Home / ABFO Diplomates / Lawyers & Experts say “no science” bite-mark analysis warrants exoneration or retrial

Lawyers & Experts say “no science” bite-mark analysis warrants exoneration or retrial

You can read the full story here from the Trib Live

This case concerns a Tom David case – Kunco – which has long been recognised as an issue case that was bound to come around to appeal.  A UV photograph (remind you of Mike West?  Indeed Tom David said he received training from Mike West) and an injury that is barely visible let alone recognisable as being caused by teeth….

Increasing scientific skepticism of bite-mark analysis, including a shift within the organization that accredits dentists to testify about bite marks in court, warrants a new trial for an Allegheny County man convicted of raping and torturing a New Kensington woman 25 years ago, his lawyers argued Monday.

John Kunco, 51, formerly of Harrison, had been convicted in 1991 based in part on a partially healed bite mark. Two forensic dentists said it matched his distinctive set of teeth. He is serving a 90-year sentence at the State Correctional Institution in Fayette County, and his previous appeal for post-conviction relief was denied in 2009.

But attorneys for the New York-based Innocence Project argued Monday that more scientific organizations questioning the validity of bite-mark analysis, including the American Board of Forensic Odontologists, meant that Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Christopher Feliciani should exonerate Kunco or grant him a new trial.

“Knowing now what we did not know then, that bite mark could not be attributed to Mr. Kunco,” said defense attorney Karen Thompson.

The American Board of Forensic Odontologists, which certifies dentists as experts in identifying remains based on teeth, analyzing bite marks and comparing them to potential suspects’ teeth, changed its guidelines in March to say that its members could no longer conclude a bite mark came from a certain individual or probably came from that person. Dentists could only say whether or not they could exclude a suspect, if they could make any conclusion at all.

“Staying within the guidelines, my opinion would have to be different,” said dentist Thomas David of Marietta, Ga., one of two dentists who testified at the trial that Kunco had bitten the 55-year-old victim.

“I can conclude whatever I want, but to stay within the guidelines, I can only say, ‘He can’t be excluded,’ ” David said. “I was confident in my opinions at the time, but it was up to the jury to decide. … I don’t know how much weight the jury gave it.”

Dentists who ignore the board’s guidelines and continue to make individual identifications of bite marks could be subject to ethics complaints, he said.

The board’s change on bite-mark analysis had to overcome years of resistance and a change in leadership toward more skeptical members, board member Cynthia Brzozowski said .

“I viewed my participation (in Monday’s hearing) as my ethical duty,” Brzozowski said. “I’d become discouraged with each wrongful conviction that went unaddressed, with each study that was dismissed.”

About Odont1

Odont1 is a seasoned forensic dentist, researcher and educator with an interest in progressing the science of the discipline while retaining those elements that are evidence based and useful to the judicial system at any level.

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