Thursday, May 29, 2003
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
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
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
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
"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.