There have been developments in the case of Joe B., a former high school principal who was convicted of his wife’s 1985 murder based largely upon bloodstain-pattern evidence that has now been discredited. Now 78 and in frail health, Joe is hoping for a new trial.
Joe’s conviction was based largely upon a single detective’s opinion about a blood-speckled flashlight found in the trunk of his car. At the time, blood could only be tested for type, not DNA evidence. (The type was O, matching Joe’s wife but also nearly half the U.S. population.) The detective claimed the speckles reflected a “back-spatter” pattern, indicating that the killer held it in his hand during the shooting.
Now, the detective has admitted in a sworn affidavit that his conclusions were wrong. “Some of the techniques and methodology were incorrect,” he said. “Therefore, some of my testimony was not correct.”
We’ve discussed this case before. In July, the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which investigates reports of misused forensic evidence and testimony, released findings on the blood-spatter analysis in this very case. They found that it was “not accurate or scientifically supported” and called the testimony about the back-spatter pattern “egregiously wrong.” The commission also found other evidence in the case to have been overstated, presented by unqualified witnesses or entirely fabricated.
Since then, DNA tests have been performed on the flashlight. Most of the speckles weren’t even blood. Those that were blood were mostly too degraded for testing, but one stain yielded results excluding both Joe and his wife as sources of the blood.
Moreover, a plausible alternative suspect has been identified. A now-deceased police officer is thought to have committed another murder in the same town just months before Joe’s wife was killed. His ex-wife has told investigators that he bragged about being with Joe’s wife the night she died.
It’s worth noting that Joe has a pretty solid alibi. He was in Austin, Texas — 120 miles away from the murder scene.
Other key evidence has also been called into serious question. The defense argues that all of the prosecution’s evidence has been undermined to the point where there is no remaining case against Joe.
Joe, who has now spent over 30 years in prison, will unfortunately have to wait for a resolution. The next step in the process is for the prosecution and defense to present written findings at a hearing on Nov. 9. Only after that will the judge make a recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals about whether Joe should receive a new trial. That court will make the final decision.