- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - At least three convictions in Arkansas courts relied on a type of microscopic hair analysis that has been debunked by scientists, according to an inmate advocacy group.

Officials from the FBI and Department of Justice Department are working with The Innocence Project and others to review cases across the nation in which the discredited testing was used, the FBI said in an April statement.

“It’s not an easy task to go back and look back at literally thousands of cases to put this stuff together,” said spokesman Paul Cates for The Innocence Project, a New York-based legal group seeking to free inmates believed to be wrongly convicted. “It’s not like there is a transcript bank on this … but to the government’s credit, they are doing it.”

One of the Arkansas inmates, Lonnie Strawhacker, filed a motion asking the state Supreme Court to allow his case to be reopened and to appoint an attorney for him, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1dXSrFz ) reported. The court obliged on Thursday and selected Little Rock attorney Jeff Rosenzweig to represent him.

Strawhacker was convicted in 1990 of rape and first-degree battery in a Fayetteville woman’s attack, and an analyst testified that hair found in the woman’s bed was consistent with hair taken from Strawhacker.

The Justice Department notified him in a letter last year that the analyst who testified in his case was one of 13 FBI hair examiners whose work “may have failed to meet professional standards.” Court records show the agency found 18 instances in the analyst’s testimony in Strawhacker’s case that “exceeded the limits of science.”

“The FBI has repudiated the eyeballing of hair to make comparisons. It’s been completely debunked and disproven,” Rosenzweig said. “It’s obvious it was a crucial bit of evidence (in Strawhacker’s trial).”

A spokesman for the state attorney general says there’s plenty of other evidence that led to Strawhacker’s conviction.

Cates said it’s too early to estimate how many inmates will appeal their cases.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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