News 04.10.09

Friday Roundup: Crime Labs, Confessions and a Hollywood Encounter

Crime labs were all over the news this week. We reported Monday on

a USA Today editorial

calling for crime labs to be independent from law enforcement agencies and earlier today on

an Arizona case

that makes it clear that proper evidence testing is a matter of life and death.

Here are some more stories and resources on forensics we didn’t get a chance to post this week:

A lab technician who worked in Colorado and California has allegedly admitted that

he didn’t follow procedures

when conducting toxicology tests in thousands of cases.

The National Academy of Sciences Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Science Community posted

a wealth of forensic research and presentations

on its website this week – including the complete submissions from dozens of presenters at its five public meetings.

The Innocence Project of Florida and the Innocence Network together

filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Florida Supreme Court

urging justices to allow a client to challenge his conviction because an FBI agent gave unreliable testimony based on the discredited practice of bullet lead analysis.

Detroit’s crime lab has been closed since September after an audit discovered a 10% error rate in ballistics testing. A Detroit Free Press columnist checked in on the lab’s status this week and

called on the city to support the prosecutor’s office

in its review of cases possibly affected by lab errors.

False confessions were in the news as well this week, with

the U.S. Supreme Court ruling

that prolonged police questioning "isolates and pressures the individual…and there is mounting empirical evidence that these pressures can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never committed." In a 5-4 decision, the justices overturned the conviction of Johnnie Corley because he had been held for more than six hours before being questioned.

CBS News’ “48 Hours,” Saturday night will examine

the case of American student Amanda Knox

, who is charged with the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Knox says she gave a coerced false confession after 14 hours of questioning and physical abuse.

Attorneys in Maryland are

seeking to present new evidence in the case of Jesse Barnes

, who was convicted in 1972 at age 17 of a murder he says he didn’t commit. He allegedly confessed after seven hours of interrogation but lawyers say the details of the confession don’t match the crime scene.

Dennis Dechaine, who has been in prison in Maine for two decades for a murder he says he didn’t commit, added to his defense team this week when

attorney F. Lee Bailey agreed to consult with his lawyers

. The Innocence Project also consults on Dechaine’s case.

Last but not least,

an update on “Betty Anne Waters

,” the upcoming film about the exoneration of Innocence Project client Kenneth Waters and the role of his sister, Betty Anne, in pursuing justice for her brother. The film, in which Hilary Swank stars as Betty Anne, finished shooting this week in Michigan and Ann Arbor News reporter Jo Mathis has an update from the set.

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