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Former DA Bob Macy, ex-forensic chemist Joyce Gilchrist settle case

Scott Cooper June 18th, 2009

Was it a case of incompetent forensic work, a scheme to keep a man behind bars regardless of the evidence, or a disagreement about the circumstances that led to the conviction " and later exoner...

, the courts found that Gilchrist acted to either alter or intentionally lose evidence. With Bryson, attorneys looked more into the abilities of Gilchrist as a scientist and the hands-off approach the police department and the district attorney's office took to their controversial chemist.

A trial was set to begin later this month which would have been the first public testimony of Gilchrist, former District Attorney Bob Macy and several of Macy's prosecutors as well as police officials. It would have been an opportunity for the public to hear firsthand the explanations as to why a man who was found to have no biological evidence linking him to a crime spent more than decade in prison.

But at a last-ditch settlement conference meeting in the chambers of U.S. Magistrate Robert Bacharach on June 3, the opposing sides came to an agreement. Gilchrist agreed to hand over $16.5 million, according to court records. Bryson also worked out a deal with Macy, but the details of their settlement are sealed.

The case file is not sealed, however, and the depositions of Gilchrist and Macy include hundreds of documents and other testimonials that provide a keen glimpse into how one man's life can be altered by science or ethics.

Bryson was convicted in 1983 of raping and kidnapping Theresa Taylor and sentenced to 85 years in prison. Taylor, a legal secretary at the time, testified she was attacked walking to her car from the Liberty Tower in downtown Oklahoma City, forced into a car and driven to a remote area where she was brutally raped. Taylor escaped after biting the attacker's penis, who then ran away screaming in pain. The victim then made her way to a nearby house and called police.

The key pieces of evidence used against Bryson were hair, blood and semen samples, eyewitness testimony from the victim and another person in the area of the attack, and injuries to Bryson's penis after he went to a doctor for treatment. Gilchrist testified at the 1983 trial that the hair and blood samples were consistent to Bryson. She told a jury the blood type from the sample was the same as Bryson's, and the hair was consistent with Bryson's hair.

Gilchrist's forensic work was placed under a more concentrated form of science when DNA testing came about by the late '80s. Testing was done on the semen collected from the victim, and the result was not a match to Bryson.

But other scientists who looked into Gilchrist's original work claim that, had the chemist conducted her science correctly, Bryson should have been excluded before the 1983 trial, regardless of DNA testing.

Brian Wraxall, chief forensic serologist at the Serological Research Institute in California, looked over Gilchrist's lab notes last November and found serious flaws from his former student. Gilchrist received some of her training at the institute.

Of particular note was the robe the victim wore after escaping to a nearby house. Semen stains were found on the robe which Gilchrist tested and concluded could have come from Bryson. But Wraxall said Gilchrist did not conduct the tests properly and that Bryson would have been excluded as a donor.

"Ms. Gilchrist failed to run a substrate or background control from the robe as she was taught in my laboratory," Wraxall wrote in his report.

But Wraxall's pupil took a hard stance on her testing during her deposition on March 6, 2008.

"Just because that wasn't his DNA in that semen found in her vagina does not mean he's not the rapist," Gilchrist said. "Now, if you can exclude him using "¦ DNA testing on those hairs, then I would agree with you then that he's not the rapist, but until that happens, I stand by the results of my analysis."

However, the hair analysis has also been debunked. In 2001, the FBI conducted reviews of Gilchrist's work and concluded the hair evidence did not match Bryson. But during her deposition, Gilchrist shrugged off conclusions of other analysts:

"That happens all the time. Hair examination is very subjective, and experts may or may not agree on the conclusions that are reached. So if someone else disagrees with my findings, I don't put much weight in that."

Gilchrist and her attorney, Melvin Hall, refused to comment for the story, as did Bryson and his attorney Mark Barrett, along with Macy and his attorney.

Whether Gilchrist was even qualified to conduct such tests became a topic for Bryson's attorneys. Records of Gilchrist's college transcript and early training at FBI labs show the chemist had difficulty with some of her science classes.

According to her transcripts from the University of Oklahoma and University of Central Oklahoma, Gilchrist was placed on academic probation more than once, as well as academic suspension.

At OU, she received a grade of D in general chemistry. At UCO, she earned C and D grades in chemistry courses like general physics and quantitative analysis.

During her deposition, Gilchrist was questioned about the marks she received while training with the FBI. Barrett pointed out several instances where Gilchrist misidentified hair samples during tests. But Gilchrist contended mistakes were to be expected as it was her first week in training. She received a certificate stating she had completed the FBI course.

During the deposition, city attorney Richard Smith tried to make light of Barrett's line of questioning:

Smith: "Did you get 100 percent on every spelling test you've ever took?"

Gilchrist: "No."

Through the years, as one former convict gets exonerated after another, Gilchrist did reflect on any mistakes she had made, particularly when it came to hair analysis, and not letting a jury think she could identify a person through hair samples.

"There's a lot of things I probably regret during the course of my lifetime. I probably regret not expounding a little further instead of just answering "

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