Bob Shell: Fixing Forensics

Forensics lab technician working on a case
Lab Technician. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2022

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2022


Fixing Forensics


I urge anyone who believes that our American justice system works to get a copy of the November/December DISCOVER magazine. On page 40 you will find an article with the same title as this post. Basically, the article says that real scientists have found that ‘forensic science’ is largely hogwash – to put it politely.
The article talks about Keith Harward, who spent 33 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, convicted with junk science. In his case an ‘expert’ testified that Harward’s bite marks matched those on a rape and murder victim. After 33 years, the Innocence Project had DNA testing done that showed Harward was innocent and pointed the finger at another man. But it should never have taken 33 years. Is that justice? Bite mark comparison has now been completely discredited as evidence.
If you watch CSI and NCIS on TV, you get the impression that their techniques are infallible. But that simply is not true. The Innocence Project documented 25 false convictions based on bite mark comparison. There are probably many more.
What about fingerprints? Aren’t they conclusive? In one case, examiners matched the fingerprints of an unidentified corpse with those of a woman whose prints were on file, and notified her mother of her death. The mother grieved and prepared for a funeral. Luckily, the woman turned up in California before her funeral. The fingerprint match was just wrong!
The FBI arrested Brandon Mayfield for involvement in the 2004 Madrid train bombing that killed 191 people. The arrest was based on fingerprints found on an explosive-filled bag at the scene of the explosion.
Fortunately for him, Mayfield had not been out of the country in ten years and could prove it. But the FBI had said the fingerprint match was “100 percent” and “verified,” before having to eat their words and release Mayfield.
Scientists showed fingerprint analysts pairs of prints they’d testified were 100 percent matches without telling them they’d seen the prints before. Most of the examiners said the prints didn’t match or were inconclusive! That was 15 years ago, and every study done since has produced similar results.
There’s much more, and I urge everyone concerned with justice to read the article.
Hundreds of people are in American prisons based on false forensic testimony, and I am one of them. It is long past time that something is done about this travesty.


About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here:

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Here’s the link: 

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