- Associated Press - Friday, May 6, 2016

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - A witness for a death row inmate says DNA samples taken from a knife used in a stabbing don’t match the man convicted.

The Commercial Dispatch reports the testimony from analyst Barbara Leal of Cellmark Forensics came Thursday in a hearing where a judge must determine whether Eddie Lee Howard should get a new trial. Howard’s defense wants the judge to throw the conviction out for a second time.

Howard, now 62, was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1992 rape and stabbing of 84-year-old Georgia Kemp of Columbus.

The Mississippi Supreme Court last year instructed a lower court to re-examine the case, setting up this week’s hearing.

Evidence against Howard included bite marks on Kemp’s body. The defense says such bite mark evidence has been widely debunked as unreliable.

On Thursday, Leal said she analyzed a partial sample of male DNA taken from the knife blade. She said the sample had enough material to compare to a sample taken from Eddie Lee Howard.

“Eddie Lee Howard was excluded as contributing male DNA to the stabbings from the butcher knife blade,” Leal said.

Jennifer Smith, another DNA analyst for Cellmark Forensics, testified Thursday that DNA tests were made on Kemp’s nightgown, stockings, bed sheets, a telephone that had the cord removed from the wall, a box of matches believed to have blood on it, slippers, fingernail scrapings and the knife. She said the tests revealed no male DNA on anything except the knife.

Jason Davis, director of criminal appeals for the Mississippi Attorney General’s office, questioned both analysts if the length of time between the crime and the DNA test in 2013 could have impacted the results.

He also questioned if the knife being handled in previous trials and during a latent fingerprint examination would hinder the ability to get a reliable sample.

Smith said those factors would not prevent her office from taking accurate DNA samples.

The defense also continued to present evidence questioning the use of bite marks Thursday. The state’s case was built around testimony from Michael West, a forensic odontologist, who claimed he had matched marks on Kemp’s body to Howard’s teeth. West began testifying Friday, said defense lawyer Tucker Carrington.

On Thursday, Mary Bush, a professor for the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, said a study she conducted using teeth molds on cadavers to replicate bite marks showed they were highly variable.

“We found that using one single set of teeth, no two bite marks were identical,” Bush said. “There was a considerable amount of distortion between bites.”

More than two dozen cases have been overturned as wrongful convictions involving bite mark evidence, Carrington said. He said three of those cases have occurred in Mississippi and include bite mark evidence West provided.

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