By The Associated Press, June 21st 2015
The expert whose bite-mark evidence convinced a jury to put Eddie Lee Howard Jr. on Mississippi’s death row now believes that such evidence should be tossed, and has felt so for years.
Forensic odontologist Michael West of Hattiesburg testified in 2012 that he no longer believes in bite-mark analysis, The Clarion-Ledger reports (http://on.thec-l.com/1GATEfx ).
“I no longer believe in bite-mark analysis,” he said in a deposition. “I don’t think it should be used in court. I think you should use DNA. Throw bite marks out.”
Howard was convicted of raping and fatally stabbing 84-year-old Georgie Kemp of Columbus in 1992.
The state Supreme Court will hear his latest appeal Tuesday. Lawyers from the Mississippi Innocence Project will argue that Howard deserves a new trial. The state says justices have already rejected Howard’s challenge to bite-mark evidence.
The Clarion-Ledger also reports that DNA tests on Kemp’s nightgown and rape kit excluded Howard. No DNA evidence was presented at his trial.
West became the major witness to link Howard to the crime, testifying that a bite mark he found after her body was exhumed matched Howard’s teeth, and that another showed that Kemp was “fighting for her life” it was inflicted.
For many years, much of West’s work went unchallenged. But it has since been discredited. Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer, also convicted after West testified, spent more than 30 years in prison for raping and killing two 3-year-old girls until DNA proved them innocent and identified Justin Albert Johnson as the attacker. Johnson is now in prison for those killings.
In 2009, a National Academy of Sciences report found no scientific basis for concluding that a bite mark could identify a single suspect. Four years later, the American Board of Forensic Odontology changed its guidelines to bar such testimony.
A recent study by the group found wide variances in opinions among experts studying photographs of bite marks, many of them disagreeing on patterns and even if they were human bite marks.
An Associated Press analysis in 2013 found at least two dozen defendants convicted or charged with rape and murder using bite-mark evidence have been exonerated since 2000, many after more than a decade in prison.
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com