- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Bite mark evidence that was key to Mississippi death row inmate Eddie Lee Howard’s conviction has been roundly discredited, his attorneys told the state’s Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Howard is seeking a new trial for his conviction on raping and killing a Lowndes County woman in 1992.

Attorney Tucker Carrington with the Mississippi Innocence Project argued to the court that new information since Howard’s trial shows the scientific community has rejected the methodology and conclusions forensic dentist Dr. Michael West reached in Howard’s case.

“To look back at Dr. West’s findings, I don’t think he has ever been right,” Carrington said.

Special Assistant Attorney General Jason L. Davis told the justices that before they toss out Howard’s conviction it would be better to conduct a hearing into how bite mark evidence is now viewed by the medical community.

Justices questioned both sides on changes in the acceptability of the bite mark evidence since Howard’s conviction in 2000.

The issues include a 2013 action by the American Board of Forensic Odontology, the only entity that certifies and oversees bite mark analysts, to change its guidelines to bar such testimony. In 2009, a National Academy of Sciences report found no scientific basis for concluding that a bite mark could identify a single suspect. In a 2012 deposition, West said he no longer believes in bite-mark analysis.

Davis said those issues - all raised during Tuesday’s hearing - are good reasons for a court hearing into whether bite-mark evidence is an acceptable science.

“Although I think the literature is clear and the cases are clear that bite-mark evidence has its worth, there is contention in the (medical) community” that could be aired in a hearing, Davis said.

Howard, now 61, was convicted and sentenced to death in the slaying of 82-year-old Georgia Kemp of Columbus. Evidence against him included bite marks on her body. West testified they matched impressions of Howard’s teeth.

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