This week marks the eighth anniversary of Jimmy Ray Bromgard’s exoneration in Montana. Convicted at just 18 years old, he spent nearly 15 years in prison before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project set him free.
A major cause of Bromgard’s wrongful conviction — and the second-most-common cause of wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing — was faulty forensic testimony. In many cases, inaccurate or inadequate science, or plain human error, contribute to injustice. But in some cases, like Bromgard’s, analysts knowingly engage in misconduct. In so doing, they not only breach scientific methods and ethical codes, but also perpetrate devastating injustices against the defendants.
In 1987, Bromgard was convicted of raping an eight-year-old girl and sentenced to 40 years in prison. The victim’s misidentification and the testimony of a forensic hair examiner were the leading evidence against him. The perpetrator had left several hairs on the bed sheets, and the forensic expert testified that they were consistent with Bromgard’s hair and that the chances that they were not his were less than 1 in 10,000. This damning testimony was also fraudulent: there has never been a standard by which to statistically match hairs through microscopic inspection. Fraudulent forensic scientists can thwart countless cases and strip innocent people of their freedom. The Just Science Coalition http://www.just-science.org/, an emerging network of organizations and individuals committed to reforming the forensic sciences, will play a key role in preventing further wrongful convictions. Read more http://www.just-science.org/reform.html about how the Coalition aims to improve the accuracy and reliability of forensic science.
In 2000, the Innocence Project took on Bromgard’s case, and worked alongside his postconviction attorney to locate and test the evidence from the crime. The results excluded Bromgard; the spermatozoa found on the victim’s underwear did not belong to him.
On October 1, 2002, Bromgard was exonerated. “I don’t ever think I’ll have faith in the system again,” he said after his release. He was 33 years old, and had spent part of his teens and all of his twenties behind bars.