Criminal Defendants Wrongly Convicted by False Evidence—– More wrongdoings by Joyce Gilchrist

July 4, 2009

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.

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Wrongful Convictions in Houston Caused by Bad Forensics

May 6, 2009

Now it’s the turn of Houston to develop a rash of wrongful convictions.  Gary Alvin Richard is expected to be released any day due to errors from the Houston crime lab.  He has spent 22 years in prison for a rape. The conviction for that rape was based upon forensic tests which now indicate he did not commit the crime.

Richard is the latest case to discredit the Houston Police Department crime lab.  Richard , if ultimately cleared of this crime, would be the fourth person whose conviction was overturned because of faulty forensics from the lab.

Both prosecutors and Richard’s defense lawyers agree that Richard should be freed on bail, but prosecutors are not convinced Richard is innocent of the crime. Prosecutors agree that the new lab results contradict the findings that were used to convict Richard at trial, but prosecutors maintain they do not know Richard is innocent of the rape.  Gary Alvin Richard’s lawyer, Bob Wicoff, claims the new tests prove his client’s innocence.

Other problems in the Houston lab have prompted a review of past cases.  A review was undertaken of more than 150 cases involving questionable blood-typing evidence.  The review showed in Richard’s case that crime lab analysts had conflicting results from their tests but reported only conclusions that pointed toward conviction.  Then they destroyed the physical evidence that was tested, thus eliminating any possibility of DNA testing.

While Richard was in prison, his mother, father and brother died.  His son, nine years old when he entered prison, is now 32 years old with two children.   But Richard himself is philosophical about it all.  Richard not surprisingly had prior convictions, convictions for drug dealing and theft. He said it was “God’s will that he ended up in prison.”  “I probably would have ended up back in prison or dead,” Richard also said in an interview from jail.  “I have gotten a hold of my life. I am not angry.”

Without waiting to pour over any other evidence, without a moments thought about any scintilla of evidence they might use to convict Richard in a retrial, the prosecution ought to dismiss all charges against Richard just for his attitude.


Cheating Prosecutors May Face Rare Penalties As Conviction is Reversed and Justice Department to be Investigated

April 27, 2009

It is not unheard of for the prosecution to cheat, hide evidence, manufacture evidence and generally manipulate the justice system to achieve injustice.  But in the case of former United States Senator Ted Stevens Republican-Alaska, not only was the ill-gotten criminal conviction dismissed but the Judge has vowed to investigate the Justice Department.  This is rare on both counts, especially for a Judge to pursue sanctions beyond the routine tongue-lashing.

“In nearly 25 years on the bench, I’ve never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I’ve seen in this case,” United States District Judge Emmet Sullivan said, as he spoke for 14 minutes with thinly-veiled anger.  The trial of the former Alaska Senator was held in the District of Columbia, where Judge Sullivan sits.   Judge Sullivan appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the Justice Department lawyers who prosecuted Senator Stevens.  They repeatedly withheld evidence from Senator Stevens’ lawyers during the trial.  The trial resulted in Stevens’ conviction last October for lying on federal disclosure forms about gifts and home renovations he received from wealthy friends.  The rules of federal procedure provide for the appointment of a special prosecutor for contempt investigations, but is rarely done.

Judge Sullivan, appointed Henry F. Scheulke III of Washington, D.C., to investigate contempt and obstruction by the Justice Department lawyers.  Mr. Scheulke is a former prosecutor and experienced defense attorney who oversaw a Senate Ethics Committee investigation and influence-peddling allegations in 1989 against former New York Senator Alfonse D’ Amato.  Scheulke will investigate six career lawyers with the Justice Department, including the William Welch, chief, and Brenda Morris, deputy chief of the Public Integrity Section, an elite unit that deals with official corruption.  The other lawyers to be investigated for possible criminal charges are Joseph W. Bottini, James A. Goeke, Nicholas A. Marsh and Edward P. Sullivan (no relation to Judge Sullivan or to Brendan Sullivan, attorney for Senator Stevens).

The judge said the matter was too serious to be left to an internal investigation by the Justice Department, which had dragged its feet, he said, before looking into the misconduct.  He criticized Attorney General Michael Mukasey for not responding to complaints.  The said reaction of the Justice Department was “shocking but not surprising.”  Of course, this is the usual result of charges of misconduct by the prosecution: File 13.  Nothing ever happens, the prosecutors know nothing ever happens, so what disincentive is there not to do again.  It is similar to police who manipulate evidence: they only rarely suffer any penalties for their constant corruption of the justice system.

