Pioneer in DNA testing quits NY Medical Examiner’s Office over lab violations

by jeeg 17. May 2013 22:15

A top deputy at the medical examiner’s office who has been lauded for her work in DNA testing resigned amid revelations that she sidestepped lab protocol in at least two criminal cases, the Daily News has learned.

The abrupt April 19 departure of Theresa Caragine is the latest snafu to befall the office and has already affected ongoing cases in the Bronx and Brooklyn, according to court papers.

Hundreds of rape cases the office examined were already under review due to potentially botched testing by lab tech Serrita Mitchell, 55, who resigned but later denied wrongdoing.

That scandal also led to the suspension of Mecki Prinz, the office’s forensic biology director. Prinz, 55, resigned May 3.

The latest debacle has opened the door for defense lawyers to question DNA evidence in several cases.

Caragine’s actions came to light because Legal Aid Society lawyers have been digging for details about her resignation and complex DNA testing she oversaw, said Alan Gardner, head of Legal Aid’s DNA unit.

Along with partner Adele Mitchell, Caragine, 43, pioneered an acclaimed but controversial DNA testing tool, which helps identify genetic profiles in samples from multiple people, a difficult task.

“I believe that the problems that are revealed in the disclosures obtained in the Brooklyn case are the tip of the iceberg,” Gardner said.

Reached Wednesday night at her upper West Side brownstone, Caragine said simply, “It’s not true,” and declined to elaborate.

The Bronx district attorney’s office was forced to address the matter Wednesday in the armed-robbery trial of Rayeheame Hill, 31.

Legal Aid lawyers questioned a DNA sample taken from a .38-caliber revolver police recovered, demanding to know whether Caragine was involved in testing the sample. They also requested details about Caragine’s “Forensic Statistical Tool,” querying prosecutors in at least one Brooklyn criminal case as well.

Assistant District Attorney Rachel Singer responded in court papers Wednesday with details from the medical examiner’s office.

In two recent cases, according to that office, Caragine overruled staffers who disagreed with her analysis of DNA results. She was supposed to refer the disagreement to the department’s technical leader, who has the final say. But she made the rulings herself and was ratted out by her underlings.

Singer said Caragine was not involved in testing the sample in Hill’s case, and Bronx Supreme Court Justice Albert Lorenzo ruled Wednesday that the DNA evidence is allowable at trial.

The Bronx DA’s office is not concerned about the Caragine affair, a spokesman said.

“Dr. Caragine is a highly respected professional in her field who made an error in judgment in not following protocol,” said spokesman Steven Reed. “That does not affect the strength of the science or the forensic findings. We are confident that cases will not be unduly affected by her departure.”

The medical examiner’s office agreed.

“Her resignation has nothing to do with the quality of her work. Her work is impeccable,” office spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said in a statement.

She added that Caragine’s findings in the two cases where she disobeyed protocol ended up being accurate.

Shayna Jacobs , Kerry Burke AND Daniel Beekman, NY Daily News


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