Evidentiary Hearing

Watch the video of George Perrot's bail hearing Feb. 10, 2016 including Judge Kane reading his decision.

George D. Perrot's hearings on his motion for a new trial were held in September 2015. Learn more.


 Reporting the Perrot case 

When we took on George D. Perrot’s case in October 2011, he had exhausted many avenues of appeal and had been denied three motions for a new trial. He had made numerous requests to organizations committed to reviewing wrongful convictions, but received his first “yes” from the Schuster Institute.  [MORE]

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Evidentiary hearings video

 Media coverage 

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Springfield man is freed after 1992 rape conviction overturned
Hearing held over hair evidence in 1985 Springfield rape

A troubling case turns on a strand of evidence

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After 30 years in jail, George Perrot's guilty verdict is overturned

Guilty until proven innocent

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Springfield man incarcerated for 30 years is set free after judge overturns rape conviction

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More of our Justice Brandeis Law Project cases

 Angel Echavaria makes his first phone call after being released from prison.

Exoneree Angel Echavarria




© 2008-2015 Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, 02454. All rights reserved.

A Schuster Institute wrongful conviction investigation

george-perrot

George D. Perrot


Posted Oct. 18, 2017

BREAKING NEWS: George D. Perrot Exonerated in Flawed FBI Forensics Hair Case

Wrongfully convicted man spent 30 years in prison. Debunked junk science led to judge overturning decision

Victim testified twice at trial that Perrot was not her assailant

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Massachusetts prosecutors dropped charges today against George D. Perrot, 49, officially exonerating him of charges that he raped a Springfield woman in 1985. He served 30 years in prison before a judge overturned Perrot’s conviction on Jan. 26, 2016, citing flawed FBI forensic hair science, and freed him on his own recognizance several weeks later.

Since then, Perrot has been waiting for the prosecution to determine whether they would continue to pursue the case, which took on national significance last year.

Experts believe Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Robert J. Kane’s ruling marked the first time a U.S. court made a decision based solely on the unreliability of microscopic hair analysts’ testimony that went beyond the limits of science. The ruling is expected to influence judges across the country looking at similar cases, which could number in the thousands.

"Words can't express how grateful I am for the team of individuals who made this exoneration happen. The people who stuck by me when I was at my lowest and never quit,” Perrot told the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, which began investigating his case in 2011 after Perrot turned to the Institute as his last resort. “This exoneration was hard fought and there were many times over the 30 years that I felt I would die as a convicted man. Now I am truly free."

Despite serious questions raised by scientists over many years, the FBI routinely used this flawed hair analysis method in thousands of cases across the country over several decades — and trained hundreds of others in the practice.

Perrot’s case shows that the justice system needs to be adaptable and recognize that when there are significant advances in science, the criminal justice system and the forensic science community must evolve as well, said Christopher J. Walsh, one of Perrot’s pro bono attorneys.

“The interests and administration of justice are best served by the termination of prosecution of this matter,” wrote Elizabeth Dunphy Farris, legal counsel to the Hampden District Attorney, in the DA’s filing.

Perrot’s original conviction was based in large part on testimony by FBI hair analyst Wayne Oakes, who said a single hair found at the crime scene was consistent with Perrot’s hair. But by 2014, when Perrot requested a new trial, the methods used by the FBI analyst were largely discredited, and the FBI’s own review acknowledged that its examiner made misleading errors in his testimony at Perrot’s trial.

“It is not a close call,” Kane wrote in his decision overturning the conviction. Without the FBI hair analyst’s testimony, it was unlikely that Perrot would have been convicted, he wrote.

Kane ruled that the testimony of FBI hair analyst Oakes in Perrot’s trial was not supported by science and should not have been admitted, stating that “justice may not have been done.”

Between 1985 and 2003, Perrot, who was accused of raping a Springfield woman, was tried, convicted and granted a new trial twice. In both trials, the victim, who lived in the same neighborhood as Perrot, testified that he was not her assailant, nor did he fit her description of the assailant.

Kane also recognized in his decision the influence of former prosecutor Francis W. Bloom’s hostility toward Perrot. Bloom “despised Perrot," Kane wrote, pointing to Bloom's newly discovered diary entries calling the teenaged Perrot "inherently evil" and "a sociopath." The judge added, "such feelings enable a person possessing public authority to shed the restraints and scruples that limit the exercise of power."

The FBI, the Department of Justice, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project are still reviewing many of the 3,000 cases the FBI identified in which FBI examiners may have submitted reports or testified in trials using flawed microscopic hair analysis. Of these, 35 were death penalty cases, and 33 contained errors. Nine people had already been executed, and five had died waiting on death row. In at least some of the cases, the Department of Justice knew of flaws in the FBI's work, but failed to notify the defendants.

The review so far has uncovered erroneous testimony by FBI analysts in over 90 percent of transcripts in which analysts’ testimony was used to suggest a defendant’s involvement in a crime, NACDL attorney Vanessa Antoun said earlier this year.

Perrot was represented by Ropes & Gray in Boston, the Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program and the Innocence Project.

At press time, James Leydon, spokesman for Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, said he was preparing a statement for later release.

For more information: A case timeline, court documents, video of evidentiary hearings and more information are available on the links in the right sidebar on this page.

george-perrot-nh-lake

George Perrot celebrates his freedom at Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. Judge Robert J. Kane overturned Perrot's rape conviction, then released him on his own recognizance Feb. 10, 2016. Perrot had already served 30 years in prison. The appeal deadline for prosecutors is April 10.


Posted Feb. 10, 2017

George Perrot's one-year anniversary of freedom clouded by prosecutors' intent to appeal

Flawed FBI forensics hair case enters fourth decade

WALTHAM, Mass. — Today marks one year of freedom for a man who served 30 years in prison before his conviction was overturned in a nationally significant case involving flawed FBI forensics and one strand of hair. But while he works to rebuild his life, George D. Perrot continues to feel "tortured" by prosecutors, who quickly announced they would appeal the decision that set him free.
 
As the one-year deadline to appeal Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Robert J. Kane’s decision to grant Perrot a new trial neared, Hampden County prosecutors asked the Massachusetts Appeals Court for an extension, and received a three-month extension to April 10.

One year after Perrot walked out of a New Bedford courthouse with his mother at his side, he remains in legal limbo. “This past year has been challenging,” he says.
 
“I am still adjusting to life outside of a cage,” Perrot told the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. “Life as I knew it when I was locked up at 17 is nothing like life today.” The Institute first began investigating Perrot’s case in 2011 after, Perrot said, his numerous requests for help from various legal projects were turned down.

Between 1985 and 2003, Perrot, who was accused of raping an elderly Springfield woman, was tried, convicted, and granted a new trial twice. In both trials, the victim, who lived in the same neighborhood as Perrot, testified that he was not her assailant. Prosecutors appealed and a judge reinstated Perrot’s second conviction. He was sent back to prison and spent the next 13 years, often on his own, challenging the conviction.
 
Perrot’s fortunes changed in early 2016. In what was widely hailed as a national “first,” Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Robert J. Kane overturned Perrot’s rape conviction, citing new scientific evidence that an FBI analyst’s testimony against Perrot, which was based on microscopic hair analysis, was erroneous and would not be admissible today because there is now scientific consensus that this method is deeply flawed. The FBI analyst had linked a single hair prosecutors said police found at the scene to Perrot. On Feb. 10, 2016, Kane released Perrot on personal recognizance.
 
Despite serious questions raised by scientists over many years, the FBI routinely used this method for several decades. In 2000 the FBI began to use the much more reliable mitochondrial DNA testing to identify crime scene hairs. By the time Perrot requested DNA testing of the hair in his case, officials declared the single strand in question had been lost.

Experts believe Kane’s ruling marks the first time a U.S. court has made a decision based solely on the unreliability of microscopic hair analysts’ testimony that went beyond the limits of science. The ruling is expected to influence jurists across the country looking at similar cases.

