Bennie Starks

NORTHWESTERN LAW

BLUHM LEGAL CLINIC

Center on Wrongful Convictions

A prosecutor finally did the right thing – 26 years after a wrongful conviction

— Rob Warden

Bennie Starks had been behind bars for two decades when he was freed after DNA testing excluded him as the source of semen recovered from his alleged victim in 2006, but his exoneration took another six years.

Starks was arrested shortly after a 69-year-old Waukegan woman reported on January 18, 1986, that she had been pulled into a ravine, beaten, bitten, and raped by a man who left his coat at the scene. A dry-cleaning receipt in the coat pocket led police to Starks, who acknowledged that the coat was his—but insisted that it had been stolen from him at a bar.

The evidence against Starks, 26, seemed overwhelming: The victim positively identified him. A forensic dentist, Dr. Russell Schneider, of Waukegan, concluded that his teeth matched a bite mark on the victim. A state forensic scientist, Sharon Thomas-Boyd, testified that serology testing—this was before the advent of DNA forensic testing—included him among possible sources of semen recovered from the victim’s vagina and underpants.

A Lake County jury found him guilty of both rape and aggravated assault. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

A decade later, the New York Innocence Project accepted the case and sought DNA testing. After the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the conviction in 2002, a judge ordered the testing over the strenuous objection of Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Waller.

A vaginal swab take n from the victim immediately after the crime could not be found, but testing of a semen stain in her underpants excluded Starks—clearly indicating that he was innocent, given that the victim had stated that she had not had consensual sex with anyone in the two weeks preceding the rape. The testing also showed that, contrary to Thomas-Boyd’s trial testimony, the serology results had excluded Starks as the source of semen.

In response to media inquiries, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Mermel, the head of felony prosecutions under Waller, maintained that the DNA results from the underpants did not prove Starks innocent. The only thing that could help Starks, Mermel said, would be his exclusion as the source of semen from inside the victim’s body. That, of course, seemed impossible at the time because a vaginal swab taken from the victim immediately after the crime was believed to have been lost or destroyed.

A few weeks later, however, the Northern Illinois Crime Laboratory located the swab, and DNA testing eliminated Starks as the source of semen on it—that is, as the source of semen from inside the victim’s body. Mermel then contended that the victim, who had moved to Mexico and since died, had not told the truth when she denied having consensual sex with anyone in the weeks preceding the rape.

Based on the DNA results, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the conviction and ordered a retrial in 2006. Starks was released on bond. On the eve of a retrial, the prosecution dropped the rape charges, with the possibility of reinstating them later. But the aggravated battery conviction, which had not been contested on appeal, remained—even though, if Starks had not raped the victim, neither had he beaten her.

In 2011, Mermel resigned in the wake of a New York Times Magazine article exposing bizarre theories he expressed about why DNA was irrelevant in a series of Lake County cases. Michael Waller announced shortly thereafter that he would not seek reelection when his term expired in 2012.

In August 2012, the Illinois Appellate Court vacated Starks’s aggravated battery charge, still leaving open the possibility of a retrial on that charge. It was not until January 7, 2013, until the aggravated battery charges were dismissed by State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim, who had been elected to succeed Waller two months earlier.


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Dentists sue over bite mark testimony

Dr. Bicuspid

By Donna Domino, Features Editor

January 18, 2012 – In a case that could open an inquiry into the scientific validity of bite mark evidence, two Illinois dentists are suing an expert odontologist for allegedly defaming them after he used a rape case they testified at as an example of how bite mark evidence can lead to wrongful convictions.

Russell Schneider, DDS, of Waukegan, and Carl Hagstrom, DDS, of Fox Lake, filed their lawsuitagainst Ventura, CA, dentist C. Michael Bowers, JD, DDS, in November 2011 in Cook County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit claims that Dr. Bowers used a case they worked on as proof that the forensic discipline is scientifically unreliable.

