tv When Forensics Fail MSNBC December 18, 2011 12:00pm-1:00pm PST
until then have a happy holiday week. if it's sunday, it's "meet the press." television crime dramas sometimes portray forensic science as the last word in law enforcement. >> i think from tv, people may have the impression that the computers can make these type of identifications. it just doesn't work that way at all. >> in real-life cases what happens when forensics fail? >> everything really comes down to the person making that judgment, how often do they get it wrong. and it's turned out that they got it wrong a lot of times. >> this man, ray krone, is convicted of murder and sentenced to death based on bite mark evidence. but is it faulty science? >> what do you mean? how can this be? i didn't ever bite her. i was never there. i had nothing to do with this.
in another case, patricia stallings is found guilty of killing her 5-month-old son. >> at that moment i guess i was in shock. they said guilty, and i went blank. >> is the science that convicted her also the key to proving her innocence? phoenix, arizona. ray krone is a 34-year-old bachelor in the prime of his life. after serving seven years in the air force, he has recently received an honorable discharge and has begun to establish himself. >> i liked it out there. it was easy to meet people. i got a job with the post office then and bought my own home and was doing well, living a good life. >> krone frequents the cbs restaurant and lounge, a neighborhood hangout where he plays in a dart league.
it's at the cbs that krone meets the bar's manager, 36-year-old kim ancona. >> she was a real nice girl. i remember talking with her at times at the bar. i guess she had a liking for me and talked to her girlfriends about me. it never went any farther than that. >> on the morning of december 29th, 1991, kim ancona's body is found in the men's restroom of the cbs restaurant and lounge. she has been raped and stabbed to death. >> her body was nude, spread eagle. clothing had been cut off and was strewn around the men's room. it was just a very horrific-looking crime scene. >> it appears to phoenix police that ancona was in the process of closing the bar when she was murdered. they estimate she was killed shortly after 2:00 a.m. >> one of the key pieces of evidence that the police noted right away when they arrived at the crime scene was a pattern injury on kim ancona's left breast.
they'd suspected it might be some type of a bite mark. >> in 1991 bite mark analysis is an established tool in law enforcement. the police contact a local forensic odontologist, or dentist, to document and examine the bite. a typical examination begins by photographing a bite mark and swabbing the area for saliva samples from the biter. dental casts are taken from potential suspects and then compared to the bite mark. along with examining the bite, police are also trying to determine who might have had a motive for killing ancona. detectives question her friends, seeking answers. >> one of the friends told the police ray krone was kim ancona's boyfriend. well, the boyfriend is basically a likely suspect anytime there's a homicide and always has to be talked to. >> police go to krone's house to talk to him. >> they said, do you know kim ancona?
i scratched my head, and i said, no, i don't think i know anybody named kim ancona. they kind of exchanged glances and said, well, you don't know kim ancona from the cbs lounge? i thought, wait a minute, i go to the cbs lounge, i know a girl up there named kim. i didn't know her last name. he said you should know her, you're her boyfriend, aren't you? i said, no, i'm not her boyfriend. what's this about? that's when they pulled out their badges, they informed me kim had been murdered and wanted to ask me a few questions. >> krone tells the detectives he had gone to the cbs lounge the day of the murder but was home by 9:30 p.m. then something about krone's appearance catches the detective's eye. >> the detective noticed ray krone's crooked teeth. and he -- having seen the mark on kim ancona's breast, he completely was convinced that that was the mark that made this bite. >> the detectives asked krone to come to the station for more questioning. >> i didn't feel threatened or have any reason to feel concerned because i didn't do nothing. certainly why would they even think i did anything because i didn't hardly know her and i was home in bed. >> without hiring a lawyer, krone accompanies the detectives.
