ALBANY — The New York State Police crime lab is analyzing DNA evidence using controversial techniques that have been characterized as junk science and led to shakeups at other labs around the country.
A Times Union examination of records documenting the practices of the State Police’s Forensic Investigations Center also found the lab may be manipulating DNA analysis to match samples to known suspects in crimes, and that a national accreditation organization removed details of that allegation from an audit that was released in February.
The issue centers on mixtures of human DNA recovered from evidence such as weapons or a victim’s clothing. Scientists at some labs, including the State Police’s Forensic Investigation Center, use controversial subjective analysis to pinpoint the DNA of individuals who may have left their genetic footprint behind.
Questions about the State Police crime lab’s application of the so-called Combined Probability of Inclusion (CPI) were raised in a recent Orange County murder case. Lab records obtained by the Times Union show a State Police scientist changed her initial written findings that concluded the suspect’s DNA was not on an ammunition magazine associated with one of the handguns used in the crime.
The records confirm that the scientist, Cheryl L. Strevell, issued a second report three weeks later, on Dec. 8, in which she discarded four of the unique genetic markers that had indicated the DNA belonged to someone other than the suspect, Omarrio H. Morrison.
The adjusted report, initially based on 16 genetic markers, or locations, was sent to the Newburgh City Police Department and used as evidence — along with Strevell’s testimony — to help convict Morrison of second-degree murder at his trial, which ended June 1 in Goshen.
After initially finding Morrison’s DNA was not included at all 16 genetic locations, Strevell's final report found that he was included using only 12 locations. Strevell reported the chance of a random person being in the mixture was one in 14.33 million.
Her adjusted findings came after she had apparently looked at the suspect’s DNA profile, which multiple experts said is improper but may be common practice at the New York State Police crime lab.
“It’s like painting the target after you’ve already shot the arrow,” said Tiffany Roy, an attorney and DNA expert who exposed similar problems at the Broward County sheriff’s crime lab in Florida.
Read more at the Times Union