“Whatever reliability there is, it is far less reliable when done only from photographs.”
— Jed Stone, attorney

Dr. Bowers is a clinical professor at the University of Southern California Ostrow School of Dentistry in Los Angeles and has written several forensic dentistry books, including Forensic Dental Evidence: An Investigator’s Handbook. He also co-authored Digital Analysis of Bite Mark Evidence. He has been a dentist for 36 years and is certified by the American Board of Forensic Odontology and as a crime scene analyst. He also serves as a deputy medical examiner for the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office.

In February 2011, Dr. Bowers, who lectures frequently, gave a presentation titled, “A Perfect Storm: Is There a New Paradigm to Keep Bitemarks Afloat or Will They Sink?” at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Science. According to the lawsuit, he included in that talk a case that Drs. Schneider and Hagstrom had worked on in a list of 10 wrongful convictions caused by bite mark evidence. They allege that this action subjected them to ridicule and a loss of business.

Case overturned

The case Dr. Bowers referenced involved Bennie Starks, who was convicted in 1986 of beating and raping a 68-year-old woman. Drs. Schneider and Hagstrom examined evidence for prosecutors in the case and testified at trial that Stark’s teeth matched a bite mark on the woman’s shoulder.

Starks was sentenced to 60 years in prison but always maintained his innocence. In 2006, after serving nearly 20 years, an Illinois appeals court granted Starks a new trial after DNA tests excluded him as the source of semen on the victim’s underwear.

The appellate court did not rule on the bite mark evidence. But subsequent forensic analysis of Drs. Schneider and Hagstrom’s opinions by Dr. Bowers and other odontologists concluded that their work was flawed, according to Jed Stone, Starks’ attorney. Specifically, they found that Drs. Schneider and Hagstrom reversed the upper and lower molds of Starks’ teeth, confusing one for the other, in their examination.

Drs. Schneider and Hagstrom did not respond to requests by DrBicuspid.com for comment; Dr. Bowers declined to comment.

Bite mark analysis criticized

Bite mark testimony has been criticized by some courts for its lack of a scientific foundation, essentially leaving dentists to compare by visual examination bite marks on a victim’s skin with x-rays or molds of a suspect’s teeth to determine if they match.

Picture of victim's bite marks
Picture of victim’s bite marks, submitted as evidence in the Bennie Starks case. The discrete areas of bruising and abrasion show patterned injuries produced by human teeth. Image courtesy of Drs. David Senn and Iain Pretty.

“Drs. Hagstrom and Schneider incorrectly identified photographs of alleged bite marks on the victim as coming from Mr. Starks,” Stone told DrBicuspid.com. “We now know two things. One, they were wrong. And two, their bite mark opinion, introduced by the prosecution at Mr. Starks’ trial, contributed to his wrongful conviction.”

A Congressional hearing in 2009 focused on the findings of a National Academy of Sciences report on the scientific basis of forensic disciplines. Among the pattern evidence fields reviewed in the report, bite mark analysis received critical commentary. During the hearing, legislators heard from another man who, like Sparks, was wrongfully convicted on bite mark evidence and later exonerated through DNA analysis.

In addition, a 2009 study published in theJournal of Forensic Sciences (July 2009, Vol. 54:4, pp. 909-914) challenged the commonly held belief that every bite mark can be perpetrator identified. The results indicated that when dental alignments were similar, distinguishing which set of teeth made the bites was difficult. The researchers cautioned that bite marks should be very carefully evaluated in criminal investigations in which perpetrator identity is the focus of a case.

The study’s lead author, Raymond Miller, DDS, a clinical associate professor of oral diagnostic sciences at the University at Buffalo’s Laboratory for Forensic Odontology Research in the School of Dental Medicine, noted that numerous cases have been overturned through erroneous interpretation of bite marks. Dr. Miller warned of the dire consequences caused by such misidentification for the accused, the victim, and the justice system.

“We know that forensic odontologists are excellent at identifying human remains from dental records,” Stone said. “We know that the science is far less reliable when dentists attempt to identify bite marks on elastic skin surfaces. And we know that whatever reliability there is, it is far less reliable still when done only from photographs.”

