09.07.2017 by @WinterwoodGrace
Prosecutors have made much of the DNA evidence used to convict Daniel Holtzclaw of 18 counts of sexual assault. The public placed their trust in the district attorney’s office, the detectives, and the jury; a trust that very few thought to question or second guess. What happens if the evidence is wrong, or misrepresented? Does the district attorney’s office come forward and admit the error? Do the detectives take the heat for mistakes made in collecting the evidence? Does a juror question if he or she made the right call? Or does everyone just hope it never gets noticed, or that it will just quietly go away?
Sexual assault is a horrific thing for anyone to experience. Is a wrongful conviction any less horrific? Somehow, people seem to think two wrongs make it right, but nothing could be further from the truth. That is not justice; not for the victim, and not for the accused.
For Daniel Holtzclaw, the misrepresented DNA evidence cost him 263 years. Think about that for a minute. Let’s say the average life span is 73 years. That means Daniel has been sentenced to roughly 3.5 times more years than he might possibly live. He received this sentence with no other forensic evidence than minuscule amounts of DNA from 4 swabs taken from the inner and outer area of the zipper of his uniform pants.
Without getting technical, the DNA most likely came from skin cells because the purification method that was used would not purify DNA from sperm. The only complete profile developed from the 4 swabs was in such a small amount that even the state’s own expert testified that it could be consistent with secondary transfer. Daniel had checked the teenager’s purse for drugs and pat-searched her, according to the teenager’s own testimony. This contact created opportunities for her skin cell DNA to transfer to Daniel’s hands, and from there to the fly of his uniform pants when he went to the restroom. However, that wasn’t the final word given to the jury about the evidence.
Assistant district attorney Gayland Gieger strayed from the truth in his closing argument. He intentionally misrepresented the DNA evidence by stating that it was a FACT that the 17-year-old’s DNA “from the walls of her vagina was transferred in vaginal fluids onto the outside and inside – not of his pockets, not of his cuff, not where he sits, but of the exact location she says his penis came in contact.”
There are so many problems with this one statement, it becomes difficult to know where to begin.
There is the fact that nothing supported the assertion that the DNA derived from cells from the walls of the teenager’s vagina. The police forensic analyst, Elaine Taylor, concluded the DNA came from epithelial (skin) cells. But no tests were completed to indicate where the skin cells came from or even if cells were present. For example, she did not use a microscope to see if there were cells on the fly of the uniform pants or to try to identify the type.
There is also nothing that supports the assertion that the DNA was carried in vaginal fluids. Firstly, there is no uniformly accepted confirmatory test for vaginal fluids or secretions, and secondly, even if there were, no body fluid tests were done. In fact, the uniform pants were only examined under a very bright light with a magnifying glass, and Elaine Taylor did not see anything suspicious – no stains or deposits — on the fly of the uniform pants. Not a single smear or streak, even though Daniel was accused of raping and orally sodomizing women through the unzipped fly of those buckled pants less than 24 hours before the pants and belt were confiscated as evidence. Also, no Alternate Light Source was used during the examination, such as a UV black light that can cause body fluids, if present, to fluoresce. In short, there was no evidence of any body fluid on the fly of Daniel’s uniform pants.
Finally, the prosecutor listed several other locations where the DNA wasn’t. What he failed to state is that no other locations were even tested. That’s right, the ONLY areas tested for DNA were the inside and outside of the fly of Daniel’s uniform pants. But wait, there’s more!
After the trial and sentencing, Erica Fuchs reached out to the family and asked to review the DNA evidence documents. Erica, a biologist from Iowa and a graduate from Harvard, became aware of the case on the day of Daniel’s sentencing, Jan. 21, 2016, and was interested because she had worked as a victim advocate at a rape crisis and domestic violence shelter. She was also interested because the case involved DNA evidence. As a biologist, she has dealt with DNA collection, genetic sequencing, gene cloning, and PCR to amplify the quantity of DNA in a sample.
She began reading articles about the sentencing, then began to read about the trial itself. One article caught her attention because it asserted that only one individual’s DNA was found during the testing. Yet another article stated that the crucial DNA came from at least 2 females, and included DNA that matched one of the accusers. There was nothing else said about the other DNA in the mixture. She found it disturbing that the state of Oklahoma had obtained multiple convictions based on one woman’s DNA.
The first document she reviewed showed allele tables for two of the four DNA samples (17Q1 from the outside of the fly and 17Q2 from the flap of cloth revealed when the fly is unzipped). Right away, she noticed that both samples had a Y chromosome. This was a shock to both the family and to Daniel. They had been completely unaware that there was male DNA in the samples. Erica also noticed that both samples contained DNA from at least 3 people. In fact, the sample from the outside of the fly may have had DNA from at least 4 individuals.
It took 6 months to get all the DNA documents from the trial defense counsel. During that time, Fuchs watched news coverage that made her aware of the other two DNA samples, 17Q3 and 17Q4, obtained from the fly of the uniform pants. From the allele tables shown during the news coverage, she could see that those 2 samples only contained X chromosomes. However, once she received Elaine Taylor’s bench notes and testing information, she realized that male DNA was also present in those samples from inside the fly of the uniform pants, as well. Male DNA had been detected during the step when the DNA quantity in the samples was measured.
Furthermore, Elaine Taylor was aware that all 4 samples had male DNA, evidenced in her own notes, because she had initialed the pages that showed male DNA was present. Yet that is not what she testified to in court. Taylor testified that there was no male DNA in samples 17Q3 and 17Q4, in direct conflict with her own notes.
The prosecution then used the analyst’s untruthful claim that male DNA was absent from the samples to suggest that the teenager’s DNA did not transfer innocently to the fly of Daniel’s pants via Daniel’s fingers, otherwise you’d see Daniel’s DNA left from the touch of his fingers.
This argument breaks down for two reasons. Firstly, the forensic analyst erred by claiming Daniel’s DNA was not found on the fly of his uniform pants, when in fact it was inconclusive as to whether he was a contributor, based on the data. Could the low level of male DNA in samples 17Q3 and 17Q4 have come from Daniel? Elaine Taylor never tested that male DNA to find out. Secondly, the argument breaks down because research shows that people can transfer someone else’s DNA that is on their hands without transferring their own DNA to an object they touch. This is something a forensic analyst should know, if she has kept up with scientific research.
For reasons nobody understands, these discrepancies and DNA analysis errors were not caught by Daniel’s defense team, including the DNA specialist hired by Daniel’s trial attorney. Erica Fuchs, the biologist from Iowa, handed the family the smoking gun proving that prosecutors and the crime lab analyst presented false information to the jury during Daniel’s trial. She didn’t get paid to do this, nor did she expect to. She did it for one simple reason. She was looking at justice. True justice, not forced, colluded, or misrepresented justice. Daniel was very lucky that day that his case caught her attention. By bringing the problems with the DNA evidence to light, she has given Daniel a fighting chance, something that he had previously been denied.
Like everything else in this case, each revelation brings new questions. Each new answer shows more and more how Daniel was targeted by his own department. Most troubling is that the police detectives, district attorneys and courts are not the ones asking these questions. It appears that they have a conviction, but they are not concerned with justice. If they want to ask, but don’t know how, they can reach out to us here at Be the Rain. We’ve got a running list we’d be glad to provide them as a starting point to finding justice rather than just a conviction.
Erica Fuchs contributed to this article
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