Oklahoma Police Chemist Under Probe

.c The Associated Press 
April 27, 2001

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A series of Oklahoma criminal convictions, including 13 death row cases, have been thrown into question by an FBI report that a police chemist wrongly linked defendants to crime scenes. 

Joyce Gilchrist misidentified hair and fibers in at least six criminal cases and gave testimony that went beyond what her science showed, the report said. 

At least one man, Jeffrey Todd Pierce, may have been wrongly convicted of sexual assault based on Gilchrist's faulty lab work or testimony, Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney John Jacobsen said Thursday. Pierce has been in prison for 15 years. 

Responding to a police request, the FBI reviewed Gilchrist's laboratory notes, her trial testimony and microscopic slides of hair or fibers in eight cases from 1982 to 1991. 

The FBI's findings led officials to start a criminal investigation and look at other cases on which she worked. 

The first priority is determining whether Gilchrist botched evidence that was instrumental in putting somebody on death row, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmonson said. 

Gilchrist testified against Mark Fowler, who was executed three months ago for a triple homicide at a grocery store. 

``Had she not given the testimony that she gave, maybe they wouldn't have given my son death,'' Fowler's father, Jim, said Thursday. ``They'll do anything for a conviction. Oklahoma has got the lynch-mob mentality. It's barbaric.'' 

Gilchrist also testified at a trial for Marilyn Plantz, who is scheduled for execution next week for bludgeoning her husband to death with a baseball bat. 

Plantz's attorney, Scott Braden, said he had no comment. 

Gilchrist, who is on paid administrative leave, has not been charged with a crime. She has not worked in the Oklahoma City Police Department's forensic lab since 1993, when she was moved to a manager position. Her attorney, Melvin Hall, said she disagrees with the FBI findings and believes she will be vindicated. 

The Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers Association called for a death-penalty moratorium. 

``It is becoming more and more obvious as time goes on that the machinery of death in Oklahoma is extremely flawed,'' Jack Dempsey Pointer, the group's president, said. 

Amnesty International released a report Thursday saying Oklahoma executes prisoners at a higher rate per capita than any other state and most nations including China and Iran. 

The London-based human rights group also called for a death penalty moratorium, as did some state lawmakers. 

``I find it distressing,'' Rep. Opio Toure said. ``Discredited testimony can result in people sentenced to death. We do need to have a moratorium.'' 

Oklahoma has executed 10 people this year, including Wanda Jean Allen, the first black woman to be executed in the United States in 47 years. Three more executions are scheduled. 

The state has executed 40 inmates since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. 

Oklahoma is behind only Florida and Illinois in the number of condemned prisoners later found to be innocent. 

Nationwide, 95 death row inmates - seven in Oklahoma - have been freed since 1973, 10 of whom were exonerated by DNA tests, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. 

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