A Forensics Charlatan Gets Caught in the Act

Video from a defense attorney's sting exposes Mississippi bite-mark "expert" Michael West.

(Page 2 of 2)


Following the methodology that he has used in more than 100 other cases over the years, West confidently matches a dental mold and a photo of bite marks that have absolutely nothing to do with one another, decorating the fiction with the language of science. Though West is dead wrong, he sounds convincing, and it isn't difficult to imagine how he might prove persuasive to judges and juries.

In February, the National Academy of Sciences published a highly critical report about how forensic evidence is used and abused in the courtroom. The study was especially critical of bite-mark testimony, noting that it has contributed to a number of wrongful convictions over the years. The report concludes that there’s simply “no evidence of an existing scientific basis for identifying an individual to the exclusion of all others” using bite-mark analysis. Yet bite-mark testimony is still common, and there are still plenty of people in prison as a direct result.

It would be nice to see more "proficiency tests" like Plourd's with West, only not just from defense attorneys. More importantly, the criminal justice system needs to act swiftly when "experts" like West are shown to conduct bogus examinations.

West failed Plourd’s test in 2001. Yet as late as 2003, the Mississippi State Supreme Court still upheld West’s bite-mark testimony in a murder case. In rejecting an appeal by convicted murderer and death row inmate Eddie Lee Howard, the court wrote that “Just because Dr. West has been wrong a lot, does not mean, without something more, that he was wrong here.” And as late as 2006, Mississippi District Attorney Forrest Allgood relied on West’s bite-mark testimony to keep rape and murder convict Kennedy Brewer in prison. Though DNA evidence had shown back in 2003 that Brewer didn’t commit the rape, Allgood argued that because West matched bite marks he claimed to have found on the victim to Brewer’s teeth, Brewer must have bitten the victim while someone else raped her. (Other analysts say the marks weren't even bites.) Brewer remained in prison an additional five years, and was only released in 2008.

Plourd’s video sting ought to move public officials in Mississippi and Louisiana to thoroughly, if belatedly, investigate just how much damage this dentist has inflicted on the judicial systems of those states. There are still dozens of people in prison due in some part to "expert" tetimony that has been shown to be anything but.

Radley Balko is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

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  • Jay S.||

    Aha! The private investigator was the actual killer!

  • Kyle Jordan||

    It's good to see West's bullshit come back and...

    BITE HIM IN THE ASS!!!

    Thank you, I'll be here all week.

  • ||

    West should BRACE himself for some prison yard fun.

    Amirite or what???

  • ||

    Yo, Michael West. Bite me.

  • ||

    West is a symptom, but prosecutors are the disease.

  • Warty||

    "The odds of that happening if these weren't the teeth that created this bite would be almost astronomical.

    I love when bullshitters accidentally say something correct. You mean infinitesimal, White, you fuck.

  • Warty||

    West, not White. White has lung cancer and cooks meth.

  • ||

    Thanks, Radley.

  • No Name Guy||

    Radley - Keep up the good work. Still more proof that this clown West is criminally negligent. The SOB ought to be shot for all the lives he's ruined with his BS quackery.

  • ktc2||

    "Plourd's video sting ought to move public officials in Mississippi and Louisiana to thoroughly, if belatedly, investigate just how much damage this dentist has inflicted on the judicial systems of those states."

    Ought to, but wont.

  • Cabeza de Vaca||

    Why is it that the only journalists that seem to care about injustice like this is Balko & Reason?

  • ||

    Wow, what a total fraud. Good work Radley; how the mainstream media is not worked into a tizzy by things like this I will never understand. A complete outrage, pure and simple.

  • ..||

    the mainstream media is not worked into a tizzy by things like this

    What? And forfeit precious minutes covering the Cheney/Pelosi/Limbaugh circus?

  • ||

    What? And forfeit precious minutes covering the Cheney/Pelosi/Limbaugh circus?

    Yeah good point. That doesn't even touch the time needed to cover the latest celebrity scandals and rehab visits.

    You've changed my mind; this whole "falsifying evidence" thing is completely irrelevant to our national discourse. Reason sucks, MSM rules!

  • Thomas Paine\'s Goiter||

    Plourd deserves humanitarian awards for this.

