DNA Testing Proves that Houston Man Was Wrongfully Convicted of Rape in 1995; Case Highlights Serious HPD Crime Lab Problems
The Innocence Project, which represents Ronnie Taylor, expects him to be freed this month; faulty testing in HPD lab led to wrongful conviction
(HOUSTON, TX; October 3, 2007) – DNA test results prove that Ronnie Taylor did not commit a 1993 Houston rape for which he was convicted in 1995 – and the DNA results instead implicate another man, who is already in prison – the Innocence Project, which represents Taylor, said today.
Taylor was convicted in May 1995 of raping a woman in her home in May 1993. Responding to the scene less than an hour after the crime, two police officers identified a “wet spot” on the bed sheet where the rape occurred. A serologist in the Houston Police Department Crime Laboratory testified at Taylor’s trial that she conducted testing on the bed sheet and other evidence. She testified that her testing yielded “negative” results for the presence of semen. Earlier this year, the Innocence Project secured DNA testing on the bed sheet, which now shows that the stain was, in fact, semen – and that it came from another man (who is already in prison), not from Ronnie Taylor.
“We are working now on securing Ronnie Taylor’s release from prison, which should happen later this month,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project. “The Harris County District Attorney’s Office quickly agreed to DNA testing in this case and has been extremely cooperative. We are focused on securing Ronnie Taylor’s exoneration, and also working with community leaders and others to resolve outstanding problems left by the past failures of the HPD Crime Lab.” Scheck said Taylor’s case illustrates the depth of problems in the HPD Crime Lab that have been uncovered in recent years.
“Ronnie Taylor’s wrongful conviction is the result of serious problems in the Houston Police Department Crime Lab,” said Scheck. The Innocence Project is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “The HPD Crime Lab failed to identify a stain on a sheet as semen. If the HPD Crime Lab had correctly identified the semen stain, DNA testing could have been conducted and Ronnie Taylor might not have been convicted. The faulty testing conducted in the HPD Crime Lab led to Ronnie Taylor’s wrongful conviction and prevented law enforcement from apprehending the true perpetrator.”
Nearly five years ago, local media reports exposed serious problems in the HPD Crime Lab’s DNA unit. The police chief at the time ordered an audit of the DNA unit by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). The audit uncovered deficiencies in procedures, personnel training and the handling, interpretation and documentation of DNA results. DNA work by the lab was immediately suspended. Two Innocence Project clients were subsequently exonerated in cases that further exposed the extent of the problems in the HPD Crime Lab. An independent review of the HPD Crime Lab was completed earlier this year, and found serious problems in hundreds of cases. The serious problems in the HPD Crime Lab stretch beyond cases where DNA testing was conducted – and include hundreds of cases where serology (blood-typing) may have been conducted and analyzed erroneously, the Innocence Project said.
“There is a legacy of old cases where faulty serology testing was conducted, and Ronnie Taylor’s case is not the first or the last where new DNA testing shows the extent of the problem in the HPD Crime Lab,” Scheck said. “As we work quickly to secure Ronnie Taylor’s release from prison, we are also developing a plan for engaging law enforcement and the community to help identify the questionable cases from the HPD Crime Lab and expedite DNA testing that can resolve hundreds of cases.”
Taylor was convicted based on the victim’s identification of him. The victim said that she felt the perpetrator’s features, but could not see him, during the attack, and that she glimpsed him briefly as he was fleeing her home – but the glimpse was in a dark room, lit only by a streetlight across the street outside of her house, and it lasted only about three seconds. During the police investigation, Taylor was put in a lineup because he lived near where the perpetrator was last seen. Since police could not reach the victim to come to the station for a lineup, they videotaped it and brought the tape to her home. She viewed the lineup in the presence of one police officer – without witnesses or attorneys for the defendant. While watching the video, the victim suddenly “remembered” that the perpetrator had a tooth missing (which was not part of her initial description), and she identified Taylor.
Taylor’s defense attorney unsuccessfully challenged the identification at his trial. Another witness at the trial was Maria Carrejo, an analyst in the HPD Crime Lab’s serology section. At the trial, she testified that she conducted testing on the bed sheet to determine whether it contained semen. Asked by the prosecution whether she found any semen on the sheet, she said, “I did not.”
In 1998 the Innocence Project accepted Taylor’s case and began looking for physical evidence that could be subjected to DNA testing. The evidence was located in 2006, and it was tested at ReliaGene in 2007. Over the summer, initial test results showed that the sheet did, in fact, contain semen (in the exact area that the HPD Crime Lab marked as having tested for semen – and claimed no semen was present). Subsequent testing showed that the semen did not match Taylor’s DNA. The DNA profile on the sheet was entered into the state DNA database, where it matched a convicted offender already in prison. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office this week confirmed that the victim in the case did not know the convicted offender identified in the database, and did not have sex with anyone else in the weeks before the crime – so the semen stain on the sheets (which the HPD Crime Lab missed) must have come from the perpetrator, who is not Taylor.
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