Review of crime lab cases still not decided…


The Harris County Lawyers Association want a retired judge to review crime lab cases.

Aug. 30, 2007, 7:58PM
Lawyers want judge named to review crime lab cases
Letter says the action is needed to restore faith in the system

The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association wants a retired judge with criminal court or appellate background to review Houston Police Department crime lab cases that an independent investigator recently said need additional inspection.

“To properly and publicly restore the faith and confidence of the public in our justice system, we respectfully believe that the only credible way to proceed is to have one judge, respected and trusted by the public at large, review these cases in an impartial manner,” the association’s board of directors stated in an Aug. 28 letter to Judge Olen Underwood, who oversees the state’s Second Judicial District, which includes Harris County.

The letter, signed by association board president Patrick McCann, doesn’t name a specific judge. The association has said it wants a judge with expertise in criminal cases or appeals to review the cases.

Underwood could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In June, the city’s independent investigator, former U.S. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich, issued the last report of his $5.3 million probe of the lab.

Included among Bromwich’s recommendations was the hiring of a so-called special master to review evidence in 186 cases in which his team of forensic experts found “major issues,” or in which evidence was never tested. Evidence in an additional 599 cases was never tested, according to the Bromwich report.

Mayor Bill White, Police Chief Harold Hurtt and District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal rejected the idea of a special master. However, the lawyers group says the appointment of a judge to serve in that role would ensure an authoritative investigation of those cases with questionable or untested evidence.

Problems of bad science, poorly trained analysts and substandard conditions at the crime lab, including a leaky roof, were first exposed in a December 2002 outside audit.

In December 2002, the DNA division was shuttered, and evidence in more than 400 cases retested. The lab reopened in July 2006. Problems were also found in the controlled substances, firearms and serology divisions.

Two men convicted on the basis of botched HPD evidence have been released from prison.

steve.mcvicker@chron.com

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