In the presence of Steven Chaney (recently released from jail following faulty bitemark evidence review) the second hearing the Texas Forensic Commission got underway this week.
Presentations were made by Dr David Senn, Dr Frank Wright, Drs Iain Pretty & Adam Freeman (on their controversial reliability study) and by Mr Peter Bush.
While the science was debated the speed of change is what seemed to exercise many on the panel and in the room – it just doesn’t seem as if the organisations can move quickly enough to bring in changes that are required to limit the scope of bite mark evidence and to ensure that future miscarriages of justice don’t occur.
The meeting is open to the public and was well attended and the audio was recorded. You can hear the full audio here by simply clicking the play icon at the top of the page.
Held in an austere office within the Dallas Fort Worth Court building the meeting lasted all day and attention was focussed on the projector screen where the experts demonstrated their positions.
In attendance was Mr Chris Fabricant from the Innocence Project who originated the complaint being considered by the Commission.
While we would encourage you to listen to the audio of the session, there are summary positions here;
Dr David Senn opened the session with an explanation of the areas of the IP complaint that he agreed with and those he didn’t. While he was unable to complete his presentation due to time constraints he explained the research base that supports the use of bitemarks but stated, from the beginning, that bitemarks could never be used to positively identify individuals (unlike in Steven Chaney’s case where the odontologist provided statistical evidence to support his conclusion – the 1 in million statement).
Dr Frank Wright presented next where he showed a series of cases involving bitemarks to children and explained the importance of odontological work in these circumstances. He argued that while bitemark conclusions needed to be limited, but that to exclude it completely would jepordise this important area of work.
Drs Pretty and Freeman presented their work on bitemark reliability that was originally shown at the AAFS meeting in Orlando. They described the process leading up to this work and then showed the areas of disagreement in the assessment of injuries as bitemarks or not. They were challenged on the lack of publication of the data and the lack of followup work. At this point the slow pace of change began to become apparent and tempers raised as attendees wondered why this delay was happening while there was a risk of wrongful conviction.
Mr Peter Bush then presented the results of his group’s work explaining the use of cadaver models and the use of study models to assess uniqueness. He spent some time addressing the criticisms that had been levelled at the work and did a great job of explaining the complexities of bitemark distortion and resolution.
The Commission was provided with additional written materials to consider and will meet again in December to assess their recommendations to the full panel.
The Commission has been asked to consider if there should be a moratorium on bitemarks – this will be the main focus of their decision.
You can now read the full transcript of the hearing here. Well worth it….