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$16.5 Million-Plus Settlement in Oklahoma City False Conviction Case

by Matt Clarke

On June 8, 2009, a federal district judge in Oklahoma City signed a judgment following the settlement of a suit awarding a man who spent 17 years in prison for a rape he did not commit over $16.5 million from the forensic chemist and district attorney involved in his conviction.

In 1983, a woman was kidnapped and raped in Oklahoma City. During the rape, the woman bit her assailant’s penis. He ran away screaming in pain. At that time, David Johns Byson was a 28-year-old accounting student. He went to the hospital for treatment of an injury to his penis twelve days after the rape. Because of the injury, police arrested him and charged him with the rape. Ignoring Byson’s strong alibi, differences in the penis injury from that reported by the woman who was raped and differences in Byson’s appearance and state of sobriety from that of the assailant, then-Oklahoma City District Attorney Robert Macy pressed forward with the prosecution. Based upon Oklahoma City Police Department chemist Joyce Gilchrist’s testimony that hairs left at the crime scene could only have come from Byson and his blood type matched the crime-scene sample, he was convicted and sentenced to 75 years for rape and 10 years each for kidnapping, oral sodomy and anal sodomy.

After hearing about DNA testing in 1988, Byson began seeking testing. Macy blocked the testing by resisting it in court, having Gilchrist issue a false memorandum that the evidence had been destroyed, and promulgating an administrative policy to prevent prisoners from getting post-conviction DNA testing. In December 1996, an investigator working for Byson discovered that the evidence had not been destroyed, but was in the court clerk’s file. Byson renewed efforts to get DNA testing. Macy tried to get the evidence destroyed.

In 1997, DNA testing exonerated Byson. Nonetheless, Macy and Gilchrist resisted his release by making up fantastic crime scenarios in which he could have still been the rapist with semen coming from another man found in the victim. In 1999, Byson was released from prison on bond. On June 24, 2003, the charges against Byson were dismissed.

Courts have found that Gilchrist “acted to either alter or intentionally lose evidence” in the false conviction of another Oklahoma man, Curtis Edward McCarty. Macy has been implicated in the false convictions of McCarty and Clifford Henry Bowen. It has also come out that Gilchrist had made poor grades in the sciences while studying forensic sciences and her former instructor compared the hairs from the crime scene and discovered that Byson should have been excluded based on them in 1982. A department review board found that Gilchrist mismanaged the laboratory, behaved dishonestly, mishandled evidence and case files, made offensive remarks in writing and verbally, failed to establish or follow proper lab procedures, brought flawed forensic work to court and testified to undocumented conclusions.

Gilchrist reacted to the criticism with arrogance and denial of wrongdoing. Even though she and Macy settled the Byson case, they claim not to have done anything wrong and have criticized the forensic scientists--especially those working for law enforcement--who spoke out against Gilchrist’s work.

An indemnity battle is brewing. Oklahoma City carries a $10 million insurance policy for damages caused by an employee, but claims Gilchrist violated city policies and shouldn’t be indemnified. Macy settled separately and that settlement is sealed. Byson was represented by Norman attorneys Mark Barrett and Michael Salem. See: Byson v. Macy, U.S.D.C.-W.D. OK, Case No. CIV-05-1150-F.

Additional Source: Oklahoma Gazette

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Related legal case

Byson v. Macy

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.