Forensic Magazine


September 12, 2016

Serial Killer's Complaint Prompts Internal DNA Investigation at Mich. State Police

by Seth Augmentin

The Michigan State Police are conducting an internal investigation of the work leading to the arrest and conviction of a serial killer for a run of rapes and murders of elderly women in their homes in the 1980s.

The probe was prompted by a complaint from the convicted killer himself, Michael Darnell Harris, now 53, who has been behind bars for 33 years on four murder convictions, according to an investigation by The Detroit Free Press.

The state police confirmed the ongoing investigation to Forensic Magazine, declining further comment until its completion.

Harris was convicted of the 1981 murder of 77-year-old Ula Curdy in 1983. One piece of evidence was electrophoresis which found that Harris matched some of the proteins found in the biological evidence at the scene. (Another item was a palm print lifted from a dining room chair that was also used at trial).

Michael Darnell Harris
Michael Darnell Harris (photo Michigan DOC)

But the most recent DNA evidence determined that the semen found on Curdy’s girdle excluded Harris – and instead matched another man in the CODIS database, the newspaper reported.

A court hearing on Sept. 23 will consider the new DNA evidence in the Curdy case.

The investigation of the CODIS hit is reportedly still underway, the Free Press reported.

However, Harris was convicted of three other murders in Michigan in 1981 and 1982. The 77-year-old Curdy was the youngest victim of the four. At the same time Harris was convicted of killing Curdy, he was also convicted of the murder of 81-year-old Denise Swanson. But two other 1982 murders, of Marjorie Upson of Ypsilanti and Louise Koebnick of Ann Arbor, only came to trial in 1993. Harris was convicted of those two murders – in part on DNA evidence used at trial.

In addition to the four murders, Harris was convicted in a 1982 rape just prior to the Curdy conviction.

But since then, the DNA work of the state crime lab has come under fire. Harris, who has developed into a prolific jailhouse lawyer, filed a complaint in July with the American Society of Crime Lab Directors about the Michigan State Police laboratory.

Nicole Lisabeth, a state police spokeswoman, issued a statement to Forensic Magazine which indicated that Harris’s complaint immediately prompted the internal look.

“The internal investigation is open and active,” Lisabeth wrote. “Additional comments will not be made until the conclusion of the investigation.

A court-appointed attorney for Harris contends that Freedom of Information Act requests show a former manager in the forensic scientist division at the state lab resigned in 2004, as part of a settlement due to allegations he had cheated on a certification test. That same forensic manager reportedly testified at Harris’s 1993 trials.


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