This Week in Innocence


Last March, USA Today reported that Marquette University dentist Dr. L. Thomas Johnson and a colleague are developing computer software they hope will "legitimize" bite mark analysis. The problem, as outlined in the article, is that…

…critics say human skin changes and distorts imprints until they are nearly unrecognizable. As a result, courtroom experts end up offering competing opinions.

"If the discipline lends itself to opposing experts, it's not science," said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, which works to free wrongfully convicted inmates.

Since 2000, at least seven people in five states who were convicted largely on bite-mark identification have been exonerated, according to the Innocence Project.

Johnson's effort to bring acceptance to his beloved art may have just hit another roadblock—a man his analysis helped convict was released last week.

Robert Lee Stinson walked out of a Wisconsin prison today after serving 23 years behind bars for a murder DNA shows he didn't commit. Lawyers at the Wisconsin Innocence Project joined with the Milwaukee District Attorney's office in asking a judge to throw out Stinson's 1985 conviction today, based on new DNA evidence of his innocence and a new analysis showing that bite mark evidence used to convict Stinson was wrong…

Stinson was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide in 1985 based almost exclusively on evidence purporting to match bite marks found in the victim's skin to his teeth. Since the time of Stinson's trial, new evidence has come to light that strongly supports his claim of innocence. First, four nationally recognized forensic odontologists — David Senn, Gregory Golden, Denise Murmann, and Norman Sperber, who all volunteered their time — evaluated the dental evidence and conclusively excluded Stinson as the source of any of the bite marks found on the victim. Furthermore, DNA evidence corroborated these conclusions — male DNA found on the victim's sweater also excluded Stinson.