Bite Mark Evidence
Dr. Michael West
The Kennedy Brewer Case
In 1995 a Mississippi jury found Kennedy Brewer guilty of the 1991 rape and murder of the three-year-old daughter of his girlfriend. His conviction was based almost entirely on the testimony of discredited forensic odontologist, Dr. Michael West who placed the defendant at the scene through bite marks on the victim’s body. Sentenced to death on March 25, 1995, Brewer was moved to death row at the Mississippi State Penitentiary where he was scheduled to die by lethal injection.
In 1997 the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, but in 2002, DNA evidence incriminated two other men. Based on this new evidence, Brewer was awarded a new trial. Prosecutors vowed to retry him. After sitting in jail another five years, Brewer, in August 2007, was finally allowed to post $20,000 bail and go home. The special prosecutor assigned to Brewer’s upcoming new trial has said he will call Dr. Michael West back to the stand as a key prosecution witness.
Dr. Allan J. Warnick:
The Amolsch Case
In August 1994, someone entered Jane Marie Fray’s mobile home in south Michigan and stabbed her twenty-two times. The killer also wrapped an electrical cord around her neck. She had been bitten on her left ear. Ricky Amolsch, the murder victim’s thirty-eight-year-old boyfriend, became an immediate suspect.
The chief forensic odontologist for Wayne and Oakland Counties, Dr. Allan J. Warnick, made molds of Amolsch’s front teeth and compared them to the crime scene bite wound. He reported that the victim’s bite mark was “highly consistent” with the arrestee’s dentition. The prosecutor used Dr. Warnick’s findings as the basis of a warrant for Amolsch’s arrest. Ten months later the authorities dropped the charges when the man who said he had spotted Amolsch’s van outside the mobile home was arrested for raping another woman in the same trailer park.
Dr. Warnick, a 1964 graduate of the Detroit School of Dentistry and a member of the Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American Board of Forensic Odontology, admitted that he probably had overstated his findings in the Amolsch case. However, he still would not rule Amolsch out as the maker of the mobile home bite mark.
Dr. Allan J. Warnick
The Moldowan Case
Jeffrey Moldowan and Michael Cristini were convicted in 1991 for the 1990 rape and kidnapping of Maureen Fournier. The crime took place in Warren, Michigan. Dr. Allan Warnick testified that bite marks on the victim’s body had come from both defendants. Cristini was sentenced to forty-four to sixty years. Moldowan received a sentence of four terms of sixty to ninety years.
The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the convictions after Dr. Warnick’s bite mark testimony was challenged by other odontologists. Both men, on retrial, were acquitted in 2003 and 2004. Two other defendants were subsequently indicted for the crime.
In 2005, Moldowan brought a civil suit against the prosecutor, the woman who accused him of the crime, the police, and Dr. Warnick. The plaintiff accused the authorities of intentionally ignoring evidence of his innocence. He also alleged that Dr. Warnick fabricated bite mark evidence against him. All of the defendants in the pending suit have denied the charges.
Dr. Allan Warnick:
The Carol Ege Case
Cindy Thompson, on February 22, 1984, was found slashed and bludgeoned to death in her home in Pontiac, Michigan. The police suspected that Thompson had been murdered by Carol Ege. Both women had been dating the same man who had impregnated the victim. Investigators suspected that the motive was jealous rage. Two men who knew the suspect said she had offered them $350 to have Thompson killed. The blunt force wounds on Thompson’s head were consistent with a ball peen hammer found in a box in Ege’s possession. There was no forensic evidence, however, linking that tool to the murder scene.
Carol Ege was not arrested until 1993 after forensic odontologist Dr. Allan Warnick identified a bite mark on Thompson’s face as having been made by Ege. At the trial, Dr. Warnick testified there was a 3.5 million to one probability that the crime scene bite mark was made by the defendant’s dentition. He said only one person in the Detroit area could have made the impression that matched Ege’s front teeth. Due to the passage of time since the murder, Dr. Warnick didn’t examine the body itself. He mad his bite mark identification by looking at autopsy photographs.
Ege’s defense team put on two expert witnessesa pathology professor from Wayne State University and a dentist/MD. The pathology professor identified the mark on the victim’s face as a bruise-like discoloration caused by post-mortem lividity (liver mortis). The dentist/MD didn’t think the bruise had been made by teeth, but if they had, the pattern did not match the defendant’s dentition. Notwithstanding this defense testimony and the lack of other physical evidence connecting the defendant to the murder scene, the jury found Ege guilty of first-degree murder.