But Judge Sullivan did not let die the wrongdoing of these prosecutors.  He called on Attorney General Eric Holder, who dismissed Senator Stevens’ conviction on April 1st in recognition of his department’s ill deeds, to retrain all prosecutors in the Justice Department.

Some observers have remarked that, notwithstanding the wrongdoing of the Justice lawyers, there was a healthy amount of evidence incriminating Senator Stevens.  These observers suggest he has not been convicted, but he really doesn’t look innocent of wrongdoing.  Senator Stevens was defeated in his Senate reelection campaign days after the guilty jury verdict in this trial.

Regardless of the guilt or innocence of this Senator or a thousand other accused citizens, if the United States Justice Department, and its elite Public Integrity Section no less, cannot carry out its work in an ethical manner, our system of justice is corrupt.

During the five-week trial, the prosecution lawyers were repeatedly forced to admit they had not turned over materials to the defense.  Judge Sullivan even said then,“How does anyone have any confidence that the Public Integrity Section has any integrity?”  But the judge overruled defense objections, as always happens, and allowed the prosecution’s tainted case to go the jury.  Not surprisingly, the jury found the Senator guilty.  However, the surprise came when Judge Sullivan then threw out the jury verdict.  The still-further surprise came when the Judge gave notice that the wrong-doing prosecutors would not just go home to cheat again in their next trial.  This time they might have to pay some penalty for wrongdoing—for a change and for the better.  It’s about time.


Another Corrupt District Attorney Makes Citizens Pay

January 17, 2009

Harry Connick, then the New Orleans District Attorney, wrongfully convicted a man named John Thompson in 1983. Thompson spent 18 years on death row but eventually was proved to have been wrongfully convicted. Then Thompson sought compensation in federal court for this injustice. The jury awarded Thompson $15 million, but the District Attorney’s Office is now making noises about taking bankruptcy because it cannot pay the judgment.

Harry F. Connick , now deceased, was no stranger to controversy. The father of the well known jazz singer, Harry Connick, Jr. Harry F. Connick had been put on trial in 1990 himself. The then-District Attorney since 1974, was tried in federal court for racketeering by aiding an illegal gambling operation. Connick was accused of returning to the big time gambler, Walton Aucoin, gambling records that had been seized in a 1988 raid. The trial was originally prosecuted by the local U.S. Attorney, who had worked for Connick, John Voltz, who then recused after accusations of his personal bias against Connick. Besides Aucoin, six other defendants included gamblers Wilson Abraham, a New Orleans businessman and customer of Aucoin, who lent Connick $15, 000 in a political campaign and actor Paul Burke, Palms Springs, California. Connick was acquitted, although all the other defendants were convicted.

Nor is the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office a stranger to controversy. In October, 2007, Eddie Jordan, the then-District Attorney resigned from office, pressed by a $3.7 million dollar race discrimination civil rights verdict against his office that threatened to shut down the office. Jordan had already faced criticism for dismissal of high-profile murder cases, mass resignations in the office, and failure to prosecute crimes n a city with the nation’s highest murder rate, especially the chaos following Hurricane Katrina. The race discrimination judgment came from the 2005 federal court case in which the jury found he had, as accused, discriminated against the 43 white employees whom he fired because of their race. Only after Eddie Jordan had resigned from office did state and city officials help pay the $3.7 million judgment. Ultimately, the State of Louisiana agreed to pay $1.6 million, the city of New Orleans agreed to pay $1.1 million, and the District Attorney’s Office pay $600,000 to satisfy the judgment.

Now the facts of the latest verdict against the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office for the wrongful conviction of John Thompson. Thompson had had his execution postponed half a dozen times until it was discovered he did not commit the armed robbery of which he was convicted. Then it was revealed prosecutors at his trial had hidden blood tests that proved he had not committed the robbery. Put on trial again for the murder of Raymond Liuzza, Jr. Thompson at this latter jury trial used all the evidence the District Attorney had hidden from the jury in the original trial, and the jury acquitted him after only a half-hour deliberation.

