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Sonia Cacy Matt Richardson FEATURE Burned by the Evidence BY MICHAEL DAECHER Gatesville 6 ‘m scared to death, because the system is a lot less than what I thought before all this began,” said Sonia Cacy, sitting in an interview room at the Gatesville Prison. “Juries in this country, when they hear a D.A. talk, they believe it. They hear an expert witness on the stand, they believe it. They don’t even consider them being corrupt. I didn’t, and I was right in the middle of it. I didn’t think they were corrupt until it was proved to me. Juries aren’t educated to listen to all that complicated testimony.” It is not only the state’s judicial system that failed Sonia Cacy, convicted of an arson murder she almost certainly did not commit. Nothing has worked for her. Not the courts, although Austin lawyer Gerry Morris is now working pro bono on her appeal. Not the press, although The Wall Street Journal and ABC News have examined her conviction, each concluding that she did not get anything resembling a fair trial in Fort Stockton five years ago. Not even a volunteer team of six scientists who analyzed the evidence that convicted her, has been able to move Sonia Cacy any closer to freedom. It is this physical evidence and more importantly, the competence and honesty of the scientists and technicians who analyze it that lies at the heart of Sonia Cacy’s nightmare with the criminal justice system. Larry Ytuarte knows how evidence is handled in forensic labs in Texas. In a very real sense he was a victim of the same system that put -Sonia Cacy behind bars in Gatesville. Ytuarte left New York and a position as a chemistry professor for San Antonio and work in forensic science the detailed analysis of fingerprints, ballistics, paint samples, body fluids, tissue, and DNA upon which many criminal prosecutions are built. Within a year of his arrival at the Bexar County Forensic Science Center in 1990 \(where he was responsible noticed that some of his colleagues weren’t exactly detail-oriented. Too often, standard scientific procedures weren’t followed, and the uncertain results produced by the slipshod procedures were not being challenged in court. And it was not only sloppy procedure that worried Ytuarte. In some cases, names of lab employees were falsely entered on test documents, or tests were said to have been completed that weren’t. In one case, Ytuarte reported a negative drug analysis on a blood sample, and the exact opposite was reported in court. “I told my supervisors about what was going on,” he says. “I thought they’d want to correct the errors.” They didn’t. The chief toxicologist reviewed Ytuarte’s complaints and concluded that the problems were the result of a heavy workload and a small staff. So Ytuarte wrote to the commissioners court, the district attorney, and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. “It was extremely frustrating,” he says. “By the time I went to the D.A.’s office, I realized they’d do nothing about it. These guys had been using results from the lab to put people away for years.” In the fall of 1994, after four years with a spotless record, Ytuarte was relieved of his duties and escorted from the premises. His supervisors claimed he had “knowingly issued incorrect toxicology reports” exactly the sort of conduct he was trying to expose. Ytuarte documented all his claims and filed a civil suit. His case never made it to court; in the spring of 1997, Bexar County accepted Ytuarte’s initial settlement offer of $350,000 and the case was closed. Not only did he win a cash settlement, but Ytuarte was reinstated in his job from which he resigned the same day. He also successfully fought a gag order that would have prevented him from speaking about the case. There had been other problems at the Bexar County Forensic Science Center. As reported in the San Antonio Express-News, the county has had to pay more than $1.1 million to settle three separate lawsuits involving the medical examiner’s office. The lawsuits raise serious questions about quality control at the Bexar County lab and the forensic science lab’s cozy relationship with law enforcement agencies. They also call into question convictions that rely heavily on Bexar County Forensic Science 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 28, 1998