Perrot says he now takes advantage of the simple pleasures he desperately missed while behind bars for three decades – spending time with his mother and enjoying nature. He got his driver’s license and is learning how to navigate new technology, which he describes as “an ongoing battle.” In April he traveled by plane – his first flight ever – to the Innocence Network Conference in San Antonio, Texas, where he was honored along with more than 100 others whose convictions have been overturned.

While waiting for the prosecutors’ next move, Perrot drives to see his parole officer twice a month and submits to drug tests. His only plans are “just to continue adjusting. I don’t really think that far out.”

“I do my best to put it out of my mind, but it is obviously hard,” he said. “They stole the best years of my life. They know I am innocent and yet they continue to torture me. I am thankful for my team who continues to fight for me and an end to this living nightmare.”

James Leydon, spokesman for Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, did not respond to requests for comment.

Early last year, Perrot’s own lawyers filed notice that they would appeal part of Kane’s decision. While the judge allowed Perrot’s motion for a new trial on the major charges that had led to two life sentences at his second trial in 1992, Kane denied another motion to overturn separate burglary charges from the same trial.

Kirsten V. Mayer and Christopher J. Walsh of Ropes & Gray, Perrot’s pro bono attorneys, declined to comment on the appeals or estimate how long they might take.

At Perrot’s 2016 bail hearing, Kane made a point of telling prosecutors he was “reasonably sure” his decision overturning the rape conviction would hold up under appellate review. He also expressed “deep skepticism that the Commonwealth’s case, built on circumstantial evidence, will even withstand review under a directed verdict standard,” suggesting that prosecutors lack legally sufficient evidence for a trial judge to send the case against Perrot to a jury.
 
Perrot says he doesn’t think he’ll ever truly get justice.
 
“They took too much,” he said. “I fought for my life literally every day for years. (The inmates) tried to kill me in Walpole,” a maximum security prison now known as Massachusetts Correctional Institution – Cedar Junction.

“I lost years with my family and loved ones that I will never get back. I will never have a career, kids, or a lot of other things. I just want to be left alone. I want to live my life, what I have left, without chains.”

In the past four years, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project have reviewed close to two-thirds of the 3,000 cases the FBI  identified in which FBI examiners may have submitted reports or testified in trials using microscopic hair analysis.

They uncovered erroneous testimony by FBI analysts in over 90 percent of transcripts in which analysts’ testimony was used to suggest a defendant’s involvement in a crime, according to NACDL attorney Vanessa Antoun. Half of the lab reports reviewed contained at least one erroneous statement, Antoun said, and 26 of the 28 FBI examiners who testified in criminal trials about their analysis of hair samples made errors, either in testimony or in an accompanying lab report.

The review includes cases from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Of 35 death penalty cases reviewed by the FBI, 33 contained errors. Nine people had already been executed, and five had died waiting on death row.

“We hope that people continue to look to the Court's reasoning when addressing this (type of) evidence,” Antoun said, even in jurisdictions where courts are not bound to follow Kane’s ruling in the Perrot case.

“The impact of Mr. Perrot's case hopefully will continue to be felt as these cases continue to be litigated,” she said.


judge-kane-reading-decision

Judge Robert J. Kane reads his decision aloud at the Feb. 10 bail hearing, where he freed George Perrot on his own recognizance.

BREAKING NEWS:

Hampden County appeals decision overturning George Perrot’s FBI junk hair science conviction



Posted Feb. 25, 2016


SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Hampden County prosecutors announced they will appeal the groundbreaking Jan. 26 decision by Judge Robert J. Kane overturning George D. Perrot’s 1992 rape and burglary conviction and granting him a new trial, marking the third time in 26 years that a judge has overturned Perrot’s conviction. Kane based his decision largely on “newly available evidence” that the trial testimony of an FBI hair analyst was not supported by science and should not have been admitted.

Prosecutors have not indicated the basis of their planned appeal. Prosecutor Elizabeth Dunphy Farris, who has been involved in the case since 1987, filed notice of the appeal Feb. 23 in Hampden County Superior Court.

Experts believe Kane’s ruling marks the first time a U.S. court has made a decision based solely on the unreliability of microscopic hair analysts’ testimony that went beyond the limits of science. The ruling is expected to influence jurists across the country looking at similar cases.

Kane, a superior court judge in Bristol County, released Perrot on his own recognizance at a Feb. 10 bail hearing. Perrot had served 30 years in prison.  

"It is disappointing although not surprising. The Commonwealth, despite overwhelming evidence of my innocence and their own misconduct, continue to waste taxpayer dollars and torture me," Perrot said.

James Leydon, spokesman for Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, said in an email, “We will reserve from commenting for now.”  

At the bail hearing, Kane made a point of telling prosecutors he was “reasonably sure” his decision would hold up under appellate review. Kane also expressed “deep skepticism that the Commonwealth’s case built on circumstantial evidence will even withstand review under a directed verdict standard,” suggesting that prosecutors lack legally sufficient evidence for a case against Perrot to go to a jury.  

Perrot is represented by a team of pro bono attorneys from Ropes & Gray, the Innocence Project and the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program.

“We are confident that Judge Kane’s well-reasoned and thorough decision will be upheld on appeal. Review by an appeals court will bring further attention to the injustice that has resulted from flawed forensics in this case and many others nationally. We look forward to continuing to advocate on George’s behalf,” said Christopher J. Walsh of Ropes & Gray.

Over several decades, FBI agents testified as experts in thousands of criminal cases, many of which are now being called into question.

Hair microscopy, which was used by the FBI to analyze and compare hairs before DNA testing became regular practice at the FBI Laboratory in 2000, was debunked as a junk science in a landmark 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences. But it wasn’t until last year that the FBI, under intense pressure from the legal community to review its agents’ hair evidence testimony in thousands of cases, publicly acknowledged that its examiners’ testimony had often been seriously flawed.

The FBI announced April 20, 2015 that its examiners had made erroneous statements in their testimony in 96 percent (257 of 268) of the cases reviewed in which their testimony was used to inculpate a defendant. Perrot was one of those defendants, and in 2014 he received a letter from the FBI admitting to specific significant errors by the examiner who testified in his trial.

Perrot, who was 19 when he was first convicted in 1987, has maintained his innocence since he was first arrested two years earlier. He was convicted twice for the Nov. 30, 1985 break-in and rape of a 78-year-old woman in Springfield, one of several similar crimes that had occurred over the past year and a half in the city. The victim did not identify Perrot from a lineup, and testified in both trials that Perrot, who had grown up in her neighborhood, was not the man who attacked her.

Without the support of the victim, Hampden County’s case relied on what turned out to be problematic and inconclusive physical evidence including a single hair, blood and a pair of gloves found in the victim’s home. These “failed to make up for the victim’s striking image of an attacker without a mustache, without a goatee, and whose scalp hair had the markings of regular attendance at a barbershop,” in sharp contrast to Perrot, who had long hair, a mustache and a goatee at the time, Kane wrote in his decision.

The admission of improperly obtained evidence and prosecutorial misconduct contributed to the reversals of Perrot’s first and second trials, respectively. An appeals court reinstated his second conviction in 2003.

The case was transferred to Bristol County after the Hampden County judge to whom it was originally assigned said he had a conflict of interest. Perrot claimed in his motion for a new trial that his defense attorney in 1992, now a judge in Hampden County Superior Court, had not represented him effectively.

When the Schuster Institute took on the investigation in 2011, Perrot had exhausted many avenues of appeal and had been denied three motions he filed for a new trial. He said his many requests to organizations committed to reviewing wrongful convictions had been turned down and that he received his first “yes” from the Schuster Institute. Since then, staff and student researchers have probed inconsistencies and problems, including faulty forensic science and lost and mismanaged evidence.

perrot-learns-he-is-free

An emotional George Perrot reacts to the judge's decision that he can walk free on his own recognizance. Photo by Jonathan Wiggs, Boston Globe. 

