May 7, 2001

Man Freed After Wrongful Conviction

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

Oklahoma County prosecutors received a written report Monday from California laboratory saying a DNA test showed sperm and hairs taken from the scene of the rape were not from the 39-year-old Jeffrey Todd Pierce.

Former police chemist Joyce Gilchrist testified in 1986 that hair left by the rapist was was ``microscopically consistent'' with Pierce's hair.

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

Pierce was sentenced to 65 years in prison. His twin boys were17-months-old at the time of his conviction. Pierce had been married just two years. He and his wife, Kathy Pierce, later divorced. An FBI report said Gilchrist's testimony in this and at least five other cases ``went beyond the acceptable limits of forensic science.''Hair and fibers were misidentified in these cases, the report said.

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

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.

``Once we determined that the proper procedures were followed, we took immediate action to release him,'' said David Prater, Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney.

Pierce always maintained the woman mistakenly identified him.

Pierce was arrested 10 months after the attack when the victim picked him from a photo lineup as the rapist.

The woman initially told a police officer she didn't think Pierce was her attacker. Two coworkers testified Pierce was at lunch with them when the rape occurred.