A McClatchy investigation has uncovered decades of shoddy work performed by a forensic analyst at a military crime lab near Atlanta. The misconduct of analyst Phillip Mills has implications for the hundreds of cases he evaulated throughout his career. The investigation also exposes deep flaws in the manner in which the military has handled the matter.
In 2005, one of Mills’ co-workers at the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory (USACIL) notified supervisors when he discovered Mills had falsified DNA paperwork. Mills already had a suspect track record: he had failed a hair-analysis proficiency test in 2002 and mixed up DNA samples the following year. The USACIL reexamined 465 cases handled by Mills from 1995-2005 and found problems in 118 of them. These included oversight of potential clues, falsely documented work, failure to follow good scientific practice or lab protocols, lack of thoroughness and consuming too much evidence in his testing, making retests impossible. This misconduct may have helped convict innocent people while allowing actual perpetrators to walk free.
Mills has already been linked to several wrongful conviction cases.
The USACIL, which insisted that Mills is a unique instance of misconduct, is now under scrutiny by the federal government for the way it handled the investigation. “It can’t be the lab investigating itself”, said Innocence Project co-director Barry Scheck. “That’s astonishingly wrong in principle and foolish as a practical matter.”
For years the Lab was lenient with Mills’ sloppy work and failed to inform defendants that evidence used against them may have been tainted. In 2008, Mills’ supervisor, Clement Smetana, resigned when it was discovered that he knew about a cache of “lost” evidence Mills had stashed in closets, lockers, and refrigerators. Smetana had once written about Mills in a job evaluation, “Phillip R. Mills is the most dedicated and industrious soldier that I ever have had the privilege to supervise…without exception the finest officer I have ever known.”
You can read the entire series here:
Independent probe of troubled military crime lab sought
Army slow to act as crime-lab worker falsified, botched tests
Crime-lab worker’s errors cast doubt on military verdicts
Discredited Army analyst built his career around crime lab