News 10.24.13

New Jersey Prosecutor Agrees to Reverse the Conviction of New Jersey Man Who Served 19 Years for a Murder that New DNA Evidence Shows He Didn’t Commit


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


 

Contacts: Paul Cates,

pcates@innocenceproject.org


Alana Massie,

amassie@innocencerproject.org


 

(New York, NY – October 24, 2013) Today the Somerset County, New Jersey Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano filed a motion conceding that Gerald Richardson’s murder conviction should be reversed after he spent 19 years in prison. 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 Monday, October 28th, and lawyers for the Innocence Project will seek his release.

 

“We are grateful that the Somerset County Prosecutor agrees that Mr. Richardson’s murder conviction should be reversed based on new DNA evidence,” said Vanessa Potkin, a Senior Staff Attorney with the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “Our priority now is to get Mr. Richardson released from prison, and we’re hopeful the prosecution will dismiss the charges of consent to his release while it conducts further investigation in the case.”

 

In responding to the Innocence Project’s motion to reverse Richardson’s conviction, Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano concedes that the new DNA evidence “is the sort that would probably change a jury’s view of the evidence,” and agrees that the conviction should be reversed. But Soriano has not yet consented to dismissing the indictment. Even if the prosecution seeks additional time to investigate the case, the Innocence Project will work to get Richardson released based on the overwhelming evidence pointing to his innocence.

 

Richardson was convicted of the February 20, 1994 murder of Reyes based largely on the testimony of a forensic dentist who claimed that a bite mark on the victim’s body matched to Richardson. The only other evidence presented against Richardson at trial was the testimony of Reyes’ boyfriend who claimed that Richardson threatened to kill her because she owed him money for selling drugs. Richardson became a suspect 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. Although the boyfriend had spoken to police several times previously, he only recalled the threat after police told him about the bite mark match.

 

Richardson always maintained his innocence of the murder. He was eventually granted the right to submit a 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.

 

“Bite mark evidence, which has never been scientifically validated, turns out to be extremely unreliable, contributing to the wrongful arrests or convictions of at least 24 people,” said Potkin. “Fortunately, the police took a swab from the bite mark that shows that the crime was committed by another male.”

 

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. Notably, the forensic dentist who testified in Richardson’s case, Dr. Ira Titnuk, was also involved in one of the other 24 cases involving faulty bite mark evidence, 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.

 

Richardson will next appear in the Somerset County Superior Court on Monday, October 28 and the Innocence Project will urge the court to release Richardson from prison while the prosecution decides how to proceed on the case.

 

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

http://www.innocenceproject.org/files/imported/richardson_final_motion_to_vacate_091713-5.pdf

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