Oklahoma Gazette


Former DA Bob Macy, ex-forensic chemist Joyce Gilchrist settle case

Wednesday, June 17, 2009
By Scott Cooper

As more cases involving former Oklahoma City Police Department forensic chemist Joyce Gilchrist make their way through the legal system, the inner workings of the police lab and the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office are revealed layer by layer.

When Curtis Edward McCarty was released from custody in 2007 after spending nearly 20 years on death row, the courts found that Gilchrist acted to either alter or intentionally lose evidence. With Bryson, attorneys looked more into the abilities of Gilchrist as a scientist and the hands-off approach the police department and the district attorney’s office took to their controversial chemist.

A trial was set to begin later this month which would have been the first public testimony of Gilchrist, former District Attorney Bob Macy and several of Macy’s prosecutors as well as police officials. It would have been an opportunity for the public to hear firsthand the explanations as to why a man who was found to have no biological evidence linking him to a crime spent more than decade in prison.

But at a last-ditch settlement conference meeting in the chambers of U.S. Magistrate Robert Bacharach on June 3, the opposing sides came to an agreement. Gilchrist agreed to hand over $16.5 million, according to court records. Bryson also worked out a deal with Macy, but the details of their settlement are sealed.

The case file is not sealed, however, and the depositions of Gilchrist and Macy include hundreds of documents and other testimonials that provide a keen glimpse into how one man’s life can be altered by science or ethics.

CONVICTION AND EXONERATION

Bryson was convicted in 1983 of raping and kidnapping Theresa Taylor and sentenced to 85 years in prison. Taylor, a legal secretary at the time, testified she was attacked walking to her car from the Liberty Tower in downtown Oklahoma City, forced into a car and driven to a remote area where she was brutally raped. Taylor escaped after biting the attacker’s penis, who then ran away screaming in pain. The victim then made her way to a nearby house and called police.

The key pieces of evidence used against Bryson were hair, blood and semen samples, eyewitness testimony from the victim and another person in the area of the attack, and injuries to Bryson’s penis after he went to a doctor for treatment. Gilchrist testified at the 1983 trial that the hair and blood samples were consistent to Bryson. She told a jury the blood type from the sample was the same as Bryson’s, and the hair was consistent with Bryson’s hair.

The key pieces of evidence used against Bryson were hair, blood and semen samples, eyewitness testimony from the victim and another person in the area of the attack, and injuries to Bryson’s penis after he went to a doctor for treatment. Gilchrist testified at the 1983 trial that the hair and blood samples were consistent to Bryson. She told a jury the blood type from the sample was the same as Bryson’s, and the hair was consistent with Bryson’s hair.

But other scientists who looked into Gilchrist’s original work claim that, had the chemist conducted her science correctly, Bryson should have been excluded before the 1983 trial, regardless of DNA testing.

Brian Wraxall, chief forensic serologist at the Serological Research Institute in California, looked over Gilchrist’s lab notes last November and found serious flaws from his former student. Gilchrist received some of her training at the institute.

Of particular note was the robe the victim wore after escaping to a nearby house. Semen stains were found on the robe which Gilchrist tested and concluded could have come from Bryson. But Wraxall said Gilchrist did not conduct the tests properly and that Bryson would have been excluded as a donor.

“Ms. Gilchrist failed to run a substrate or background control from the robe as she was taught in my laboratory,” Wraxall wrote in his report.

But Wraxall’s pupil took a hard stance on her testing during her deposition on March 6, 2008.

“Just because that wasn’t his DNA in that semen found in her vagina does not mean he’s not the rapist,” Gilchrist said. “Now, if you can exclude him using … DNA testing on those hairs, then I would agree with you then that he’s not the rapist, but until that happens, I stand by the results of my analysis.”

DEBUNKED

However, the hair analysis has also been debunked. In 2001, the FBI conducted reviews of Gilchrist’s work and concluded the hair evidence did not match Bryson. But during her deposition, Gilchrist shrugged off conclusions of other analysts:

“That happens all the time. Hair examination is very subjective, and experts may or may not agree on the conclusions that are reached. So if someone else disagrees with my findings, I don’t put much weight in that.”