>> i'm down at the station, and for three hours on that sunday afternoon, they grilled me, kept going back to where i used to go on dates. i said i've never been on dates, i only know her from the bar, only from being at the bar. >> at the end of krone's interview, he is asked to bite into a piece of styrofoam. >> i just cooperated. after three hours, finally he took me home. >> the police find krone's phone number in ancona's address book, making his initial denial of knowing ancona suspicious. the following day detectives again call krone into the station. this time they have a search warrant, authorizing them to collect dna samples from krone. >> they brought me in the interrogation room. i'm going to take a blood sample, a hair sample, and a cast of your teeth. and then he took me in the next room where he had a dentist chair set up, and they had the dentist make big casts of my teeth, two upper and lower. they put utensils in my mouth so my teeth would show and had me snarl and grin and move my chin up and down and do all this stuff for about two hours of this. >> the forensic dentist compares
krone's dental casts to the bite mark on ancona's breast and concludes that it's a match. saliva samples also show krone's blood type is consistent with saliva collected off the bite mark. the detectives believe they have enough forensic evidence to make their case. december 31st, ray krone is arrested for the murder of kim ancona. the press nicknamed krone the snaggletooth killer. eight months later krone's murder trial begins. the bite mark evidence is the centerpiece of the state's case. during the trial the prosecution's forensic dentist shows the jury this video he created, demonstrating how krone's dental cast matched the bite mark on ancona's body. his presentation is extremely convincing. it takes the jury two hours to find krone guilty. at his sentencing the judge looks for krone to show signs of regret. >> i told the judge, i said, i
don't have any remorse. i didn't do it. you got the wrong person. >> krone refuses to apologize, and the judge sentences him to death. 35-year-old krone begins his life on death row in 1992. the reality that his days are numbered begins to set in. >> i couldn't separate myself from this anymore. i was going to be executed by the state of arizona, and nobody cared, or at least nobody in the system cared. up next, startling new information that calls krone's conviction into question. >> the earlier investigator had sent me those photographs and the models, and i said to him a think this guy did it. s... s... squad leader. i think the hardest transition as you get further into the military is... you know it's going to end one day. chase hired me to be a personal banker. i'm a business analyst... manager. i'm very proud to work for chase. when you hire a veteran, you get...
great leadership... decisiveness... focus. chase knows, when you hire a veteran, you're hiring america's best. chase is proud to help 100,000 veterans find jobs at home. fantastic! [ man ] pro-gresso they fit! okay-y... okay??? i've been eating progresso and now my favorite old jeans...fit. okay is there a woman i can talk to? [ male announcer ] progresso. 40 soups 100 calories or less. okay this was the gulf's bestoman tourism season in years.to? all because so many people came to louisiana... they came to see us in florida... make that alabama... make that mississippi. the best part of the gulf is wherever you choose... and now is a great time to discover it. this year millions of people did. we set all kinds of records. next year we're out to do even better. so come on down to louisiana... florida... alabama... mississippi. we can't wait to see you. brought to you by bp and all of us who call the gulf home. but also a caring touch.
ray krone has spent 17 months on arizona's death row for the rape and murder of phoenix bar manager kim ancona. he continues to have hope that he will get out alive. >> i knew i was innocent. god knew i was innocent, and my family and friends believed in my innocence. the question was, how are we going to prove it? >> the answer comes with the help of a cousin ray has never met. >> well, i first heard about ray from my mother. it was a casual conversation, and she just said, you know you have a cousin who's on death row who's innocent. >> i remember getting a letter from him. he was interested in how it happened, you know, just wanted to know what it was about. i wrote about three or four pages about what had happened. at the end i basically summed it up. i said, look, i know you don't know me, but everything i told you is the truth, and it can be verified if you ever were interested.
