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Opinion Man wrongly convicted with bite mark evidence confronts bite mark analysts

Keith Harward was wrongly convicted of a grisly rape and murder and spent more than 33 years in prison. The main evidence against him were alleged bite marks found on the victim. Over the course of two trials, six bite mark analysts said the marks were a match to Harward’s teeth. He was finally cleared by DNA testing last year.

This week, Harward showed up in New Orleans at the annual American Academy of Forensic Sciences conference, where he crashed a panel on bite mark analysis. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

“I’m not here to make any friends,” began Harward, who was sent behind bars for rape and murder largely on the erroneous testimony of two forensic dentists, known as forensic odontologists.

At a conference workshop Monday with a number of forensic dentists listening, Harward, his voice rising, said, “This stuff is all crap. It’s bogus. This bite mark stuff is bogus. Why even continue with it? It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Thirty-four years thinking, ‘Wow, what just happened?’” he said of his convictions.

“You’re taking people’s lives in your hands and guessing, ‘Well, I say it is so, so it’s got to be.’ There’s no Gods in here. So why do it?”

He said the only motives he could think of were “money and ego.”

Among those who implicated Harward was Lowell Levine, one of the pioneers of bite mark matching and a longtime evangelist for the practice. Levine first gained some fame after giving bite mark testimony in the trial of serial killer Ted Bundy. He’d later declare that a bite mark identification is as reliable as a fingerprint match. Back in 1995, Levine claimed to have matched the bite marks on the corpse of a 75-year-old Massachusetts woman to Edmund Burke, a local handyman. Burke was arrested and held for 41 days before he was cleared by DNA testing. Levine is a giant figure in forensics. He served as president of the American Board of Forensic Odontology and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. The latter (at whose conference Harward confronted the bite mark analysts) is one of the largest and most influential professional forensics organizations in the world.

Levine has continued to promote his field. From my 2015 series on bite mark evidence:

In a 2011 interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Levine continued to defend bite mark analysis as “important and viable.” But when Cooper asked if there’s any way bite mark analysis can be reconciled with the scientific method, Levine replied with some candor: “I sure can’t think of it.” Yet Levine has testified countless times in court about his “level of scientific certainty” with respect to bite marks.

As we’ve pointed out here many times before here at The Watch, to date, every scientific panel, commission or study that has reviewed bite mark analysis has found no scientific basis for its methods, conclusions or underlying premises. And yet to date, no court in the United States has upheld a challenge to its admissibility.

Meanwhile, prosecutors continue to utilize it, and the professional organization that “certifies” bite mark analysts just lowered its standards on what’s required to obtain those credentials.

Keith Harward, at least, is having none of it.

Harward said, “There’s a lot of infighting amongst y’all people right now. And what’s the question? Just stop it. Just don’t do it anymore. Then there’s no chance of making any mistakes.”

“This is a warning — if I find out anybody’s testifying in bite mark evidence cases I will come to the courtroom, I will contact the media, I will stand on the street corner in a Statue of Liberty outfit with a big sign saying ‘This is Crap.’”

“You can understand the media would love to talk to me about something like this,” and he promised to speak to every camera on hand wherever bite mark evidence is being used in a trial in any fashion whatsoever.

“Because I don’t care. What’s the worst that can happen to me? Like I said, it already has.”

And not just him. To date, more than two dozen innocent people have been wrongly arrested or convicted because of bite mark evidence. At least two were sentenced to death. One man convicted primarily due to bite mark testimony is still on death row in Louisiana. And I know of at least two cases in which not only did bite mark analysis lead to the arrest or conviction of the wrong man, the real killer then went on to kill again. You can read about them here and here.