George D. Perrot free at last after 30 years in prison

Judge denies Hampden DA’s request to keep Perrot in prison while deciding whether to appeal the decision or retry Perrot

 Feb. 10, 2016

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Thirty years into a life sentence for a rape conviction that was overturned Jan. 26, George D. Perrot was set free on his own recognizance today at a bail hearing at Bristol County Superior Court in New Bedford.

Perrot, 48, wiped tears from his eyes several times as Judge Robert J. Kane read his decision aloud.

"I determine that a bail of personal recognizance satisfies the test of common sense," Kane said.

Judge Kane's Feb. 10, 2016 memorandum and order on bail.

Hampden County prosecutors argued that Perrot was a flight risk and a danger to public safety. Prosecutor Elizabeth Dunphy Farris requested that Perrot be held without bail, or alternatively on $100,000 cash bail or $1 million surety, with a GPS monitor and a curfew.

Kane said that while the Commonwealth has the right to appeal, he was "confident" that his decision could not be appealed successfully, and that Hampden County prosecutors could not secure a conviction if they were to try Perrot again.

In his decision overturning the conviction, Judge Kane wrote that “justice may not have been done,” and cited newly available evidence that the testimony of FBI hair analyst Wayne Oakes in Perrot’s trial was not supported by science and should not have been admitted.

“It is not a close call,” Kane wrote. Without the FBI hair analyst’s testimony, it was unlikely that Perrot would have been convicted, he wrote. Experts believe Kane’s groundbreaking ruling marks the first time a U.S. court has made a decision based solely on the unreliability of microscopic hair analysts’ testimony that went beyond the limits of science, and is expected to influence jurists across the country looking at similar cases.

Judge Kane also said today that he had confidence that Perrot has the support he needs to adjust and successfully reenter society.

"George Perrot has the good fortune to have many committed and talented people working for his success," Kane read from his decision to release Perrot. "That community of friends and advisors have assembled a strong support network for his successful transition, which will surely be demanding.

"Ultimately, it will be up to George Perrot," Kane said, looking directly at Perrot. "It is he who will need to prepare himself for the confounding difficulties that lay in front of him. It is he who needs to develop the will and discipline to refrain from the call of impulse."

Kane said that after a "rigorous review" he is "reasonably sure that George Perrot did not physically or sexually assault Mary Prekop," the 78-year-old victim who, despite pressure from police and prosecutors, never wavered from saying that Perrot did not meet the description of her attacker.

"It was Mary Prekop who possessed the human integrity to refrain from joining the movement to say it was George Perrot who physically and sexually assaulted her," Kane said, telling Perrot that he would be "in her debt forevermore."

After Perrot's shackles were removed and he changed into street clothes, he spoke briefly to reporters.

"It really hasn't sunk in yet. I want to spend some time with my mom," Perrot said. Gently taking his mother by the arm, he said, "Let's get out of here, Mommy."

Perrot left the courthouse with his mother, stepfather and a friend, on his way to a steak dinner, said his mother, Beverly Garrant, 76. "I'm just so happy. He's got another chance to live his life and start over again," she said.

The Schuster Institute began investigating Perrot’s claim of innocence in 2011 after he said he hadn’t received responses from any of the many organizations he had written to asking for help.

Judge Kane vacated Perrot’s convictions related to a 1985 Springfield break-in and rape.

Perrot has spent the past 30 years in Massachusetts prisons serving two concurrent life sentences for the crime, which he consistently maintained he did not commit.

“We are deeply grateful that Judge Kane clearly recognized in his landmark decision and today when he freed him that George Perrot was not given a fair trial and that his conviction had been improperly tainted by a prosecutor (Francis Bloom) who couldn’t separate his personal animus towards Perrot from his professional legal responsibilities,” says Florence Graves, founding director of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis.

“Moreover, George’s treatment by the Commonwealth over the past 30 years he has been in prison is beyond what any human being should have had to endure," she said.

"What's remarkable is that somehow George found the internal strength over those three decades to fight for his freedom, repeatedly trying to use the legal system that had betrayed him, even though at almost every turn, his legal pleas were denied, and he was treated with disrespect," Graves said.

What’s next

Prosecutors have 30 days from Jan. 26 to file an appeal of the decision overturning the case. If the Commonwealth decides instead to retry Perrot, a trial must begin within a year after the order for retrial was finalized.

Perrot plans to live in Massachusetts while he awaits a decision from prosecutors about the future of his case.

"'How could this have possibly happened?' everyone asks me once they know George's story,” Graves said. "I have asked the same question countless times over the past five years since the Schuster Institute began investigating George’s case. And despite all of our reporting, I still don't fully know. That’s because so much information has not been made publicly available by officials in Hampden County, where George was convicted.

“Nevertheless, both George and the citizens of Massachusetts deserve the answer from our public officials. And this will take subpoena power and a thorough investigation of those in positions of power over George Perrot for the past three decades, starting with those in Hampden County,” she said.

Details of the case

Perrot was convicted twice for the Nov. 30, 1985 break-in and rape of a 78-year-old woman in Springfield, Massachusetts, one of several similar crimes that had occurred over the past year and a half in the city. The victim did not identify Perrot from a lineup, and testified in both trials that Perrot, who had grown up in her neighborhood, was not the man who attacked her.

At trial, prosecutors presented what turned out to be problematic and inconclusive hair and blood evidence, as well as a confession to the break-in — but not the rape. Perrot, who was under the influence of alcohol and Valium at the time of his arrest, told the Schuster Institute he has no memory of signing the document​ and that he did not break into the victim's home​.

Perrot was 17 when he was arrested and 19 when he was first convicted, in 1987. Prosecutors’ admission of improperly obtained evidence and prosecutorial misconduct contributed to the reversals of his first and second trials, respectively. An appeals court reinstated his second conviction in 2003. He has served 30 years of two concurrent life sentences, one for aggravated rape and the other for burglary and assault on an adult.

The microscopic hair analysis that was instrumental to Perrot's conviction was phased out at the FBI by 2000, in favor of the more definitive, scientifically based DNA hair testing. Before then, FBI agents trained as microscopic hair analysts (who compared hairs under a microscope) testified as experts, often beyond the limits of science, in thousands of criminal cases across the United States.

Many of these cases are now being called into question by a historic review that has identified several thousand cases in which FBI examiners may have testified beyond the limits of science. The review is being conducted jointly by the FBI, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project.

Perrot is represented by lead counsel Kirsten Mayer, Ropes & Gray (Boston), and co-counsel Nicholas Perros, Ropes & Gray (Washington, D.C.); Christopher Walsh, Ropes & Gray (Boston); Lisa Kavanaugh, director of the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program; and Chris Fabricant, director of strategic litigation for the Innocence Project.

Assistant District Attorney Katherine McMahon and Elizabeth Dunphy Farris, legal counsel to the district attorney, represent the Commonwealth.

george-perrot-leaves-courthouse-with-his-mom
Perrot escorts his mother, Beverly Garrant, out of the courthouse. | Photo by Jonathan Wiggs, Boston Globe.



UPDATE: BAIL HEARING RESCHEDULED FOR FEB. 10
The hearing will be held Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 2 p.m. at the Bristol County Superior Court–New Bedford at 441 County Street, New Bedford, MA.

UPDATE: FEB. 8, 2016 
Bail hearing postponed due to severe weather. The Schuster Institute will post the rescheduled hearing date and time as soon it becomes available.

updated Feb. 7, 2016

George D. Perrot may be freed at Feb. 8 bail hearing after 30 years in prison


Conviction overturned in landmark decision citing FBI junk hair science analysis and testimony

After 30 years in prison, George D. Perrot may walk free tomorrow.



A bail hearing for Perrot, whose conviction for a 1985 Springfield break-in and rape was overturned Jan. 26 in a groundbreaking decision, is scheduled for Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. at Bristol County Superior Court–New Bedford, 441 County Street, New Bedford, and is open to the public.



