HPD crime lab back in the spotlight—-Death row inmate insists DNA clears
him, but DA disagrees
A death row inmate from Houston, whose conviction is receiving new
scrutiny after DNA tests contradicted evidence in his case, will return to
court next week where his lawyer will seek his release or a new trial.
A Harris County jury sentenced Charles D. Raby to death in the 1994 murder
of a 72-year-old woman assaulted and stabbed in her own home. It is a case
that once again highlights errors in work from the Houston Police
Department crime lab, with the city's own expert calling the original
testimony "incorrect and not supported."
State District Judge Joan Campbell on Monday is scheduled to resume a
hearing that began in January when Raby's lawyer presented new DNA tests
on scrapings from the victims fingernails, which include no evidence from
Raby. Since then, his case has stalled as prosecutors and the Houston
Police Department sought expert opinions.
Raby's lawyer, Sarah Frazier, goes so far as to call the crime lab
evidence presented at trial false and claimed prosecutors failed to
disclose information about the forensic tests that could have helped Raby
before his 1994 trial.
"Trying to pretend that Mr. Raby's trial was at all legitimate is becoming
more and more strained," Frazier said. "He clearly is entitled to a new
trial after all this time."
The Harris County District Attorneys office has maintained that the new
fingernail evidence is inconclusive and does not clear Raby. Prosecutors
on the case were unavailable Friday and a spokeswoman for the district
attorneys office declined comment.
In January, Assistant District Attorney Lynn Hardaway said the new
evidence should not affect Raby's conviction because "the absence of DNA
doesn't mean he didn't do it."
Case got 2nd look
Police arrested Raby in the 1994 stabbing death of Edna M. Franklin, a
grandmother who lived alone in her north Houston home.
At Rabys trial, jurors heard testimony from HPD crime lab analyst Joseph
Chu, who told them that tests conducted on scrapings from under Franklins
fingernails were inconclusive.
Years later, as revelations about chronic problems at the HPD crime lab
came to light, Raby's case received a 2nd look.
Experts questioned Chus conclusions. Patricia Hamby, an expert hired by
HPD, found that Chu had strayed from accepted procedures for body-fluid
testing and had drawn faulty conclusions.
"The reporting of the blood typing of the 'fingernails' as 'inconclusive'
is contrary to and not supported by the recorded laboratory results,"
Hamby wrote in a report last month to Irma Rios, HPD's crime lab director.
In 2005, the Court of Criminal Appealsapproved DNA testing on the
fingernail scrapings. A private lab in California last year completed
analyses that revealed the profiles of 2 men. They matched neither Raby
nor Franklin's 2 grandsons.
"The grandsons' exclusion is significant because these were the only
individuals who had regular contact with the victim a frail, malnourished
woman in her 70s who rarely left her home or entertained strangers,"
In fact, a forensic expert hired by Raby's lawyers testified in January
that it is rare to find foreign DNA under a crime victim's fingernails,
and that if often can be traced to the person's partner or attacker.
"In their wildest dreams (prosecutors) could not imagine a scenario where
there wasn't somebody else involved," Frazier suggested. "I would love to
see, not just a new trial, but let's have a new investigation. Let's find
out who it is."
At his trial, prosecutors also presented evidence on Rabys background.
They argued that he was a 22-year-old parolee with a violent history who
had been taken in by Franklin at her grandsons request, but who had turned
on her when she told him he no longer was welcome.
They also introduced a confession, which Raby and his lawyer now say was
coerced. They note inconsistencies between the facts of the crime and his
statement. Those discrepancies also caught the attention of the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals, which in a 2005 opinion wrote "in his statement
(Raby) did not say he stabbed the victim. In some aspects (his) statement
contradicts the testimony of police officers about the physical evidence
from the crime scene."
Raby, now 39, is imprisoned in Livingston.
Still baby-faced after 15 years on death row, he said he knew Franklin's
house because he befriended her grandsons, once spending Thanksgiving with
the family. He said he confessed because officers threatened his
girlfriend and their son.
"I started making things up and they were coaching me,' he said. "I said
what they wanted me to."
(source: Houston Chronicle)