Steven Mark Chaney who was imprisoned for 28 years for the 1987 murders of two people in Dallas, TX was released this week after his conviction based upon discredited bite-mark evidence was thrown out. Chaney was sentenced to life in prison after a forensic dentist told a Dallas jury in 1989 that there was a 1 in 1,000,000 chance that the murderer was someone other than Chaney. The bite-marks were allegedly found on John Sweek. The dentist has since recanted his testimony. State District Judge Dominique Collins overturned Chaney’s conviction after receiving a joint request from the District Attorney Susan Hawk, the Innocence Project, and the Public Defender’s Office.
Chaney, 59, will remain free while the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reviews the case.
“I could sit and recount all the wrongs,” Chaney told reporters, “The loss of my oldest stepson, my oldest grandchild two years ago, but this is a time for rejoicing…”
At least one juror after his initial trial said that the bite-mark evidence convinced them of Chaney’s guilt, despite testimony from 9 witnesses that he was somewhere else during the murders of John and Sally Sweek. In recent years, forensic scientists have raised doubts about the reliability of bite mark evidence among others. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences published a report concluding that there was insufficient scientific basis to conclusively match bite marks to individuals. The Texas Forensic Science Commission is reviewing cases in which bite analysis contributed to a conviction to determine whether they warrant further investigation. In addition, defense lawyers also allege that prosecutors knowingly presented false evidence that blood had been found on Chaney’s shoes. Prosecutors withheld notes from another expert who said that there was no blood. They also say that prosecutors elicited false testimony from the co-worker of Chaney who initially told police that Chaney had asked him to tell authorities that he had last been at the victims’ home a week before their murder. At trial, the co-worker told the jury that Chaney had asked him to be his alibi. Chaney’s attorneys have filed court papers saying new evidence establishes he is innocent.
“We’re confident that when the reinvestigation is complete, the district attorney’s office will be in a position to formally agree that he is innocent of this crime,” said Julie Less, exoneration attorney for the Dallas County Public Defender’s Office, in a statement.
PENNSYLVANIA WOMAN GETS NEW TRIAL AFTER BITE-MARK ANALYSIS CALLED JUNK SCIENCE BY STATE’S OWN EXPERT
Fayette County, PA Judge John Wagner said he had “no problem” granting a new trial to Crystal Weimer, 38, who was serving a 15 – 30 years sentenced for the 2001 death of Curtis Haith. His badly beaten body was found outside his apartment with a gunshot wound to the face. Wagner vacated Weimer’s 2006 conviction on 3rd degree homicide and criminal conspiracy. After listening to the testimony of Dr. Constantine Karazulas of Connecticut the judge said the dentist could not testify to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that the bite-mark analysis in the case was valid. Karazulas said advances in scientific knowledge since the 2006 trial have rendered bite-mark analysis essentially “junk science”. Not only would he never render an opinion on such comparisons, he would not even analyze them.
During Weimer’s trial, Karazulas testified for the state and said that a bite mark found on Haith’s hand matched the dental impressions taken from Weimer.
Joseph Stenger, 32, claimed that the crime was Weimer’s idea and that she lured Haith outside to be beaten up by two other unidentified men. Assistant District Attorney Anthony Iannamorelli Jr. said that Stenger has changed his story many times.
Karazulas admitted to the judge he started to doubt the validity of his own testimony in 2008 when the National Academy of Sciences found during an experiment that several people matched each others’ dental impressions in a group of 100.
Weimer’s attorney, Jeff Bresh, said after the hearing that he was prepared to call 12 witnesses to testify during a two-day hearing. But once Karazulas said he wouldn’t testify to the validity of the science of bite-mark analysis, “it was game, set, match.” Bresh is handling the case pro bono on behalf of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. The Innocence Project took up Weimer’s case this last spring after she filed her own petition for a new trial with the help of federal public defenders. Weimer was initially charged in Haith’s death in 2004 when her ex-boyfriend told investigators that she confessed to him, but Judge Ralph Warman dismissed the charges because the state lacked evidence after the ex-boyfriend recanted. Charges were refiled just a few months later when Stenger changed his story and made a deal with prosecutors implicating Weimer. He pled guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in exchange for a lesser sentence (9 – 18 years). In addition, Stenger admitted to federal investigator Kevin Parent that he “lied” about Weimer’s involvement and that he made up the other two unidentified men.
Weimer has always maintained her innocence.