Dr. Frederic Whitehurst knows a thing or two about FBI lab scandals. As a “supervisory special agent” and noted forensic scientist, he began complaining to his federal supervisors more than 25 years ago about shoddy policies and practices within the vaunted crime lab. Then, in the mid-1990s, he went public with his concerns, officially becoming a “whistleblower” by highlighting flawed forensics and testimony relating to (among other things) the Oklahoma City bombing investigation. For this he was scorned by many of his colleagues and retaliated against at work, but ultimately vindicated by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, which in 1997 issued a report endorsing some of Whitehurst’s claims. He left the FBI following a settlement with the government in 1998 and now serves as a co-chair of the National Whistleblowers Center.
We caught up with Dr. Whitehurst this week in the wake of the latest allegations of scientific misfeasance at the FBI crime lab. We now know that nearly every FBI scientist at the lab before the year 2000 — 26 out of 28 — overstated his or her “expert” conclusions about matches from analyses of hair samples collected from crime scenes and/or suspects. Hundreds of cases, at least, have been tainted, including at least one dozen cases that resulted in a sentence of death.
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