Applications from Oklahoma prisoners for acceptance into
the DNA Forensic Testing Program have increased with the
launch of an investigation into the work of Oklahoma City
police chemist Joyce Gilchrist.
The year-old program administered by the Oklahoma
Indigent Defense System highlighted problems with
Gilchrist's work after a DNA test exonerated Jeffrey Todd
Pierce, an Oklahoma City man who spent 15 years in prison
The Pierce case along with criticisms from the FBI,
appellate court judges and colleagues led to a multi-agency
task force examination of more than 1,400 cases worked by
Gilchrist has denied any wrongdoing and has been on paid
administrative leave since March.
The indigent defense system is assessing about 70 cases
for the DNA program while simultaneously reviewing about
175 applications sent out to Oklahoma County prisoners as
part of the Gilchrist investigation.
About 12 Tulsa County cases are in various stages of
assessment, said Kathleen Smith, attorney with the DNA
"Overall, we have had more applications because word of
the program has spread, and the Gilchrist investigation has
raised awareness about it," Smith said. "The Gilchrist
investigation has not kept us from pursuing promising cases
in the state including Tulsa County.
"We do have a thriving program covering the entire state.
At this point, we have not been overburdened, and we do
have resources available to us if that were to happen. But
it is a slow process."
The DNA program was established in June 2000 with an
appropriation of $250,000 from the Legislature for initial
start-up costs. The Legislature provided the indigent
defense system with $650,000 in the last session
specifically for the Gilchrist inquiry.
Of the 175 Oklahoma County applications sent out for the
Gilchrist review, 27 have been returned.
All cases are assessed by the same standards, as set by
state law and agency policy, Smith said.
Prisoners must have been convicted of a felony and
currently serving a sentence. State law requires that
testing be completed only if the evidence could show
conclusive or near conclusive proof of innocence, Smith
"We are not concerned with finding wrongdoing as we are
of finding innocent people who are incarcerated," Smith
said. "We still have to follow through with the same process
set out for us."
The assessment of applications could take up to a year.
Policy requires the collection of such items as original
transcripts and interviewing the inmate.
"The biggest roadblock of all is finding evidence," Smith
said. "These are old cases. Sometimes that takes a long
time, and sometimes we may not find it. And even if we find
it, we then have to reassess whether this is a case we want
to test. Do we think retesting could be exonerative?"
Evidence in the Pierce case was the first to be tested
in the DNA program based on several factors, said Jamie
Pybas, supervisor of the DNA program.
The victim in the case did not immediately identify
Pierce after the crime occurred but picked him from a photo
lineup months later. Gilchrist testified that hairs
from the crime scene were consistent with Pierce, which was
a significant factor in his conviction. Her testimony led
to an examination of possible errors made in other cases.
A five-member OSBI forensic team began reviewing 1,448
Gilchrist cases in May and is making recommendations to the
indigent defense system and the state Attorney General's
The OSBI has completed a review of 212 case files
involving Gilchrist and has recommended 30 for further
analysis. It could take up to two years for all the files
to be reviewed.
Officials have identified 23 death-row cases where
Gilchrist provided testimony or completed testing. Of
those, 11 have already been executed.
Of the 12 pending death-penalty cases, 11 have been
reviewed by the OSBI and three have been recommended for
further review or testing by the state Attorney General's
Review of cases sought
These death-penalty cases have been recommended for
John Michael Hooker: Hooker, 47, was convicted in the
1988 stabbing deaths of his common-law wife, Sylvia Stokes,
and her mother, Drucilla Morgan. Gilchrist testified that
blood found on Hooker's pants was consistent with both
victims' blood types. At trial, witnesses testified seeing
Hooker follow the victims into the apartment. One witness
stated she saw Hooker later with blood on him. Neighbors
testified hearing loud noises coming from the apartment.
Stokes had previously sought a protective order against
Attorney General's spokesman Gerald Adams said the
conviction would "stand absent Gilchrist's testimony." But
officials in the office determined that the blood typing
testimony was "a significant enough factor" to warrant
Michael Edward Hooper: Hopper, 28, was convicted of
shooting to death his 23-year-old ex-girlfriend, Cindy
Jarman, and her children Tonya, 5, and Timmy, 3. The bodies
were found in a shallow grave in 1993. DNA profiles
completed by the FBI determined that blood found on
Hooper's right shoe was consistent with the victims'. Adams
said officials in the attorney general's office believe
that Gilchrist's analysis of blood and fiber should be
reviewed by another chemist.
Curtis Edward McCarty: McCarty, 39, was sentenced to
death for the 1982 strangulation death of 18-year-old Pam
Willis. Gilchrist testified that hairs and semen from the
crime scene were consistent with McCarty, who knew the
victim. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the
decision in 1988 stating the Gilchrist testified beyond her
expertise and delayed giving reports to the defense. He was
convicted in a second trial. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal
Appeals in 1995 upheld the conviction but overturned the
sentence and ordered a new sentencing hearing. The court
ruled that the jury should have been able to consider the
option of life without parole. McCarty was sentenced to
death a third time.
After the second trial, claims were raised that
Gilchrist testified beyond the scientific means and that
forensic hair comparison is unreliable. In habeas
petitions, additional claims have been raised regarding the
loss of some evidence.
Judge Robin Cauthron of the Western District issued an
order preventing testing. A hearing is scheduled for Aug.
Dewey George Moore: Moore, 65, was convicted in the 1985
strangulation death of 12-year-old Jennifer Gilbert.
Testimony on hair and fiber was given by Janice Davis, who
has since died. The indigent defense system and attorney
general's office had requested retesting prior to the
Gilchrist investigation. The OSBI agreed.
Gilbert was last seen on Sept. 27, 1984, leaving junior
high football game. Witnesses testified seeing Gilbert
struggling with a man in a parking lot and leaving with the
man in a yellow car, similar to one driven by Moore.
The Oklahoma County District Attorney's office has also
requested a review of evidence in the upcoming trial of
Ronnie Clinton Lott, who is accused of the 1986 and 1987
rapes and murders of 83-year-old Anna Laura Fowler and
90-year-old Zelma Cutler. It is the first request in a case
where there is no conviction or sentence.
Robert Lee Miller Jr. was convicted of those crimes and
spent 11 years in prison, seven of those on death row,
before DNA tested exonerated him.
Gilchrist was expected to testify about the forensic
evidence in the case. Officials are concerned about
contamination of the evidence.
Ginnie Graham, World staff writer, can be reached at
581-8376 or via e-mail at email@example.com.