>> in the beginning i thought if he's guilty, i don't have any real desire to see him. so i did my investigation first. >> having recently started his own medical billing business, rix has some knowledge about the dental field. he obtains the trial transcripts and brings the bite mark video presented in court to independent bite mark expert dr. homer campbell in albuquerque, new mexico. while watching the video, campbell notices a technique he considers bad practice. throughout the examination, the cast of krone's teeth is being shifted so that it matches all of the teeth marks in the bite. campbell describes to rix what he is seeing. >> the cast has been moved. it's reoriented now to show where this tooth is, okay? >> uh-huh. >> now he's going to move it back, show where that one and that one fit. that's where that one fits, see, but he has to move it all the time. are you watching? >> mm-hmm. >> see, he's changing the
orientation of it all the time. >> from what he said, i became convinced that ray was innocent. >> rix contacts a san diego attorney specializing in dna, chris plourd. plourd has tried several bite mark cases. >> i kept thinking, well, there must be something more to this case than just a bite mark, and the reality is that's all it was. >> plourd takes on the case, and along with analyzing the dna evidence, he also contacts the dentist who first examined the bite and told police it matched krone's teeth. >> the local odontologist was relatively new. in fact, this was his first case that he had worked on. so that immediately led me to believe that maybe he was prone to make an error. one of the things he told me was that his mentor who taught him how to interpret and look at bite marks was an odontologist from my area named dr. norman "skip" sperber. >> plourd meets with dr. sperber
at sperber's office in san diego. plourd is surprised to learn that sperber had previously examined krone's case. >> i said ray krone's on death row. and dr. sperber had this look on his face that was -- to this day i'll never forget of shock because he said, look, i looked at that case, and it wasn't the guy. >> sperber tells plourd that the evidence had been brought to him by the county attorney's office prior to krone's trial. and sperber informed the prosecutor that police had the wrong man. >> my reaction when i heard of the conviction of mr. krone was that this is impossible. how anybody could have convicted him on that because it was so obviously not an accurate analysis of the case. >> sperber re-examines the photos and molds. his analysis highlights a problem above and beyond what dr. campbell noticed. sperber reiterates to plourd what he already told prosecutors.
the spaces between krone's teeth do not match the spaces in the bite mark. the length and the shape of the teeth marks themselves also don't match. >> there's no way that mr. krone could have caused those bites. mr. krone, again, had a full line of teeth incapable of causing spaces as i saw in the photograph that they submitted to me. >> sperber is further concerned by the ability of the state's bite mark expert to definitively link krone to the bite. the pliable nature of skin tissue makes it impossible to concretely match a biter to a bite. many, including sperber, feel it must be supported by other forensic evidence. >> i became convinced that what happened is that this expert came into court and basically misrepresented the science of bite mark to the jury and wrongfully convicted ray krone. >> plourd files a request with the arizona supreme court to
reopen the case and allow him access to the dna and physical evidence collected at the crime scene. because the bite mark video was presented to the defense only one day before krone's trial, the court agrees to reopen the case and grants krone a new trial. the phoenix police department now must provide plourd with all the evidence from the crime scene. the amount is significant. >> basically the dam broke, and i got access to everything. >> he very quickly found out it wasn't just the bite mark evidence in the case and that it was much other evidence, and none of it really fit ray. i mean they had fingerprints of the crime scene. none of them matched. they had footprints at the crime scene, did not match ray. >> there were several bloodstains on her underwear and there were several bloodstains on her pants. nobody ever looked at that before the trial. they just all assumed that it was the victim's blood. >> plourd submits the bloodstains for dna testing. the results come back.
the blood does not match krone's or the victim's. >> we had reason to believe now that the truth was coming out and would come out and i would be set free. >> five years after the rape and murder of bar manager kim ancona, krone's second trial begins. once again, the state's case hinges on the testimony of the same bite mark expert. for a second time, he presents the video and details how krone's teeth made the bite mark on ancona's breast, telling the jury it's a scientific match. this time the defense fights back. both dr. sperber and dr. campbell testify. >> i thought the evidence that i presented was so overwhelmingly negative for the prosecution side that i thought it had gone very well. >> the dna and physical evidence excluding krone is also presented by krone's lawyers.
