10,000 Cases May Be Checked In Houston Lab Scandal

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Houston’s police crime lab, already in a scandal that has led to retesting of evidence in 360 cases, faces a much larger crisis that could involve many thousands of cases over 25 years, says the New York Times. Six independent forensic scientists, in a report to be filed in a Houston court today, said that a lab official – because he either lacked basic knowledge of blood typing or gave false testimony – helped convict an innocent man of rape in 1987. The panel concluded that officials might have offered “similarly false and scientifically unsound” reports and testimony in other cases. It called for an audit spanning decades to re-examine the results of a broad array of rudimentary tests on blood, semen, and other body fluids. Elizabeth Johnson, a former director of the DNA laboratory at the Harris County medical examiner’s office in Houston, said, “A conservative number would probably be 5,000 to 10,000 cases. If you add in hair, it’s off the board.”

The official whose testimony was challenged, James Bolding, did not recall the particular case but said both his scientific work and his testimony were always careful and professional. In 1987, he was the supervisor of the laboratory’s serology unit. He later became the head of its DNA unit. His testimony helped convict George Rodriguez, who has served 17 years for raping a 14-year-old girl in 1987. DNA results have cleared him. As in many of the 146 DNA exonerations across the country, the new information also calls into question the scientific evidence used to convict Rodriguez in the first place. Barry Scheck, an attorney for Rodriguez’s lawyers, said Harris County was the worst place in America for a crime laboratory scandal. “We know already that they couldn’t do DNA testing properly,” he said. “Now we have a scandal that calls into question many thousands more cases. And this jurisdiction has produced more executions than any other county in America.”

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/05/national/05houston.html?hp

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