October 24, 2007
Crime lab review panel begins its work

The panel appointed by the district court judges to review and take action on the remaining cases affected by the HPD Crime Lab problems has gotten underway.

Harris County judges Monday began re-examining 180 criminal convictions involving problematic Houston crime lab evidence, asking inmates via video hearings if they wanted their cases included in the review process.

Of the 19 inmates questioned Monday, 18 said yes.

Because of a question of competency of the inmate who declined, it was decided to include his case, said Bob Wicoff, one of three defense attorneys who will be reviewing the convictions.

Wicoff said that the hearings took less time than expected, adding that the process of formally contacting each of the 180 inmates could end before Nov. 1, the originally scheduled completion date.

Wicoff said the details of the cases were not discussed.

"I just told (the inmates) that we weren't going to get into the facts of their case ... and that we just needed a yes or no, and then we'll get back in touch with them," Wicoff said.


The morning hearings also included retired state District Judge Mary Bacon, who has agreed to oversee the review, and Harris County Assistant District Attorney Marie Munier, who has been involved in the HPD crime lab review since the scandal first surfaced almost five years ago. Two defense attorneys assigned to assist Wicoff this week also participated. The search for two more defense attorneys to work full-time with the review continues, Wicoff said.

Good. It remains to be seen if this approach will be as effective as a special master likely would be, though it's almost a sure bet to be better than the decentralized process that was in place before. I'm certainly willing to give it a chance to succeed, but I hope we won't take as long to try something else if it proves to be insufficient. We'll see how it goes.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 24, 2007 to Crime and Punishment