the shoe prints, fingerprints, and blood samples found at the scene. >> i was feeling good because the truth was coming out. the facts were being told, and the evidence was pointing to someone else. it wasn't matching me. >> after seven weeks, the case goes to the jury. they deliberate for three days. >> i said, i have a bad feeling about this. they've been out too long. >> april 12th, the jury has reached a verdict. their decision is a huge blow. ray krone is guilty, again. as the jury is polled, the victim's mother cries in relief. krone remains stoic. >> everything just dropped out of me. everything -- i mean i've never been hit that hard emotionally, physically, i mean, just to stop breathing. i'm like, whoa, back up, rewind, let's start this over. this didn't happen, did it? it was the hardest day of my life. >> judge james mcdougal
sentences krone to life in prison. but in light of the dna evidence presented in court, admits to having doubts about the verdict. >> he said it was the most troubling case of his career and so forth. so even the judge recognized there may be problems. >> plourd vows to continue to fight for krone's exoneration. ray krone returns to prison and begins serving his life term. coming up, a newly formed dna database may reveal key missing information. >> everything just stopped running. my heart, my breathing. what did you say? cuban
ca jun raw seafood pizza parlor french fondue tex-mex fro-yo tapas puck chinese takeout taco truck free range chicken pancake stack baked alaska 5% cash back. right now, get 5% cash back at restaurants. it pays to discover. [ male announcer ] it's easy to see what subaru owners care about. ♪ that's why we created the share the love event. get a great deal on a new subaru and 250 dollars goes to your choice of five charities.
ray krone, branded the snaggletooth killer by the press, is in his seventh year of incarceration for the murder of kim ancona. >> now i'm sentenced to 25 to life, i go to what they call the walls. it's about the toughest place to survive. this was maximum security but you weren't isolated. you actually had contact with other inmates. every day had you to watch your back. >> chris plourd, krone's lawyer, continues to fight for his release. >> we were waiting for the science to sort of catch up with what we needed the science to do. >> that same year the fbi creates a database to hold the dna information of known criminals. it takes some time for the system to get up to date with all the cases. in 2002 defense attorney plourd submits the crime scene evidence to the phoenix police department crime lab for new dna testing. >> the forensic biology screener initially took three samples from the breast area of the tank top because we knew that the victim was bit in the breast
area, and i ran dna on all three of those samples. >> there is a hit. >> i had no information as to the whereabouts of the suspect that was identified. i just knew his name was kenneth phillips. >> investigators research kenneth phillips and find that at the time of the murder he lived in phoenix, arizona. his address, less than half a mile away from the cbs lounge. >> out of all the people in the database, that could not be a coincidence. and we checked his prison record. in fact, he was convicted and sent to prison for a child molest-type offense that occurred 30 days after the murder. >> investigators interview phillips in prison and tape record what he has to say. on the recording, he admits to arguing with ancona that night. >> what happened? >> she said, get out of here, i'm cleaning up. and i can't remember. and i walked out.
she mumbled something, you know, like in anger. i don't know what happened after that. i just kind of got upset, i guess. >> phillips stops short of confessing to murder, but the state is convinced by the evidence that krone is not guilty of the crime. prosecutors announce the stunning development to the public at a press conference. >> it was a tough case in which there was a victim here. the sciences weren't as sophisticated as they are today. and that an injustice was done. and we will try to do better. and i'm sorry, absolutely, absolutely we should be saying we're sorry. >> in prison ray krone gets a phone call. his lawyer tells him that the court has ordered his release. >> everything just stopped
running. my heart, my breathing. what did you say? he said, "roll up, ray, it's all over. you're coming home." after ten years, three months and eight days, i was free to unite with my family, my friends again, start my life all over again as a 45-year-old man. >> outside the prison, the media wait to speak to the man they've dubbed the snaggletooth killer. they want to know what's next. >> seafood. i'm getting my teeth fixed. >> two months later, kenneth phillips is charged with the murder of kim ancona and eventually convicted. krone receives a $1.4 million settlement from maricopa county, and later the city of phoenix agrees to pay him $3 million in compensation. in february of 2006, members of arizona's house and senate offer krone a public apology for his ordeal.
