A year after FBI announced errors in testimony, some defendants have received relief from courts

(WJHL)- Across the country, and right here in Northeast Tennessee, district attorneys are cracking open decades old cases.

“It’s a very difficult process,” First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark said.

D.A.s are making sure overstated hair analysis testimony by FBI agents back in the 80s and 90s did not lead to convictions of innocent people.

The FBI said from the 1970s through 1999, in 268 cases where FBI hair analysis led to a conviction, 96 percent of them had errors in analysis, some of those defendants are on death row, some have been executed.

This summer FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to governors across the country saying in part, “Unfortunately in a large number of cases, our examiners made statements that went too far in explaining the significance of a hair comparison and could have misled and jury or a judge.”

The FBI announced the reviews in to criminal cases involving microscopic hair analysis back in 2015.

“I think the most important thing about this entire project is there a recognition of by the Department of Justice and the FBI of the duty to notify when it becomes clear that scientific evidence may have been overstated,” Norman L. Reimer,  Executive Director for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said. “We know of cases since the letters have gone out where individuals have gotten relief from the court.”

The government has identified thousands of cases that could be affected. Ten cases are being reviewed just in the first district here in Northeast Tennessee.

“We’re looking at every one of these one by one and we really do not have the manpower to do it but we have to do it,” Clark said.

Because most of these FBI agents testified at the state level, the task of reviewing the cases is up to the D.A.s

The review includes cases where FBI microscopic hair comparison was used to link a defendant to a crime. However it doesn’t cover the cases done by the hundreds of state hair examiners trained by the FBI.

Copyright 2016 WJHL. All Rights Reserved.

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