News 11.20.09

Innocence Network Asks Ohio Appeals Court to Grant New Trial Based on Tainted Forensic Evidence


Over a decade after Derrick Wheat's murder conviction in Cleveland, Innocence Network cites faulty evidence as grounds for a new trial



(CLEVELAND, OH; Friday, November 20, 2009) – A Cleveland man convicted of murder based on unreliable forensic science should receive a new trial, the Innocence Network argued in a friend-of-the-court brief filed on Friday.

The Innocence Network (an affiliation of more than 50 organizations working to overturn and prevent wrongful convictions) filed the brief, written by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, at the Court of Appeals in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in support of Derrick Wheat today. The brief argues that Wheat's 1996 murder conviction relied on unreliable gunshot residue evidence – a type of forensic science that is prone to contamination.

"The jury at Derrick Wheat's trial heard that gunshot residue was solid science linking him to the crime. We now know that the test employed was unreliable; and the evidence may have been contaminated. The only sensible solution is to give him a new trial," said David Loftis, Managing Attorney at the Innocence Project. Affiliated with Cardozo School of Law, the Innocence Project is a founding member of the Innocence Network.

Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences released a comprehensive report finding that the forensic sciences need significantly strengthened oversight, research, uniform standards and support in order to play a more reliable role in identifying perpetrators of crime, protecting the wrongly accused and ensuring public safety. Gunshot residue is an example of a forensic discipline that needs standardization since so many outdated tests that are unreliable and inaccurate are still widely used.

Once of the most serious problems with forensic science is that it is not unusual for forensic disciplines once considered reliable to be partially or wholly discredited after more rigorous scientific evaluation is conducted.  That is exactly what has happened in Wheat's case, the Innocence Network brief argues.  The gun from the crime scene was transported in a police car, which would likely have traces of gunshot residue throughout.  Similarly, it was transported to a police station, where it may well have been contaminated by other nitrates. 

Under the Ohio Rule of Evidence 403(A), the evidence's probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and confusion.  Because of the unreliability of the gunshot residue evidence originally introduced at trial, the Innocence Network is urging the court to order a new trial for Wheat.

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For more on the National Academy of Sciences report on forensic science – and efforts to implement reforms recommended in the report – visit

the Just Science Coalitio

n website.


Download the full brief here

.

 

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