>> please accept my sincere apology on behalf of the state of arizona. >> thank you. >> now krone, grateful for his freedom, travels the country speaking to audiences about the problems inherent in our justice system and its relationship to forensic science. he is the 100th man exonerated from death row since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. >> i'm thankful that they have learned from some of their mistakes and are trying to improve it. so i do actually have faith in what they do do now. coming up, another case of faulty forensics. a young mother is convicted of poisoning her 5-month-old son. science convicts her. but can it also set her free? >> i can't say anything about it, but i love him.
time for the your business entrepreneur of the week. former rockette amy opened up the next dance studio in jersey city with children's dance classes and expansion in mind. she monetized by adding space and partnering with another group on performances of the nutcracker. for more watch "your business" sunday mornings at 7:30 on msnbc. on my phone, i got internet! hotspot five dollars. hey, hey, hey, hey. i can see who's on my network people! lance? lance? yes, yes you are next. all right. dave, i'm in. ♪
katie! what are you doing, sweetheart? supplementing my allowance. how long have we been gone? [ male announcer ] get low prices on the latest 4g phones, starting at $28.88. save money. live better. walmart. ♪ feel the power my young friend. mmm! [ male announcer ] for unsurpassed fruit and veggie nutrition... v8 v-fusion. could've had a v8.
hello. i'm melissa rehberger. new york city police are questioning a man in the death of a woman in her 70s. the woman was set on fire in the elevator of her apartment building. >> more than 30,000 islamics rallied in pakistan demanding that the country cut ties with the u.s. they're grain about last month's air strike which killed 24 pakistani soldiers. and many crossed ore the pakistani border after the conflict with the war. now back to "when forensics fail." it's summer 1989, and patricia and david stallings are beginning their lives as a married couple. they have recently had their first child, named ryan.
but in july, 3-month-old ryan falls ill. he is vomiting and listless and seems to have difficulty breathing. patricia stallings rushes her son to the hospital. serum and blood samples are taken from ryan and sent to an outside laboratory. the results from the lab are shocking. blood tests reveal an elevated level of ethylene glycol, an ingredient found in antifreeze. the hospital immediately starts ryan on an ethanol drip to counteract the poison. the diagnosis would begin a medical and forensics mystery that will take years to unravel. >> the people at the hospital determined pretty readily that they believed that the baby had been poisoned with ethylene glycol, the common ingredient in antifreeze. >> st. louis detectives search the stallings' home, and in the basement they find an open container of antifreeze. antifreeze they believe this mother may have used to poison her own child.
while ryan is still in the hospital, in concern for his safety, the missouri department of social services removes him from patty and david's custody. after 11 days, ryan, now in stable condition, goes to his new home with a foster family. the state allows the stallings only supervised visitations with their son. during one of their visits, patty is left alone with ryan for a few minutes and gives him a bottle feeding. two days after the visit ryan again falls ill. and his foster parents rush him back to the hospital. the st. louis sheriff's department believes patricia stallings may be to blame. >> we have sent formulas, baby bottles to a laboratory to be tested. >> lab tests once again confirm in ryan's blood the presence of ethylene glycol, a main ingredient in antifreeze.
the bottle patty used to feed ryan during the visit is also sent to the lab and comes back positive for traces of ethylene glycol. prosecutors believe they now have enough evidence to make their case. police arrest patty stallings and charge her with assault. while stallings sits in jail, ryan's condition worsens. patty is desperate to see her son, but the judge won't allow it. still in the hospital with only his father by his side, ryan dies three days later. patricia stallings is now charged with murder. reporter john auble with ktvi-tv in st. louis follows the case closely and interviews stallings in jail. >> they're saying that you somehow put something into that -- >> right, and that's just -- unless they think i'm a magician or something, that's just ridiculous because like i said, you're in these little cubicles
and it's like you can hear everything, and if i were to put something in ryan's mouth that he didn't want, i believe he would have cried or something or fought it. and, you know, there was no way. >> while in jail, stallings learns some startling news. she is pregnant with the couple's second child. coming up, could this child be the key to proving stallings' innocence? >> you say you'll continue to fight until you're completely exonerated? >> all the way. ♪
