Lawyer Bites Expert: Defense Lawyer Conduct Private Sting Operation to Show Flaws in Expert Testimony

250px-Teeth_by_David_ShankboneNow 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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7 thoughts on “Lawyer Bites Expert: Defense Lawyer Conduct Private Sting Operation to Show Flaws in Expert Testimony”

  1. Our criminal justice system is grievously flawed, although there are few better. The fact is that criminal law ia a crapshoot, with the person with the money generally having the better chance of acquittal. That is why Attorney’s like our own JT, the Innocence Project, The ACLU are to be cherished as defenders of the notion of justice.

  2. MatthewN:

    I have been an expert witness on a few occaisions and it seemed to me the lawyers try and push the “expert” to their conclusion. Some of the things I have testified about were clearly delineated and it was black and white, there was a right answer within the parameters of the accepted science. But others have been murkey and it depended on how you looked at something and what your underlying assumptions were as to cause. 2 engineers can look at the same evidence and come up with 2 eqaully plausible findings.

    If a lawyer calls me I usually go over the facts of the case prior to agreeing to testify and make my own assesment as to whether his case has merit from an engineering standpoint, if I believe it does I will testify, if it does not I dont (it is easier to sell a product you believe in). I have turned down more than I have taken, but that begs the question who did take them. But they may have seen something I did not, so a good bit of this expert stuff is nothing more than opinion unless it truly is black and white (which probably isnt often). And I think it the duty of the profesional testifying to honestly believe what he is saying and back it up with science and not try to build an opinion based on what he thinks his client wants to hear.

    I have a funny feeling if “experts” did that there would be a few less court cases.

  3. This failure to interpret the evidence correctly not just “shoddy” work the activity is with intent. Our system is devolving into one that does not need evidence – “Rule of Law” does not apply or maybe the “Law’s” are being rewritten or maybe the protection of “Law” only applies to the privileged, much like Health Care.

    To this day I do not understand why in a 2005 Manassas Virginia police assault I could not get our attorneys to obtain the CVS store video to defend against my assault or use my girlfriends doctors to support a medical impairment defense. The attorneys told us to plead guilty, we would not be believed by the courts and that the “police lie all the time on their reports” as they multitasked our cases with three others.

  4. As a former public defender, I’ve defended a lot of prostitutes. Now prosecutors, who’ve “rehabilitated” this so-called expert can say the same thing.

  5. This is just a product of our system. The prosecution’s “experts” will use their expert knowledge to assist in building a case, while the defense will use their “experts” to cast doubt on that case. Anyone who testifies as an expert needs to be neutral. I don’t know if I’ve read about this on this blog or whether it was somewhere else, but any truly neutral experts risk finding themselves unemployed. Personally, I don’t see how partisan “experts” aren’t breaking their professional code of ethics.

  6. Well a true Bite out of Crime. Now are expert witnesses the Oldest Profession or not?


    No Latin, Pig Latin or bad ve-hik-nah-ur-ler was used in the disclaimation.

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