Aug. 6, 2004
Chief says HPD will take second look at Rodriguez caseBy STEVE McVICKER
Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said his department will take a second look at the case of George Rodriguez, the man who may have been wrongly convicted of aggravated rape and kidnapping in 1987 due to faulty work by the department's crime laboratory.
"We are reviewing the case and have made an immediate request for court documents," said Hurtt at a news conference today. "And upon seeing those documents, a comprehensive review will occur."
Rodriguez was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the sexual assault and abduction of a 14-year-old girl, and remains incarcerated.
Attorneys with the Innocence Project of New York filed a motion Thursday with the Harris County court system to have Rodriguez's conviction vacated. That motion is based on the findings of six forensic experts who issued a report stating the conclusions reached by the HPD crime lab were "scientifically unsound."
Rodriguez's attorneys suggest that the findings could possibly affect thousands of criminal cases handled by the department's serology division, which deals with blood-type analysis.
Hurtt, who took over the Houston department earlier this year, said if it's determined there were problems with testimony given in the case or the serological testing, his department would do everything it could to restore confidence.
"Let's not make the mistake and believe that the crime lab that existed in the Houston Police Department in 1987 is still the crime lab that exists in Houston in the year 2004 and in the future," Hurtt said. "We are going to do whatever is necessary to make sure that we make regain the credibility of the public and the criminal justice system.
"We know we have a lot of work."
Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck said today he is certain the crime lab would improve its standards but insisted the past must be reviewed.
"We've had more than 20 years of bad lab work," he said. "Some of the cases may have very well been cases in which people were executed."
The department is still in the process of retesting evidence in hundreds of cases processed by its DNA division after an independent audit revealed the use of shoddy scientific methods and substandard working conditions.
However, when asked if the substantiation of allegations of problems in the serology division would trigger another massive retesting effort, crime lab director Irma Rios said that it should be up to anyone with questions about their cases to request retesting individually.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.