Bite mark expert defends his methods as good for the court system without scientific validation

Use this as a counter-point to the recent Associated Press investigation on the failure of bite mark comparisons as a reliable forensic science. Over at the Bite Marks Evidence blog, David Averill posts this incredible video used in a 2011 CNN report and commented by Radley Balko at the Agitator in which bite mark specialist Lowell Levine defends bite mark testimony as “important and viable.” But when asked if there’s a way it can be validated with the scientific method, he responds, “I sure can’t think of it.” .

More recent comments from the small cadre of “elite” bite mark experts of the American Board of Forensic Odontology will be the focus of future articles here at

Radley writes:

It’s telling that Levine would be considered one of the country’s most respected bite mark witnesses. He too nearly helped convict an innocent man. From a 2004 article on bite mark testimony in the Chicago Tribune:

. . . a team of Massachusetts State Police officers turned to Levine in hopes of solving the gruesome murder of Irene Kennedy.

The 75-year-old grandmother had been beaten and stabbed two dozen times while on a morning stroll with her husband in a park outside Boston. The killer, who attacked Kennedy when she and her husband briefly took separate paths, left a bite mark on her breast.

The investigators drove from Boston to Levine’s office. Explaining the circumstances of the murder, they asked him to compare photos of the bite mark on Kennedy’s body with a copy of a mold made from the teeth of a suspect, Edmund Burke . . .

. . . in a sworn deposition taken in the lawsuit, Levine testified that after studying the materials in his office, he told the waiting officers he could not exclude Burke but would need additional information for a more definite opinion.

Three days later, Levine went to Boston to examine more evidence, asking police to provide him with enhanced photos of the bite wound. They did, and that, Levine said, was enough.

In his deposition, Levine said he concluded “to a reasonable scientific certainty” that Burke had left the bite on Kennedy’s breast.

Police searched Burke’s home, and arrested and jailed him. The county prosecutors called the bite mark the “most compelling evidence” in the case.

Less than six weeks later, though, officials had to admit they were wrong. DNA taken from saliva recovered on the bite mark was analyzed. A genetic profile was obtained, and prosecutors said it was not Burke’s. He was set free.

Levine insisted in the January 2003 deposition that he had been correct when he linked the bite mark to Burke, although he also hedged a bit, saying he had never made a definitive “match.”

Under questioning by a lawyer for Burke, who sued the police and Levine after he was cleared, Levine stood by his bite-mark analysis.

“Do you think he bit her breasts?” attorney Robert Sinsheimer, who represents Burke, asked Levine in the deposition.

“I think with a high degree of probability he did,” Levine said. He offered possible explanations for why the DNA did not match Burke, including that police who had handled the crime scene contaminated the DNA.

He also noted that another prominent forensic odontologist, Dr. Ira Titunik of New York, had examined the evidence and concurred in his opinion. Titunik confirmed that he had informally examined the evidence and agreed with Levine.

But then Levine’s analysis took another hit. In June 2003, some five months after Levine testified under oath and held fast to his bite-mark analysis, police announced they had made another arrest in Irene Kennedy’s murder.

The genetic profile derived from the bite mark, the police said, had been entered into a database. It hit on a convicted murderer.

About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
This entry was posted in Bad Forensic Science, Bite Marks, Bitemarks, CSI, Forensic Science, Wrongful Conviction and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Bite mark expert defends his methods as good for the court system without scientific validation

  1. csidds says:

    Reblogged this on FORENSICS in FOCUS @ CSIDDS | News and Trends and commented:

    Strange but true: When non science forensics nonsense shows up in the media.

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