While British Columbia’s Ivan Henry fights to receive compensation for his 29-year wrongful imprisonment, this week a Texas judge released Steven Mark Chaney, a man who served 28-years for the murders of John and Sally Sweek, on the basis of now-discredited “bite-mark” evidence and the almost commonplace charge of prosecutorial misconduct. The latter allegations have yet to face scrutiny in a court room.
In 1987 Dentist Jim Hales was one of two dentists that testified at Chaney’s trial that there was a “1 to a million” chance that someone other than Chaney made the bite marks found on the male victim’s body.
The jury, like other juries before and after this trial, relied on the expert evidence to convict Chaney. It is not uncommon that medical testimony from seemingly qualified doctors is considered to be scientifically infallible because of the elevated positions physicians hold in society. This, despite alibi testimony from nine of Chaney’s friends who said they saw him the day of the slayings and he couldn’t have killed the Sweeks.
Chaney’s attorney and the New York-based Innocence Project asked Judge Dominique Collins to overturn their client’s conviction after prosecutors admitted that bite-mark analysis was unreliable and flawed. Chaney received a pumpkin pie from the judge who wanted him to enjoy the taste after eating bland prison food for so long.
Steven Chaney is among a group of alleged murderers and rapists whose convictions were secured by bite-mark evidence. Since 2000 at least 24 men in the United States have been exonerated of heinous crimes after convictions based on this junk science.
The field of forensic odontology captured public and media attention during the televised trial of serial murderer Ted Bundy in Florida in 1979 when dental experts testified that Bundy’s crooked teeth matched a bite in one young victim’s flesh.
In 2009 the United States Department of Justice released a report titled “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward”. The authors criticized the use of bite-mark evidence. Since then the FBI will not rely on it and the American Dental Association will not recognize it as bonafide science.
Nonetheless, as recently as 2013 a judge in New York accepted it as evidence in the trial of Clarence Dean, a registered sex offender accused of killing a woman near Time Square in 2007.
Meanwhile Chris Fabricant, director of litigation with the New York Innocence Project says “Bite mark evidence is the poster child of unreliable forensic science.”
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang