Maryland expert fabricated credentials, testimony is questioned


The former head of the Maryland State Police firearms division suddenly retired days ago and then committed suicide, and police revealed yesterday that an investigation showed that he lied repeatedly on the witness stand about his credentials. Joseph Kopera, 61, had worked as a forensic expert for 37 years on state and federal cases in every Maryland jurisdiction as well as in Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys told the Baltimore Sun last night that this revelation could lead to new trials for dozens of inmates that Kopera helped to convict.

“It raises huge red flags, and it’s particularly disturbing because he had been doing this for so long that God knows how many cases he’s been involved in,” (Public Defender) Michelle Nethercott said yesterday evening in a telephone interview from Annapolis, where she was testifying in favor of a bill that would require oversight of police crime labs in Maryland.

As a firearms examiner – first with the Baltimore Police Department and then the state police – Kopera collected and then analyzed bullets, shell casings, weapons and other forensic evidence. Given the length and breadth of Kopera’s work, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys alike said yesterday that the implications of the investigation could be tremendous, with the analysis of every bullet and every weapon that has passed through Kopera’s crime laboratory called into question. …

“The potential problem cannot be overstated,” said Thomas J. Fleckenstein, a former Anne Arundel County assistant state’s attorney. “Every case he has ever been involved in is open to question. There will be a lot of prosecutors having a lot of heartburn.”

Read the full story here

. (Baltimore Sun, 03/09/07)

The Innocence Project has worked on many cases in which the discovery of crime lab misconduct has led to the exoneration of innocent people. Forensic fraud is troubling because in many cases handled by these notorious experts, evidence that could have proven innocence has been lost or destroyed after conviction. Cases is which DNA evidence can lead to exoneration are rare, and they point to larger problems in the criminal justice system.


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