Famed forensic scientist Henry Lee was found liable
for fabricating evidence in a murder case that sent two Connecticut men to
prison for decades for a crime they did not commit, a federal judge ruled
Ralph “Ricky” Birch and Shawn Henning were convicted
in the Dec. 1, 1985, slaying of Everett Carr, based
in part on testimony about what Lee said were bloodstains on a towel
found in the 65-year-old’s home in New Milford, 55 miles (88.5 kilometers)
southwest of Hartford.
A judge vacated
the felony murder convictions in 2020, and the men filed a federal
wrongful conviction lawsuit naming Lee, eight police investigators and the town
of New Milford.
ruling Friday sends the case against the police and the town to trial. In
granting a motion for summary judgement against Lee, the only outstanding issue
for a jury in his case will be the amount of damages.
Lee, the former head of the state’s forensic
laboratory and now a professor emeritus at the University of New Haven’s Henry C. Lee
College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, did not immediately
respond to an email seeking comment.
Lee, 84, rocketed
to fame after his testimony in the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial, in which he
questioned the handling of blood evidence. He also served as a consultant in
other high-profile investigations, including the 1996 slaying of 6-year-old
JonBenet Ramsey in Colorado; the 2004 murder trial of Scott Peterson, who was
accused of killing his pregnant wife Laci; and the 2007 murder trial of record
producer Phil Spector.
When Birch and Henning were put on trial in 1989,
jurors heard about an extremely bloody crime scene. Carr had been stabbed 27
times, had his throat cut and suffered seven blows to the head.
No forensic evidence existed linking Birch and Henning
to the crime. No blood was found on their clothes or in their car. The crime
scene included hairs and more than 40 fingerprints, but none matched the two
Prosecutors presented evidence from Lee — not yet
famous — that it was possible for the assailants to avoid getting much blood on
Lee also testified that a towel, which later was
suggested could have been touched by the killers while cleaning up, was found
in a bathroom near the crime the scene with stains that he tested and were
consistent with blood.
Tests done after the trial, when the men were
appealing their convictions, showed the substance was not blood.
In his ruling Friday, which was first reported by The Hartford Courant, U.S.
District Judge Victor Bolden ruled that Lee presented no evidence to back up his
“Other than stating that he performed the test,
however, the record contains no evidence that any such test was performed,” the
judge wrote. “In fact, as plaintiffs noted, Dr. Lee’s own experts concluded
that there is no ‘written documentation or photographic’ evidence that Dr. Lee
performed the TMB blood test. And there is evidence in this record that the
tests actually conducted did not indicate the presence of blood.”
The judge also ruled that Lee failed to properly use
an immunity defense that could have shielded him from damages and was no longer
eligible to use that argument.
Elizabeth Benton, a spokesperson for Connecticut
Attorney General William Tong, whose office defended Lee and the police
detectives in the case, said it was reviewing the decision and evaluating the
Birch served more than 30 years of a 55-year sentence
for felony murder before being released in 2019 after a judge ordered a new
trial. Henning, who was 17 when the crime occurred, was granted probation in
After their convictions were vacated in 2020, Lee
defended his conduct in the investigation.
“In my 57-year career, I have investigated over 8,000
cases and never, ever was accused of any wrongdoing or for testifying
intentionally wrong,” Lee told a throng of reporters. “This is the first case
that I have to defend myself.”
Lee’s work in several other cases has come under
scrutiny, including in the murder case against Spector, in which he was accused
of taking evidence from the crime scene.