DNA evidence may be missing in disputed cases

Sunday, May 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Evidence tested by an Oklahoma City police chemist now accused of doing shoddy work may not be available for further testing, the Tulsa World reported Sunday.

Evidence in the case of at least one inmate who already has been executed likely has been destroyed, the police department said.

Malcolm Rent Johnson was executed in January 2000 for the rape and murder of 76-year-old Ura Alma Thompson in her Oklahoma City apartment. Suspended forensic chemist Joyce Gilchrist testified at his 1982 trial, making comparisons of hair, fiber and blood.

Gilchrist is now under investigation by federal, state and local officials for wrongly linking defendants to crime scenes through fiber and fluid evidence.

Oklahoma City Police Capt. Jessica Cummins said the evidence in the Johnson case has probably been destroyed. A case is closed after an execution, she said.

Cummins said the department destroys evidence only with the approval of the district attorney's office.

Officials have identified 23 death row cases in which Gilchrist has provided testimony or testing. Of those, 11 inmates already have been executed.

A recent FBI report accused Gilchrist of shoddy forensic work in five criminal cases, including her hair analysis in the prosecution of Jeffrey Pierce. A jury convicted Pierce in 1986 of sexually assaulting an Oklahoma City woman, and he spent nearly 15 years in prison before being freed a week ago. A DNA test of semen collected from the victim exonerated him.

The FBI recommended a review of all cases where Gilchrist's forensic work was significant to a conviction. At least six federal, state and local agencies are re-examining her work.

Gilchrist denies the allegations and has said she will be vindicated.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said he has not checked to see whether evidence in the Johnson case is available for testing. Edmondson, who ordered a review of all death penalty cases involving Gilchrist's work, said he believes Johnson was guilty.

``I am relieved and satisfied that Malcolm Rent Johnson would have been proven guilty even without the testimony of the forensic chemist,'' he said.

Bob Ravitz, a chief public defender in Oklahoma County who represented Johnson, disagrees.

``There is no question that if she did not testify, the jurors had reasonable doubt,'' he said. ``I'm not saying he didn't do it. But her testimony was devastating.''