Bitemark cases have become prime exoneration target as DNA cases nearly exhausted @CA_Innocence

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As the article states, post conviction DNA availability (numbers) have declined significantly. There are hundreds of “historic” bitemark aided convictions since 1975 which are potentially a rich resource of evidence necessary to overturned those decisions.

Lets just say that the US bitemark group from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences could care less about helping dig old cases out of their file cabinets. These dentists at the American Board of Forensic Odontology are indifferent to the Innocence Project’s proofs and others who agree that, since their inception in courts, bitemark opinions have damaged the US justice system and those they have accused to be perpetrators of heinous crime.

“The focus on overturning old-school forensics is part of what Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project, calls the “second wave” in the fight to overturn wrongful convictions.”

“First was the slam-dunk DNA cases; those opened the door to all this other stuff,” Brooks said. “Courts are now open to the conversation and are more willing to grant cases. That just wasn’t true 20 years ago.”

Read full article. 

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Forensics: What recanting bitemark experts tell us.

I haven’t been the only veteran bitemark expert to have debunked the rationale of matching bruises to human front teeth. There are a few others (not the guy in the pic holding the water bottle).

A Brit dentist did in 1974 (DG MacDonald). So did a Vermont dentist in 1971 (DT deVore). I did in 1996. Recently there are five more. All via post conviction recantations of their own original expert testimony from years-old cases. One is kinda weird.

Here, here and here. Here’s a recantation (the weird one) from Mississippi dentist Michael West. His boss, the MS Attorney General Jim Hood, seems to have ignored at recent proceedings for Eddie Lee Howard’s 4th attempt at freedom.

What’s happening now

The debunking of bitemark examiners is not over. Its a state by state process of eradication. Two state legislatures new “anti-junk science” statutes have subsumed bitemark critiques which have accelerated due to the exoneration efforts of the Innocence Project, its Network and independent defense litigators.

Many non dentists form the panoply of the criticism (irrelevant to the true believers saying only one of the own can reflect on the discipline) among whom are dozens of academically competent researchers, forensic experts, and science dedicated lawyers and professors. A massive coalition of this makeup constructed, via ASU Law Professor Michael Saks, a stunning “amicus brief” denunciation of the practice of bitemark “identification.” It is in use and is running through current bitemark reviews in Texas, California and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, I am the only forensic dentist to have been involved. That’s doesn’t mean other dentists were not invited. None volunteered. So, in effect, the bitemarkers are the cause of their own lack of involvement in collegial “scientific” discussion. Add to this mix their current reputation being synonymous with self-promotion and training to unsuspecting dentists with hot air promises.

Respected bitemark researcher Peter Bush (not a dentist) at the U of Buffalo, is included as well in the “amicus.” Peter and his dentist wife Mary Bush have been  key players in establishing the evidentiary reasoning and physical data as to why bitemark IDs are not reliable. Here’s a picture of one of Peter and Mary’s ( the male and female subjects on the slide screen) stalwart detractors beguiling the Texas Forensic Science Commission about biting machines. He derives income from teaching those novice dentists about bitemarks.

The passage of time

All of us have experienced encouragement and support in the beginning of our careers from the bitemark bunch. My areas have been expert reliability, legal thresholds for the acceptance of expert testimony (I’m also a licensed CA attorney)  and the application of digital imaging tools to crime scene photos. The group “hug” from the ABFO dentists for inquiring into aspects of the accepted practices of these dental crime investigators devolved into much scorn and bedevilment. That’s a story better said by WaPo’s columnist Radley Balko. Try his “Attack of the Bite Mark Matchers”

Ironically, between the Bushes and myself, we have accumulated (with contributors) over 35 peer reviewed JFS and FSI articles, multiple book chapters and commerically published book treatises.  The ABFO think-tank of leaders have little prominence (think citation value) in the bitemark literature through their non-research.

Those recanters?

Nothing “bad” has happened to by from the forensic community. Its just another non-event in its long process of total indifference to the existence of hundreds of other bitemark cases in the US criminal justice archives. This is the subject for next Monday’s blog.




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Illinois AG OKs a chink in the armor: Allows searching POLICE private emails and media.

This  is a great example how publicity and community action can force change in long established obstacles to fair investigations of police involved shootings. Its  an opening to see how law enforcement protects itself and/or is transparent and honest. It goes both ways. Once expected appeals from the police unions are overcome.

And this is in Illinois. Amazing.

