Henry Lee plays de­fense again

Famed foren­sic sci­en­tist’s tes­ti­mony called into ques­tion in a 3rd case

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Zahn

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.”

At Hasan’s trial, Lee tes­ti­fied that a sub­stance found on the bot­tom of sneak­ers was blood and that the blood type matched both the Tylers. But, the Courant re­ported, when the blood was retested in July 2014, the stains that Lee said were blood “were neg­a­tive for the pres­ence of blood,” ac­cord­ing to a law­suit filed Tues­day ask­ing the ver­dict be set aside.

The blood was retested by the state po­lice foren­sic lab­o­ra­tory, the Courant re­ported, us­ing new tech­niques that weren’t avail­able in 1986 to test the stains for DNA. The law­suit says the retest­ing showed that no DNA from ei­ther vic­tim was on the sneak­ers.

In addition to the sneak­ers, a plumber found the vic­tim’s credit cards clogged in a toi­let in Hasan’s apart­ment in the af­ter­math of the mur­der, ac­cord­ing to lea­gle.com. Lee men­tioned that ev­i­dence Thurs­day, although it was not re­lated to his tes­ti­mony on the sneak­ers that is in ques­tion. He said he had no knowl­edge of the credit cards while run­ning the test on the sneaker sam­ple.

The claims by Hasan mirror those of two New Mil­ford men — Shawn Hen­ning and Ralph Birch — who re­cently had their 1985 mur­der con­vic­tions over­turned when the state Supreme Court ruled that Lee’s in­ac­cu­rate blood ev­i­dence tes­ti­mony led to them

be­ing falsely con­victed. The two men, who the Courant said are free on prom­ises to ap­pear in court, had been con­victed of the bru­tal mur­der of Everett Carr in his New Mil­ford home.

Lee coun­tered those claims, say­ing there was no false tes­ti­mony in the case.

Other than Hasan, Hen­ning and Birch, there’s the case of David Wein­berg — who was con­victed of the 1984 mur­der of 19­year­old Joyce Stochmal of Sey­mour. A judge ruled in March 2017 to re­lease Wein­berg on time served after he spent 26 years in prison. He had been sen­tenced to serve 60 years.

Among the prob­lems with Wein­berg’s trial was that ex­pert wit­ness — Lee — “falsely” tes­ti­fied that a knife found in Wein­berg’s house was stained with blood from a hu­man or an­i­mal. Ad­di­tional anal­y­sis found that the blood could only be­long to an an­i­mal. Lee also tes­ti­fied at the time that fine hairs found in Wein­berg’s car were con­sis­tent with Stochmal’s hair, but test­ing since then showed that two of the hairs were not hers.

Lee is one of the nation’s most well­known crim­i­nol­o­gists and the former head of the state po­lice crime lab. He has consulted on sev­eral high­pro­file cases, in­clud­ing the O.J. Simp­son mur­der trial in Los An­ge­les, the JonBenet Ram­sey case and oth­ers.

Peter Hviz­dak / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Dr. Henry Lee holds a news con­fer­ence in June at the Univer­sity of New Haven re­fut­ing the state Supreme Court rul­ing that, as the state’s top crim­i­nol­o­gist at the time, he had given false tes­ti­mony in the 1989 con­vic­tion of Shawn Hen­ning and Ralph Birch in the 1985 mur­der of 65­year­old Everett Carr. Hen­ning and Birch served more than 30 years in prison for the New Mil­ford mur­der they claim they didn’t com­mit.

Brian Zahn / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Famed foren­sic sci­en­tist Henry Lee ar­gued that re­cent ev­i­dence that points to flaws in foren­sic test­ing in three mur­der cases from the 1980s is mis­lead­ing.

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