The world of forensic science is not just crucial to law
enforcement but an absolute must. Cases are won or lost depending
on forensic evidence, whether it's determining a killer or pointing
out a burglar.
And when forensic scientists do shoddy work or testify beyond
their expertise, the consequences can be deadly.
Joyce Gilchrist has become the poster child for forensic reform,
with authorities reviewing hundreds of cases she worked on,
including 23 death penalty cases. While federal, state and local
authorities are just now looking into the Oklahoma City police
chemist's work for errors, her colleagues across the country have
heeded warning signs for years.
Jim Wilson, chief of the Kansas City Regional Laboratory in
Missouri, has been criticizing Gilchrist for more than a decade. He
testified in three cases to dispute Gilchrist's forensic findings
in the 1980s. All three cases resulted in convictions but were
overturned on appeals based on Gilchrist's testimony.
Wilson called Gilchrist's work "laughable."
"The bottom line is, when I testified, you'd think the Oklahoma
City police would want to know what's going on," Wilson said.
But former Police Chief Dave McBride said in a television
interview that he never knew Gilchrist was a problem and that no
one ever told him.
Gilchrist defends her work and has said she will be vindicated.
Records show she has never been disciplined in her 21-year
career with Oklahoma City, even though judges and forensic
organizations have lambasted her work for years.
The only action ever taken by her bosses didn't involve a case.
A year ago, Gilchrist was removed as head of the police
department's new DNA lab "due to tension, legal issues and problems
associated with the lab," according to a memo by Capt. Byron Boshell.
She has also given misleading testimony about her professional
credentials. On Oct. 8, 1986, Gilchrist testified in the trial of
Jeff Pierce that she was a member of the American Academy of
But according to four letters from the academy between 1984 and
1987 obtained by The Oklahoman , her membership was revoked in 1984
for nonpayment of dues. Pierce's attorney brought up the matter on
appeal, and the court said the statement was misleading but
harmless, since it was only for nonpayment of dues.
Gilchrist requested information regarding her reinstatement in
But Wilson said he put a stop to that.
"She applied to be a member on June 18, 1987, but because of my
complaint, she was not allowed to be a member."
The academy said she is still not a member.
Wilson complained to several organizations Gilchrist was
involved in, claiming she behaved unethically through her testing
methods and unqualified testimony.
One organization was the Southwestern Association of Forensic
Scientists. In 1987, Wilson charged that Gilchrist had
misrepresented scientific evidence 35 times at criminal trials.
While the association criticized Gilchrist in a statement, she was
never expelled or disciplined.
The association's president, Barbara Ray with the Colorado State
Bureau of Investigation, said that as of 1998, Gilchrist was still
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