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Mississippi bite mark “expert” continues to testify, despite several challenges and episodes of odd behavior

September 29, 2016

Back in the 1990’s, Mississippi’s Michael West was considered by some, to be the foremost expert on bite mark identification.  That is the ability to “connect” a suspect’s dental records to a bite mark, either on an object (like a piece of cheese) or on a person’s skin.  Despite challenges to his technique and expertise throughout the 90’s, he continued to be retained by attorneys in Mississippi and Louisiana.

 

After testifying in several high profile cases, in early 2012, West was questioned about bite mark analysis on the witness stand and testified that he no longer thought bite mark comparisons to be a scientifically valid discipline, stating, “I no longer believe in bite mark analysis. I don’t think it should be used in court. I think you should use DNA, throw bite marks out.”

 

In April 2016, West was deposed in the case of Eddie Lee Howard, who was in prison for 20 years after being convicted in the murder case of an 84-year-old Mississippi woman back in 1992.   The case was reopened by the Innocence Project who maintain the Howard is innocent. At the time, and without any scientifically accepted evidence (fingerprints, witnesses, ballistics) found at the crime scene, the prosecution turned to Dr. Michael West and his signature bite mark analysis.  Though the coroner never noted any bite marks on the woman’s body, it was exhumed 3 days after burial so that Mr. West could examine her remains for evidence of bite marks.  In the end, Mr. West testified at trial that Howard was the one who had bitten the victim “to a reasonable medical certainty.”

 

Almost as alarming as the shoddy forensic science performed in this and other cases, is the fact that West seems to have no sense of accountability or remorse for putting innocent people in jail.  In the recent deposition, West insults the prosecutor on the case, and spews profanities. And by most accounts, his train of thought and testimony regularly goes “off the rails” during the deposition, bringing up personal stories and other cases while peppering his testimony with vulgarities.

 

Several reporters are keeping tabs on this case, as well as others, as Mr. West continues to stay in the news, one way or another.  In addition, Courtroom Insight has 12 known challenges to Mr. West’s testimony available for reveiw with a paid subscription.  You can read more about this case and others in the Washington Post and the New York Times.  Read more on the West case reopened by the Innocence Project here.

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