Did 'Bite Mark' Expert Fabricate Evidence?

"Five of those matches I give my highest level of match or comparison -- which is reasonable medical certainty,'' West testified in the Brewer trial, according to court transcripts of the case. "Of the remaining fourteen I have several that are what I refer to as highly consistent, consistent and probable."

Under cross-examination, West confirms that in a report to the deputy county medical examiner, he wrote that the 19 bite marks "were indeed and without a doubt inflicted by Mr. Kennedy Brewer."

Even after DNA tests failed to tie either of two samples found on the young victim to Brewer, West stood by his findings in an interview with CBS's Steve Kroft.

"I never testified that Mr. Brewer raped or sodomized anyone. I testified that Mr. Brewer bit [victim Christine Jackson],'' West said in 2002.

"So [Brewer] bit her, and two other people raped and sodomized her?" he was asked.

"That's a possibility,'' West replied, according to transcripts of the interview.

'Ridiculous' Theory?

But West's medical peers challenge that claim. Iain Pretty, one of England's leading forensic odontologists, called it "patently ridiculous."

Pretty and three leading experts from Canada and the U.S. peer-reviewed the Brewer case for the defense.

In the Brewer case, West "was saying, 'Look, it's [Brewer], definitely, no doubt, no room for error,'' said Pretty.

"There was no scientific evidence, no ballistics, no DNA that would have resulted in a match of that certainty. I mean, DNA is a well-regarded forensic tool, but even with DNA, [experts] will say there's a one in fifty million chance it's someone else. But [West was] not even throwing 50 million at you — he's saying it's definite. And the evidence itself really wasn't sufficient to draw that conclusion.

"We didn't even think they were bite marks,'' Pretty said of himself and his colleagues, who reached unanimous conclusions, according to court documents.

The field of forensic odontology is relatively new and has been met with controversy since its inception in the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in the early 1970s. There is no widely accepted way to measure the reliability of bite marks, no database with which to compare samples, and none of the kind of extensive peer review and research that has come to characterize more scientifically accepted forensic tools like DNA.

"To a jury, science sounds like science, unfortunately, and when you look at someone like Dr. West you see the kind of problems that arise from that notion,'' Neufeld said.

Colleagues who have reviewed his work and law enforcement officials who have worked with him say West has a reputation for testifying with unbridled confidence in his own conclusions, sometimes despite conflicting scientific evidence.

"I'm sure West would still claim they are bite marks,'' noted Noxubee County prosecutor Forrest Allgood, of the dismissal of the Brewer case.

Forensic odontology has been criticized from within and outside of the profession.

"I think bite marks probably ought to be the poster child for bad forensic science,'' David Faigman, a University of California professor told the Boston Globe in an in-depth 2004 investigation of the field by reporters Flynn McRoberts and Steve Mills.

Dr. Michael Bowers, who served on the credentialing committee of the American Board of Forensic Odontology, told the Globe that bite-mark identifications are "flawed and based on wishful thinking, as far as being conclusive scientifically."

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...