Junk Justice and Okie Science
aka Black Magic
Joyce Gilchrist received her nickname "Black Magic" owing to her remarkable ability to see evidence other forensic chemists could not see, to draw conclusions that others would not approach, to turn speculation into fact and in doing so help the Oklahoma County District Attorney's office rack up win after win in district court.
According to news reports, there are currently at least six federal, state and local agencies re-examining her work. This as falsely convicted individuals are being freed from Oklahoma's prisons in what is turning out to be one of the biggest scandals of all time in a state widely known for its scandals.
We at Bubbaworld hope to provide a glimpse into this fascinating woman known as "Black Magic". If pending allegations against Gilchrist are correct she makes a great poster child for that perverse brand of justice we have dubbed "Junk Justice and Okie Science".
The initial news report regarding Oklahoma City Police Lab forensic chemist Joyce Gilchrist appeared on 9/05/1999 in a Daily Oklahoman article titled "Forensic chemist's work criticized".
That report revealed U.S. District Judge Ralph G. Thompson while reviewing an Oklahoma death penalty case concluded that Gilchrist in her testimony in that case gave "untrue" and "misleading" testimony.
Quoting from that news report:
Thompson noted that forensic chemist Joyce Gilchrist had clear knowledge of DNA test results that would have pointed to the innocence of Mitchell on two of the five charges leveled against him, but neither she nor Oklahoma County prosecutors shared that information with Mitchell's defense attorney as required by court rules.
Further quoting that same report:
Thompson criticized not only Gilchrist's testimony and actions in the Mitchell case, but also noted that she has been repeatedly criticized by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for such things as testifying "to a conclusion which was not scientifically supported" and submitting a report that was "at best incomplete, and at worst inaccurate and misleading."
For an example of Gilchrist at her "worst" one need only look at the case of Curtis Edward McCarty, accused, tried and convicted of first degree murder. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in reversing McCarty's conviction ruled a new trial was required owing to numerous issues with Gilchrist's testimony. These issues included errors, failures and untrue testimony in the case. You can read the entire Appeals Court ruling at McCARTY v. STATE
Quoting from that ruling:
we find that Ms. Gilchrist's delay and neglect in not completing her forensic examination and report until Friday, March 14, 1986, for a trial which was scheduled for and began on Monday, March 17, 1986, was inexcusable, since she began her forensic examination in December of 1982. Moreover, the State was given notice on January 21, 1986, that appellant had requested samples of physical evidence to be provided to an independent expert. (O.R. 150) Clearly, appellant was deprived of a fair and adequate opportunity to have critical hair evidence examined by an independent forensic expert.
Ironically, the State not only used the tardiness of its disclosure to deny a defense expert a fair and adequate opportunity to conduct a competent independent examination, but also took advantage of its own tardiness to discredit whatever examination was made by the defense expert. Ms. Gilchrist testified that Mr. Wilson could not have made a competent forensic examination in the length of time he had [765 P.2d 1218] the hair slides. (Tr. VI, 174-75) Furthermore, the forensic report was at best incomplete, and at worst inaccurate and misleading. Mr. Wilson testified that Gilchrist's forensic report reflected that none of the public hairs found on the victim were consistent with appellant. (Tr. VIII, 22) Ms. Gilchrist admitted at trial, however, that she failed to include her conclusion that a public hair found on the victim was consistent with appellant's public hair in the forensic report given to Mr. Wilson. (Tr. VI, 156-58, 211-12) This significant omission, whether intentional or inadvertent, resulted in a trial by ambush, as defense counsel was deprived of an accurate forensic report, which is essential to intelligent cross-examination. See Layman, 355 P.2d at 450-51.
