After reviews of thousands of cases, the FBI has revealed that it may have made errors in 27 death penalty convictions. Exaggerated testimonies may have resulted in wrongfully linking defendants to the crimes.
The investigation was launched as the result of a Washington Post article last year. The publication questioned the validity of convictions related to ‘hair samples.’ The Post claimed that officials within the FBI knew of the possibility of erroneous information, but refused to correct it.
One year ago, the FBI agreed to review results of investigations which may have resulted in death penalty convictions. They reviewed more than 21,700 laboratory files. 120 results were labeled as ‘suspicious,’ and 27 of those were death penalty cases.
The vast majority of laboratory results in question are related to ‘hair samples.’ The experts linked the samples and positively identified the link between the victim and an assailant. However, in 1970, the FBI stated that hair samples alone may be inconclusive because the evidence is easily flawed.
The FBI says that there may be cases when a defendant was convicted solely on the evidence of hair samples, and in some cases given the death penalty.
“One of the things good scientists do is question their assumptions,” David Christian Hassell, director of the FBI Laboratory, told the Post. “No matter what the field, what the discipline, those questions should be up for debate. That’s as true in forensics as anything else.”
The Texas Forensic Science Commission has agreed to review the cases of its death row inmates. Texas executes more inmates than any other state in the union, and has agreed to carefully scrutinize any cases where convictions were solely based on hair sample matches.
In May, Jerome Manning, a 44-year-old man who was convicted of murdering two college students in 1992, was given a stay of execution in Mississippi. His death by lethal injection was abated while FBI investigators reviewed what they believe to be flawed forensic evidence.
There is no information regarding how many inmates may have been executed due to faulty evidence related to hair analysis. There will be an announcement later this summer.
Meanwhile, the focus is prioritized towards death row cases. Once they have all been reviewed, they will focus on other convictions which may have been based on evidence which should have been labeled ‘inconclusive.’
As of this moment, the FBI admits that 27 death penalty cases may be the result of evidence that was presented in error.
Alfred James reporting