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Ted Bundy Bitemarks and Richard Milone: How DNA, bitemark research and failed cases have changed bitemark analysis

By Dr. Michael Bowers

There is no other U.S. bitemark that stands higher in the Pantheon of the forensic odontology community than the Ted Bundy case. His trial for the murder of two sorority members in Tallahassee, FL showcased numerous examples of bitemark expertise involving evidence from one of the victims. This case often is said to have sent Ted to his execution by “Old Sparky”, the electric chair at Florida State Prison, in Bradford County, but that death sentence and his 1989 execution derived from a separate death penalty trial in that state.

Electric Chair

Revisiting forensic dental evidence from “old” closed cases is something that crime writers generally do. John Grisham in his 2006 non fiction work, The Innocent Man, spotlighted the 1985 State v. Wilhoit murder conviction that was helped by 2 dentists using oral bacteria components (a flawed pre DNA theory) as well as a bitemark injury to identify the defendant as the biter. A defense-selected 11 dentist panel helped reverse the conviction in 1991.

The forensic dental community seems a bit wary of a top to bottom review of their more recent bakers’ dozen (or more) of bad bitemark expert performance in cases later overturned and determined to be wrongful convictions or incarcerations.

Latest Bitemark Gaffs

Detroit erroneous bitemark evidence and conviction leads to $2.8 million settlement

Chicago bitemark involved erroneous conviction which later led to a $1.2 million civil rights violation settlement

Also, the New York Innocence Project has a list of similar cases located on their website. All of these cases involved ABFO certified odontologists making incorrect bitemark identifications.

State v. Richard Milone

In 1973, the Milone murder case dealt with a conviction heavily based on an identification of tooth marks on the thigh of the victim, 14 year old Sally Kandel. 3 dentists were for the prosecution and 4 were defense experts. The prosecution presented the bitemark as “excellent evidence.”

Lengthy appeals ensued. Three years after the trial, one of original defense dentists matched the Kandel bitemark to a bitemark confessed to by a convicted serial murderer named Richard Macek. One of Milone’s appeals also used the process of having a 4 member cohort of defense dentists. In 1986, they again argued against the 3 prosecution bitemark dentists’ 1973 conclusions that Milone was the biter by substituting the known serial killer Macek as the actual biter.

In the same year, Milone petitioned the governor of Illinois with a claim for unconditional clemency. This officer convened a panel of 3 more dentists, who evaluated the bitemark evidence in Milone and determined Macek could not have bitten Kandel and Milone was the biter. Various efforts continued in Illinois and Milone was released from prison in 1992.

It seems in the face of these battling dentists, the “excellent” bitemark evidence in Milone was a bit of forensic overstatement.

So, what about State v. Bundy? Nearly contemporaneous with Milone, (1973 versus 1979), some of the same players once again presented themselves on opposite sides of the bitemark evidence. The case was a career making event for those involved for the prosecution.

Ted Bundy Impressions

Evidence Obtained from the Tallahassee Trial of Bundy

Bitemark on Buttocks

The injury on the victim’s left buttock is red bruising. Look closely at this long range monochromatic view. One issue to consider in a bitemark case is the presence of “multiple bites” at the same anatomical position. This can make for a difficult time in determining specific teeth marks. The other issue is whether the skin can reproduce a correct replication of the biting teeth. New research indicates the biomechanics of skin and biting pressure produces uncorrectable pattern distortion. This leads to subjective and unreliable interpretations (usually discounting any discrepancies as “explainable”) during comparisons with suspects.

Bundy's Teeth Outline

Wax Imprint From Ted Bundy

Bitemark Photo with Bundy Overlay

A fuzzy color image of two overlapping bitemarks. One is more faint than the other. This image is the original bitemark photograph with two transparent overlays superimposed. One of the overlays is a hand drawn “hollow volume” type depicting the lower front teeth of Bundy. The second overlay (in blue) is a felt pen (?) drawing of the edges of Bundy’s teeth. Look closely and you can see differing values of teeth area and definition between the two methods.

Discussion

The prosecution experts determined the pattern was unique to Bundy. This assumed concept was used in court then and even now despite the arrival of DNA. It was commonly stated that every person had a dental profile of biting teeth that was individual to them; specifically analogous to a fingerprint. There should be little argument that Bundy’s lower teeth could make a pattern similar to what is seen in the autopsy picture. Are his teeth and the bitemark unique to just him? No. The scientific issue of could someone else’s teeth have created the same pattern is now much clearer. The probability of another’s teeth duplicating the Bundy bitemark is a fact. Looking at the past helps science move on.
However, the recent US exoneration cases also commonly have the dentists making the erroneous claims still supporting their original findings despite scientific and judicial results to the contrary. In our 2011 world, some forensic people stick to their beliefs and don’t really care how they got there.

