Bitemark Experts Convene for National Meeting

American Academy of Forensic Sciences Annual Meeting

Bitemark experts from North America will gather this week in Chicago for their annual scientific meeting. The highlight of the week will be the presentation on Thursday by a research team from the University of Buffalo. The research team has published a number of scientific articles that oppose what many of the bitemark experts have testified in their past cases concerning bitemarks.

There will be a palpable trepidation among many of the bitemark experts as the guest scientists from the University of Buffalo deliver their talk. The presentation will likely be about the lack of scientific studies on skin distortion and the unresolved issue of dental uniqueness. The Buffalo team consists of Peter Bush, Mary Bush, David Sheets and Ray Miller who have published numerous articles in the scientific forensic journals. I will post more on their presentation later.

Bitemark Evidence Sends Innocent Man to Prison

Wisconsin Compensates Innocent Man $115,000

Faulty bitemark analysis has cost another innocent man 23 years in prison. This was a result of a board certified forensic odontologist’s mistake who incorrectly “matched”  Mr. Stinson’s teeth to a bitemark left on the skin of a homicide victim. Dr. L.T. Johnson is the forensic dentist at Marquette University who made the serious mistake.

Innocent Man Released from Prison after 23 Years

Although he botched this case, Dr. Johnson was recently awarded a grant from the National Institute of Justice for over $700,000 to study whether teeth can be replicated in skin and then linked to a specific dentition.  In this study, Dr. Johnson hopes to prove what he had claimed to be true at the time of the trial.  Unfortunately in this case, the erroneous analysis and testimony at the time of trial was portrayed to the jury as scientifically based and without known error rates resulting in a wrongful conviction.

The Innocence Project used DNA and a panel of forensic dentists to peer review the case and concluded that Mr. Stinson was innocent.  Dr. Johnson has re-tested the evidence using today’s modern day tools and still stands by his opinion that Mr. Stinson is the biter.  This is yet another reason for competency or proficiency testing in forensic odontology, but it is currently viewed from the profession as unnecessary.

Until recently bitemark analysis had been very popular in the courts, being admitted in all 50 states.  The popularity chilled when multiple bitemark cases were shown to have implicated the wrong individuals.  The door was slammed shut when in 2009 the National Academy of Science published a report criticizing the forensic sciences.  The study concluded that bitemark analysis should not be used until there is sound science to support the claims of a unique dentition and of the skin to be able to transfer the uniqueness.

The video below is a media piece on the work that Dr. Johnson and the prosecutorial team has done to fight crime using bitemark analysis.  It was released shortly before Mr. Stinson was found to be innocent of the crime that placed him in prison for 23 years.

The video shows how a jury can be biased when the testimony and methodology appears to be a proven science.