Michael West Responds

Disgraced bite mark witness Michael West angrily responded yesterday to charges first reported here at Reason that he tampered with evidence by pushing a dental mold of a suspect's teeth into the corpse of 23-month-old Haley Oliveaux. I'll address the rest of West's defense in a subsequent post. For now, I'd like to focus on this passage, quoting West.

"I've exonerated three or four times as many people as I've convicted," he said. "I'm a little old dentist from Hattiesburg, and I've got the top lawyers in the country coming after me. The New York Times wrote an editorial on me. Why? They can't stand the evidence."

I'm not sure what "They can't stand the evidence" means. But there's a reason lawyers and experts across the country are coming after him. In addition to West's key role in the Oliveaux case and in the wrongful Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks convictions—all discussed in my article last week—here's a look at the other "evidence" of West's expertise over the years:

• In the 1995 Louisiana case State v. Van Winkle, West testified that marks on a dead boy's stomach were consistent with the soles of a pair of hiking boots owned by his mother. The mother was convicted of manslaughter, but the conviction was later overturned, in part due to West's testimony.

• In 1992, West matched a bite mark on an elderly rape victim to a Mississippi man named Johnny Bourn. Bourn was arrested and imprisoned for 18 months due to West's testimony, even though hair and fingerprint evidence pointed to someone else. Bourn was freed when DNA testing on fingernail scrapings taken from the victim conclusively excluded him as the assailant.

• In the case of Eddie Lee Howard (which I blogged about here), a dissenting opinion from the Mississippi Supreme Court noted that at the time of Howard's first trial in 1994, West had testified in "forty-one murder trials; thirty-two times as a wound pattern expert; one time as a trace metal expert; three times as an expert regarding gun shot residue; three times as an expert in gunshot reconstruction; three times as a death investigator expert; two times as a County Coroner; six times in child abuse trials; three times as a crime scene investigator; and one time as a blood splatter expert. He also asserts that he has made 600 dental I.D's and 300 bite mark I.D.'s. Of the 100 board certified forensic odontologists in the United States, about 90% of them have testified for the opposite side when Dr. West is called as an expert witness."

• In the 2000 Mississippi case of Leigh Stubbs and Tammy Vance, two women accused of various drug and assault charges, West expanded his expertise to include video enhancement, and claimed he could match the latches on a toolbox to the wounds on the alleged assault victim. 

• In the 1997 case Banks v. Mississippi, West claimed to have matched the bites in a half-eaten bologna sandwich left at the crime scene to the defendant's dentition. West then destroyed the sandwich before the defense could test it. The defendant was convicted. That conviction was later overturned, and West's testimony was tossed.

• In the 1990 Mississippi case State v. Maxwell, West definitively matched the serrations on a butcher knife to stab wounds on three elderly victims, and also with a slash on a door. He also claimed he could trace slight indentations on the suspect's palm to rivets on the knife's handle. When West's lab photos of the alleged indentations came back overexposed, he merely photocopied the suspect's hand, then drew the indentations in. He was still allowed to testify. West's testimony is all that linked the defendant Larry Maxwell to the crime scene. Maxwell was convicted. Citing West's improbably testimony, a court later overturned Maxwell's conviction. The state later dropped the charges, and Maxwell was freed.

• In State v. Oppie, another Mississippi case, West claimed he could definitively match scratches on a murder victim to the suspect's fingernails. Not by DNA, but merely by the appearance of the scratches and the structure of the suspect's fingernails.

• In a 1993 Ohio case, West was able to get himself certified as an expert on liquid splash patterns. A 17-year-old was charged with manslaughter for deliberately pouring bleach onto his disabled sister. West testified that the splash and burn patterns from the bleach showed the bleach had been poured intentionally, not spilled accidentally.

• In the mid-1990s, West claimed to have found a bite mark on the shoulder of a woman whose body was exhumed after being buried for 14 months. No other doctor had seen the mark. Unfortunately, West says he put the skin sample in a "preservative" that destroyed the mark he claimed to have found. He was allowed to testify anyway. Relying on West's memory and West's word, jurors convicted a Louisiana oyster fisher named Anthony Keko of killing his wife. Keko served 2.5 years in prison before the state dropped all charges against him, and set him free.

(Note: This list of cases are summarized from this 1996 article in the ABA Journal, this 2007 paper by Paul Giannelli and Kevin McMunigal, and my own research and reporting.)

These are merely the cases where West gave testimony that was outrageous enough to have been later overturned or cited by his critics. There are countless other cases where he has given testimony that's plausible, but given his obvious credibility problems, should never have been allowed anywhere near a courtroom. Yet judges kept allowing him to take the stand. The "little old dentist from Hattiesburg" has done quite a bit of damage.

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  • Warty||

    Now I may be just be a simple Hyper-Chicken, but I know when we're finger licked.

    BAAAKAAA! I'm sorry...I thought you was corn.

  • ||

    "They can't stand the evidence."

    I don't think any of us can stand the evidence Michael West produces.

  • ANONYMOUS||

    Good work Radley. Keep it up. Somewhere there is Pulitzer with your name on it.

  • Eric S.||

    I hope you win a Pulitzer. You are one of the only journalists I know whose work seems to be having positive, tangible effects in the world.

  • Eric. S.||

    ^^^^
    Holy smokes!

  • ||

    A Pulitzer would be great, but not as great as a nomination for Attorney General of the United States.

  • Taktix&#174||

    I'm not sure what "They can't stand the evidence" means.

    You can't handle the truth!

  • ||

    Thanks Radley, for making me hate our "justice" system even more than I have since the last time you put up an article.

    Keep it up!

