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Wrongful Convictions? Evidence in Thousands of Cases Questioned

Reported by: Jeff Powers
Email: jeff.powers@sandiego6.com
Last Update: 4/06/09

SAN DIEGO - Suspicions about faked criminal evidence may mean people were wrongfully convicted in San Diego and Riverside Counties.

A toxicologist who did lab work on criminal evidence in thousands of cases has admitted to fraud, forgery and perjury.  

Riverside County authorities have ordered the review of 3,000 cases that were handled by toxicologist Arron Layton.   It's believed Layton handled evidence for hundreds of cases in San Diego County.

Some defense attorneys accuse San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis of "circling the wagons" to protect her office.

From her office at the Hall of Justice Dumanis says, "Certainly it causes us some concern but we're doing what we need to do."

In a confidential memo released by Dumanis to San Diego defense attorneys, she says, "The DA's office is in possession of potential impeachment material regarding former Bio-Tox analyst Aaron Layton."

Dumanis says, "We just don't know the full extent and we're trying to by reaching out to everybody find out all the possible cases that he's involved with.  I don't think it goes to that level of murder, but I can't say that for sure."

From 2007 until early this year, Layton worked at Bio-Tox, which contracts for Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego Counties.   Layton was in charge of conducting blood work in cases involving alcohol and drugs.  While conducting a background check on Layton, Riverside prosecutors found that he had confessed to lying under oath about the accuracy of his lab work and forging signatures on crucial lab documents before he worked at Bio-Tox.

Mary Prevost is a Defense Attorney in San Diego.  She says, "This information came out in Riverside some time ago, we only found out about it this morning."

Prevost has been practicing law in San Diego for 17 years.   She's disappointed that the DA's office hasn't been more forthcoming.  "We've had other problems with the crime labs in San Diego.  We've had other investigations.  We've asked the District Attorney's office and the City Attorney's office to investigate crime lab problems in the past, and they refuse to do it."

Daryl Thompson is a Defense Attorney serving Riverside County.  "If they're not done right, you run the risk of people being wrongfully convicted."

Thompson says the Riverside DA's office jumped on this potential problem quickly.  He questions the efforts in San Diego.  "We know the investigation in Riverside goes back to at least November-October of last year.  How many criminal defendants in San Diego county have been convicted since that time on bad blood tests?"

San Diego 6 News spoke with representatives of Bio-Tox.  They told us they have retested some 500 samples Layton worked on and the results, they say, came back consistent with his original tests.  

Dumanis says they are reaching out to all Defense Attorney's in San Diego to find what cases Layton touched and will decide the proper course of action.

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