patty stallings has spent eight months in jail awaiting trial for the poisoning death of her 5-month-old son, ryan. while in jail, stallings gives birth to a second child the couple names david junior, or d.j. for short. the state fears the stallings may cause harm to the new baby and places him in foster care. st. louis reporter john auble interviews david stallings, who is furious. >> i've never been arrested. i have never smoked or drank. i have no record, period. >> shortly after his birth, d.j. begins exhibiting the same alarming symptoms as his brother ryan had, but d.j. is taken to a different hospital and receives a completely different diagnosis. doctors determine that d.j. has
methylmalonicaciduria, or mma, a rare metabolic disorder. dr. james shoemaker is the founder of the metabolic screening lab at st. louis university, where he studies rare diseases such as mma. >> mma stands for methylmalonicaciduria and it's named after a chemical, methylmalonic acid. and that's a chemical that comes from food. >> in order for this chemical to be broken down properly in the body, it needs the assistance of vitamin b-12. if not b-12 is present, this acid builds up and can sometimes be fatal. a condition known as mma. >> the infant might be very sleepy, might not be rousable, might not respond to anything you do, might look like it's in a coma. and then it's potentially a fatal condition. >> stallings' defense lawyer contacts reporter john auble,
suggesting that mma, not poison, may have been the cause of ryan's death. >> at this point i think we need to take a look at the laboratory data that should exist, although, none of it's been made available to anyone. >> auble interviews stallings in jail. >> when you heard that david junior was stricken with similar type symptoms, what went through your mind? >> i bawled. i was very scared. i am very scared for him. and i think it's sickening that he has to get sick to prove a point. >> uh-huh. >> under media pressure, that mma might have been the cause of ryan stallings' death, prosecutors agree to postpone patricia stallings' trial. >> our office's position is that we will spare no cost to get at the truth. and that's going to entail medical experts from across the
country. >> while prosecutors revisit the evidence to determine the validity of their case, stallings is allowed to go home. >> so what plans do you have now? >> i'd like to go see the baby. that's really my main thing i want to go do, but i'm not sure if i can. >> and you completely deny any of the charges that were leveled against you? >> yes, sir. >> that still are leveled against you? >> yes, sir. >> and you figure you'll continue to fight until you're completely exonerated? >> all the way. >> newly elected county prosecutor george mcelroy takes a personal interest in what's become a high-profile case. >> it was highly controversial at the time. there was some discussion that she might not be guilty at all, and i felt it incumbent on me to study the facts, look at the evidence, and decide whether it
really ought to be tried. >> mcelroy contacts medical experts at st. louis university. a toxicologist there tests the samples and confirms from his findings that ryan's blood does contain high levels of ethylene glycol, a main ingredient of antifreeze. he then brings the sample to his colleague, dr. james shoemaker, to look for signs of mma. >> he said, i understand you are a specialist in the diagnosis of genetic diseases, and people are now claiming that since this second child was born, maybe the first child also had this genetic disease. so he just asked me, could you please run these and see if there's any signs of a genetic
illness? >> shoemaker runs a series of tests on ryan's blood. >> it immediately became apparent that yes, the first child had had methylmalonic acidemia. >> so shoemaker tells prosecutors two important facts. one, ryan had mma. but two, because mma is not always fatal, it was most likely the poison his colleague found and not the disease that killed ryan. >> in every instance they said this child had ethylene glycol poisoning. >> in fact, the st. louis city medical examiner also finds signs of the poisoning in ryan's brain. he tells the prosecutor that there are crystals consistent with a by-product of ethylene glycol. >> faced with all those facts, i determined in my own mind that certainly patricia stallings should be tried and a jury should determine her guilt or innocence. >> two years after the death of her son ryan, patricia
stallings' trial begins. for eight months stallings has been out on bond with charges pending. her 11-month-old son d.j. has remained in the care of his foster family. mcelroy deals a crushing blow to the defense. he files a motion seeking to block them from mentioning ryan or d.j.'s mma diagnosis. the judge agrees. >> to suggest that ryan died of mma at that point was pure speculation. there was not an expert anywhere that i ever heard of that said that it was even a likely thing. all of that was simply conjecture. >> outside the courthouse, stallings reacts to the news. >> it's not fair because that shows that something was wrong with ryan, and that means everything. my new son d.j. means everything in this, and to keep that out is ridiculous. >> the trial lasts four days. it takes just eight hours for the jury to find her guilty. >> at that moment i guess i was in shock.
