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Questions Bring Review of Rape Conviction

August 07, 2004|From Associated Press

HOUSTON — The case of a man sent to prison in 1987 after being convicted in the kidnap and rape of a 14-year-old girl will be reviewed after questions were raised about his case and the role of the city's embattled police lab, the police chief said Friday.

A legal group representing George Rodriguez alleges faulty testimony from a police crime lab scientist led to a wrongful conviction.

The New York-based Innocence Project wants a judge to hear Rodriguez's case and find that he would have been exonerated if DNA testing -- which was not used by Houston police in the 1980s -- had been conducted on a hair found at the scene.

Prosecutors disagree, saying a hair sample that defense attorneys say supports Rodriguez's innocence could have come from anyone.

"The crime scene in this case was not a pristine crime scene," Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said. "To be kind, it was squalid. Any number of hairs could have been on the bed that was used."

The former director of the lab's DNA section, Jim Bolding, was working as a serologist when he testified at Rodriguez's trial. A serologist is an expert on bodily fluids. The Innocence Project contends that Bolding erroneously testified that, based on analysis of the semen, another suspect could not have been the rapist.

Bolding resigned just as he was about to be fired in the months after the department's DNA section was shut in 2002. The section remains closed while the department seeks national accreditation.

Innocence Project lawyers said Harris County should agree to an independent review of all cases handled by Bolding.

"We've had more than 20 years of bad lab work," Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck said Friday. "Some of the cases may have very well been cases in which people were executed."

Police Chief Harold Hurtt said Friday that the department had requested Rodriguez's case record from a Texas appeals court. But he wouldn't commit to a review of all Bolding's cases.

Prosecutors linked Rodriguez to the crime through semen taken from the 14-year-old victim, Rosenthal said. The 14-year-old victim also identified Rodriguez as her attacker, the prosecutor said.

Rodriguez contended he was at work at the time of the attack. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Rodriguez's lawyers originally wanted to retest the semen in the case, but learned it was destroyed in the 1990s.

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