The Dallas Morning News on the crime lab controversy

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The Dallas Morning News ran a column by Bruce Nichols last Friday on the ongoing controversy over Houston’s disgraced police crime lab.

The story is noteworthy because it actually treats the controversy in a balanced manner, unlike the Chronicle, which has engaged in one-sided reporting and mischaracterized Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal’s position repeatedly.

Here are some excerpts from the Nichols story that would never make it into the Chronicle:

Mr. Whitmire has said the best way to maintain the confidence of the courts and the public is to impose a moratorium on Harris County executions pending resolution of the Houston lab problems.

“If we feel strongly about it, we better do it right, or we might lose it,” he said.

Gov. Rick Perry has rejected the idea, saying careful review of individual cases is the appropriate response. Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal agrees with the governor. Three more executions have occurred since Mr. Green’s.

A moratorium is unneeded, Mr. Rosenthal said. “Many of the cases … have absolutely no HPD [Houston police] forensic laboratory involvement.”

The district attorney also downplayed the risk of disenchantment with the death penalty. “I think it is a mistake to paint with a broad brush all death penalty cases because they’re all unique,” he said.

The controversy began in late 2002 amid news reports of errors by the lab’s DNA section. The Houston Police Department halted DNA work and identified more than 1,300 cases for review. From that list, the Harris County district attorney’s office pulled 395 for DNA retesting, including 17 involving people on death row.

Retest results are incomplete, but so far only two noncapital cases have been reversed since the review began. A number of other flaws have been found in the lab’s work, however


Most of the retesting of the original batch of cases is done, and three-fourths of the time, private labs have supported the police lab’s DNA findings the first time through. But problems of varying severity were discovered in 7 percent of all cases, with the remainder still awaiting final determination.

“Most of the time they got it right,” Assistant District Attorney Marie Munier said, arguing that the results are a tribute to the “robustness” of the technology even when tests are improperly performed.

The Chronicle‘s reporting has virtually ignored the fact that the DA’s office has been extremely active in reviewing the crime lab’s work, whereas the state’s other newspapers have been much more balanced in their reporting. One can understand the passion of the anti-death-penalty editors who run the Chronicle, but that’s still no excuse for one-sided reporting and their repeated demonization of Chuck Rosenthal.

Of course, the Chronicle has also long downplayed the following:

Police response to the crime lab’s problems

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