  • ||

    This guy is a fucking monster. He can't just be a charlatan; he has to get off on this somehow. It's absolutely appalling that stuff like this convinces juries. Our "justice" system is seriously, terribly broken.

  • ||

    I've exonerated three or four times as many people as I've convicted

    Is he counting the people whose convictions got thrown out because they were based on his testimony?

  • ||

    thirty-two times as a wound pattern expert; one time as a trace metal expert; three times as an expert regarding gun shot residue; three times as an expert in gunshot reconstruction; three times as a death investigator expert; two times as a County Coroner; six times in child abuse trials; three times as a crime scene investigator; and one time as a blood splatter expert.



    Holy crap! For a "little old dentist from Hattiesburg", this guy has the mad forensic skills of two whole seasons of CSI!

  • Taktix®||

    ...thirty-two times as a wound pattern expert; one time as a trace metal expert; three times as an expert regarding gun shot residue; three times as an expert in gunshot reconstruction; three times as a death investigator expert; two times as a County Coroner; six times in child abuse trials; three times as a crime...

    I heard this West guy cured some lepers... and raised the dead!

  • Sorry||

    You can't handle the truth! tooth!

  • Naga Sadow||

    Damn you Taktix!!! You want me on that wall! You need me on that wall!

  • BakedPenguin||

    I heard this West guy...raised the dead!

    Were they slow or fast?

  • Naga Sadow||

    BakedPenguin,

    Go ahead and throw in a link.

  • The Dead||

    Well, we weren't the quick, that's fer sure.

  • Naga Sadow||

  • ||

    Jeez, talk about burying the lede. Here's the final paragraph of the Ledger's article:

    Authorities found no blood or semen at the crime scene, on Haley's body, or on her clothing, wrote the Louisiana Supreme Court. "The only direct link the prosecution was able to make between the victim's injuries and the defendant was premised on the bite-mark evidence."

    This comes paragraphs after West says that Duncan raped and sodomized Haley.

    And the mention of the Brewer and Brooks exonerations doesn't come until the final third of the article. Don't the facts of this guy's past and the actual evidence matter just a little bit?

    Talk about he-said-she-said journalism. And West still comes off looking like a creep.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Naga, I would have, but I didn't want to elevate it to a full-on threadjack. I didn't want to deflect from the point that Michael West is a completely worthless scumbag who has made a living testifying against people regardless of their guilt or innocence.

    It amazes me that shit like that can live with itself. How do you sleep at night knowing you could be (partly) responsible for sending dozen of innocent people to prison - or death row?

  • Naga Sadow||

    BakedPenguin,

    Indeed. Though I suspect that he got off on the power he had. Gave the fucker a thrill.

  • Unfazed by the risk of a full-||

    There's cause for cautious optimism vis-à-vis the DEA raids on medical marijuana dispensaries.

  • ||

    "I've exonerated three or four times as many people as I've convicted,"

    The fact that he thinks that he has, personally, exonerated or convicted anyone rather than having simply given testimony speaks volumes about this man's ego and arrogance.

    Then again, in cases where his testimony was the deciding factor (and especially in case where it was the only factor) he may be right. Of course this means the responsibility for a false conviction, or a false acquittal, based upon shoddy testimony is falls squarely on him and those who abetted his actions.

  • blargh||

    I think we should form an old fashioned lynch mob and burn him alive at the stake.

  • Hanover Fist||

    He's nothing but a low-down, double-dealing, backstabbing, larcenous perverted worm! Hanging's too good for him. Burning's too good for him! He should be torn into little bitsy pieces and buried alive!

  • ktc2||

    Guys like this are 100% positive they are in the right, even as they fabricate evidence they justify it by fully believing they person is guilty anyway and will "get off" if they don't do it.

    This is sadly, the attitude of many if not most cops and prosecutors and the scum "experts" they hire.

  • ||

    Now, I am from the South and I have learned that when a Southerner tells you that he's just an old country boy, look out, you are about to get screwed. After seeing "I'm a little old dentist from Hattiesburg..." I am reminded to get ready to grab the ankles!

  • ||

    From the ClarionLedger article:

    West said he believes the suspect, Duncan, made the bite marks and killed Haley. "She was raped and sodomized and held under water by this son of a b----," he said.

    He sure can tell a lot from a bite mark! I guess, though, since he made it up it can tell him whatever he wants to hear.

  • ||

    fter seeing "I'm a little old dentist from Hattiesburg..." I am reminded to get ready to grab the ankles!

    I suggest reaching for a firearm instead.

  • ||

    Sounds like West committed all these crimes and frames others for them, knowing how stupid juries are. It doesn't take much.

  • Orange I Special?||

    I hope you win a Pulitzer. You are one of the only journalists I know whose work seems to be having positive, tangible effects in the world.

    And he didn't even use the plan outlined on my blog.

  • JW Gacy||

    The Nick says: Sounds like West committed all these crimes and frames others for them, knowing how stupid juries are. It doesn't take much.

    Just like Angela Lansbury. That bitch.

  • ||

    "I'm not sure what 'They can't stand the evidence' means.

    You can't handle the truth!"


    Possible Arrested Development plot? George Sr. hires Tom Cruise to stand up in court and yell "you can't handle the truth", but when Tom Cruise finds out just how guilty George Sr. is, he changes it to "you can't stand the evidence!"

  • The Medic||

    West is what we call in the medical field...

    A Liar.

    The Medic

  • ||

    Blue light???? Yea ok West and all scientist wanted credit for the so called discovery light!, used my Mothers death as a circus to fight over who "OWNED" the discovery, in turn destoyed lives and the REAL MURDERER WAS NEVER CAUGHT!!!!!!!!

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