Texas Case Highlights Problems With Blood Evidence

Joe Bryan, a former Texas high school principal, is serving a 99-year prison term for the murder of his wife, which he probably didn’t commit. The case illustrates the issues surrounding dubious experts in bloodstain-pattern analysis.

Joe Bryan, a former high school principal from central Texas, is serving a 99-year prison term for the murder of his wife, Mickey, in 1985, a crime he probably didn’t commit, the New York Times argues in an editorial calling for his release. Bryan is behind bars because of tiny specks of what may or may not have been blood on a flashlight that may or may not have been planted in the trunk of his car. The evidence was introduced at trial through the testimony of a questionable expert witness. As a two-part series published by the New York Times Magazine and ProPublica lays out, there was no other physical evidence or motive tying Bryan to the crime. He was convicted on the word of detective Robert Thorman, who testified as an expert in bloodstain-pattern analysis. Thorman was certified after taking a weeklong course that now costs as little as a few hundred dollars.

A 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences found that “the opinions of bloodstain-pattern analysts are more subjective than scientific,” and, “The uncertainties associated with bloodstain pattern analysis are enormous.” It’s a good bet that there are other Joe Bryans in prisons because of highly unreliable forensic testimony, the Times says. The NAS report found significant problems with other kinds of forensic evidence, including  bite marks, tire treads, arson and hair samples. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has long sided with prosecutors and rejected efforts to look more critically at forensic sciences, let a national commission on the subject expire last year. This year, the Texas Forensic Science Commission imposed on Texas a requirement that bloodstain-pattern analysis be performed by an accredited organization, which should make it harder for prosecutors to introduce testimony by analysts with minimal training and qualifications.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Hypnosis Evidence Challenged in TX Death Row Cases

Some states ban the use of evidence gained from hypnosis, but Texas still embraces it. Two death row inmates are challenging it as “junk science.”

Hypnosis is a matter of life and death in Texas, the Dallas Morning News reports. Texas has the most robust U.S. forensic hypnosis program, training police officers across the state to sharpen or recall crime witnesses’ lost memories. As more states ban the practice, Texas law enforcement turns to it at least a dozen times a year. Two Dallas-area death row inmates are arguing it’s time to stop. Their executions have been delayed as they fight convictions they claim were based on “junk science.” Gregory Gardner, an attorney for both men, says, “Once you have, at a minimum, serious questions that a technique sent a man to death row, you need to change the way you use that technique … [hypnosis] “does so much more harm to innocent people than getting guilty people behind bars.”

Police who use “forensic hypnosis” as a “relaxation tool” to get witnesses and victims to recall what they saw believe it works and cite cases as proof. In 1978, Mary Vincent, 15, was hitchhiking in California when she was picked up by a merchant seaman who raped her, cut off her arms and abandoned her in a ravine to die. The teen survived but couldn’t recall what her attacker looked like until she was hypnotized. Lawrence Singleton, “The Mad Chopper,” was found and convicted. Hypnosis helped recover 26 California schoolchildren kidnapped in 1978 and helped convict serial killer Ted Bundy. Since its heyday in the 1970s and ’80s, forensic hypnosis has not only dwindled rapidly but has been banned in some places as unreliable. Joseph Green, past president of the American Psychological Association’s Society of Psychological Hypnosis, said movies have erroneously likened it to “truth serum.” An analysis of the National Registry of Exonerations found  at least 10 men who were freed after hypnosis helped put them behind bars.

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘Golden State Killer’ Suspect Tries to Block DNA Collection

The public defender for former police officer Joseph DeAngelo, 72, has filed a motion to stop efforts by the district attorney in Sacramento to take DNA, fingerprints and photos of DeAngelo’s body.

The former policeman accused of being the Golden State Killer headed back to court Thursday to fight prosecutors’ efforts to collect more of his DNA, the Associated Press reports. Diane Howard, the public defender for Joseph DeAngelo, 72, has filed a motion to block efforts by the district attorney to take DNA, fingerprints and photos of DeAngelo’s body. Prosecutors arrested DeAngelo last week and said they used DNA to identify him as the killer responsible for at least a dozen murders and 50 rapes across California between 1976 and 1986. The case was cold for decades, and the killer was known by nicknames such as the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker and, more recently, the Golden State Killer.

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert got a warrant last week to gather the samples and photographs. Howard argued that the search warrant should be stopped because it was approved before DeAngelo was arrested and arraigned last week. Prosecutors say the search warrant is still relevant and said collecting the evidence won’t be “testimonial in nature.” The Associated Press and other news organizations have filed a motion to unseal the full search and arrest warrants for DeAngelo, which could provide additional details about the DNA techniques prosecutors used to identify him.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Few Illinois Nurses Trained to Treat Sex Assault Victims

Just 32 of the 200,000 registered nurses in Illinois are specially certified to work with the thousands of adult sexual assault patients who turn up in hospital emergency rooms in the state each year.

