Top state court vacates murder conviction, based on now-discredited bite-mark evidence and new law

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Corrected: It took a state law. But on Thursday the California Supreme Court granted a habeas petition and vacated the 1997 conviction of a man convicted of murdering his wife, in which bite-mark evidence played a significant role.

The dentist who testified against William Richards at trial, Dr. Norman Sperber, later recanted his testimony. And modern forensic evidence indicates that someone else, not Richards, was responsible for the bite mark, the court said in its written opinion (PDF).

However, it wasn’t until state lawmakers enacted a statute, inspired by Richards’ case, that the court agreed there was a basis for reversing his conviction due to “false” evidence, reports the Associated Press.

In 2012, a majority of the state supreme court upheld his conviction.

Richards, who is now in his mid-60s, was tried three times before he was convicted, an earlier Los Angeles Times (sub. req.) story notes.

The news articles don’t include any comment from Richards or his legal counsel.

See also:

ABA Journal (2008): “Bite-Mark Evidence Loses Teeth”

ABA Journal (1996): “Out of the Blue”

Second references to Richards corrected June 11.

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