i really didn't -- i don't remember even who i talked to and what happened. they said guilty, and i went blank. >> the verdict proves too much for stallings' husband. david is devastated. >> david started pounding his head on the rail and beat himself totally unconscious. had to be taken from the courtroom on a stretcher by the emergency medical people. >> patricia stallings leaves the courthouse in a state of shock. >> do you still maintain your innocence? >> two months later, the judge sentences her to life in prison. >> careful. >> watch your step. >> stallings fires her attorney and hires new lawyers. she continues to claim her innocence. up next, can science help prove patty stallings is inoh september? >> i believe that justice will
be done. it might take a little while, but i got lots of time. i joined the navy wh i the military and i served a tour in iraq. all the skills that i learned in the military are very transferable into the corporate and real world. chase hired me to be a personal banker. the 100,000 jobs mission has definitely helped me get my foot in the door. chase is giving opportunities to vets who don't think that there's any opportunity out there. chase and these other companies are getting a great deal when they hire veterans. chase is proud to help 100,000 veterans find jobs at home. ♪
♪ [ male announcer ] everyone deserves the gift of a pain free holiday. ♪ this season, discover aleve. all day pain relief with just two pills. ♪ with quarter-inch holes and blueprints for the coming year? those of us with doers on our lists. and because it's always better to give than to guess, we can take these last few days of shopping and our holiday budgets a lot further. ♪ more saving. more doing. that's the power of the home depot.
patricia stallings is serving a life sentence for poisoning her infant son ryan. two months after stallings' conviction, the program "unsolved mysteries" devotes an episode to stallings' case, and dr. james shoemaker from st. louis university is watching. he is shocked by what he sees. >> when the "unsolved mysteries" program came out and we saw that
the evidence of methylmalonic acidemia had been specifically forbidden at the trial, well, that seemed really just unjust. and so i took it upon myself to try to find out exactly what the laboratories had done who claimed they found ethylene glycol. >> shoemaker teams up with senior st. louis university biochemist dr. william sly. the scientists have a hunch ethylene glycol may never have been present in ryan's blood and that the lab technician may have made a mistake. under dr. sly's supervision, shoemaker runs tests on ryan stallings' blood sample to see if they can detect elements that can be mistakenly read as ethylene glycol. the scientists begin by looking at boiling points for various compounds. each compound boils at a certain temperature and is represented
by a peak on a graph. they soon discover that a misidentification could be possible. >> there were peaks there that, sure enough, looked like they might have been interpretable as ethylene glycol. >> what looked like antifreeze may have actually been something else. shoemaker and sly contact prosecutor george mcelroy about obtaining the methods the lab used when they got the original results. mcelroy agrees and gives the scientists full access to the data. >> the one outside laboratory was using a method called gas chromatography. it's a method where you inject compounds into this column and they separate based on their boiling point. each compound has a characteristic boiling point. >> the doctors test ryan's sample using the same equipment as the lab that got the initial results. a compound found in ryan's blood does have a peak similar to the peak of ethylene glycol, but
when the two peaks are superimposed there was a clear separation. it's a shocking result. the compound in ryan's blood was not antifreeze. >> so you could say wait a minute, this is not ethylene but must be something else. >> that something else turned out to be propionic acid, a compound found naturally in those who suffer from ryan's genetic illness. because of the similarity in boiling temperatures, sly and shoemaker believe the lab and toxicologist misread the result as ethylene glycol. the scientists now believe patty is innocent, and they approach both the prosecution and defense lawyers with their findings. but the prosecutor still has doubts. if indeed there was no poison, what were the crystals in ryan's brain, and how to explain the ethylene glycol found on the baby bottle? mcelroy voices his concerns to stallings' new lawyer, bob ritter. >> he said, well, what would it take to convince you? i said first we'd have to have somebody totally disassociated