Just 32 of the nearly 200,000 registered nurses in Illinois are certified to work with adult sexual assault patients, reports the Chicago Tribune. Nearly 4,500 patients were seen in emergency rooms in the state for sexual abuse or rape in 2016. Despite health and government officials’ recommendations that sexual assault patients be treated by nurses trained to recognize trauma and collect evidence, many nurses receive no such training. The attorney general’s office said this month it is working with Illinois lawmakers to draft legislation that would require hospitals have a medical provider trained in sexual assault present within 90 minutes of a patient’s arrival. Hospitals would be required to implement this by 2023.

In a statement, the Illinois Health and Hospital Association said it supports forensic nurse training. But it said that deadline is not feasible because there are so many nurses to train in a specialty the group says few pursue or complete. Ann Spillane, the chief of staff for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, said hospitals refuse to prioritize staffing of trained professionals to treat victims. “In this midst of the #MeToo movement, it couldn’t be more clear that providing compassionate care to sexual assault survivors is not the hospitals’ priority,” she said. Three years ago, the attorney general tried to address the problem by hiring emergency room nurse Jaclyn Rodriguez to train her peers. She estimates 150 nurses in Illinois emergency rooms have completed the required 40 hours of training in sexual assault care and additional clinical work. But for national certification, nurses must pass the International Association of Forensic Nurses exam, and only 32 have completed that requirement.

from https://thecrimereport.org

E-Mail Leaves an Evidence Trail

If you’re going to commit an illegal act, it’s best not to discuss it in e-mail. It’s also best to Google tech instructions rather than asking someone else to do it: One new detail from the indictment, however, points to just how unsophisticated Manafort seems to have been. Here’s the relevant passage from the indictment. I’ve bolded the most important…

If you're going to commit an illegal act, it's best not to discuss it in e-mail. It's also best to Google tech instructions rather than asking someone else to do it:

One new detail from the indictment, however, points to just how unsophisticated Manafort seems to have been. Here's the relevant passage from the indictment. I've bolded the most important bits:

Manafort and Gates made numerous false and fraudulent representations to secure the loans. For example, Manafort provided the bank with doctored [profit and loss statements] for [Davis Manafort Inc.] for both 2015 and 2016, overstating its income by millions of dollars. The doctored 2015 DMI P&L submitted to Lender D was the same false statement previously submitted to Lender C, which overstated DMI's income by more than $4 million. The doctored 2016 DMI P&L was inflated by Manafort by more than $3.5 million. To create the false 2016 P&L, on or about October 21, 2016, Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000. Gates converted that .pdf into a "Word" document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered that "Word" document by adding more than $3.5 million in income. He then sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the "Word" document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort. Manafort then sent the falsified 2016 DMI P&L .pdf to Lender D.

So here's the essence of what went wrong for Manafort and Gates, according to Mueller's investigation: Manafort allegedly wanted to falsify his company's income, but he couldn't figure out how to edit the PDF. He therefore had Gates turn it into a Microsoft Word document for him, which led the two to bounce the documents back-and-forth over email. As attorney and blogger Susan Simpson notes on Twitter, Manafort's inability to complete a basic task on his own seems to have effectively "created an incriminating paper trail."

If there's a lesson here, it's that the Internet constantly generates data about what people are doing on it, and that data is all potential evidence. The FBI is 100% wrong that they're going dark; it's really the golden age of surveillance, and the FBI's panic is really just its own lack of technical sophistication.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

DOJ Announces New Policies on Forensic Science

The practices will “advance the Justice Department’s commitment to reliable science that helps us to find and report the truth,” says Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced new Department of Justice policies to advance forensic science at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences 70th Annual Scientific Meeting in Seattle, the department says. The new guidance implements quality assurance measures based on science-informed practices, enhances forensic capacity and efficiency, and increases coordination and collaboration between the department and state, local, and federal partners.

“Forensic science, used appropriately, will help us accomplish our mission,” Rosenstein said. “The policies that I am announcing today will advance the Justice Department’s commitment to reliable science that helps us to find and report the truth.”

DOJ released uniform language for testimony and reports for use by its forensic examiners to provide testimonial consistency and quality assurance and department-wide testimony monitoring practices to ensure testimonial consistency and accountability by  forensic examiners.

Rosenstein said that DOJ forensic laboratories that support criminal investigations and prosecutions will begin publicly posting current quality management system documents and summaries of internal validation studies online. DOJ also will “re-charter” its Council of Federal Forensic Laboratory Directors, which will begin meeting again this May.  All executive branch agencies with forensic laboratories and digital analysis entities are invited to join.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Challenge for Cities: What to Do With Analyzed Rape Kits?

