Men wrongly convicted or arrested on bite evidence
By AMANDA LEEMYERS / Associated Press / June 16, 2013
At least 24 men convicted or arrested based largely on murky bite-mark evidence have been exonerated by DNA testing, had charges dropped or otherwise been proved not guilty. Many spent more than a decade in prison, and one man was behind bars for more than 23 years before he was exonerated. One man is still in prison as an appeal works through the courts. The Associated Press compiled this list using court records, news reports and the help of the Innocence Project, organized by the state in which the crimes occurred.
— Ray Krone, of Phoenix. Convicted in 1992 and again in 1996 after winning a new trial, Krone spent a decade in prison — three of them on death row — in the death of a Phoenix bartender who was found naked and stabbed in the men’s restroom of her workplace. Dr. Ray Rawson, a forensic dentist who is still on the American Board of Forensic Odontology, testified at both trials that bite marks on the bartender’s breast and neck could have come only from Krone.
The jury at Krone’s second trial found him guilty despite three top forensic dentists who testified for the defense that Krone couldn’t have made the bite mark.
In 2002, DNA testing matched a different man and proved Krone’s innocence, and Krone was released. Rawson did not return calls or emails seeking comment.
— William Richards, of San Bernardino. Richards was convicted in 1997 of murder in his wife’s 1993 death after two trials resulted in hung juries. Drs. Norman Sperber and Gregory Golden, two top forensic dentists certified by the American Board of Forensic Odontology, testified during the trial, with Sperber testifying for the prosecution that a suspected bite mark on Pam Richards’ body was consistent with a rare abnormality in William Richards’ teeth and that only about 2 percent of the population had such unique teeth. Golden testified for the defense that he thought the bite-mark evidence was inconclusive and should be disregarded.
During an evidentiary hearing in 2009, Sperber recanted his testimony and said he had been wrong. Both Sperber and Golden testified at the hearing that current bite-mark science excluded Richards from making the mark, and the California Innocence Project presented evidence that male DNA found on two rocks used to beat Pam Richards did not match William Richards.
The presiding judge reversed Richards’ conviction, finding that ‘‘the evidence before me points unerringly to innocence.’’ But prosecutors appealed the ruling, and the California Court of Appeals ordered Richards to remain imprisoned pending the outcome of the appeal. Richards’ attorneys say he has cancer and could die in prison waiting for his case to be resolved.
Golden recently told the AP that at the time of the trial, he had reservations about Sperber’s testimony, but that he commended him for later trying to right his wrong.
Golden said he knew at the time that a photo of the bite mark in the case was distorted and unreliable, and now he’s not even sure it was made by a human.
Sperber’s home number does not accept messages, and his email box was full.
— Dale Morris Jr., of Blanton. Morris was arrested in 1997 after a 9-year-old girl in his neighborhood, Sharra Ferger, was found raped, bitten and stabbed 46 times in a field near her home in Blanton. Two forensic dentists, Drs. Richard Souviron and Kenneth Martin, agreed that a bite mark on her shoulder probably came from Morris. Morris spent four months in jail awaiting trial until DNA tests showed he was innocent, and he was freed. Years later, the girl’s uncle and a family friend were convicted in the killing and sentenced to life in prison. DNA matched the friend, Gary Steven Cannon, and the bite mark appeared likely to have come from the uncle, Gary Cochran, who admitted his involvement and pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty.
Souviron, widely considered a credible forensic dentist, pointed out to the AP that he never testified in the Morris case, but that Martin testified to a grand jury that only Morris could have been the biter. Souviron said that Martin and a Florida investigator asked him to analyze 12 dental models and compare them to the bite mark found on Sharra, assuring him that it was a closed population of suspects and that one of them had to be the killer.
Souviron found that, out of the group of 12, only Morris could have possibly made the mark but said he never identified Morris as the definitive biter.
Souviron, who made his name in 1979 by testifying that serial killer Ted Bundy’s teeth matched a bite mark on a murder victim, said he has regrets about the Morris case.
‘‘You get hung out with the laundry on something like that,’’ Souviron recently told the AP in an interview. ‘‘In retrospect, I should have said, ‘I need to do more homework.'’’
Martin did not respond to a request for comment.
— Benny Starks, of Beach Park. Starks was convicted in 1986 of raping and assaulting a 68-year-old woman and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Drs. Russell Schneider and Carl Hagstrom, who are not certified by the American Board of Forensic Odontology, testified that bite marks matched Starks, despite a low forensic value as analyzed by two forensic dentists.
