Monday, August 01, 2005


When Larry Peterson, a U.S. Army veteran, was arrested for a 1987 rape and murder in Burlington County, N.J., the only physical evidence that linked him to the crime was six pubic hairs. At trial, Gail Tighe, a veteran New Jersey State Police forensic scientist, testified that she microscopically compared hairs recovered by evidence technicians to the victim and to Peterson, and concluded that the hairs belonged to Peterson. The prosecution, in closing arguments to the jury, said the hairs "were a microscopic and physical match" to Peterson.

Now, after spending nearly 18 years in prison, Peterson, 54, is seeking a new trial because DNA tests show that the hair analyst was wrong. The hairs did not belong to Peterson but rather were from the victim, Jacqueline Harrison, whose battered body was found near a soybean field in Pemberton Township, not far from Ft. Dix. On Friday, lawyers for Peterson are expected to ask a judge to vacate his convictions for rape and murder. Burlington County prosecutors have said that if the DNA tests did not link Peterson to the crimes, they would not oppose the motion, according to court documents filed in the case.

Peterson's lawyer, Vanessa Potkin, an attorney with the Innocence Project, a non-profit organization at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law that investigates cases of wrongful conviction, said the exposure of Tighe's flawed work is problematic. "Her work has been used to secure convictions in a number of criminal cases, and this suggests there should be an independent audit of her work to figure out what went wrong in this case and to determine whether the problem is pervasive throughout her work," Potkin said in an interview Wednesday.

Tighe is still an analyst for the state police crime lab. Lt. Gerald Lewis, a spokesman for the New Jersey State Police, said Tighe was unavailable for comment and that the department would not comment on a pending case....

In the Peterson case, flawed hair analysis was not the only bad forensic work, according to a separate motion filed earlier this year by Potkin. The DNA tests have revealed the presence of semen from swabs taken from the woman after her body was found. At trial, jurors were told that no semen had been found in her body but that semen found on her clothing came from Peterson. DNA tests on the semen on the victim's clothing linked it to another man who at the time said he had consensual sex with Harrison earlier that evening. The DNA profile obtained from the semen from the woman's body is that of an unidentified male and matches a DNA profile obtained from material found under the victim's fingernails, according to Potkin. The profile was entered into the FBI's national DNA database, which has more than 2.4 million profiles obtained from convicted offenders as well as more than 100,000 as-yet-unidentified profiles from unsolved crimes. There was no match, according to Potkin.....

Peterson was the first person in New Jersey to be granted DNA testing under the state's post-conviction testing law passed in 2002. Potkin said that Tighe had overstated the value of hair comparison evidence, testifying that finding more than one hair that was similar to Peterson's hair "will add to the chances of it fitting into the category of highly likely" that it was Peterson's hair. "This was a capital murder case," Potkin said. "If the state had had its way back at the trial, Larry Peterson would have been executed by now." "The prosecution exaggerated the value of the hair comparison in this case," Potkin said. "They went beyond the science. Tighe's work should be reviewed."

More here


I mentioned the Shortt case on July v13th

The High Court has ordered that the State make an interim compensation payment of 375,000 Euros to County Donegal nightclub owner Frank Shortt. The 69-year-old father-of-five served two-and-a-half years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of allowing drugs to be sold at his premises in Innishowen in the 1990s. He was released in 1997 and later succeeded in having his case declared a miscarriage of justice.

The High Court is currently assessing his claim for compensation, but his lawyers applied for an interim pay-out, saying their client needed to repay a loan. The court approved a payment of 375,000 Euros today and said Mr Shortt should receive the money within 14 days. A ruling on the final compensation amount is due later this year.

Report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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