Inside the Capitol

Friday, September 03, 2004

Colleagues Question Dr. Lee's Forensics

SANTA FE – Our three Sherlockian sheriffs keep plugging away at the Billy the Kid Case, their “criminal investigation” of whether Garrett killed the Kid, despite the fact that legitimate historians are not buying that any case exists.
Their latest move is adding forensic expert Dr. Henry Lee, who received media attention, though not great credibility, helping defend O.J. Simpson. They brought him here to test their carpenter’s bench on which they claim dead Billy lay, a shot up washstand, and floorboards in the old Lincoln County Courthouse. From those few hours of swabbing and scraping, he concluded that the Billy the Kid Case was “legitimate.”
How could Dr. Lee make that leap of faith? I decided to get opinions about the case from the country’s most prominent forensic experts. Tom Mauriello, author of a textbook on forensic science, director of a crime lab for 27 years, and consultant on a Discovery Channel program on ax-murderer Lizzie Borden said, “Dr. Lee claimed he found blood on the bench, but the Luminol he used also tests positive for bacteria, detergents, and metal.”
Lee said he used laser technology to determine the trajectory of the washstand’s bullet. But Mauriello says “a trajectory is meaningless if you don’t know the locations of Pat, Billy, or the washstand at the crime scene.” And it has nothing to do with whether Pat Garrett killed the Kid anyway.
Dr. Clyde Snow, perhaps the world’s most famous forensic anthropologist doing cases both criminal and historical and as varied as remains from Custer’s last stand, Tutankhamen, victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, as well as mass graves in atrocities against humanity said, “It is not ethically responsible for a forensic expert to take on a case of historical nature which involves exhumation, unless professional historians feel that it merits scientific inquiry.
I would not participate in the Billy the Kid Case for that reason,” Snow said. He also added, “Science can never prove that flying saucers do not exist.” I took that as a polite way of saying that the case belongs in science fiction, not science.
Dr. Edward Blake, DNA forensic expert at Forensic Sciences Associates in California, added that he does not know of any blood sample significantly greater than 50 years old that is small and has been successfully typed using DNA technology. Billy’s blood would be 123 years old.
Brian Wraxall, a 40-year forensic expert in DNA, working at Serological Research Institute in California and trained in Scotland Yard, pointed out more problems for Dr. Lee. All he can hope for in his next step of taking his sample to Orchid Cellmark lab is finding human DNA. But that would not prove blood or its age.
The DNA could be from a sneeze last week. And “DNA would accumulate from everyone who contacted that bench over the years. And once DNA mixes, it cannot be separated.” He also said the obvious: “If Billy bled on it, someone that day would have washed it off.” Billy was not a saint from whom you would save relics.
In fact Dr. Blake felt that since the bench is not 100 percent provable as authentic, there is not even a starting point for a chain of evidence. He said, “The kindest thing I can say about the three sheriffs is that they are pulling a hoax in order to get their names in the paper.”
And in our own New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, Director Dr. Ross Zumwalt and forensic anthropologist Dr. Debra Komar already have refused exhumation in the case since the location of the bodies is uncertain. So there is no DNA for comparison.
Wraxall said the case reminded him of “a police line up with no reference picture of the criminal.”
So we have Dr. Lee’s sample that can never be proven to be old or blood or from just one person that he wants to match with remains with uncertain identities to figure out if Pat killed Billy.
It doesn’t look good, but I do have a job for him. Gov. Richardson has another pet project of crucial importance to New Mexicans: flying saucers. It sounds right up his alley.


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