359 F.3d 1279 (10th Cir. 2004), 02-6241, Pierce v. Gilchrist

Docket Nº:02-6241, 02-6351.
Citation:359 F.3d 1279
Party Name:Jeffrey Todd PIERCE, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Joyce GILCHRIST and Robert H. Macy, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:March 02, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
 
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359 F.3d 1279 (10th Cir. 2004)

Jeffrey Todd PIERCE, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Joyce GILCHRIST and Robert H. Macy, Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 02-6241, 02-6351.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

March 2, 2004

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Submitted on the briefs:[*]

Melvin C. Hall, Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Oribson & Lewis, Oklahoma City, OK, for Defendant-Appellant Joyce Gilchrist.

John M. Jacobsen, First Assistant District Attorney, Oklahoma City, OK, for Defendant-Appellant Robert H. Macy.

Clark O. Brewster and Guy A. Fortney, Brewster & DeAngelis, Tulsa, OK, for Plaintiff-Appellee Jeffrey Pierce.

Before McCONNELL, Circuit Judge, BRORBY, Senior Circuit Judge, and TYMKOVICH, Circuit Judge.

McCONNELL, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Jeffrey Pierce spent fifteen years in Oklahoma state prison for a rape he did not commit. Because DNA analysis demonstrated that Pierce could not have been the source of the semen found on the rape victim, his conviction was vacated on May 7, 2001, and he was released from prison. Mr. Pierce now seeks compensatory and punitive damages from the system and individual actors who deprived him of fifteen years of his life.

The gravamen of Mr. Pierce's complaint is that Ms. Joyce Gilchrist, a forensic chemist for the Oklahoma City Police Department ("OCPD"), fabricated inculpatory evidence and disregarded exculpatory evidence, which led prosecutors to indict and prosecute Mr. Pierce for the rape. He further alleges that Oklahoma City District Attorney Robert Macy fostered an environment within his office wherein questionable prosecutorial tactics, including reliance on unfounded forensic analysis, were routinely used to secure convictions. Mr. Pierce claims that working in concert, Ms. Gilchrist and Mr. Macy engaged in a pervasive pattern of railroading

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defendants through the Oklahoma courts and into extended prison sentences. While this system may have provided the citizens of Oklahoma with a false sense of efficient justice, if the allegations are correct, it deprived criminal defendants of basic constitutional rights and led to at least one unwarranted conviction.

This case reaches us at the motion to dismiss stage, and we thus recite the facts largely as detailed by Plaintiff Pierce in his complaint before the district court and his filings before this Court. Although Mr. Pierce has named other governmental units as defendants in this action, only Defendants Gilchrist and Macy filed motions to dismiss before the district court. For this reason, our recitation of the facts, as well as our holding, are limited to the facts and legal issues bearing on the claims against Defendants Gilchrist and Macy.

Because Defendants raise only issues of law in connection with their appeal of the district court's denial of qualified immunity, this Court has appellate jurisdiction. Ramirez v. Dep't of Corr., 222 F.3d 1238, 1240 (10th Cir. 2000).

I. Factual Background

A. The Rape and Mr. Pierce's Conviction

The events leading to this troubling case began on May 8, 1985, with the rape of Ms. Sandra Burton, a resident of the Woodlake Apartment Complex in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Mr. Pierce was employed as a landscaper at the Woodlake complex. [Compl. 5, App. 60.] He was 25 years old, married, with twin boys on the way. While police were still on the scene, Mr. Pierce was taken by police to be viewed by the victim. At that time, Ms. Burton stated that Mr. Pierce was not the rapist. Two witnesses testified that he was elsewhere at the time of the rape.

In March of 1986, pursuant to an arrest warrant not challenged in this action, Mr. Pierce was arrested and taken into custody. The arrest warrant was supported by an affidavit filed by an OCPD officer stating that Ms. Burton had positively identified Mr. Pierce as the rapist from a photographic lineup. Once in custody, Mr. Pierce waived objections to a search of his body, and police collected body fluids and head and pubic hairs from his person. As a condition to the waiver, OCPD officers told Mr. Pierce that if the hairs did not match he would be released. Five minutes later, Mr. Pierce was told that a forensic chemist had matched his hairs to evidence collected from the Woodlake rape scene.

