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Thursday, August 05, 2004

152* 

We can make the case against capital punishment in two words: Bush country.
The police crime laboratory in Houston, already reeling from a scandal that has led to retesting of evidence in 360 cases, now faces a much larger crisis that could involve many thousands of cases over 25 years.

Six independent forensic scientists, in a report to be filed in a Houston state court today, said that a crime laboratory official - because he either lacked basic knowledge of blood typing or gave false testimony - helped convict an innocent man of rape in 1987.

The panel concluded that crime laboratory officials might have offered "similarly false and scientifically unsound" reports and testimony in other cases, and it called for a comprehensive audit spanning decades to re-examine the results of a broad array of rudimentary tests on blood, semen and other bodily fluids.

Elizabeth A. Johnson, a former director of the DNA laboratory at the Harris County medical examiner's office in Houston, said the task would be daunting.

"A conservative number would probably be 5,000 to 10,000 cases," Dr. Johnson said. "If you add in hair, it's off the board" . . . .

"We know already that they couldn't do DNA testing properly," [Defense Attorney Barry] Scheck said. "Now we have a scandal that calls into question many thousands more cases. And this jurisdiction has produced more executions than any other county in America."

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Texas has executed 323 people, 73 for crimes in Harris County.
* -- The number of Texans executed during George W. Bush's term as governor.

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