A judge later found that Schneider and Hagstrom intentionally ‘‘employed a method of comparison that has been rejected by the forensic dentistry community, and used flawed preservation and photography techniques.’’
A judge also found there was a wide range of prosecutor and police misconduct related to Starks’ conviction and found it likely that they and the dentists ‘‘had all agreed among themselves to contribute to the effort to secure that conviction.’’
Hagstrom and Schneider did not return AP calls seeking comment.
An appeals court later ordered a new trial on the rape charges after DNA testing on semen excluded Brown. Starks was released from prison two decades after his conviction, and the last charges against him were dismissed in January this year.
The dentists in 2011 sued a colleague, Dr. Mike Bowers, for defamation after Bowers cited the Starks case at a conference of forensic dentists as an example of a wrongful conviction because of bite-mark evidence. The lawsuit was later dismissed.
However, a lawsuit filed by Starks against Schneider and Hagstrom is pending. In May, a federal judge refused to dismiss allegations against the dentists of violating Starks’ constitutional rights, malicious prosecution and conspiracy.
— Dan Young and Harold Hill Jr., of Chicago. Hill, 16 at the time, and Young, 31 and mentally disabled, were convicted in the 1990 rape and murder of 39-year-old Kathy Morgan and sentenced to life in prison. At their trial, a forensic dentist, Dr. John Kenney, linked a bruise and a bite mark on Morgan’s body to Hill and Young.
In 2004, DNA tests showed that hairs found at the scene and on material under Morgan’s fingernails could not have come from Hill or Young. They were freed in January 2005. Later analysis of the bite-mark evidence contradicted Kenney’s finding.
Kenney told the AP in an interview that he never said the bite mark and bruise definitively matched Hill and Young. ‘‘I think I said it was consistent with,’’ Kenney said. ‘‘It was not, ‘These are the guys that did it.’ Not a positive ID.’’
He declined to say whether he stands behind his original analysis.
Kenney said that the case was ‘‘a long time ago’’ and that standards have since changed. He said that more modern technology is available for bite-mark analysis, just as in other inexact forensic sciences, and that it still has a place in courtrooms.
— Anthony Keko, of Plaquemines Parish. He was convicted in 1991 in his estranged wife’s killing and sentenced to life in prison. Dr. Michael West, a forensic dentist, testified Keko matched a bite mark he said he found on the woman’s shoulder upon exhumation of her body 14 months after burial. Prosecutors had no other evidence.
A judge reversed Keko’s conviction and freed him in 1994 after some of West’s other cases began drawing scrutiny.
— Willie Jackson, of Natchez, Miss. He was convicted in 1989 of rape in Marrero, La., 180 miles from where he lived, after the victim identified him in a lineup and a forensic dentist testified that bite marks matched Jackson’s teeth, even though Jackson’s brother, Milton Jackson, confessed to the rape just days after the crime and Jackson lived far away. Police focused on Willie Jackson because one of his bank statements was found at the crime scene.
DNA testing later showed Jackson was innocent, and he was exonerated in 2006.
A different forensic dentist later found the earlier bite-mark analysis was incorrect, and further DNA testing pointed to Milton Jackson, who was serving a life sentence for an unrelated rape.
— Edmund Burke, of Walpole. Burke was arrested in 1998 in the death of 75-year-old Irene Kennedy, of Foxboro, who was beaten and stabbed while walking in a park in Walpole. Burke spent 41 days in prison after forensic dentist Dr. Lowell Levine told investigators bite marks on Kennedy’s breasts matched Burke’s teeth ‘‘to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty.’’
DNA taken from the bite marks later excluded Burke, who was freed, and matched Martin Guy, of Norwood, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Levine told the AP in an interview that he regrets ever taking the case in the first place and would feel terrible if Burke is innocent — noting, though, he isn’t convinced by the DNA evidence.
He said another forensic dentist found that Guy could not have made the bite marks, and pointed out that other killings have been committed by two people.
He said that he asked for all the original material to re-analyze them, especially because Burke sued him for damages, but that he was turned down. The lawsuit was dismissed.
‘‘I really did try,’’ he said. ‘‘Let’s face it. If we did something wrong, we really want to know about it so we don’t do it again.’’
— Ricky Amolsch, of Westland. He was arrested in 1994 after forensic dentist Dr. Allan Warnick found a bite mark on the body of Amolsch’s girlfriend was ‘‘highly consistent’’ with Amolsch, a father of two with no criminal record.