Under a haphazard system, cities make their own policies about what to do with thousands of rape kits that come back from DNA analysis. Should every victim be notified, or might that cause unnecessary harm?

The Justice Department recommends that all rape kits associated with a reported crime be submitted for DNA analysis. Until last year, there were no national requirements or guidelines on what to do with them. Most states had no laws dictating which kits should be tested, meaning every police department could have its own rules about what evidence to test, keep or throw away. Some let individual detectives make those calls. What happened to a woman’s rape kit could depend not only on what state she was in, but which side of a county line she was on, or even who was on duty when she asked for help, the Washington Post reports. The results of this haphazard system have been  documented. In New York City, an estimated 17,000 kits went untested. In Houston, there were 6,000. In Detroit, Los Angeles and Memphis, there were more than 11,000 each. Over the past two decades, the “rape kit backlog” has been in the news so many times that now, slowly, the problem is being fixed.

Under pressure from activists and legislators, states and cities big and small are counting their kits and sending them to be tested. And then, they are beginning to quietly struggle with a far more complicated challenge: What happens once the kits come back? Should every victim whose name was on this shelf be notified that their kit had finally been tested? Or would reminding someone of their rape — out of the blue, years later, with no promise of a solution — cause them unnecessary harm? In Detroit, it was decided that, at least at first, victims would be notified only if their kits resulted in a “hit,” meaning the DNA found in the box matched a person in the Combined DNA Index System, a national database of offenders better known as CODIS. Houston tried a different model. A hotline was set up and publicized, so that any victim who wanted information about their old kit could ask for it.

from https://thecrimereport.org

NJ Death Investigation System Called a ‘Disgrace’

An 18-month NJ Advance Media investigation found serious failures at nearly every level of New Jersey’s patchwork system of medical examiner offices. The state’s past two top medical examiners resigned in protest.

New Jersey entire system for investigating deaths is a national disgrace, reports NJ.com. An 18-month NJ Advance Media investigation found serious failures at nearly every level of New Jersey’s patchwork system of medical examiner offices, the obscure agencies charged with one of the most fundamental tasks: figuring out how somebody died and why. The probe found families left to grieve without answers or closure, innocent people sent to jail and murders unsolved. Pathologists across the U.S. says the New Jersey system is so bad that slowly decomposing bodies sometimes clog storage rooms of morgues by the dozens, stacked two to a gurney, awaiting examination or burial for months.

New Jersey’s past two top medical examiners resigned in protest over a lack of money and power to fix things. Governors and lawmakers for nearly four decades have largely ignored the system’s shortcomings and the tragic consequences, and failed to demand answers. Experts estimate an effective system should be run in New Jersey for about $31.5 million a year, $3.50 per resident. Taxpayers now pony up about $26 million for a system marred by neglect and dysfunction. The newest state medical examiner, Andrew Falzon, has won praise for trying to right the ship since he was confirmed last year. The state has hired more pathologists and support staff, improved turnaround times for autopsies and brought in an outside monitor to study the system and recommend changes. Past studies and recommendations still collect dust, as do the many reform bills that have been introduced in the legislature since 2003, all of them going nowhere.

from https://thecrimereport.org

A Short History of the FBI Crime Laboratory

     Shortly after becoming the FBI’s fourth director in 1924, J. Edgar Hoover envisioned a national crime laboratory under the auspicies of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover had been influenced by August Vollmer, the…

     Shortly after becoming the FBI's fourth director in 1924, J. Edgar Hoover envisioned a national crime laboratory under the auspicies of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover had been influenced by August Vollmer, the innovative chief of the Berkeley, California Police Department and John H. Wigmore, author and professor at Northwestern University Law School.

     August Vollmer and Wigmore had pioneered the formation of the Scientific Crime Detection Lab formed in Chicago in the wake of the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre. These practitioner scholars believed that the developing fields within forensic science, coupled with highly trained criminal investigators, would someday bring victory over crime. Hoover had already made the image of the latent fingerprint the unofficial logo of the FBI. A FBI crime laboratory would advance Hoover's goal to create the ideal crime fighter--an highly educated, well-trained scientific crime detection professional.

     In April 1931, Hoover sent Special Agent Charles A. Appel, Jr. to Chicago to enroll in a short course sponsored by the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory that at the time was a private, fee-charging lab partially funded by the university. Most of the lab's cases consisted of forensic document examination, firearm identification (then called forensic ballistics), and research and development in the polygraph, a newly developing field of scientific lie detection. (In 1938 the Scientific Crime Detection Lab would be taken over by the Chicago Police Department.) Hoover also sent agent Appel to police departments in St. Louis (in 1906 the first police department to establish a fingerprint identification bureau), New Orleans, and Detroit, the only law enforcement agencies besides Berkeley and Los Angeles that operated crime labs.