The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University began investigating Perrot’s claim of innocence in 2011 after he said he hadn’t received responses from any of the many organizations he had written to asking for help.



Judge Robert J. Kane wrote in his Jan. 26, 79-page decision that “justice may not have been done” in the case, citing newly available evidence that the testimony of FBI hair analyst Wayne Oakes in Perrot’s trial was not supported by science and should not have been admitted.
 


“It is not a close call,” Kane wrote. Without the FBI hair analyst’s testimony, it was unlikely that Perrot would have been convicted, he wrote.  
 


Hampden County District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni wrote in a Jan. 27 statement that his office disagrees with the judge’s decision and “will respond in court to the defendant’s request for bail, based on his security risk to the public and his history of flight before trial.”
 


Experts believe Kane’s ruling marks the first time a U.S. court has made a decision based solely on the unreliability of microscopic hair analysis testimony to identify individuals. In Perrot’s case, officials declared the single strand of hair in question to be lost and therefore it could not be tested for DNA as Perrot requested.



By 2000 the FBI had phased out hair microscopy in favor of the more definitive, scientifically based DNA hair testing. Before then, FBI agents trained as microscopic hair analysts (who compared hairs under a microscope) testified as experts in thousands of criminal cases.

Many of these cases are now being called into question by a historic review being conducted jointly by the FBI, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project.

“The decision is vitally important because it will be followed by many other courts around the country which will have to decide how to deal with this erroneous testimony,” said Chris Fabricant, director of strategic litigation for the Innocence Project and one of Perrot's attorneys.



“While we don’t know how many cases may ultimately be reversed because of the use of this scientifically invalid evidence,” said Fabricant, “we know from the preliminary findings of the review that FBI agents, over a period of more than two decades, erroneously testified or provided erroneous reports in more than 95% of the cases where microscopic hair analysis was used to connect a defendant to a crime.” 



Perrot, 48, has spent the past 30 years in Massachusetts prisons serving two concurrent life sentences for the crime, which he consistently maintained he did not commit, and which the victim corroborated when she told police he wasn’t the attacker and later reiterated in her testimony during two separate trials.
 


Perrot is represented by a team of pro bono attorneys including lead counsel Kirsten Mayer, Ropes & Gray (Boston), and co-counsel Nicholas Perros, Ropes & Gray (Washington, D.C.); Christopher Walsh, Ropes & Gray (Boston); Lisa Kavanaugh, director of the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program; and Chris Fabricant of the Innocence Project.
 


Assistant District Attorney Katherine McMahon and Elizabeth Dunphy Farris, legal counsel to the district attorney, are representing the Commonwealth.



Details of the case
 

George D. Perrot was convicted twice for the Nov. 30, 1985 break-in and rape of a 78-year-old woman in Springfield, Massachusetts, one of several similar crimes that had occurred over the past year and a half in the city. The victim did not identify Perrot from a lineup, and testified in both trials that Perrot, who had grown up in her neighborhood, was not the man who attacked her.



At trial, prosecutors presented what turned out to be problematic and inconclusive hair and blood evidence, as well as a confession to the break-in — but not the rape. Perrot, who was under the influence of alcohol and Valium at the time of his arrest, told the Schuster Institute he has no memory of signing the document and that he did not break into the victim's home.



Perrot was 17 when he was arrested and 19 when he was first convicted, in 1987. Prosecutors’ admission of improperly obtained evidence and prosecutorial misconduct contributed to the reversals of his first and second trials, respectively. An appeals court reinstated his second conviction in 2003. He has served 30 years of two concurrent life sentences, one for aggravated rape and the other for burglary and assault on an adult.



Prosecutor 'despised Perrot'



Kane also recognized in his decision the influence of former prosecutor Francis W. Bloom’s hostility toward Perrot, which Bloom had “carried with him to Washington (DC)” when he “elected to take the substantial trip” driving from Springfield to deliver evidence to the FBI Laboratory.



"(Bloom) despised Perrot," Kane wrote in the decision, pointing to Bloom's diary entries calling the teenaged Perrot "inherently evil" and "a sociopath."

"Such feelings enable a person possessing public authority to shed the restraints and scruples that limit the exercise of power. The feelings allow the official to see the individual as apart from the community of citizens whose rights must be regarded," Kane wrote in the decision.



Kane went on to say: "These feelings that filled Bloom's mind, coupled with his trip to Washington, D.C., produce a reasonable foundation for the inference that Bloom voiced his views about Perrot to (FBI agent) Oakes before Oakes' 1992 testimony. Unconsciously, Oakes, because of these communications, departed from his role as a neutral expert and slipped into the role of a partisan for the government."



Bloom, who has been twice publicly censured, still practices law in Massachusetts. The first time involved George Perrot. It was discovered that Bloom fabricated a confession complete with the forged signatures of Perrot and the lead detective on the case, and presented it to two of Perrot's friends in an attempt to trick them into confessing to another rape.



What’s next
 


Prosecutors “will evaluate an appeal” of Kane’s decision, according to Gulluni. Meanwhile, Perrot must wait, either behind bars or free on bail, to find out whether they will appeal, elect to try him a third time, or drop the case entirely.
 


Nicholas Perros, co-counsel for Perrot, said that the judge’s decision “brings him one step closer to being reunited with his family and to letting him move on with his life. We will keep fighting on his behalf to make sure that happens.”



FOR MORE INFORMATION:  Case timeline, court documents, video of evidentiary hearings and more information are available on the Schuster Institute website.

Judge Robert J. Kane

Update: Jan. 28, 2015

The bail hearing has been rescheduled for Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. at Bristol County Superior Court–New Bedford.

Update: Jan. 27, 2015

A bail hearing has been set for George Perrot for Feb. 5 at 2 p.m. at Bristol County Superior Court–New Bedford

Judge Robert J. Kane's decision

Jan. 26, 2016

George D. Perrot's 1992 conviction overturned


Massachusetts judge overturns case based on junk hair science

Groundbreaking decision could influence hundreds, perhaps thousands of similar cases across the U.S.

In a decision with implications for perhaps thousands of cases across the United States, a Massachusetts judge overturned a 24-year-old rape conviction today, ruling that an FBI hair analyst’s expert testimony in 1992 would not be admissible today. Judge Robert J. Kane ruled that there is now scientific consensus that the microscopic hair analysis key to George D. Perrot’s conviction of a 1985 Springfield break-in and rape was deeply flawed.

Perrot, who recently marked his 48th birthday and 30th year in prison, must now wait to find out whether Hampden County prosecutors will appeal the decision, elect to try him a third time, or drop the case entirely.

Perrot learned the good news in a phone call this evening with Schuster Institute legal researcher Sherrie Frisone, who was one of the first to recognize the deep flaws in the case.

"He said he is elated with the decision but he is still locked in a cage and he shouldn't be. Thirty years. Enough is enough!" Frisone recounted.
 
​Experts believe it's the first time a court in the U.S. ​has ​​made a decision citing the unreliability of microscopic hair analysis testimony in identifying individuals. Over several decades, FBI agents testified as experts in thousands of criminal cases, many of which are now being called into question. Judge Kane wrote that "the new consensus on the limitations and nature of hair analysis evidence constitutes newly available evidence....This scientific evidence establishes that the evidence testified to by (FBI agent Wayne) Oakes as an expert (in Perrot's case) exceeded the limits of science and ought not to have been admitted."

 

 



Lisa M. Kavanaugh, co-counsel for Perrot and director of the Innocence Program at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said that although the decision does not bind other courts, Judge Kane’s careful analysis ​"is very significant" and could influence judges in other jurisdictions.
    
Perrot’s legal team, which also includes pro bono attorneys from Ropes & Gray and the Innocence Project, plans to renew their request for him to be released on bail, Kavanaugh said.
 
