EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Monday, November 30, 2015

More on the Hair Analysis in the Adnan Syed Case & Excluding Him as A Source

This is a follow-up to my post about the two hairs recovered from Hae that were a match for neither Hae nor Adnan. In that post, I noted how the State first informed the defense about Sal Bianca's hair analysis on December 2, 1999. That's the same day that Bianca filed his report. Here is a copy of that report, which Susan Simpson posted on her blog a while ago:

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.46.47 AM


This is the report that I contended that Gutierrez should have used when cross-examining Bianca about his hair analysis. The report makes clear that "[n]one of the hairs examined were consistent in microscopic physical characteristics with the head hair sample from Adnan Syed." In other words, Adnan  could be excluded as the source of any of the hairs found on Hae.

Even if the hairs examined were "consistent in microscopic physical characteristics with the head hair sample from Adnan Syed," this would not have proven that the hairs came from Adnan. As forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht testified in Steele v. Beard, 830 F.Supp.2d 49, 67 (W.D.Pa. 2011):

Wecht: In my opinion, it is universal, accepted forensic scientific knowledge, that hair identification, gross and microscopic physical characteristics is not exclusive to the rest of the world. It is not fingerprint identification, in other words.


Tershel: And to what degree can you tell that? Is there something of class or something of that nature?


Wecht: Different words are used such as consistent with or compatible to or other words. There are a variety of ways in which you can express it. You can talk about classes and sub-classes and Caucasian and Negro or Mongoloid or pubic hairs versus head hairs or certain colors. You can talk about a lot of things, please understand that, but then, you're talking ultimately ... If I understand you correctly, about whether or not you can say as a fingerprint-person can analyze that it is this individual to the exclusion of any other individual in the world and the answer is no, you cannot do that by the gross and microscopic characteristics of hair. You can make a lot of conclusions and you can make a lot of statements, but you can't say that it is this individual and cannot be anybody else in the world.

Indeed, according to the FBI's own website,

When a hair exhibits the same microscopic characteristics as hairs in the known hair sample, a qualifying statement may be added to the report. This statement may read as follows:

Hair comparisons are not a basis for absolute personal identification. It should be noted, however, that because it is unusual to find hairs from two different individuals that exhibit the same microscopic characteristics, a microscopic association or match is the basis for a strong association.

On the other hand, the opposite is clear: If hairs recovered from the victim are inconsistent with hairs taken from the suspect, he can be excluded as the source of those hairs. See, e.g., Respondent's Brief, People v. Webb, 1992 WL 12024858 (Ca. 1992):

Mr. Levine examined a hair taken from Lori Rainwater's vulva, and a hair also taken from Anthony Bradley. (RT 4339-42.) The hair from Lori Rainwater was inconsistent with the hair taken from Bradley, so Levine excluded Bradley as the source of the hair. (RT 4343, 4356.)



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I had thought that a DNA analysis can be run on hair samples to identify a person as well as ancestry and such. Incorrect?

Posted by: anon | Nov 30, 2015 9:01:37 AM

Only if roots or follicles are present.

Posted by: Anonymous | Nov 30, 2015 1:02:20 PM


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Posted by: VERNON BALMER JR. | Nov 30, 2015 3:06:13 PM

Hi, do you think Adnan is guilty in your own opinion?

Posted by: Tris | Nov 30, 2015 7:36:25 PM

Tris - I'm not a gambler, but I'd bet my left hand that he didn't. Murder, especially manual strangulation, is a very intimate act. You can't murder someone and leave no evidence.

The State's case is that a 17 year old boy committed a crime of passion, killing his former girlfriend in the heat of the moment, then disposed of her body. Somehow he managed to do that without leaving any of his DNA, hair, or fingerprints, or any fibre evidence. He allegedly murdered her in broad daylight in a busy mall car park, carried her from the front seat to the boot/trunk, and wrangled 5'6" of dead weight into it, without anybody noticing a thing.

There's no physical evidence, no credible witnesses, and even the very limited circumstantial evidence that appears to point to Adnan, was obtained using laughable methods, by unscrupulous people.

Even top-flight notorious serial killers, who have killing down to an art, cannot whoosh in and out of a crime scene like Batman, without leaving any trace evidence. I refuse to believe that a teenage boy could commit the perfect murder

Posted by: Squatch | Dec 2, 2015 6:15:38 AM

Thanks for replying to me.
I think Adnan is innocent too.
But does it mean Jay lied or he did it or other people did it? How could other people do murder without leaving evidence?
I don't know much about law, but in this case , does Adnan need new evidence to prove he is innocent or the court can do nothing for him?

Look forward to your opinion!
Thank you!

Posted by: Tris | Dec 2, 2015 9:22:38 AM

The police didn't test anything that would have proved Adnan was not guilty of the crime. Apparently this wasn't uncommon in Baltimore.

Have you been listening to Undisclosed? Colin, Susan and Rabia have brought so much ahoxing evidence to light.

Posted by: Squatch | Dec 3, 2015 6:44:29 AM

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