An editorial in Sunday’s edition of
said that faulty forensic science may have contributed to Gerard Richardson being sent to prison for a murder that he did not commit. Richardson was found guilty of the 1994 murder of Monica Reyes. His conviction was based on the testimony of a forensic dentist who said that Richardson’s teeth matched 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. The Innocence Project filed a motion before a court last month urging the court to reverse the murder conviction.
After the hearing, [Somerset County Assistant Prosecutor Timothy] Van Hise suggested an entirely new scenario: that the victim’s bite mark could have been made by Richardson, and the DNA left by a second assailant. This requires some mental gymnastics. “So there’s a second, phantom perpetrator who drooled on her in the exact same place where Gerard Richardson bit her, without leaving any of his saliva?” said his Innocence Project attorney, Vanessa Potkin. “It doesn’t hold water.”
So Richardson remains in prison, even though a DNA test says the bite mark that was the crux of his conviction wasn’t actually his.
Although the DNA results that excluded Richardson from the bite mark are accurate, they can’t be run through the FBI’s database because of laws preventing test results from private labs being submitted to the federal bank. Evidence in this case was tested at a private California-based lab that has a strong record of getting results from old, degraded evidence. While it wouldn’t apply to Richardson’s case, the New Jersey Legislature has proposed a new statute that would allow judges to order state forensic experts to go through a preapproval process for private labs, aiming to prevent what has happened in Richardson’s case from happening with future innocence claims.
The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office has agreed to file its response to the Innocence Project’s motion to vacate Richardson’s conviction by October 23. Vanessa Potkin told
that she has no doubt that Richardson will be exonerated, but explained that having the capacity to identify the real perpetrator would save them legal hurdles. Potkins said to
, “ ‘We would have much less of a fight from the Prosecutor’s Office if we could identify who that person is … and bring justice for a victim who was brutally murdered.’ ”
Read the full editorial