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How To Save Face And Save A Wrongful Conviction

      Edward Blake, a pioneer in DNA forensic analysis, was seething on Friday. His renowned California lab, Forensic Science Associates, had obtained a genetic profile from the biological evidence of a brutal 1982 rape and murder in Miramar.  The DNA did not match the man sent off to prison on a life sentence.

      Prosecutor, Carolyn McCann, was making public statements that the Broward State Attorney was interested in righting the terrible injustice that sent Anthony Caravella to prison. She announced that she would have no objection to a supervised release of Caravella, while he waited the outcome of an appeal.

      But her less public statements were not so high minded. On Thursday, McCann had fired off an e-mail to Blake with a long list of demands that made it clear that she was planning to attempt to undermine Blake’s credibility. He was outraged. He called her e-mail an “onerous, ridiculous concocted discovery demand.”

      Blake fired off an e-mail to Broward Assistant Public Defender Diane Cuddihy. “It is unfortunate

that MS. McCann views her prosecutorial duties to "seek the truth" by employing her laboratory bureaucrats to concoct preposterous demands rather than seeking legitimate scientific peer review of our work. I hope that this style of prosecutorial corruption is not typical of your jurisdiction.”

      Blake’s extraction of a DNA profile from the biological evidence not only undermined yet another shoddy conviction by the Broward State Attorney’s Office, but the lab work raised questions about the Broward Sheriff’s own forensic lab. In 2001, the sheriff’s lab looked at the DNA and, mysteriously, found nothing. And Anthony Caravella stayed in prison another eight years.

      Going after Blake’s credibility probably has more to do with salvaging the reputation of the Broward State Attorney and the Broward Sheriff’s lab than finding justice for that 1983 murder.

      It’s not likely to work. A few weeks ago, in a similar case in Ohio, in which the prosecution attempted to undermine his credibility, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled that Blake’s credentials "appear to be unimpeachable.”

      Blake considerable fame has to do with the high profile DNA cases in which wrongfully convicted men were freed from prison, many after serving long prison sentences. Including work with the Innocence Project. But he has performed more than twice as much work over the years for prosecutors, confirming the forensic evidence that points to guilt. And his objectivity does not hinge who which sides pays him. Consider this case that bubbled up again in an appeals court in May. Kevin Cooper, a California killer who escaped from prison back in 1982, broke into a house and killed a man and wife and two children, had hired Blake to clear his name. Blake found, instead, damning DNA evidence. Cooper’s appeal on his murder conviction was denied.  

      But Blake has long been the bane of incompetent police labs. Attacking his credentials to protect shoddy and unethical work has been a common tactic. But it didn’t work in Illinois or Virginia or other jurisdictions that tolerated bad science. And it won’t work in Broward.

Click here for a list of Blake's cases: Download Blake's History

Click here for his resume: Download Blake's Resume

Click here for the McCann's e-mail to Blake:Download McCann E-Mail

Click here for the Blake e-mail to Cuddihy: Download Blake e-mail

Click here for the DNA report that exonerated Caravella: Download DNA report

By the way, it was Paula McMahon of the Sun-Sentinel who kept Caravella's story alive, even after the botched BSO lab failed to find a genetic profile back in 2001.   

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The inability of the Broward County Sheriff to find DNA evidence in 2001 is the flip side of the same coin by which the Douglas County, Nebraska CSI team magically found incriminating DNA on a second search of a car allegedly used by Matt Livers and Nick Sampson in a double murder. Interestingly, no DNA was found in the car on first inspection. It was only on second inspection, using a wet swab, that the DNA was found, in the only area searched. Ah, but it turns out two other people, Gregory Fenster and Jessica Reid, committed the murders. Douglas County CSI Commander David Kofoed has been charged in federal court with evidence tampering. See http://truthinjustice.org/Omaha-CSI.htm

Neither the conduct of the Broward Sheriff nor that of Omaha CSI is unusual. It is not about science. It is about winning convictions and keeping convictions. See the instances of junk science at http://truthinjustice.org/junk.htm The biggest problem is that the public doesn't care. If there's a break to be cut, it goes to the police, the crime lab, the prosecutor. No one cares until it happens to them or to a loved one. Then it's too late. They have no credibility.

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Post Script: Broward County has seen more than its share of corrupt law enforcement. How about Detectives Christian Zapata and Christopher Thieman? They falsified reports to bolster criminal cases. Has anything happened to any of the MANY police personnel who knew, participated and/or concealed this?

Bruce McCord


While I in no way take a stand on the issue of the guilt or innocence of Caravella, I would like to comment on the story and on the data It seems to me before you chastise the Broward sheriff’s office laboratory for doing shoddy work you ought to get a non-interested party to look at the data. I am a professor of forensic chemistry at Florida International University. I am familiar with the work at the BSO lab as their workers attend some of our courses and do joint research projects with us.

The following facts are clear to me.

1. Dr. Blake considers it to be harassment if the BSO asks for documentation to prove that his lab is properly accredited. I think if a laboratory can’t document that it is using valid protocols, then their data may not be reliable. I don’t care how many cases this man has been involved in. He should have data on the proficiency of his workers, his laboratory protocols and validation data to prove the results are properly produced. I know that BSO has this kind of data as it is an accredited lab. Mr Blake should demonstrate the validity of his processes before casting dispersion on the BSO.

2. The DNA data that is attached to your story is at an extremely low level. There are dropped alleles at 5 loci and several other locations have stochastic results. Many forensic laboratories will not report such data as these levels indicate that the amount of DNA may be too low to yield reliable data. Valid laboratories don’t report suspect data. There is nothing mysterious about this. Read for example the following report for more details on this kind of evidence: http://www.denverda.org/DNA_Documents/LCN%20DNA%20Article%20Gill.pdf.

3. Thus Blake should release information on how he performed these tests. Low copy DNA is highly prone to contamination. Labs doing this work need special protocols and good controls. Unless he reveals how the samples were run, how can we know his data is reliable?

Bruce McCord
Professor of Analytical and Forensic Chemistry Florida International University Sept. 8 2009


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