N.J. sent people to prison with junk science. Now we owe them justice | Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
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on August 07, 2016

Dion Harrell wrongly convicted of rape in 1988 has the charge appears in court to have the charge exonerated. After 27 years trying to clear his name, Harrell has the conviction thrown out with the results of the DNA test. Harrell appeared before Superior Court Judge Ronald Lee Reisner in Monmouth county in Freehold.


Another innocent man was just exonerated in New Jersey, after being sent to prison by false forensic science.
Dion Harrell spent nearly three decades fighting to clear his name, after he was charged with a 1988 rape he had nothing to do with.
Four of those years were wasted in prison, and the rest desperately trying to live under the radar after being forced to register as a sex offender.

Twice, in anger and frustration, he refused to register — and each time, was forced to serve 30 days in jail. He was ostracized, unable to live with family or find steady work.
The state can never give him those years back. But the very least it can do now is investigate other convictions based on faulty forensic science.
We know they're out there. In at least 21 other cases in New Jersey, the FBI says its analysts gave false forensic testimony. And it's not just about the errors these FBI analysts made; it's about who they were training in our state.
The federal experts were part of an elite unit that testified in trials all across the country, over more than a two-decade period before 2000. An audit just found that virtually all gave flawed testimony that favored prosecutors, 95 percent of the time. Over those two decades, the FBI was also instructing New Jersey's state hair analysts, who were likely using the same bogus science.

The federal review only includes cases in which the FBI was involved, not state lab workers. Which is why the feds advised states to do their own audits, to understand the scope of the problem.
Massachusetts State Police are now reviewing all their hair analysis cases from 1980 to 2000. Texas, Iowa and North Carolina are doing similar investigations. So why isn't New Jersey?
The Attorney General's Office is responsible for investigating any allegations of forensic negligence or misconduct. It needs to start reviewing these cases immediately, along with hundreds of others that involve the lab expert in Harrell's trial, or people he trained in his role as a supervisor.
Last year, after the exoneration of Gerard Richardson, who spent nearly two decades in a prison for a murder he didn't commit, the AG's office pledged to do its own audit of cases involving scientifically invalid forensic analysis, but didn't say which ones it would review.
This week, after the exoneration of Harrell, it says it will only review the matter of his case. That's unacceptable. How many other innocent people are still sitting in prison, due to false testimony by other lab "experts"?
It's not bad science keeping them there now. It's the state's refusal to correct its mistakes.

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