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Group asks legislators to bar junk science

By LESLIE WILBER
Sept. 21, 2009 at 4:21 a.m.
Updated Sept. 25, 2009 at 4:25 a.m.

Dr. Larry Myers, researcher from Auburn University, listens to the testimony of Curvis Bickham, who was wrongly accused of murder following a scent identification lineup performed by the Fort Bend Sheriff's Office.

SUGGESTED STEPS TO STOP SCENT LINEUPS

The Innocence Project of Texas asked officials throughout the state to take the following steps to stop scent lineups, a technique the group calls junk science:

An investigation by the Forensic Science Commission of the State of Texas.

An investigation by the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions into how junk science contributes to false convictions.

Cut off state grants to all agencies that continue to use scent lineups.

Halt the use of scent lineups by prosecutors.

Stop the use of scent lineups by law enforcement investigators.

An Attorney General's Office investigation into cases where scent lineups were used and help in releasing people who were convicted on scent evidence.

Legislation to keep junk science out of courtrooms and to allow victims of wrongful convictions to be released.

Source: "Dog Scent Lineups a Junk Science Injustice"

HOUSTON - The Innocence Project of Texas asked legislators and the governor to halt the use of scent lineups in criminal trials.

"If anything has ever been junk science, it's this dog scent lineup technique," said Jeff Blackburn. Blackburn is the chief council of the Innocence Project, a group that works to exonerate the wrongly convicted.

Blackburn also authored the 14-page report on scent lineups, which was released during Monday's news conference at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law.

Fort Bend County Deputy Keith Pikett is the only person in Texas who performs scent lineups.

The technique involves using dogs' sense of smell to match suspects to evidence.

"I think it's valid," said Randy Morse, the assistant Fort Bend County attorney who represents Pikett. "He's done a lot of training and testing."

In a phone call after the news conference, Morse rebuked claims Pikett duped law enforcement and prosecutors.

"He believes in it," Morse said.

But Larry Myers, an Auburn professor who studies, among other things, dogs' sense of smell, said Pikett's work had no scientific basis. After watching a video of Pikett working, Myers said the samples were tainted to the point of uselessness before the hounds sniffed anything.

"It didn't matter what Pikett and his dog did at this point," said Myers, who has studied similar scent lineup techniques in California, Alaska, New York and Pennsylvania.

"It's becoming a widespread technique being employed by people who don't understand scientific control," Myers said.

The study released Monday said at least five people have been cleared of crimes they were originally linked to by scent lineups. Two of those people have filed suit against Pikett in federal court in Victoria.

Houston father Curvis Bickham spoke at the news conference. Although he had an alibi and would have been physically unable to commit the crime, Bickham said he was jailed and charged with capital murder on a scent lineup alone.

"I lost everything I have because of this case," Bickham said. "I was homeless."

Bickham and another man were cleared by other evidence, Blackburn said. Only further investigation could reveal if others have been falsely incarcerated, he said.

"How many others in prison weren't that lucky?" Blackburn asked. "I don't know. The government knows."

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