Now exonerated from having committed the crime yet imprisoned for 18 years by the wrongful acts of the District Attorney’s Office, Thompson filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court. The jury decided in favor of Thompson and award him $15 million. The present District Attorney, Leon Cannizzaro, defended that lawsuit and now must come up with a way to pay for it. Cannizzaro did not do himself proud when arguing to the appellate federal court that Thompson did not deserve this $15 million in the trial court. Canizzaro argued to the appellate court that death row wasn’t really all that bad, that Thompson had been allowed all that gotten to watch TV and play chess and all his medical care was taken care of as he waited for execution date after execution date to be re-set.

The appellate court remarked that the District Attorney presented a “misleading, rosy picture” of life on death row. The court knew that Thompson had spent nearly two decades of his life in the Angola prison in a six-by-nine foot cell without windows or air conditioning for 23 hours a day. The court heard evidence describing the prison with screaming out at all hours of the day and night, and with inmates who hurled human excrement and “the stench that permeated” the joint. Thompson received four visits a year from family members, but was otherwise left to himself to contemplate his impending execution. Experts testified that Thompson suffers from post-traumatic stress. No surprise there. So the District Attorney’s Office followed up the railroading of John Thompson with an attempt to cover up the extent of their wrongdoing.

Caught red handed now, with no where else to hid its crimes, the New Orleans District Attorney is now asking the State of Louisiana to grant his office permission to seek Chapter 9 bankruptcy.


Who’s Protecting the Accused from Government Erasing Evidence?

October 22, 2008

The state and federal governments in their many prosecutions have been caught breaking the rules. One of their favorite rules to break is one that can win them a conviction that should not be. Prosecutors like to hide or destroy evidence that would help acquit the accused. It seems natural that would naturally be the evidence they would want to keep away from the jury, but that is one of the biggest no-nos in the criminal justice system.

The prosecution is not supposed to put innocent people in jail. More strongly, the prosecution is not supposed to knowingly put innocent, or people of questionable guilt, in jail. That is why there are rules against it. Oklahoma City chemist Joyce Gilcrest put more than a dozen innocent men on death row. Isn’t that horrifying? Not to prosecutors.

Now the United States Government has done it again. In trying to trap one of the biggest possible fishes, a sitting United States Senator, the Department of Justice has gotten caught erasing evidence. In the trial of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, the government prosecutors redacted (blacked out) information from FBI notes about an interview of witness Bill Allen. The Senator’s immediately demanded dismissal of all charges based on the government’s misconduct.

The trial judge, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, declined to dismiss, of course. The government rarely pays for its errors, and that is likely why such dirty tricks continue on both the state and federal level. The judge chastised the government severely, of course, but the government’s case stayed alive. The judge also ordered the original versions of all the other witness interviews associated with the case to be sure nothing else has been redacted. The defense will need four days to go through all that material.

The redacted notes are from interviews of Bill Allen, the government’s star witness against Senator Stevens. The defense had originally received only the redacted notes, and the defense says the new information, that which was redacted, directly contradicts Allen’s testimony earlier, namely that Senator Stevens never paid for any of the renovations to his home.

The newly revealed notes show Bill Allen told the FBI he did not send a bill to Stevens for the improvements to Stevens’ home, despite Stevens’ requests for an invoice, because Allen thought Stevens would pay the bill if sent one. Allen did not want Stevens to pay. This is the heart of the government’s case.

The trial judge was particularly troubled because someone for the government deliberately covered up this evidence. Referring to the section of the FBI that has investigated and brought the case to trial, Judge Sullivan asked, “How does anyone have any confidence that the Public Integrity Section has any integrity? I don’t have that confidence.”

Senator Stevens is accused of accepting gifts totaling $250,000, including the free improvements to his home, and failing to disclosed them on the Senator’s annual Senate financial disclosure form.

“The trial is broken,” Robert Cary, one of Stevens’ attorneys said in asking the judge to declare a mistrial. However, in overruling the motion, the judge noted that much of the trial, including the cross examination of Bill Allen, had not yet taken place, so the defense could still use this ammunition in the trial. The defense countered that this new information changed their whole theory of the case, all the presentation of the case from the start, including opening statements.

Prosecutors are charged with the ethical duty, not only of prosecuting the guilty, but of seeking justice. This includes not prosecuting people they know or strongly suspect are innocent. The best known court decision on this point is Brady vs.Maryland , a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1963. Most prosecutors keep that in mind and stay above board, even if it means they will lose a case. That is the professional way. But it still happens too often that prosecutors do get caught hiding or destroying evidence. It continues to happen partly because of the competitive nature of prosecution, but also because the penalties are so light when they do get caught. If the penalties were truly heavy for such conduct, if the judges really had the courage to punish such behavior, prosecutors would be less willing to cheat.

