Innocence Project Seeks Review of Another Rape Conviction Based on Dubious Bite Mark Testimony


The Innocence Project of New York has asked for a review of an old Pennsylvania rape conviction based largely on dubious bite mark testimony. John Kunco was convicted in 1992 of the brutal rape of a 55-year-old woman. The woman survived the attack. Kunco is serving a 45 to 90 year sentence.

The main evidence against Kunco was the woman's identification of his voice (he apparently has a lisp) and testimony from two bite mark analysts who claimed they could definitively match marks on the woman's shoulder to Kunco's dentition. Blood and hair samples collected at the crime scene were inconclusive.

Two forensic odonotologists, or bite mark experts, named Michael N. Sobel and Thomas J. David testified that they were able to use ultraviolet light to isolate and photograph the woman's wounds. Based on that photograph they were able to match the wounds to Kunco's teeth, to the exclusion of anyone else. Their testimony grows more absurd when you consider that the photograph was taken five months after the rape, after the wounds had mostly healed.

Sobel and David wrote an article about their analysis in the Kunco case for a 1994 edition of the Journal of Forensic Sciences. In that article, they explain that "the technique used followed the recommendations developed by other odontologists." One of the two footnotes to that sentence points to an article written by none other than . . . now-disgraced Mississippi bite mark expert, Dr. Michael West.

The Innocence Project is trying to get the bite mark testimony thrown out while lawyers await the results of more sophisticated DNA testing unavailable at the time of Kunco's trial.

As I noted in February, a congressionally-commissioned report published by the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year states emphatically that there's no scientific evidence to support the notion that an expert can match bite marks made on human skin to the dentition of a single suspect.