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Weil Secures Reversal in Case Challenging Reliability of “Expert” Handheld Toolmark Evidence

In a groundbreaking case challenging the reliability of “expert” handheld toolmark evidence, a team of Weil attorneys, along with pro bono partner the Innocence Project, and Colorado counsel, obtained a Colorado Court of Appeals reversal of a ruling that had denied our client a hearing on his entitlement to a new trial. Weil represents James Genrich, who is currently serving life in prison for allegedly committing a series of fatal pipe bombings. Mr. Genrich was convicted in 1993 on the basis of “expert” forensic testimony purportedly identifying his tools as the very ones that made marks on exploded bomb fragments, to the exclusion of any other tool in the world. Mr. Genrich’s post-conviction counsel sought a hearing to show that Mr. Genrich should be entitled to a new trial based on “newly discovered evidence” – an affidavit from an expert in the field explaining, based on a 2009 National Academy of Sciences report on forensic evidence standards, that there is no scientific basis to identify a particular tool to the exclusion of all others. The Colorado district court denied the application for such a hearing. The Weil team, together with the Innocence Project and local counsel, filed opening and reply briefs in the Colorado Court of Appeals, arguing that the district court erred in denying the hearing. After oral argument, the Court of Appeals, sua sponte, ordered supplemental briefing about a key legal question dealing with the standard that Mr. Genrich’s new scientific evidence must meet in order to merit a new hearing.

In a 2-1 decision issued on August 29, the Court of Appeals, addressing an issue of first impression in Colorado, held that the district court erred in denying Mr. Genrich a hearing, because this new expert testimony, based on scientific advances that occurred long after the trial, did constitute “newly discovered evidence” – and, if true, “would undermine the cornerstone of the prosecution’s case.” Specially concurring, Judge Michael Berger went further and, addressing another issue of first impression in Colorado, explained that the admission of scientifically unreliable testimony violates due process. It is expected that the State of Colorado will seek rehearing en banc and certiorari from the Colorado Supreme Court. We will continue to represent our client through these appeals.

The Weil team includes associates Corey Brady and Brian Liegel, supervised by special pro bono counsel Irwin Warren and partner Ed Soto. The team also included former Weil associate Megan Richardson, now clinical fellow at the Michigan Innocence Clinic. Co-counsel include Chris Fabricant and Dana Delger of the Innocence Project, and Colorado counsel Beth Krulewitch.  

 

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