We’ve discussed the case of Joe B. before. A former Clifton, Texas, high school principal, Joe was convicted of his wife’s 1985 murder. The evidence seemed pretty persuasive at the time of his trial, but that evidence is quickly unraveling.
In September, a now-retired detective who performed the blood spatter analysis that played a key role in Joe’s conviction admitted that his conclusions were wrong. The admission came after a July report by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which is responsible for investigating alleged misuse of forensic evidence in criminal cases. The commission found the blood spatter analysis to be “not accurate or scientifically supported” and “entirely wrong.”
Now, the commission is criticizing a now-retired chemist who worked on Joe’s case. For one thing, when a DNA test was allowed in Joe’s case in 2012, the chemist failed to perform a thorough analysis.
For example, one piece of potentially exculpatory evidence in the case was a cigarette butt found at the crime scene. Joe and his wife did not smoke, and the defense argues that the cigarette butt indicated the presence of someone else at the crime scene. Unfortunately, the lead investigator in the case dismissed the cigarette butt, claiming that he had probably tracked it into the house on his bootheel. In any case, the commission noted recently that there should have been ample DNA to be extracted from the butt.
The commission also found that the chemist had also made a number of speculative or unscientific statements while testifying at Joe’s trial:
- She testified that hairs from the crime scene definitively belonged to Joe and his wife even though the technique she used, microscopic hair comparison, is not capable of such determinations. The commission called her testimony “not scientifically supportable” and “misleading.”
- In an attempt to explain away the fact that no blood was found in Joe’s car, the chemist testified that the killer must have cleaned up and changed inside the house. The commission called this testimony “totally outside the realm of her expertise.”
- At trial, she testified that fibers on a crucial piece of evidence were consistent with fibers in the trunk of Joe’s car. The case file lacks any evidence she conducted a fiber comparison at all.
Now, two of the main witnesses in Joe’s case have been persuasively challenged — not even by Joe’s defense team but by the Texas Forensic Science Commission itself. Joe, now 78 and in poor health, has been in prison for more than 30 years and simply wants a new trial. Will he get one?