Kevin Martin Exonerated after 26 Years in Prison; FBI Forensic Hair Analysis in Error

The Washington Post has reported that Kevin Martin’s conviction of the 1982 murder of Ursula C. Brown was vacated on Monday. Brown had been abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered after her car was struck from behind during a rash of similar crimes that authorities had dubbed the “bump-and-rob” assaults in Washington, D.C. Martin had long contended his innocence in the killing.

Martin is the fifth person to have his conviction overturned as a result of a recognition of inaccurate FBI hair analysis. The FBI and Justice Department review of all convictions involving FBI hair matches in the 1980s and 1990s continues. Two comprehensive reports linked here provide an indication of the bumpy road to truth years and even decades after miscarriages were prompted by an unjustifiable trust in unreliable science presented by a highly credible source.

Highlights directly from the Washington Post:

• As they built a case, prosecutors told the defense that an FBI examiner was prepared to testify that a pubic hair found on Brown’s sneaker was a match to Martin. In March 1984, Martin, who faced multiple life sentences if the case went to trial, entered an Alford Plea to manslaughter…Martin was sentenced in 1984 to 35 years to life in prison…

• Lawyer Bernard Grimm, and later the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, began to look into the case. Martin sought DA tests in 2001, but D.C. police said evidence in the case had been lost. Police subsequently moved evidence into a new facility, and boxes from the investigation into Brown’s killing turned up last November…

• …new DNA testing excluded him [Martin]…and matched William D. Davidson, who is serving a sentence of 65 years to life for multiple offenses related to “bump-and- rape” cases, including the killing of Brown, in which he said he was only the lookout.

• Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. joined defense calls to vacate Martin’s conviction and declare him innocent…Machen cited DNA evidence that contradicts a previous finding by forensic experts linking Martin to a hair collected at the crime scene.

• The hearing came as Machen’s office nears the end of a 2 ½ year review of all local convictions involving FBI hair matches that was launched after demands by the D.C. Public Defender Service. Since 2009, the service has cleared four other men convicted by such matches.

• …the troubling problems exposed in the FBI lab’s methods have led the FBI and Justice Department to undertake a nationwide review of more than 2,100 convictions in the 1980s and 1990s.

• Martin’s is the first wrongful conviction uncovered by prosecutors in the District review, and they said it was the only problem they found. The public defender’s office praised the effort to exonerate Martin but criticized the U.S. attorney’s office review as secretive and the disclosure of the results as incomplete and overdue.

• Machen’s office said its inquiry identified 122 District convictions before 2000 that included an FBI hair match, completed reviewing 106 of them and found only one case, Martin’s, in which prosecutors believed the conviction depended on the FBI finding or in which DNA testing would yield a ‘viable’ claim for innocence, Machen spokesman Bill Miller said.

• On Wednesday, a new report by the Justice Department inspector general’s office criticized the department and FBI for failing to give proper notice to defendants in cases affected by problems with their evidence.

Read the complete article here.

Read a comprehensive history of the case on The National Registry of Exonerations here.

One response to “Kevin Martin Exonerated after 26 Years in Prison; FBI Forensic Hair Analysis in Error

  1. Pingback: Bad Science Goes Up in Smoke | On SBS

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