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  Man Freed Years After Conviction

By Aaron Cooper
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, May 8, 2001; 12:44 a.m. EDT

LEXINGTON, Okla. –– A man was freed from prison Monday 15 years after he was wrongly convicted of rape, based partly on testimony from a police chemist now under investigation for incorrectly identifying evidence.

Oklahoma County prosecutors received a report Monday from a California laboratory that said a DNA test showed sperm and hair taken from the scene of the rape were not from 39-year-old Jeffrey Todd Pierce.

Former police chemist Joyce Gilchrist testified in 1986 that the rapist's hair was "microscopically consistent" with Pierce's hair.

Gilchrist, now on paid leave, also testified in the cases of 12 inmates who are on death row in Oklahoma and 11 who have already been executed. Those cases are being re-examined, as are hundreds of others she worked on.

Pierce was sentenced to 65 years in prison. His twin boys were 17 months old at the time of his conviction, and he had been married for two years. He and Kathy Pierce later divorced.

"My heart goes out to all the other people I know that are in here that are innocent because of the Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office and the Oklahoma City Police Department," said Pierce. "I hope you all won't forget about them, too, because there are more.

"I'm just the one that opened the door, and I feel there will be a lot more coming out behind me."

An FBI report said Gilchrist's testimony in this and at least five other cases "went beyond the acceptable limits of forensic science." Hair and fibers were misidentified in these cases, the report said.

Gilchrist has said the investigation will exonerate her. She ended her career as a police chemist in 1993 for a role as an administrator.

She told 60 Minutes II in a report to air Tuesday night that she was willing to have her forensic work reviewed.

"Let's submit that DNA analysis and see," Gilchrist said. "I look forward to that and if I'm wrong, you know, I would accept responsibility if I'm wrong, but I've never intentionally done anything wrong in a case I've ever been involved in."

Melvin Hall, Gilchrist's attorney, on Monday said his client stands behind her work.

"The police department stood behind her work for many, many years. So did the district attorneys office," he said. "She feels like she'll be exonerated. Why not?"

District Attorney Bob Macy, who announced April 30 he would retire this summer, told The Daily Oklahoman that Pierce never would have been charged if DNA technology had existed in 1986.

"It's the last thing any good prosecutor wants to do is put an innocent person in jail," Macy said. "I think it is a tragedy something like this would happen. This was a case with a very strong witness who made identification and said she would never forget his face."

Problems with Pierce's conviction came to light after the case was re-examined under a program meant to put older cases through today's more sophisticated DNA tests.

"Once we determined that the proper procedures were followed, we took immediate action to release him," said David Prater, Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney.

Pierce always maintained the woman mistakenly identified him.

Pierce was arrested 10 months after the attack when the victim picked him from a photo lineup as the rapist.

The woman initially told a police officer she didn't think Pierce was her attacker. Two co-workers testified Pierce was at lunch with them when the rape occurred.

Pierce said he had given up hope of being released.

"When you first start, you have hope in the justice system that your appeal will come through and everything," he said. "Then you keep getting denied and denied and denied, and finally lose hope and try to turn your mind into surviving in prison and not worrying about what's going on in the outside world."

He said he hopes to see his children.

"I love them," he said. "I heard they do want to meet me and they don't hate me or anything."

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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