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3,000 Verdicts Involving FBI Lab Reviewed

Prosecutors in the cases are deciding whether the defendants will be alerted to problems.

March 17, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has identified about 3,000 criminal cases that could have been affected by flawed science and skewed testimony at the FBI laboratory before 1997, and it is letting prosecutors who handled those cases decide whether defendants should be notified.

To date, government officials said, they are aware of 100 to 150 cases in which prosecutors decided to alert defendants to problems they concluded were material to their verdicts. None has resulted in overturned convictions, they said.

One of those cases already has reached the Florida Supreme Court. The court last week ruled that convicted murderer George Trepal was not entitled to a new trial despite evidence the FBI's chief toxicology chemist gave inaccurate testimony.

The identification of cases and prosecutorial reviews are the final stages of a scandal that rocked the FBI in the mid-1990s, when a senior chemist at the famed crime lab went public with allegations of shoddy work, tainted evidence and skewed testimony.

A Justice Department internal investigation concluded in 1997 that 13 lab technicians made scientific errors in cases or slanted testimony to help prosecutors. Several were reprimanded, but none was fired or prosecuted.

FBI and Justice officials say they continue to review cases handled by those technicians to determine whether there are problems that could have affected verdicts. But they say the lab today is much different after changes were made to ensure scientific and forensic analyses undergo checks and balances.

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