|· February 1999: Kim analyzes DNA in Josiah
· July 1999: Sutton is convicted of rape largely on Kim's testimony, sentenced to 25 years in prison.
· December 2002: HPD suspends DNA testing amid questions about work at its crime lab.
· March 2003: Sutton is released when new tests exclude him as a suspect in the rape.
· December 2003: Kim is fired.
· Jan. 27, 2004: Kim gets her job back.
Christy Kim, whose discredited analysis helped send a teenager to prison for a rape he may not have committed, argued that any errors she made were the product of systemic problems at the HPD crime lab, not individual negligence.
A city panel that reviews discipline for HPD employees reduced the punishment for Kim, a 21-year crime lab veteran, to a 28-day suspension. She was immediately reinstated.
Kim and her lawyer greeted the ruling as a sign that the lab's benchworkers would not be blamed for problems that should be attributed to HPD supervisors who allowed analysts to go without adequate training and supervision for years.
"The crime lab obviously had and still has huge problems," said Fred Keys, who represented Kim in her appeal of her termination before the Civil Service Commission. "But you can't blame that on individuals who are doing things as they are told to do."
Other observers, however, called Kim's reinstatement a disturbing rejection of the idea that analysts who routinely testify as expert witnesses should be personally accountable for their work.
"It's been a theme all over the country that it is very difficult to discipline police department employees, but it is particularly disturbing when it involves a scientist who should have known better," said Bill Thompson, a University of California-Irvine professor who helped expose some of HPD's lab errors. "Instances like this show that there is a lot to be said for the positions that these labs should be independent and not in police departments at all."
It was unclear Tuesday when Kim would return to work, or what she would do.
HPD declined to comment on the reinstatement. But Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal acknowledged that it could return Kim to the lab -- and to the courtroom.
"We will have to use her as a witness," he said, of the possibility, "and we'll have to deal with it."
Thompson said that would be problematic for future prosecutions.
"A competent lawyer will rip her to pieces if she ever takes the stand again," he said.
Kim was involved in the most notorious case arising from the scandal, which still has the lab shut down. She analyzed evidence from a 1998 rape that led to the conviction of Josiah Sutton, a 17-year-old former high school football captain who was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Sutton served more than four years before the exposure of numerous problems prompted the suspension of DNA testing at HPD and brought new attention to his case. The evidence used against Sutton, and nearly 400 other defendants, was slated for retesting.
New tests excluded Sutton as a suspect in the case. He was released from prison in March and is seeking a pardon. Then-Mayor Lee Brown fired Kim in December, citing errors she made in the case such as using outdated formulas to calculate the statistical strength of DNA matches in this case.
Keys argued that Kim's work reflected lab protocols, which she was merely following.
"My goodness, everybody in the lab was using those same calculations, not just Christy," he said. "If that is grounds for firing, everybody would have to go."
HPD supervisors, including Executive Assistant Chief Tim Oettmeier, who oversaw internal investigations of the crime lab, have repeatedly argued that individual analysts should be disciplined over the lab scandal. But the Civil Service Commission has just as consistently reduced the punishment against crime lab employees.
In September, Kim and another DNA analyst, Joseph Chu, successfully argued that 14-day suspensions were excessive punishment for following crime lab procedures that led to errors the department found in four cases, including a capital case. Commissioners reduced those suspensions to written reprimands.
In June, nine crime lab employees were disciplined, including two high-ranking department supervisors who resigned to avoid being fired. Kim's suspension is the most severe punishment given to an analyst.
For Carol Batie, Sutton's mother, the fact that Kim was so rapidly reinstated is disappointing.
"It's been nearly a year and my son is still waiting for a
pardon to clear his name and let him get on with his life," she said.
"(Kim) was out of a job for less than a month. It doesn't seem right."
||Truth in Justice