The current suit claims that Dr. Bowers’ presentation constitutes “false publications” because the reversal of Starks’ conviction was not due to faulty bite mark testimony. It claims that Dr. Bowers imputed that Drs. Schneider and Hagstrom “lack ability and integrity” as forensic odontologists.

The alleged defamation harmed the professional reputations of Drs. Schneider and Hagstrom, the complaint contends. They have not been retained to provide bite mark testimony in any cases since then, and the number of patients that have been referred to them for treatment and evaluation has decreased, according to the lawsuit.

In a defamation suit, the plaintiff must prove that the alleged defamatory statements are false. If it goes to trial, the case could open an inquiry into the scientific validity of bite mark evidence.

The suit seeks compensatory damages as well as legal costs.

Prosecutors still have not decided whether to retry Starks.

2 dentists sue colleague for criticizing their bite-mark testimony

Witnesses worked on rape case in which defendant was granted a new trial because of DNA evidence

December 25, 2011|By Steve Mills, Chicago Tribune reporter

In the ongoing battle over the use of controversial bite-mark evidence, two Chicago-area dentists have opened a new legal front, suing a colleague for alleged defamation because he used a Lake County rape case they worked on as an example of the oft-criticized discipline gone awry.

Dentists Russell Schneider, of Waukegan, and Carl Hagstrom, of Fox Lake, filed their lawsuit against Michael Bowers, a dentist in California who is a frequent and sometimes acerbic critic of his fellow forensic odontologists for work that has led to numerous wrongful convictions.

Innocent man, jailed for 20 years, suing forensic experts

Image

http://rt.com/usa/starks-innocent-jail-suing-711/

Bennie Starks was released from prison in 2006, after being locked up for 20 years for a crime he never committed. He is now suing the forensic experts who falsely testified against him in a case of sexual assault.

Although Starks’ charges were dismissed, the 53-year-old man will never regain his lost years. In 1986, he was found guilty of assaulting and raping a 69-year-old woman from Waukegan, Ill., and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Government witnesses, two dentists and a forensic technician testified against him. The rape victim also identified him in a photo line-up, but Starks believes two police officers encouraged the woman to accuse him.

Dr. Carl Hagstrom and Dr. Russell Schneider, two dentists, testified that the bite marks on the victim’s body matched the marks left by Starks’ teeth. Their methodology, however, was outdated and unreliable, according to information obtained by the Courthouse News Service.

With government witnesses, forensic ‘experts’, and the victim herself alleging that Starks was the rapist, there was little he could do to keep himself out of prison. But in 2006, the Illinois Appellate Court vacated the man’s conviction and set up a retrial. DNA evidence cleared him of the 1986 rape, and Starks walked out of prison a free man.

It wasn’t until January 2013 that all of his charges were dismissed and his record was clean.

“I’m just overwhelmed with joy,” Starks told ABC after walking out of the courtroom with a clean slate. The man’s attorney, Jed Stone, compared the outcome to a “ray of sunlight that cracked through a cloud”. 

But what Starks can’t forget is the false testimony by the state’s forensic technician, Sharon Thomas-Boyd, as well as the two dentists who matched his teeth to the bite marks. Thomas-Boyd falsely claimed that Starks’ semen matched the DNA found on the victim.

US District Judge Gary Feinerman supported Starks’ theory that the forensic experts engaged in a conspiracy to falsely accuse him.

“The complaint amply alleges that the police defendants, the dentist defendants, and Thomas-Boyd all worked to get Starks convicted for a crime he did not commit, and it is more plausible that they each made their contributions to that effort in the context of an agreement to secure a wrongful conviction than that, by some wild coincidence, everyone who came into contact with Starks’s case independently developed a desire to see him convicted and a willingness to lie in pursuit of that goal,” the judge said, according to court documents.

It is unlikely that the police officers will be penalized for lying to the jury, since they hold impunity for doing so. But it is possible that they could face charges for prompting the rape victim to falsely identify Starks as the suspect.

