MURDER trial stopped after evidence discovered

Wednesday, November 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A murder trial in which defense attorneys attacked the work of a former police chemist has been stopped after evidence was discovered that may identify the killer.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys learned Tuesday that for 15 years the state medical examiner's office has kept evidence in the rape and choking deaths of two elderly women.

Attorneys for murder defendant Ronnie Clinton Lott are trying to prove that former Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist contaminated evidence against Lott.

Dr. Larry Balding's testimony surprised defense attorneys, prosecutors and District Judge Virgil Black.

Balding, deputy medical examiner for the state medical examiners office, said this is the first time autopsy slides have been used as evidence to determine DNA.

He said the slides are rarely used as evidence in trials.

The slides were created from vaginal swabs collected during autopsies of Fowler and Cutler. They are being sent to an independent laboratory for DNA testing.

The results are expected to be in by Friday.

Prosecutors are using DNA evidence to link Lott, 41, to the deaths of 83-year-old Anna Laura Fowler in 1986 and 90-year-old Zelma Cutler in 1987. The state is seeking the death penalty.

Lott isn't the first person accused of the crimes.

Robert Lee Miller Jr. was released from prison in 1998 on DNA evidence after being incarcerated nearly 11 years for the slayings.

In Lott's trial, defense attorneys attacked Gilchrist's credibility as they question the integrity of the DNA results. But the new evidence could prove Gilchrist did not taint evidence against Lott because the slides were never in her possession.

``The gauntlet is down. She (Gilchrist) is either guilty or vindicated in this case,'' Assistant District Attorney Richard Wintory and defense attorney John Albert said in a joint statement.

The FBI has accused the Gilchrist of shoddy forensic work in five criminal cases. Gilchrist was fired Sept. 26 for laboratory mismanagement, criticism from court challenges and flawed casework analysis, according to a police statement.

Her work is the subject of several investigations.