Now this is a fascinating story. For decades, defense attorneys have complained about faux forensic experts who will support any theory or connection of the prosecution. Some of the most controversial are so-called “bite experts,” dentists who claim to match teeth marks on victims and objects to defendants. Attorney Christopher Plourd decided that he had had enough and arranged his own sting operation to show that these paid experts make the evidence fit any theory.
Plourd had a bone or teeth of contention with bite experts. He represented Ray Krone in Arizona, a man wrongly convicted in 1992 on the basis of testimony by local dentist named John Piakis. Piakis had only five days of forensic training and testified that Krone’s teeth were definitely the ones that made bite marks on a dead women’s body. His findings were supported by expert Ray Rawson and Plourd was sentenced to death. The conviction was thrown out later on appeal, but Krone was convicted again with the testimony of Rawson. However, the trial judge expressed doubts at sentencing and gave him 46 years in prison.
Later, prosecutors fought his demands for DNA testing. He eventually was able to test the evidence, which showed that another man was the killer. He was the 100th man to be exonerated from death row. He had spent 10 years in prison and two on death row.
Plourd decided to carry out his own string operation. He wrote to Mississippi dentist Michael West, who was one of the more notorious witnesses from the perspective of the defense bar. He was teh dentist who once claimed to match teeth to a half-eaten bologna sandwich. He was suspended from the American Board of Forensic Odontology in the mid-1990s. Radley Balko has been doggedly following this man’s record. Plourd’s private investigator James Rix sent West the decade-old photographs of the bite marks from the victim in the Krone case with a dental mold of his own teeth — and a check. Two months later, West sent Rix a letter and video saying that it was a perfect match. In the material, West states “Notice as I flex the photograph across these teeth how it conforms to the outline very nicely. The odds of that happening if these weren’t the teeth that created this bite would be almost astronomical.” West has publicly defended his work against past critics.
In the last few years, there have been scandals involving shoddy work performed by the FBI and state forensic labs, here, as well as coroners. These experts often have an overwhelming impact on a jury.
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