This week, in an airy courtroom in San Francisco, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the infamous case of Costs Richards, who in 1997 was sentenced to life in jail for the harsh whipping death of his partner, Pamela. The Richards case has actually long been seen as a clear case of wrongful conviction that was based on the challenged forensic science of bite-mark analysis. The court’s ultimate choice, due within 90 days, could lastly abandon Richards’s conviction and clear a path towards his ultimate exoneration.
Junk science and the fallibility of skilled viewpoint are vital to Richards’s case. After two hung juries cannot convict him of his wife’s grisly murder, in a third trial San Bernardino County prosecutors introduced new evidence that Richards had actually apparently bitten Pamela’s hand while murdering her. If the mark on her hand remained in reality a human bite mark that matched Richards’s teeth, that would show Richards was present when Pamela passed away, a scenario Richards has consistently and emphatically denied.
Prosecutors called as a witness Dr. Norman “Skip” Sperber, a forensic dentist whose competence in bite-mark proof had been utilized in cases against serial killers Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Sperber affirmed that Richards’s dental pattern was so special that from 100 individuals, “one or two or less” would have a similar bite. Furthermore, Sperber offered to the jury a blown-up image of the supposed bite mark covered by an overlay of Richards’s teeth and concluded that the mark was plainly “constant” with Richards’s unique bite.
The issue is that there was no scientific foundation to support Sperber’s conclusions. Bite-mark analysis relies on two conceits: that human dentition is unique– as unique as DNA– which the skin is an appropriate substrate on which to tape-record that individuality. Sadly, the only recent empirical research study on the dependability of bite-mark “science” has shown that neither proposal is real.
Certainly, bite-mark proof has actually been at the center of continuous controversies in forensic science, which were underscored by a groundbreaking 2009 National Academy of Sciences report that criticized almost every forensic practice– conserve for DNA– as having no underlying clinical basis. Bite-mark analysis received a few of the harshest criticism.