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Fwd: CSI Games: If DNA Evidence Doesn't Fit in Orange County, Alter It?

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  • Brent Turvey
    All; Note the following quote from the DA s office: “I, in no way, did anything unusual,” [Camille] Hill tells the Weekly. “About every week, we ask the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 12, 2008

      Note the following quote from the DA's office:

      �I, in no way, did anything unusual,� [Camille] Hill tells the Weekly.
      �About every week, we ask the crime lab to reconsider findings.
      Sometimes, they make changes.�

      This is not just significant, but horrifying. The following questions
      apparently need to be asked of every forensic scientist in voire dire:

      1. Ddid the DA's office or police make clear their preferred outcome
      with regards to the evidence in this case?
      2. Has the DA's office or police met with you prior to reporting your
      findings to the defense?
      3. Is that standard practice or common?
      4. Did they ask you to change your findings in anyway?
      5. Did you change those findings?
      6. Is that standard practice or common?
      7. Why did you change your findings?
      8. Do you believe that you are an objective analyst?
      9. Define objectivity.
      10. Have you hear the term confirmation bias as it relates to
      scientific examination?
      11. Have you hear the term observer effect as it relates to scientific
      12. Are you familiar with the term cherry-picking as it relates to
      scientific examination?
      13. When the DA asks you to review your findings, and directs you to
      change them, are you at all concerned for your job when you agree, or
      do you concede that the DA's office is better qualified to interpret
      the results of your examinations than you are?

      Just some thoughts...

      FYI, that Camille Hill used to work for the Houston PD lab also paints
      a picture. "Lawyer-scientist" is an oxymoron. By virtue of the way
      that the observer effect works one cannot be both objective and
      prosecute someone to the full extent of the law. It's a conflict of
      interest, which her attitude make clear.


      Begin forwarded message:

      From: Brent Turvey <bturvey@...>
      Date: June 12, 2008 9:48:01 AM GMT-08:00
      To: "Forensic-Science@Yahoogroups. Com" <forensic-science@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: CSI Games: If DNA Evidence Doesn't Fit in Orange County,
      Alter It?

      Moxley Confidential
      CSI Games: If DNA Evidence Doesn't Fit in Orange County, Alter It?
      Thursday, March 13, 2008 - 3:00 pm
      In the wake of a November 2005 OC Weekly article detailing how a 20-
      year-old Buena Park man faced prison for a robbery/carjacking he
      didn�t commit, prosecutors asked the Orange County Sheriff�s
      Department crime lab to alter key exculpatory evidence.


      James Ochoa, holding his little brother, before his arrest

      Veteran forensic specialist Danielle G. Wieland made the charge last
      month during a civil deposition related to the December 2005 wrongful
      conviction and imprisonment of James Ochoa, according to documents
      obtained by the Weekly.

      The allegation is just the latest in a series of sensationally callous
      screw-ups by law enforcement�police, prosecutors and judges�that
      aligned to raid Ochoa�s house, arrest him and steal his freedom. He
      spent 16 months in the Orange County Jail and a California prison.
      Later, DNA evidence fingered the real bandit, a career criminal in Los

      The Ochoa travesty didn�t happen merely because the Orange County
      district attorney�s office repeatedly ignored exculpatory facts.
      According to Wieland�s testimony, they actively sought to convict
      Ochoa as mounting evidence pointed to his innocence.

      At the heart of the battle was the integrity of the OCSD crime lab�s
      work on the case. Wieland performed numerous tests to determine if
      Ochoa�s DNA could be found on items the bandit inadvertently left at
      the crime scene: a black baseball cap, a gray plaid long-sleeve shirt
      and a BB gun. There was also DNA left in the stolen car that didn�t
      belong to the two victims. All of the sheriff�s department tests
      excluded Ochoa as a DNA contributor. Two other crime-lab officials
      independently double-checked and confirmed Wieland�s results. In her
      official records, she recorded �no [Ochoa] match.�

      That result created a problem for the DA�s office, where officials
      weren�t elated that the Weeklyhad already written a 2,100-word
      pretrial article (�The Case of the Dog That Couldn�t Sniff Straight,�
      Nov. 6, 2005), which predicted doom for Ochoa. For once, it turns out
      it wasn�t the police who were stubborn. According to Wieland�s
      deposition, a Buena Park police detective told her before testing that
      �if [Ochoa�s] DNA doesn�t come back on the hat and the shirt, the case
      is closed.�

      Prosecutors didn�t share that sentiment. On Oct. 14, 2005, they asked
      to meet with Wieland before she shared her findings with defense
      attorney Scott Borthwick, a young Santa Ana-based lawyer who�d taken
      the case pro bono because he thought officials were railroading Ochoa.
      In those meetings�one by phone, two more in person�a deputy district
      attorney asked Wieland to do something she knew was not supported by
      the science and possibly outright unethical: Tell Borthwick that
      Ochoa�s DNA had been found on the shirt.

      In a civil deposition taken last month for Ochoa�s wrongful-
      prosecution lawsuit, Ochoa attorney Patricio A. Marquez of Morrison &
      Foerster asked Wieland, �Did anyone ever exert pressure on you to
      change your [DNA] conclusions?�

      �Yes,� Wieland replied. �Camille Hill from the DA�s office . . . She
      called me and asked me to change the conclusion that Mr. Ochoa was
      eliminated from [DNA found on] the left cuff of the shirt.�

      According to the transcript, Hill told Wieland she �didn�t care� about
      the crime lab�s findings. �I want him [Ochoa] not excluded,� Wieland
      recalls Hill saying.

