Prior Experience for Texas DNA Lab: Cleaning Elephant Cages and Work With Insects

According to a report in the Houston Chronicle, none of the analysts who worked in the Houston Police Department's discredited DNA lab (which presented evidence in death penalty cases) were qualified by education and training to do their jobs. The Chronicle's examination of personnel records found that not one of the lab's employees met national standards and only one of the employees had completed all required college courses mandated by the DNA Advisory Board Quality Assurance Standards. Texas law requires all crime labs to meet these standards by 2004. Among the reporters' findings were the following:

  • The founder and former head of the DNA lab, James Bolding, did not meet the standards for the job. Among other things, he failed both algebra and geometry in college, though he later passed both, and he never took statistics. Bolding held bachelor's and master's degrees from Texas Southern University, but was academically dismissed from the University of Texas Ph.D. Program. Bolding resigned from the lab after Houston's police chief recommended he be fired.
  • Jobs were often given to graduates without the required degrees, such as those who had majored in chemistry or zoology. Among those hired to do DNA tests or prepare samples for testing were two workers from the city zoo. One had most recently been cleaning elephant cages. The other had done DNA research, but only on insects.
  • The lab hired Joseph Chu despite a former employer's comment that he "has difficulty in speaking English." In his application, he wrote, "I have skilled several equipments" and "I have experience in testing animal and sacrificing them." His supervisors rated him poorly in communication, a serious handicap when testifying. Chu was suspended for 14 days after several errors were found in four cases, including a capital murder case. He also misrepresented his degree in a court document.

These findings were among the widespread problems that prompted the closure of the DNA lab in December and the review of hundreds of cases processed there, including some death penalty cases (Houston Chronicle, September 8, 2003). See Innocence.