In 1997, an FBI Lab Tech, Fred Whitehurst, blew the whistle on shoddy work practices. As a consequence, the Justice Department promised extensive review and alteration of the processes that led to misconduct, and wrongful convictions of defendants in numerous cases. Even when the FBI knew their work had been shoddy and the wrong person convicted – in death penalty cases as well – they didn’t bother sending timely notifications to the prosecutors in those cases, and never notified defendants’ attorneys at all. And, sometimes when they did notify the prosecutors, they ignored it, and never told the defendants’ lawyers – even resulting in innocent men being put to death.
What is wrong with those prosecutors, and why are they not charged with causing the deaths, and long incarcerations, of innocent men and women?
Spencer S. Hsu wrote in the Washington Post July 16, 2014, that the Justice Department and FBI delayed notifying prosecutors in scores of death-row convictions that their cases might have relied on flawed FBI forensic work, the department’s Office of Inspector General reported Wednesday. In a scathing report that shed new light on one of the FBI lab’s worst modern scandals, the inspector general said the Justice Department didn’t properly review all of the cases by FBI examiner s whose work was known to be flawed.
The report said the FBI took more than five years to identify more than 60 death-row defendants whose cases had been handled by 13 lab examiners whose work had been criticized in a 1997 inspector-general investigation. As a result, state authorities could not consider whether to stay sentences, and three men were put to death. One Franconia man is found guilty in slaying of roommate to stay sentences, and three men were put to death. One of those defendants, who was executed in Texas in 1997, would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the FBI’s flawed work, the report said. “Failures of this nature undermine the integrity of the United States’ system of justice and the public’s
confidence in our system,” the 146-page report stated. The failure to admit errors at the time “also injured the reputation of the FBI and the Department.”
The report was requested by Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) after The Washington Post reported in 2012 that Justice officials knew for years that flawed evidence and testimony might have led to the convictions of innocent people. The Post focused on the Texas case and three men in Washington, D.C., who were represented by the Public Defender Service and have been exonerated. Problems at the FBI lab first surfaced in the early 1990s, when scientist-turned-whistleblower Fred Whitehurst reported that sloppy work by examiners was producing unreliable forensic testimony. Justice officials launched a task force that was active from 1996 to 2004 to ensure that potentially exculpatory evidence involving criticized agents was turned over to defendants.
But The Post found that such notification rarely happened and that not all flawed cases were properly reviewed. Justice Department officials, responding to Wednesday’s report, said that they had been diligent in trying to protect defendants’ rights in undertaking a review of unprecedented size and complexity. Police investigate death near Howard University, but no crime is suspected. However, “with the benefit of hindsight, the Department agrees that certain aspects of the Task Force review could have been more efficient or effective,” Brette L. Steele, senior adviser on forensic science, wrote in a department memo included in the report. As of October, the 26 surviving death-row inmates whose cases were included in the review had all been notified that their convictions had been re-examined, Steele said.
The inspector general had recommended the notifications and retesting of evidence in 24 death-row cases in which the defendant was deceased. The inspector general’s office said the department should notify all 2,900 defendants whose cases were reviewed by the task force, starting with 402 defendants whose cases were so problematic that the task force obtained a fresh scientific review. Their names were made public Wednesday for the first time.
But none of those involved with this vile and inexcusable conduct will ever be prosecuted, because they’re The System. Disgraceful. Beware false conviction – they are rampant in state prosecutions.