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U.S. Mississippi Death Row Case Faults Bite-Mark Forensics

SEPT. 15, 2014

NEW YORK TIMES

In one of the country’s first nationally televised criminal trials, of the smirking serial murderer Ted Bundy in Florida in 1979, jurors and viewers alike were transfixed as dental experts showed how Mr. Bundy’s crooked teeth resembled a bite on a 20-year-old victim.

Mr. Bundy was found guilty and the obscure field of “forensic dentistry” won a place in the public imagination.

Since then, expert testimony matching body wounds with the dentition of the accused has played a role in hundreds of murder and rape cases, sometimes helping to put defendants on death row.

But over this same period, mounting evidence has shown that matching body wounds to a suspect’s dentition is prone to bias and unreliable…..

The lack of a scientific basis for bite-mark identification was stressed by the National Academy of Sciences in a 2009 report on forensics. The academy said that such analysis could not reliably identify one individual, among all others, as the source of a bite.

Bite marks on the skin change over time and are easily distorted, the academy said, while there is a huge potential for bias when an expert is asked to match a bite wound with the teeth of a known suspect.

Dr. Peter W. Loomis, a consultant in dental forensics in Albuquerque and president of the discipline’s professional body, the American Board of Forensic Odontology, did not dispute the academy’s conclusions but said that bite-mark analysis still had a useful role in court.

Read more

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/16/us/mississippi-death-row-appeal-highlights-shortcomings-of-bite-mark-identifications.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar&_r=0

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2 dentists sue colleague for criticizing their bite-mark testimony

Witnesses worked on rape case in which defendant was granted a new trial because of DNA evidence

December 25, 2011|By Steve Mills, Chicago Tribune reporter

In the ongoing battle over the use of controversial bite-mark evidence, two Chicago-area dentists have opened a new legal front, suing a colleague for alleged defamation because he used a Lake County rape case they worked on as an example of the oft-criticized discipline gone awry.

Dentists Russell Schneider, of Waukegan, and Carl Hagstrom, of Fox Lake, filed their lawsuit against Michael Bowers, a dentist in California who is a frequent and sometimes acerbic critic of his fellow forensic odontologists for work that has led to numerous wrongful convictions.

Innocent man, jailed for 20 years, suing forensic experts

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http://rt.com/usa/starks-innocent-jail-suing-711/

Bennie Starks was released from prison in 2006, after being locked up for 20 years for a crime he never committed. He is now suing the forensic experts who falsely testified against him in a case of sexual assault.

Although Starks’ charges were dismissed, the 53-year-old man will never regain his lost years. In 1986, he was found guilty of assaulting and raping a 69-year-old woman from Waukegan, Ill., and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Government witnesses, two dentists and a forensic technician testified against him. The rape victim also identified him in a photo line-up, but Starks believes two police officers encouraged the woman to accuse him.

Dr. Carl Hagstrom and Dr. Russell Schneider, two dentists, testified that the bite marks on the victim’s body matched the marks left by Starks’ teeth. Their methodology, however, was outdated and unreliable, according to information obtained by the Courthouse News Service.

With government witnesses, forensic ‘experts’, and the victim herself alleging that Starks was the rapist, there was little he could do to keep himself out of prison. But in 2006, the Illinois Appellate Court vacated the man’s conviction and set up a retrial. DNA evidence cleared him of the 1986 rape, and Starks walked out of prison a free man.

It wasn’t until January 2013 that all of his charges were dismissed and his record was clean.

“I’m just overwhelmed with joy,” Starks told ABC after walking out of the courtroom with a clean slate. The man’s attorney, Jed Stone, compared the outcome to a “ray of sunlight that cracked through a cloud”. 

But what Starks can’t forget is the false testimony by the state’s forensic technician, Sharon Thomas-Boyd, as well as the two dentists who matched his teeth to the bite marks. Thomas-Boyd falsely claimed that Starks’ semen matched the DNA found on the victim.

US District Judge Gary Feinerman supported Starks’ theory that the forensic experts engaged in a conspiracy to falsely accuse him.

“The complaint amply alleges that the police defendants, the dentist defendants, and Thomas-Boyd all worked to get Starks convicted for a crime he did not commit, and it is more plausible that they each made their contributions to that effort in the context of an agreement to secure a wrongful conviction than that, by some wild coincidence, everyone who came into contact with Starks’s case independently developed a desire to see him convicted and a willingness to lie in pursuit of that goal,” the judge said, according to court documents.

