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Problems found in Houston police lab testing

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Posted: Jun 19, 2014 6:40 AM

Updated: Jun 19, 2014 6:40 AM

HOUSTON (AP) Harris County prosecutors have advised that results of laboratory tests of evidence used in scores of pending criminal cases and past convictions, including ones involving capital murder, have come into question.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office has sent letters to attorneys in 185 criminal cases, including 51 murders or capital murders, to advise that a DNA lab technician in the Houston police crime lab has resigned. That's after an internal investigation found evidence that he lied, followed improper procedure or tampered with official records. A Harris County grand jury did not indict the former technician.

The Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1uEdYnz) obtained the letters through an open records request.

A Houston Police Department spokesman said the department would not release any further information about the allegations against the technician or comment on the situation.

Prosecutor Jennifer Falk said the office attorneys are examining all of the technician's cases and retesting anything for which there is doubt.

"If the evidence has been tainted to such a degree that we don't have confidence in it, then of course we're not going to use it," said Falk, who is prosecuting two capital murder cases affected by the questioned evidence.

That does not impress Gerald Bourque, a defense attorney in several of the cases including two capital murder cases who is scheduled to go before a judge Thursday in Houston to question prosecutors about their evidence. Bourque questioned whether any evidence touched by the discredited former lab technician can be trusted.

"I don't know how they can rely on anything," he told the Chronicle. "If you can't eliminate that there may have been contamination or transfer, what difference does it make if you retest it?"

The lab has been plagued by problems for years. Forensic testing was temporarily suspended at the lab in 2002 because of numerous management, employee and structural problems, including a roof leak that had dripped water on stored evidence for years. Also, there was a backlog of up to 6,600 untested rape kits that piled up until the work was outsourced last August.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com

Topics: TX--Crime Lab Woes

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