Jury Must Decide Whether Man Framed in Bite-Mark Murder

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By Alisa Johnson

Three people accused of faking bite-mark evidence to frame a man for a murder will have to face him in court after failing to convince an appeals court that the civil rights case should be dismissed ( Stinson v. Gauger , 2017 BL 290080, 7th Cir., No. 13-3343, 8/18/17 ).

The defendants asked for a reassessment of the district court’s conclusion that sufficient evidence of fabrication of evidence exists to go to trial, which is a task outside the jurisdiction of the appeals court at this stage, Judge Ann Claire Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit said Aug. 18.

Robert Lee Stinson’s exoneration and release from prison after almost 24 years received national attention. DNA evidence implicated another man, who pleaded guilty.

The court took the unusual step of hearing the case “en banc” before all 11 judges instead of the usual three-judge panel. Under the Federal rules of Appellate Procedure, circuit courts sit en banc only when “necessary to secure or maintain uniformity of the court’s decisions” or “the proceeding involves a question of exceptional importance.”

Bite Mark Testimony

Stinson was convicted in 1985 of the first-degree murder of Ione Cychosz. Cychosz’s body had numerous bite marks, which were made by someone with a missing tooth.

The only physical evidence linking Stinson to the murder was the expert testimony of two dentists that Stinson’s teeth matched the marks on the victim’s body. Stinson had a missing tooth, but it was in a different location than the tooth missing in the bite marks.

The issue at trial will be whether the two dentists and the lead detective in the murder case deliberately changed the interpretation of the bite marks to fit Stinson’s teeth, in violation of his constitutional right to due process.

Justice Diane S. Sykes, dissenting and joined by three other justices, said Stinson has failed to allege what is required to take his case to trial: evidence to support an inference that the defendants knew he was innocent and implicated him anyway.

Loevy & Loevy represented Stinson. Siesennop & Sullivan, Otjen, Gendelman, Zitzer, Johnson & Weir S.C., and the Milwaukee City Attorney’s office represented the defendants.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alisa Johnson in Washington at ajohnson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bna.com

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