A high-ranking police ballistics expert who testified throughout Maryland and neighboring states killed himself after being confronted with evidence that he had lied about his credentials, says the Baltimore Sun. The revelation could force new trials for some of the hundreds of people he helped convict. Joseph Kopera, head of the Maryland State Police firearms unit, claimed on witness stands to have degrees that he never earned, state police acknowledged yesterday. Questions regarding the longtime firearms and toolmarks examiner’s credentials were raised by state public defenders working with the Innocence Project, who represent defendants they believe have been wrongfully convicted.
The Innocence Project said Kopera forged at least one document to justify his qualifications. Said an Innocence Project staff member: “It does make you wonder what else was going on. It’s very, very disturbing, to put it mildly.” After being questioned by state police, Kopera, 61, a 37-year firearm examiner, died from a self-inflicted gunshot March 1. “The potential problem cannot be overstated,” said Thomas Fleckenstein, a former prosecutor. “There will be a lot of prosecutors having a lot of heartburn.”