Chemist Roadcap provided evidence in both homicides
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
BY PETE SHELLEM
Of The Patriot-News
If Barry Laughman is cleared, it would be the second high-profile murder case to be tossed by discrediting evidence of state police chemist Janice Roadcap.
Through three trials from 1974 to 1978, Roadcap placed Steven Crawford at the scene of a Harrisburg slaying.
Crawford was on trial in the 1970 bludgeoning of John Eddie Mitchell, whose body was found in a back-alley garage belonging to Crawford's parents.
Roadcap testified that handprints left on a car next to Mitchell's body had blood on the ridges of the prints, and not in the valleys between them.
Roadcap and eventually another expert concluded that blood was on Crawford's hand when he touched the car.
It was the only physical evidence linking Crawford to the killing. The trial judge called it the "linchpin" of the case.
Roadcap's testimony was also key to the conviction of Barry Laughman. She explained why his blood type did not match that of semen found on the victim's body using various theories which, experts told The Patriot-News, had no basis in science.
All the prosecution provided for the defense to use at Crawford's trial was a one-sentence report saying the testing determined the blood was deposited by the donor of the print.
It wasn't until October 2001 that a defense investigator found a photocopy of Roadcap's original lab notes. They were discovered in a discarded briefcase belonging to another investigator in the case, who had died seven years earlier.
Those notes would have supported a defense theory that blood had been splashed across existing handprints on the car.
When prosecutors retrieved the original lab notes from state police archives, they had been crossed out to make them conform with trial testimony.
In a deposition taken before Crawford was released, Roadcap said she crossed out the notes because "I had made other decisions and opinions and observations that were not on there."
Crawford was granted a new trial based on the notes. Prosecutors, while not conceding his innocence, decided not to try him again.
He filed suit in March, and the state refused to represent Roadcap and a fellow officer, saying if they were doctoring evidence, they were acting outside the scope of their employment.
Since telling The Patriot-News that she didn't tell anyone about the particles in the valleys of the handprints because she would have been asked to test them, Roadcap has refused to comment on the case.
Roadcap, 70, of Halifax, was a chemist for the state police from 1967 until her retirement in 1991, handling cases in 18 counties from the Harrisburg crime lab.
PETE SHELLEM: 255-8156 or firstname.lastname@example.org