Seiler: State should hire Nobel laureate Kary Mullis to overhaul OC Crime Lab

Posted by on September 28, 2016 7:29 pm
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Categories: Column 2

Kary Mullis

Kary Mullis

By John Seiler —

One of the more illuminating editorial boards we had when I was at the Orange County Register was with Kary Mullis, the Nobel laureate in chemistry for his work on DNA. I can’t remember the exact date, but it was around the time he almost became an expert witness for the defense in 1995 in the O.J. Simpson trial. In the end, he never testified because the defense thought he would be challenged for earlier having taken LSD, something that wouldn’t be a big deal 21 years later.

But he told us what he would have told the O.J. jury: That DNA evidence in trials is pretty shaky. Despite 20 years of vast technological improvements, that’s still the case.

As R. Scott Moxley just reported in the OC Weekly, “A onetime high-ranking Orange County Crime Lab official is being accused of doctoring key DNA analysis by giving conflicting testimony that aided prosecutors win two homicide trials.

“At issue are divergent, sworn statements Senior Forensic Scientist Mary Hong made in People v. Lynn Dean Johnson in 2008 and People v. Wendell Patrick Lemond the following year, according to records filed Sept. 23 in Orange County Superior Court.

“The Johnson case stems from the May 1985 killing of 19-year-old restaurant hostess Bridgett Lamon, who was found partially stripped in an Anaheim commercial trash dumpster. Three months later, in an unrelated crime that led to the Lemond case, relatives discovered 20-year-old office worker Catherine Ann Tameny murdered in her Anaheim apartment.

“In part because of a plethora of suspects and inconclusive physical evidence, professional homicide detectives couldn’t formally solve either case for more than two decades, not until Hong reopened forensic probes and provided deputy district attorneys Howard Gundy and Kevin Haskins (now a judge) information that would nail their targets: Johnson and Lemond….

“But Deputy Public Defender Scott Sanders, who represented Johnson, claims in his 133-page court filing that Hong misled jurors and the veteran prosecutors improperly hid evidence that would have wrecked her courthouse credibility by exposing her flip-flops….

“But to Sanders—who uncovered the ongoing jailhouse-informant scandal that has earned national attention, the Johnson and Lemondcases are ‘powerful examples’ of a ‘deeply rooted culture of devaluing due process’ in Orange County.

“The crime lab is a division of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, in which deputies have been caught conducting unconstitutional scams against pretrial inmates, hiding evidence, disobeying lawful court orders and committing perjury to cover up misdeeds….

“In Nov. 2015, more than three dozen legal experts and scholars called on Attorney General Loretta Lynch to launch a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into the operations of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. They argued that neither Rackauckas nor Hutchens could be trusted to act ethically. DOJ officials have acknowledged they are aware of the scandal, but haven’t formally announced any action.”

Read the whole article

As to the Crime Lab, it’s obvious state Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who is running for U.S. Senate against Orange County Rep. Loretta Sanchez, ought to take it over and reform it. And Sanchez should take the opportunity to call on her to do so.

I suggest hiring Kary Mullis for the job. According to his website, he “received a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993, for his invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The process, which Dr. Mullis conceptualized in 1983, is hailed as one of the monumental scientific techniques of the twentieth century. A method of amplifying DNA, PCR multiplies a single, microscopic strand of the genetic material billions of times within hours. The process has multiple applications in medicine, genetics, biotechnology, and forensics. PCR, because of its ability to extract DNA from fossils, is in reality the basis of a new scientific discipline, paleobiology.”

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