DNA samples taken from the butcher knife used to kill Georgia Kemp in 1992 do not match those taken from Eddie Lee Howard, the man on death row for her murder, according to courtroom testimony Thursday.
Barbara Leal, an analyst for Cellmark Forensics, offered expert testimony for the defense Thursday during a hearing on the 24-year-old capital murder case from Columbus.
Howard, 62, was convicted of capital murder in 2000 after being accused of the rape and murder of 84-year-old Kemp in her Columbus home. He’s been on death row since then.
The Mississippi Innocence Project, which is housed at the University of Mississippi, is representing Howard in a post-conviction relief hearing taking place this week in Lowndes County Circuit Court. The Innocence Project is asking Circuit Court Judge Lee Howard to either overturn Eddie Lee Howard’s conviction without ordering a new trial or, failing that, order a new trial.
The judge could also choose to let the conviction stand.
Howard was previously convicted in 1994, but the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned the verdict three years later.
Details of DNA
On Thursday, Leal said she analyzed a partial sample of male DNA taken from the knife blade. She said the sample had enough material to compare to a sample taken from Eddie Lee Howard.
“Eddie Lee Howard was excluded as contributing male DNA to the stabbings from the butcher knife blade,” Leal said.
Jennifer Smith, another DNA analyst for Cellmark Forensics who provided expert testimony in Thursday’s hearing, said more than 200 stains from Kemp’s home were screened for blood, saliva or semen. Of those, 24 qualified for quantification, or further testing.
Smith said tests were performed on Kemp’s nightgown, stockings, bed sheets, a telephone that had the cord removed from the wall, a box of matches believed to have blood on it, slippers, fingernail scrapings and the knife. She said the tests revealed no male DNA on any piece of evidence except for the knife.
Jason Davis, director of criminal appeals for the Mississippi Attorney General’s office, questioned both analysts if the length of time between the crime and the DNA test in 2013 could have impacted the results.
He also questioned if the knife being handled in previous trials and during a latent fingerprint examination would hinder the ability to get a reliable sample.
Smith said those factors would not prevent her office from taking accurate DNA samples.
“Over the years I’ve received numerous knives in particular that have been processed for prints,” Smith said. “However, just because it has been processed, doesn’t negate your ability to obtain a potential DNA profile from that knife.”
‘No two bite marks were identical’
The defense concluded testimony about bite marks earlier during Thursday’s hearing.
Court documents state bite marks are the only piece of physical evidence linking Howard to Kemp’s murder.
The bite marks on Kemp’s body, according to court documents, were not noted during the initial autopsy performed on Feb. 3, 1992, by medical examiner Steven Hayne. Michael West, a forensic odontologist, requested an additional study on Feb. 6, 1992, and Kemp was exhumed the next day.
Court documents state bite marks were found on Kemp’s neck, arm and breast.
On Thursday, Mary Bush, a dentist and associate professor for the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, spoke to the results of a study she conducted using teeth molds on cadavers to replicate bite marks.
“We found that using one single set of teeth, no two bite marks were identical,” Bush said. “There was a considerable amount of distortion between bites.”
More than two dozen cases have been overturned as wrongful convictions involving bite mark evidence, according to Mississippi Innocence Project Director Tucker Carrington. He said three of those cases have occurred in Mississippi and include bite mark evidence West provided.
West was present during Thursday’s proceedings. Carrington said he’s expected to testify during today’s hearing.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.