Associated Press

Wisconsin AG says crime lab miscues didn't have impact
By The Associated Press
Friday, October 31, 2008

Cases of employee misconduct at the state crime laboratories did not undermine the reliability of forensic testing performed there, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said Friday.
In September, an attorney for convicted killer Steven Avery alleged that incidents of misconduct at the labs in Madison and Milwaukee raised the specter that DNA testing, fingerprint identification and other lab work was tainted.

The misconduct included a lab employee who showed up drunk to work and analysts who made mistakes testing fingerprints. All the behavior in question came between 2002 and 2006.

Van Hollen said all six cases cited by attorney Jerome Buting had already been investigated and resulted in discipline against the employees. Nonetheless, he ordered his department to take another look at the cases to guarantee public confidence in the labs.

His office released a 13-page summary describing the investigation late Friday afternoon. It concluded that no faulty forensic test results were presented in court against criminal defendants and found no evidence of systemic problems at the labs.

"In fact, the opposite was found to be true, in that the State Crime Laboratory has a system of checks and balances designed for the specific purpose of identifying human oversights," special agent Richard Luell of the Division of Criminal Investigation wrote in the report.

The employee who was drunk at work at the Madison lab in 2006 did not work on the Avery case as Buting had suggested, the report found. He apparently showed up to work sober but then got drunk in his car, it found.

None of the mistakes involving fingerprint analysts resulted in false identifications, the report found.

One fingerprint analyst who claimed to perform tests that he did not was convicted of misconduct in office, the report said. His case resulted in a review of 1,500 cases the analyst had handled that found no incorrect identifications but that he missed prints that could have been tested.

The analyst "took shortcuts in processing evidence," the report found.

Buting did not immediately return a phone message Friday afternoon.

His client, Avery, was convicted of killing 25-year-old Teresa Halbach in 2005 and DNA evidence played a major role in the case. A DNA analyst at the crime lab testified at his trial she found Halbach's DNA on a bullet found in Avery's garage and Halbach's car key was found in his bedroom with traces of his DNA.

Buting disputed the results of those tests and pointed out an analyst acknowledged during the trial she had contaminated a single evidence sample. DNA evidence, ironically, had freed Avery from prison in 2003 after he spent 18 years behind bars for a rape he did not commit.

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