Fallout from DPS crime lab testing problems continues

September 27, 2012 4:21:57 PM PDT
In May we first told you about testing problems at the DPS Houston regional crime lab. Since then, analysts have been busy retesting evidence in hundreds of criminal cases.

This spring, an analyst at the DPS Crime Lab in Houston was found to have substituted evidence using a drug from another case to validate what he was testing. He was no-billed by a grand jury of any criminal misconduct. He resigned in July, but the fallout from that mishandling continues.

"They'll want to have a discussion about what happens to the rest of those samples," said Dr. Sarah Kerrigan.

On Thursday, some of the members of what's called the DPS Houston Crime Lab Disclosure Investigative Panel met to determine what's been affected so far by what they agree was "inexcusable conduct."

Nearly 5,000 cases have now been called into question -- those on which the analyst worked. They involve cases from 36 different counties. So far 473 cases are on the re-test list. Of those, 237 new tests have been completed and the new results are the same.

Harris County has some 450 cases that qualify for the re-tests. The Public Defenders Office is now trying to notify former defendants.

"To see if they can be retested or if not, to see if there's a remedy that's appropriate," said Bob Wicoff with the Public Defender's Office.

Letters will be going out to those defendants, some of whom may be in jail. The big question is whether the evidence that convicted them still exists. After conviction, it is typically held by the arresting agency for a time and then destroyed. Even so...

"It's very hard to show by virtue of the fact the evidence was destroyed that something deserves a new trial," said Wicoff.

The full state investigative panel will be meeting on these cases next month in Austin.

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