Gilchrist and her attorney, Melvin Hall, refused to comment for the story, as did Bryson and his attorney Mark Barrett, along with Macy and his attorney.

Whether Gilchrist was even qualified to conduct such tests became a topic for Bryson’s attorneys. Records of Gilchrist’s college transcript and early training at FBI labs show the chemist had difficulty with some of her science classes.

According to her transcripts from the University of Oklahoma and University of Central Oklahoma, Gilchrist was placed on academic probation more than once, as well as academic suspension.

At OU, she received a grade of D in general chemistry. At UCO, she earned C and D grades in chemistry courses like general physics and quantitative analysis.

During her deposition, Gilchrist was questioned about the marks she received while training with the FBI. Barrett pointed out several instances where Gilchrist misidentified hair samples during tests. But Gilchrist contended mistakes were to be expected as it was her first week in training. She received a certificate stating she had completed the FBI course.

During the deposition, city attorney Richard Smith tried to make light of Barrett’s line of questioning:

Smith: “Did you get 100 percent on every spelling test you’ve ever took?”

Gilchrist: “No.”

GILCHRIST REFLECTS

Through the years, as one former convict gets exonerated after another, Gilchrist did reflect on any mistakes she had made, particularly when it came to hair analysis, and not letting a jury think she could identify a person through hair samples.

“There’s a lot of things I probably regret during the course of my lifetime. I probably regret not expounding a little further instead of just answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a question and not being able to qualify my answer, taking that opportunity to do so. Yeah, I regret that.”

But regardless of what mistakes Gilchrist made, she had the full backing of the district attorney’s office, even in the face of criticism from other forensic scientists and high court judges.

“I observed Joyce Gilchrist on numerous occasions in the courtroom testifying and being cross-examined, and it was my opinion that she was very professional, very thorough in her work,” Macy said during his deposition on Oct. 24, 2008. “I don’t know how much more investigation would need to have been done than what I was seeing daily in the courtroom.”

John Wilson with the Kansas City police lab was one of the scientists sounding alarm bells about Gilchrist’s work. Wilson had testified in some of the cases as an expert witness to rebut Gilchrist. Macy said he thought Wilson’s behavior was unethical.

“I thought Wilson was … one of the forensic chemists for a law enforcement agency there,” Macy said. “They had trained him and given him all his education and background, and he was out for hire to the defense. I expressed not only to Wilson but to his supervisor that I had a kind of an ethical problem with it.”

In the original filing of the lawsuit, Bryson named not just Gilchrist and Macy as defendants, but the city and several former police chiefs as well. The chiefs and the city were dismissed from the case on the grounds their actions had nothing to do with Bryson’s wrongful conviction. A judge also tossed out most of the complaints Bryson filed against Macy save one, which the two sides settled on.

Toward the end of his deposition, Macy took offense to some of the questions which dealt with evidence either being tampered with, falsified or intentionally lost, allegations raised by other courts in some of Gilchrist’s cases.

“I spent my entire life in law enforcement or prosecution, and I found that they’re probably the most dedicated, honest bunch of people in the world. … Why would a person want to hide evidence?”

The proceedings are still not over yet, according to court records. With Gilchrist agreeing to pay Bryson $16.5 million — a sum she does not have — a battle is to unfold as to who will pay that money. Gilchrist claims the city should pay since the action took place when she was employed with the police department. The city disagrees, saying Gilchrist violated city policies and therefore should not be indemnified by the city. The city does have a policy to pay up to $10 million for damages inflicted by an employee.

The issue between Gilchrist and the city is set for court later this month.

Scott Cooper

Read the Records for Yourself:

Bob Macy Deposition 1
Bob Macy Deposition 2
Bob Macy Deposition 3
Brian Waxall Report
Joyce Gilchrist College Transcript
Joyce Gilchrist Deposition 1
Joyce Gilchrist Deposition 2
Joyce Gilchrist Deposition 3
Joyce Gilchrist Deposition 4
Judge Marcus Report

     

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