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Forensic Magazine December 22, 2018: Texas Court: Man Convicted of Murder by Bite Marks ‘Actually Innocent’

The case against a man convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1987 murder of a Dallas couple was based largely on a bite mark on one of the bodies. The forensic odontologist testified in court that there was a 1-in-a-million chance that someone other than Steven Mark Chaney left the impressions there. 

Decades later, the dentist said he was wrong. Chaney went free in 2015. And now, a Texas appeals court has declared him, after 28 years behind bars, “actually innocent.”

Could it mark the final turning point for some bite-mark evidence in American courtrooms? The Innocence Project, which counts at least 25 wrongful arrested or convictions due to erroneous bite mark analysis, seems to think so.

“We are encouraged that the law is beginning to catch up with scientific reality,” said M. Chris Fabricant, director of strategic litigation for the Innocence Project. “The scientific community is unanimous in concluding that bite mark evidence has no place in our courtrooms and has all too often been used to destroy the lives of innocent people, convicting them for crimes they had nothing do with.” 

The bodies of John and Sally Sweek were found around midnight on June 20, 1987 on the kitchen floor in their east Dallas apartment. The throats had been slashed, and there were numerous stab wounds on each body. What were initially identified as human bite marks were found on the lower left arm of John Sweek, according to historical accounts. more

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