September 16, 2014 Leave a comment
Though hundreds of been sent to death row based upon it, bite mark forensics, as it has been typically practiced, is complete bunk (great piece on it in this Frontline). Yet when it comes to cases where the bite marks were the key to conviction, courts have been loathe to overturn, lacking other compelling evidence (e.g., DNA). Excellent NYT story on this troubling issue:
Mr. Howard had a history of mental illness and he made a series of seemingly incriminating, if contradictory and irrational, statements that made him the prime suspect. Though no confession was recorded or written down, he reportedly told one police officer that “the case is solved” and that “I had a temper and that’s why this happened,” even as he said that six others were involved and he failed to recognize Ms. Kemp’s house.
Three days after Ms. Kemp was buried, the medical examiner had her exhumed so that Dr. West could look for bite marks using a fluorescent light method he had developed. He said he found three bites and — without showing any photographs or other evidence — testified at trial that Mr. Howard was the biter “to a reasonable medical certainty.” …
The death sentence was reimposed and the Supreme Court has refused so far to reopen his conviction. In a 2006 ruling, the court said: “Just because Dr. West has been wrong a lot, does not mean, without something more, that he was wrong here.” [emphasis mine] The court did agree in 2010 to order DNA testing of the knife and other crime scene objects, with new results described as exculpatory in Mr. Howard’s newest appeal.
Just to be clear, this is nuts! While there may be some limited use for bite mark analysis when done in a dramatically more scientifically rigorous manner (as this article details at the end), as used in this case and hundreds of others it is nothing but junk science. It is as if the Supreme Court has said, well, we know there’s really nothing to phrenology and alchemy, but maybe the expert phrenologist was right. Seriously?! This is the level of logic of the f****ng Supreme Court?!
Criminal Justice American Style :-(.