  • ||

    After watching that video, I feel very confident in moving forward with charges on Rix.

  • ||

    At first I laughed...then I cried.

    Knowing this was the investigator's teeth impressions the WHOLE time made it hilarious but then there's absolutely NOTHING comical that many INNOCENT people may be in prison and DEATH ROW becaue of this.

    PLEASE sign my petition to get the state moving on WEST and HAYNE:

    http://www.gopetition.com/online/25939.html

    And pass it on. I need your help...innocent people in prison need your help.

    Radley, as always...you're the MAN!

    My God...help us all!

  • ||

    Just because Dr. West has been wrong a lot, does not mean, without something more, that he was wrong here.

    IANAL, but shouldn't the fact that he's wrong a lot give rise to reasonable doubts about him being right here? Or have the standards to convict been lowered since I was in civics class.

  • the innominate one||

    Rhayader | May 15, 2009, 3:49pm | #

    Wow, what a total fraud. Good work Radley; how the mainstream media is not worked into a tizzy by things like this I will never understand. A complete outrage, pure and simple.


    Did you hear Lindsay Lohan's house was burglarized?

  • Tacos mmm...||

    Did you hear Lindsay Lohan's house was burglarized?



    I hope they got her sex tapes.

  • ||

    With PHYSICAL evidence so very easy to manufacture, imagine how easy it is to fudge MENTAL HEALTH evidence in court, with nothing to fall back on except a bunch of silly social workers' personal prejudices.

    And remember, while you digest this, that 90% of social workers' training is community organization, i.e. changing the world to the way they want it to be, regardless of what others might want or what is right or wrong.

  • ||

    Nice story. Now do one on the prosecutors who wanted to withhold DNA testing that would have exonerated the innocent man. What is it about prosecutors that they have no interest in justice, only convictions?

  • ||

    Simple, the dentist should go to jail for life.

  • Sweetpea||

    Having worked years in one of CA's most sleazy personal injury firms, this does not surprise me in the least. Sadly, many expert witnesses are bought for chump change every day. They will say whatever the firm pays them to say. I've had conversations with experts who will angrily object when pressed to 'adjust' their report, and then cave after a private conversation with one of the partners. The firm justifies it as all for the greater good of getting money for the client. Honesty, integrity, and ethics appear to matter little. It's all about the money.

  • ||

    Wasn't Ted Bundy convicted on bite marks?

  • jester||

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UppX6vP3c4g

    Sting Ops are always lame-O.

  • piper Tom||

    West may be the central figure here, but the deeper problem is revealed at the supreme court. The selection process that gives us justices like these morons is very deeply flawed.

  • ||

    This is all very interesting, but if Radley was a serious journalist we'd being seeing stories on "15 ways to beat the heat" just in time for the coming summer. What people really want to know is should the fan be blowing in or out. Also, which is the right way to put the roll of toliet paper on the holder. This is the stuff that matters.

  • ||

    I would go so far as to say that the bite mark evidence would only be able to tell you what species did the biting and not necessarily if a specific individual did it.

    West sounded like someone you'd have on as a guest for a late night paranormal talk show, talking about Chupie, the chupacabra - goat sucker! Now that thing has teeth!

  • ||

    Has Mississippi AG Jim Hood been advised of all of this? If so, what did he have to say?

  • BruceM||

    The real scandal is how prosecutors continue to not only use this type of ficticious "evidence" but how they get all whiny and pissy when it's shown through DNA that their choice of defendant is innocent and that someone else is actually the guilty party. That's assuming the defense was able to FORCE the prosecutors to turn over the exculpatory DNA evidence in the first place.

    You have to ask yourself why a prosecutor would not want to turn over DNA evidence.

  • Medic||

    What a pudgey little fucker.

    You see the size of those sausage fingers.
    He's got to lie to keep that pay check coming in. If he didn't he'd be forced to eat a salad!


    I love the part about..."well he's been wrong before, but not in this case..." Fuckers.

    Medic

  • ||

    Mr. Balko, how can you claim that Dr. West is not an expert, and do so with a straight face? It's obvious just from this article that the man is in fact an expert liar.

    Oh wait, you meant he's not a bite mark expert. Never mind.

  • www.zune.net||

    This is a great post. Thanks so much for sharing, like always.

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