After years of combating a homicide conviction that had relied closely on doubtful proof, a Mississippi man who spent greater than quarter of a century behind bars gained dismissal of his case final week.
The person, Eddie Lee Howard, 67, had remained on loss of life row despite the fact that his conviction was based mostly on little greater than chunk marks on a homicide sufferer, which had been introduced as proof at his trial by an skilled whose testimony has since been referred to as into query.
Mr. Howard’s conviction for capital homicide was overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Courtroom final yr, and he was launched in December. Final week, a choose permitted a movement by the Lowndes County District Lawyer’s Workplace to dismiss the case.
“I agree with the Supreme Courtroom that chunk mark proof has come beneath vital scrutiny,” stated the district lawyer, Scott Colom. “Moreover that proof, there was nothing else placing Mr. Howard on the scene of the homicide.”
Mr. Colom added that DNA on a weapon on the crime scene had been proven to belong to somebody aside from Mr. Howard. “That could possibly be seen as exculpatory,” he stated.
In 1994, Mr. Howard was convicted within the 1992 killing of Georgia Kemp, 84, who was discovered lifeless in her residence in Lowndes County, Miss. An post-mortem discovered that she died from two stab wounds, in response to courtroom information, and that Ms. Kemp additionally had accidents per rape — however no seen chunk marks.
The skilled testimony on chunk marks got here from Dr. Michael West, a Mississippi dentist who was sought out by prosecutors throughout the nation within the Eighties and Nineties. He stated the chunk marks on Ms. Kemp’s physique, which he had discovered utilizing ultraviolet mild, matched Mr. Howard’s tooth.
However legal professionals representing Mr. Howard have argued that chunk marks weren’t a dependable type of forensic proof.
“The truth is, there was by no means any proof towards Eddie Lee Howard,” stated Chris Fabricant, a lawyer for Mr. Howard and the director of strategic litigation with the Innocence Mission. “It’s astonishing.”
Chunk-mark proof has performed a job in lots of of circumstances, and its use within the 1979 trial of Ted Bundy thrust it into the general public highlight.
“Because it began to realize acceptance into the courtroom, no person was actually difficult the scientific validity of it,” stated Mary Bush, a professor on the College at Buffalo’s College of Dental Drugs who’s an skilled in forensic dentistry and bite-mark evaluation and served as an skilled witness for Mr. Howard in 2016.
However within the years since, the strategy has been criticized by consultants who see it as ineffective.
As a result of human pores and skin is elastic, chunk marks can simply turn out to be distorted, Dr. Bush stated. “Until you will have DNA, you actually can’t use a chunk mark to determine any individual,” she added.
Even Dr. West seems to have questioned their worth. Courtroom paperwork present that in a 2012 deposition for a distinct case, Dr. West stated he didn’t suppose bite-mark evaluation must be utilized in courtroom.
However when Mr. Fabricant questioned him about that assertion in 2016, he didn’t renege on his testimony at Mr. Howard’s homicide trial. “I could make errors,” he stated. “Do I believe I made any errors on this case? No.”
Makes an attempt to achieve Dr. West for remark by telephone on Wednesday had been unsuccessful.
No less than 26 individuals in the USA have been wrongfully convicted because of bite-mark proof, in response to the Innocence Mission.
Mr. Howard was locked away at Parchman, a high-security jail within the Mississippi Delta. Constructed on the grounds of a former plantation, the ability has a repute for harsh circumstances and violent outbreaks.
Mr. Howard was convicted of the identical crime twice. His first capital homicide conviction, in 1994, was overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Courtroom in 1997. However he was tried once more in 2000 — when prosecutors introduced in Dr. West — and convicted.
On the time, Forrest Allgood was the district lawyer for Lowndes County. He additionally prosecuted the circumstances of two different males — Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer — whose convictions had been based mostly on bite-mark evaluation. Dr. West additionally testified in these circumstances, and people convictions had been ultimately overturned.
Mr. Allgood didn’t instantly return a message requesting touch upon Wednesday.
Mr. Colom turned the county’s district lawyer in 2015. When Mr. Howard’s case got here to his desk, he stated, dismissing it was not a troublesome determination.
“It’s a terrific instance of why we now have to have the flexibility, within the legal system, to look again and proper errors,” stated Mr. Colom, who has referred to as for the institution of a wrongful-conviction unit on the state stage.
Mr. Fabricant stated Mr. Howard’s wrongful conviction had resulted not solely from prosecutors’ reliance on flawed forensics however from structural inequities with deep roots.
“It’s a narrative about junk science, nevertheless it’s actually in regards to the American legal justice system,” he stated. “It’s a racist, biased prosecution based mostly on a narrative a couple of susceptible, aged white individual being attacked by a Black man, who was convicted with zero due course of and despatched to a former slave plantation to attend to be executed.”
Mr. Howard, he stated, was doing his finest to readjust to life outdoors of jail, having fun with the issues he didn’t have entry to earlier than — recent sheets, heat baths — and dealing in a restaurant kitchen.
Mr. Howard was not obtainable for touch upon Wednesday. However in a press release offered by Mr. Fabricant, Mr. Howard thanked those that had fought for his launch.
“With out your exhausting work on my behalf,” he stated, “I’d nonetheless be confined in that horrible place referred to as the Mississippi Division of Corrections, on loss of life row, ready to be executed.”