Starks claims the conspiracy caused him emotional distress. The Innocence Project, a group that originally helped the man clear his name, told ABC that in cases where innocent men are imprisoned, misidentification is most often the cause.

“Bennie’s case features a wrongful identification and also faulty forensics,” Lauren Kaeseberg of the Innocence Project said in January. “Misidentifications make up 75 percent of wrongful convictions.”

In the state of Illinois, committing conspiracy or perjury under oath or affirmation is a class 3 felony, which could result in 2-5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $25,000. The lawsuit accuses the forensic experts of filing false reports, giving false statements, conspiring against Starks and pursuing wrongful prosecutions.

The defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, but Judge Feinerman denied all motions except the intentional infliction of emotion distress.

A Response to a Critic of the Critics

Mark Page, Ph.D.

The author of the website http://www.bitemark.org posted an article regarding the admissibility of bitemark evidence in several cases in Texas, and spent some time discussing the supposedly ‘asinine’ nature of applying experimental scientific methodology to forensic science. The article makes the point that the scientific method should not apply to some disciplines, as they are not ‘hard’ sciences, like physics and chemistry. This commentary represents an example of why critics of forensic science find these disciplines particularly frustrating, in that they attempt to justify their forensic practice on the basis that they are somehow ‘different’ or ‘immune’ to good scientific practice. But there is no logical reason why forensic science and the scientific method should be mutually exclusive….. Read more by clicking on the PDF below

Open PDF by clicking  a-response-to-a-critic-of-the-critics-2

Another article  by Mark Page can be found by clicking this link: http://www.fdiai.org/articles/Uniqueness-Fact_or_Fiction1.pdf

 

Wrongly Convicted Database Record

http://forejustice.org/db/Starks–Bennie.html

Bennie Starks

Years Imprisoned:

20

Charge:

Sexual Assault (includes aggravated)

Sentence:

60 years

Year Convicted:

1986

Year Cleared:
2006

Location of Trial:
Illinois

Result:
Judicially Exonerated Released

Summary of Case:
Wrongly convicted of sexual assault and battery in 1986 based on the expert testimony of a crime lab analyst that a bite mark on the victim was made by Bennie Starks. Starks was sentenced to 60 years imprisonment for sexual assault and 5 years for battery. Starks conviction was vacated and he was released on $100,000 bail on October 4, 2006, after a DNA test excluded him as the source of crime scene evidence originating from the perpetrator.

Conviction Caused By:
Faulty bite mark testimony by a crime lab analyst.

Innocence Proved By:
DNA tests unavailable at the time of his conviction excluded him as the woman’s attacker.
Defendant Aided By:
Compensation Awarded:

Was Perpetrator Found?

Age When Imprisoned:
27

Age When Released:
47

Information Source 1:

Prison door swings open, By Dave Wischnowsky, Chicago Tribune, October 5, 2006

Information Location 1:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-0610050059oct05,1,4411333.story?coll=chi-newslocal-hed

CALIFORNIA JUDGE REVIEWS OPPOSING BITEMARK OPINIONS AND DECLINES TO BE PERSUADED BY NEW RESEARCH PRESENTING DISTURBING FACTS OF PROSECUTOR’S CASE

By Dr. Michael Bowers

On September 13, 2011, Presiding Judge of the Santa Barbara Superior Court, Brian Hill, published his denial in an extraordinary post conviction claim of innocence by ex-UCSB soccer star and Ghanaian national, Eric Frimpong.
Frimpong was convicted in Hill’s court in 2008 of rape and sexual battery. Since then Judge Hill has denied a post-conviction motion for a new trial (2008) and the California Court of Appeal has refused to grant Frimpong relief in a statutory appeal 2 years after the conviction (2010).

Numerous aspects of the case against Frimpong are troubling. Significant offers of new alibi witnesses unavailable at the 08 trial, and lack of complete review of circumstances supporting reasonable doubt to the victim’s statements were presented in this latest attempt for relief. A major portion regards ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) and the activities and opinions of the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s two bitemark experts.

