FORENSICS in FOCUS @csidds |Feb 28 | Dirty work in the Georgia Accredited DNA lab leads us where? The “Stocking Strangler” case.



This mantra translates to,  “trust us we finally got it right.” The subject is the “gold standard” of  forensics: DNA processing. From the Georgia state managed crime lab. In the South. The defendant is Carlton Gary, dubbed the “Stocking Strangler.” He is at a hearing arguing for a new trial on one of seven murders. He was convicted years ago. Try 1986. He missed execution in 2009 because of this appeal. My last blog was about the unsure bitemark expert involved in this same hearing.

“Houston, I mean Decatur, ‘we have a problem’.”

Excuses are emanating from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) crime lab (from supervisors and others) on blood evidence goofs that are very disappointing. Here is a partial litany of them. This Georgia state system of crime labs is ASCLD certified. There are 194 state lab under the ASCLD wing as of 2014. 

1. There is contamination from crime lab misdeeds involving one of the murders. This is in the form of a control DNA sample being confused as Gary’s actual profile.

2. This was discovered when an analyst took an accurate profile of Gary and checked it to a GBI profile previously submitted to their own DNA archive some years ago. She got a surprise. The archived sample wasn’t Gary’s.  She crossed checked this unknown profile IN the database  TO  the database and found hits from a second murder and another unassociated case. Many states do not allow/ or argue against in post-conviction ligitation. When permitted, the NY Innocence Project has identified the real perp in about 20% of their 311 exon cases: in a total coincidence, Mark Godsey blogged  this same subject on Wednesday.

The total contaminated cases are 3.

3. All this testing extinguished all the available DNA samples from the murders.

Now here’s another rub and purely a lawyer’s strategy to bolster what seems like a fatally flawed scenario. 

The prosecutor resorted to a “fluctuating blood type secretor” (those in the human population who secrete their blood type markers in blood, saliva and sweat) opinion from the original trial. This is some type of “fall back” position if the judge takes the “tainting defense’ to heart. A pros serologist named Wegel says, as quoted in this article:

“Wegel acknowledged Wednesday that Gary is a secretor, but said he believes secretions fluctuate, so Gary may not have secreted much of the marker at crime scenes. Under that premise, Gary could not be excluded as the strangler, Wegel said.”

This is biological tool that predated DNA that isn’t used much anymore for obvious reasons. 30% of the population could have been suspects as well.  There is no data I can find (I’m not a biologist) about “fluctuating secretion rates” in the literature. Though I have heard about “fluctuating hormones.” Seems meaningless to me despite this retired serologist’s “belief” and “may haves” that his “cannot exclude” has identification value. It is obviously NOT an identificaton. Similar overstatements of forensic findings are seen throughout criminal forensic cases (try bitemarks and such) and are a current subject for the NCFS and Congressional investigators.

Here is the full article. I am hoping more on this case next week.

Now onto more forensic news ============================================================

1. Dog Scent lineups go to the pound.

2. Just like “Bones”? Anthropologist contradicts medical examiner’s testimony on women’s death. 

3. Battling forensic experts. Too bad courts unable to tell the good from the bad. Or really care.  None have taken a science course in their lives. The blood evidence in this case was botched from the start. The biologist from another “leading provider of forensic services” has a novel way of combining microscopic blood trace to make a reliable profile. According to him, anyway.

4. One more shot at it. I can’t get this one at all. The Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial does NOT include forensic “science.” Legal technicalities and culture trump everything. Here’s another very myopic ruling not limited to MS. (from CA.)

5. Virginia state crime lab expansion starts. 

6. Rapid (90 minute) DNA analysis (just the profiling) AT the crime lab. Not “in the field.”

7. CT: More victims of violent crime complain about years long delays at police crime lab. This time it’s a death case. Maybe marijuana cases come first? They call this “forensic Purgatory.”

8. OR: Last second prosecution reveal of crime lab report irks (and that’s all: i.e. its  “harmless error” not prosecutorial misconduct) a judge. Later on, expect a blood spatter wizard to talk about “comparing” bleach stains. I wonder where this is compiled in the IAI compendium research.

9. Supreme Court denied cert (review) two cases involving more legal semantics: namely, are forensic reports considered “testimony.” Similar cases yet to be considered for cert. 

10. A very good read on the questionable to incompetent statistics prevalence in forensic science. Implications for the NCFS to review. From the Innocence Project blog.  Here’s an example from the bitemark “research” world I recently blogged on the very same subject.

11. CRIMINAL LAW: Opinion on the bilateral Congressional negotiations on federal minimum sentencing reform. The article describes the problems with it since 1986

This is echoed by a local Chicago NAACP chapter. Read the statistics. 

12. From the UK. Their legal defense attorneys are going indigent themselves from no funding.

13. Prosecutorial misconduct assertions (from the defense Bar) against a DA flies the fur. 

About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
This entry was posted in criminal justice, expert testimony, forensic testimony, National FOrensic Science Commission, police crime labs and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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