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Probe spurs requests for DNA tests
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Probe spurs requests for DNA tests

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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

for rape.

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.

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

testing program.

"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

said.

"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

Office.

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

Office.

Review of cases sought

These death-penalty cases have been recommended for

further review:

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

Hooker.

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

further testing.

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.

30.

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 ginnie.graham@tulsaworld.com.

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