2006 Philadelphia Annual Meeting (22–25 October 2006)

Paper No. 12
Presentation Time: 4:30 PM


BUNDY, Maria E., Severn-Trent Laboratories, 900 Lakeside Drive, Mobile, AL 36609 and ISPHORDING, Wayne C., Earth Sciences, University of South Alabama, LSCB 136, Mobile, AL 36688, bundy1624@bellsouth.net

One of the most shocking racial crimes in the United States occurred on October 17, 1981 when a 21year old black male, Michael Donald, was abducted in downtown Mobile, Alabama, taken across Mobile Bay to a site in Baldwin County where he was beaten and murdered. Subsequently, he was brought back to Mobile and hung from a tree where he was found early the next morning. The young man was randomly chosen and killed in apparent revenge for a dismissal of a case involving the death of a white Birmingham, Alabama police officer. Two members of the infamous Ku Klux Klan were apprehended and charged with Donald's murder. A third individual was also charged as an accomplice. All were found guilty of capital murder in 1983 and the principal conspirator was executed in the electric chair in 2000. Another is serving a life sentence for violating Donald's civil rights and the third co-defendant is serving 99 years in prison for serving as an accomplice.

Regardless of the fact that justice was apparently served, the three perpetrators of the crime were nearly successful in having major evidence tieing them to the crime scene invalidated by a defense witness. Statistical evidence offered by the prosecution that purported to show chemical similarities in soil samples found on the victims clothing, the defendant's shoes, and the crime scene was invalidated because incorrect statistical tests had been used. Further, it was also readily apparent that a major prosecution witness had little knowledge of local variations in soil chemistry and mineralogy. Ironically, excellent evidence could have been offered by the prosecution had it chosen to use either the heavy mineral and/or clay mineral “fingerprint” of soils at the murder scene, rather than attempting, in an incorrect manner, to show “similarities” in the chemistry of the soils. The mineralogical evidence would have clearly tied the perpetrators to the crime scene.

Fortunately two of the co-defendants (to avoid a likely death sentence) turned state's evidence and testified against the chief conspirator. On completion of the trial, the defense's expert witness was contacted by the District Attorney and asked describe what statistical (and mineralogical) tests should have been used. This information was “stored away” for future reference in order to avoid possible prosecution errors in the future.