Paramilitary group's lawyers attack FBI evidence handling

February 13, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SEATTLE -- In the first of many courtroom challenges expected nationwide, lawyers defending members of a paramilitary group in Washington are seeking to cast doubt on a federal expert's testimony by citing a government report on sloppy work in the FBI's crime laboratories.

The Justice Department report on whether the laboratories mishandled evidence has yet to be released, but a draft version described grave problems.

Federal prosecutors, aware that the report could become an issue in their case against seven paramilitary group members facing explosives, firearms and conspiracy charges here, made parts of the draft available to the defense. And on Tuesday, the report came into play in court during the testimony of an FBI explosives technician, Robert Heckman.

Tom Hillier, the lawyer for one defendant, John Kirk, said he used the report to raise doubts among jurors about the evidence-handling techniques of the FBI.

In allowing the report to be admitted as evidence, he said, Judge John C. Coughenour of U.S. District Court had to decide whether it affected the credibility of the expert witness.

"I'm sure there are many other cases going on right now in which FBI lab examiners are testifying," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry McCarthy, chief of the criminal division here.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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