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US judge allows bite mark analysis

05 September 2013, 20:43

New York - Bite mark evidence that may connect a murder suspect to the victim will be allowed at his trial, a judge decided on Thursday, disappointing those who hoped the case would help get the forensic technique banished from US courtrooms.

The analysis involves comparing bite marks left on the flesh of victims with the teeth of suspects. Many defence attorneys criticise it as sham science.

At least 24 men convicted or charged with murder or rape based on bite marks found on victims have been exonerated in the US since 2000, according to a report by The Associated Press in June based on decades of court records, archives, news reports and filings by the Innocence Project, which helps wrongfully convicted inmates win freedom through DNA testing.

Many of those who were exonerated spent more than a decade in prison, including time on death row.

The decision in New York Supreme Court follows lengthy testimony last year on the issue.

The judge declined to spell out his reasoning on Thursday.

Chris Fabricant, director of strategic litigation at the Innocence Project, said the decision was "contrary to the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community".

Many forensic dentists defend the analysis as useful, especially when trying to eliminate suspects, and say it has helped convict murderers and rapists, most famously serial killer Ted Bundy.

The New York case involves the murder of 33-year-old Kristine Yitref, whose beaten and strangled body was found wrapped in garbage bags under a bed in a hotel near Times Square in 2007.

A forensic dentist concluded that a mark on her body matched the teeth of Clarence Brian Dean, a 41-year-old fugitive sex offender.

Dean told police he killed Yitref in self-defense, saying she and another man attacked him in a robbery attempt after he agreed to pay her for sex. No other man was found.

Dean is awaiting trial on a murder charge. His attorneys declined to comment after Thursday's hearing.

Testifying for defence attorneys at the hearings was Dr Mary Bush, a researcher at the University of Buffalo who has used computer models to study bite marks made on dead bodies using a vice grip and dental models.

Her research, which has been published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, has found that human dentition is not unique and cannot be accurately transferred to skin.

Bush acknowledges that a significant limitation of her research includes the fact that she's using dead bodies that have been frozen and thawed and using machinery to create bite marks, a method that is far from re-creating a real-life bite made on a live person during an act of violence.

Bush testified that she did not feel that bite marks should be admissible in courtrooms but that more research in the field is needed.

- AP

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