Bitemark evidence was crucial in the conviction of Danny Lee Hill – who has now sat on death row since 1986. Convicted of killing 12 year old Raymond Fife an alleged bitemark on the boy’s penis sent Hill to death row.
Prosecutors claim that the bitemark was not essential evidence in the conviction, but the Cleveland Public Defender’s office disagree. The case was mentioned previously in this post, and features a video of an alleged coerced confession by Hill (see this excellent article by the Marshall Project). Leading ABFO forensic dentist Dr Franklin Wright reviewed the evidence in this case and stated:
There is no scientifically supportable conclusion that could, in any way, attempt to identify a possible biter based on the injury on the penis of the victim,”
This is fairly unambiguous – bites on penis’ are not uncommon but it is generally recognised that they offer very low forensic significance and aren’t suitable for comparison. Indeed, the evidence in this case doesn’t even support the statement that the injury is even a bitemark.
The original forensic dentist in this case – Dr Curtis Mertz (an ABFO diplomate) is now deceased but had spoken with Wright about the case:
Dr. Mertz confided to me that he would not have had the same opinion in this case (biter identification) as he had in his original opinion and testimony,” Wright stated. “He indicated he was not as sure the injury was a definite bite mark nor was he so sure, if the injury was a bite mark, that he could identify a biter.”
So controversial is this case that a Ohio Supreme Court has appointed a visiting Judge to determine the matter following a hearing on the 21 December. There is also a pending ruling on whether or not the prosecutor’s office will be disqualified from being involved in the case.
Its a busy time in Ohio for bitemarks – as Wednesday sees the Prade case being visited again.