“Chicago police officers’ emails discussing the Laquan McDonald shooting can’t be kept secret even though they were transmitted privately, a state official has decreed in what open-records advocates say is a solid step toward transparency on an issue that has roiled Illinois and reached as high as Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.”

Read full article

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Here we go again. New appeal case. Waukegan. Dead baby. “Missed evidence.” Kathleen Zellner

More info on this case. The DA expert doc never saw the child. Lied on the stand. His report was just shredded by def atty Zellner.

FORENSICS in FOCUS @ CSIDDS | News and Trends

Another example how weak physical evidence relating to COD, the baby’s prior medical history, the DA and Def atty’s fumblings, a courthouse with cops’ history of witness coercion with wrongful convictions, and a “new statement” from the DA’s pathologist, brings a new look to a post conviction hearing demanding a reversal.

It also brings Kathleen Zellner (new client defense atty) to spice things up a notch. (Zellner and another of her clients, Steven Avery at the top).

“Zellner has long asserted that Benjamin died of a prior head injury, possibly self-inflicted from his habit of banging his head on the floor.”

Read full article from the Chi Trib

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Here we go again. New appeal case. Waukegan. Dead baby. “Missed evidence.” Kathleen Zellner

Another example how weak physical evidence relating to COD, the baby’s prior medical history, the DA and Def atty’s fumblings, a courthouse with cops’ history of witness coercion with wrongful convictions, and a “new statement” from the DA’s pathologist, brings a new look to a post conviction hearing demanding a reversal.

It also brings Kathleen Zellner (new client defense atty) to spice things up a notch. (Zellner and another of her clients, Steven Avery at the top).

“Zellner has long asserted that Benjamin died of a prior head injury, possibly self-inflicted from his habit of banging his head on the floor.”

Read full article from the Chi Trib

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When the medical examiner seems to be, well, a bit off during his dotage, but still works.

Body of Evidence: Forgotten Forensics

What’s clear are the DAs from this state acting as if  that they can “handle” an expert with arguably diminished memory. Wanna bet it depends if his opinion benefits their prosecution? I also doubt that a gatekeeper judge would have precedent to fall onto in regarding an expert who still was licensed, had to his best “ability” participated in so many serious cases, yet had recanted on some of his own previous statements. So, who has the oversight regarding the mental capacity of experts?

What is ironic, is that the criminal justice system uses experts to determine mental capacities of defendants charged with serious crimes. Looking at persons who testify as experts giving “credible” courtroom information is not a huge step.

Imagine the lawyers arguing this one during death penalty litigation.

Meet forensic pathologist Roberto Bayardo

“Nobody knew, either, that Bayardo would go on to make critical missteps, walk back autopsy findings and have an unexpected impact on several major murder cases in the years to come. And nobody knew Bayardo would keep testifying in court after his retirement, and that his memory could potentially present problems in court.”

Full article


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Forensic Science commentaries and articles for the week – starts off with Prosecutors


Joshua Sudock/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Opinions and Commentary and the Bad Side of Criminal Justice

California Bill Would Make It a Felony for Prosecutors to Withhold Evidence

Spurred by a series of botched murder cases  and little accountability, a California lawmaker wants to rein in prosecutorial misconduct. Californian’s so disposed should talk with their state reps. I have.

Full article

Blood Left at Scene Can Indicate Criminal’s Age (nothing wrong with this if the validity testing runs true).

Blood biomarkers could help investigators narrow down a pool of suspects more quickly

Scientific American 

Poll Shows Millenials Increasingly Worried about Police brutality and Criminal Justice (Good)

We can assume wrongful convictions (50% helped by forensic wits) are included in the CJ category.

Full article

Stealing from the drug locker (bad)

A forensic scientist admitted Monday in U.S. District Court that she stole as many as 700 pills from 50 separate specimens of evidence submitted to Oregon State Crime labs over two years.

Nika Elise Larsen, 36, pleaded guilty to two counts of obtaining a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud and deception.

Larsen, who began working for the state in May 2007, admitted that she stole drugs, including morphine, hydrocodone, methadone and methamphetamine, while processing and overseeing cases. An investigation found Larsen took the pills in Umatilla County between December 2013 and November 2014, and in Deschutes County between November 2014 and Aug. 27, 2015.

