Henry Lee plays defense again
Famed forensic scientist’s testimony called into question in a 3rd case
WEST HAVEN — Famed forensic scientist Henry Lee argued Thursday that recent evidence pointing to flaws in forensic testing in three murder cases from the 1980s is misleading.
In the most recent case to be reviewed, Lee said a crucial blood sample found on a sneaker was used up, which likely was why no blood was found on the sneaker when it recently was retested.
“Once the sample is used, you can’t use the original,” he said. “It’s misleading to say you tested the original.”
Lee defended his work during a news conference held Thursday morning to address what he claims is a misunderstanding of forensic science. Three men convicted of murder, due in part to Lee’s expert testimony, had those convictions either overturned or were released on time served in the last two years after retests of evidence concluded Lee’s testimony was inaccurate.
On Thursday Lee said that, since his retirement, he
does not have access to notes and worksheets that would allow him to review his work.
“They should have the courtesy to contact me,” he said.
Lee, who said he would like to see innocent men go free if they are in fact innocent without smearing his name, made three proposals. He urged the state to form a review committee of experts and the community to review the merit of forensic retesting when someone who has been convicted requests to have evidence reviewed. He also said that, should his testimony be called into question, he should be able to see his old notes, which were handwritten at the time as computers were not widely used. His last recommendation was that a free, oneday training course should be available to teach judges, public defenders, police, reporters and the public on forensics.
State Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, DNew Haven, said he believes Lee’s recommendations are worthwhile for the legislature’s Judiciary Committee to consider during the next full session in February.
“I think we have, because of the advancement of forensic science, a general issue regarding old cases where there may or may not be evidence that may have been available at the time but the testing techniques weren’t available, or material comes to light later that wasn’t available at the time,” he said.
Darcy McGraw, executive director of the Connecticut Innocence Project and an attorney for one of the men whose original trial was called into question, expressed exasperation at Lee’s recommendations when reached by phone Thursday afternoon.
“I don’t necessarily think any such review committee can take the place of the legal protections that we have in this country when people are wrongly convicted,” she said. “We have a system that recognizes that sometimes, even if you have a fair trial, you can still be innocent. Those are petitions for a new trial for various reasons or we have habeas corpus. Neither of those things is going to get resolved by this review committee and, as far as I’m concerned, the only way we’ve been able to get anywhere in any of the cases I’ve been involved in is by very careful, meticulous lawyering and investigation of the record and the case.”
With respect to Lee’s recommendation about making notes available, McGraw said she wrote to Lee while she was representing a man convicted of a murder in Seymour, and he did not respond.
“I filed a petition for a new trial that had, attached to it as exhibits, the relevant portions of the lab notes,” she said. “Henry Lee is holding a press conference saying he stands by what he said 100 percent, but you can’t say that and say at the same time ‘I don’t know what the report says.’”
McGraw said she would ask Lee whether he’s more concerned with his reputation or the incarceration of the innocent.
A lawsuit filed this week alleged the criminologist gave false testimony in a Darien murder trial, according to the Hartford Courant.
“It looks like I, excuse my language, f—ed up again, which I did not,” Lee told reporters Thursday.
Wendall Hasan was convicted in May 1986 and is serving an 80year sentence , according to leagle.com.
Hasan has been in prison in 1986 for the murder of Darien resident George Tyler on July 2, 1985. Hasan was convicted partly on evidence found on a pair of sneakers found in his closet. Tyler’s wife, Rachel Tyler, was severely injured but survived the attack.
“You cannot say that 30 years ago it wasn’t there. That doesn’t make any sense,” Lee said. He used the example that, before Thursday’s press conference, he had placed $10 in the room where reporters had gathered. Before it began, he removed the bill. “I cannot say it’s not there before.”