney General’s Office had a duty to disclose “potentially exculpatory” information.
Barry Logan, director of Washington’s Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau, said last week there was no reason to notify prosecutors because Melnikoff’s final conclusions were correct, even if he used improper procedures during the testing. The audit described Melnikoff’s overall drug-analysis work as “sloppy” and “built around speed and shortcuts.”