CRIMINAL DEFENSE lawyers asking for independent criminal investigation of police chemist

Tuesday, May 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An independent special prosecutor should be appointed to investigate embattled Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist, the Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers Association said Tuesday.

``We want a special independent prosecutor appointed, so he can find out if there are any criminal activities going on by Joyce Gilchrist,'' said Jack Pointer, a spokesman for the group.

Gilchrist is being investigated by the FBI, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the state attorney general's office and an outside firm hired by the Oklahoma City Police Department to audit the police forensic lab.

An FBI report accused Gilchrist of ``going beyond the acceptable limits of forensic science,'' or misidentifying hair and fibers in at least six criminal case. That includes the case of Jeffrey Todd Pierce, who was released from prison Monday, 15 years after he was wrongly convicted of rape, based in part on Gilchrist's testimony.

Pointer said Attorney General Drew Edmondson's involvement in the Gilchrist investigation is a conflict of interest, because Edmondson defends her work in appeals cases.

Pointer also said the Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office and the Oklahoma City Police Department should not be involved, because they used Gilchrist's testimony to gain convictions.

Edmondson said his office won't appoint a special prosecutor and he doesn't see a conflict of interest.

``Our office does not represent the Oklahoma City laboratory or the Oklahoma County District Attorney,'' he said. ``We represent the state of Oklahoma.

``We're as interested in finding the answers to these questions as the criminal defense attorneys or anybody else.''

Gilchrist testified in the cases of 12 inmates who are on death row in Oklahoma and 11 who have been executed.

Edmondson said he won't seek execution dates for death row cases in which there are outstanding questions that forensic tests could answer.

The Oklahoma Legislature has allocated $750,000 to the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System to review hundreds of cases on which Gilchrist worked.

Edmondson said he is confident that no innocent person has been executed, but is concerned that innocent people, in addition to Pierce, may have been sent to prison.

``One of the reasons the Legislature is giving additional money to the Indigent Defense System and one of the reasons both I and the governor have called for the OSBI investigation is our fear that there may be others,'' he said.

``If that fear wasn't there I don't believe you'd be seeing all this activity.''

Pointer said Pierce's wrongful conviction is an indictment of the state's entire justice system.

``One man just walked out of prison after 15 years,'' he said. ``I can't give you a more clear-cut example of how wrong the system is or how flawed the system is.''

Pointer's group also wants a review of all forensic crime laboratories in the state and a moratorium on all executions. He notes that none of the forensic crime labs in the state are accredited by national agencies.

``If they find problems coming out of other labs, we'll intensify a look at those labs,'' Edmondson said. ``As of today, we have not seen that.''