The Hattiesburg dentist, Michael West, has testified in dozens of cases in which he said bite marks on victims matched certain suspects. West would compare bite marks to fingerprints as a way of convincing jurors about the reliability of the identification. Most suspects he testified against ended up going to prison.
A local newspaper recently got its hands on a copy of deposition of the dentist conducted in 2011 where West rejects the science he relied on to put so many criminals behind bards. West is quoted as saying, “I no longer believe in bite-mark analysis. I don’t think it should be used in court. I think you should use DNA. Throw bite marks out.”
Two people convicted in a 2001 case where West testified are currently receiving a new trial. Leigh Stubbs and Tami Vance are both out on bond and will be arraigned shortly. The two are charged with conspiring to steal drugs and cash and assaulting a companion who reported wounds to her head, breasts, vagina and buttocks.
Vance’s defense attorney said that he believes West’s recently uncovered testimony could affect all of the cases that he was a part of. He says that if West played a role in any case of his he would demand a review. That number could end up being enormous. West has estimated he’s worked on a whopping 16,000 cases, and says he has personally testified across the U.S. as an expert witness in some 81 trials.
West played an important role, resulting in many convictions. Of the 38 Mississippi criminal trials in which there was a record of West’s testimony, 31 resulted in convictions.
Some of these convictions have since been reversed. Two such reversals include Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks. In Brooks’ trial, West claimed he found bite marks on the body of 3-year-old Courtney Smith he said were made by Brooks. In Brewer’s trial, West said he found bite marks on 3-year-old Christine Jackson that he said Brewer made. Brewer was placed on Death Row for 15 years while Brooks, received a life sentence. In 2008, authorities said DNA proved the identity of the real killer in both cases to be Justin Albert Johnson. Johnson has since pleaded guilty to murdering both young girls.
The process of unraveling the potential problems caused by West’s analysis could be painstaking, though worthwhile to anyone who may have been wrongly convicted thanks to incorrect expert testimony. If you’ve been involved in something that requires the skill of an experienced Mississippi criminal defense lawyer, please call us today at (662) 536-5656.
Source: “Mississippi bite mark expert now says analysis not reliable,” by the Associated Press, published at GulfLive.com.