How Many More Are Innocent?

Oklahoma City Scandal Exposes Shoddy Police Work

Joyce Gilchrist
By: Alice Kim

"My heart goes out to all the other people I know that are in here who are innocent because of the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office and the Oklahoma City Police Department," said Jeffrey Todd Pierce after he was freed from prison on May 7.

"I hope you all won’t forget about them, too, because there are more. I’m just the one that opened the door, and I feel there will be a lot more coming out behind me."

Pierce sat behind bars for 15 long years before DNA tests proved his innocence. Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist, who is currently under investigation for falsifying, withholding and failing to test evidence in criminal cases, testified against Pierce.

Now authorities are reexamining 1,448 cases that Gilchrist worked on -- including 12 death penalty convictions. But in 11 cases that Gilchrist worked on, the defendants have already been executed -- including Marilyn Plantz, who was executed on May 1, 2001, despite the recent revelations about Gilchrist’s shoddy performance.

A preliminary FBI investigation found that in at least five cases that ended with convictions, Gilchrist testified "beyond the acceptable limits of forensic science" and that Gilchrist misrepresented hair and fiber analysis in court to get convictions.

What’s more, the Oklahoma City Police Department can’t even keep its records straight. The investigation won’t be able to review cases for three years -- 1980, 1981, and 1990 -- because they can’t be found.

According to the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Gilchrist’s analysis and testimony has sent at least one innocent person, Robert Miller Jr., to death row. Gilchrist examined hairs obtained from the crime scenes and testified that they belonged to Miller.

But 10 years after he was convicted and sentenced to death, DNA testing proved Miller’s innocence. In 1998, he became the 76th innocent person freed from death row.

The DNA evidence also showed that a man named Ronnie Lott was the perpetrator of the crime. At the first trial, Gilchrist had discounted Lott based on her analysis!

Gilchrist has been working for years with the district attorney’s office to win convictions. Finally, prosecutors in Oklahoma City are feeling the heat.

How many other wrongful convictions resulted from Gilchrist’s shoddy work remains to be seen.