Mississippi Death Row Case Returns to Court Based on New Evidence
The case of Eddie Lee Howard, who was convicted in 1994 of raping and killing an elderly Columbus woman, will be back in court this week when lawyers from the Mississippi Innocence Project and the Innocence Project argue that he deserves a new trial. Along with new DNA evidence that excludes Howard from the crime, the forensic odontologist whose bite mark testimony led a jury to convict Howard now says that bite mark evidence is highly unreliable and that it should not be used in court.
In 1992, Kemp was found in her burning home—beaten, raped, and stabbed to death. Howard, who had just been released from prison, was charged with the crime. At his trial, a well-known forensic odontologist, Michael West, testified that he had found a bite mark on the victim’s body, which had been exhumed, and that the mark was a unique match to Howard’s teeth. Based in large part on this testimony, Howard was convicted and sentenced to death, first in 1992 and then again in 1994 after the Supreme Court ordered a new trial.
In the years since Howard’s conviction, bite mark analysis has been discredited in both scientific and legal circles, including the National Academy of Sciences. More than two dozen people who were convicted based, at least in part, on bite mark evidence in the United States, have since been exonerated based on DNA evidence. West provided damning testimony in some of those cases as well, tying innocent people to crime scenes based on bite mark analysis that was grounded in speculation, not science. Now seeing how many innocent people were sent to prison based on his testimony and analysis, West said if he were ever on the witness stand again, he would say that bite mark evidence is not reliable enough to be used in court, according to a
In addition to the DNA results, which exclude Howard, other evidence points to another perpetrator. According to the
, five other senior citizens were killed—some stabbed to death and found in burning homes, similar to Kemp—in Columbus between 1996 and 1998, years when Howard was already on death row. New DNA tests could provide new clues, says the
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