HOUSTON (AP) – The case of a man sent to prison in 1987 for the kidnap and rape of a 14-year-old girl will be reviewed after questions were raised about his conviction and the role of the city’s embattled police lab, the police chief said Friday.

A legal group representing George Rodriguez alleges faulty testimony from a police crime lab scientist led to a wrongful conviction.

The group – the New York-based Innocence Project – wants a judge to hear Rodriguez’s case and find that he would have been exonerated if DNA testing – which was not used by Houson police in the 1980s – had been conducted on a hair found at the scene.

Prosecutors disagree, saying a hair sample that defense attorneys say supports Rodriguez’s innocence could have come from anyone.

“The crime scene in this case was not a pristine crime scene,” Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said. “To be kind, it was squalid. Any number of hairs could have been on the bed that was used.”

The former director of the lab’s DNA section, Jim Bolding, was working as a serologist when he testified at Rodriguez’s trial. A serologist is an expert on bodily fluids. The Innocence Project contends he erroneously testified that, based on analysis of the semen, another suspect could not have been the rapist.

Bolding resigned just as he was about to be fired in the months after the department’s DNA section was shut in 2002. The section remains closed while the department seeks national accreditation.

Innocence Project lawyers said Harris County should agree to an independent review of all cases handled by Bolding.

“We’ve had more than 20 years of bad lab work,” Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck charged Friday. “Some of the cases may have very well been cases in which people were executed.”

Police Chief Harold Hurtt said Friday the department has requested Rodriguez’s case record from a Texas appeals court. But he wouldn’t commit to a review of all Bolding’s cases.

“Let’s not make the mistake and believe that the crime lab that existed in the Houston Police Department in 1987 is still the crime lab that exists in Houston in the year 2004 and in the future,” said Hurtt, who took over as chief earlier this year.

Prosecutors linked Rodriguez to the crime through semen taken from the 14-year-old victim during a rape test, Rosenthal said. The 14-year-old victim also identified Rodriguez as her attacker, the prosecutor said.

Rodriguez contended he was at work at the time of the attack. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

The police crime lab has been under fire since 2002 when an independent audit found serious deficiencies in its DNA section, including a lack of proper documentation by lab workers and possible evidence contamination.



On the Net:

Innocence Project: http://www.innocenceproject.org/

Houston police: http://www.ci.houston.tx.us/departme/police/

AP-ES-08-06-04 1625EDT



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