Next, in response to Assistant District Attorney Barry Albert's question based on her expertise and examination of the forensic evidence as to whether Ms. Gilchrist had "an opinion as to whether Mr. McCarty was physically present during the time violence was done to Miss Willis," Gilchrist replied "he [McCarty] was in fact there." (Tr. VI, 176-77) We find that the admission of this opinion testimony was error, because Ms. Gilchrist did not, and could not, testify that such opinion was based on facts or data "of a type reasonably relied upon by experts in the particular field" in forming such an opinion. See 12 O.S. 1981 § 2703 [12-2703]. Ms. Gilchrist herself testified that forensic science techniques had not advanced to the point where a person could be positively identified through blood types, secretor status, or hair examination. (Tr. VII, 159) We find it inconceivable why Ms. Gilchrist would give such an improper opinion, which she admitted she was not qualified to give.
Whether or not Ms. Gilchrist's opinion constituted an improper personal [765 P.2d 1219] expression of the appellant's guilt, her opinion that appellant was in fact present when violence was done to the victim was an improper expert opinion, because it was beyond the present state of the art of forensic science, and certainly beyond Gilchrist's personal knowledge, as testified to by both Ms. Gilchrist and Mr. Wilson. Our conclusion is buttressed by the fact that on December 14, 1987, Max Courtney, President of the Southwestern Association of Forensic Scientists, Inc., issued a prepared statement of the Board of Directors concerning allegations of professional misconduct lodged against Ms. Gilchrist. A certified copy of this statement, which was filed with this Court on January 4, 1988, concluded that Ms. Gilchrist had violated the ethical code, but interestingly she was not disciplined. That statement reads in relevant part: "Our Professional Conduct Committee thoroughly investigated the allegations against Ms. Joyce Gilchrist and . . . communicated with [her] that she should distinguish personal opinion from opinions based upon facts derived from scientific evaluation . . . We further conclude that, in our system of jurisprudence, undue pressure can be placed upon the forensic scientist to offer personal opinions beyond the scope of scientific capabilities." (Supp. Ex.) On the basis of the foregoing, we hold that such personal opinions beyond the scope of scientific capabilities have no place in a criminal trial, and are inadmissible under 12 O.S. 1981 § 2703 [12-2703].
Although we are greatly disturbed by the implications that the Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office may have placed undue pressure upon Ms. Gilchrist to give a so-called expert opinion, which was beyond scientific capabilities, we cannot conclude on the record before us that appellant has established the prosecution's knowing use of false or misleading evidence.
In a very similar scenario, in the case of MILLER v. STATE the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in ordering a new trial in the case of Elmer Lee Miller convicted of First Degree Burglary, First Degree Rape and Oral Sodomy stated in part:
In the present case, it was approximately two weeks after the deadline ordered by Judge Owens that Ms. Gilchrist [809 P.2d 1320] mailed the hair evidence to the appellant's expert. Thus, appellant's expert received the evidence six and one-half days before trial began. What is even more disturbing than the State's tardiness in providing the evidence to the appellant is the fact that Ms. Gilchrist's pretrial forensic report made absolutely no mention of her finding of a "unique characteristic" concerning appellant's pubic hairs. However, in his opening argument, the prosecutor alerted the jury to the State's expert's finding of the "unique characteristic." Clearly, this significant omission in Ms. Gilchrist's report, whether intentional or inadvertent, coupled with the State's extreme tardiness in complying with the discovery order, resulted in trial by ambush on a very critical piece of evidence. See McCarty, 765 P.2d at 1218.
Yet another example of Joyce Gilchrist run amok is found in FOX v. STATE
While Gilchrist's role in this case was not as significant as in the two referenced above, the Appeals Court's comments are very telling as they demonstrate Gilchrist's desire to please the Oklahoma County District Attorney's office.
Quoting from that ruling:
Ms. Gilchrist admitted that an individual could not be positively identified by hair evidence. However, she went on to testify that, "[in] her opinion . . . Mark Fowler and Bill Fox were in contact with John Barrier prior to death." (Tr. 1581). The lack of scientific weight of such a conclusion is apparent on reflection by those dealing with similar evidence on a regular basis. But to a lay jury, usually ill-equipped to assimilate hair analysis findings on their own, such an opinion may appear too substantial. Cf. McCarty v. State, 765 P.2d 1215, 1219 (Okla. Crim. App. 1988), wherein a majority of this Court held that expert opinion that a defendant was in fact present when violence was done to the victim was improper.
