Jim Hood wants to execute a man based on discredited forensic testimony from a disgraced dentist

hree days after Kemp was buried, District Attorney Forrest Allgood, the chief prosecutor for the four counties of Mississippi’s 16th District, zeroed in on Howard, who at the time was unemployed and living with a relative down the street from Kemp’s house, as the culprit. Once Howard was identified as a suspect, Hayne suddenly recalled seeing marks on Kemp’s body that could have been made by human teeth (Hayne’s original autopsy report makes no mention of the bite marks). So Kemp’s body was exhumed and given to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, dentist Michael West, a self-proclaimed expert in bite mark analysis and frequent beneficiary of Hayne’s referrals. West confirmed that the marks were indeed bite impressions and that some of them could only have been made by Howard’s upper teeth—a puzzling claim, since Howard’s upper teeth were a mass-manufactured denture. Howard was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994. The Mississippi Supreme Court later gave Howard a new trial, ruling he was unfit to represent himself at trial. He was again convicted and again sentenced to death in 2000.

West’s bite mark testimony is the only physical evidence linking Howard to the crime scene. (The other evidence against Howard includes incriminating statements he allegedly made to a police officer that were not recorded or written down and testimony from an ex-girlfriend that Howard smelled of smoke the day after Kemp’s murder.) At the time of Howard’s conviction, West was a star forensic witness, claiming to have perfected a method of bite mark analysis no other forensic specialist could duplicate. But since Howard’s conviction, West has become the poster boy for forensic fakery.

Reason.com
9/7/10