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02-13-2004

Statistician Finds Fbi Bullet Analysis Method May Be Flawed; Will Speak At Clarkson

The NAS report notes that up to 35 million bullets from a single manufacturing run may have identical compositions, and that an unknown number of other bullets from different sources can share the same characteristics – greatly reducing the significance of a match. Armed with this report, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project are trying to identify "wrongful convictions based on overstatement of analysis evidence."

This case, as well as hundreds of others where FBI testimony determined the number of bullets fired during a crime, is being called into question by a National Academy of Science (NAS) report released February 10. Texas A&M researcher Cliff Spiegelman was one of the committee members of the report that is making headlines on the evening news and in newspapers nationally. He will speak at Clarkson University on February 20 from 4 — 6 p.m. in Bertrand H. Snell Hall Room 213.

Spiegelman's address is titled "A Statistician's View of the FBI's Chemical Analysis of Bullet Lead (CABL)" and will explore the question: Is the current state of forensic science practice at the FBI crime lab good science?

The Kennedy assassination was one of the first cases where CABL was used as a forensic tool and it has been used by the FBI for more than 40 years. When a bullet is found at a crime scene and in a suspect's possession, the trace elements in the bullet can be compared. If the bullets are similar enough a match is declared. The report written by Spiegelman's committee labels FBI testimony that crime-scene bullets can be linked to bullets found in a box owned by a suspect, or to similar boxes manufactured at the same time, "seriously misleading and objectionable."

FBI examiners have testified in more than 500 cases regarding CABL determinations since 1980.A Los Angeles Times report quotes FBI Laboratory Director Dwight E. Adams as stating "currently, attorneys for the FBI, as well as the Department of Justice, are studying the report to determine if anything in the report should be conveyed to prosecutors.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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