And in the infamous case of Jeffrey Todd Pierce while refusing to over turn Mr. Pierce's conviction in a rape case, the Court of Criminal Appeals stated:
We find that Gilchrist absolutely violated the terms of a Court Order. Instead of following either the letter of the Order or taking steps to have the Order changed or clarified by the court, she took it upon herself to determine the portions of the Order with which she wished to comply. This was not her decision to make. She was under a direct order from the court to provide all of the physical evidence to SERI. The failure to abide by a valid order by a trial court will generally have serious consequences and will always be considered error.
Unfortunately for both justice and Mr. Pierce, the Appeals Court saw fit to uphold the conviction of an innocent man. It was the Pierce case which served to break wide open the Joyce Gilchrist scandal, now sweeping Oklahoma. You may wish to read and consider the Appeals Court's ruling in the case of PIERCE v. STATE
What is so outlandish, bordering on criminal, about Gilchrist's conduct was detailed in a Daily Oklahoman report titled, "Hair analysis under scrutiny", dated 06/03/2001. The report was an expose on six innocent men convicted and sentenced for crimes they did not commit.
Quoting from that report, regarding the case of Robert Miller:
In Miller’s case, Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce
Gilchrist linked him to the rape and murder of two elderly women
by comparing hairs under a microscope. She eliminated another
suspect, Ronald Lott, by the same hair comparisons.
The subsequent DNA test of semen from the crime scene not only freed Miller from death row but pointed to Lott as the perpetrator.
In December, 2001 a Oklahoma County jury found Lott guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in the slayings.
In the Miller case not only did Gilchrist implicate an innocent man, helping put him on death row, she excluded another suspect, one which DNA testing linked to the crime and a jury subsequently found guilty of the murders..
With a track record such as Gilchrist's, is there any wonder that some of us are asking the question, "Does she ever get it right?".
Below are links to various reports on Joyce Gilchrist, her
work, the implications for our justice system and the ever
widening scandal that has developed. Following the links section
is an editorial comment from the publisher of Bubbaworld.
Oklahoma City Police Department Memo on Gilchrist
Daily Oklahoman Special - Investigation of Chemist
CNN's Greta Van Susteren Interviews Jeffrey Todd Pierce
CBS News Report on Gilchrist as Pierce Case Breaks Open
Another CBS News Report on the Gilchrist Scandal
CBS 60 Minutes II Special - Under the Microscope
While we at Bubbaworld could list dozens, even hundreds, more links covering the Gilchrist Scandal, why bother. If you are interested in following up on the numerous reports regarding this scandal simply click this link: Google Search for Joyce Gilchrist
[Bubbaworld Editor's commentary and opinion]
Seldom in our modern system of criminal justice do we see such abuses as have come to light during this scandal.
We have seen innocent persons convicted largely on the basis of false, misleading and unfounded testimony by government witnesses apparently willing to say or do anything to please the district attorney's office. In the case of Joyce Gilchrist it appears she would certainly qualify as the "Queen of Junk Justice and Okie Science", a term we here at Bubbaworld use to denote a justice system so flawed and untrustworthy that it should be replaced from bottom to top.
Hopefully, one day Joyce Gilchrist and others willing to prostitute their science in exchange for an approving pat on the head from a district attorney will be unheard of. Until that time it is certain there will be more cases such as that of Jeffrey Todd Pierce, an innocent man convicted for a terrible crime and who as a result of a corrupt justice system lost his family, fifteen years of his life and his future and all this without compensation from a state willing only to say "We're Sorry" and do nothing to compensate the man for his losses.
Until such time as districts attorney, police officers and crime lab personnel are held criminally liable for their lies, deceptions and false testimony we are certain to have a criminal justice bordering on the criminal itself.
It about time we started enforcing the law on those sworn to uphold it.
A very good place to start would be with Joyce Gilchrist.
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