No analysts who worked in the Houston Police Department’s discredited DNA lab were qualified to do their jobs, based on national standards and a Houston Chronicle review of their files. The Chronicle says that only one of the lab’s DNA analysts had completed all the required college courses mandated by the DNA Advisory Board Quality Assurance Standards. None of the 11 employees had sufficient formal training to meet those standards, which Texas law requires all crime labs to meet by 2004.
Problems prompted the closure of the DNA lab in December and the review of hundreds of cases processed there. To date, 49 cases have been retested and significant problems have been found in 13. The city plans to reopen the lab next year.
All but one in the DNA section remain on the city payroll, though the DNA analysts are being retrained to perform other duties. Serologists, who prepare evidence for DNA testing, are still doing that work, though the DNA tests are now being conducted by an outside lab. The founder and former head of the DNA section, James Bolding, retired in June after the police chief recommended he be fired. Bolding did not meet the standards for the job. Among other things, he failed both algebra and geometry in college, though he later passed both, and he never took statistics.
In one of the lab’s most infamous cases, analyst Christy Kim made two mistakes that helped convict teenager Josiah Sutton of rape. He was released four years later when the mistakes were discovered. Kim had improperly analyzed a semen sample that would have excluded Sutton as one of the two rapists.
The Chronicle found that for entry-level jobs in the DNA section, the city required no experience, only a bachelor’s degree in biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics “or a related field.” Jobs were sometimes given to graduates with other degrees, such as chemistry and zoology. The lab hired two workers from the city zoo, one who had most recently been cleaning the elephants’ cages. Both had degrees — one in zoology, the other in biology. The biology major, Juli Blitchington, also had done DNA research, but only on insects. She was later reprimanded for misconduct for failing to properly inventory 202 kilos of cocaine brought in as evidence. Two kilos could not be located later.