Supreme Court orders review of two cases because of tainted evidence | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Supreme Court orders review of two cases because of tainted evidence

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2016 at 11:22 AM

click to enlarge EUGENE PITTS
  • EUGENE PITTS
An FBI task force's finding of improper work by a lab technician has led to Arkansas Supreme Court-ordered reviews of two convictions — a capital murder and a rape.

The court ordered a Pulaski circuit court review in the 1980 conviction of Eugene Isaac Pitts for capital felony murder in the slaying of Dr. Bernard Jones. One piece of evidence was hair identified by FBI technician Michael Malone as having identical characteristics to Pitts' hair. He was one of 13 technicians found by the FBI task force to have done work that failed to meet professional standards. The task force notified defendants in their cases and told them that prosecutors had agreed the testimony was important in the cases.

As a result, the court gave Pitts permission to seek relief through a rarely used writ of error coram nobis. It allows a defendant to bring up an issue that, through no fault of his own, he was unable to bring up at trial.

click to enlarge LONNIE STRAWHACKER
  • LONNIE STRAWHACKER
The court made a similar order in the case of Lonnie Strawhacker, convicted of rape in Washington County in 1990. Malone also testified in this case. A woman beaten and raped and left in a ditch outside a nightclub identified Strawhacker by his voice . Malone testified that a pubic hair found on Strawhacker's jeans was "absolutely indistinguishable" from the victim's. He did equivocate on the reliability of the test for identification, however.

The Supreme Court acknowledged that it was expanding the grounds on which such writs could be issued, but said it "was necessary to ensure due process and to provide a state remedy where none exists." If the circuit court finds the testimony was material, "Strawhacker is entitled to relief."

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