DNA Clears Oklahoma Prisoner

Jeffrey Todd Pierce Served 15 Years

A man was freed from prison Monday afternoon, 15 years after he was wrongly convicted of rape, based partly on testimony from a police chemist now under investigation for incorrectly identifying evidence.

Jeffrey Todd Pierce, 39, walked out of the Joseph Harp Correctional Center, arm-in-arm with his mother.

"My heart goes out to all the other people I know that are in here that are innocent because of the Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office and the Oklahoma City Police Department," he said. "I hope you all won't forget about them, too, because there are more. I'm just the one that opened the door, and I feel there will be a lot more coming out behind me."

Attorneys for Jeffrey Todd Pierce met Monday afternoon with Oklahoma County prosecutors, who cleared him in the 1985 sexual assault of a woman who lived in an apartment complex where he once worked.

He was convicted based in part on testimony from Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist, who is under investigation by state and federal authorities for incorrectly identifying evidence. Pierce was given a 65-year prison sentence.

Tuesday on 60 Minutes II
60 Minutes II will have an extensive report on the Gilchrist case. Watch tonight at at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
In an exclusive interview with 60 Minutes II, Gilchrist defended her record. "I’ve never lied in court," she told Dan Rather. "I’ve always told the truth. I’ve never lied to anyone about anything. If you don’t want to know the truth, don’t ask me because I’m not going to sugarcoat anything for you. I’m gong to tell it to you... I’ll tell it to you just the way it is."

John Wilson, the chief chemist at the Kansas City police lab, filed an ethics charge against Gilchrist 15 years ago. “I’m not the only forensic scientist who has reviewed her work and said this is bad work,” Wilson told Rather. “The whole criminal justice system has failed. It has absolutely failed.”

Problems with Pierce's conviction came to light after the case was re-examined under a program meant to put older cases through today's more sophisticated DNA tests.

On Tuesday, a lawyer group called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Gilchrist.

"We want a special independent prosecutor appointed, so he can find out if there ae any criminal activities going on by Joyce Gilchrist," said Jack Dempsey Pointer, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. State Attorney General Drew Edmondson can't be involved in the investigation, Pointer said, because Edmondson is currently defending Gilchrist's work in appeals cases.

Prosecutors received a written report Monday saying a DNA test that showed sperm and hairs taken from the scene of the sexual assault could not have been Pierce's.

David Prater, Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney said the hearing with Pierce's attorneys was short, since prosecutors only needed to verify the report they had heard about for weeks.

"Once we determined that the proper procedures were followed, we took immediate action to release him," Prater said.

Pierce's attorneys had received word of the report weeks ago, and said they expected their client to be cleared.

A judge signed an order for Pierce's release Monday afternoon, Prater said.

Pierce always maintained the woman mistakenly identified him but said he had given up hope of ever being released.

"When you first start, you have hope in the justice system that your appeal will come through and everything," he said. "Then you keep getting denied and denied and denied, and finally lose hope and try to turn your mind into surviving in prison and not worrying about what's going on in the outside world."

An FBI chemist recently examined hair left by the rapist in the Pierce case -- hair that Gilchrist testified in 1986 was "microscopically consistent" with Pierce's -- and determined that the statement from Gilchrist was wrong.

An FBI report said Gilchrist gave testimony "that went beyond the acceptable limits of forensic science" or misidentified hair and fibers in at least six criminal cases, including Pierce's case.

Gilchrist also testified in the cases of 12 inmates who are on death row in Oklahoma and 11 who have already been executed. These cases are being re-examined as are hundreds of others she worked on.

Gilchrist is on paid leave pending an investigation. She has said the investigation will exonerate her. She ended her career as a police chemist in 1993 for a role as an administrator.

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