Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Monday, January 02, 2006

"Burton" That Case

Current practice requires forensic scientists to return all physical evidence to the agency that provided it for testing. This practice, while reasonable and understandable, has one flaw: law enforcement agencies often destroy physical evidence after a case has been resolved and all legal appeals have been exhausted. Usually the destruction is practical: Old evidence from long-resolved cases requires storage space. Thankfully for three men wrongly imprisoned in Virginia for crimes they did not commit, a career serologist named Mary Jane Burton did not return all the evidence she had tested in their cases. Instead, she meticulously filed it away in her personal files where it stayed until after she died in 1999 in Florida.

In a November 13, 2004, article entitled She saved the evidence; the evidence saved them, The Virginian Pilot newspaper reporter Michelle Washington describes how Mary Jane Burton's dedication to science and met serendipity head-on to free the three men who had each been wrongly convicted and imprisoned for over 15 years.

Mary Jane Burton's legacy of scientific dedication has now led to two more wrongly convicted men being freed, bringing the total to five. The search for more innocents is not over according to an editorial entitled A Light on Justice Denied in the December 31, 2005, The New York Times.

The Times concludes its editorial with these words: "To 'Burton' a case is already a fresh term of art in Richmond, one that deserves to spread through the criminal justice system."

It certainly does.


Anonymous Linda Geren said...

I don’t know why people are making Mary Jane Burton out to be some hero. The true story needs to be told. My mother Regina Geren was an intern for Consolidated Laboratory Services sometime in the late 70’s. She filed a lawsuit against them regarding Mary Jane’s unethical and unscientific practices including forging signatures on property forms, skipping preliminary testing, and changing reports and record books. Instead of reviewing the thousands of cases, they decided to end my mother’s career and save millions of dollars to review the cases. It makes me furious that people are being misled. The victims of her unethical practices need to know that my mother tried to get the truth out more than 30 years ago. That is 30 years of freedom that was stolen from them. I’m sick of people trying to cover up their mistakes especially the former Consolidated Laboratory Services, it’s time they own up to their mistakes, admit that this was brought to their attention years ago and give a public apology to my mother.

6:47 PM, January 30, 2006  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...


Thank you for reading and commenting. Some of the news media, notably the The Virginia Pilot on November 13, 2004, did recount the efforts your mother tried to make to correct what she believed was also an injustice. That her attorney failed to make timely filings in no way detracts from your mother's mission to also right what she believed were wrongs. Her efforts are not diminished by the increased recognition afforded to Mary Jane Burton.

7:35 PM, January 30, 2006  

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