Los Angeles Times
Sunday, August 21, 1994
of Convictions Reviewed as Chemist Faces Perjury Accusations Forensics:
Zain's expert testimony and lab tests helped put scores of rapists and
behind bars. But college transcript shows he flunked some chemistry
and barely passed others. He is also accused of evidence-tampering.
SAU CHAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Fred Zain, a police chemist whose expert testimony and lab tests
put scores of rapists and murderers behind bars in two
over 13 years, now finds himself in the dock.
Zain is charged with lying in court and tampering with evidence
his laboratories, compelling judges in West Virginia and Texas
release men sent to prison on the strength of blood and semen
"I really have no idea why he did what he did," said Jack
a former superintendent of the West Virginia State
"The only possible reason I can speculate on is to enhance
status with prosecutors by saying what he thought they wanted
Zain, 43, surrendered on Aug. 4 in Hondo, Tex., to answer
of aggravated perjury, evidence tampering and fabrication
to the 1990 rape conviction of Gilbert Alejandro.
"I think there's no criminal intent," said attorney Sam Bayless.
Zain refused to talk to reporters and left Medina County Jail
posting $6,000 bond. Trial is scheduled for Oct. 12.
Zain worked as a serologist for the West Virginia State Police
1980 to 1989. He resigned to become chief of physical evidence
the medical examiner in Bexar County, Tex.
Texas has freed two men convicted on now-disproven blood tests
by Zain: Alejandro, who served four years of a 12-year
and Jack W. Davis, convicted of murder in 1990.
Davis missed a death sentence by the vote of one juror and is
Zain for $10 million. After Davis' conviction, Zain changed
testimony about blood at the scene of a teacher's
acknowledging the blood came from the victim
Zain's work or testimony figures in hundreds of other Texas
and authorities say they will review each one.
In West Virginia, Zain is accused of lying about his credentials
about performing specific lab tests in a 1991 double-murder
Seventy-one convictions, all but five of them for murder or
were granted reviews because of Zain's "long history of
evidence in criminal prosecutions," according to a
presented to the West Virginia Supreme Court last year.
courts have rejected 25 appeals, but one man was freed and at
three, including a father and son convicted in a rape, have
granted retrials because of Zain's allegedly false testimony.
Suspicions about Zain's work first surfaced publicly in 1992,
tests he had performed five years earlier figured prominently
the dismissal of two rape convictions against Glen Dale Woodall,
Huntington cemetery worker.
Although Woodall's innocence was chiefly confirmed through DNA
tests that were not allowed at his 1987 trial, a subsequent
of non-DNA trial evidence showed a strong probability that he
convicted on tainted information from Zain, authorities said.
Zain had testified, for example, that it was "highly unlikely"
found in one rape victim's borrowed car could have come from
source but Woodall's blond beard. But a written report from
1987, three months before the trial, shows Zain initially
the sample as a pubic hair and never bothered to compare
to hair from the man who owned the car.
When freed, Woodall had served five years of a sentence of two
terms plus 335 years. The state paid him $1 million in
the maximum allowed by law.
A panel appointed by the state Supreme Court found that Zain, at
trials, fabricated or altered evidence and lied about
qualifications under oath.
The panel's report said Zain was routinely "overstating the
of results, overstating the frequency of genetic matches .
. reporting inconclusive results as conclusive, repeatedly
laboratory records . . . implying a match with a suspect
testing supported only a match with the victim, and reporting
impossible or improbable results."
It also said Zain's supervisors may have "ignored or concealed
about his laboratory work.
Even after Zain had moved to San Antonio, West Virginia
continued to seek him out to analyze evidence because
results were more favorable than those obtained by his
according to George Castelle, a Charleston public
"After Zain left, the lab sometimes couldn't make any
or the defendant would come within 40% of the
whereas Zain always gave better probabilities because
faked evidence," Castelle said.
Amid the criticism of his role in the Woodall case, Zain was
from the Texas job in July, 1993, and left the state. A
involved in the Zain investigation says the chemist was
for losing evidence; Bexar County Medical Examiner
DiMaio failed to return multiple phone calls from the
Press seeking clarification of the firing.
In neither state, however, were officials zealous about checking
background or, once alerted to possible blunders, in
Zain graduated from West Virginia State College with a C
His transcript shows he flunked some chemistry classes and
passed others. In court, Zain often testified he majored in
and minored in chemistry; the transcript shows only the
Kenneth Blake, then-director of the state police's Criminal
Bureau, said he never questioned Zain's academic
when recommending him for the state police job.
"I did neighborhood and criminal background checks," said
now heads the criminology department at Zain's alma mater. "Any
for his academic qualifications was done by the people
headed the lab."
Ray Barber, lab chief at the time, said he felt no need to check
credentials because Zain had a "lab background" as a chemist
the state Department of Natural Resources.
In 1985, two fellow lab workers told superiors they had seen
record results from blank test plates. The court panel said
police investigators looked into the allegations and
them as an office squabble.
"They didn't like Zain, and Zain didn't like them," Blake said
that time. "But we never had any complaints from prosecutors,
attorneys or investigators."
The report also cited an internal state police audit of August,
indicating Zain had falsified test results or lied about
certain tests as early as September, 1986. But when a
prosecutor appointed by the court to investigate Zain asked
police superintendent about the chemist, Buckalew told him
was "no need to take any further action."
Interviewed in early August, Buckalew said he was "satisfied"
was wrongly jailed as a result of Zain's work.