An editorial in Sunday’s The Star-Ledger said that faulty forensic science may have contributed to Gerard Richardson being sent to prison for a murder he didn’t commit.  Richardson was convicted in 1994 in the murder of Monica Reyes.  His conviction was based upon the testimony of a forensic odontologist who said that Richardson’s teeth matched a bite mark found on the victim’s body.  Forensic bite mark evidence has been extremely controversial and continually receives low marks for reliability.  New DNA testing of a swab taken of that bite mark excludes Richardson and points to another man.  The Innocence Project filed a motion before the court urging them to reverse the conviction, but after the hearing, Somerset County Assistant Prosecutor Timothy Van Hise suggested a new scenario to excuse the innocence evidence.  He said that Richardson could have still made the victim’s bite mark and a second assailant left that DNA.

“So there’s a second, phantom perpetrator who drooled on her in the exact same place where Gerard Richardson bit her, without leaving any of his saliva?” said his Innocence Project attorney, Vanessa Potkin. “It doesn’t hold water.”

Richardson remains in prison even though DNA results exclude him from the bite mark that was the crux of his conviction.  The DNA cannot be run through the FBI’s database to find the person who left the DNA because of laws that prevent results from private labs from being submitted to the federal database.  Evidence in this case was tested at a private California-based lab that has a strong record of getting results from old, degraded evidence.

The New Jersey Legislature is proposing a new statute that will allow judges to order state forensic experts to go through a preapproval process for private labs to try to prevent what is happening in the Richardson case from happening in the future for innocence claims.  This would not be a retroactive law.  The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office has agreed to file its response to the Innocence Project’s motion to vacate Richardson’s conviction by October 23.

Vanessa Potkin told The Star-Ledger that she has no doubt that Richardson will be exonerated, the question is how long will it take?  Potkin also explained that having the capacity to identify the person connected to the DNA would save innocent prisoners from legal hurdles and would help with the investigation into possible innocence.

Potkins said to The Star-Ledger, “ ‘We would have much less of a fight from the Prosecutor’s Office if we could identify who that person is…and bring justice for a victim who was brutally murdered.’ ”

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