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The False Promise of DNA Testing

Society & Culture  (tags: crime, corruption, ethics, dishonesty )

- 881 days ago -
William Thompson, an attorney and a criminology professor at the University of California at Irvine, told a KHOU 11 reporter, were terrifying: It appears that Houston police technicians were routinely misinterpreting even the most basic samples.


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Phyllis P (237)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 3:59 pm
The subject of the segment was the Houston Police Department Crime Laboratory, among the largest public forensic centers in Texas. By one estimate, the lab handled DNA evidence from at least 500 cases a year—mostly rapes and murders, but occasionally burglaries and armed robberies. Acting on a tip from a whistle-blower, KHOU 11 had obtained dozens of DNA profiles processed by the lab and sent them to independent experts for analysis. “If this is incompetence, it’s gross incompetence … and repeated gross incompetence,” Thompson said. “You have to wonder if [the techs] could really be that stupid.”

Phyllis P (237)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 4:08 pm
Carol Batie watched the entire segment, rapt. As soon as it ended, she e-mailed KHOU 11. “My son is named Josiah Sutton,” she began, “and he has been falsely accused of a crime.” Four years earlier, Batie explained, Josiah, then 16, and his neighbor Gregory Adams, 19, had been arrested for the rape of a 41-year-old Houston woman, who told police that two young men had abducted her from the parking lot of her apartment complex and taken turns assaulting her as they drove around the city in her Ford Expedition.

A few days after reporting the crime, the woman spotted Sutton and Adams walking down a street in southwest Houston. She flagged down a passing patrol car and told the officers inside that she had seen her rapists. Police detained the boys and brought them to a nearby station for questioning. From the beginning, Sutton and Adams denied any involvement. They both had alibis, and neither of them matched the profile from the victim’s original account: She’d described her assailants as short and skinny. Adams was 5 foot 11 and 180 pounds. Sutton was three inches taller and 25 pounds heavier, the captain of his high-school football team.

The DNA evidence was harder to refute. Having seen enough prime-time TV to believe that a DNA test would vindicate them, Sutton and Adams had agreed, while in custody, to provide the police with blood samples. The blood had been sent to the Houston crime lab, where an analyst named Christy Kim extracted and amplified DNA from the samples until the distinct genetic markers that swim in every human cell were visible, on test strips, as a staggered line of blue dots.

Kim then compared those results with DNA obtained from the victim’s body and clothing and from a semen stain found in the back of the Expedition. A vaginal swab contained a complex mixture of genetic material from at least three contributors, including the victim herself. Kim had to determine whether Sutton’s or Adams’s genetic markers could be found anywhere in the pattern of dots. Her report, delivered to police and prosecutors, didn’t implicate Adams, but concluded that Sutton’s DNA was “consistent” with the mixture from the vaginal swab.

Phyllis P (237)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 4:12 pm
Much more distressing were Kim’s conclusions about the crime-scene evidence. Examining photocopies of the test strips, Thompson saw that Kim had failed to reckon with the fact that Sutton’s DNA didn’t match the semen sample from the backseat of the Expedition. If the semen came from one of the attackers—as was almost certain, based on the victim’s account—then Kim should have been able to subtract those genetic markers, along with the victim’s own, from the vaginal-swab mixture. The markers that remained did not match Sutton’s profile.

“It was exculpatory evidence,” Thompson told me. “And the jury never heard it.”

Phyllis P (237)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 4:14 pm
In 2006, a cold hit in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or codis, would lead police to Donnie Lamon Young, a convicted felon. Young confessed that in 1998, he and an accomplice had raped a Houston woman in her Ford Expedition. In January 2007, Young pleaded guilty to the crime.

Christy Kim was fired from the Houston crime lab, but reinstated after her lawyer argued that her errors—which ranged from how she had separated out the complex mixture to how she had reported the odds of a random match—were a product of systemic failures that included inadequate supervision. (Kim could not be reached for comment.) Sutton’s case became one of the central pillars of a public inquiry into practices at the lab. “The system failed at multiple points,” the head of the inquiry, Michael Bromwich, concluded.

Wilde T (10)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 4:40 pm
All kinds of forensic science is just false and can be used to accuse anyone they profile it seems plus tests results can be faked, misinterpreted to please the police and juries may even wish to please the police to save themselves. DNA and fingerprints can be planted by police or perpetrators themselves. And people are coerced into confessing in order to face draconian sentences.

Animae C (507)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 5:34 pm
i always say jails are full of innocents!!!

JL A (281)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 5:41 pm
Thanks for the extremely informative read Phyllis; it may be long, but is well worth it.

Birgit W (160)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 5:53 pm
Very scary info. AniMae says it all. Thanks for sharing.

Beryl Ludwig (80)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 6:07 pm
It is so true, what AniMae said. There are way too many innocent people. Many arrest and convictions are based on shoddy evidence anyway and now this is so much worse. appalling

Past Member (0)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 7:51 pm
Add me to the list of those believing it is a living nightmare when in the hands of corruption. Revolution needed--all concerned, ready and able should unite in solidarity with the very same protesting now taking place in all of Europe and other nations. America's quietness is only contributing to our demise. Thanks Phyllis.

Henriette Matthijssen (154)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 7:58 pm
When the psychopaths are in charge of running the world , there is no morals in any situations, therefore no justice any where for any one! The people hemselves will need to rise above this evil or we are all doomed! Thanks Phyllis.

Past Member (0)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 8:51 pm
Thanks Phyllis,

"Sutton’s case was taken up by Robert Wicoff, a defense attorney in Houston, who persuaded a Texas judge to have the DNA evidence reprocessed by a private testing facility. As Thompson had predicted, the results confirmed that Sutton was not a match. In the spring of 2003, more than four years after his arrest, Sutton was released from prison. His mother was waiting for him at the gates, her eyes bright with tears. “Going to prison, for me, was like seeing my death before it happens,” Sutton later told a local newspaper reporter.

Four years of a man's life wasted in a stinking, rotten jail environment and for what? The real criminals are ones who falsely sent him to jail. But will they see jail time?....not a chance. Case after case like this since the 90's. Congress needs to create a fund to test every eligible prisoner for DNA fraud, now.

"I wondered whether Batie blamed DNA. She laughed. “Oh, no, honey,” she said. “DNA is science. You can’t blame DNA. You can only blame the people who used it wrong."

Blame them, than jail them.

Suzanne L (99)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 9:08 pm
This was a miscarriage of justice and sloppy work by the Houston Police Dept. Lab. But DNA testing has also resulted in exonerating many innocent people who have subsequently been released from jail/prison. It might be better to have DNA testing done by neutral, independent labs who specialize in this field.

Rose Becke (141)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 9:58 pm
I agree with Suzanne

Mandi T (367)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 10:27 pm
I too, agree with Suzanne.

Shirley S (187)
Saturday May 21, 2016, 10:55 pm
Are people compensated for wrongful arrest & imprisonment???

Frances Darcy (124)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 12:13 am
Suzanne is correct.It is not the fault of DNA but that of those responsible who use it incorrectly.

Sherri G (128)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 12:56 am
Phyllis thank you for sharing. I am convinced that DNA findings cannot be assumed to be correct. There are many variables in handling and the science to make it fool proof. Attorneys must be better informed. Assumptions make ass/u/me. More Work is needed. noted and shared Sherri

Kerstin Strobl (362)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 1:38 am
thank you for sharing

Doris F (18)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 3:12 am
agree with commentators, thank you for sharing Phyllis

Past Member (0)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 3:50 am
Like Suzanne said, neutral, independent labs should do the testing, key word being LABS, as in at least two that concur.

Hugh Smith (112)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 6:57 am
Thank you for sharing

Pat B (356)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 7:25 am
Thank you, for this compelling article, Phyllis.

MmAway M (514)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 7:38 am
Interesting article Phyllis
Thank you - great comments
IMHO most of the MAIN CRIMINALS are all roaming around FREE!

Barbara F (47)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 7:40 am
Noted... Thank you for sharing this story Phyllis. What a shame.

Lucy S (46)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 8:25 am
Noted. Thank you for sharing.

Joanne D (38)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 8:26 am
The title may be a trifle misleading, since it's not the DNA testing but the incompetent handling of it by technicians that puts the "false" in "false promise." Mr Sutton's mother gets that: I wondered whether Batie blamed DNA. She laughed. “Oh, no, honey,” she said. “DNA is science. You can’t blame DNA. You can only blame the people who used it wrong.”

I might also point out that DNA is not responsible for faulty motivation: “An analyst might be told, ‘Okay, we have a suspect. Here’s the DNA. Look at the vaginal swab, and compare it to the suspect,’ ” Barlow says. “And they do, but they’re also being told all sorts of totally irrelevant things: The victim was 6 years old, the victim was traumatized, it was a hideous crime.” The implication is that there is pressure on the technician to come up with a match in the case of a "hideous crime." That makes no sense. If it's really a "hideous crime," the pressure on the analyst, if any, shoudl be to GET IT RIGHT. Because if he/she gets it wrong, that means the perp is still out there, free to commit many more "hideous crimes." Somebody's (maybe a whole lot of somebodies') priorities need a complete overhaul.

Thanks, JL, for forwarding the story.

