The Washington Post has two disturbing articles from yesterday and today about how hundreds of prisoners nationwide remain in jail for crimes they may not have committed and that Justice Department officials knew that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of innocent people.
So much for English jurist William Blackstone's axiom it's "better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." That was so 250-years-ago.
Innocent people went to jail, and at least one (Benjamin Boyle) was executed. And how did we first learn of this? A whistleblower named Fred Whitehurst, a chemist and lawyer who worked in the FBI's famed crime lab, who complained back in 1995 about the lack of impartiality and scientific standards.
We've all seen CSI on t.v. Forensic evidence is better than ever and supposedly results in greater sureness in convictions. But not if it came from the FBI crime lab when you have the tragic convergence of:
1) The Justice Department became aware of sloppy forensic work by examiners at the FBI lab, but reviewed only a limited number of cases, focusing on the work of one scientist (Michael Malone), despite warnings that the problems were widespread.
2) A Justice Department task force investigated for 9 years, but made the findings available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases.
3) Prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys in many cases they knew were troubled.
The Justice Department's excuse?
[Officials] said that they met their legal and constitutional obligations when they learned of specific errors, that they alerted prosecutors and were not required to inform defendants directly.News flash for the government: Prosecutors are part of the Justice Department.
This is inexcusable. Innocent people went to jail. Properly-tested DNA evidence clears Santae Tribble and Kirk L. Odom, both of whom have completed their sentences, are on lifelong parole. Key evidence at each of their trials came from separate FBI agents (and not Malone) who swore that their scientific analysis proved with near certainty that their hair was at the respective crime scenes. Donald Gates was exonerated by DNA testing after serving 28 years--a third of his life--for a rape and murder he did not commit.Benjamin Boyle, who would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the FBI's flawed work, was not so lucky. He was executed in 1997.
These defendants who remain in prison or on parole for convictions resulting from key DNA "matches" based on hair and fiber experts done by the FBI lab merit retesting of the DNA evidence, and possibly a retrial or exoneration.