Let’s start by listing the pre-DNA lapses in the Lab with regard to this case. The most obvious is that the lab LOST OR DESTROYED a set of four fingerprints from a key piece of evidence. We know from a belatedly released report that those prints were NOT LaGuer’s. But whose were they? Letters to Selavka from two state senators and six representatives inquiring about this were largely ignored.
In August 2001 DNA testing on blood from the crime scene, long said to be Type B (the same as LaGuer’s) turned out to belong to the victim (who was Type O). This is all the more remarkable because six blood stains from the crime scene were brought to the crime lab and the forensic report stated that the analyst couldn’t determine a type for any of them except the one, which turned out to be WRONG. This is basic stuff. You don’t just get a blood type wrong and then say “oops, sorry.” Especially as this erroneous match has been cited in several court decisions denying LaGuer a new trial. Granted, this was before Selavka’s time. But that doesn’t absolve him of looking into it once it was brought to his attention. The muck is deep and yucky.
And then of course there is the 2002 DNA test implicating LaGuer which Kerry Healey and many others have said should be the final word on his guilt or innocence. The test, they say, was conducted by LaGuer’s own expert (paid for by John Silber, Deval Patrick and several others). The point I have made in my previous posts on this topic is that the crime lab played an integral role in LaGuer’s DNA test. Just to sum it up, LaGuer’s expert did his testing blind. The State Lab cataloged and vouched for the integrity of the evidence. A State Lab employee flew to California (at Silber’s, Patrick’s and others expense) to witness the testing. And most importantly, the State Lab drafted the affidavits that formed the basis for the judge’s order that guided the testing. Four nationally recognized DNA experts have since examined the evidence chain of custody paper trail along with the test results and determined that at the very least bright warning signs of contamination were ignored. This information has been available for a long time. To his great credit, Charley Blandy picked up on this months ago and the mainstream media has yet to catch up.
Now that the lab will (hopefully) be getting the scrutiny it richly deserves, it is important that the LaGuer case be part of that review. One way of uncovering systemic problems is to burrow down into counterintuitive results to see what accounts for discrepancies between predicted and actual outcomes. But as Thompson notes in his article, falsely incriminating results based on contamination are the hardest to ferret out:
“[I]f the suspect’s DNA is accidentally transferred into an evidentiary sample, the error is not obvious because there is another explanation–i.e., that the suspect is the source of the evidentiary DNA. Errors that incriminate a suspect are unlikely to be detected as errors; they are likely to be treated as incriminating evidence.”
We would let the let the crime lab get away without scrutiny of this case at our own peril. All this is especially alarming because Sandra Hautanen, the prosecutor in this case, lied to the SJC about the certainty of guilt implied by the DNA tests at the recent SCJ hearing.