Rocky Mountain Innocence Center uses science to help those who are wrongfully convicted (KSL, 8/8/16)
SALT LAKE CITY — In 2003 Harry Miller was convicted of a crime he did not commit.
Three years previously, a woman was robbed at knifepoint in Salt Lake City. She reported to police that the robber was between 18-21 years old. Miller, a 47-year-old man who lived in Louisiana, was identified by the victim.
In addition to his age and not being in Utah at the time, Miller had recently suffered a stroke and needed frequent care. Despite this, a jury convicted Miller solely on the mistaken eyewitness identification. He spent four years in prison before the district attorney dismissed all charges.
Wrongful convictions are rare, but they do happen and unfortunately stories like Miller’s are sometimes caused by what the public trusts: science.
“Unvalidated or improper science is the number one cause that the innocence community is working on,” said Marla Kennedy, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center.
The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center is a nonprofit organization working to correct and prevent wrongful convictions of innocent people in Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming. They took on Harry Miller’s case and worked to get Utah to declare that Miller was “factually innocent” which allowed compensation for his time in prison.
Improper science includes eyewitness misidentification, fiber analysis and bite marks.
“There is no such thing as bite mark science,” Kennedy said.
Despite evidence to the contrary, improper science still persists in the courts, and the larger culture.
“Seventy-two percent of all DNA exonerations in the United States occurred by using faulty eyewitness identification testimony,” Kennedy said.
Another misconception is DNA testing.
“DNA testing keeps evolving over time. When it first came out you needed large samples of DNA to test, but now you just need minuscule amounts,” Kennedy said.
Despite progress in DNA testing, in 90% of cases, there’s no DNA to test. Non-DNA tests can take decades, and lots of work to prove.