Betrayed By Blood Spatter

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The Texas Observer has gone Forensic Files on us. The cover story of a recent issue tackles the case of Warren Horinek, a man sent to prison against all reasonable doubt because of faulty bloodstain pattern analysis. Dave Mann seamlessly weaves Horinek’s story into the larger issue of wrongful convictions due to flawed forensics:

Bloodstain analysis is similar to other kinds of forensic science. With the exception of DNA testing, much of the forensic evidence used in U.S. courts–including fingerprint matches, ballistics, and arson evidence–is based on junk science. CSI it ain’t. Contrary to what’s portrayed on television, bullets are regularly matched to the wrong gun, fingerprints are misidentified, crime labs botch their analysis, and accidental fires are misread as arson.

Most criminal-justice experts believe that flawed forensic evidence–and overreaching expert witnesses–have sent thousands of Americans to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. The solution is to ensure that forensic testimony is based on sound science. Reconstructing how blood flies through the air is obviously dicey business.

And it is that dicey business–and the testimony of one undereducated private blood spatter analyst–that sent Horinek to prison against the warnings of the crime scene investigator, the police sergeant who oversaw the homicide investigation, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, and the assistant district attorney initially assigned to prosecute the case, who all believed Horinek was telling the truth about what happened to his wife that Tuesday night in 1995.

At least Horinek can be considered relatively lucky: Handfuls of professionals are working to free him, unlike the thousands of others who have been wrongfully convicted. But after 15 presumably guiltless years in prison, I’m sure it doesn’t feel that way.

Source: The Texas Observer

Image courtesy of Matt Wright-Steel.

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