Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Innocence Project - Connecticut man's 2001 murder conviction vacated

(Chris Fabricant, Mr. Swinton, and Vanessa Potkin walking out of court).
Bite Mark Analyst Rejects Testimony Connecting Swinton to the 1991 Crime
Contact: Paul Cates, 212-364-5346, cell

(Hartford, CT – June 8, 2017)  Acting on a motion to set aside the judgment filed by the Hartford State’s Attorney Gail Hardy, a Hartford Superior Court today vacated the 2001 murder conviction of Alfred Swinton based on new DNA and other evidence.  The bite mark analyst who provided critical testimony linking Swinton to the 1991 crime acknowledges that bite mark evidence has been discredited by the scientific community and no longer believes there was any valid scientific basis for his testimony.  Significantly, testing has excluded Swinton from the male DNA collected on swabs taken of the bite marks on the victim.  DNA testing also excluded Swinton from DNA from underneath the victim’s fingernails and in her rape kit. The court released Swinton from prison on the condition that he remain at home wearing an electronic monitor.  The case was adjourned until July 20th for the State’s Attorney to conduct additional investigation and decide how to proceed on the case.

“When we presented the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office and State’s Attorney Hardy with the DNA results and new evidence establishing that bite mark comparisons are no longer considered reliable, they moved quickly and undertook a thorough reinvestigation,” said Vanessa Potkin, director of Post-Conviction Litigation at the Innocence Project, which is associated with Cardozo School of Law.  “Recognizing the importance of the new evidence pointing to Mr. Swinton’s innocence, State’s Attorney Hardy moved diligently and expeditiously.  She brings life to the dictate that the role of a prosecutor is not just to obtain convictions, but to seek truth and ensure that justice is done.”

“This day would also not be possible without the cooperation of bite mark analyst Dr. Gus Karazulas, who now acknowledges that his testimony had no basis in science,” added Chris Fabricant, director of Strategic Litigation at the Innocence Project. “In the twilight of his long and distinguished career, Dr. Karazulas elevated the truth above personal considerations and now stands as an example of a forensic scientist honoring the duty to correct the record when new facts or data suggest that a miscarriage of justice has occurred.”

Swinton became a suspect in the 1991 murder of Carla Terry soon after her body was found on January 13, 1991, because he had been in the same bar as the victim on the night she was murdered.  He was arrested for the murder after police conducted a search of the basement of the apartment building where he lived and recovered a bra in a box in a common area that contained other clothing and objects. In addition to the bra, which the state theorized belonged to the victim, the state presented bite mark analyst Dr. Lester Luntz at a probable cause hearing who claimed that bite marks on the victim’s body were linked to Swinton.  The court concluded that the evidence was insufficient to establish probable cause and Swinton was released.

The case went cold for several years, until October 8, 1998, when Swinton was again charged with the murder.  At the subsequent probable cause hearing, the victim’s sister, who had not identified the bra in 1991, changed her testimony, claiming she had given it to the victim on the night she was murdered. The state also presented a new bite mark analyst, Dr. Karazulas, who testified – based upon a reasonable degree of scientific certainty – that Swinton “caused the bite mark that is depicted in the photographs” of the victim’s breasts, and that he was able to identify that the injury was inflicted “just before or at the time of death.”  Based on this new evidence, the court found probable cause to charge Swinton of murder.   More on this story.

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