The Connecticut Supreme Court has vacated the murder convictions of two men who were convicted of murder and have spent decades in prison. The court’s decision was based on its determination that the testimony of an expert witness was incorrect.
On December 2, 1985, Everett Carr, a 65-year-old man from New Milford, Connecticut, was stabbed approximately 27 times and found lying in a pool of blood in his home. Authorities arrested then-teenagers Ralph Birth and Shawn Henning, who had stolen a vehicle nearby, for the murder.
The Expert Testimony
At trial, renowned Connecticut-based forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee told the jury that he had performed tests on two towels and that “a smear of blood was” found on one of them from Carr’s upstairs bathroom.
At the time of the trial, Dr. Lee was the Connecticut State Police’s forensic laboratory director. He is now a high-profile criminologist who has worked on cases all over the world.
Prosecutors at trial argued that Dr. Lee’s testimony about the bloody towel meant that the two teenagers went to the bathroom to clean themselves up after the murder. This testimony about the bloody towel was used to explain why no blood was found on either of the two men or the car that they stole.
In 1989, Shawn Henning and Ralph Birch were convicted in the stabbing death of Everett Carr. Both teens were sentenced to life in prison by two separate juries.
The Connecticut Supreme Court’s Ruling
Decades later, the convicted murderers filed petitions for habeas corpus, arguing the “bloody towel” that Dr. Lee testified about was never tested for blood. When the towel was finally tested, it proved negative for blood.
In a 7-0 ruling, the Connecticut Supreme Court vacated the convictions of Henning and Birch.
The court’s decision was written by Justice Richard Palmer. Palmer wrote, “The state also adduced testimony from Lee … to explain how it was possible that the petitioner [Birch] and Henning could have stabbed the victims so many times without getting any blood on their clothing and without transferring any blood to the Buick. Lee explained that, although the victim fought with his assailants, all of the blood splatter in the hallway was uninterrupted, meaning that no individual or object was between the victim and the walls or floor to interrupt the blood splatter. According to Lee, this could explain why the assailants were not covered in the victim’s blood.”
Birch, who was sentenced to 55 years in prison, is still imprisoned awaiting the state’s decision on whether to retry him. Henning, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison, has been out of parole since July 2018.
Dr. Lee’s Reaction
Dr. Lee has defended his conclusions. He told the Connecticut Law Tribune, “Somehow, I’ve become the casualty for this legal problem. The towel was tested. It was a light smear of blood. I spent two days on the scene and did numerous tests.”