Gerard Richardson (wearing sunglasses)
was released after serving 19 years for
a murder he didn’t commit.
Photo Credit: Innocence Blog
In my previous article Has Anyone Ever Been Found Innocent After Being Executed for Murder?, I presented a chart which displayed in graphic form a number of reasons why innocent people are wrongly convicted in capital cases. Junk science was to blame in 9% of the cases.
I believe that percentage also holds true for murder cases in which there is no death penalty phase.
Twenty years ago it was junk science in the form of a bite mark that convicted Gerard Richardson of the brutal murder of 19-year-old Monica Reyes, whose body was found in a ditch in Bernards Township in north-central New Jersey. This bite mark on the victim's back (the only one piece of physical evidence), according to a prosecution expert, was made by Richardson (1).
I know what some of you poor saps believe: that it take a monumental and overwhelming amount of evidence - eyewitnesses, taped confessions, semen, hairs, videos, you know, all that CSI stuff, all adding up to a shitload of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, blah, blah, blah, to convict someone of a serious crime such as murder. Nope. Nope. Nope. Not at all. If a prosecutor needs a murder conviction to advance his career, then any poor sap will do. Any flimsy evidence will do. Even one solitary piece of evidence will do.
I have read of cases beyond number in which innocent people have been convicted of murder simply on the testimony of a single confused eyewitness (one witness would not be permitted under millennia-old Jewish law), or on the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence, or on a forced confession and no other evidence, or on the single testimony of a jailhouse snitch, or simply because the police had no other suspects that matched the description of the perpetrator, or absent any evidence at all because the prosecutor persuaded the bored-out-of-their-minds jury that no other person could have done the crime.
Last week, Gerard Richardson, now 48, was released from prison when a DNA test [Link to PDF - Motion to Vacate Conviction Based on New DNA Evidence] showed that the bite mark left on the murder victim contained another man's DNA (2).
I call bite mark evidence as junk science because in the past 12 years, more than two dozen convictions and arrests that had been based on bite-mark comparison have been overturned (3).
Now some die-hard death penalty proponents will dismiss this case of wrongful conviction as just one of only a handful. The truth is, more people are being exonerated than put to death. That is why back in 2000, then Illinois Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on further executions in Illinois:
Justice: Denied The Magazine For The Wrongly Convicted, Illinois Moratorium on Executions Commands World's Attention
Stating that the Illinois death penalty system is "fraught with errors," Governor Ryan acknowledged that the release of 13 death row inmates based on findings of innocence had encouraged him to impose the moratorium. "We have now freed more people than we have put to death under our system -- 13 people have been exonerated and 12 have been put to death. There is a flaw in the system, without question, and it needs to be studied...I will not approve any more executions in this state until I have the opportunity to review the recommendations of the commission that I will establish," Ryan told Chicago reporters. "I will ask this commission to initiate a review of the death penalty in Illinois," he added.
Of course, if we put those convicted of murder instantly to death, say 5 minutes after the verdict, then we wouldn't have all these embarrassing exonerations.
Caption for photo above: Gerard Richardson was released from a New Jersey prison after serving 19 years for a murder new DNA evidence shows he didn’t commit. He’s pictured above (2nd from left) with his sister Yvette, Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin and his brother Kevin.
CBS New York, 19 Sep 2013, Prosecutor Blocks Release of Man Who Claims Wrongful Conviction
It happened in 1994. A battered body was found in a ditch off Old Stage Coach Road in Bernards. Her name was Monica Reyes. She occasionally sold drugs for Richardson, Aiello reported.
At trial, bite mark expert Ira Titunik testified that a bite mark on the victim’s back was made by Gerard Richardson.
The defense expert disagreed but the jury convicted.
“He stated on the day of his sentencing ‘I will never confess to what I didn’t do,’”
wirednixon.com, 29 Oct 2013, Gerard Richardson Freed: New Jersey Man Released After Bite-Mark Evidence Clears Him Of Murder
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey man imprisoned for nearly two decades for a murder he said he didn't commit walked out of a federal courthouse Tuesday, a day after a judge threw out his 1995 conviction over bite-mark evidence.
Gerard Richardson, 48, was met by family members and his attorney from the Innocence Project, the organization that got a court-ordered DNA test that showed the bite mark left on the murder victim contained another man's DNA. "I'm starting to believe it now, the cold air's hitting me," Richardson said as he walked down the steps of the Martin Luther King Jr. federal courthouse after posting $5,000 bail.
"I'm just happy to be home," he said. "It's been a long road. This is one step closer to me rebuilding my life.
The Daily Journal, 5 Sep 2013, Wrong man jailed? DNA may toss murder conviction
... bite mark evidence, which was famously used to convict serial killer Ted Bundy, has fallen out of favor. It is not used by the FBI or recognized by the American Dental Association. Since 2000, at least 24 men convicted or arrested based on bite-mark evidence have been exonerated by DNA testing, according to a recent Associated Press analysis.
Separate 2009 studies by the National Academy of Sciences and the University of Buffalo’s Laboratory for Forensic Odontology Research argued that bite-mark identification is inaccurate and prone to bias among experts performing the comparisons.
Forensic dentists examining the same bite marks often arrive at widely different conclusions, as was the case in Richardson’s trial, with the dueling state and defense experts disagreeing on which side of the bite mark was made by the top or bottom row of teeth.