Beth M (138)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 9:19 am

roxy H (350)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 9:24 am
wow what a great article, you know.. well i suppose you DO know my dear.. and many should know. They have been using stop checks in pull overs. How do you say it.. Um, point of stop. Alchohol stop checks on the highways and trying to do random DNA checks on people? Yes sounds frightful and this is happening. Now why? idk.. but they are making a DNA bank and using that for some creepy reason and then you look it up.. Its being held by MAYO CLINIC .. largest DNA bank.. so if this happens to you in the midwest area.. REFUSE.. do not allow them to grab your DNA for that.. its just not even legal,, then ask for a rep from the ACLU ... ugh just appalling -_-

roxy H (350)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 12:58 pm
Ok here is some links... i went ahead and grabbed them -_- .. a few to add so you can research .. :)
Federal contractors set up roadblocks in over 60 U.S. cities to harvest DNA samples
DNA samples taken at police checkpoint ‘gross abuse of power,’ say PA drivers
St. Clair Co. Sheriff's Office explains weekend traffic stops
Some people are raising questions about traffic stops in Saint Clair County where drivers were asked for DNA and blood samples. This occurred at multiple locations across the county Friday and Saturday.

Off duty St. Clair County Sheriff's deputies were taking part in the program. It's was a voluntary survey conducted by a Maryland company, Pacific Institute and Research Evaluation. The survey was paid for the National Highway Safety Administration.* Lt. Freddie Turrentine with the St. Clair County Sheriff's Office said this was a voluntary program and no driver's personal information was requested.

"Several of them pulled over there and start talking to them and decided they did not want to do it. They would let them leave. Nobody was forced to do it. Nobody suffered any consequences for not doing it," Turrentine said.
Liberty, Privacy, and DNA Databases
Imagine the following scenario: You happen to match the physical description of a serial burglar who has been preying recently upon residents of a suburb of Richmond, Virginia. After being brought in for questioning by the police, you are asked to participate in a line-up, whereupon an eyewitness identifies you as the culprit. The police place you under arrest. The next day, the real burglar is apprehended, and you are freed — a simple case of mistaken identity. But you will have left something behind: your DNA, which the police have taken from you at arrest and stored in the state’s criminal database in the form of a DNA “fingerprint.”


Sue McGuey (106)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 2:14 pm
Noted!~ Posted to FB!~ Scary reading :(

Lois Jordan (63)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 2:25 pm
Noted. Thanks for the info, Phyllis.

TomCat S (127)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 2:28 pm
The Innocence Project is a group working to overcome most often intentionally inaccurate DNA testing.

Stella G (403)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 3:05 pm
Sono colpita da questo articolo, lungo, ma è valsa la pena di leggerlo fino in fondo, sono convinta che la prova del DNA non sbaglia, ma bensì è l'approvvisare per compiacere, e i tecnici dei laboratori, che non lavorano bene. Grazie Phyllis per l'articolo.

S J (130)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 4:49 pm
sadly noted, thanks Phyllis

Colleen L (3)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 9:37 pm
I agree, sad information. Thanks Phyllis

Colleen L (3)
Sunday May 22, 2016, 9:38 pm
I agree, sad information. Thanks Phyllis

Stan B (123)
Monday May 23, 2016, 1:40 am
Great article. Thanks Phyllis.

Nita L (125)
Monday May 23, 2016, 2:30 am
I agree with you Suzanne. Thank you for submitting this article Phyllis and Marilyn for forwarding it to me. I shared widely.

Lona G (67)
Monday May 23, 2016, 10:28 am
The science is sound enough, but the interpretation of the results should not be left to badly trained or incompetent technicians. The interpretation should be left to statistical computer analysis and not be done by emotionally involved people who compare on sight or who are prone to manipulate the data to prove the case, but by independent agencies who have no further knowledge of the case. Their analysis and report should be done with the same scrutiny for a paternity case, a murder or rape, genealogy or a hereditary disease and carried out with a strict protocol to avoid cross-contaminations.

In short, courts should only allow DNA evidence gathered by independent technicians from certified labs as is often the case in Europe.

Janet B (0)
Monday May 23, 2016, 11:07 am

Rhonda B (99)
Monday May 23, 2016, 11:13 am
Great article! Thank you for sharing Phyllis.

Roger G (148)
Monday May 23, 2016, 1:27 pm
noted, thanks

Jamie Clemons (282)
Monday May 23, 2016, 1:28 pm
Guilty until proven guilty.

Margie FOURIE (148)
Tuesday May 24, 2016, 12:47 am
I think that DNA testing is great progress. Unfortunately we have the human factor involved.

Janet B (0)
Tuesday May 24, 2016, 12:55 pm

Janis K (126)
Tuesday May 24, 2016, 4:37 pm
Thanks for sharing

Arild Gone for now (174)
Wednesday May 25, 2016, 2:44 am
Thanks Phyllis.

Hartson Doak (39)
Wednesday May 25, 2016, 10:07 am
Designing the test to give you the expected or wanted results. If this does not work, lie.

Jonathan Harper (0)
Thursday May 26, 2016, 12:39 am

Lenore K (0)
Thursday May 26, 2016, 9:01 am
the bible says we are not to take oaths

Trish K (29)
Friday June 3, 2016, 4:32 pm
I believe in DNA but I don't believe in DNA being determined by police technicians. Houston - You keep having problems
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