FBI to review thousands of old cases for contaminated evidence / MSNBC

The FBI crime lab seems to have been run as an illegal enterprise to support desired convictions–evidence be damned–for decades.  Maybe justice will now be served for some of those convicted as a result of FBI criminality.

This story didn’t  just come out.  There was a Justice Department review years ago… which let the original prosecutors review their own evidence, to decide whether to share it with the defense!  Would you have shared new evidence, when overturning your successful prosecutions could destroy your career?

Thanks to the Post, MSNBC, Attorney David Colapinto and FBI whistleblower Frederic Whitehurst:

Months after the Washington Post revealed that
lab technicians at the FBI mishandled evidence, resulting in at least three
wrongful convictions, the Department of Justice has announced it will review of
thousands of old cases.

The review, the largest in U.S. history, will focus on
work by FBI Laboratory hair and fiber examiners since at least 1985, the Post reported.

In April, the Post wrote about two men who were convicted
largely because of contaminated FBI hair analysis. A review of the evidence has
since resulted in the release of both men… 

A reporter at the Post had been working on a story about
Donald Gates, a D.C. man released after DNA evidence
proved his innocence, when he learned about Frederic Whitehurst, an FBI lab
chemist who blew the whistle on the FBI Laboratory in the mid-1990s. Whitehurst
said he watched colleagues contaminate evidence and, in court, overstate the
significance of their matches…

After the first World Trade Center bombing, Whitehurst
testified that supervisors pressured him to concoct misleading scientific
reports. When he refused to testify that a urea nitrate bomb had been the
source of the explosion, the FBI found another lab technician to testify…

“You get patted on the head if you’re the guy who saves
the case,” Whitehurst said, explaining why agents would provide misleading
information. “They get promoted; they’re the guys everyone crowds around. It’s
a very tight family. A scientist who asks a question and doesn’t go along, he
gets isolated.”

Corrupt lab technicians
remained employed even after Whitehurst started speaking out about the lab,
said David Colapinto, general counsel for the National Whistleblowers Center…

As an agent, Whitehurst wrote
237 letters to the Inspector General, complaining about the lab. The longest
was 640 pages.

“The pressure was so crazy
that every so often, I’d just break down and cry,” he said.  

The Justice Department
ultimately did review thousands of cases in response to Whitehurst’s reports,
Colapinto said, but he said the task force assigned to investigate operated in
secret and the findings were not published. Rather, Colapinto said, prosecutors
who had originally tried those old cases decided whether the new evidence
should be disclosed to the defense.

Dissatisfied with the Justice
Department’s review, Whitehurst requested the task force’s findings through the
Freedom of Information Act. Over several years, he received tens of thousands
of pages.Some changes were made, however. The FBI moved its lab from the FBI’s
J. Edgar Hoover building in Washington, D.C. to a separate building in
Quantico, Va. 

The National Academy of Sciences recently pushed for further independence, however. The organization, made
up of elite scientists from around the U.S., recommended the creation of an
independent federal agency to review evidence. That agency, ideally, should not
be connected to the academic community, the scientists said. 

Whitehurst, now a forensic
consultant and a criminal defense lawyer in North Carolina, and the National
Whistleblowers Center worked with the Post for a year on the expose that came
out in April. That story apparently pushed the Justice Department to conduct
another, more transparent review of old evidence.

The Justice Department says
that this time, the review will include outsiders such as the Innocence
Project, according to The Associated Press. The Innocence Project, which
focuses on exonerating the wrongfully convicted, would watch over the
government’s review.

The FBI did not respond to
request for comment.  


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