Errors lead to firing of OSBI DNA analyst

An Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation DNA analyst was fired last month after an internal review of her case work revealed multiple instances of sample contamination, sample handling errors and documentation mistakes, has confirmed.
BY RANDY ELLIS Modified: July 19, 2010 at 6:41 am •  Published: July 19, 2010
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Copyright 2010, The Oklahoman

An Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation DNA analyst was fired last month after a review of her case work revealed instances of sample contamination, handling errors and documentation mistakes, an investigation by The Oklahoman has revealed.

Analyst Shelly Schultz, 32, of Oklahoma City, was given an opportunity to improve her performance, but was fired after additional problems were noted — including accidentally switching samples during a proficiency test overseen by quality control officials.

One Oklahoma County murder trial already has been delayed three months because of Schultz's termination.

It is unclear what affect her firing may have on other cases, said Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.

"We've not been notified as to the specific agency complaints that led to her termination, but that is obviously something we'll need to research," he said.

OSBI attorney Jimmy Bunn Jr. said agency officials are confident Schultz's mistakes were identified during peer and technical review processes at the forensic lab and during subsequent case reviews of all her work.

"The OSBI believes that ultimately no erroneous results involving Ms. Schultz's work were left uncorrected by amended reports issued in actual prosecutions or investigations or further testing or retesting of evidence," Bunn stated. "Consequently, no erroneous results were ever relied upon or used in an actual prosecution or investigation."

Schultz, a five-year OSBI employee, was notified in a June 18 letter that she was being terminated effective June 30.

Efforts to contact Schultz for comment were unsuccessful.

In a memo she wrote to her supervisor concerning a February demotion, Schultz wrote "some of the mistakes I made were made to be more significant than they really were."

Schultz said she felt pressured by corrective action plans.

"I multiplied the pressure I felt, putting even more pressure on myself to perform and I buckled under the pressure I put on myself," Schultz wrote.

Lack of notification

Concern has surfaced over OSBI officials' failure to immediately notify prosecutors and defense attorneys that there was a problem.

Bob Ravitz, Oklahoma County public defender, said he hadn't heard anything about problems with Schultz's work when contacted by The Oklahoman this past week.

Prater said he first learned about the problems when one of his prosecutors called OSBI to talk to Schultz about her upcoming testimony a few days before the start of Brian Madden Jr.'s first-degree murder trial.

Prater said his office immediately notified Michael Arnett, defense attorney for the double-murder suspect, and a judge ordered a three-month delay in Madden's trial, which had been scheduled to start June 21.

"I don't know whether it will have any impact on the case," Arnett said. He stated it is his understanding there are additional samples of DNA that will be tested by someone else before the trial.

Prater said he would have liked more notice.

"Obviously, if there's an issue with any of our forensic specialists, we need to be notified immediately so we can address the issue and disclose the information to defense attorneys," Prater said.

Prater said local prosecutors are "hypersensitive" concerning any problems regarding the credibility of tests performed by forensics specialists because of all the problems that ensued several years ago after former Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist's credibility came into question.

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