Amolsch spent 10 months behind bars before the sole eyewitness was himself arrested on suspicion of raping another woman at knifepoint in the same trailer park where Amolsch’s girlfriend lived and was killed. A judge dismissed all the charges against Amolsch and ordered him freed, saying: ‘‘I think there’s been a gross injustice done to this gentleman by the whole judicial system.’’
Warnick later said he had probably overstated his findings in the Amolsch case but maintained he still couldn’t rule out Amolsch as the biter. Warnick has not returned calls seeking comment.
— Anthony Otero, of Detroit. Otero was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, rape and larceny in the death of a 60-year-old woman in Detroit after Warnick said at a preliminary hearing that Otero was ‘‘the only person in the world’’ who could have made the bite marks found on the victim’s breast and thigh. Otero spent five months in jail awaiting trial before a DNA test excluded him as the killer. The state dismissed the charges.
— Jeff Moldowan and Robert Cristini, of Warren. They were convicted in 1991 in the kidnapping, brutal rape and attempted murder of Moldowan’s ex-girlfriend in Warren, even though Moldowan and Cristini had alibis. A jury found them guilty after Warnick and another forensic dentist certified by the American Board of Forensic Odontology, Dr. Pamela Hammel, testified that bite marks on the woman had to have come from Moldowan and Cristini.
The victim identified Moldowan as one of her attackers, but his defense attorney argued that the rape was committed by drug dealers seeking revenge for lost payment of cocaine, and that she falsely accused Moldowan to cover up connections to drug dealers.
Cristini was sentenced to 44 to 60 years in prison, and Moldowan was sentenced to four terms of 60 to 90 years. The bite-mark testimony was later discredited, leading to retrials in 2003 and 2004, at which both Moldowan and Cristini were acquitted.
— Johnny Bourn, of Jackson County. Bourn was arrested in 1992 and imprisoned for 1 ½ years in the rape and killing of an elderly Mississippi man after forensic dentist Dr. Michael West said a bite mark matched him. Even though hair and fingerprint evidence in the case did not match Bourn, he wasn’t freed until DNA testing on fingernail scrapings taken from the victim showed that someone else had committed the crime. The case remains unsolved.
— Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, both of Brooksville. Brooks was convicted in 1992 of raping and killing his ex-girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter and sentenced to life in prison after West testified marks on the girl were human bite marks that matched Brooks.
In a separate but similar case, Brewer was convicted in 1995 of raping and killing his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter and sentenced to death after West testified marks on her body matched Brewer’s teeth.
Later, DNA testing in both cases matched a man named Justin Albert Johnson, who confessed. Johnson, who had been an initial suspect in the Brooks case and had a history of raping women and girls, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, while the bite marks on both girls later were determined to be more likely made by crawfish and insects in water where their bodies were dumped.
Although Brewer’s conviction was vacated while he awaited execution in 2001, he was held in prison until 2008 because the prosecutor said he was going to retry him. Brooks also wasn’t released until 2008.
West, of Hattiesburg, defended his testimony by saying that he never told jurors that Brooks and Brewer were the killers, only that they bit the children, and that he’s not responsible for juries who found them guilty. He told the AP in an interview that DNA has made bite-mark analysis almost obsolete and that he no longer practices it.
— Dane Clark Collins, of Santa Fe. Collins was arrested in 1989 and imprisoned for five months in the rape and killing of his 22-year-old stepdaughter Tracy Barker, even though a condition prevented Collins from producing sperm, which was found on Barker’s body.
A forensic dentist had concluded that a mark on Barker’s neck was a bite mark and matched Collins, and prosecutors vowed to seek the death penalty.
Collins was declared innocent after his attorneys revealed his medical condition and argued that the mark on Barker’s neck was left when she was strangled and was not a bite mark.
Fifteen years later, the sperm found on Barker was entered into a national database not available at the time of the crime and matched Chris McClendon, a former Santa Fe ski instructor who had been convicted in a separate 1999 case of kidnapping and raping a 24-year-old Santa Fe waitress. McClendon pleaded no contest in Barker’s killing to avoid the death penalty and is serving multiple life sentences.
— Roy Brown, of Syracuse. Brown was convicted in 1991 of murdering a woman in Auburn, in upstate New York, after a local dentist testified a bite mark was ‘‘entirely consistent’’ with Brown, even though the mark appeared to have come from a person with six intact upper teeth; Brown was missing two of those six teeth. DNA testing in 2006 showed saliva from the killer excluded Brown, but the judge ordered him to continue to be held in prison, pointing to the bite mark analysis. In January 2007, further DNA testing and the bite-mark evidence later was shown to be associated with another man who had committed suicide, and Brown was released from prison.
