Notorious Examples of Misconduct That Every Forensic Scientist Should Know

Fred Zain

Fred Zain was a West Virginia scientist who began by claiming he had earned a master’s degree that he did not actually possess. He later became notorious for providing incriminating testimony in capital murder cases without having done any analysis. Dry labbing, falsification, false credentials, overstating results, misinforming jurors, failing to provide all information, and altering laboratory records were just some of the acts of misconduct identified by the American Society of Crime Laboratory directors. Procedural insufficiencies, reputation and tenure, lack of quality assurance measures, and poor record keeping were part of the professional culture that allowed Zain’s behavior to continue. In 1989, Zain left the West Virginia laboratory for a position as the Chief of Physical Evidence for the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office. Eventually, he was charged with fraud and perjury as a result of the investigation created in the wake of Glen Woodall’s conviction being overturned, but was never convicted as he died before the trial concluded (www.truthinjustice.org/expertslie.htm; http://truthinjustice.org/ zainreport.htm).

Michael West

Michael West was an odontologist from Mississippi who frequently testified that a particular weapon had caused a wound and would match suspects at the conclusion of all others based on bite mark evidence. He supposedly developed techniques for identifying bite marks that no one else could execute. After stating that he did not believe in reasonable scientific certainty as an appropriate standard, he proudly stated that his opinions were based simply on gut instinct. Though West now agrees that bite mark analysis is no longer a valid means of matching a suspect to evidence, his former testimony and practices impacted many cases throughout the 1990s.

Kathleen Lundy

Kathleen Lundy, a former FBI scientist, admitted to the adrenaline factor too late and eventually pled guilty to making false statements in court. She was an expert on lead analysis of bullets and became upset at the frequency in which she was challenged in court by a former colleague. The adrenaline factor refers to the temptation of stating what was said beyond what is reasonably defended under cross-examination. Although this temptation may be a common pressure in the forensic science professional culture, it should be something that scientists are trained to avoid (www.truthinjustice.org/ FBI-crime-lab.htm).

Joyce Gilcrist

Joyce Gilcrist serves as an example of the pressures a forensic scientist operating under the direct control of a law enforcement agency or operating as a forensic scientist who is also a sworn officer may face. Gilcrist was a forensic chemist who received inadequate training and had no science mentor. She was popular with bosses and prosecutors because she always produced what for them was the right answer. She was convinced that she had never seen hairs from two individuals that she could not differentiate and was not concerned when other scientists disagreed with her conclusions stating that hair examinations are subjective (http://truthinjustice. org/gilchrist/macy-gilchrist.htm).

 
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