Sunday, December 21, 2008

FBI reels from wrongdoing by workers

FBI reels from wrongdoing by workers

©Associated Press
April 16, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Reformed after controversy in the mid 1990s, the FBI crime lab is dealing with new wrongdoing by employees that has opened the door for challenges of the lab's science in scores of cases involving DNA and bullet analysis, internal documents show.

An FBI lab scientist, who connected suspects to bullets through lead analysis, has been indicted after admitting she gave false testimony, and a technician has resigned while under investigation for improper testing of more than 100 DNA samples, according to records and interviews.

In addition, one of the lab's retired metallurgists is challenging the bureau's science on bullet analysis, prompting the FBI to ask the National Academy of Sciences to review its methodology, the records obtained by the Associated Press show.

FBI lab director Dwight Adams said detection of the problems illustrates reforms are working.

"The difference is these are being caught and dealt with swiftly. Our quality assurance program is in place to root out these problems, incompetence and inaccurate testimonies," Adams said. "These weren't fortuitous catches. They were on purpose."

Defense lawyers are mounting challenges in high-profile cases handled by the two employees and are questioning the FBI's project to build a national DNA database that will help law enforcement identify suspects based on their genetic fingerprints.

"We all have assumed the scientists are telling the truth because they do it with authority and tests. And as a result FBI scientists have gotten away with voodoo science," said Lawrence Goldman, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The Justice Department's internal watchdog is investigating FBI lab technician Jacqueline Blake for allegedly failing to follow proper scientific procedure when analyzing DNA in at least 103 cases over the past few years, officials said.

The officials said they have found the technician failed to compare the DNA evidence with control samples, a required step to ensure the accuracy of tests. Blake has resigned.

Blake's work has become an issue in a prominent case in New Jersey, where five police officers are challenging blood evidence she analyzed that was used to convict them of federal civil rights violations in a prisoner's death.

FBI officials have taken steps to protect the national DNA registry in light of the allegations against Blake and separate revelations of problems in DNA analysis at the Houston police crime lab.

In Blake's case, 29 DNA samples she placed into the database were removed and are being reanalyzed. The review has not found any instances in which her DNA analysis was inaccurate, and those samples have been re-entered, Adams said.

FBI officials recently banned the Houston lab from entering DNA samples into the national registry. Houston-area judges have requested a grand jury investigation into the lab's practices.

The FBI made widespread changes in the mid 1990s after its lab was rocked by a whistleblower's allegations and an investigation that found shoddy science by several lab examiners. AP reported last month Justice officials have identified about 3,000 cases that might have been affected by those problems and have let prosecutors decide whether to notify defendants.

Improper testimony by FBI hair and fiber expert Michael Malone was reported by St. Petersburg Times writer Sydney Freedberg in 2001. Justice Department reviews found Malone, who retired in 1999, gave improper testimony in at least 17 Hillsborough County cases and two Pasco County cases.

The new problems surfaced in the last year.

FBI lab scientist Kathleen Lundy, an expert witness in murder trials who performs chemical comparisons of lead bullets, was indicted this year on a charge of misdemeanor false swearing by Kentucky authorities after she acknowledged she knowingly gave false testimony in a 2002 pretrial hearing for a man accused of murdering a University of Kentucky football player.

Lundy informed her FBI superiors of the false testimony a couple of months after it occurred. By that time she had corrected her pretrial testimony at the trial and had been questioned about it by defense lawyers. Federal authorities decided not to prosecute her, but Kentucky prosecutors brought the misdemeanor charge.

In memos and an affidavit, Lundy said she had an opportunity to correct her erroneous testimony at the hearing, but didn't.

"I had to admit it was worse than being evasive or not correcting the record. It was simply not telling the truth," Lundy wrote in a memo to a superior.

"I cannot explain why I made the original error in my testimony . . . nor why, knowing that the testimony was false, I failed to correct it at the time," Lundy wrote in a subsequent affidavit. "I was stressed out by this case and work in general."

Adams said the FBI remains confident its lead bullet analysis is based upon "a proper foundation" but nonetheless has asked the National Academy of Sciences to review the lab's work.

"We do anticipate some suggestions, ways to improve what we already do and we'll gladly look at that," Adams said.

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