The man in charge of an independent investigation into Houston’s crime lab troubles says he will now shift the focus of the probe to a more targeted review of cases that involved DNA and blood analysis. The move comes after last week’s troubling report that revealed serious testing errors.
In an appearance in front of City Council’s Public Safety Committee, Michael Bromwich reviewed the poor results his fourth report that noted major errors in the department’s DNA and serology testing between 1987 and 2002. He says because of those results, investigators will now focus on reviews of cases in which DNA or serology testing may have played a direct role in convictions.
“In DNA, what that will mean is we will review all 56 cases in which retesting by outside labs has been unable so far to confirm the lab’s original DNA results. We will also review 13 DNA cases that were recently added to the retest list, for a total of 69 additional DNA cases that we will review.”
Bromwich’s investigation has relied in large part on interviews with current employees of the department’s crime lab. He says attempts to interview former employees, including managers and supervisors, have been unsuccessful so far. He says subpoena power would help the investigation.
“We would like subpoena power in order to get access to all of the witnesses that we feel we need to speak with. I think we’re going to be able to make substantial progress without it, we clearly already have. But, is it an essential tool that it turns out that we need at this point? Yes it is.”
Assistant District Attorney Marie Munier, who heads-up the DA’s trial division, says the office may have been gullible in the past, blindly accepting DNA and blood test results from the crime lab without questioning their validity.
“I think our naivety is gone and I think now we are much more skepical and will ask many more questions so that we are not put in this position again.”
Bromwich’s investigation is far from over and could stretch into next year, with more than 1000 cases to review still. City councilwoman Pam Holm says she hopes leaders don’t spend too much time reviewing the past and not enough time fixing things.
“I want to stay focused on the fact that we have a problem and it doesn’t matter how deep we go and how much further we go. We know the problem is there. I want to make sure that we have a remedy and that at the end of this we’re not still collecting data in order to come out and tell us the same information that we know right now, which is there is a serious problem.”
The crime lab’s DNA section has been closed since 2002, but the rest of the lab is still operating. City officials haven’t decided yet whether to eventually re-open the DNA section or allow other labs to do the work instead.