Ralph Armstrong
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Flawed Forensics

This series examines flaws in scientific tests and techniques used to solve crimes — and how well the justice system addresses those shortcomings.

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Wisconsin inmate says flawed FBI hair, fiber analysis forced him to take plea deal, 50-year prison term

Several states searching out flawed FBI hair, fiber cases; Wisconsin is not

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has found nine cases in the state involving 12 defendants that featured faulty crime laboratory hair or fiber comparison. Seven cases were flagged by the national task force re-examining cases involving FBI hair and fiber analysts. Two are cases in which DNA testing showed that Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory hair comparisons linking suspects to crime scene hairs were wrong.

Ralph Armstrong

Ralph Armstrong — Armstrong was exonerated in 2009 after serving nearly 29 years in prison for  a murder likely committed by his brother. DNA testing showed hair from the Madison murder scene deemed by the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory to be consistent with Armstrong’s was not his. Earlier this year, Armstrong was awarded $1.75 million by the state of Wisconsin, Dane County and the city of Madison. Noting the extensive allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct, a federal appeals court summarized the case as “a single-minded pursuit of an innocent man that let the real killer to go free.”

Richard Beranek

Richard Beranek — Beranek’s conviction was overturned by a Dane County Circuit Court judge in June. Prosecutors have not announced whether they will retry Beranek, who had served 27 years of a 243-year sentence. DNA testing found hair and semen from the rape scene were not Beranek’s, despite FBI testimony that the hair was a “match.”

Roy L. Broussard

Roy L. and Clarence Broussard — The Broussards pleaded guilty to the 1986 armed robbery of a clothing store in Brookfield. Former Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher told the FBI that the agency’s flawed analysis was not “material” to the defendants’ convictions, given other evidence, including eyewitness identification. Efforts to reach the Broussards were unsuccessful.

Joey Dale Clendenny, George T. Phillips and Dennis Wieneke — Clendenny, Phillips and Wieneke were convicted in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee for the 1979 kidnapping of a man and woman in Green Bay and the sexual assault of the woman. Wieneke, who pleaded guilty, said he was not notified until 11 years later of the FBI’s finding of shoddy lab work in 2003 by analyst Michael Malone. In an interview, Wieneke acknowledged involvement in the crime but said that Malone — whose “scientifically unsupportable testimony”  helped launch the agency’s review of hair and fiber cases — had also victimized people. “I think there’s a lot of innocent people out there he (Malone) hurt,” Wieneke said.

Larry Fandrich

Larry Fandrich — Fandrich and his attorney say the flawed FBI hair and fiber analyses in the Sauk County case prompted him to plead no contest rather than not guilty to a string of sexual assaults and kidnappings in and around Baraboo in 1991. Fandrich, who is serving a 50-year term, plans to seek a sentence modification.

Patrick Greer

Patrick Greer — In 2016, the FBI identified numerous errors in its analyst’s testimony in the La Crosse County case against Greer, who had maintained that he was not involved in a 1994 masked bank robbery for which he was convicted and served about 13 years in prison. The analyst falsely testified that his ability to compare Greer’s hair to a strand found on the bag carrying money from the robbery was like a person’s ability to recognize the face of a best friend or spouse. Efforts to reach Greer were unsuccessful.

Brook Grzelak

Brook Grzelak — Grzelak told the Center he does not recall that hair or fiber evidence was used against him as part of a federal case stemming from a 1982 bank robbery in Oconto County — despite the fact that the FBI found shoddy lab work in the case back in 2001. Grzelak pleaded guilty despite his attorney’s advice. He is now imprisoned in Michigan on burglary-related counts.

Anthony Hicks — Hicks was exonerated in 1997 after DNA testing found that hairs from the scene of a Madison sexual assault — which a state analyst had said were consistent with Hicks’ — were not his. The state paid Hicks $25,000 plus $53,060 in attorney’s fees for the four and a half years he spent wrongfully imprisoned.

Booker Shipp

Booker Shipp — Shipp is serving a life sentence for two armed masked robberies and the fatal shooting of Glendale Police Officer Ronald Hedbany officer in 1994. The FBI found numerous errors with the testimony of the FBI analyst in that case, who tied Shipp’s hair to a strand found on the mask worn by the robber. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said the prosecutor who conducted an internal review of the case is “absolutely confident” in the jury’s verdict. Chisholm said there was additional “overwhelming” evidence against Shipp. Shipp said he is looking for an attorney to bring an appeal. “I have always maintained my innocence,” he said. “I always said it was not me.”

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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Dee J. Hall, a co-founder of Wisconsin Watch, joined the staff as managing editor in June 2015. She is responsible for daily news operations. She worked at the Wisconsin State Journal for 24 years as an editor and reporter focusing on projects and investigations.

A 1982 graduate of Indiana University’s journalism school, Hall served reporting internships at the weekly Lake County Star in Crown Point, Ind., The Gary (Ind.) Post-Tribune, The Louisville (Ky.) Times and The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. Prior to returning to her hometown of Madison in 1990, she was a reporter for eight years at The Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix, where she covered city government, schools and the environment. During her 35-year journalism career, Hall has won more than three dozen local, state and national awards for her work, including the 2001 State Journal investigation that uncovered a $4 million-a-year secret campaign machine operated by Wisconsin’s top legislative leaders.