Bite-mark evidence should be allowed in murder case, says state judge

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A jury will be allowed to hear bite-mark evidence that may tie a suspected murderer to his alleged victim, a New York judge ruled on Thursday.

Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley said bite-mark analysis comports with the standards of evidence under state law, the Associated Press reports.

Wiley said he would explain the reasoning behind his ruling in a written decision to come later. “It’s obviously a field that has not been looked at closely by the courts in a long time,” he said.

The case involves the 2007 slaying of Kristine Yitref, 33. Yitref, whose body was found in a Times Square hotel, had been beaten and strangled.

Clarence Brian Dean, a 41-year-old fugitive sex offender from Alabama, has been charged with murdering Yitref. A forensic dentist is expected to testify that an apparent bite-mark found on Yitref’s body matches Dean’s dentition.

Dean told police he killed Yitref in self-defense. He said she and another man (who has never been found) attacked him in an attempted robbery after he agreed to pay her for sex.

Defense lawyers had sought to have the bite-mark evidence barred from the trial on the grounds that it is scientifically unreliable.

The judge’s ruling was “contrary to the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community,” said Chris Fabricant, director of strategic litigation for the Innocence Project. “It’s a victory for the Flat Earth Society.”

But prosecutors maintained that bite-mark evidence, when used properly, is scientifically reliable.

Dr. David Senn, a forensic dentist in San Antonio, testified for the prosecution that bite-mark analysis is valid when used to compare the dentition of a finite list of suspects. “The issue is not that bite-mark analysis is invalid, but that bite-mark examiners are not properly vetted,” he said.

ABA Journal:

Bite-Mark Evidence Loses Teeth (May 2008)

The Uncertain Science of Evidence (July 2005)

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