Hampden County prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment.
 
The decision

The judge’s 79-page decision painted a picture of a defendant who was railroaded by overstated and subjective forensic science – at the hands of an FBI agent who had himself been unduly influenced by a rogue prosecutor.

Kane determined that “‘justice may not have been done’” in Perrot’s 1992 trial “because of the introduction of hair evidence that in numerous and material respects exceeded the foundational science.” Specifically, Kane found that Wayne Oakes, the FBI hair examiner who testified as an expert in the case, made scientific errors on seven occasions throughout his testimony.

Furthermore, Kane wrote, at the time of Perrot’s trial in 1992, the scientific community did not accept as it does now that “a hair examiner lacked a scientific basis to statistically assess the chance of another person’s hair being consistent with hair found at a crime scene.”  

“Oakes’s hair opinions presented enormously influential testimony,” the decision read. His testimony “exceeded the limits of science and ought not to have been admitted.”

Hair microscopy, which was used to analyze and compare hairs before DNA testing became regular practice at the FBI Laboratory in 2000, was debunked as a junk science in a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences. The FBI publicly acknowledged last year that its examiners had made erroneous statements at trial 96 percent of the time (in 257 out of 268 cases) when their testimony was used to inculpate a defendant. Perrot was one of those defendants, and in 2014 he received a letter from the FBI admitting to specific errors in his case.

Kane also recognized the influence of former prosecutor Francis W. Bloom’s hostility toward Perrot, which he had “carried with him to Washington (DC)” when he “elected to take the substantial trip” driving from Springfield to deliver evidence to the FBI Laboratory.

The decision, reached after two days of evidentiary hearings in September, marks the third time Perrot’s conviction has been overturned. Perrot has been serving two concurrent life sentences for the 1985 crimes, which both he and the victim consistently maintained he did not commit.

"The fact that George has served three decades in prison for a rape that the victim, Mary Prekop, repeatedly told authorities he didn't commit is beyond tragic,” said Florence Graves, founding director of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. “Moreover, George's case showcases the devastating impact of a criminal justice system that takes decades to acknowledge that thousands of people have been found guilty based on deeply flawed forensic science. I believe Judge Kane's decision will give others still in prison real hope."

“This decision acknowledges that George never received a fair trial,” said Nicholas Perros of Ropes & Gray, co-counsel for Perrot. “It brings him one step closer to being reunited with his family and to letting him move on with his life.  We will keep fighting on his behalf to make sure that happens.”

The judge’s decision, details about the case and more information are available on the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism website.

The Schuster Institute investigates

The Schuster Institute has been investigating George D. Perrot's claims of innocence since October 2011. By then, Perrot had exhausted many avenues of appeal, and had been denied three motions he filed for a new trial. Perrot had sent numerous requests to organizations committed to reviewing wrongful convictions, but received his first “yes” from the Schuster Institute. Since then, staff and student researchers have probed inconsistencies and problems, including faulty forensic science and lost and mismanaged evidence.

george-perrot-consults-with-chris-fabricant
George Perrot, 47, who has been imprisoned for almost 30 years, consults with attorney M. Christopher Fabricant of the Innocence Project at a Sept. 11 evidentiary hearing. Perrot is attempting to have his rape conviction overturned for the third time. | Photo by Debee Tlumacki, The Boston Globe

Posted Sept. 24, 2015


Perrot argues: FBI’s flawed hair analysis put the wrong man in prison for almost 30 years

Evidentiary hearing resumes Friday in Bristol Superior Court


Sept. 11 hearing recap & analysis: Did prosecution withhold evidence? FBI hair analysis a tangled mess of junk science?



FALL RIVER, Mass. — Witnesses are expected to testify Friday about the FBI's flawed microscopic hair analysis and testimony in the case of Massachusetts inmate George D. Perrot, whose conviction is among thousands identified as problematic and which are now the subject of an ongoing national review.

Perrot's hearing on his most recent motion for a new trial resumes before Judge Robert J. Kane at 9 a.m. in Bristol Superior Court, Fall River Justice Center, 186 S. Main Street in Fall River.

Perrot's hearing is the first resulting from the review, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which is overseeing the review along with the FBI, Department of Justice and Innocence Project. Since 2012 these organizations have examined testimony in hundreds of old trials. Among those were 35 death penalty cases, of which 33 were tainted by flawed testimony. Nine of the defendants had already been executed, and five had died waiting on death row.

Trial lawyer David E. Koropp, who was invited to take part in the national review of cases involving flawed forensic work performed by the FBI Crime Lab, is expected to testify for the defense Sept. 25. Also scheduled is Karen Kafadar, board member of the National Institute of Statistical Science and chair of statistics at the University of Virginia. The Commonwealth did not return phone messages seeking names of the witnesses prosecutors will call Sept. 25.

On Sept. 11, the first day of the evidentiary hearing, Perrot’s defense attorneys focused on inherent flaws in the now-debunked science of hair microscopy and an FBI analyst’s trial testimony in 1992 implying he could use a single hair to positively identify the defendant—or anyone. Microscopy is based on the visual comparison of hairs under a microscope.

The defense attorneys also brought to light for the first time a note handwritten by the first prosecutor pointing to potentially exculpatory blood test evidence that may have been withheld by the prosecution in both of Perrot’s trials, in 1987 and 1992.

Perrot, 47, who was convicted twice for a 1985 break-in and rape of a 78-year-old woman in her Springfield home, is seeking to overturn his conviction on grounds of newly discovered evidence that discredits the hair microscopy in his case and on ineffective assistance of counsel.

The rape victim testified in two separate trials that Perrot, who had grown up in her neighborhood, was not the man who attacked her. She described a clean-shaven assailant with short, wavy black hair to the police, but when Perrot was arrested a week later on suspicion of a purse-snatching and break-in, he had a medium-length, shaggy mop of curls, a mustache and a full goatee.

perrot-booking-photo

Perrot was arrested in 1985 at age 17. The victim of the rape testified that her attacker was a clean-shaven man and that it was not Perrot.

DNA testing of hair was not standard practice at the time of Perrot’s first and second trials. By 2012 when a judge allowed one of Perrot’s post-conviction motions for DNA testing, the strand of hair, which police said they had found on the victim’s bed, was declared missing.

In most cases under the current FBI review, if hair evidence still exists, it can be tested for DNA. In Perrot's case, the hair cannot be found, which means the court must rely on the hair analysis testimony and methodology the FBI acknowledged is flawed.

Over the course of the all-day hearing at Bristol Superior Court, Judge Kane heard testimony from an FBI hair microscopy expert, a hair analyst retained by the defense prior to Perrot’s second trial, and Perrot’s former defense attorney, John Ferrara, who is now a superior court judge in Hampden County where the case was tried twice.

Testimony focused on hair microscopy methods in 1992 and the lack of a statistical foundation that could be used to compare results.

Flaws in FBI methods

The hair microscopy experts who testified described their field as having generally similar practices across labs and examiners but no set, scientific standards to establish that a “questioned” hair undoubtedly or even possibly came from a known source. Cary Oien, who has been with the FBI Crime Lab in Washington, D.C. since 1995, was called by prosecutors, and hair analyst Elizabeth Ziolkowski, formerly of K-Chem Labs in Massachusetts, was called by the defense.

Their testimony revealed the subjective aspects of microscopic hair analysis that for decades the FBI maintained was objective science. According to the testimony, hair analysts are not required to:
•    examine and compare a prescribed number of samples of hair strands from known and questioned sources, although 25 is the recommended minimum number of strands;
•    apply an accepted, uniformly replicable procedure for analyzing hair under a microscope;
•    apply an accepted, uniform method to interpret or to describe what they see under the microscope; or
•    articulate and include a detailed, comparative description of hair characteristics of the known and unknown hair in their final reports.

Oien admitted that even with commonly noted characteristics such as hair color, there is no standard scale used by analysts to refer to.

