Hundreds of Rape Cases Called into Question in NYC
A New York City medical examiner’s office is reviewing 843 rapes cases handled by a lab technician who might have missed critical evidence.
At this point, the medical examiner’s office has finished review about half of the cases and has found 26 in which the technician missed biological evidence and another 19 in which evidence was commingled with evidence from other cases. In seven of the cases where the biological evidence was missed, the examiner’s office was able to extract a DNA profile. If the evidence had been properly identified at the outset, the possibility that detectives could have caught some suspects sooner is increased.
The medical examiner’s office has declined to identify the technician. Documents that have been released indicate that she quit in November 2011 after the office moved to fire her because supervisors had begun to discover deficiencies in her work. A city official, who refused to identify themselves, indicated that the technician was Serrita Mitchell.
Mitchell said on Friday that she had been unaware that there were problems with her work. She further denied that she had resigned under pressure of being fired. Mitchell claims she was never told of any problems with her work. She said it could not be her because all work gets checked by supervisors and she was never told there were problems with her work. Mitchell says she resigned from her position due to a rotator cuff injury that impeded her movement. She said she loved the job so much, she stayed much longer than she planned. Mitchell worked for the medical examiner’s office from 2000 to 2011.
The Legal Aid Society, an organization that provides criminal defense lawyers for most of the city’s poor defendants, said on Friday that it was demanding that the city turn over information about the cases under review. They said, if necessary, they will sue the city to gain access to information about the cases. New York is one of only 14 states that does not require routine disclosure of criminal evidence before trial.
This faulty examination of evidence is raising questions about instituting outside review of the medical examiner’s office. On Friday, the City Council announced plans for an emergency oversight committee. The Council’s members expressed outrage about the likelihood that semen stains were missed and “false negatives” may have allowed rapists to go unpunished. Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, said, “The mishandling of rape cases is making double victims of women who have already suffered an indescribably horrific event.”
The news is also alarming to defense attorneys who point to the possibility of false convictions where DNA samples were cross-contaminated. The medical examiner’s office has indicated that they have not encountered any instances where a defendant would have been wrongfully convicted.