Unfortunately, this leaves the accused in the position of fighting against unfair odds, and the need for an experienced, talented lawyer is absolutely essential. For someone facing a criminal charge I’ve provided  educational information on my site at  http://www.oklahomacriminallawoffice.com to help you  make critical decisions and I invite you to educate yourself to protect your rights.


Lawyer Prevented from Telling Truth to Save Man

January 14, 2008

What if a lawyer knows the truth about what the prosecution did to obtain the death sentence of a man? What if the prosecution cheated to get that death sentence? Shouldn’t the lawyer be allowed to tell the truth to save the man?

Not according to a previous ruling. Leslie Smith, a Virginia lawyer, had to keep his secret for 10 years because the Virginia Bar Association ethics counselor ruled Smith could say nothing about the wrongful conduct of the authorities in securing the death penalty of Daryl Atkins for robbery-murder.

Now, the Virginia ethics counselor has changed its mind, so Leslie Smith has made public the facts of the prosecution’s misconduct 10 years ago. The result; Daryl Smith’s death sentence was commuted to a life sentence by a state judge in Yorktown, Virginia.

Why was lawyer Leslie Smith not allowed to reveal what he knew, and what did he know? Leslie Smith represented Daryl Smith’s co-defendant, William Jones. Leslie Smith attended his client’s interview by prosecutor, Cathy Krinick. As that interview proceeded, Krinick stopped William Jones, saying “Les, do you see we have a problem here?”. The problem was Jones’ version of the facts, as Jones was telling things, which was to implicate Daryl Smith as the triggerman in the crime.

Krinick then turned of the tape recording for 15 minutes, during which she coached William Jones on the version of testimony he should give to fit the physical evidence in the case, to make a better case for the prosecution. After prosecutor Krinick got William Jones properly prepared in what Jones should say, Krinick turned the tape recording back on and completed the interview.

Daryl Smith’s lawyers knew nothing about this “coaching” of William Jones when Daryl Atkins received the death penalty. Leslie Smith wanted to reveal this false testimony in the case, but Smith had an ethical duty to represent William Jones and to reveal the truth could conflict with the lawyer’s duty to represent the best interests of William Jones and only the interests of William Jones. Jones got a life sentence for his cooperation in helping convict Daryl Atkins.

Leslie Smith understood this possible conflict, so he asked the Virginia Bar Association for permission to reveal the truth ten years ago. The Virginia Bar Association ethics counselor told Smith he had an ethical duty to keep silent. This bothered Smith for 10 years, so Smith asked the ethics counselor again last year, and this time the ethics counselor changed its answer, allowing Leslie Smith to reveal his secret and save Daryl Atkins.

The prosecutor’s office denies the version Leslie Smith gives of the Daryl Atkins interview but does not explain why the interview which lasted from 4:15 pm to 6:16 pm contains only 1 hour and 45 minutes of material on the audiotape. The gap is there.

Did Leslie Smith save Daryl Atkins from execution? Very possibly, but there was another issue pending in the case, that of Daryl Atkins’ mental retardation. The United States Supreme Court had already ruled in this case in 2002 that the Constitution prohibits execution of the mentally retarded. The case was then sent back to Virginia to determine whether Atkins was in fact retarded. The prosecution claimed Atkins was not mentally retarded. Once the truth of Daryl Atkins’ interview was revealed and the Virginia judge commuted Atkins’ death sentence to life imprisonment, however, the issue of whether Atkins is mentally retarded makes moot this issue. Daryl Atkins is no longer under a death sentence.

This case is a good example of how complicated legal issues can be in criminal matters and a reminder of how important it is to seek legal help from a talented, experienced attorney with a reputation for high ethical standards. It’s possible that Atkins could have been executed if attorney, Leslie Smith had not been concerned with ethics to the extent to bring the matter to the ethics counselor a second time. Furthermore, it makes a difference when a lawyer who is considered professional and ethical presents such evidence to the court. The court is more likely to view the information as credible.

I guarantee that anyone facing a criminal charge will want his lawyer to be seen as competent, credible, honest, and ethical by the court. The accused person needs and deserves a fully competent and effective criminal defense.