“Is it fair to say that one person’s dirty blond might be another person’s blond?” asked M. Chris Fabricant of the Innocence Project, one of Perrot’s pro bono attorneys.

“Certainly,” Oien said.

A groundbreaking report by the National Academy of Sciences in 2009, referred to in the hearing, concluded that comparing hairs based on their appearance under a microscope as the FBI did in Perrot's case and others under review is not scientifically valid.

In July 2012, the FBI and the Department of Justice launched the nationwide review of tainted cases, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project joined the review in July 2013.

For the review, the FBI identified nearly 3,000 convictions in cases of crimes occurring before 2000, when DNA testing of hair evidence became standard practice.  In these cases hair not matching the victim had been found at the crime scene or on the murder weapon, and the FBI analyzed and compared that hair to hair from possible suspects to prepare its lab report for the law enforcement agency providing the hair samples.

As of March 2015 about 500 cases had been reviewed, and according to the FBI, “In the 268 cases where examiners provided testimony used to inculpate a defendant at trial, erroneous statements were made in 257 (96 percent) of the cases.”

While Ziolkowski said she had no memory of the case, documentation introduced by Hampden County prosecutor Elizabeth Dunphy Farris showed that Ferrara, the defense attorney at Perrot’s second trial in 1992, retained Ziolkowski’s services. But it remains unclear what work, if any, she performed on the case, and if she did, why Ferrara did not call her to rebut the FBI agent’s broad claims. Perrot’s claim that Ferrara was ineffective is based partly on the fact that Ferrara did not call a witness to dispute the FBI agent’s testimony.

FBI agent Wayne Oakes testified in Perrot’s 1992 trial that, among other claims, a single hair reportedly found on the victim’s bed was “consistent with” Perrot’s hair.

He also testified that “in 10 years it's extremely rare I will have known hair samples from two different people I can't tell apart.”

But 22 years later, as part of its review, the FBI sent a letter to Perrot acknowledging significant problems with Oakes' testimony.

His testimony “exceed(ed) the limits of the science” in three significant ways, according to the letter, because Oakes:
•    “stated or implied that the evidentiary hair could be associated with a specific individual to the exclusion of all others”;
•    “assigned to the positive association a statistical weight or probability or provided a likelihood that the questioned hair originated from a particular source, or an opinion as to the likelihood or rareness of the positive association that could lead the jury to believe that valid statistical weight can be assigned to a microscopic hair association”; and
•    “cite(d) the number of cases or hair analyses worked in the lab and the number of samples from different indivlduals that could not be distinguished from one another as a predictive value to bolster the conclusion that a hair belongs to a specific individual.”

Defense attorney Fabricant underscored that statistical conclusions could not be drawn based on the FBI's microscropic hair analysis methodology.

”There is no probabilistic database, so you could never give probabilistic data, right?” Fabricant asked Oien.

“Never give statistics, that’s correct,” Oien said.

Unlike blood typing, there is no hard data to back up a claim that a particular result found by a hair analyst is “rare,” Fabricant said. For instance, he said, AB negative has been found to occur in about one percent of the population. “So if you say AB negative is rare, that word has meaning in blood typing, right?” Fabricant asked.

“Correct,” Oien said.

Prosecutor's note says blood did not match

In both of Perrot's trials, prosecutors tried to link blood evidence police said they found on a sheet in the victim's home directly to Perrot by offering testimony from FBI agent William G. Eubanks, a forensic serology expert.

Eubanks testified that the results matched 8 percent of the white population — including Perrot and approximately 14,000 other white men in Hampden County — but could not positively identify anyone.

Instead of having the blood tested locally, the original prosecutor in the case, Francis W. Bloom, took the unusual step of personally driving the physical evidence to the FBI lab in Washington, D.C. for examination by Eubanks.

The victim, now deceased, had told police that the rape had taken place on the floor, and that she was certain that the bloodstain on the sheet had been left by a sick uncle who had lived with her years earlier and frequently coughed up blood.

At the first day of the evidentiary hearing, Perrot’s attorneys presented Ferrara with a copy of a note handwritten by Bloom and asked Ferrara to read aloud from a list of items on the note, which had the header, “Perrot case problems.”

“One of the bloodstains, the blood found on the sheet … in her bedroom, is not consistent with Perrot’s sub-grouping,” Ferrara read.

“And are there two exclamation points after that?” asked Kirsten Mayer, Perrot’s lead counsel.

“There are,” Ferrara said.

Perrot’s lawyers obtained the document as a result of a discovery motion filed this summer, which yielded hundreds of pages of documents. Mayer said the note “may qualify as Brady material.”

Ferrara affirmed that any serological evidence indicating that Perrot was not a match to the bloodstains “would tend to be exculpatory” for his former client. He said he was “confident” he did not have the note when he was preparing for trial because opposing counsel is not required by the rules of discovery to turn over their notes.

Judge Kane requests more

Judge Kane asked to be provided with relevant, representative bench notes, exemplars and charts about hair microscopy methods and what the examiner sees under the microscope. “This Court wants to have clarity,” he said. “I don’t want to have a fuzzy mind.”

Judge Kane said he wants to know how the questionable hair science would factor into a motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence.

“There certainly has been a good amount of change in terms of forensic science, recently,” he said. “In the last 10 years one would say that there’s a robust revision of good practices."

Case summary

George D. Perrot was convicted twice for the Nov. 30, 1985 break-in and rape of a 78-year-old woman in Springfield, Massachusetts, one of several similar crimes that had occurred over the past year and a half in the city. The victim did not identify Perrot from a lineup, and testified in both trials that the 17-year-old, who had grown up in her neighborhood, was not the man who attacked her.

At trial, prosecutors presented what turned out to be problematic hair and blood evidence, as well as a confession to the break-in which Perrot, who said he was under the influence of alcohol and valium at the time of his arrest, told the Schuster Institute he does not remember signing. He has said several times that he definitely did not break in to the victim’s home that night.

Perrot was 17 when he was arrested and 19 when he was first convicted, in 1987. Prosecutors’ admission of improperly obtained evidence and prosecutorial misconduct contributed to the reversals of his first and second trials, respectively. An appeals court reinstated his second conviction in 2003. He has served almost 30 years of two concurrent life sentences, one for aggravated rape and the other for burglary and assault on an adult.

The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism has been investigating Perrot’s claims of innocence since 2011.

Perrot’s team of pro bono attorneys includes lead counsel Kirsten Mayer, Ropes & Gray (Boston), and co-counsel Nicholas Perros, Ropes & Gray (Washington, D.C.); Christopher Walsh, Ropes & Gray (Boston); Lisa Kavanaugh of the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program; and M. Chris Fabricant of the Innocence Project.

Assistant District Attorney Katherine McMahon and Elizabeth Dunphy Farris, legal counsel to the district attorney, are representing the Commonwealth.

Documents and more information about the case are available on the Schuster Institute website.


Posted Sept. 22, 2015

FBI’s junk hair science on trial in Sept. 25 evidentiary hearing


George D. Perrot’s case could set precedent in historic, ongoing review of the FBI’s flawed hair microscopy; experts set to take the stand in final day of testimony 



FALL RIVER, Mass. – Hair analysis and serology experts, as well as an authority on the ongoing audit of problematic FBI hair testimony, are set to testify Sept. 25 in the final day of hearings for Massachusetts inmate George D. Perrot’s most recent motion for a new trial.

Perrot, 47, was 17 when he was charged with raping an elderly woman in Springfield — a charge he has always denied — and 19 when he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987. The rape victim testified in two separate trials that Perrot was not her attacker, and the description she gave to police shortly after the attack did not match Perrot’s appearance.



Perrot’s is believed to be the first hearing resulting from an ongoing national review of suspect FBI hair analysts’ testimony involving thousands of cases. In Perrot’s case, the Hampden County prosecutor’s office is unable to find the hair in question for DNA testing.