— James O'Donnell, of New York City. O'Donnell was convicted in 1998 of attempted sodomy and second-degree assault of a woman walking in a park in Staten Island. The woman looked at a lineup of suspects and said O'Donnell ‘‘looked like’’ the man who had attacked her, while her friend, who was also at the park, failed to identify him as the attacker. O'Donnell had a strong alibi, and both his girlfriend and her son testified he was at home with them at the time. A forensic examiner testified at the trial that a bite mark on the victim’s finger was consistent with O'Donnell’s teeth, and a jury found him guilty. He was sentenced to 3 ½ to seven years in prison, but DNA evidence exonerated him in 2000.
— Doug Prade, of Akron. Prade was convicted in 1998 of the death of his ex-wife, Margo Prade, largely based on testimony from local dentist Dr. Thomas Marshall that a bite mark matched Prade’s teeth. Prade was declared innocent and released from prison on Jan. 29 of this year. He had been serving a life sentence and fought for six years to get DNA around the bite mark tested; when it was, it showed the DNA couldn’t be his. Prosecutors are appealing his release and exoneration, arguing the DNA could have gotten there after Margo Prade was killed.
Marshall, who is now retired, said he stands by his testimony and believes Prade is guilty.
‘‘In 34 years of working for the medical examiner, I had two bite marks that were perfect, and his was one of them,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘I am positive, beyond any doubt, that bite mark on Margo Prade was made by Doug Prade.’’
— Greg Wilhoit, of Tulsa. He was convicted of his wife’s 1985 rape and killing and sentenced to death after Drs. Keith Montgomery and Richard Thomas Glass testified a bite mark matched Wilhoit’s teeth. Neither was certified by the American Board of Forensic Odontology, and one had been out of dental school less than a year.
A group of 11 top forensic dentists later examined the bite-mark evidence and found the mark could not have come from Wilhoit. He eventually was granted a new trial and was out on bail for two years as a prosecutor contemplated whether to retry the case. A second trial was held in 1993, and a judge declared Wilhoit innocent after the prosecution presented its case without the bite-mark evidence.
Glass, now a professor at Oklahoma State University who lectures about bite-mark cases, told the AP that he couldn’t say whether he had been wrong in the case because he doesn’t remember details from so long ago.
He said that generally, he and other forensic dentists have gotten more careful about drawing conclusions and that using bite-mark evidence to exclude a suspect is more useful than trying to identify a biter.
Montgomery, who has a dental practice in Tulsa, did not return a call seeking comment.
— Calvin Washington and Joe Sidney Williams, of Waco. Arrested after being found with Juanita White’s car the day after her death, Washington and Williams were convicted in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison in the Waco woman’s rape, robbery and murder. A forensic dentist certified by the American Board of Forensic Odontology, Dr. Homer Campbell, now dead, testified a suspected bite mark was consistent with Williams’ teeth, though not to a reasonable degree of certainty.
Waco police Officer Jan Price gave a sworn statement in 1991 that she believed Washington and Williams were innocent and the victims of another officer’s improper conduct. She also identified a more likely suspect, Benny Carroll, who had committed a similar crime in White’s neighborhood. Semen taken from White’s body later excluded Washington and Williams but matched Carroll, who had killed himself in 1990.
Williams was released from prison in 1993, and Washington was released in 2001.
— Robert Lee Stinson, of Milwaukee. Stinson was convicted in 1985 at age 22 of raping and fatally beating 63-year-old Ione Cychosz and sentenced to life in prison. Stinson’s conviction came after Dr. Lowell Thomas Johnson testified that bite marks on the woman’s body ‘‘had to have been made by teeth identical’’ to Stinson’s and said there was ‘‘no margin for error,’’ even though Stinson was missing a front tooth in a place where the bite marks indicated one.
Dr. Ray Rawson, a forensic dentist certified by the American Board of Odontology who also testified for the prosecution in the Arizona case of Ray Krone — later exonerated — testified against Stinson and said the evidence was overwhelming and of high quality.
Later, DNA taken from the victim’s sweater was found not to match Stinson, and a panel of forensic dentists found Stinson could not have made the bite mark. Stinson was exonerated and released in 2009 after more than 23 years in prison. Prosecutors later decided not to retry Stinson and dropped all charges against him.
Rawson has not returned calls or emails seeking comment. When reached for comment, Johnson would say only that ‘‘the matter is still before the courts.’’ Stinson has sued Johnson and Rawson in federal court, alleging civil rights violations, and is seeking unspecified damages. The lawsuit is pending.
||Truth in Justice