Former CBI DNA analyst accused of tampering with evidence in hundreds of cases

A scandal involving a former DNA analyst at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has put hundreds of criminal cases in jeopardy. Yvonne “Missy” Woods, who retired from the CBI in November 2023, is alleged to have manipulated data in the DNA testing process, posting incomplete or altered results in some cases. Her work from 2008 to 2023 is under review, and her work from 1994 to 2008 is yet to be examined.

How Woods’ misconduct was discovered

The CBI launched an internal investigation into Woods’ work in September 2023, after a colleague noticed anomalies in her data. The investigation revealed that Woods had deviated from standard testing protocols and cut corners, calling into question the reliability of the testing she conducted. She is accused of deleting, altering and omitting data in official criminal justice records, as well as failing to provide thorough documentation in the case record related to certain tests performed.

The CBI said that the investigation did not find that Woods falsified DNA matches or otherwise fabricated DNA profiles. However, her tampering could have affected the interpretation and weight of the evidence in court. The CBI has notified the Colorado Attorney General, the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, the Colorado State Public Defender, and the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar of the findings.

The impact of Woods’ manipulation on criminal cases

Woods’ manipulation has potentially affected 652 cases that she worked on between 2008 and 2023, involving 41 counties and 63 law enforcement agencies. These cases include homicides, sexual assaults, robberies, burglaries, and other crimes. The CBI has set aside $7.5 million to conduct new tests, re-try cases and potentially reimburse inmates for wrongful convictions.

Former CBI DNA

The CBI is also reviewing Woods’ work from 1994 to 2008, which could involve thousands more cases. The CBI has not disclosed how many cases have been overturned or challenged so far, but some defense attorneys have already filed motions to vacate convictions or request new trials based on Woods’ misconduct.

The Colorado State Public Defender’s office said in a statement that the investigation impacts current cases and will very likely result in postconviction proceedings through which many criminal cases will be re-opened in Colorado. The office also expressed concern about the lack of transparency from the CBI about this matter, and questioned whether any person has been wrongfully convicted as a result of Woods’ misconduct.

The response of the CBI and the criminal probe of Woods

The CBI has apologized for Woods’ breach of trust and said that it is taking steps to rectify the situation. The CBI has initiated an audit of all its DNA analysts, which led to the discovery of another analyst who may have also manipulated data. Chiara Wuensch, who worked for the Weld County Sheriff’s Office at the Northern Colorado Regional Forensic Laboratory, was fired last week after the CBI found indications of data manipulation in her work. She is now under a separate investigation.

The CBI has also implemented additional quality assurance measures, such as random audits, peer reviews, and external accreditation. The CBI Director Chris Schaefer said in a statement that public trust in the CBI’s institutions is critical to the fulfilment of its mission, and that the CBI’s actions in rectifying this unprecedented breach of trust will be thorough and transparent.

Woods, who has not been charged with any crime, has denied any wrongdoing and said that she stands by her work. Her lawyer said in a statement that she has never created or falsely reported any inculpatory DNA matches or exclusions, nor has she testified falsely in any hearing or trial resulting in a false conviction or unjust imprisonment. He said that Woods is cooperating with the investigation and that she is confident that the truth will prevail.

A criminal probe of Woods’ activities is still underway, led by the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. The probe is expected to take several months, and could result in charges such as official misconduct, tampering with evidence, or perjury.

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