In 2005 a federal district judge set aside Ege’s conviction on the grounds that bite mark identification was not reliable evidence. A federal appeals court affirmed this decision. In October 2007, Ege was retried without Dr. Warnick’s bite mark testimony. The jury, despite the lack of physical evidence, convicted Ege of first-degree murder. It took them less than five hours to reach their verdict. On November 20, 2007 an Oakland County Circuit Court Judge sentenced Carol Ege to life in prison with no possibility of parole. “I did not commit this crime,” Ege said after receiving the sentence.
Dueling Bite-Mark Experts”
The Steven Fortin Case
In 1994 the body of twenty-five-year-old Melissa Padilla was found in a concrete pipe along Route 1 near Woodbridge, New Jersey. Naked from the waist down, she had been beaten and sexually assaulted. The killer had bitten her on the chin and left breast. At eleven PM the day before she had been abducted while picking up food at a convenience store along Route 1 in the Avenel section of Woodbridge.
In April 1995 the state police in Maine contacted the Padilla case investigators with a lead. They had arrested thirty-one-year-old Steven Fortin for the sexual assault of a female state police officer who had been bitten on the chin and left breast. Fortin had lived in Woodbridge at the time of Padilla’s murder. Fortin denied involvement in the New Jersey murder but in November 1995 pleaded guilty to the assault in Maine. The judge sentenced him to twenty years.
Five years later, Fortin was tried in New Jersey for the Padilla murder. The prosecution, without any physical evidence linking Fortin to the murder, relied on the testimony of former FBI criminal profiler Robert Hazelwood who connected the defendant to both crimes by finding similarities in the sexual M.O.’s. The New Jersey Supreme Court, in a four to two decision, set aside Fortin’s conviction in February, 2004. The court ruled that Hazelwood’s testimony lacked hard science.
New Jersey prosecutors retried Fortin in 2007. This time they had physical evidence. A DNA analyst testified that the defendant could not be excluded as the primary source of DNA evidence found on a Marlboro cigarette butt found near the Padilla murder scene. According to the DNA expert, one out of 3,500 white people would match this sample. The defendant could not be excluded as the DNA source of blood and tissue found under the victim’s fingernails as well.
Dr. Lowell J. Levine, one of the pioneers in the field of crime scene bite-mark identification, a forensic odontologist from upstate New York, had compared photographs of the victim’s bite-mark wounds (the photographs did not include a ruler measuring the marks because the photographer didn’t recognize the wounds as bites) with photographs of the defendant’s front teeth. Dr. Levine noted a space between Fortin’s lower front teeth that corresponded to a space in the mark on the victim’s left breast. Levine testified that he could not say to a scientific certainty that the defendant had bitten the victim. He did say, however, that he could not exclude the defendant as the maker of the crime scene bite-marks.
Dr. Adam Freeman, an expert in forensic dentistry from Westport, Connecticut, testified that in his study of 259 bite-mark cases, the largest study of its kind, he found only five cases in which the assaulters had bitten their victims on the chin and breast. The doctors’ testimony helped link the defendant, circumstantially, to the assault in Maine for which he had pleaded guilty.
Fortin’s defense team countered Dr. Levine’s testimony with another world-renowned forensic odontologist. Dr. Norman Sperber, the chief forensic for the California Department of Justice, an expert who, like Dr. Levine, had testified for the prosecution in the 1979 Ted Bundy trial as well as 215 trials since, testified that Steven Fortin could not have made the bite-marks on the victim’s body. (Dr. Sperber had testified for the defense at Fortin’s first trial. The jury had disregarded his findings.) Sperber said this to the re-trial jury: “The tracing of his [the defendant’s] teeth doesn’t even come close to the [bite-marks].” Dr. Sperber went on to say that bite-mark analysis has limitations as a form of crime scene identification. It is not as reliable, he said, as DNA and fingerprint identification. “Skin is a serious limitation for bite-mark analysis because it rebounds and is moveable,” he testified. “Bite-mark analysis is not a true science.” Dr. Sperber said he didn’t see, on the victim’s body, any wound that matched the spacing of the defendant’s teeth.
On December 4, 2007, the jury of nine men and three women, after deliberating nine hours, found Steven Fortin guilty of first-degree murder and first-degree aggravated sexual assault. If spared the death sentence, Fortin could face a sentence of life plus twenty years. One of the defense attorneys, following the verdict, told reporters that the jury should have found reasonable doubt in the case.