'Hair Analysis: The Root of the Evidence Problem," is by Jordan Smith at the Austin Chronicle.
The Texas Forensic Science Commission voted unanimously Friday morning to move forward with a first-in-the-nation review of state criminal convictions that included testimony on microscopic hair analysis – a field of forensics deemed unreliable in a sweeping 2009 report on the state of forensics by the National Academy of Sciences.
Texas' planned review piggybacks on a groundbreaking federal investigation announced in July 2013. That inquiry involves 2,000 criminal cases in which hair comparison analysis linking a defendant to crime scene evidence was provided by Federal Bureau of Investigation examiners. That review is being conducted via an agreement between the FBI and Department of Justice with the New York-based Innocence Project and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Many of the Texas' hair examiners were trained by the FBI, so the state review makes sense, according to the Innocence Project of Texas, which is among the stakeholders collaborating with the FSC on the review. Indeed, the FSC noted this in its most recent annual report. "The FBI has also indicated that it trained many microscopic hair analysts in state and local crime laboratories, including some laboratories in Texas," reads the report. "Of course, this does not necessarily mean that state and local analysts made similar [scientific] overstatements" as did the FBI analysts at issue in the federal review. Still, as it is with that review, Texas' inquiry will focus on older cases, because microscopic hair analysis was more common in the 1980s and 1990s, before the rise of DNA testing.
Indeed, faulty hair analysis has been implicated in the case of at least one executed Texas inmate, Claude Jones, who was sentenced to die for the 1989 shooting of a liquor store owner. Jones maintained his innocence to death, and it wasn't until some 10 years later that DNA testing sought by the IP and the Texas Observer proved that the hair that the state said linked Jones to the crime wasn't his at all.