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Monday, May 25, 2009

The purpose of the Detail is to help keep you informed of the current state of affairs in the latent print community, to provide an avenue to circulate original fingerprint-related articles, and to announce important events as they happen in our field.
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by Stephanie Potter

Police: Caesars Palace Killer Left DNA, Fingerprints
Fox5 KVVU - Las Vegas, NV, USA May 15, 2009
Police said he left DNA, footprints and fingerprints at the crime scene. They said he was also videotaped by surveillance cameras behind the resort. ...

Fingerprint uncovers plot behind fatal robbery in Holbrook
Boston Globe - United States May 18, 2009
The man's prints matched a latent fingerprint found in the Holbrook apartment where an immigrant enrolled at Quincy College was hogtied and beaten to death. ...

Local Fugitive Modified Appearance, Altered Fingerprints To Avoid ... - Pittsburgh,PA,USA 05-18-09
Channel 11's Alan Jennings said sources told him Skundrich also had his fingerprints altered, causing Florida authorities to misidentify him in three minor ...

Murder defendant faces new theft charges
Salt Lake Tribune - United States
A fingerprint analysis of Christopher Tay Alvey taken after he was arrested for the shooting death of 22-year-old Ashley Sparks matched him to fingerprints ...

3 charged with student's slaying
Boston Globe - United States 05-19-09
Police ran his fingerprints through a national computer database and discovered that a print matched a latent fingerprint found in Ighodaro's apartment, ...

Fingerprint leads JPSO to suspect accused of beating and robbing ...
The Times-Picayune - - New Orleans,LA,USA
Deputies with the Sheriff's Office Latent Finger Print Section were able to recover some prints from the store, according to Dyess. Once Wade was identified ...

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Update the Smiley Files with 4 new smileys from Nicola Charles, Gwinnett County PD. Thanks Nicola for the submissions!, and thanks as always to Bill Wolz, our Smiley Czar. If you have smileys for Bill to format, you can e-mail him at

Re: Evidence Fabrication in South Africa
by Louis van der Vyver on Sat May 23, 2009 7:20 am

Dear all

Below you will see the final settlement of the action instigated by Prof. and Mrs Lotz against Fred. This implies that Fred is finally totally exonerated. He was acquitted on the criminal charges on 29 November 2007 and this brings any possible further action against him to an end.

This does not affect his civil claim against the State in any way and indications are that that case will commence by August/September 2010.

I would like to extend our most sincere appreciation and thanks to each and everyone who has supported Fred during this saga over the last four years.

Best regards

Louis van der Vyver


The parties in the action of Professor and Mrs Lotz against Mr Van der Vyver in CASE NUMBER 4704/2008 agree as follows:

1. The action instigated under case number 4704/2008, as well as the application to combine the actions under the same case number, is withdrawn by both claimants.

2. Professor and Mrs Lotz tender Mr Van der Vyver’s party-and-party costs, including the cost of two council.

3. The parties agree not to instigate any further actions against each other rising from this action or any matter relating to it.

4. Professor and Mrs Lotz distance themselves from the allegations published in the press vis-a-vis Mr Van der Vyver.

5. The parties agree that, except for this agreement, neither party will, whether personally or through an agent, issue any further media comment about the action instigated by Professor and Mrs Lotz against Mr Van der Vyver.

6. Any of the parties may with seven (7) days’ notice to the other party, apply to the High Court to make this agreement an order of the court.

7. This agreement, without any further comment, will be issued jointly to the media by both parties.

8. This settlement is a full and final settlement between the parties.
Signed in Cape Town on 22 May 2009:

Mrs. Lotz
Professor Lotz

Mr F. B. Van der Vyver
(Translated from the original Afrikaans document)

Louis van der Vyver
Location: South Africa


Last week

We read highlights from a May 13th hearing before the House Subcommittee on Crime Terrorism and Homeland Security on the National Research Council's Publication "Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward"..

This week

We look at the recent publication on and video of a forensic odontologist getting it wrong during an external blind proficiency test in Bite Mark Identification. I normally focus on latent print topics, but decided to share this one due to the NAS reference and the fact that latent print analysis gets grouped in with a lot of other types of forensic analyses in the report.


