Tainting Evidence : Behind the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab

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9780684846460: Tainting Evidence : Behind the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab

Since the 1930s, the FBI's crime-fighting reputation has been built, in large part, on its forensic laboratory. In 1997 that reputation was shattered by an 18-month government investigation that upheld allegations of serious malpractice. Now, "Tainting Evidence" shows that those revelations were just the tip of the iceberg. With evidence culled from thousands of pages of FBI memos, lab reports, internal investigations and dozens of interviews, including exclusive conversations with lab chemist Frederic Whitehurst, the FBI's first whistleblower, authors John Kelly and Phillip Wearne demonstrate how the FBI lab has compromised the forensic work in some of the biggest cases of the century: the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber case, the 0. J. Simpson prosecution and the World Trade Center explosion. Hundreds of criminal cases may have to be reopened. The details exposed here are shocking: the FBI explosives expert on the World Trade Center investigation who repeatedly misled the jury; hair and fiber evidence not present at a multiple-murder crime scene that somehow materialized in the hands of the FBI lab four years later; crucial chemical analyses that were never recorded in the Unabomber investigation. The list of documented instances of malpractice, flawed science, doctored lab reports, posed evidence, woeful investigative work and false testimony is truly stunning. "Tainting Evidence" shows that while always denying it, the FBI was well aware of the inadequacies of its lab; how forensic science can be used to hinder rather than help the search for truth; how the FBI's famed investigators can never be trusted to investigate themselves.

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Review:

Two crusading journalists investigate the FBI's forensic crime lab and deliver a strong indictment against what goes on there. Federal agents regularly dupe the public into accepting "scientific" findings that aren't based upon science at all, they charge, and the lab is infected with a troubling culture where truth plays second fiddle to prosecutorial interests, with information potentially useful to defendants withheld. The book's hero is FBI-scientist-turned-whistle-blower Frederic Whitehurst, and most of the chapters focus on the crime lab's controversial role in high-profile cases involving O.J. Simpson, the World Trade Center bombing, the Unabomber, and others. The authors at times appear to have a pro-prosecution bias of their own, but their conclusions shouldn't be ignored. They probably won't be; as one attorney tells the authors, "No defense lawyer in the country is going to take what the FBI lab says at face value anymore." --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly:

The media has familiarized the public with the vocabulary of forensic science: DNA identification, fingerprinting, bomb signatures, etc. However, as journalists Kelly and Wearne make clear in this expose of the FBI crime lab, some of these practices are dubious at best, and any of them is only as effective as the scientist behind it. The book was prompted by the complaints lodged against the bureau by FBI crime-lab scientist Fred Whitehurst, and the congressional inquiries that arose from his whistle-blowing. The problem Whitehurst identified is twofold. First, the bureau allegedly puts so much faith in its reputation that it refuses to submit to external certification even as it fails to maintain state-of-the-art labs. Second, the FBI lab is said to operate as a good-ol'-boy network, promoting unqualified agents and often taking direction from field investigators. Kelly and Wearne detail how the FBI crime lab's alleged arrogance and incompetence has, they say, affected the investigation of six high-profile cases, with apparent offenses ranging from laziness and bungling in the Unabomber, O.J. Simpson and Oklahoma City cases to possible perjury in the World Trade Center bombing case and conspiracy to withhold evidence in the investigation of the FBI assault on Ruby Ridge and a series of bomb attacks on federal judges in the late 1980s. Their book is painstakingly researched and highly detailed, but the abundance of information?some of it shocking?doesn't excuse its bone-dry, tedious presentation. In any case, this volume belongs on the reading list of any criminal defense attorney as a road map to the successful cross-examination of forensics experts.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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John Kelly; Phillip Wearne
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