Problems with forensics at the FBI crime lab continue, 25 years after a whistleblower flagged the agency for sloppy science, according to a story from independent news source ProPublica.

The story reports on the lack of scientific evidence supporting the work of FBI technicians who specialize in facial identification and “visual evidence.” The unit analyzes and sharpens crime scene photos and videos. From the story:

The FBI’s endorsement of the unit’s findings as trial evidence troubles many experts and raises a new question about the role of the FBI Laboratory as a standard-setter in forensic science.”  

Add that to the questions that have lingered since crime lab problems were revealed by insider Frederic Whitehurst in 1994. The chemist’s information about faulty evidence and worse have emerged via three inspector general reports and a National Academy of Sciences study. The ProPublica piece is the latest in two decades of investigative news stories about faulty FBI forensics and its consequences.

Whitehurst is now the director of the National Whistleblower Center’s Forensic Justice Project.


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The National Whistleblower Center released a new video featuring four prominent whistleblowers who share their personal stories of blowing the whistle and the backlash they faced for doing the right thing. Whistleblowers Change the World,  highlights the crucial role whistleblowers serve in exposing corruption at all levels of society and why we need a sustained grassroots movement to ensure the legal protections they require are upheld.

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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.
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Dr. Frederic Whitehurst took on the FBI because he knew that defendants had been wrongly convicted on the basis of seriously flawed testimony by the FBI crime lab. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the D.C. Superior Court overturned the conviction of a man who wrongly served 28 years in prison for killing a taxi driver. It is amazing to see the positive result of Dr. Whitehurst’s hard work. One person really can make a difference.

Sadly, Mr. Tribble was not the only victim of the misconduct by the FBI crime lab. After Dr. Whitehurst’s original whistleblower disclosures, the Justice Department formed a Task Force to review thousands of cases impacted by his allegations and to determine if any individuals were wrongly convicted. Although the Justice Department and FBI pledged to correct their mistakes, documents obtained by the NWC through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show they failed.

Last month, the Washington Post published a series of articles about the failures in the Task Force’s “investigation,” including that they never issued a final report and did not inform defendants about the misconduct in their cases. Once again, this only came to light because Dr. Whitehurst followed through on his personal vow to find out who was harmed. He was the one who lead the NWC Forensic Justice Project’s FOIA fight to release the documents about the Task Force.


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