EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, 8:45 a.m. Eastern Time Note to journalists: Please report that this research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Newswise — PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 20, 2012 — Should Lady Justice, that centuries-old personification of truth and fairness in the legal system, cast off her ancient Roman robe, sword and scales and instead embrace 21st century symbols of justice meted out objectively without fear or favor? A scientist’s laboratory jacket, perhaps? And a spiral strand of the genetic material DNA?
An unusual symposium that might beg such a question showcasing chemistry’s role in righting some of the highest-profile cases of innocent people proven guilty unfolds today at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society. It features presentations by forensic scientists, attorneys and others who used science to right wrongs, freeing innocent people and saving the lives of prisoners on death row.
Justin J. McShane, J.D., co-chair of the ACS Division of Chemistry and the Law – Forensic Science, noted that the session also will include exonerated people who spent time behind bars for crimes they did not commit.
“This combination of people will make this gathering a unique event, one never before done at such a level,” said McShane, who is chairman and CEO of the McShane Firm, Harrisburg, Pa. “It showcases chemistry’s critical, but often-hidden role in protecting the innocent through collection and accurate analysis of crime-scene and other evidence.”
Participants in the event, entitled “Forensic Chemistry, Science and the Law Presents: Innocence! The Work of the Innocence Project,” include Fred Whitehurst, the FBI agent who forced reform of the FBI Crime Lab and was almost fired for doing so; John Lentini, a premier fire investigator whose evidence showed that the State of Texas executed an innocent man; Greg Hampikian, one of the DNA test experts who got Amanda Knox freed after she was convicted of murder in Italy; and Barry Scheck from the O. J. Simpson “Dream Team” defense and co-founder of The Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.
The symposium is among the special presidential events here sponsored by ACS President Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D., who has called on the society’s 164,000 members to work as scientist-citizens in solving great global challenges of the 21st century. “We face challenges such as surging population growth, limited natural resources, malnutrition, disease, climate change, violence and war, and the denial of basic human rights,” Shakhashiri explained. “The speakers in this symposium exemplify forensic chemistry in addressing the denial of basic human rights when people are innocent, yet convicted of crimes.”
The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and to reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. So far, the project has been instrumental in the exoneration of 292 people in the U.S., including 17 who served time on death row. They served an average of 13 years in prison before being released. The presentations include:
- Forensic science: Struggles from the past, in the present and into the futureFrederic Whitehurst, Ph.D., J.D., an FBI supervisory agent working in the famed FBI laboratory, asked basic questions concerning the validity of the underlying science the laboratory was performing. He was ostracized and transferred for his whistle-blowing, but ultimately his efforts led to 40 different major reforms within the FBI laboratory.
- Fire debris and explosive investigation: Cameron Todd Willingham and other cases of innocenceJohn J. Lentini, Scientific Fire Analysis, Big Pine Key, Fla., is a world-renowned expert in chemistry and forensic science in fire and explosive debris investigations. His most famous case involves Cameron Todd Willingham of Texas. Using modern forensic fire science, Lentini showed that the state of Texas had executed an innocent man.
- Amanda Knox, and other cases of innocenceGreg Hampikian, Ph.D., Boise State University, Department of Biology, Science/Nursing, is a geneticist and expert in DNA testing, whose analysis was critical in the release of the American student Amanda Knox, who was convicted by an Italian Court of murder. He has been involved in numerous other cases involving wrongful convictions and exonerations across the globe.
- Running an innocence project: Selecting, investigating, vetting and litigating claims of actual factual innocenceMarissa Boyers Bluestine, J.D., Pennsylvania Innocence Project, Temple University Beasley School of Law, will discuss the workings of the national litigation and policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully accused persons through DNA evidence. She will speak about the process of selecting, investigating, vetting and litigating claims of actual factual innocence.
- The Innocence Project and exonerationsBarry Scheck, J.D., co-founder of the Innocence Project, New York City, was part of the "dream team" that defended O.J. Simpson in his murder trial, where he exposed the flaws surrounding the collection and interpretation of the DNA evidence. He will discuss how the organization was created and describe some of his most notable cases.
- 40-minute case study of exoneree Ray KroneRay Krone, Innocence Project, New York City, was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent 10 years in prison, including two years on death row. He will talk about how he won a new trial on appeal, but was convicted again. Ultimately, Krone was released from prison after DNA evidence proved that he did not murder the victim.
- 40-minute case study of exoneree Raymond SantanaRaymond Santana, Innocence Project, New York City, was one of five men convicted in New York City’s highly publicized Central Park Jogger Case, which involved an assault and rape. After spending 12 years in prison, he and the others were exonerated when another man claimed to have committed the crime alone and DNA evidence confirmed he committed the rape.
- 40-minute case study of exoneree Steven BarnesSteven Barnes was convicted and sentenced to 25 to life, spending 19.5 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. His trial featured some truly bizarre scientific testimony of non-validated science. Eventually, he was freed when the non-validated nature of the science was revealed.
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The seven abstracts presented at the symposium “Forensic Chemistry, Science and the Law Presents: Innocence! The Work of the Innocence Project” follow.
