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Derrick Jackson Photo courtesy of The Daily Texan POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE The Leaky Roof of Texas ustice Justice for Jackson? Derrick Jackson sits on death row at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas, thinking about a moment during his capital murder trial in 1998. Jackson stood accused of the 1988 double homicide of Houston Grand Opera singers Richard Wrotenbury and Forrest Henderson. The case languished until 1995, when Harris County upgraded its computer fingerprint database. Jackson, fingerprinted earlier and in prison on unrelated charges, suddenly became a suspect. Police officers visited the prison, drew Jackson’s blood, and sent it for testing to the Houston Police Department Crime Laboratory. Using the killer’s blood taken from the scene, H PD’s forensic analysts matched Jackson’s blood with the sample. His lawyers questioned the prosecution’s DNA evidence. Judge Bob Burdette of the 230th District Court in Houston granted a hearing outside the presence of the jury to review the lab’s scientific methods and the reliability of the specialists who interpreted the evidence. So that later, when the jury convicted Jackson, they had not heard Elizabeth Johnson, a forensic scientist formerly with the county medical examiner’s office, try to tell the court that the bloodwork produced by HPD in Jackson’s case was suspicious. Judge Burdette interrupted her testimony because she had only “questions” for the HPD scientists, instead of hard evidence of a flawed methodology. Burdette overruled the defense’s objection. “You simply want to satisfy yourself that the methods used were, in fact, consistent with scientific standards ; he said as he affirmed the evidence’s validity for the jury. On direct appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in May 2000, Judge Tom Price didn’t dispute the judge’s position and, speaking for the whole court, confirmed Jackson’s death sentence. Fast forward three years. The I-1PD crime lab is mired in scandal and, as a result, Jackson’s case is the first death penalty case flagged for review. At least several hundred casesperhaps thousands, some going back as far as 1992are now in question. Among other problems, for years the lab’s roof leaked rainwater onto easily contaminated crime scene evidence. Growing public concern, articulated by the Texas House Committee on General Investigatingwith all the power of a grand jury save indictmenthas begun a full scale inquiry into the problems with the lab. Josiah Sutton, convicted of rape, has been released from jail because retesting excluded him as a suspect. Assistant DA Marie Munier said her office has reviewed 32 cases of people already put to death, concluding that none of them were wrongly executed. The conflict of interest inherent in having the prosecutorial office in these cases essentially investigate itself has drawn a barrage of criticism. Even HPD Chief C. 0. Bradford and Mayor Lee Brown say they don’t want the nation’s leading death penalty prosecutors reviewing their own handiwork. \(It’s worth noting that Mayor Brown was police chief of Houston when many of these cases There still is time to save those on death row who might be innocent. At the beginning of March, Derrick Jackson received a short letter from 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3128/03