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Wash. Forensic Examiner Found Incompetent

September 9, 2003

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) _ The Washington State Patrol has determined that one of its forensic scientists, whose testimony in Montana rape cases has been discredited, is incompetent and should be fired, The Associated Press learned Tuesday.

The State Patrol reviewed 100 cases completed by Arnold B. Melnikoff from 1999 to 2002 and found that his drug analyses did not meet professional standards. The report, dated Aug. 4, was obtained through a state public records act request.

``The review of the cases did not necessarily reflect any mistakes that would have changed the basic conclusions drawn from the analysis,″ the report said. ``It is just that often the work product was weak or unsupported by sufficient data to reach clear conclusions.″

Melnikoff’s attorney, Rocco Treppiedi, said State Patrol investigators have not interviewed his client and that the report’s conclusions were preliminary and inaccurate.

``He will fight any attempt to terminate him,″ Treppiedi said. ``It’s shameful to publish it this way without sitting down and asking him to review the cases with them.″

A patrol spokesman, Capt. Glenn Cramer, did not immediately return calls Tuesday seeking comment on whether Melnikoff would be fired.

Melnikoff, who has been on leave since late last year, was one of 15 forensic scientists for the State Patrol in eastern Washington, said Spokane crime lab manager Kevin Fortney.

The patrol learned of problems with Melnikoff when questions arose about his work in Montana, where he was crime lab manager until 1989.

New DNA analysis exonerated two men who were convicted of separate Montana rapes based largely on Melnikoff’s research and testimony. One, Jimmy Ray Bromgard, was freed in October after serving 15 years for the rape of an 8-year-old girl. In May, DNA evidence also exonerated Paul Kordonowy of a rape 13 years ago, although he remains in prison on a separate rape conviction.

In both cases, Melnikoff had testified that there was less than a 1-in-10,000 chance that hair found at the crime scenes belonged to anyone other than the defendants.

The New York-based Innocence Project, which uses DNA evidence in efforts to prove people innocent, has called for an audit of all of Melnikoff’s work.

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