A Forensics Charlatan Gets Caught in the Act.

Video from a defense attorney's sting exposes Mississippi bite-mark "expert" Michael West.
Radley Balko | May 15, 2009

In 1992, a Phoenix man named Ray Krone was convicted of murdering a cocktail waitress named Kim Ancona. The crime was brutal. Ancona had been sexually assaulted, stabbed multiple times, and bitten on her breast and neck. Krone was indicted after a local dentist named John Piakis, who had received all of five days of forensic training, told police and prosecutors that Krone’s crooked teeth created the marks on Ancona’s body.

At trial, a more experienced bite-mark analyst from Las Vegas named Ray Rawson confirmed Piakis' findings: The bite marks on Ancona’s neck could only have come from Krone. Rawson included a 39-page report with his testimony. It must have been convincing, because the jury convicted Krone despite no other physical evidence linking him to the crime. He was sentenced to death.

In 1995, Krone was given a new trial after an appeals court threw out his conviction over an unrelated legal technicality. Rawson testified again. And Krone was convicted again. After the second trial, however, the judge refused to sentence Krone to death, writing, "The court is left with a residual or lingering doubt about the clear identity of the killer."

The judge’s misgivings proved prescient. Over the strenuous objections of prosecutors, who maintained that Rawson’s testimony was in itself sufficient to affirm Krone’s conviction, Krone's attorney Christopher Plourd succeeded in getting a court to force the state to turn over biological evidence from the crime for DNA testing. The testing proved Krone was innocent. It also provided a match to Kenneth Phillips, a man who arguably should have been a suspect from the start. Phillips lived less than a mile from the crime scene, was already on probation for assaulting a female neighbor, and was arrested three weeks after Ancona’s murder for sexually assaulting a seven-year-old girl. Several witnesses had described a man fitting Phillips’ height, weight, and complexion to police near the crime scene the night of the murder.

After 10 years in prison, including two spent on death row, Ray Krone was exonerated and released from prison in 2002.

But Krone’s lawyer wasn’t quite finished. In addition to his job as a criminal defense attorney, Christopher Plourd is a legal specialist in forensic science, having served on several government commissions looking at the role of DNA testing in the criminal justice system.

Plourd was livid that his client could have been convicted not once, but twice, based on obviously erroneous testimony that was presented as scientific. It seemed to confirm what Plourd and other critics of bite-mark analysis have long suspected—that there is little "science" behind the method at all. So in 2001, the lawyer decided to conduct a “proficiency test” on some unknowing and prominent bite-mark expert.

Plourd chose Mississippi dentist Michael West for his test. West had long been under fire for dubious testimony in dozens of criminal cases, including one in which he claimed to be able to match the bite marks in a half-eaten bologna sandwich found at the crime scene to the dentition of a defendant. I’ve written extensively on West over the last few years, most recently in a feature about the 1992 Louisiana murder trial and eventual conviction of Jimmie Duncan. In that case, I obtained a video showing West repeatedly jamming Duncan’s dental mold into the body of the young girl Duncan was accused of killing. Forensic specialists say that what West does in the video isn't a remotely acceptable method of analysis, and may amount to criminal evidence tampering. Duncan is on death row in Louisiana, based in part on West's analysis.

Plourd selected West because, even though the dentist was still active in the Mississippi and Louisiana courts, he had been suspended from the American Board of Forensic Odontology since the mid-1990s, and therefore might not be aware of the somewhat notorious Krone case. Plourd was right.

In October 2001, working for Plourd, a private investigator named James Rix sent West the decade-old photographs of the bite marks on Ancona’s breast. Rix told West that the photos were from the three-year-old unsolved murder of a college student in Idaho. Rix then sent West a dental mold of his own teeth, but told him that they came from the chief suspect in the case. He also sent a check for $750, West's retainer fee.

Two months later, West sent Rix a letter and accompanying 20-minute video. In the video, West meticulously explains the methodology he uses to match bite marks to dental molds. Using the photo of Ancona’s bitten breast and Rix's own dental mold, West then reaches the conclusion Plourd and Rix suspected he would: That the mold and the photos were a definite match.

