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.




About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
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