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Too Fallible for the Death Penalty


The case of the crooked crime scene investigator in Douglas County provides another glaring example of why the criminal justice system cannot be trusted to apply the death penalty.

Humans not only make honest mistakes, sometimes they plant evidence and lie.

The conviction of former CSI chief David Kofoed for tampering with the evidence in a double murder case was upheld earlier this month by the Nebraska Supreme Court.

Kofoed was convicted for planting a speck of blood in a car belonging to a suspect in the case. His bogus evidence resulted in two innocent men being held in jail for several months. Police even wrung a false confession out of one of them.

Fortunately for the two men, the case against them unraveled before they were tried. DNA evidence found on a ring and marijuana pipe found in the home belonged to a pair of Wisconsin teens. They later pleaded guilty to killing a Murdock couple while looking for money during a road trip.

If you think the Kofoed case is one of a kind, think again.

Just do an Internet search for “crime lab scandal.”

You will be — or should be — appalled at the number of times that crime labs turn out to be providing inaccurate and phony evidence.

The problems crop up in New York, San Francisco, Houston and many points in between.

Sometimes the problem is sloppiness. Sometimes technicians are manufacturing evidence deliberately. Sometimes the science itself turns out to be untrustworthy.

Even the vaunted crime lab operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation has come under criticism on more than one occasion. In 2004 FBI lab technician Jacqueline Blake admitted to submitting false DNA evidence in 100 cases. FBI metallurgist Kathleen Lundy admitted to lying on the witness stand. To her credit, she admitted her testimony was false before the murder trial was over.

A 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences was harshly critical of some of the science behind crime lab testimony, such as using marks on a bullet to determine whether a bullet came from a certain gun. Other than DNA technology, “no forensic method has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source,” the report stated.

The report concluded: “Substantive information and testimony based on faulty forensic science analyses may have contributed to wrongful convictions of innocent people.”

The fallibility of the criminal justice system has been demonstrated again and again. Innocent people have been executed in the past and will be in the future. If you don’t want blood on your hands, support repeal of the death penalty.

Originally published in Lincoln Journal Star, Sunday, May 13th, 2012.


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