Sunday, June 28, 2009

Texas Death Row Inmate Insists DNA Clears Him; Another Botched HPD Crime Lab Case

Last week a Houston jury awarded a man $5 million dollars for his wrongful conviction that had been caused by the Houston Police Crime Lab. Now, the Houston Chronicle is reporting that another man, who has spent 15 years on death row, is saying that faulty DNA analysis by the HPD crime lab resulted in his wrongful conviction.

A death row inmate from Houston, whose conviction is receiving new scrutiny after DNA tests contradicted evidence in his case, will return to court next week where his lawyer will seek his release or a new trial.

A Harris County jury sentenced Charles D. Raby to death in the 1994 murder of a 72-year-old woman assaulted and stabbed in her own home. It is a case that once again highlights errors in work from the Houston Police Department crime lab, with the city’s own expert calling the original testimony “incorrect … and not supported.”

State District Judge Joan Campbell on Monday is scheduled to resume a hearing that began in January when Raby’s lawyer presented new DNA tests on scrapings from the victim’s fingernails, which include no evidence from Raby. Since then, his case has stalled as prosecutors and the Houston Police Department sought expert opinions.

Raby’s lawyer, Sarah Frazier, goes so far as to call the crime lab evidence presented at trial false and claimed prosecutors failed to disclose information about the forensic tests that could have helped Raby before his 1994 trial.

“Trying to pretend that Mr. Raby’s trial was at all legitimate is becoming more and more strained,” Frazier said. “He clearly is entitled to a new trial after all this time.”

Police arrested Raby in the 1994 stabbing death of Edna M. Franklin, a grandmother who lived alone in her north Houston home.

At Raby’s trial, jurors heard testimony from HPD crime lab analyst Joseph Chu, who told them that tests conducted on scrapings from under Franklin’s fingernails were inconclusive.

Years later, as revelations about chronic problems at the HPD crime lab came to light, Raby’s case received a second look.

Experts questioned Chu’s conclusions. Patricia Hamby, an expert hired by HPD, found that Chu had strayed from accepted procedures for body-fluid testing and had drawn faulty conclusions.

“The reporting of the blood typing of the ‘fingernails’ as ‘inconclusive’ … is contrary to and not supported by the recorded laboratory results,” Hamby wrote in a report last month to Irma Rios, HPD’s crime lab director.

In 2005, the Court of Criminal Appealsapproved DNA testing on the fingernail scrapings. A private lab in California last year completed analyses that revealed the profiles of two men. They matched neither Raby nor Franklin’s two grandsons.

“The grandsons’ exclusion is significant because these were the only individuals who had regular contact with the victim — a frail, malnourished woman in her 70s who rarely left her home or entertained strangers,” Frazier wrote.

In fact, a forensic expert hired by Raby’s lawyers testified in January that it is rare to find foreign DNA under a crime victim’s fingernails, and that if often can be traced to the person’s partner or attacker.

“In their wildest dreams (prosecutors) could not imagine a scenario where there wasn’t somebody else involved,” Frazier suggested. “I would love to see, not just a new trial, but let’s have a new investigation. Let’s find out who it is.”

At his trial, prosecutors also presented evidence on Raby’s background. They argued that he was a 22-year-old parolee with a violent history who had been taken in by Franklin at her grandson’s request, but who had turned on her when she told him he no longer was welcome.

They also introduced a confession, which Raby and his lawyer now say was coerced. They note inconsistencies between the facts of the crime and his statement. Those discrepancies also caught the attention of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which in a 2005 opinion wrote “in his statement (Raby) did not say he stabbed the victim. In some aspects (his) statement contradicts the testimony of police officers about the physical evidence from the crime scene.”

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