“Déjà vu All Over Again”

Whilst reading the 2024 story of  Colorado’s former star forensic scientist,  Yvonne “Missy” Woods, the Barometer had that feeling of déjà vu.  Had this story of an incredible forensic scientist whose results were flawed over decades been told before?

Indeed it had.  Checking her records, the Barometer found the 2001 story of the late Joyce Gilchrist.  another star forensic scientist in Oklahoma City whose reputation was national.  In 1985, she was named the Oklahoma City police department’s employee of the year.

When the FBI checked her work it found “incomplete and inaccurate data.” The FBI also found DNA matches that “fall far below the acceptance limits of the science of hair comparisons.” Twelve defendants were exonerated when Ms. Gilchrist’s work and testimony in 3,000 cases from 1980-1993 were reviewed. She was fired for fraud.

The FBI report suggested that all of the cases that used her work be re-examined. One of the changes made following the Gilchrist revelations was to move forensic labs out of police departments to remove the inherent conflict.

Ah, but government employees, scientist or not, are still paid by the same employer.  Changed reporting lines do not always curb bias. You can take them out of the police department but you never really remove them from law enforcement.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation  is also now looking at about 3,000 cases that involved DNA testing in the 29 years Ms. Woods worked there.  Ms. Woods was a witness or potential witness in 56 closed cases and 13 open cases.  Her attorney issued a statement, “She continues to stand by the reliability and integrity of her work on matters that were filed in court, and particularly in cases in which she testified in court under oath.” Dan Frisch and Zusha Elision, “DNA Scandal Jolts Colorado Justice System,”  Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2024, p. A3.

The lesson from this case is the critical need for quality peer review of forensic labs.  But there is another lesson still not learned from both cases — if it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true.  Forensic scientists who can solve cold cases and always seem to be on the prosecution’s side may not be brilliant stars.  Audit, check, and recheck their results.  Do it long before they reach their 20-30 year marks.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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