When The Evidence Lies

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ROGER KLOCK/THE DAILY OKLAHOMAN/AP

Joyce Gilchrist, Oklahoma City Police Department forensic chemist

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Police Chief M.T. Berry says it wasn't until 1999 that the department had any reason to be suspicious about her work. That's when federal Judge Ralph Thompson lit into her for "untrue" testimony and the "blatant withholding of unquestionably exculpatory evidence" in the rape and murder trial of Alfred Brian Mitchell. (Thompson overturned the rape conviction but let the murder stand.) In March 2000 Gilchrist was put out to pasture at a police equine lab, where she says she had to do "demeaning tasks" like count test tubes.

Then this January, a devastating memo from Byron Boshell, captain of the police department's laboratory-services division, thudded onto Berry's desk. It filled four three-ring binders and noted reversals and reprimands the courts had handed Gilchrist, as well as the issues the professional journals had taken with her work. Under her supervision, it said, evidence was missing in cases in which new trials had been granted or were under review; and rape evidence had been destroyed after two years, long before the statute of limitations had expired. Gilchrist explained last week that she always followed established procedures with evidence and that the memo was simply the department's way of getting rid of her after she reported the sexual harassment of a colleague. "There is no doubt this [memo] is retaliation," says Gilchrist.

How did her career last this long? "She couldn't have got away with this if she weren't supported by prosecutors, ignored by judges and police who did nothing," says Wilson, who filed the original complaint against her 14 years ago. "The police department was asleep at the switch." The D.A.'s office simply says Gilchrist should not be tried in the media. But one prosecutor, who declined to be named, lays blame on the aggressive tactics of D.A. Bob Macy, who's proud to have sent more people to death row than any other active D.A. in the country.

Which raises a more troubling question. How many other Gilchrists are there? In Oklahoma City, Chief Berry has ordered a wholesale review of the serology/DNA lab. And while Governor Keating insists that no one has been executed who shouldn't have been, Pointer and the local defense-lawyers association plan to re-examine the cases of the 11 executed inmates. "Nobody cares about the dead," he says. "The state is not going to spend money to find out that they executed someone who might have been innocent."

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