Thanks to the NY DNA Legal Aid Society @celiagivens

Following the 2014 NY State Police crime lab scandal, the Albany Times-Union writes: “Citing an unrelated lawsuit brought by some former lab employees, State Police won’t talk about the backlog… That backlog, says a retired lab director, stems from the agency’s refusal to implement new computer software for DNA analysis, for reasons that are unclear. Among the possibilities that have been offered is a concern that the new, more precise DNA process could refute previous work at the lab, jeopardizing some convictions.”

Responding to the Iowa forensic analyst who was fired for racial bias, the Midwest Innocence Project wrote a Letter to the Editor in the Des Moines Register, stating: “This is an opportunity to ask for measures to protect forensic scientists by incorporating blind forensic testing in protocols, which will protect results from racial or social bias (intentional or not), and from the natural functions of the brain that seek to make sense of our observations. This assures unbiased analysts do not have to work in the shadow of mistrust. Blind results can let science speak for itself.”

From the Orange County Register: “We should not be encouraging police to take DNA evidence from everyone they encounter and building a massive biometric database, particularly with evidence from innocent citizens…Police officers are not scientists, but even if the Rapid DNA system is easy enough for anyone to use, experience with the roadside drug tests has shown that the results can be far from reliable, resulting in the incarceration of innocent people. Until greater accuracy of such testing can be verified, Congress and local police should not even consider authorizing or using them.”

Scientists lack consensus on accuracy of fingerprint and voice recognition technology. notes, “The widespread and strongly held belief in the uniqueness of human voices and other physical features characterizes and exacerbates a chronic general problem: people misunderstand the nature and significance of quantitative scientific evidence.” (

Privacy battle continues after FBI Director James Comey announces plans to address Congress about 650 locked phones that law enforcement cannot access because of encryption (Ars Technica)

In his remarks to the American Bar Association last week, Comey stated: “We have never had absolute privacy in this country. Cars, safe deposit boxes, our apartments, our houses, even the contents of our minds—any one of us, in appropriate circumstances, can be compelled to say what we saw.”  Mar Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) offered a counterpoint address to the gathering, noting “I will concede Mr. Comey has a problem with his 500 phones, but he should be concerned that consumers have a problem with their 3 million phones that would be subject to misuse [without strong encryption].”
Related: New Technique Could Help Law Enforcement Collect Smartphone Data

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The remembrance of lynchings in Alabama contrasted with US politics

Is it clear what a difference a few years make in Alabama?

How big was the crowd at Donald Trump's Alabama rally?

How big was the crowd at Donald Trump’s Alabama rally?

“It was one of the greatest events Mobile ever put on aside from Mardi Gras,” said Colby Cooper, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s chief of staff.

Now for a recent remembrance (250 people) of Alabama’s connection to racial violence. 

Between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. EJI has documented more than 4000 racial terror lynchings in 12 Southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950 — more than 400 of these victims were lynched in Alabama.

Read more:

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Gideon redux. Elite lawyers avoid Supreme Court criminal cases. Leave it to novices.

Tony Mauro

How Bad is Criminal Defense Advocacy at the Supreme Court?

A long-simmering problem in U.S. Supreme Court practice is gaining new attention: the allegedly sorry state of advocacy at the court on behalf of criminal defendants. As the Supreme Court relies more and more on the specialized Supreme Court bar, criminal defendants are still represented mainly by “novice” advocates. Some dispute the magnitude of the problem, and any possible remedy may run up against the long-standing culture of resistance by criminal defense lawyers who are loath to give up cases they have handled for years. READ MORE »
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Shocking. How long it took to debunk the FBI’s use of hair – Brandon Garrett

Santae Tribble is just one of many hundreds of victims of junk forensic testimony.

Its a long read, but this journal article (in Litigation of the American Bar Association) by Professor Brandon Garrett runs the true story about the decades of effort it took to get rid of the debunked (to most of us) use of innocent people’s hair to falsely convict them of crimes. The piece is a tribute to those who advocate the sustainable use of “science” in criminal courts. Nothing short of a national system of command and control of forensic testimony is needed.

Bad Hair- Garrett

A here is another example of the effects of over-blown optimism of people who call themselves forensic “scientists” without showing scientific protocols.

NJ sent people to jail with junk science. Now we owe them justice | Editorial 

Dion Harrell wrongly convicted of rape in 1988 has the charge appears in court to have the charge exonerated. After 27 years trying to clear his name, Harrell has the conviction thrown out with the results of the DNA test. Harrell appeared before Superior Court Judge Ronald Lee Reisner in Monmouth county in Freehold. August 3, 2016

The Star-Ledger


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