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Court upholds murder conviction despite faulty expert testimony

December 3, 2012 | 11:32 am

Justice Goodwin Liu. Credit: Christine Wetzel / Las Vegas Review Journal

The California Supreme Court decided 4-3 Monday to uphold the murder conviction of a San Bernardino County man whose trial included incriminating forensic evidence that later was discredited.

In a decision written by Justice Joyce L. Kennard, the state high court said William Richards, convicted in 1997 of murdering his wife, Pamela, had failed to prove his innocence. A Superior Court judge had overturned Richards’ conviction, but an appeals court reinstated it.

During Richards’ trial, a prosecution expert witness identified a lesion on Pamela’s hand as a bite mark that was consistent with her husband’s teeth, a pattern the expert said was found only in about 2% of the population. That expert later recanted his opinion after reviewing photographs made clearer by new technology. Defense lawyers also presented new DNA evidence that showed genetic traces of someone other than Richards on the murder weapon.

But the majority said the new evidence did not point “unerringly”  to innocence.

“The evidence that petitioner was the actual murderer remains strong,” Kennard wrote.
In a dissent, Justice Goodwin Liu said Richards was entitled to a new trial because the expert’s testimony amounted to false evidence. Liu noted that two previous juries had hung, and prosecutors obtained a conviction only after the bite mark evidence was included.

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— Maura Dolan in San Francisco

Photo: Justice Goodwin Liu. Credit: Christine Wetzel / Las Vegas Review Journal

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