Perrot’s conviction has been overturned twice before, the last time on Sept. 11, 2001. Many of the almost 30 years he has served in prison have been in maximum confinement.



The hearing will take place Friday at 9 a.m. at Bristol Superior Court, Fall River Justice Center, 186 S. Main Street in Fall River.



Trial lawyer David E. Koropp, who was invited to take part in the national review of cases involving flawed forensic work performed by the FBI Crime Lab, is expected to testify for the defense Sept. 25. Also scheduled is Karen Kafadar, board member of the National Institute of Statistical Science and chair of statistics at the University of Virginia. The Commonwealth did not return phone messages seeking names of witnesses prosecutors will call Sept. 25.



The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism’s Justice Brandeis Law Project at Brandeis University has been investigating Perrot’s claim of innocence since October 2011.



Perrot’s team of pro bono attorneys includes lead counsel Kirsten Mayer, Ropes & Gray (Boston), and co-counsel Nicholas Perros, Ropes & Gray (Washington, D.C.); Christopher Walsh, Ropes & Gray (Boston); Lisa Kavanaugh of the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program; and M. Chris Fabricant of the Innocence Project. Assistant District Attorney Katherine McMahon and Elizabeth Dunphy Farris, legal counsel to the district attorney, are representing the Commonwealth.
 


One year ago Perrot received a letter from the FBI admitting significant factual and interpretive errors in FBI agent Wayne Oakes's 1992 testimony in Perrot's second trial about a microscopic analysis he performed on a single strand of hair police said they found at the crime scene.



A national review of thousands of cases in which FBI agents testified is evaluating whether their testimony on hair microscopy violated agreed upon scientific standards. In Perrot’s case, Oakes failed to meet all three standards under review. According to the FBI letter, Oakes’s errors were that he implied that an evidentiary hair could be used for positive identification, he stated a probability that the hair came from a certain source (Perrot), and he touted his experience and track record as proof of his likely accuracy.



As of press time, if Judge Kane overturns Perrot's conviction, his would be the first new trial ordered in the three-year history of the historic nationwide review.

Posted Sept. 10, 2015

30-year quest for justice results in Springfield man's evidentiary hearing Sept. 11



Defense to argue FBI's bogus testimony on hair analysis, a botched chain of evidence and poor legal defense kept the wrong man in prison for almost 30 years

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FALL RIVER, Mass. — A Massachusetts man who has served almost 30 years of a life sentence for a rape he has always maintained he did not commit will get a chance to have his conviction overturned — for the third time.

It may all come down to a single hair, but the case of George D. Perrot involves a perfect storm of debunked science, withheld evidence, lost evidence, a fabricated confession with forged signatures that the prosecutor approved, an allegedly coerced confession, problematic blood testing, blood evidence that did not match Perrot, and a victim who testified that Perrot was not her attacker.

Superior Court Judge Robert J. Kane will hear evidence Sept. 11 in Perrot’s most recent motion for a new trial. The evidentiary hearing, which is open to the public, will take place at 9 a.m. at Bristol Superior Court, Fall River Justice Center, 186 South Main Street in Fall River, Mass. A second day of testimony is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 25.

Testimony on Friday will focus on the now-debunked science of hair microscopy and the performance of Perrot’s second trial attorney.

One year ago, Perrot, now 47, received a letter from the FBI admitting errors in its agent’s hair microscopy testimony in his case. His attorneys argue that a jury could reach a different verdict now that the FBI has acknowledged its expert testimony “exceeded the limits of science.”

Perrot’s conviction is one of hundreds across the country so far that have been identified by a historic joint review of potentially flawed hair microscopy testimony given by FBI analysts.

His hearing is believed to be one of the first in the United States resulting from the ongoing national review of FBI analysts' potentially flawed testimony. In Perrot’s case, the hair in question can’t be found for DNA testing, one of Perrot’s attorneys told reporters after a status hearing in June.

The motion for a new trial also raised the failure of Perrot's previous defense lawyer to properly challenge the hair evidence and admission to the break-ins.

The evidentiary hearings in Fall River come after a Hampden County judge who was to hear the case requested that the Superior Court transfer the matter from his jurisdiction, because he believed he had a conflict of interest with a colleague, Hampden Superior Court Judge John Ferrara. Ferrara, who represented Perrot in his second trial in 1992, is scheduled to testify in the upcoming evidentiary hearing. Superior Court Chief Justice Judith Fabricant assigned the case to Judge Kane in March.

Judge Kane granted the evidentiary hearing in a written ruling July 1, in which he also granted part of the defendant’s discovery request.

Perrot’s pro bono legal team includes lead counsel Kirsten Mayer, Ropes & Gray (Boston), and co-counsels Nicholas Perros, Ropes & Gray (Washington, D.C.), Christopher Walsh, Ropes & Gray (Boston), Lisa Kavanaugh of the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program, and Fabricant of the Innocence Project.

Katherine McMahon, assistant district attorney, and Elizabeth Dunphy Farris, legal counsel to the district attorney, are representing the Commonwealth.

The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism’s Justice Brandeis Law Project at Brandeis University, which has been investigating Perrot’s claim of innocence since 2011, will be posting an extensive collection of documents to the almost three-decades-old case at www.brandeis.edu/investigate.

Details of the case

Perrot was convicted twice, first in 1987 and then in 1992. He was 17 when he was arrested and 19 when he was first convicted.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned Perrot’s original conviction in 1990, saying that the trial judge erred in allowing improper evidence to be used by prosecutors.  

Perrot is serving two concurrent life sentences—one for aggravated rape, the other for burglary and assault on an adult. On robbery, burglary, and indecent assault and battery charges, he was sentenced to 33 to 45 years, to be served concurrent with the life sentences. Many of the almost 30 years he has served have been in solitary confinement. Perrot told the Schuster Institute that he “had to fight for (his) life numerous times” after being sent to an “extremely violent” prison.

The victim of the Nov. 30, 1985 break-in and rape refused to identify Perrot from a lineup, and testified in both trials that Perrot, who had grown up in her neighborhood, was not the man who attacked her. She described a clean-shaven assailant with short, wavy black hair to the police, but when Perrot was arrested a week later on suspicion of a purse-snatching and break-in, he had a medium-length, shaggy mop of curls, a mustache and a full goatee.

Because the victim, the crime’s only eyewitness, maintained Perrot was not her attacker, the Commonwealth built its case primarily on physical evidence – a single hair police said they found on the victim’s bed and blood stains they found on the victim’s bed sheet, both of which turned out to be problematic.

The other piece of evidence prosecutors used was a disputed confession to the break-in. But as he testified at trial, on the night of his arrest Perrot was sleep-deprived and under the influence of alcohol and valium. Police questioned him four times over the course of 12 hours and gave him a confession to sign, which he testified he does not remember signing. He maintains that he was never in the victim’s home.

The Hair: FBI expert’s testimony based on junk science

Since at least the 1970s, law enforcement has been using microscopes to compare and analyze hair samples to identify suspects. The FBI lab relied on hair microscopy, and over the years its experts testified in thousands of cases across the U.S., some of them capital murder cases.

As early as 1984, the FBI acknowledged that hair analysis could not be used to positively identify an individual. But FBI experts continued to cite results based on this technique in court testimony.

The National Academy of Sciences issued a groundbreaking report in 2009 that found no scientific support for the use of hair comparisons by microscopic appearance. In July 2012, the FBI and the Department of Justice launched a nationwide review of tainted cases, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project joined the review in July 2013.

The FBI identified nearly 3,000 potentially flawed cases worked on by their analysts before 2000, when DNA testing of hair evidence became standard practice. As of March 2015 about 500 cases had been reviewed, according to the FBI.

“In the 268 cases where examiners provided testimony used to inculpate a defendant at trial, erroneous statements were made in 257 (96 percent) of the cases,” according to the FBI. Of the 35 death penalty cases reviewed, 33 contained errors. Nine people had already been executed, and five had died waiting on death row.

