First in a series.
The scientific basis of testimony by a Federal Bureau of Investigation bullet science expert in the 1997 murder trial of a Nevada County man has been disavowed by the FBI after the science was discredited and the analyst found guilty of lying about results in a Kentucky case.
Those facts have been introduced in an appellate brief in behalf of Joe Louis Dansby, 61, of Redland in Nevada County, who has been on Arkansas' Death Row for 16 years after his conviction in Miller County Circuit Court in 1997 for the 1992 shooting deaths of Jeff Lewis and Malissa Clark, both of Nevada County.
U. S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes ruled in 2010 that Dansby qualified for a legal determination of his mental status in connection with his appeal under the U. S. Supreme Court's decision in Atkins v. Virginia that mentally retarded individuals cannot be executed.
Barnes ultimately passed the case upon his retirement to U. S. District Judge Susan O. Hickey. Judge Hickey heard testimony in a three-day hearing in July to determine whether Dansby is mentally incompetent. She subsequently called for briefs on the issues and testimony in that hearing.
The innocence evidence
Federal Public Defender Scott Braden now contends, based upon testimony in the July hearing by Federal Public Defender Julie Brain, that evidence of Dansby's possible innocence may be further developed if he is allowed to be treated for what Braden contends doctors have diagnosed as schizophrenia.
“At trial FBI analyst Kathleen Lundy explained to the jury that bullets have characteristic(s) that can be matched to every other bullet made in the same manufacturing batch,” Braden notes. “In other words, all the bullets made in one group or batch can be identified. Agent Lundy testified that 'the chemical composition is the same throughout' and that she can identify any bullet made within an entire batch.
“Agent Lundy then told Mr. Dansby's jury that bullets that had been removed from the head of Malissa Clark matched ten of the eighteen live rounds that had been taken from the rifle police said had been used by Mr. Dansby,” he wrote. “This damning testimony placed matching bullets in both Malissa Clark and Jeff Lewis' head and Mr. Dansby's rifle.”
Braden argues that in Brain's testimony she noted that, if Dansby were competent to aid his attorneys, he could sign documents which are necessary to request corroborating information from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that is exculpatory.
“There were alleged matches between bullets found on Mr. Dansby's property, perhaps, and bullets that were involved in the crime,” Brain testified. “There was some connection made using the so-called science of bullet lead analysis that we were very interested in assessing whether it was accurate or not.”
Page 2 of 2 - Braden argues that the “bullet lead analysis” to which Brain referred has been discredited since Dansby was convicted in 1997.
“Not only has this scientific technique been abandoned by the FBI as an investigative technique but Agent Lundy herself has been charged with giving false testimony in at least one murder case where she intentionally lied about the bullet-manufacturing process of Winchester ammunition,” he wrote.
The false testimony
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported in June, 2003, that Lundy had pleaded guilty in district court in Kentucky and was fined for false swearing in testifying in the case of a man who was convicted of killing a University of Kentucky football player.
The newspaper reported, in its online edition, that Lundy testified during a pretrial hearing that Winchester Co. melted its own bullet lead until 1996, when she knew the company had stopped doing so in 1986. The newspaper reported that Lundy corrected her testimony at trial and reported to her superiors in Washington that she had lied.
According to the appellate briefing of a North Carolina case, Lundy's testimony in that case is questioned based upon the Kentucky guilty pleading.
“At the suppression hearing prior to trial, she testified that before 1996, the bullet manufacturer Winchester had bought its lead in block form and then remelted it at its plant to make bullets,” the document states. “At cross-examination at trial, Lundy admitted that she had lied and that beginning in 1986 (not 1996), Winchester bought lead in billet form to make bullets.”
And, as she testified in Dansby's case, the North Carolina document summarizes part of Lundy's testimony by saying, “Bullets from the cartridges found with the suspect murder weapon and the bullets from the two victims had the same chemical composition and thus came from the same source of lead.”
According to the North Carolina pleadings, the FBI subsequently disavowed Lundy's testimony in a letter to the state prosecutor in the case.
“After reviewing the testimony of the FBI's examiner (in XXX's case), it is the opinion of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory that the examiner stated or implied that the evidentiary specimen(s) could be associated to a single box of ammunition,” the letter states. “This type of testimony exceeds the limits of the science and cannot be supported by the FBI.”
As a result of Lundy's pleading to her false testimony in Kentucky, the Enquirer noted that at least 80 other cases nationwide were immediately called into question.
Next: The discredited science