Panel of Scientists Finds Houston Crime Lab Official’s Testimony to be False
8/5/2004 1:50 PM
A panel of six independent forensic scientists will file a report in Texas state court today, stating that a Houston crime lab official’s testimony in a 1987 rape case was either scientifically unsound, or an outright lie.
James Bolding, who was the head of the lab’s serology unit in 1987, gave testimony that helped convict George Rodriguez of raping a fourteen year-old girl.
At the time of the crime, the victim stated that two men had kidnapped and raped her. One man, Manual Beltran, confessed, and named Isidro Yanez as the second perpetrator. Initially unable to locate Yanez, police investigated Rodriguez, who occasionally associated with Beltran. During Rodriguez’ subsequent trial, Bolding testified that Yanez’ blood type categorically excluded him as the rapist, leading jurors to convict Rodriguez. According to the expert panel, Bolding’s statement conflicted with the basic principles of serology, and was “either the result of perjury, or gross incompetence.” [Cited from: HoustonChronicle.com].
The court sentenced twenty-six year-old Rodriguez, who was innocent, to sixty years in prison. Now forty-seven, Rodriguez has finally been cleared by court-ordered DNA tests. These tests revealed that Yanez was, in fact, the second rapist.
Beyond Rodriguez’ release, attorneys are now seeking an independent forensic audit of thousands of cases the lab has investigated over the last twenty-five years. According to the expert panel, “a serious danger exists that [lab officials] may have offered similarly false testimony” in some of these cases. The former director of the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office estimates that 5,000 to 10,000 cases at a minimum will need to be reexamined.
The city is already investigating 360 cases involving the lab’s DNA unit, which was shut down after a 2002 state audit. Auditors discovered that poorly trained DNA technicians were misinterpreting data, keeping poor records, and in some cases using up all available evidence, which made double-checking their work impossible. So far, this investigation has led to the exoneration of one man, and has revealed serious problems in at least forty other cases.
Now faced with reexamining thousands of additional cases in which innocent people may have been convicted upon false information from the lab, Harris County is in the midst of a serious crime lab scandal. According to Rodriguez’ attorney, Harris County is one of the worst places for such a scandal, because the jurisdiction has executed more people than any other county in the United States. Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 73 people have been executed for crimes in Harris County.
Compiled from: Ralph Blumenthal & Adam Liptak, New Doubt Cast on Crime Testing in Houston Cases, N.Y.Times.com; Steve McVicker & Andrew Tilghman, More Crime Lab Troubles Possible, HoustonChronicle.com.