See: http://www.examiner.com/dental-health-in-milwaukee/state-is-paying-robert-stinson-25-000-dr-l-t-johnson-helped-convict-him

A 2008 Chicago Tribune article describes this odd scientific juxtaposition of opinion in greater detail.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-bite-mark-exonerationjul10,0,2835607.story?page=1

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ABFO Bitemark Expert and City of Warren Settle Case for Over $2.8M

Newspapers across the midwest are reporting on another unfortunate bitemark case that has resurfaced.  Jeffrey Moldowan was convicted and spent nearly 12 years in prison based on bitemark evidence prior to being exonerated.  The wrongfully convicted Moldowan brought suit against the city and the dentist who gave the faulty opinion. The case was settled yesterday for $2.8 million dollars. The city will pay a $250,000 deductible and insurance will pay the rest. Earlier in the month an agreement was made for the forensic odontologist to pay $200,000. The forensic dentist testified in court that the bitemarks found on the body were consistent with the teeth of the defendant and that the “chances are 2.1 billion to 1 that another individual can make those same marks”. The forensic dentist in this case has had a number of other cases where he mis-identified bitemarks leading to wrongful convictions. This case and others resulting in wrongful conditions are discussed in the textbook Bitemark Evidence: A Color Atlas and Text edited by Dr. Robert Dorion.

The Award Winning Documentary Mississippi Innocence is Nationally Premiered at the Newseum in Washington D.C.

By Dr. David Averill

Kenny Brewer, exonerated after 15 years in prison for a wrongful conviction

The national screening of the award winning documentary by Joe York called Mississippi Innocence was premiered at the Newseum in Washington D.C. on Monday October 3. The documentary chronicles the exoneration of two men wrongfully convicted of crimes based solely on bitemark evidence. Both men served over 15 years in prison before being exonerated with DNA evidence.

The director of the Mississippi Innocence Project is Tucker Carrington, he is formerly a supervising public defender in Washington D.C. and visiting professor at Georgetown Law. The evening began with a panel discussion. The discussion revolved around the mechanisms that have resulted in the wrongful conviction of innocent individuals. A number of points were brought up including, lack of expert accountability, no consequences for faulty analysis and lack of rigor in the opinions.

ABFO diplomates Drs. David Averill and Dr. Michael Bowers attended the event

Joseph Flood, defense attorney, Tucker Carrington, Director Mississippi Innocence Project and Dr. Michael Bowers

Carol Mockbee, Program Director Mississippi Innocence Project

Police Agencies Use Bitemarks as Sources of DNA for Identification Rather than Comparison with Toothmarks

By Dr. David Averill and Dr. Michael Bowers

Sidestepping the years long controversies of bitemark comparison, police investigators have redirected their approach to answer perpetrator identification. Using the bitemark as a source of salivary DNA, the comparison is accomplished using proven biological methods of DNA profiling. These following cases below illustrate the shift to best practice police methods.

Big Sky man arrested, accused of raping 17-year-old
http://www.kxlf.com/news/big-sky-man-arrested-for-raping-17-year-old/

Zion woman denies Gurnee Mills robbery, attack
http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20110825/news/708259526/photos/AR/

Cop impersonator guilty of attempted murder
http://www.compasscayman.com/caycompass/2011/08/25/Cop-impersonator-guilty-of-attempted-murder/

Man gets 22 years in bike path rape
http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/local&id=8306284

Burglar helps him/herself to the fridge
http://www.westseattleherald.com/2011/09/26/police-blotter/police-blotter-week-9-26-11

Detective Arrested & Charged with 1986 Murder
http://cmm.lefora.com/2010/02/16/sherri-rae-rasmussen-ruetten-stephanie-ilene-lazar/

Journal of the American Dental Association Publishes Editorial Discussing Unsubstantiated “Science” of Bitemark Evidence

By Dr. David Averill, and Dr. Michael Bowers

Dr. Mary Bush has authored a guest editorial in the September 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association. She states that bitemark analysis is not validated, yet has been accepted into the courts without substantiating empirical evidence. According to Bush, this has placed innocent individuals accused of crimes at serious risk. This also has undermined the credibility of the criminal justice system. Dr. Bush is one of a team of researchers at the University of Buffalo who have recently published a series of research papers, which show that bitemarks in skin do not reflect the actual dental characteristics of the biter in controlled experiments due to the properties of skin distortion.