US News July 2012: FBI to review thousands of old cases for flawed evidence
By Isolde Raftery, msnbc.com
Updated at 9:51 p.m. ET: Months after the Washington Post revealed that lab technicians at the FBI possibly exaggerated evidence, resulting in at least three wrongful convictions, the Department of Justice has announced it will review thousands of old cases.
The review, the largest in U.S. history, will focus on work by FBI Laboratory hair and fiber examiners since at least 1985, the Post reported.
In April, the Post wrote about two men who were convicted largely because of contaminated FBI hair analysis. A review of the evidence has since resulted in the release of both men.
A reporter at the Post had been working on a story about Donald Gates, a D.C. man released after DNA evidence proved his innocence, when he learned about Frederic Whitehurst, an FBI lab chemist who blew the whistle on the FBI Laboratory in the mid-1990s. Whitehurst said he watched colleagues contaminate evidence and, in court, overstate the significance of their matches.
“There was a lackadaisical attitude,” Whitehurst said.
When Whitehurst, a chemist with a doctoral degree from Duke, arrived at the FBI crime lab in 1986, the first thing he noticed was that the place was, as he called it, a pigsty. The equipment was outdated and there was a film of black soot coating the counters – a dust from the vents that the agents called “black rain.”
It surprised him, too, he said, that outsiders were allowed to tour the lab, which he said should have been a controlled environment.
When he raised these issues, a coworker told him, “Before you embarrass the FBI in a court of law, you’ll perjure yourself. We all do it.”