Carolina Governor Pardons Man Wrongly Convicted Based on Erroneous Hair
Carolina Governor Pat McCrory today issued a pardon for Timothy Bridges,
who wrongly served over 25 years for a rape and burglary, based in large
part on the erroneous testimony of an FBI-trained state hair analyst who
claimed that Bridges’s hair linked him to two hairs found at the scene.
Bridges was released on October 1, 2015, after prosecutors consented to
vacating Bridges’s 1991 convictions. Bridges’s legal team, which
included lawyers from the Innocence Project and North Carolina Prisoner
Legal Services, along with David Rudolf, also uncovered evidence that police
failed to turn over to the district attorney’s office before trial.
Post-conviction discovery materials showed that police paid informants and
made other threats or promises to the informants, which was contrary to
their testimony at trial. Subsequent DNA testing on crime scene evidence
also excluded Bridges. The pardon means that Bridges will be entitled to
compensation under a state statute that awards $50,000 for each year of
wrongful imprisonment up to a maximum on $750,000.
FBI Testimony on Microscopic Hair Analysis Contained Errors in at least
90% of Cases
Bridges is grateful to Governor McCrory for granting him a pardon that will
go a long way towards helping him to put this long nightmare to rest,”
said Chris Fabricant, Director of Strategic Litigation for the Innocence
Project, which is affilia
with Cardozo School of Law. “In the year since his release, Mr. Bridges
has struggled to put his life back together. While nothing can undo the
damage he suffered, the official recognition of his innocence and the compensation
he will receive will mean his adjustment will be much easier.”
after three men were exonerated by DNA evidence in separate cases where
an FBI analyst had provided improper evidence at trial regarding hair analysis,
the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
persuaded the FBI to conduct an audit of cases where FBI agents provided
testimony or reports regarding microscopic hair analysis. Initial findings
of that review, which were released in 2015 revealed that of 268 cases where
agents used microscopic hair analysis to link a defendant to a crime, the
agents’ testimony was scientifically invalid in 257 or 96% of the
cases. Twenty-seven of twenty-nine analysts provided either erroneous testimony
or submitted erroneous reports. The audit does not cover cases, like Bridges’s,
where the erroneous testimony was offered by a state hair examiner rather
than by the FBI.
by Ross NYC.
case was one of the first to be litigated involving erroneous microscopic
hair testimony proffered by an FBI-trained state examiner. Upon being notified
of the error, Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray moved to
restore justice for Mr. Bridges and vacated the convictions. Subsequent
DNA testing further supported Bridges innocence.
case stands as an important reminder for the need for states throughout
the nation to conduct independent reviews of all analysts trained by FBI
hair examiners,” said Dana Delger, a staff attorney with the Innocence
Project’s Strategic Litigation Unit who worked on the case. “For
decades FBI analysts and those they trained provided erroneous testimony
that provided critical evidence of guilt in cases around the nation. While
the FBI has agreed to review the cases it was directly involved in, this
review does not cover the cases handled by state analysts trained by the
Wise of North Charlotte was the victim of a burglary and assault sometime
between the afternoon of May 14, 1989 and the afternoon of May 15, 1989
when her daughter-in-law found her badly beaten in her home. The victim,
who was elderly, in poor health and could not see, passed away 13 months
later without giving a reliable description of her attacker. Although the
victim denied that she was raped, the treating physician testified there
was bruising consistent with a rape. The crime went unsolved for several
months until three informants with prior criminal records claimed that Bridges
confessed to them.
the prosecution relied on the testimony of the three informants as well
as the testimony of Elinos Whitlock III, an employee of the Charlotte Mecklenburg
Police Department Crime Lab who had been trained by the FBI in how to conduct
microscopic hair analysis. He claimed that he could make a “strong
identification” that a hair recovered at the crime scene was Bridges’s
hair. He further stated that there was only a 1 in 1000 chance that two
Caucasian people (Bridges is white) would have indistinguishable head hair.
Notably, the appellate court reviewing Mr. Bridge’s conviction in
1992 found error in admitting the “1 in a 1000” testimony, but
found that because the analyst had included language stating that hair was
not a basis for individual identification and in light of the informant
testimony, the error was “harmless” and affirmed Mr. Bridges’s
always maintained his innocence. His defense rested on the testimony of
a former State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) fingerprint analyst. A bloody
palm print was found on the crime scene wall that two state analysts agreed
did not match to Bridges. Despite a compelling argument by his lawyer that
the bloody print must have come from the real perpetrator, Bridges was convicted
and sentenced to life in prison.
his release, Bridges moved in with an uncle and cousin in Greensborough,
but has since moved into his own apartment in Charlotte.
was originally represented by Lauren Miller of North Carolina Prisoner Legal
Services, Inc., and Fabricant and Delger of the Innocence Project. Miller
and Rudolf represented him in his pardon application.