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Oregon State Police Handwriting Analysis Unit Closed, under Investigation

"We don't know if it's one isolated case or there are going to be others," said Oregon State Police (OSP) Lt. Gregg Hastings, when he announced that OSP handwriting examiners had made a mistake in a criminal case.

In March 2012, OSP's Forensic Services Division's handwriting analysis unit, formally called the Questioned Documents Unit, found that its examiners had used procedures in a criminal case that violated OSP policy. The department placed its two handwriting examiners – Ron Emmons and Christina Kelley – on paid leave, re-assigned Captain Randy Wampler, the head of the Forensic Services Division, and notified district attorneys and law enforcement agencies across the state.

The handwriting unit handles an average of 80 cases a year for all 36 Oregon counties, analyzing documents such as suicide notes, wills and fraudulent checks.

"Our intent is to fully audit, investigate and review the Questioned Documents Unit issues," said Major Joel Lujan. "This is a precautionary measure to determine if there are any significant issues beyond quality control."

According to The Oregonian, the OSP is re-examining 35 cases from the Questioned Documents Unit, using out-of-state experts. Problems were discovered when it was learned that Emmons and Kelley were not cross-checking each others work, as they were supposed to do.

In January 2012, Kelley had reviewed Emmons' findings in a case involving George Ardizzone, an Oregon state prisoner accused of trying to hire someone to kill his ex-girlfriend while he was incarcerated. Emmons thought the writing samples in the case were written by one person. Kelley thought they had been written by two people, but allegedly failed to inform Emmons about her findings. Emmons sent his analysis, which was later found to be incorrect, to the prosecutor's office; Ardizzone was convicted without the handwriting evidence, but Emmons' error resulted in an internal review.

During the investigation, Kelly said Emmons had intimidated her and had a bias in favor of prosecutors. She also said she thought he might hurt her physically or professionally, and cited over a dozen other cases where Emmons may have made errors. For her part, Kelly was accused of lying and failing to follow proper procedures, but neither she nor Emmons faced criminal charges.

While Emmons and Kelly were on administrative leave, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors refused to accredit the OSP's handwriting analysis unit, so the department had to send cases involving handwriting evidence to other agencies and the FBI for evaluation.

"At this time, the complex review has not indicated that any of the analysis work was directly responsible for someone being convicted of a crime," the OSP said in an October 2012 statement. The results of the review of Emmons and Kelly's work has not yet been made public.

Source: The Oregonian

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