      The DA�s demand alarmed crime-lab officials, who began to question why
      prosecutors were so �adamant� and �ranting� (Wieland�s description)
      about nailing Ochoa.

      �I was pretty shocked and annoyed,� Wieland testified. �As a forensic
      scientist, we just look at the evidence.�

      In a subsequent face-to-face confrontation, Hill arrived with four
      other DA staffers including Deputy District Attorney Christian Kim,
      who was assigned to Ochoa�s case. They argued that eyewitness and
      police-dog identifications of Ochoa as the bandit (sloppy and tainted,
      respectively) must have been right.

      Wieland brought her own crime-lab colleagues as backup. According to
      Wieland�s deposition, �We kind of went back and forth [with the DA�s
      office] on why we felt the sample was eliminated as a contributor. And
      it ended up with us pretty much not backing down and saying he�s still
      excluded, still eliminated.�

      Hill, a veteran prosecutor and DNA expert who once worked as a
      forensic specialist for the Houston Police Department, thinks this is
      a non-story. She describes herself as a �lawyer/scientist� and defends
      her contact on the Ochoa case with Wieland.

      �I, in no way, did anything unusual,� Hill tells the Weekly. �About
      every week, we ask the crime lab to reconsider findings. Sometimes,
      they make changes.�

      Hill says she originally thought �it looked like [Ochoa�s DNA] was [on
      the bandit�s shirt],� but she eventually accepted the sheriff�s
      department�s conclusion after the crime lab shared more details from
      an electropherogram.

      As for Wieland feeling shocked by Hill�s request to alter her
      findings? According to Hill, �She shouldn�t feel afraid to answer my

      Despite Hill�s queries, Borthwick learned the full extent of the
      exculpatory evidence. But Kim continued to prosecute Ochoa, a move
      that surprised Wieland.

      In the deposition, she remembered that Kim told her, �You know, I just
      don�t know about this case.� The deputy DA also told her it wasn�t his
      choice to go to trial. �I do recall him telling me that Marc Rozenberg
      [Kim�s boss] had said that he wasn�t dropping it at this point,�
      Wieland said.

      Wieland was set to testify for the defense when, three days into the
      trial, Robert Fitzgerald, a sassy Superior Court judge with an
      embarrassing track record of being rebuked by appellate courts for
      judicial improprieties, confronted Ochoa outside the presence of the
      jury with this offer: Plead guilty and get a two-year-prison sentence,
      or face the possibility of life in prison if you continue the trial
      and the jury finds you guilty.

      The threat frightened Ochoa. Later, he described to me the factors in
      his decision: how the Buena Park police detectives had raided his
      parents� house and arrested him for a crime he didn�t commit; how
      prosecutors had refused to consider the weakness of their case; and,
      finally, of the white, suburban-dominated Orange County jury members,
      whom, he believed, would accept law enforcement�s word as gospel. He
      ignored Borthwick�s advice to the contrary and took the deal.

      Wieland never got a chance to tell jurors about the DNA evidence. She
      learned of Ochoa�s plea decision from the Weekly. In her deposition,
      she said she �felt sad that he took it.�

      Not everyone was upset. Within two hours of Ochoa�s guilty plea, a
      Buena Park cop contacted me to gloat that my article outlining Ochoa�s
      innocence was erroneous and �anti-police.� A veteran police-dog
      handler (of dubious skill and ethics) involved in the case wrote me a
      letter celebrating the outcome, too.

      Meanwhile, Ochoa prepared for hell. Sheriff�s deputies quickly shipped
      him to prison. His parents and siblings had been so traumatized they
      moved to Texas.

      Ten months later, crime-lab scientists with the California Department
      of Justice matched the bandit�s DNA to Jaymes Thomas McCollum, who was
      sitting in the Los Angeles County Jail on other auto-theft charges at
      the time. DA Tony Rackauckas, who�with the aid of Hill�is in the
      process of building his own DNA crime-lab system independent of
      Wieland and her colleagues, promptly filed paperwork to release Ochoa
      from prison.

      �We were thrilled,� Wieland recalled in her deposition.

      On Oct. 20, 2006, the night he got out of Centinela State Prison,
      Ochoa sat in a Garden Grove restaurant and told me he�d lived an
      indescribable nightmare. Another inmate had stabbed him. Asked what
      else he�d experienced, he looked down and just shook his head in

      See related article: Oops: Judge, DA, cops quietly admit they sent an
      innocent 20-year-old to prison for 16 months


      Brent E. Turvey, MS - Forensic Science
      Forensic Solutions, LLC

      Author of:
      Turvey, B. (2008) Criminal Profiling, 3rd Ed., Boston: Elsevier Science

      Chisum, W.J. & Turvey B. (2006) Crime Reconstruction, Boston: Elsevier

      Savino J. & Turvey B. (2004) Rape Investigation Handbook, San Diego:
      Elsevier Science

      "... the intermixing of science and politics is a bad combination with
      a bad history. We must remember the history, and be certain that what
      we present to the world as knowledge is disinterested and honest."
      - Crichton, M. (2004) State of Fear, New York: Harper-Collins
      Publisher; p.638

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