     The FBI Technical Laboratory, with Charles Appel as its head, opened its doors on November 24, 1932 (in 1942 it was renamed the FBI Laboratory) in a nine-by-nine foot room in the Southern Railway Building at Thirteenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. Special Agent Appel, its director and only employee, performed firearm identification work. Appel used the newly invented comparison microscope and a device designed for the examination of gun barrel interiors. To produce forensic exhibits of bullets, Appel utilized basic photographic equipment. The FBI Lab, as advertised by Hoover, provided evidence analysis and testimony for the bureau as well as for any local law enforcement agency that requested forensic analysis. Hoover also promised research and development in the various forensic science fields. Hoover's ambitious undertaking eventually made the FBI an indispensable and highly visible cog in the nation's crime fighting machine.

     By 1940, the laboratory, now located at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, employed firearm identificaton experts, questioned document examiners, forensic chemists, physicists, metallurgists specializing in tool mark identification, forensic geologists (soil examinations), hair and fiber analysts, forensic serologists (blood and bodily fluids examinations), and latent fingerprint identification experts. The laboratory, employing over a hundred people, had gotten so large Hoover divided the lab into three sections: questioned documents; physics and chemistry; and latent fingerprint identification. At this time, only fifteen police departments and sixteen states operated crime labs. The FBI Lab continued to grow. By 1958, it employed two hundred scientific, clerical and administrative personnel.

     The FBI Laboratory, by the end of the 1980's, had grown into the busiest and most famous crime lab in the world. It had also become one of the top tourist attractions in Washington, DC. But even in its heyday, because of the quantity of forensic examinations and laboratory hiring criteria, there were problems with the quality of some of the work. The FBI Lab was the biggest and the most famous, but not the best. Overwhelmed by a staggering caseload, Hoover did not hire top-rate scientists. Moreover, there was not time for research and development. This led to some bad science and a problem with scientific objectivity.

     The FBI lab had to compete for personnel with a growing number of city, county, and state crime labs.  Because the FBI only hired lab employees who also met the criteria for the position of special agent, not all of the lab personnel had sufficient scientific backgrounds.  All FBI Lab personnel (except clerical employees) were first sent into the field to work as agents for three years. Many of these agents  had to be dragged kicking and screaming back to DC to work inside the lab. some of these agents had used their degrees in science to get into the FBI to become investigators, not bureau crime lab criminalists. Moreover, the close identification with law enforcement created by three years in the field worked against scientific objectivity. (The FBI has since changed its crime lab hiring criteria.)

     J. Edgar Hoover died in office in May 1972. By 1990, there was nothing left of his reputation and status as an American law enforcement pioneer. The mere mention of his name on a TV sitcom or a late night talk show brought instant laughter. Once a powerful and innovative man, Hoover, like so many other American historical figures--Charles Lindbergh for one--had been reduced by a tabloid culture and hack journalism into a character you might find in an underground comic book. The post-Hoover image of the FBI agent, while having lost some of its luster, did not go down with the Hoover ship. Notwithstanding his fall from grace, Hoover's most profound contribution to the art and science of criminal investigation, the FBI Crime Laboratory, is still considered the gold standard of forensic science in America.


from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Phenotyping Uses DNA to Create Suspect Sketches

The DNA sketch technology is a relatively new tool that can generate leads in cold cases or narrow a suspect pool. For some ethicists and lawyers, it’s an untested practice that if used incorrectly could lead to racial profiling or ensnaring innocent people as suspects.

After her oldest daughter was killed last year, Michelle McDaniel and her family isolated themselves in their small Texas town out of fear that the unknown killer could be standing in line with them at the grocery store or passing them on the street. Last month, Brown County sheriff’s investigators sent McDaniel a sketch of the man they suspected in her daughter’s death, despite having no witnesses. The sketch was created using DNA found at the crime scene; a private lab used the sample to predict the shape of the killer’s face, his skin tone, eye color and hair color, the Associated Press reports. Within a week, the sheriff’s office had a suspect in custody.

For McDaniel, the DNA sketch technology known as phenotyping was an answered prayer. For police officers, it’s a relatively new tool that can generate leads in cold cases or narrow a suspect pool. For some ethicists and lawyers, it’s an untested practice that if used incorrectly could lead to racial profiling or ensnaring innocent people as suspects. Several private companies offer phenotyping services to law enforcement to create sketches of suspects or victims when decomposed remains are found. The process looks for markers inside of a DNA sample known to be linked to certain traits. Police in at least 22 states have released suspect sketches generated through phenotyping. It works like this: Companies have created a predictive formula using the DNA of volunteers who also took a physical traits survey or had their face scanned by recognition software. That model is used to search the DNA samples for specific markers and rate the likelihood that certain characteristics exist.

from https://thecrimereport.org