with the case and somebody who's recognized nationwide as an expert in this area. and those people are going to have to come up with some answers to some serious questions i have. >> the defense attorney asks mcelroy to bring the case back into court. >> i agreed with the defense attorney that patricia stallings would be entitled to another trial. at that time, however, i still felt very confident that it would be a conviction if we tried her again. >> the judge grants a new trial. >> patty, how do you feel? >> patricia stallings is allowed out on bond. >> are you optimistic about your new trial? >> yes. >> what are you going to do when you're released tomorrow? >> eat some real food. >> your husband is standing right over here. he's been waiting a long time to see you. are you excited about just spending some quiet time? >> yes, sir. >> it's been a long haul so far, hasn't it? >> yes, sir. >> you've maintained all through
this that you didn't kill your child. do you think you're about to be -- get some acquittal there? >> yes, sir, definitely. >> stallings' defense team brings on an expert acceptable to the prosecution. he is dr. pierro renaldo, a world-renowned pediatrician and biochemical geneticist from yale university. renaldo studies ryan's serum and confirms drs. sly and shoemaker's results, that ryan did have mma. he looks for any evidence of ethylene glycol in the lab data but like shoemaker and sly finds none. >> the compound being identified as ethylene glycol, it was obviously something else. the data, the evidence was not there, was not credible. and was misinterpreted. >> renaldo is also able to answer the prosecutor's nagging questions. if there was no poison, what were the crystals in ryan's
brain? he theorizes that the crystals may be a result of the ethanol drip treatment ryan was given at the hospital to counteract the suspected poison, a treatment that, while correct for someone poisoned with antifreeze, was completely wrong for someone with mma. >> you have a child with a disease called severe acidosis. frankly, you know, to give them large doses of alcohol is not exactly a step in the right direction. you know, that really is likely that contributed to his death. >> renaldo also examines the tests done on the baby bottle. he learns the bottle patty used to feed ryan had been cleaned in a dishwasher before being tested. and the spike said to be ethylene glycol could have been any compound with a similar boiling point. >> their approach was anything that showed up in a certain window in that chromatogram would be automatically labeled ethylene glycol. this is just unacceptable.
>> i was finally completely convinced. i notified the court that i would not be retrying the case. >> the next day, mcelroy holds a press conference, announcing that patricia stallings will be released. >> state of missouri is dismissing all pending charges against patricia stallings based upon the death of her child ryan on september 7th, 1989. and i'm satisfied, i'm convinced that patricia stallings did not poison her child. as i have frequently stated, i believe in the system. the system may not be perfect, but thankfully, it provides for safeguards which allow mistakes to be corrected. unfortunately, we can't undo the suffering that the stallings have endured during this entire ordeal. and i apologize to them both personally and for the state of missouri. >> 19-month-old d.j. is returned to the stallings.
he has spent his entire life up till now in foster care. in 1993 stallings files a wrongful death suit against the hospital and lab for the mistreatment and misdiagnosis of her son ryan. she receives an out-of-court settlement. >> it was our goal to get this over with so we can go on with our lives. >> the stallings ask for a public apology, but the lab and hospital remain silent as the case was not brought to court. >> they ran us through the coals in the public when it was the other way around. now we want a public apology, which they will not grant us. >> four years after patty's exoneration she and david divorced, the pressure proving too much for their marriage. d.j. tips to struggle with mma and remains in david's care. the stallings case has had a lasting impact on forensic science and its relationship to the criminal justice system.
for dr. shoemaker, despite the major impact his discovery had on getting patty exonerated, he is reluctant to call himself a hero. >> i was fooled along with everybody else. i was fooled by the ethylene glycol evidence until i directly addressed it. ultimately, i did that, but patricia stallings was sitting in prison until i came around to that realization. >> for stallings, faith in the justice system kept her hope alive throughout her struggle. >> i knew the questions would be answered. we didn't have the weight of guilt, so i knew it had to be answered. i've never really been real bitter. that's ugly, and that doesn't help us get over what we've been through. >> this was a case where scientific evidence just didn't live up to its charge, at least during the trial, but still it was scientific evidence that reversed the result and set her free