INCREDIBLY, a U.S. magistrate has found that a West Virginia state trooper deliberately lied on the witness stand to send an innocent man to prison for 12 years.
Incredibly, a top state lawyer defends the trooper, calling him "a valuable and trusted employee."
Good grief - will the Fred Zain nightmare never end? How many more innocent people were wrongly imprisoned? How many more millions must West Virginia taxpayers shell out as compensation for these outrages?
The newest case involves Wilbert Thomas, a former Chicago man who moved his family to Huntington in the 1980s so his wife could begin nurse training at Marshall University. He was jailed in 1987, accused of breaking into a woman's apartment and raping her.
Trooper Howard Myers, a specialist in the State Police crime lab then headed by Zain, testified that a "Lewis test" had fingered Thomas as the rapist. Two trials ended in mistrials, and a third brought a conviction.
Although Thomas protested his innocence, he was given a 15-to-25-year prison term. His wife eventually divorced him. His sister told reporter Larry Messina that the man's twin sons have grown up without him, and the family has been crushed by the case.
Now, according to U.S. Magistrate Jerry Hogg, new DNA testing has proved that Thomas wasn't the rapist, after all. Further, Hogg says, Trooper Myers admits that he lied on the witness stand.
Hogg recommended that Thomas be released from prison, and his record erased. The magistrate's report said Trooper Myers confessed that he "falsely testified about nonexistent serology test results supposedly linking petitioner to the crime." Hogg continued:
"Trooper Myers admitted ... that, as a matter of policy established by Fred Zain, the serology division reported Lewis test results even when they had not done Lewis testing."
Astounding. In the long-running Zain scandal, we always assumed that Zain alone fabricated evidence to help obtain convictions. We didn't suspect that other officers may have joined in the perjury.
So far, at least six prison inmates have been freed, on grounds that their convictions were obtained through Zain falsehoods. State taxpayers have paid millions in damages for wrongful imprisonment. Attempts to prosecute Zain have fizzled, so far.
Meanwhile, State Police leaders say Magistrate Hogg misunderstood some evidence in the case, and Myers remains an honest trooper. They will appeal the magistrate's ruling. Representing the state force, Deputy Managing Attorney General Barbara Allen said: "Trooper Myers is considered a valuable and trusted employee."
We don't know how this case eventually will turn out - but we know that West Virginians need clear answers. Trooper Myers and everyone else associated with the crime lab should be interrogated at a public hearing. Was there a "policy" of giving fake testimony to obtain convictions? If so, how many officers did so, in how many cases?
The State Police force has been
tainted by the Zain scandal. If officers are to be believed in the future,
they must show their integrity by rooting out every trace of the old perjury.