Former Indiana State Police trooper David Camm, who was exonerated in 2013 after being convicted twice and serving more than 10 years in state prison for the murder of his family, is featured in a new podcast looking at the use of experts in criminal trials.
The podcast and accompanying documentary are the third installment in the Unraveled anthology, which bills itself as investigating “a crisis in the courts.” Entitled “Experts on Trial,” the third installment examines the use of poorly qualified forensic experts and the tragic outcomes that can result.
Camm’s convictions were based, in part, on the blood spatter evidence presented by the prosecution.
During the investigation and at the trials, the state relied on Robert Stites’ analysis of the crime scene and testimony about the blood. He was later described by a federal court as a “plainly unqualified forensic assistant who was not trained to do anything more than photograph evidence.”
Unraveled co-host Alexis Linkletter said the podcast is trying to highlight the problem of faulty expert testimony, which can not only convict the innocent but also let the guilty go free.
“So few people realize that there isn’t any oversight or qualifications to testify as an expert on the stand,” she said. “People need to question what they’re being told. You don’t believe someone because they’re on a witness stand.”
The Camm case is the subject of the third episode and referenced throughout the seven-part podcast as part of the examination of the problem with analyzing blood spatter. Linkletter and co-host Billy Jensen spent time in Indiana interviewing Camm, one of his defense attorneys, Stacy Uliana, and special prosecutor Stanley Levco, who was appointed for the third trial that ended in a not guilty verdict.
They also interviewed dueling blood spatter experts — Bart Epstein, who testified for the defense, and Rodney Englert, the prosecution’s expert who sent Stites to investigate the Camm crime scene.
“We studied the scene, we studied all the case materials,” Linkletter said. “We also were really immersing ourselves as we (went) along learning the process of how these people go to the scene and examine blood spatter and what they’re looking for. It sort of helped us to really understand how they do it.”
3 trials, discredited expert
The podcast examines five different cases from across the country to show the problems that can arise with different kinds of expert analysis in such areas as arson and bite marks. Linkletter called Camm’s case the most “egregious example” of erroneous expert testimony.
Camm was charged with the murder of his wife and children, ages 5 and 7, in the fall of 2000. They had all been shot and killed in the garage of the family’s home in Georgetown.
Camm maintained he was playing basketball at a local church at the time of murder and discovered the bodies when he returned to the house.
However, law enforcement and their experts said the evidence pointed to Camm as the culprit. He was convicted of the triple murders after a nine-week trial in 2002 and sentenced to 195 years in prison.
That verdict was overturned in David Camm v. State of Indiana, 22A01-0208-CR-326, by the Court of Appeals of Indiana in 2004. The unanimous panel ruled the jury was unfairly prejudiced by the state’s introduction of evidence that Camm had multiple extramarital sexual affairs.
At a retrial in 2006 venued to Warrick County, the state had changed its theory of the crime. The state had found at the murder scene the DNA and fingerprints of Charles Boney, who was subsequently convicted for the three murders and sentenced to 225 years. His conviction was affirmed in Boney v. State, 880 N.E.2d 279, 286 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008).
The state presented Boney at the second trial as Camm’s co-conspirator. According to the prosecution, Camm had molested his daughter and killed his family to conceal the crime. The defense countered by asserting Boney was the sole perpetrator and by attacking the state’s experts’ analysis of the bloodstain patterns on Camm’s clothing.
Again, Camm was convicted. He was sentenced to life without parole.
In 2009, a split Indiana Supreme Court overturned the conviction in David R. Camm v. State of Indiana, 87S00-0612-CR-499. The majority found the trial court committed reversible error, in part, by permitting the jury to hear the “speculative evidence and argument” that Camm had molested his daughter. Even so, the justices held the evidence supported Camm’s convictions and allowed for him to be retried.
A third trial was held in 2013 in Boone County. There, under questioning from the defense, Stites, who testified about the blood evidence during the two previous trials, admitted he had overstated his credentials and experience, had never investigated a crime scene before working on the Camm case and did not use a microscope or test all the spots he identified as blood stains.
Camm was found not guilty and released from custody that same day after 13 years in prison.
Linkletter said the Camm case and the other cases examined in the podcast show that expert testimony is subjective. With blood spatter analysis, in particular, she maintained that while the science can provide some insight, the experts are going “way beyond” what could be learned from a drop of blood.
“It can be done responsibly,” Linkletter said of the blood spatter analysis, “but it often isn’t, especially because in these high-profile criminal cases, it’s not really about justice. It’s just about winning. And that’s disheartening but true.”
Camm filed his own lawsuit in 2014 against the prosecutors and investigators as well as Englert and Stites. The Southern District of Indiana granted summary judgment to the defendants but, on appeal, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals revived some of Camm’s claims.
Specifically, the appellate panel ruled Camm had enough evidence to proceed to trial on his Brady claim against four of the defendants for suppressing evidence about Stites’ lack of qualifications. Now-Chief Judge Diane Sykes described Stites as having “woefully inadequate education, training, and experience” and being “plainly unqualified” to give expert testimony.
“Stites was one of the prosecution’s primary forensic experts at trial,” Sykes wrote in David R. Camm v. Stanley O. Faith, et al., 18-1440. “Had the jury known that he was utterly unqualified, the prosecution’s case would have been significantly damaged.”
Camm eventually reached a $450,000 settlement agreement with Floyd County.
Linkletter pointed out experts can present biased testimony because they are enlisted to support either the defense or the prosecution and they are paid sometimes very generously. To avoid the bias, she echoed the idea of having the courts appoint the experts, rather than the opposing sides hiring their own.
“Many people acknowledge and agree that this is problem,” Linkletter said. “And I thought (using court-appointed experts) was a really smart idea. … It’s simple and it does sort of take the variables out if it which makes this problematic like money and dueling experts on each side.”
The “Unraveled: Experts on Trial” podcast has been released and is available on Apple, Spotify and most any place podcasts are available. A companion special under the same name started streaming Nov. 8 on discovery+.