Forensic science: Struggles from the past, in the present, and into the futureFrederic Whitehurst1, Ph.D., JD, 126 W Washington St., Bethel, NC, 27812, United States, 252-825-1123, [email protected]
As an FBI Supervisory Agent working in the famed FBI laboratory, he asked basic questions concerning the validity of the underlying science the laboratory was preforming. A classically trained chemist, he began to document the issues he saw in the FBI laboratory calling upon his supervisors to make systemic changes for the benefit of valid science. He was rewarded with a transfer, an ostracism, and a public investigation. Eventually, Dr. Whitehurst's courage to do what was right led to 40 different major reforms within the FBI laboratory. Dr. Whitehurst will speak to us about the need for continued scrutiny of forensic science laboratories, the continuing struggle for basic validity of the testing that is presented in court and whether or not there is a path forward from the system that the National Academy of Sciences called "badly fragmented."
Fire debris and explosive investigation: Cameron Todd Willingham and other cases of innocenceJohn J. Lentini1, CFI, D-ABC, Scientific Fire Analysis, LLC, 32836 Bimini Lane, Big Pine Key, FL, 33043, United States, 770-815-6392, [email protected]
Mr. Lentini has conducted over 2,000 fire scene inspections and has been accepted as an expert witness on more than 200 occasions. He is a frequent invited speaker on the subject of the standard of care in fire investigation and laboratory analysis of fire debris, as well as on the progress of standardization in the forensic sciences. His book, Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation, is a textbook in the proper use of chemistry and forensic science in fire and explosive debris investigation. Among the many exonerations or claims of actual factual innocence, none of his cases has garnered more worldwide attention than that of Cameron Todd Willingham of Texas. Using modern forensic fire science, it is widely thought that the state of Texas executed this innocent man. Mr. Lentini will speak with us about his case work and the Willingham case.
Amanda Knox, Troy Davis, and other cases of innocenceGreg Hampikian1, PhD, Boise State University, Department of Biology, Science/Nursing 215, Boise, ID, 83725-1515, United States, 208-426-4992, [email protected]
Professor Greg Hampikian (Boise State University) is Director of the Idaho Innocence Project. He is a geneticist and professor. He is an internationally sought-out expert in DNA testing and factual innocence claims. As featured on 20/20, his analysis was integral in the release of the American Student Amanda Knox who was convicted by an Italian Court of murder. He has been involved in a great many other cases of actual Innocence including Michael Hash and many other exonerations in the US, UK, Italy and France. He was part of the scientific team that attempted to delay the execution of Troy Davis (GA) for DNA testing. Professor Hampikian will be speaking about his experience with the Knox case and other Innocence Project-related cases.
Running an innocence project: Selecting, investigating, vetting, and litigating claims of actual factual innocenceMarissa Boyers Bluestine1, JD, Pennsylvania Innocence Project, Temple University Beasley School of Law, 1719 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19122, United States, 215-204-4255, [email protected]
Attorney Bluestine is the legal director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. She will speak with us about the process of selecting, investigating, vetting, and litigating claims of actual factual innocence.
The Innocence Project and exonerationsBarry Scheck, JD, Innocence Project, 40 Worth St., Suite 701, New York, NY, 10013, United States, 212-364-5340, [email protected]
Professor Scheck (Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law) is the co-founder of the national Innocence Project. He was part of the "dream team" that defended OJ Simpson in his murder trial where he exposed the flaws surrounding the collection and interpretation of the DNA evidence. He founded the Innocence Project that is headquartered in New York. As of today's date, over 289 people have been exonerated by the Innocence Project, several of whom were on death row. The Innocence Project does not use legal technicalities to challenge convictions; the Project accepts only cases in which newly discovered scientific evidence can potentially prove that a convicted person is factually innocent. Professor Scheck will talk with us about his efforts concerning the Innocence Project.
40-minute case study of exoneree Ray KroneRay Krone1, Innocence Project, 40 Worth St., Suite 701, New York, NY, 10013, United States, 212-364-5340, [email protected]
Mr. Krone was wrongfully convicted of murder and placed on death row. Krone was labeled "the snaggle tooth killer" and spent 10 years in prison, including two years on death row. Blood at the crime scene matched the victim's type, and saliva on her body came from the most common blood type. Investigators relied on bite marks on the victim's breast and neck. Police asked Krone to make a Styrofoam impression of his teeth for comparison. At his 1992 trial, Krone maintained his innocence. Experts for the prosecution, however, testified that the bite-marks found on the victim's body matched the impression that Krone had made on the Styrofoam. He was sentenced to death. Krone won a new trial on appeal in 1996, but was convicted again. On April 8, 2002, Krone left prison after DNA evidence proved that he did not murder the victim.
40-minute case study of exoneree Raymond SantanaRaymond Santana1, Innocence Project, 40 Worth St., Suite 701, New York, NY, 10013, United States, 212-364-5340, [email protected]
The Central Park Jogger case involved an assault and rape that took place in New York City's Central Park on April 19, 1989. The victim was Trisha Meili. Five juvenile males were arrested and gave confessions to "wilding" the victim. During the prolonged interrogations, these 14-16 year olds were lied to about the forensic evidence that was collected. They were tried and convicted for the crime. The main evidence against them were the confessions that they later recanted and an analysis of a hair that was collected at the scene that was simply visually examined with the conclusion that it was similar to a co-defendant's hair "to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty." Raymond Santana was one of the five convicted. The convictions were vacated in 2002 when another man claimed to have committed the crime alone and DNA evidence confirmed his involvement in the rape. He spent over 12 years in jail for a crime he was factually innocent of committing.