Forensic expert warnings connected to secret court hearings

Holtzclaw hangs his head in court. (KOKH/FILE)

Oklahoma City may have to re-open criminal cases in light of concerns raised in the Daniel Holtzclaw case. The calls for case reviews are connected to the secret court hearings that involved prosecutors meeting alone with an Oklahoma County judge for two days.

The hearings involved testimony from the Oklahoma City Deputy Chief of Police. He was seen on surveillance video going into the closed-door hearing and was there with the city attorney who is defending the city in the lawsuits filed by victims in the Holtzclaw case.

However, present for both days of the secret hearing was a supervisor in the Oklahoma City crime lab. Campbell Ruddock was the supervisor of a DNA expert who testified in the Holtzclaw case. That expert testified that DNA found on the zipper of Holtzclaw’s uniform matched one of the named victims.

Since the trial, outside experts have reviewed the DNA evidence and discovered a male DNA sample that was not Holtzclaw was also present. Defenders of Holtzclaw argue the presence of unknown DNA back up the theory all DNA on the pants was transferred through innocuous means.

More than half a dozen forensic science experts have reviewed the DNA evidence and testimony and attempted to intervene in the case with concerns the testimony during trial fell outside current scientific knowledge. Those requests were denied by the appeals court.

“It is a problem when a scientist starts testifying beyond the realm of science and starts speculating in favor of their client whether that be the state or a private attorney,” said Brent Turvey, an internationally renowned criminologist and forensic scientist.

Turvey was one of experts who was denied the opportunity to file a “friend of the court” brief after reviewing the case. Around the same time the request to intervene was filed, the Attorney General’s office requested the secret hearings from the appeals court.

“Whenever you are having hearings about a case that has already been resolved, already been adjudicated at some point or another, and those hearings are secret, that is always the wrong approach,” Turvey said. “Because what you are essentially telegraphing to the world is there is something going on here that we don't want people to know about.”

FOX 25 has confirmed that shortly before the Attorney General filed to take the court out of the public, Ruddock was notified there were problems with the testimony of the police DNA expert in Holtzclaw’s case.

No one connected with the hearings will discuss on the record what specifically was discussed. FOX 25 has learned DNA was a focus and Oklahoma City may end up re-examining other criminal cases because of concerns about unreliable expert testimony.

It is important to note that DNA was not a factor in other charges that the jury said Holtzclaw committed. If you take out the entire sentence the jury handed down for the charges connected to the DNA sample, Holtzclaw would still have to serve more than 200 years in prison for sexual assault and rape.

Turvey argues misstated science is dangerous, especially in Oklahoma City which has a crime lab with a troubled past.

“[The lab] has had this kind of scandal before and the last time they had this kind of large scandal with Joyce Gilchrist,” Turvey said, “It took them almost 25 years to come clean and everything was done in secret and everything was done in the dark and everything was hidden until it couldn't be hidden any further.”

The Oklahoma City police department would not say if other cases are being examined right now. The only response to our questions about reviewing cases based on concerns about forensic testimony was that the department would not be commenting on anything discussed in the secret hearing.

The Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office would not answer any of our questions about this investigation, which included specific questions about the potential impact this information could have on other cases outside the Holtzclaw case.

The District Attorney's office has only said that the hearing was not about any allegations of wrongdoing by prosecutors or the District Attorney’s office.

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