The DA’s expert dentist testifying during the trial claimed he could observe from a photo of the victim’s face that a bitemark on the cheek indicated the presence of a misaligned upper front tooth. This misalignment was also present in the upper dentition of Frimpong. In describing his methods, the technical basis was purely visual. The prescribed method of physical comparison of the photograph to the life-size outlines of Frimpong’s teeth did not “help” in his determination. The value of this one-tooth similarity played large in the mind of the judge and the jury because of the implied scientific relevance purported by this expert. The relationships of the other 11 upper and lower front teeth were only briefly mentioned. He also said that “worn teeth edges” could be seen in the bruising this expert “saw” in the aspect of the injury he determined to be from 4 lower teeth. Mr. Frimpong was 20 old at the time of trial and did not have the worn edges claimed by the DA’s dentist. Maybe if he was 60 years old.

Evidence of the victim’s DNA being present on Frimpong’s genitalia was also presented by the DA. The defense countered the DA’s assertion that this was the ultimate proof of Frimpong’s guilt by stating this low copy number DNA sample was capable of having been transferred by hand from the victim to Frimpong. This scenario was considered as possible by the DA’s DNA expert from the California Department of Justice DNA Lab. Frimpong had described he had been fondled by the victim at a small party a few hours before the police were called to a different location to investigate a sexual assault. It is important to point out that the copious male DNA available from the victim and victim’s underwear was determined to be from her boyfriend.
The State presented dozens of witnesses at trial.

The defense presented one witness. This disparity was one major aspect of the IAC claim presented in the most recent appeal.

No defense bitemark expert was available at trial. The bitemark evidence, however, was thoroughly reviewed, after Frimpong was convicted, at a motion for a new trial hearing granted by Judge Hill. This proceeding, held over numerous days, and was again before Judge Hill. The DA and the defense each retained new bitemark dentists.

The judge began the hearing with a two hour monologue directed at defense counsel. Judge Hill laid out on the record his opinion that defense counsel had presented a weak and confusing case before the judge and jury. No consistent theory of defense was a major defense flaw. The details of the judge’s opinions were ultimately adopted in the most recent appeal petition. Oddly, Judge Hill considered these arguments in the petition to be non-meritorious on the issue of IAC. This turn of events is confusing at best. This jurist made his own remarks about IAC at the post conviction hearing and later, when he ruled on the same issues in this latest claim of Frimpong’s innocence, considered the issues to be harmless error.

The DA and defense dentists had ample time to present their opposing interpretations of the bitemark on the victim’s face. There was no point of agreement on the forensic value of the pattern. The DA’s expert said it was “moderate to high” value. The two disagreed on where the upper and lower teeth were present in the injury pattern. The defense said the pattern detail was ambiguous. A digital reversal of the prosecution’s upper and lower orientation and comparison of teeth of the victim’s boyfriend to the facial injury, immediately showed alignment of dental landmarks in the bruising. In addition, the defense indicated the DA’s observation of “mal-aligned upper teeth” was actually a misdiagnosis due to the metric values (using published Adobe Photoshop digital methods) of the bruising indicating the teeth were from the lower jaw (where biting edges are one-half the size of upper teeth). The DA post conviction expert emphatically stated that the use of “metrics” in bitemark comparison was not a mandatory method in the field and that “shape analysis” was compelling, valid and controlling. This was clearly a recitation and support of the trial bitemark expert’s identical opinion. In one more bit of confusion, the DA’s two Frimpong dentists (the one at the trial and the different one at the later hearing) had just testified to the opposite in another CA case, (State v. William Richards). This latest Richards proceedings was a post conviction exoneration hearing wherein both these dentists had testified that the use of Photoshop and its high magnification digital methods were the “new age of bitemarks” and had, in part, convinced them to recant their 1999 Richards testimony. Both had stated at the original Richards trial, that a hand injury on the murdered wife of Richards’ was a definite bitemark.

