Flaws, Unfounded Charges Cited in Review of FBI Lab Work

<i> From a Times Staff Writer</i>

Here are highlights of other cases reviewed by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich. The report concluded that some allegations about FBI lab work on these cases were legitimate and others were not. The report did not say whether any violations were serious enough to have changed the outcome of trials.

* Laboratory analysts testified in the 1991 trial of Walter LeRoy Moody Jr., which resulted in his conviction on 71 separate counts of mailing the pipe bombs that killed U.S. Appellate Judge Robert Vance of Birmingham, Ala., and Georgia civil rights lawyer Robert E. Robinson.

But J. Thomas Thurman and Roger Martz, in linking the construction of the Vance pipe bomb to an earlier one attributed to Moody, may have failed to perform certain tests on explosives residue and sometimes presented technical conclusions based more on “common sense” than on actual laboratory analysis, Bromwich said.


However, Bromwich found that neither man had perjured himself or fabricated evidence against Moody. And a third FBI scientist, Robert Webb, made a point that benefited Moody by testifying that certain glues and tapes seized from his residence did not match samples from other explosive devices.

This case was noteworthy because Louis J. Freeh, before becoming FBI director, was the chief prosecutor.

* Bromwich rejected as “unfounded” allegations by FBI lab whistle-blower Frederic Whitehurst that lab analyst David Williams had presented false evidence in 1995 against members of the Ghost Shadow Gang, which was active in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

The inspector general’s report said Williams “was qualified to give the opinions” about an improvised explosive device and that his opinions “did not lack proper analytical support.”

* Bromwich also rejected claims by Whitehurst that FBI lab technician Alan R. Jordan may have changed or misreported Whitehurst’s findings about pipe bomb damage when Jordan testified at the 1989 trial of Victor Seijas, who was acquitted of attempting to murder Miami defense attorney Gino Negretti.

Although Jordan’s testimony contained “a minor inaccuracy . . . we conclude that Jordan did not change or misreport Whitehurst’s results while testifying in this case,” the report said.


* Bromwich found flawed procedures were used in the FBI’s analysis of a pipe bomb found in the offices of U.S. District Judge John Shaw of Lafayette, La., in March 1995.

The report said Whitehurst “makes a valid point” in noting that an analysis by FBI chemist Ronald Kelly did not identify all the materials found in the bomb, although Kelly’s identification of smokeless powder appeared to be “technically correct.”

Martz, who was Kelly’s supervisor, may be at fault for not giving proper instructions to Kelly to list all the materials, Bromwich said. No suspect has been identified in the Shaw case.

* The report said laboratory work by Martz was “deficient in several respects” leading to the 1991 murder conviction of George Trepal in Florida for adding poison to bottled soft drinks.

Bromwich said some of Whitehurst’s concerns were justified because Martz “had not performed tests necessary to reach” his firm conclusion that Trepal had added poison thallium nitrate to the drinks. Martz also testified to “a stronger opinion” about his test results than was justified.

Trepal is challenging his conviction, which resulted in a death sentence.

* In a case in which the FBI assisted Italian authorities, Bromwich reported no foundation for Whitehurst’s allegations that FBI explosives expert Robert Heckman testified outside his area of expertise.


The case involved the 1992 car-bombing deaths of Italian judge-prosecutor Paolo Borsellino and five police officers who were escorting him in Palermo, Sicily.

The report said Heckman testified properly about FBI tests on the explosives recovered and “did not testify outside his area of expertise or improperly render an opinion in this case.” Trial of suspects in the bombing has not concluded.