Thursday, May 29, 2003

 

More Cases Questioned in Crime Lab Case

By BECKY BOHRER

Associated Press Writer

 

 

   MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - A former state crime lab manager whose

testimony helped convict two men who were later exonerated may have

given questionable testimony against at least five other defendants -

including one sitting on death row, Montana's attorney general said

Thursday.

 

 

  Presenting his audit of the lab manager's work, Attorney General Mike

McGrath said a more thorough examination may be warranted - possibly

looking at as many as 300 reports that Arnold Melnikoff prepared in

criminal cases.

 

 

   McGrath said he did not believe Melnikoff's questionable testimony in

the five cases affected the outcome of any of the trials. But the

defendants or their attorneys will be advised of Melnikoff's role, he

added.

 

 

  Melnikoff, a crime lab manager in Montana until 1989, came under fire

last October, when Jimmy Ray Bromgard was freed after 15 years in prison

when DNA analysis proved he did not rape an 8-year-old girl.

 

 

  In early May, DNA evidence also exonerated Paul Kordonowy of a rape,

although he remains in prison on a separate rape conviction.

 

 

  At both men's trials, Melnikoff testified there was less than a

1-in-10,000 chance that hair found at the crime scenes belonged to

someone other than the defendants. He used a probability theory that

critics say has no scientific basis.

 

 

  Melnikoff, now an employee of a Washington State Patrol crime lab in

Spokane, is on administrative leave pending results of an audit there.

 

  Melnikoff has declined comment on his work in Montana, but his

attorney, Rocco Treppiedi, said Thursday that Melnikoff's work in

Montana was consistent with the science and knowledge available at the

time.

 

 

  "It's wrong to single out and condemn an individual who was only

doing his job," he said.

 

 

  McGrath's office found five cases, dating from 1984 to 1988, in which

murder and rape defendants were convicted after trials in which

Melnikoff testified about hair samples and his theory.

 

 

  One of those convicted was David Dawson, who is on death row for the

1986 kidnapping and murder of a couple and their son in Billings.

 

 

  McGrath said 250 to 300 other reports by Melnikoff in which hair was

mentioned may need more thorough examination. But he and members of a

special crime lab oversight committee stopped short of calling for an

audit of all Melnikoff's work.

 

 

  The Innocence Project, a New York-based legal clinic that seeks DNA

tests to clear people wrongly convicted of crimes, is calling for a full

audit of Melnikoff's work.