As mentioned above, Judge Hill denied the Frimpong motion for a new trial, saying, in part, that the Defense dentist was “not credible.” He had no comment about the coup de grace performed by the DA’s bitemark expert’s presentation where the photograph of the injury was again shown to the judge. Frimpong’s upper teeth were digitally placed over the injury pattern in his “proper orientation.” The expert stated the fit between the two was significant proof of biter identity. Expounding himself as the digital examiner who performed these described methods, he confidently testified that all he had to do was digitally expand the bitemark image 128% to obtain this relationship.

Coincidentally, the dilemma of skin distortion and the accompanying distortion of tooth patterns was addressed in 2010 by a well respected University of Buffalo research team. It was published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, and titled “Inquiry into the Scientific Basis for Bitemark Profiling and Arbitrary Distortion Compensation.” They gave the bitemark reading profession its first glimpse into relevant biological science and forensic dentists’ 40 years of judicial opinions on bitemark matching. This precedent setting and seminal piece of literature describes their “back to basics” approach into the physiological characteristics of cadaveric human skin before and during biting activity. Their findings clearly established the judicial use of bitemark opinions has broadly surpassed its scientific underpinnings. Two conclusions, which appear in the paper’s title, suggests that any bitemark profiling examiner using methods to match patterns or counteract the stretching and shrinkage of skin during the dynamics of movement, pressure and physical stress should reconsider scientific facts. Profiling (i.e. comparing) and enlarging or shrinking injury patterns to fit, as in the arbitrarily “adjustment” presented in Frimpong was not supported scientifically.

In 2009, at a national forensic meeting, there was a presentation of the prosecutorial bitemark case and served as a public pronouncement for the DA’s bitemark experts. At the culmination of this tour-de-force, at the Q&A end of this show, he was pressed by an attendee to discuss what scientific basis supported his rendition of the bitemark photo. Words from the dentist who testified on his match-improving methods seemed to detach himself from his earlier testimony, as he replied, “..

“…this was not my idea…”…”…the district attorney took it upon herself to have that done to see whether or not she could enter that into evidence to thereby bolster her case…” “…had I been operating by myself out there in the real world there is absolutely no way I would have done that…”

Fast forward to September 13, 2011.
Judge Hill writes he was not “persuaded” by the analysis and critiques presented by the appellate submission in State v Eric Frimpong.
Eric Frimpong is scheduled to be released from prison in 18 months. Upon his release, he mostly likely will be deported to Ghana unless criminal justice proceedings intervene.

Fabricated Bitemark and Phony Surveillance Video Land Leigh Stubbs 44 Years in Mississippi Prison

By David Averill and Mike Bowers

Leigh Stubbs, Department of Corrections Photo

Leigh Stubbs has now served 10 years of a 44 year sentence based largely on the faulty testimony from discredited forensic odontologist Dr. Michael West. West testified in this trial as a multi-disciplinary expert and was allowed to give his opinion in bitemark analysis, toolmark comparison, video enhancement, crime scene reconstruction, gynecological injuries and psychological criminal motive. Of course he reminds the jury every chance he can get that he is qualified in all of these areas, and that he has lectured to the FBI, Scotland Yard and throughout China.

Stubbs is now being represented by the Innocence Project who are now petitioning for a new trial. This is yet another case that has wreaked havoc with the judicial system by offering West’s bogus expert opinion where he is once again the only one able to see the evidence that he describes. The prosecutor still used West’s testimony in this case despite West having been thoroughly discredited by every major forensic organization in the world. Not to mention the numerous cases that are adding up where innocent men have been wrongfully convicted of crimes that they did not commit due to his faulty testimony.

Bitemark Evidence
Dr. West narrates his first video as he records his “body scan” to document the examination. The video shown below is a clip taken from the right hip where West makes no mention of recognizing a bitemark. In court when asked why there was no mention of the bitemark, he testifies that ”I missed it on the first day but realized that there was a bite after looking at some polaroid photographs that I had taken.”

In court, West describes the alleged bitemark on the hip as “not a prototypical bite mark in appearance….it has fused components from the swelling” yet he is able to give it his strongest opinion, “100 percent sure that it is a bitemark.” West cautions the jury that “I must admit to a novice, this may not appear to be a bitemark by any means.” In other words, West can only see it as a bitemark.

