The ghost of Joyce Gilchrist remains with us. Gilchrist is the forensic chemist who worked for the Oklahoma City Police Department who fudged, concocted, created and lied about evidence in order to help the prosecution wrongly convict several defendants. One of her better known victims was Jeffrey Todd Pierce. Gilchrist lied about microscopic evidence to get him convicted, and only after he had served 15 years in prison did Gilchrist’s wrongdoing come to light. Gilchrist was fired, Pierce was released and received $4 million in damages from the City of Oklahoma City.
As the questions rose over the years about Gilchrist and her work, people continue to wonder: Why did then-District Attorney Bob Macy continue to use Gilchrist as a witness to convict people, even after her fabrication of evidence and unsupported testimony had been called into question? Why did Oklahoma County judges continue to allow Gilchrist to testify, even after Gilchrist’s employer, the City of Oklahoma City, was trying to fire her?
Of course Gilchrist has always denied all wrongdoing and claimed the City of Oklahoma City was racially prejudiced against her when the City fired her. That accusation went nowhere in court. Gilchrist has never admitted doing anything wrong despite a tsunami of evidence against her.
The latest case of Gilchrist’s malfeasance is the case of David Johns Bryson. After serving 17 years in prison, Bryson has been released. Gilchrist’s evidence against Bryson was reviewed by another expert, Brian Wraxall, chief forensic serologist at the Serological Research Institute in California. Last November, he looked over Gilchrist’s lab notes from the Bryson trial and found serious flaws. Gilchrist had received some of her training at the institute, and Gilchrist was as student of Wraxall.
Bryson was charged with rape. Key evidence used to convict him were hair, blood and semen samples. There was also other evidence linking Bryson to the crime, including eyewitness testimony and injuries to the attacker’s penis. Gilchrist testified the hair, blood and semen were “consistent” with Bryson. Better DNA techniques later developed showed the samples were not a match to Bryson, but other scientists concluded, based on a review of Gilchrist’s work done at the time, that Gilchrist should have excluded Bryson even before the 1983 trial if Gilchrist done her science correctly, regardless of DNA testing.
“Ms. Gilchrist failed to run a substrate or background control from the robe as she was taught in my laboratory, “Wraxall reported.
Gilchrist’s hair analysis was already discredited. In 2001, the FBI conducted reviews of Gilchrist’s work and concluded the hair evidence did not match Bryson. When asked about this finding, Gilchrist, in a deposition, said, “That happens all the time. Hair examination is very subjective and experts may or may not agree on the conclusions that are reached. So if someone else agrees or disagrees with my findings, I don’t put much weight in that, “she testified. Do you think Gilchrist admitted at Bryson’s jury trial that hair testified was a “subjective” finding about which experts disagree all time? More likely Gilchrist gave the jury the impression her findings carried the force of objective science, inexorable conclusions, undeniable fact. But that was her testimony to get convictions. Her later deposition was to save her own hide.
Whether Gilchrist was even qualified to conduct such tests was an issue in the lawsuit filed by Bryson. Gilchrist’s college transcripts show she had some trouble performing academically in some of her courses. She was placed on academic probation plural times and academic suspension. She was questioned at her deposition about her sometimes sub-par performance at the FBI Academy as well. For instance, she misidentified some hair samples on tests. But she graduated from the Academy and from college.
Gilchrist at one point stated she regretted not expounding on her answers more in trials. She did not specifically state she regretted putting so many innocent people in prison with her false testimony.
And, despite the criticism that was becoming more public, then-District Attorney Bob Macy backed her fully and continued to use as his expert witness. She got convictions, so why quit? Even after the Oklahoma City Police Department tried to can her, Mr. Macy wrote on her behalf and wanted to continue to use to get more convictions. When he was asked about the falsification or tampering with evidence, he expressed indignation that anyone would question “law enforcement” or its motives. In other words, just take our word for it and don’t ask any questions, exactly what the public did for too long.
It took the heroic act of U.S. District Judge Ralph Thompson to bring Gilchrist down. Only someone so respected as Judge Thompson, when he ruled so unequivocally and extensively about her mistakes, could call attention to her wrongdoing and stop her. No state judges had the courage or the understanding to do it; they simply rubber-stamped the prosecution to assist in sending one after another innocent man to prison.