Bite-marks giving false impression

ON 8 April 2002 Ray Krone walked out of prison in Yuma, Arizona, having spent 10 years behind bars, including two on death row.

His conviction, for stabbing cocktail waitress Kim Ancona to death, was secured largely on the basis of a supposed match between his teeth and a bite mark on the victim's breast.

Krone always maintained his innocence, and was eventually exonerated when DNA on the victim's clothes was matched to another man.

The prosecution expert - who was certified by the American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO), the professional society for experts in forensic bite marks - told the jury which convicted Krone that for bite marks "a match is 100 per cent".

But critics of such evidence argue that the technique is always subjective and has never been held up to rigorous experimental validation.

Christopher Plourd, the San Diego attorney who campaigned for Krone's release, told New Scientist, "This is not a science." He claims miscarriages of justice like Krone's case are all too common.

Now debate is being further stirred up by a study from two California dentists with experience in forensic cases, which they say validates the technique.

George Gould of Rancho Murieta and Anthony Cardoza of El Cajon admit their research is preliminary, but they claim it shows bite-mark matching is accurate under certain ideal conditions. "The technique is reliable with a high degree of accuracy," says Gould. But critics are still far from convinced. The study says little if anything about real-life scenarios, they argue, because the skin marks the researchers used were much clearer than those in real-life cases.

"Bite marks don't lend themselves well to a bench study," says Richard Souviron, a forensic odontologist at the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's office. Even with these unusually clear bite marks, some subjects in the study were falsely identified while others were falsely excluded.


Contact: Claire Bowles
New Scientist

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