News 01.16.09

Friday Roundup: Reviewing Forensics

Here are some stories of innocence and reform we couldn’t get to on the Innocence Blog this week:


The Baltimore Police Department has refused to release a report

detailing problems with DNA testing at its troubled crime lab, according to the Baltimore Sun. Investigators discovered last year that lab employees had not entered their own DNA samples into a control database, meaning that test results from the lab could have been contaminated without detection. "To say this report would compromise an ongoing criminal investigation, that's ridiculous," said Michele Nethercott, director of the Innocence Project in Maryland, which works to exonerate wrongly convicted people. "Since the lab operates on public funds, the public should be entitled to some accountability about how it operates."

In December,

the Innocence Project filed a formal allegation

with the Maryland State Police requesting a thorough investigation of negligence at the Baltimore crime lab.

A task force

will review nearly 1,000 convictions

involving fingerprint analysis at the Los Angeles Police Department crime lab, after the lab falsely implicated at least two people due to faulty fingerprint comparison. Efforts to reform the lab are moving slowly, officials say, because the department needs $500,000 to review practices and protocols in the 80-person fingerprint unit.

The New Orleans Police Department

opened a new evidence storage facility this week

, responding to a report which raised serious problems with temporary trailers used as vaults since Hurricane Katrina destroyed the department’s facilities in 2005. The hurricane destroyed evidence from thousands of cases, including some biological samples that could have exonerated wrongfully convicted inmates. But the problem wasn’t solved after the storm, as the department moved salvaged evidence into cluttered, unsecured trailers.

An article in the Denver Post

recaps the last year in the life of Tim Masters

, who spent a decade in Colorado prison for a murder he always said he didn’t commit. He was freed in January 2008 after DNA tests indicated that he had nothing to do with the crime. On adjusting to life outside of prison, Masters says: "In prison, I battled to maintain my sanity by just not thinking of what had happened to me, where I was and what the future might hold. As a free man, I no longer want to go through life like that. This is both good and bad. The good part is I am aware of people and my surroundings. The bad part is I am also well aware of what I've lost."

A new television series called “

Dallas DNA

” will take viewers behind the scenes in the Dallas District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which works to review past cases in which new evidence could possibly overturn a wrongful conviction.

An article in Scientific American examines ways in which the mechanics of evolution are useful in our daily lives – and

cites forensic DNA testing as an example

.

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