In his second video taken 5 days later on March 15th the area that West says “that the bitemark is no longer visible due to the nurses taking such good care of the victim and using lotion on her skin.” West then proceeds to tamper with the evidence by actually imbedding a stone cast of Leigh Stubbs teeth into the comatose victims hip resulting in a fabricated bitemark on the skin of the victim.

West comes to the conclusion that the bitemark that he sees on the hip is from the teeth of Leigh Stubbs since “the corner of tooth #7 has a little sharp area, very minute… on the skin notice this red area, we have petechia….this is the area caused by the little notch on her tooth #7…..that dot, that dot and that dot represent three teeth.” “Its a pretty good relationship there, it falls short of what we need to make 100 percent.” “There is a high degree of correlation between those teeth and this injury on this girl’s leg”. Dr. West submitted a West bitemark Report that contained two paragraphs.

Enhancement and Interpretation of Surveillance Video
The surveillance video was recorded at the motel the three girls rented for the night. The video was brought to Dr. Wests attention by the Detective in the case who thought he could see a body being removed from a toolbox in the bed of the pickup truck. Dr. West agreed that he could also see the body and said he could enhance the video to make it more visible. The police department had sent the video to the FBI for analysis and enhancement but were told that nothing could be done with the video. Dr. West then saves the day by “enhancing” the video and despite admitting that “we have a very poor imaging system…that is not designed to take high definition pictures….but probably the most important problem we have with the video is the tape had been recorded over and over and over….its about worn out.” No problem for Dr. West though, “what I see isn’t what everybody else sees, there are interpretations.” Don’t worry about your eyes if you cannot see anything on this enhanced video, remember that West is usually the only one to see what he is talking about.

West Interpretation of Video
“All the action we’re interested in now takes place between this truck and that light…as fate would have it this is where the tape had a wrinkle or started messing up…what I’m saying happens next in this clip. You’ve got to imagine her scooping her up and holding that head, with the hair to the side, closing the lid, turning around, stepping off the truck and going into the room.”
Amazing action since the timeline is 16 seconds for Leigh Stubbs to leave the motel door, get to the truck, lift the lid of a toolbox and pull a 120 pound limp unconcious person out from within a toolbox in 1-2 seconds and then haul her out of the back of the pickup stepping down and into the motel room, all within 16 seconds. It only gets more bizarre as Dr. West now recreates the crime scene. West cannot explain how come when the crime lab looked for blood, hair and fiber inside the toolbox they found none that belonged to the victim. They also found no blood on the carpet or in the bathtub of the motel room. West tried to explain that the toolbox could be washed out with water and chlorine. Problem is that they found other hair and fiber inside the box that did not belong to the victim. So much for his crime scene re-creation abilities.

Toolmark Testimony
Dr. West looked at the wound on the head of the victim and thought it looked like the latch that was on the toolbox. And when he looked at the hip where he found the bitemark he also found a toolmark in the shape of a latch from the toolbox. He measured the distance from the head wound and the hip wound and found 37 inches. You guessed it, the distance from the latches on the tool box is 37 inches. A forensic pathologist testified that the wound to the head could not have been made by closing of the lid on her head. The wound was consistent with a blunt object. Read more of the trial testimony if you are interested. I will include pdf copies of the trial at the end of this post.

Conclusion
Unfortunately the police did not do a thorough investigation, so the answers to many questions will never be known. What is known is that Leigh Stubbs dentition cannot be associated with what Dr. West describes as a bitemark on the hip of the victim.

Bitemark Certification Board Objects to Defense Subpoena Demanding Release of Expert Opinions

By Dr. Michael Bowers

Recently, in the District of Columbia Superior Court, the forensic organization that certifies bitemark analysis made a failed attempt to suppress expert opinion in a bitemark case. The case in point is US v Ridley, a recently tried murder case involving a human bitemark on the deceased victim. Preceding the trial, there was oral argument over the admissibility of expert reports unfavorable to the District’s prosecution theory of the defendant’s guilt.

