Source: The Toronto Star
Crime lab hit by new scandal: Forensic tests under scrutiny
Houston problems may affect 10,000
NEW YORK TIMES
NEW YORK—The police crime laboratory in Houston, already reeling from a scandal that has led to retesting of evidence in 360 cases, now faces a much larger crisis that could involve many thousands of cases over 25 years.
Six independent forensic scientists, in a report to be filed in a Houston state court today, said that a crime laboratory official — because he either lacked basic knowledge of blood typing or gave false testimony — helped convict an innocent man of rape in 1987.
The panel concluded that crime laboratory officials might have offered "similarly false and scientifically unsound" reports and testimony in other cases, and it called for a comprehensive audit spanning decades to re-examine the results of a broad array of rudimentary tests on blood, sperm and other bodily fluids.
Elizabeth Johnson, a former director of the DNA laboratory at the Harris County medical examiner's office in Houston, said the task would be daunting.
"A conservative number would probably be 5,000 to 10,000 cases," Johnson said. "If you add in hair, it's off the board."
The official whose testimony was challenged, James Bolding, said in a telephone interview that he did not recall the particular case. But Bolding said that both his scientific work and his testimony were always careful and professional. When he testified in 1987, he was the supervisor of the laboratory's serology unit. He later became the chief of its DNA unit.
His testimony helped convict George Rodriguez, who has served 17 years for raping a 14-year-old girl in 1987. DNA results have now cleared him, according to court-ordered testing, and the papers to be filed today will seek his release. As in many of the 146 DNA exonerations across the country, the new information also calls into question the scientific evidence used to convict Rodriguez in the first place.
A re-examination of the Houston crime lab work that's already under way has produced a staggering workload.