When it comes to blood-spatter analysis, “expert” witnesses for the prosecution are often law enforcement officers with just a week of training. This was so in the case of Joe B., a high school principal accused of murdering his wife. He was convicted in 1985 based on flecks of blood on a flashlight found in his car, which a detective convinced a jury came from his wife. Now, the Texas Forensic Science Commission has concluded that the analysis was “not accurate or scientifically supported” and, in fact, “entirely wrong.”
The case occurred in 1985, before DNA analysis was available. Joe is asking for those blood flecks to be tested for his wife’s DNA. He has always maintained his innocence and hopes the analysis will result in a new trial after nearly 30 years.
Joe’s case has been the subject of two joint investigations by ProPublica and the New York Times. In May, the reporters questioned the blood-spatter analysis, along with the training of prosecution witnesses who testify about blood spatter. This month, they covered the Texas Forensic Science Commission’s findings. An evidentiary hearing is taking place in August, which may lead to an order for DNA testing or for a new trial.
According to the reporters, the blood-speckled flashlight was crucial to the prosecution’s case, but its connection to the murder is unclear. The prosecution theorized that the blood on the flashlight belonged to Joe’s wife and, since the flashlight was found in Joe’s car, he must have been holding the flashlight at the time of the murder.
A police detective with 40 hours of training in bloodstain pattern analysis testified that the speckles on the flashlight were in a “back spatter” pattern, which indicates a close-range shooting.
A prominent bloodstain pattern expert has now re-examined the case on behalf of the Forensic Science Commission, however, and was highly critical of the detective’s testimony. She pointed out several times he misstated scientific concepts and concluded that he used flawed methodology and incorrectly interpreted the evidence.
Based on over 60 hours of research and analysis, the expert determined that the detective’s testimony was “egregiously wrong.” Indeed, she found that the blood speckles of the flashlight were not consistent with a back-spatter event. The prosecution’s theory now appears unsupported by the evidence.
“If any juror relied on any part of his testimony to render a verdict,” she said, “[Joe B.] deserves a new trial.”
The commission also found that other evidence in the case was overstated, presented by an unqualified witness, or had been entirely fabricated.
Should Joe B. get the DNA test he is seeking — and ultimately a new trial?