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FBI's Forensic Test Full of Holes
To compile an independent list, The Post and "60 Minutes" conducted a nationwide review, interviewing dozens of defense lawyers, prosecutors and scientific experts. The effort also included a sweep of electronic court filings conducted by four summer associates at the New York law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom.
In many of the cases that raise the most compelling questions, the inmates might have a hard time winning the public's sympathy. Some had criminal backgrounds and most were convicted with at least some additional circumstantial evidence linking them to gruesome crime scenes. But the common thread is that removing the flawed bullet-lead evidence has created reasonable doubt about guilt in the minds of legal experts, the courts and at least one juror.
In North Carolina, Lee Wayne Hunt, 48, remains in prison after being convicted 21 years ago of a double murder. Hunt was an admitted marijuana dealer, but has steadfastly denied involvement in the killings. The FBI testified that its bullet-lead analysis linked fragments from the victims to a box of bullets connected to Hunt's co-defendant. That was the sole forensic evidence against Hunt. State prosecutors recently conceded that the analysis should not be considered "scientifically supported and relied upon."
In addition, the attorney for Hunt's co-defendant, who committed suicide in prison, has since declared that his client carried out the murders alone.
Despite both developments, Hunt has been denied a new trial.
"What they're relying on here is technicalities to keep an innocent man in prison," said Richard Rosen, Hunt's attorney.
Another North Carolina case highlights the impact that FBI bullet-lead testimony had on local jurors. James Donald King faces execution after being convicted of killing his two wives. He admitted to killing his first wife, spent time in prison, was released on parole, remarried and then was convicted of murdering his second wife.
The court is considering whether to grant a new trial.
"If the state had not introduced evidence linking a bullet in Mr. King's car to the bullet fragments in the victim, there would have been reasonable doubt in my mind as to Mr. King's guilt," juror Michelle Lynn Adamson said in an affidavit supporting his appeal.
Other defendants have had mixed results:
- In Maryland, the Court of Appeals last year reversed the murder conviction of Gemar Clemons and ordered a new trial, concluding that the FBI's bullet-lead conclusions "are not generally accepted within the scientific community and thus are not admissible."
- In New Jersey, courts have reversed and reinstated convictions in cases involving bullet lead. The conviction of one defendant, Michael Behn, was reversed, but he recently was re-convicted on other evidence.