The forensic analysis was performed by Defendant Joyce Gilchrist. Ms. Gilchrist's forensic analysis identified a total of 33 scalp and pubic hair samples from the crime scene as "microscopically consistent" with evidence taken from Mr. Pierce's body, thus concluding that the hairs could have come from Mr. Pierce. According to Mr. Pierce's amended complaint, those findings were false and without any scientific basis. Further, Mr. Pierce alleges that, with knowledge and deceit, Ms. Gilchrist (i) concealed the fact that Mr. Pierce's hair did not match the hairs found at the crime scene, (ii) violated the district court's order to deliver the hair samples in a timely manner for review by Mr. Pierce's forensic expert, and (iii) disregarded her own findings that Mr. Pierce's blood contained a particular enzyme, PGM-2-1, which conclusively precluded Mr. Pierce from being the source of the sperm found on the victim.

Thereafter, Mr. Pierce was charged with first degree rape, oral sodomy, second degree burglary, and assault with a dangerous weapon. Mr. Pierce alleges that Ms. Gilchrist's fraudulent oral and written reports "became an inseparable basis" upon which the district attorney filed these charges. At trial, Mr. Pierce was found guilty and sentenced to 65 years in prison.

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In April of 2001, the FBI released a report authored by Special Agent Deedrick reviewing the forensic work performed by Ms. Gilchrist between 1982 and 1991. The report examined Ms. Gilchrist's work in eight investigations, including that of Mr. Pierce. Special Agent Deedrick found that at least five of the cases involved contrived and erroneous statements by Ms. Gilchrist regarding identification of persons, and that Ms. Gilchrist repeatedly made statements beyond the limits of forensic science. With regard to Mr. Pierce's case specifically, Special Agent Deedrick concluded that none of the hairs taken from Plaintiff's body exhibited the same microscopic characteristics as those found at the crime scene.

Speculation regarding Ms. Gilchrist's work apparently prompted the OCPD to send evidence from the Pierce case to the Serological Research Institute (SERI) in Richmond, California, for DNA testing. On May 7, 2001, the OCPD laboratory received a final report from SERI exonerating Mr. Pierce on the basis of its DNA analysis. On the same day, the district court for Oklahoma County ordered Mr. Pierce's conviction and sentence "vacated, set aside and held for naught because Petitioner Pierce is factually innocent of committing the crimes for which he was charged and convicted."

B. Defendant Gilchrist

Beyond the facts immediately connected to his prosecution, Mr. Pierce alleges that Ms. Gilchrist's and Mr. Macy's behavior reflects a pattern and practice of the OCPD and the district attorney's office in securing convictions on the basis of falsified or misleading evidence. Mr. Pierce points out that Ms. Gilchrist's forensic analysis and testimony has been subject to numerous reprimands by the Oklahoma courts. For example, in McCarty v. State, 765 P.2d 1215, 1222 (Okla.Crim.App.1988), the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ("OCCA"), Oklahoma's court of last resort for criminal cases, reversed a death-penalty conviction secured on the basis of Ms. Gilchrist's testimony. The OCCA found that Ms. Gilchrist improperly delayed sending her report as well as the raw data to the defense's expert witness for independent examination. Id. at 1217. Further, the OCCA found that at multiple points during the trial, Ms. Gilchrist testified beyond her professional expertise and beyond the state of the art of forensic science. Id. at 1218-20.

The OCCA reprimanded Ms. Gilchrist on at least one other occasion for testifying to an opinion regarding the defendant's physical contact with the victim that was not supported by scientific evidence. See Fox v. State, 779 P.2d 562, 571-72 (Okla.Crim.App.1989). Similarly, in Miller v. State, 809 P.2d 1317, 1319-20 (Okla.Crim.App.1991), the OCCA granted the defendant, on trial for rape and sodomy charges, a new trial because Ms. Gilchrist failed to provide the defense expert with her report and evidence in a timely manner.

More recently, this Court had occasion to assess the reliability of Ms. Gilchrist's forensic analysis. In Mitchell v. Gibson, 262 F.3d 1036 (10th Cir. 2001), we reviewed defendant Mitchell's Oklahoma state convictions on a petition for habeas corpus. Mitchell was sentenced to death on charges of premeditated murder, first degree rape, forcible anal sodomy, and certain lesser crimes. In reviewing Ms. Gilchrist's involvement in the case we held:

Ms. Gilchrist thus provided the jury with evidence implicating Mr. Mitchell in the sexual assault of the victim which she knew was rendered false and misleading by evidence [which she] withheld from the defense. Compounding this improper conduct was that of the prosecutor, whom the district court found "had labored extensively at trial to obscure the

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true DNA test results and to highlight Gilchrist's [contrary] test results[.]"

Id. at 1064 (internal citations and italics omitted).

During the course of her career, Ms. Gilchrist has been reprimanded by various professional associations. In 1987, the Southwestern Association of Forensic Scientists disciplined Ms. Gilchrist for violations of its ethical code. Additionally, in October of 2000, Ms. Gilchrist was expelled from the Association of Crime Scene Reconstruction for giving...

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