It is unlikely that the police officers will be penalized for lying to the jury, since they hold impunity for doing so. But it is possible that they could face charges for prompting the rape victim to falsely identify Starks as the suspect.

Starks claims the conspiracy caused him emotional distress. The Innocence Project, a group that originally helped the man clear his name, told ABC that in cases where innocent men are imprisoned, misidentification is most often the cause.

“Bennie’s case features a wrongful identification and also faulty forensics,” Lauren Kaeseberg of the Innocence Project said in January. “Misidentifications make up 75 percent of wrongful convictions.”

In the state of Illinois, committing conspiracy or perjury under oath or affirmation is a class 3 felony, which could result in 2-5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $25,000. The lawsuit accuses the forensic experts of filing false reports, giving false statements, conspiring against Starks and pursuing wrongful prosecutions.

The defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, but Judge Feinerman denied all motions except the intentional infliction of emotion distress.

Janesville man’s invention changed forensic science 25 years ago

GazetteXtra.com
Tuesday, March 19, 2013 • JANESVILLE, WI
by NEIL JOHNSON Contact )   Saturday, March 16, 2013

 

JANESVILLE — Janesville engineer and physicist Bill Hyzer was renowned for decades as a pioneer in high-speed photography.

Using cameras that seemed to magnify and even freeze time at 8,000 frames per second, Hyzer showed scientists how a fly lands on a ceiling.

Those quirky, stop-action photographs of bullets exploding through such objects as cucumbers and soda cans? Hyzer’s work.

Hyzer, 88, has poured his life into six decades of research that includes a study of how geckos cling to glass surfaces and the development of electronic switches for a lunar landing module. His data analyses of lake freeze-thaw cycles are used in international studies on global warming and climate change.

Yet perhaps Hyzer’s most groundbreaking and unsung achievement was an invention he devised in a single afternoon. It also is the reason he was honored Friday by the national American Board of Forensic Odontology.

At a lunch meeting at a Holiday Inn in Freeport, Ill., in 1986, Hyzer said he listened to Kansas native Dr. Thomas Krause, an expert in forensic odontology, or “bite-mark” science, explain a conundrum to him.

At the time, criminal investigators had no tool other than the standard, one-dimensional ruler to measure and give scale to human bite marks often found on the bodies of violent crime victims. For complex reasons, the simple ruler is an unreliable tool for the job.

Hyzer sketched a solution on the spot. The two-dimensional “ABFO No. 2”—better known as the forensic bite-mark scale—was born.

The simple, L-shaped measuring tool changed Hyzer’s life and forever altered forensic science and the field of crime scene investigation.

The bite mark scale’s main use—a tool to help identify bodies through dental records and identify violent criminals from bite marks they leave on victims—has made Hyzer renowned.

More than 25 years since that Holiday Inn discussion, crime scene investigators in nearly every country in the world use Hyzer’s small, laminated plastic ruler while photographing everything from bite marks to tire tracks to bullet holes in walls.

Practically every crime lab and medical examiner’s office in the country uses Hyzer’s scale, and in most states in the U.S. the scale’s use is almost a mandate.

Hyzer now is 88. To date, about three million of his bite mark scales have been sold, according to members of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

His scale was a simple yet ingenious solution to a decades-old problem in forensic science.

To use bite marks as crime evidence, investigators must make exact photographic records of the marks. That’s done by taking pictures that include a measuring instrument laid next to the marks to show scale.

But a one-dimensional measuring tool—a simple ruler—cannot reliably give scale to photographic images because if photos are captured at even the slightest angle, uncorrectable distortion can occur.

A sketchbook from 1986 shows Bill Hyzer’s solution to allow criminal investigators to measure and give scale to human bite marks on the bodies of victims. The resulting tool has changed forensic science and crime scene investigations. Hyzer, 88, was honored Friday by the American Board of Forensic Odontology.

Photo by Hyzer family

A sketchbook from 1986 shows Bill Hyzer’s solution to allow criminal investigators to measure and give scale to human bite marks on the bodies of victims. The resulting tool has changed forensic science and crime scene investigations. Hyzer, 88, was honored Friday by the American Board of Forensic Odontology.

