We’ve been looking at different instances in which police and prosecutors have resisted what science says about traditional police investigative tactics such as eyewitness identification, suspect interrogation, and basic forensics. But there is no one who personifies this better than Michael Mermel, a former Lake County, Illinois assistant prosecutor.
Recall that the National Academy of Sciences’ report on forensics, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United Sates: A Path Forward (2009), says that most forensic science isn’t science in the true sense of the word. There are two exceptions, however, that deserve all the scientific respect we can muster: chemical analysis and DNA testing.
This is especially so for DNA testing, which has undergone repeated scientific study and validation. The result is a scientific tool for law enforcement of unprecedented strength and precision.
Everyone seems to know this already — except for former prosecutor Michael Mermel.
Mermel was, until he recently resigned, a prosecutor in Lake County, Illinois. When DNA from some of his homicide cases has been tested, and it has shown that those he has convicted were not guilty, Mermel took a novel approach. Most prosecutors in this situation would drop the case or ask a court to reverse a previous conviction. Not Mermel. For example, when semen from one of two young female victims in a murder case did not match the defendant, Mermel denied that this had any relevance to the charge, and refused to take any action. Since he had not brought sexual assault charges, the case had nothing to do with evidence of sex crimes. But more than that, Mermel told the Chicago Tribune that the DNA simply had nothing to do with anything.
It is such a goofy logic leap [that] because somewhere in her life she came into contact with a sperm cell it means she was sexually assaulted,” Mermel said. “To take this leap that this is the identity of the mystery killer, I don’t know where everybody gets this idea.
Instead, he suggested, the victim probably picked up the semen playing in the woods, where couples go to have sex.
There you have it: DNA, the most powerful scientific tool law enforcement has ever had, means nothing.
Does anyone know a story that can top Michael Mermel’s tale, for resistance to science? I’d like to hear it.