Charlotte Observer


Prosecutors dismiss indictments in 27-year-old Charlotte rape case

March 2, 2016
  • Prosecutor cites erroneous microscopic hair testimony by FBI-trained examiner
  • Timothy Scott Bridges served over 25 years in prison
  • He was released in October after prosecutors agreed to vacate his 1991 convictions
BY JOE MARUSAK
jmarusak@charlotteobserver.com

Prosecutors have dismissed indictments against a man in a 27-year-old Charlotte rape case.

Prosecutors in part cited erroneous microscopic hair testimony offered by an FBI-trained Charlotte-Mecklenburg police examiner against Timothy Scott Bridges.

The Washington Post reported last year that flawed testimony by an elite FBI forensic unit affected at least 2,500 cases nationwide, including the Charlotte case.

The Justice Department and FBI formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in the unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000, the Post reported.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project.

One of the cases involved Bridges, who was serving a life sentence on a conviction in the rape of an 83-year-old disabled woman in her Charlotte home in May 1989, according to the Post.

The woman lived between The Plaza and North Davidson Street, the Observer reported at the time. She was hospitalized for three months and later lived in a nursing home.

The woman, who died in 1990 of unrelated causes, gave varying descriptions of her attacker and never identified Bridges, according to the Post.

A Charlotte forensic expert, among hundreds trained by the FBI before 2000, matched two hairs at the crime scene to Bridges, then 22, according to court papers.

The expert asserted there was only a 1-in-1,000 chance that they might have come from someone else, testimony the FBI review said “exceeds the limits of the science,” according to the Post.

There is no accepted research on how often hair from different people may appear the same. The FBI now uses DNA testing in combination with hair examination.

“If offered today, the hair evidence would be inadmissible, and without the hair evidence, there was insufficient evidence to convict Mr. Bridges,” wrote his attorney, Lauren Miller, with North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services.

When Bridges requested a new trial, the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office reviewed the case and found that the analyst’s testimony at trial contained information that the FBI now says would constitute “improper testimony.”

In October, the DA’s office agreed to a motion that granted Bridges a new trial. But the office later found no additional forensic evidence implicating Bridges, and several key witnesses are dead.

Bridges served more than 25 years in prison before he was released in October, after prosecutors agreed to vacate his 1991 convictions. On Feb. 16, prosecutors dismissed the indictments against Bridges.

Bridges’ legal team included lawyers from the New York-based Innocence Project and North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services.

His case “is one of the first to be litigated involving erroneous microscopic hair testimony proffered by an FBI-trained state examiner,” Chris Fabricant of the Innocence Project said Wednesday. “We would like to commend District Attorney Andrew Murray for seeking to restore justice for Mr. Bridges.”

Bridges has always maintained his innocence. He’s living with family members and recently earned his first driver’s license. His uncle helped him buy a car. Various organizations are helping him to adjust to life outside of prison.

Fabricant said one of the most special things Bridges has done since his release was to attend a Tar Heels men’s basketball game in Chapel Hill.


Exonerations
Junk Science

Truth in Justice