"HPD crime lab back in the spotlight," is the title of Roma Khanna's report in today's Houston Chronicle.
A death row inmate from Houston, whose conviction is receiving new scrutiny after DNA tests contradicted evidence in his case, will return to court next week where his lawyer will seek his release or a new trial.
A Harris County jury sentenced Charles D. Raby to death in the 1994 murder of a 72-year-old woman assaulted and stabbed in her own home. It is a case that once again highlights errors in work from the Houston Police Department crime lab, with the city’s own expert calling the original testimony “incorrect … and not supported.”
State District Judge Joan Campbell on Monday is scheduled to resume a hearing that began in January when Raby’s lawyer presented new DNA tests on scrapings from the victim’s fingernails, which include no evidence from Raby. Since then, his case has stalled as prosecutors and the Houston Police Department sought expert opinions.
Raby’s lawyer, Sarah Frazier, goes so far as to call the crime lab evidence presented at trial false and claimed prosecutors failed to disclose information about the forensic tests that could have helped Raby before his 1994 trial.
“Trying to pretend that Mr. Raby’s trial was at all legitimate is becoming more and more strained,” Frazier said. “He clearly is entitled to a new trial after all this time.”
The Harris County District Attorney’s office has maintained that the new fingernail evidence is inconclusive and does not clear Raby. Prosecutors on the case were unavailable Friday and a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office declined comment.
In January, Assistant District Attorney Lynn Hardaway said the new evidence should not affect Raby’s conviction because “the absence of DNA doesn’t mean he didn’t do it.”
At Raby’s trial, jurors heard testimony from HPD crime lab analyst Joseph Chu, who told them that tests conducted on scrapings from under Franklin’s fingernails were inconclusive.
Years later, as revelations about chronic problems at the HPD crime lab came to light, Raby’s case received a second look.
Experts questioned Chu’s conclusions. Patricia Hamby, an expert hired by HPD, found that Chu had strayed from accepted procedures for body-fluid testing and had drawn faulty conclusions.
“The reporting of the blood typing of the ‘fingernails’ as ‘inconclusive’ … is contrary to and not supported by the recorded laboratory results,” Hamby wrote in a report last month to Irma Rios, HPD’s crime lab director.
In 2005, the Court of Criminal Appealsapproved DNA testing on the fingernail scrapings. A private lab in California last year completed analyses that revealed the profiles of two men. They matched neither Raby nor Franklin’s two grandsons.
“The grandsons’ exclusion is significant because these were the only individuals who had regular contact with the victim — a frail, malnourished woman in her 70s who rarely left her home or entertained strangers,” Frazier wrote.
In fact, a forensic expert hired by Raby’s lawyers testified in January that it is rare to find foreign DNA under a crime victim’s fingernails, and that if often can be traced to the person’s partner or attacker.
Khanna, who covered the HPD Crime Lab scandal for years, also wrote an earlier version for the Chronicle website, "Judge seeks expert testimony in Death Row inmate's case."
A Harris County judge wants to hear testimony from a forensic expert before deciding whether new DNA evidence is favorable to death row inmate Charles D. Raby, condemned in the 1994 murder of an elderly woman.
Raby’s conviction is receiving new scrutiny because DNA tests contradict evidence from the Houston Police Department crime lab in his case. His lawyer is seeking his release or a new trial.
On Monday, state District Judge Joan Campbell delayed closing arguments in an evidentiary hearing on the DNA evidence to allow testimony from the city’s expert, Patricia Hamby. She has called the original testimony and lab work by HPD analyst Joseph Chu “incorrect … and not supported.”
Hamby, who is based in Indiana, is expected to testify sometime next month. After her appearance, Campbell will decide whether the new evidence is favorable to Raby’s case, a decision that could provide an opening for his attorney to seek his release or a new trial.
The Houston Press has, "Death-Row Inmate Finally Gets A Break In Crime-Lab Case," by Mike Giglio.
It remained to be seen whether Hamby's conclusion would be relevant within the narrow confines of Raby's challenge. That question seemed to be answered this morning, when the judge decided to both accept Hamby's testimony into the record and hear from her in person.
That means closing arguments, scheduled for this week, will be put off indefinitely -- yet again -- until Hamby can appear before the judge.
"I don't know exactly who's going to pay for it. I don't know whose witness she's going to be. But one way or another Patricia Hamby is going to come down to Houston and tell us what she discovered," Sarah Frazier, Raby's lawyer, tells Hair Balls. "I think it's powerful stuff."