McALESTER, OK-- An investigation into improper testimony from Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist has provided more evidence that Oklahoma's criminal justice system is broken.
Jeffrey Pierce, who had been convicted of rape in 1986, was released yesterday after independent DNA tests proved that he was not the rapist. Gilchrist's testimony had helped to secure his conviction. Her testimony mistakenly identified hair and semen taken from the crime scene as Pierce's.
Gilchrist had testified in the case of another prisoner, Marilyn Kay Plantz, who was executed on May 1.
Gilchrist is under a statewide investigation for shoddy lab work. An FBI report, released on April 25, 2001, found that she had misidentified evidence or given improper courtroom testimony in at least five of eight cases the agency reviewed.
Gilchrist testified in over 3,000 cases, and helped win convictions in 23 death penalty cases. Eleven prisoners have been executed in cases where Gilchrist testified.
"The citizens of Oklahoma County have been duped," said Pierce. "The juries have been lied to for the last 20 years. There are going to be a lot more victims."
In 1987, the chief forensic scientist at the regional crime laboratory in Kansas City, Missouri complained about Gilchrist to a professional organization, saying she "positively identifies the defendant based on the slightest bit of circumstantial evidence."
Another organization, the Association of Crime Scene Reconstruction, expelled her for unethical behavior.
In 1999, a U.S. District judge called Gilchrist's testimony "untrue" and "misleading." The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has repeatedly criticized Gilchrist's testimony, saying her reports were "at best incomplete, and at worst inaccurate and misleading."
A recently leaked internal police memo, written on January 16, 2001 says that "missing evidence [was] occurring in major cases," including death penalty cases. The report specifically mentions problems with evidence in the cases of Lloyd Lafevers and William Bryson, both of whom have been executed. Lafevers was executed on January 30 of this year, two weeks after the memo was written.
"In light of the cloud that has been cast over the role of Gilchrist in capital trials, it is unconscionable to execute without determining the extent to which her misconduct influenced the outcome of these cases," said Diann Rust-Tierney, director of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project.
"Why was Gilchrist allowed to testify even though several judges and many in her profession had expressed serious concerns about her conduct? Are there others like her in the Oklahoma criminal justice system? This raises the possibility of a larger systemic problem that needs to be addressed before executions can continue."
Jeffrey Pierce's brother, Gary Pierce, added, "Everybody asks me, 'Why did they keep her?' She got convictions. They didn't care about the methods she used."