News 09.18.13

Innocence Project Asks New Jersey Court to Reverse Conviction of New Jersey Man Who Has Wrongly Served 19 Years in Prison


New DNA Evidence Shows Erroneous Bite Mark Analysis Contributed to Wrongful Conviction of Gerard Richardson


 


To Appear in Court in Somerset County on Thursday, September 19


 

Contacts: Paul Cates,

pcates@innocenceproject.org


Alana Massie,

amassie@innocencerproject.org


 

(New York, NY — September 18, 2013) Today the Innocence Project filed a motion before a court in Somerset County urging the court to reverse the murder conviction of Gerard Richardson based on new DNA evidence. Richardson was convicted of the 1994 murder of Monica Reyes based largely on the testimony of a forensic dentist who testified that Richardson’s teeth matched to a bite mark found on the victim’s body. New DNA testing of a swab taken from the bite mark excludes Richardson as the source and points to another male perpetrator. Richardson will appear in court on the motion on Thursday, September 19 at 1:30 PM.

 

“The prosecution has been clear all along that this case rests on the testimony of a bite mark analyst, which has now been proven to be erroneous by DNA testing,” said Vanessa Potkin, a Senior Staff Attorney with the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “We’re hopeful that the prosecutor will now acknowledge that Mr. Richardson couldn’t possibly have committed this crime and consent to his release.”

 

Reyes was last seen alive on February 20, 1994 when she left her apartment in Elizabeth, New Jersey at approximately 10:45 PM, having told her mother that she was going out to buy cigarettes but telling her youngest brother that she was going to meet a “guy with money.” Five days later, two land surveyors discovered her partially clothed body in Bernards Township, approximately thirty miles from her home. Her body had been badly beaten and the medical examiner discovered what appeared to be a bite mark on her back, which he swabbed for further forensic testing.

 

Richardson became a suspect in the murder after law enforcement learned that Reyes, who was addicted to heroin, had sold drugs for him on a few occasions to support her habit and owed him approximately $90. When questioned by the detectives, Richardson denied any involvement in the murder and allowed them to take exemplars of his teeth. Forensic dentist Dr. Ira Titunik compared the exemplars to photographs of the bite marks from Reyes’ body and concluded that Richardson was responsible for the bite.

 

Richardson was arrested for the murder on June 9, 1994. Without any physical evidence linking Richardson to the crime, Prosecutors relied heavily on the testimony of Titunik who told the jury “that this mark was made by Gerard Richardson … there was no question in my mind.” The only other evidence against Richardson was the testimony from Reyes’ mother, brothers and boyfriend who testified that Reyes sold drugs for Richardson on a few occasions and owed him money, which Richardson attempted to collect. The boyfriend claimed that on one occasion shortly before her disappearance Richardson had threatened to kill her. Although the boyfriend had spoken to police several times previously, he only recalled the threat after police told him about the bite mark match. Although Richardson’s attorney called another forensic dentist who testified that Richardson wasn’t responsible for the bite mark, the jury convicted him of killing Reyes, and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

 

Richardson always maintained his innocence of the murder. He was eventually granted the right to submit the swab recovered from the bite mark to DNA testing, but earlier rounds of testing were inconclusive. His attorneys eventually sought help from the Innocence Project, which took over his representation. The remaining evidence was submitted once again for testing, and the lab was able to detect a complete male DNA profile from the evidence that excluded Richardson.

 

“The case against Mr. Richardson was always extremely weak, resting on bite mark evidence that we now know is extremely unreliable,” added Potkin. “Fortunately we were able to do DNA testing that clears Mr. Richardson of this crime, and we’re hopeful that he will soon be reunited with his family.”

 

In its 2009 report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, the National Academy of Sciences cautioned against the use of bite mark comparison evidence, noting that the discipline had never been scientifically validated or demonstrated to be reliable. Since 2000, at least 24 innocent men whose convictions and/or arrests were based on evidence “matching” their teeth to a bite mark on human skin have been cleared. Notably, Dr. Titnuk was also involved in one of those cases, having confirmed the opinion of another forensic dentist who claimed incorrectly (as it turned out) that Edmund Burke was responsible for bite marks found on a 75-year-old rape and murder victim in Walpole, Massachusetts. Subsequent DNA testing of saliva from the bite mark excluded Burke and pointed to another perpetrator who was identified when the profile was uploaded to the national DNA database.

 

“It’s deeply troubling that forensic testimony that was ultimately found to be erroneous has contributed to the wrongful conviction of Mr. Richardson,” said Scheck. “The state should conduct a review of all cases where the prosecution relied on bite mark analysis to ensure that others haven’t been wrongly convicted.”

 

Mr. Richardson will appear in the Somerset County Superior Court on Thursday, September 19 at 1:30 PM. The prosecutor’s office could announce in court how it intends to respond to the papers filed today.

 

WHAT: Gerard Richardson will appear before Somerset County Judge John Pursel seeking to overturn his 1994 murder conviction based on new DNA evidence pointing to his innocence.

 

WHO: Gerard Richardson and Innocence Project Attorneys Barry Scheck and Vanessa Potkin.

 

WHEN: Thursday, September 19, 2013, 1:30 PM

 

WHERE: Judge John Pursel

Somerset County Superior Court

20 North Bridge Street

Somerville, NJ

 

A copy of Richardson’s motion to overturn his conviction is available at

http://www.innocenceproject.org/files/imported/richardson_final_motion_to_vacate_091713-4.pdf

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