Prosecutors in the state of Washington turn to many sources for evidence in their cases against suspected criminals. They rely on witness testimony, reports from police officers, and even photos or video footage. But one of the most reliable tools in a prosecutor's arsenal is forensic evidence, like the type that is featured in many of today's televised dramas like CSI, Body of Proof, and Bones.
Much of the forensic evidence used by prosecutors is processed in the state's crime laboratory, which has several locations including Cheney. Ideally, this evidence is processed with the objectivity provided by the scientific method, including peer review, and painstakingly thorough investigatory procedures.
But now, the manager of that Cheney crime lab has tendered his resignation amid allegations that he "mishandled" evidence in a number of cases years ago. Actually, "mishandled" is not the correct term - Kevin Fortney is accused of simply not completing the necessary lab work for the evidence in these cases while claiming that he had done so. This echos the Anne Marie Gordon criminal fraud accusations from 2007.
Employees working under Fortney brought the misconduct to the attention of the Washington State Patrol earlier this year. It's not clear what types of cases were not conducted improperly by Fortney, though some are believed to involve arson. Also, the misconduct apparently took place some years ago when Fortney was just a front-line technician and not the lab's manager.
The evidence in the mishandled cases will have to be reexamined to determine if the convictions were tainted. And more importantly, the discovery blemishes the integrity not only of the state's crime lab and all of its employees, but also the entire Washington justice system as well.