FBI agent Wayne Oakes testified in both of Perrot’s trials, claiming in the second trial in January 1992 that in his 10 years of experience, “it’s extremely rare I will have known hair samples from two different people I can’t tell apart.” He compared the process of hair analysis to picking out an individual from a crowd, or looking at the features of someone’s face. In Perrot’s case, Oakes said, the one strand of hair police said they found on the victim’s bed was “consistent with” Perrot’s hair sample.

But Perrot’s letter from the FBI acknowledged what the National Academy of Sciences and the forensics scientific community at large has known for years: the kind of “expert testimony” given by FBI hair analysts for more than three decades was not based on science.  

Oakes’s testimony, the letter said, “exceeded the limits of science” and could have misled the jury, unduly affecting Perrot’s trial. The FBI letter said Oakes made three significant errors: he testified that an evidentiary hair could be used for positive identification; he stated a probability that the hair came from a certain source (Perrot); and he touted his experience and track record as proof of his likely accuracy.

The Blood

Major problems have emerged with the way the serology, or blood testing, of stains on the victim’s bed sheet was handled in this case.

Instead of having the blood tested locally, the prosecutor in Perrot’s first trial, Francis W. Bloom, personally drove the physical evidence to the FBI lab in Washington, D.C. for examination. A forensic serology expert at the FBI tested the bloodstain found on the victim’s bed sheet in preparation for the first trial. The results matched 8 percent of the white population — including Perrot and approximately 14,000 other white men in Hampden County — but could not positively identify anyone.

The victim, now deceased, had told police that the rape had taken place on the floor, and that she was certain that the bloodstain on the sheet had been left by a sick uncle who had lived with her years earlier and frequently coughed up blood.

A fabricated confession with forged signatures

While preparing to retry the case in 1990, prosecutors newly assigned to the case discovered in their files a “confession” to the rape purported to be by Perrot. They determined that the confession had been fabricated and that both Perrot’s and lead police investigator Sgt. Thomas Kelly’s signatures had been forged. Former prosecutor Bloom testified at a 1991 grand jury hearing that although he couldn’t be sure whether he personally wrote the false confession, he had been involved in creating it and had signed off on the final version. He also testified that he had signed his own name to the fabricated confession but that he couldn’t be certain who had forged Perrot’s and Kelly’s signatures.

The fabricated confession with forged signatures did not stop a second trial from going forward, however, and in January 1992 a Hampden County jury again found Perrot guilty of all charges.

In December 1993, almost two years after Bloom’s phony confession was unmasked and a year after Perrot was convicted a second time, Bloom received a “public censure” from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that cited his “manufacturing” of evidence. Associate Justice Herbert P. Wilkins of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court signed off on a recommendation by the Board of Bar Overseers, on what is widely considered a mild form of punishment, but noted that “manufacturing evidence and representing it as true is a serious misstep. Fraudulent attempts to induce confessions are reprehensible.” Bloom continues to practice law in Massachusetts.

A taste of freedom

On Sept. 11, 2001, almost a decade after his second conviction, Perrot was granted another new trial. Superior Court Judge Lawrence Wernick found that the prosecutor in the 1992 trial had made “improper and prejudicial” statements in his closing arguments.

Perrot was freed on bond for five months. He told the Schuster Institute that during this time he opened his own business and worked "day and night” to earn enough money to pay back those who had put up money for his bail. But in 2003, the Appeals Court reversed Wernick’s decision, and Perrot’s conviction was reinstated.

Maintaining his innocence, Perrot continued to appeal and seek funds for DNA testing of the physical evidence on which his case largely rested. While he was eventually allowed to test the remaining blood evidence for DNA in 2012, the sheet and gloves that police said they had found in the victim’s home did not produce a sufficient quantity of DNA to test.

Perrot was told several times over the years, most recently in 2012 by the court, that the hair and sexual assault kit that he wanted to have DNA tested did not exist. "The clear record in the case is that evidence not in possession of the Hampden County Superior Court Clerk's office was destroyed in the normal course prior to the defendant's [2006] motion to preserve the evidence," Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder wrote in response to Perrot's 2012 motion to have DNA tested.

Perrot told the Schuster Institute he has had the opportunity to appear before the parole board, but that he could never admit guilt and show remorse for a crime he has always maintained he didn’t commit—factors parole boards consider.

What’s next

After the Sept. 25 evidentiary hearing concludes, Judge Kane is expected to make a written ruling on the motion, either granting or denying Perrot a new trial. The Commonwealth or the defense may appeal the Judge’s eventual decision.


Posted Sept. 8, 2015

Evidentiary hearing Friday, Sept. 11, for George D. Perrot

Junk hair science, inadequate legal defense, prosecutorial misconduct and mismanaged evidence may have contributed to wrongful conviction and 30-year imprisonment


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FALL RIVER, Mass. — Superior Court Judge Robert J. Kane will hear evidence Sept. 11 in Massachusetts inmate George D. Perrot's most recent motion for a new trial. Perrot was 17 when he was charged with the rape of an elderly woman in Springfield—a charge he has always denied—and was 19 when he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987. The rape victim testified in court that Perrot was not her attacker, and the description she gave to police at the time of the attack did not match Perrot's appearance.

Testimony will focus on the now-debunked science of hair microscopy and the performance of Perrot’s second trial attorney. This is believed to be the first hearing in the U.S. resulting from an ongoing national review of suspect FBI hair analysts’ testimony involving thousands of cases. In Perrot’s case, the prosecutor’s office is unable to find the hair in question for DNA testing.

One year ago Perrot received a letter from the FBI, admitting errors in its agent's testimony in his case. If Judge Kane overturns Perrot's conviction, his could be the first new trial ordered in the three-year history of the nationwide review.

Perrot's conviction has been overturned twice before, the last time on Sept. 11, 2001. Many of the 30 years he has served in prison have been in solitary confinement.


George Perrot at age 17, the time of his arrest, and 30 years later.

George Perrot at age 17, the time of his arrest, and after 29 years of incarceration.

The first day of the evidentiary hearing, which is open to the public, will take place Sept. 11, 2015, at 9 a.m. at Bristol Superior Court, Fall River Justice Center, 186 South Main Street, Fall River, MA 02720. A second day of testimony is scheduled for Sept. 25.

Perrot's team of pro bono attorneys includes lead counsel Kirsten Mayer, Ropes & Gray (Boston), and co-counsel Nicholas Perros, Ropes & Gray (Washington, DC), Christopher Walsh, Ropes & Gray (Boston); Lisa Kavanaugh, Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program; and M. Chris Fabricant, director of strategic litigation at the Innocence Project.

Assistant District Attorney Katherine McMahon and Elizabeth Dunphy Farris, legal counsel to the district attorney, are representing the Commonwealth.

The Schuster Institute's Justice Brandeis Law Project has been investigating Perrot's claims of innocence since October 2011. When we took on the investigation, he had exhausted many avenues of appeal, and had been denied three motions he filed for a new trial. His many requests to organizations committed to reviewing wrongful convictions had been turned down. He said he received his first “yes” from the Schuster Institute. Since then, staff and student researchers have probed inconsistencies and problems, including faulty forensic science and lost and mismanaged evidence.

The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism is an independent nonprofit news organization based at Brandeis University that focuses on investigating social justice and human rights abuses. The Institute was founded and supported by a grant from Gerald and Elaine Schuster.

George Perrot and his attorneys in Plymouth County Superior Court June 19, 2015
Lead counsel Kirsten Mayer (standing) explains new evidence the defense team would like to present on behalf of George D. Perrot (far left). Also representing Perrot at his June 19, 2015, status hearing on the motion for a new trial were Christopher Walsh, Ropes & Gray, and Lisa Kavanaugh, Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program, at Plymouth Superior Court.


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