New Inquiry into Faulty Crime Lab Cases

A panel of judges is going to appoint three attorneys to investigate dozens of HPD crime lab cases. The attorneys will sift through evidence from 180 serology reports to determine if faulty work at the crime lab could have influenced the outcome of those cases. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Back in June, Independent Investigator Michael Bromwich made a recommendation to the Houston Police Department to hire a special master to look into 180 serology cases that had questionable results. Houston Mayor Bill White and HPD Chief Harold Hurtt chose not to follow that advice. Details of the plan are still being worked out but it now appears Harris County District Judges are going to appoint three criminal defense attorneys to examine the evidence in those cases. If they find any reason to reopen a case, they'll bring that evidence before an appointed judge. Michael Bromwich says he's relieved these cases will finally come under review.

"I think most people think that there probably may well be additional cases. But I think it's in everybody's interest to find out how many there are and to find out how many there are as quickly as possible. The crime lab's mission should be to get to the right result and to play a role in making sure that justice is done."

If the evidence warrants a retrial, it'll be up to Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal and his office to prosecute those cases all over again.

"Nobody from the courts has talked to me about this at all."

Rosenthal says he's heard about this plan through media reports but has yet to hear any official notification. In fact, he's been waiting since June for some word about the status of these cases.

"I sent the judges by email and by snail mail the cases that were pending in their court. And we've been ready to go and nobody's -- you know it's kind of like a bride waiting at the altar -- nobody's said anything to us about what's going to happen next."

All of this comes just days after HPD suffered another setback when evidence surfaced of the wrongful conviction of Ronald Taylor, who served 12 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit. Faulty evidence from the crime lab was a factor in his conviction. Most of the 180 serology cases up for review won't be nearly that dramatic. In fact, the vast majority have a clear amount of evidence to seal the case, even without the serology data. Nevertheless Rosenthal says they deserve reexamination and his office is ready for the outcome.

"I think the cases ought to be looked in to. But I don't think I ought to pick the forum that cases are heard in and I don't think I ought to get to pick my opposition, so any way they want to do it is fine with me."

A spokesman for the district courts confirmed the judges will appoint defense attorneys to conduct the investigation, but said further details of the plan will not be released until some time next week. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

 

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...