Blood tests used in W.Va. trials declared invalid by state court Results fabricated, investigators say

November 12, 1993|By New York Times News Service

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hundreds of blood tests that West Virginia prosecutors have used to link defendants to crime scenes over a 10-year period are now invalid because a former state police serologist may have fabricated the results, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has ruled.

At the court's request, an independent team of serologists spent the last five months combing through the testimony of Fred Zain, the state police serologist from 1979 until 1989. The team said that in the 36 cases they had investigated they had discovered that Mr. Zain lied about, made up or manipulated evidence to win convictions in every single case.

In addition, "there was evidence that Mr. Zain's supervisors may have ignored or concealed complaints of his misconduct," Justice Thomas Miller wrote in the unanimous recommendation of the state's high court.

At least 134 prisoners may be entitled to new hearings because falsified testimony helped put them in jail, the court ruled. Most were convicted for violent offenses in part on the strength of blood or semen residues found in cases of rape or murder. In June, the justices ordered county court clerks across the state to preserve the evidence in 134 cases tried between 1986 and 1989.

But there may be more. According to the report, state police records do not account for every case in which Mr. Zain testified. Within the next few weeks, corrections officers will hand out forms to prisoners who think they are entitled to new trials. Serologists will then take blood samples from each of these prisoners and try to match the unique genetic materials in the prisoners' DNA to the crumbling stains on car seats and carpet samples that have been rotting in police lockers for years.

If the testing of DNA, a process not widely used in the late 1980s, affirms a convict's guilt, he will not get a new hearing. If it does not, it will be left to the circuit judge to decide whether the prisoner would have been convicted without Mr. Zain's testimony, and thus whether he is awarded a new trial.

When he left the state police in 1989, Mr. Zain took a job in Texas as a serologist in the Bexar County Medical Examiner's office. He was dismissed from that job in June after similar complaints about doctored test results.

Mr. Zain has denied wrongdoing.

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