STORY: "Justice Unraveled: How flawed forensics will impact high-profile cases Some will get a second chance, most won't," by reporter David Barer and Sally Hernandez, published by KXAN Investigates on November 4, 2016.
GIST: "By the evening of Sept. 9, 1998, Louis Castro Perez’s feet were raw from wandering barefoot down South Austin streets. He was scratched, bleeding and disheveled, and he needed a place to sleep. Perez, 36 at the time, was in shock. He’d just spent a leisurely day with a new acquaintance, a California drug dealer. The pair went to Zilker Park. They watched girls play volleyball in the sun. They snorted cocaine. They drank into the late afternoon. Then Perez returned to the home of his ex-girlfriend, Michelle Fulwiler, where the two had partied the previous night into the early morning. He took off his socks and shoes outside, opened the front door and stepped into a horror scene. Blood splattered the walls. Fulwiler’s housemate, 38-year-old Cinda Barz, lay on her back in the front hallway, a pool of blood spread beneath her. Perez knelt by Barz’s side. She gasped for air and scratched at his face and neck.“It was so awful and so fast that it scared the hell out of me,” Perez said. Perez fled. He didn’t know two more murder victims lay strangled and beaten in back bedrooms. That is, at least, the story Perez told a jury in 1999. Without eyewitnesses, prosecutors emphasized so-called DNA mixture evidence to make their case. A Travis County jury found Perez guilty and sentenced him to death Sept. 25, 1999. But now, 17 years later, scientific advances are calling into question the accuracy of DNA mixture calculations. The case against Perez, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence, may yet be undermined. And he is far from alone. Thousands in limbo: The revelation that decades of DNA evidence could be skewed has set off a monumental, statewide scramble by the Texas criminal justice community to address the alarming reality: flawed science may have sent untold numbers of innocent people to prison. Tens of thousands of cases across Texas could potentially be reviewed to make sure flawed DNA analysis did not play a key role at trial. The issue can be traced back to May 2015, when the FBI found minor discrepancies in population data it used to calculate DNA match statistics. Some prosecutors asked for statistics to be recalculated. They were not expecting significant changes. A whole new problem surfaced, according to a report by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which has helped guide the ballooning effort to confront this DNA calculation debacle. In some cases, the recalculations vastly altered the odds that individuals matched DNA found in mixtures, which include two or more contributors. “In one case in Galveston County, the stats changed from 1 in 1.4 billion to 1 in 38. In another, the stats changed from 1 in 1,000 to inconclusive,” according to a summary evaluation by the DNA Mixture Review Project. It appeared all DNA mixture analyses done before 2010 could need recalculation. That year, a scientific working group made recommendations to upgrade mixture-testing protocol. Members of the criminal justice community, such as Bob Wicoff, began taking action. Wicoff heads the DNA Mixture Review Project, and he is the chief of the appellate division of the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. With funding from a Texas Indigent Defense Commission grant, the project is now combing through thousands of cases to single out ones in which DNA mixtures played a vital role and substantially impacted the verdict. “Our review is focused on finding wrongful convictions, and motivated by the concern that someone who has been wrongfully convicted through flawed DNA testing may be waiting to have his case reviewed,” Wicoff said in an email..........If reopened, Perez’s case is sure to aggravate old wounds. The murders had a deep impact on each victim’s family. At one point during the trial, Staci Mitchell’s father, Joe Mitchell, screamed and lunged at Perez . Perez’ case is one amid thousands, each with its own constellation of heartbroken siblings and parents. All of them may now be questioning the validity of DNA evidence used for convictions. They may have to relive not only the memory of the crime, but, possibly, also another trial. As Dawson-Brown said shortly before the jury sentenced Perez to death: “The shockwaves that have gone out throughout those families is going to be left for an eternity.”"
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