The prosecution’s expert, who is an ABFO certified forensic dentist, used the photographs of the victim’s bitemark and the defendant’s dental models as the bitemark testing material for the 2011 ABFO certification exam. That’s a error because the case had not been tried, nor a verdict determined at the time of the ABFO exam. The legal crux of this matter is simple. Each board certification applicant who took the ABFO exam completed a detailed analysis of the Ridley evidence, wrote extensive reports for the ABFO testing committee, and gave oral presentation of their findings. The defense counsel argued in court its legal right to see these reports. A subpoena for these heretofore-unknown reports was submitted by the defense and placed before the judge. The prosecution objected and a hearing was then held, which is the source of this post’s information.

The prosecutor in this case who responded to the subpoena, spoke to the judge and represented the prosecution’s and the ABFO’s objections to the release of these reports. Evidently the reports submitted for board certification were contrary to the prosecutions expert. In a real science if the prosecution’s dental expert made a mistake and published the bitemark evidence (only photos and dental models; no other documentation from the case were included and teeth models of a second fictitious suspect were included for the exam), then the forensic group should admit to the error and agree to the legal right of the court and the defendant to examine the additional reports written by board eligible dentists, who are all now board certified dentists.

The judge heard both sides, and in telephone testimony from the prosecutor’s expert confirmed that these extra judicial reports existed. In a surprise revelation, most or all of the reports did not concur with either the prosecutorial dentist’s opinion or the reports from the two additional dentists who rendered second opinions on the behalf of the prosecution’s dentist. Subsequent to these revelations, the judge granted the subpoena and ordered the ABFO to produce all reports and materials germane of the four applicants.

In a communication to the defense counsel in a last ditch effort to minimize the impact of the findings, the two past ABFO presidents who were tasked with obtaining and divulging the exam reports and evidence, commiserated once more on their objections to the subpoena. Their reasoning, in part, is this statement:

The candidates were required to show how their opinions were formed and evaluated on their ability to present the facts of the constructed case, communicate and demonstrate their analysis methods, and defend their conclusions.

Again, this was a created and fictitious case scenario. No “right” or”wrong” conclusions existed. The candidates were not graded on the absolute “correctness” of their opinions but rather on the processes they utilized to reach those conclusions.

There was no intent or attempt to make this examination scenario identical or similar to any existing actual casework.

Understanding actual bitemark cases and the use of limited information about a patterned injury in skin as a board examination are vastly different. Thus, it is not appropriate to compare the two processes.

Now, am I missing something here? The physical evidence materials for the ABFO bitemark exam were taken from an actual case that had not been tried yet. The use of a case’s extraneous documentation and circumstantial information should be withheld from a forensic examiner (fingerprint, firearms, DNA to name a few) until after the physical analysis is complete. Yet the ABFO appears to differ with this protocol and clearly state that all this extra information is necessary to render a final opinion on the analysis of physical evidence. Therefore, the ABFO bitemark exam is not representative of actual casework or the practice of bitemark identification.

How vastly different is forming an opinion on limited information on a patterned injury in skin from forming an opinion in an actual case? This was material from an actual case. If it is not appropriate to compare the processes, then what benefit does the ABFO applicant gain by completing the examination? If all that is important is following a process to form an opinion, and the correctness of the answer is unimportant, then what value is ABFO certification for the trier of fact?

Does the Forensic Science Advisory Board of the American Academy of Forensic Science know about this? This is the parent organization that certifies the ABFO. I t certainly should, because one of the ABFO past presidents who wrote the above quote is Secretary of the FSAB. The FSAB might also like to know that the results of the examination were destroyed, against the standards of the FSAB.

So the much embattled American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO), continues its uphill fight to preserve its courtroom credibility by offering direct support for the continued prosecutorial use of their Congressionally debunked and scientifically untested bitemark comparison opinions. The ABFO continues to orchestrate its membership down the unacceptable path of prosecutorial partisanship.

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