“You needed to devise a scale that measured in two dimensions, not one,” Hyzer said. “So I sat there at the Holiday Inn and sketched out the solution on a piece of paper.”

The design is simple: a right-angle, two-sided ruler with circles at each of its three points. The circles are used to define and justify any measurable plane. That corrects the problem of distortion in crime photos.

The scale also has grayscale markers, which ensure perfect photographic color reproduction.

Hyzer had done research with lizards and flies, but he had no prior expertise with human teeth or bite marks. He almost couldn’t believe someone else hadn’t thought of the scale already. Yet nobody had.

“It’s the most thrilling feeling, like discovering an ancient cave that no one knew existed,” Hyzer said.

Don Simley, a forensic odontologist in Madison who presented Hyzer with his award Friday, said bite-mark analysis has proven at times to be an ineffective way to identify criminals.

Bite-mark science has come under fire in the past after some cases in which DNA evidence later proved people were wrongly convicted based on bite-mark evidence.

But the science often helps identify bodies that have been burned beyond recognition, and Simley said use of Hyzer’s scale once helped solve a case in which a young child choked to death on soap while being disciplined by a parent.

The child’s bite marks were in a bar of soap at home.

Hyzer did not get rich from his invention. In fact, he never even patented it.

“It was my contribution to keeping people who didn’t deserve jail out of jail, and putting people in jail who should be in jail.”

Meanwhile, the scale’s inventor is now down to just a few left. He’s given most of his supply away to family or friends.

“I’m down to two scales now. It irks me that I’d have to go and buy one,” Hyzer said.

A Response to a Critic of the Critics

Mark Page, Ph.D.

The author of the website http://www.bitemark.org posted an article regarding the admissibility of bitemark evidence in several cases in Texas, and spent some time discussing the supposedly ‘asinine’ nature of applying experimental scientific methodology to forensic science. The article makes the point that the scientific method should not apply to some disciplines, as they are not ‘hard’ sciences, like physics and chemistry. This commentary represents an example of why critics of forensic science find these disciplines particularly frustrating, in that they attempt to justify their forensic practice on the basis that they are somehow ‘different’ or ‘immune’ to good scientific practice. But there is no logical reason why forensic science and the scientific method should be mutually exclusive….. Read more by clicking on the PDF below

Open PDF by clicking  a-response-to-a-critic-of-the-critics-2

Another article  by Mark Page can be found by clicking this link: http://www.fdiai.org/articles/Uniqueness-Fact_or_Fiction1.pdf

 

State Attorney Ignores Science, Impedes Starks’ Full Exoneration

From The Innocence Project

Today’s Innocence Blog

Posted: 17 Aug 2012 12:30 PM PDT

Four months after former Illinois inmate Bennie Starks was exonerated of a rape conviction that DNA evidence proves he did not commit, the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office continues to fight efforts to exonerate him of a battery conviction from the same crime. A column by Eric Zorn in today’s Chicago Tribune says 22-year veteran State’s Attorney Michael Waller has a penchant for ignoring scientific evidence and is inclined to develop peculiar theories.

The victim, now deceased, testified that she was attacked and raped by the same man. Earlier this summer, an appeals court ruled that the DNA evidence undermines Starks’ battery conviction and sent it back to the trial court. Waller didn’t see it that way and petitioned the court for a rehearing.

Prosecutors argued in court that the traces of semen must have come from an earlier sexual partner of the victim and been present due to her “bad hygiene.”

The problem with this new theory was that the sample was fresh – no more than 30 hours old according to expert trial testimony – and the victim was on record that she hadn’t had sex with anyone for at least three days prior to the attack.

Zorn cites other cases in which Waller’s office has exhibited a preference for outlandish theories over solid scientific evidence.

Juan Rivera convicted in the 1992 rape and murder of 11-year-old Holly Stoker in Waukegan. When testing excluded Rivera as the source of DNA found in the victim, prosecutors under Waller argued that the little girl had consensual sex with a never-identified boyfriend prior to the attack.

Jerry Hobbs arrested and held without bond in the 2005 slaying of his daughter Laura, 8, and her friend Krystal Tobias, 9, in a Zion park. In 2007, when DNA testing of semen found in his daughter excluded Hobbs, the Walleristas insisted that Laura must have been playing near where a couple had had sex, gotten semen on her fingers and wiped it on herself.

Read the full column.