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The Department of Justice and FBI have launched a review of more than 10,000 cases to look for flawed forensic evidence that might have convicted innocent people, the Washington Post reported this week.Ex-FBI agent and whistleblower C. Fred Whitehurst told Prism magazine that the undertaking – the largest post-conviction review ever done by the FBI – is only the tip of the iceberg because the FBI taught its forensic techniques to local, state, and federal crime lab personnel for decades.
“In this nation alone there are virtually hundreds of thousands of cases in jeopardy where forensic hair analysis was conducted,” Whitehurst told Prism. “We are seeing a holocaust of law enforcement come to light which has been taking place now for decades under the nose of an unsuspecting American nation.”
Former FBI Special Agent Mike German (now with the ACLU) told Prism that the DOJ felt pressured to act after a Washington Post report in April revealed that for years DOJ officials knew “hair and fibre analysis was subjective and lacked grounding in solid research and that the FBI lab lacked protocols to ensure that agent testimony was scientifically accurate.”
But neither agency thoroughly reviewed specific cases or informed potentially innocent defendants or their attorneys, the Post reported.
The April article identified two men convicted based largely on FBI hair analyst testimony that wrongly placed them at crime scenes. The DOJ had not previously reviewed the cases and the report led to one man’s 1979 murder conviction being vacated and the other’s 1981 sexual assault conviction being overturned.
The DOJ review will include rape, murder, and robbery cases across the country that were conducted by FBI laboratory hair and fibre examiners as far back as at least 1985.
The Innocence Project, an advocacy group dedicated to reforming the criminal justice system and to exonerating the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing, will perform a third-party assessment of the government’s review.
Whitehurst said that he expects more innocent people will be freed.
“Guys in the lab wanting to ‘solve’ the case and be heroes might have pushed the envelope and been the guy who did what no one else could do,” he said. “I have no doubt there will be more exonerations.”
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