- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas, March 7 (UPI) — Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford says executions should not be scheduled for seven death row inmates until DNA evidence in their cases can be tested a second time.

Bradford urged caution Thursday during an appearance before a legislative committee investigating problems at the Houston police crime lab. The Harris County medical examiner and a state audit have pointed out problems with the lab's work.

"There should be a cease-and-desist until their case is reviewed, but that's just my opinion," Bradford told the House Committee on General Investigating.

The seven cases are among 22 involving DNA evidence being retested by a private laboratory at Houston. The police crime lab has examined 525 cases involving DNA evidence since 1997.

None of the seven convicted killers from Houston is currently scheduled for execution and an official in the Harris County district attorney's office said there was no chance they would be executed without another review of their DNA tests.

First Assistant District Attorney Bert Graham told the Houston Chronicle that every death penalty conviction in the county in which DNA evidence was used is currently under review.

"There's no chance they're going to execute anybody who had DNA in their trial," Graham said. "They're going to be checked before they're ever executed."

Graham said the office is reviewing evidence in more than 200 capital cases, including 68 cases in which the defendant has already been executed. He said 36 of them did not involve DNA evidence.

Harris County has put more convicted killers on death row than any other jurisdiction in the United States and Texas leads the nation in executions with 298 since 1982. Judges in each case schedule the execution date.

Bradford was among several former Houston police and crime lab officials who testified before the committee, which is considering legislation that would require crime labs to be accredited.

"Until we resolve this and can be sure that people were rightly convicted, if DNA was used in any conviction of a death penalty, there ought to be a hold on those people sentenced to death," said Chairman Kevin Bailey, D-Houston.

Bradford said an internal investigation of the crime lab is under way and a report should be made by the end of the month. He said the lab is underfunded.

Houston city officials have authorized $20,000 for the National Forensic Technology Center to determine what the Houston crime lab needs for accreditation.

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