Monday, 10 August 2009

'Nuther exoneration implicates Houston PD crime lab

While I was away from the blog this week, Texas saw its 42nd DNA exoneration, this time out of Houston - another case stemming from flawed analyses from the Houston PD crime lab. Here's the New York Times' description:

It was a scene replayed with alarming frequency in Texas: a 46-year-old man walked out of prison here Friday afternoon after spending 23 years behind bars for a sex crime that the evidence suggests he did not commit.

The man, Ernest Sonnier, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison largely on the strength of the victim’s testimony, even though the forensic evidence gathered from her body and clothes showed that someone with a blood type different from the defendant’s had raped her, lawyers from the Innocence Project in New York said.

“It’s just sloppy science, at best,” said Alba Morales, who represents Mr. Sonnier.

Over the last 18 months, genetic testing of evidence found on the victim’s clothing and at the scene of the attack had yielded no trace of Mr. Sonnier, the Harris County district attorney’s office said. Instead, it has implicated two other men. Both are felons and known associates. One is awaiting trial for a different rape.

In light of the new evidence, Judge Michael McSpadden of Harris County District Court on Friday ordered Mr. Sonnier to be released pending further investigation, a first step toward exoneration, which under Texas law can be granted only by the state’s highest criminal court. ...

Texas leads the nation in cases in which convicted men have been exonerated through DNA tests. Thirty-eight of the nation’s 241 people cleared since 1989 were convicted here, according to the Innocence Project, a charity dedicated to such cases.

Another four Texas inmates — among them Mr. Sonnier — have been released from prison but are still waiting for to have their convictions overturned.

Mr. Sonnier’s case is the latest in a string of faulty convictions linked to the Houston Police Department Crime Laboratory, the center of a long-running scandal over sloppy procedures.
Given that one of the men implicated in the crime is awaiting trial for another rape, one wonders how many more victims were racked up in the years since Sonnier's false conviction? I don't know the answer, but apparently at least one too many.


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