"Notice as I flex the photograph across these teeth how it conforms to the outline very nicely," West explains confidently. "The odds of that happening if these weren’t the teeth that created this bite would be almost astronomical." He adds that the "matching" patterns he found between the photo and the dental mold "could only lead an odontologist to one opinion and that [is] these teeth did create that mark."

Though Plourd’s proficiency test has been noted in court briefs and law journals, this is the first time the video of West’s analysis has been published.

NOTE: The video below includes a photograph of bite marks on a post-mortem breast. Viewer discretion is advised.

(video at:

Following the methodology that he has used in more than 100 other cases over the years, West confidently matches a dental mold and a photo of bite marks that have absolutely nothing to do with one another, decorating the fiction with the language of science. Though West is dead wrong, he sounds convincing, and it isn't difficult to imagine how he might prove persuasive to judges and juries.

In February, the National Academy of Sciences published a highly critical report about how forensic evidence is used and abused in the courtroom. The study was especially critical of bite-mark testimony, noting that it has contributed to a number of wrongful convictions over the years. The report concludes that there’s simply “no evidence of an existing scientific basis for identifying an individual to the exclusion of all others” using bite-mark analysis. Yet bite-mark testimony is still common, and there are still plenty of people in prison as a direct result.

It would be nice to see more "proficiency tests" like Plourd's with West, only not just from defense attorneys. More importantly, the criminal justice system needs to act swiftly when "experts" like West are shown to conduct bogus examinations.

West failed Plourd’s test in 2001. Yet as late as 2003, the Mississippi State Supreme Court still upheld West’s bite-mark testimony in a murder case. In rejecting an appeal by convicted murderer and death row inmate Eddie Lee Howard, the court wrote that “Just because Dr. West has been wrong a lot, does not mean, without something more, that he was wrong here.” And as late as 2006, Mississippi District Attorney Forrest Allgood relied on West’s bite-mark testimony to keep rape and murder convict Kennedy Brewer in prison. Though DNA evidence had shown back in 2003 that Brewer didn’t commit the rape, Allgood argued that because West matched bite marks he claimed to have found on the victim to Brewer’s teeth, Brewer must have bitten the victim while someone else raped her. (Other analysts say the marks weren't even bites.) Brewer remained in prison an additional five years, and was only released in 2008.

Plourd’s video sting ought to move public officials in Mississippi and Louisiana to thoroughly, if belatedly, investigate just how much damage this dentist has inflicted on the judicial systems of those states. There are still dozens of people in prison due in some part to "expert" tetimony that has been shown to be anything but.

Radley Balko is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

Sworn statement of Christopher J. Plourd:

Sworn statement of James Rix:

V. CAUSE NO.: 5999
I, JAMES RIX, declare under penalty of perjury that the following is true and correct:

1. In October 2001, I along with Christopher J. Plourd, administered an external blind proficiency test to Dr. Michael West.

2. Since the purpose of an external blind proficiency test is to obtain the expert’s response to what he believes is a real case, I contacted Dr. West in mid-October 2001, introduced myself as a private investigator named Phil Barnes and requested his assistance in evaluating bite mark evidence from the rape-murder of a college student. I informed Dr. West that the crime had gone unsolved for three years due to a lack of evidence against the prime suspect and provided him with other background facts about the case.

3. On October 22, 2001, I sent Dr. West, via United States Post Office Express Mail, the following: (1) a check in the amount of $ 750, Dr. West’s retainer fee; (2) “photographs of the bite mark evidence” and (3) “dental models from the prime suspect.”

4. The “bite mark evidence” photographs that I submitted to Dr. West were photographs of bite marks made on the breast murder victim Kim Ancona from Ray Krone’s case. I obtained these photographs from Christopher J. Plourd. The “dental models from the prime suspect” that I sent to Dr. West were dental models of my own teeth; I obtained these models from my dentist.

5. On or about December 2001, I received from Dr. West a video report of his bite mark examination. On this video, Dr. West, addressing Phil Barnes, demonstrates his bite mark comparison and concludes that the prime suspect’s teeth [my own dental molds] left the bite marks on the victim [Kim Acona].

6. I provided Dr. West’s video report to Christopher Plourd.

James Rix


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