Additional Reviews of FBI Lab Scandal Still Needed 20 Years Later
On July 21, 2014, more than twenty years after a FBI whistleblower came forward to report serious problems at the FBI Lab that could impact thousands of cases, another FBI Lab scandal victim was found innocent and freed by the D.C. Superior Court.
Kevin Martin, age 50, spent 26 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. He pleaded guilty to rape and murder under an Alford Plea (pleading guilty acknowledging the government has evidence of guilt but maintaining one’s innocence). He did so only after his attorney was shown hair evidence that the FBI Lab had examined and claimed Martin’s hair matched a hair from the crime scene. DNA testing has now proven the FBI’s claim to be false, resulting in Mr. Martin’s release and exoneration.
See Washington Post: Man exonerated in 1982 D.C. killing; DNA reveals FBI error in conviction
And Fox5 News: Man officially exonerated in 1982 DC rape and murder
Significantly, Mr. Martin has maintained his innocence for more than 30 years, even after he accepted the Alford plea. But nobody believed Mr. Martin until yesterday.
To date, there have been five wrongfully convicted defendants (Anthony Bragdon, Donald Gates, Kevin Martin, Kirk Odom, and Santa Tribble) who have been exonerated in D.C.; however, the FBI Lab scandal impacted thousands of cases nationwide, not just in D.C. An internal Justice Department Task Force was established in 1996 to review thousands of cases impacted as a result of whistleblower allegations about the FBI Lab by Dr. Frederic Whitehurst between 1994-1997. However, the DOJ Task Force operated in secret and shut down almost 10 years ago without issuing a final report. Moreover, the DOJ review itself has been proven to be seriously flawed.
Notably, we won’t find Mr. Martin on the list of cases published last week by the Justice Dept. Office of Inspector General in its assessment report of the prior DOJ Task Force review of cases impacted by the FBI Lab scandal in the 1990’s.
That is because criminal cases prior to 1985 were artificially excluded from the prior DOJ Task Force review of the FBI Lab scandal. The Martin case was found because D.C. Superior Court Judge Ugast ordered a full review of all DC cases handled by the FBI Lab’s hair and fibers unit after another wrongfully convicted person, Donald Gates, was exonerated and set free in 2009 or 2010.
The Martin case should have been reviewed as part of the DOJ’s Task Force review of the FBI Lab. The exoneration of Mr. Martin means a lot of cases may have fallen through the cracks like this one. Contrary to the FBI’s assertions, there is a high probability that there exist many other wrongful convictions obtained prior to 1985 nationwide that relied on tainted evidence from the FBI Lab that have never been reviewed or identified.
According to the DOJ OIG report issued last week more than 400 cases have been identified to date, including 64 death penalty cases, where serious problems with forensic evidence provided by the FBI Lab have been identified, but final determinations of whether that resulted in wrongful convictions in those cases has yet to occur despite the DOJ’s 1996 promise of a thorough review.
How many more Kevin Martins are out there waiting to be exonerated?