Supreme Court refuses to hear bite mark case

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court declined Tuesday to review the case of an Alabama man who has spent decades in prison for a murder conviction supported by recanted and discredited testimony about bite marks.

Charles M. McCrory was convicted of murder for the 1985 killing of his wife, Julie Bonds, who was found beaten to death in her home. Key evidence against him was the testimony of a forensic odontologist who said that two small marks on the victim’s left shoulder matched McCrory’s teeth. The odontologist later said he “fully” recants that 1985 testimony. He wrote in an affidavit that modern science has exposed the limitations of bite mark evidence and that there is no way to positively link the marks to any one person.

Lawyers with the Innocence Project and the Southern Center for Human Rights, which are representing McCrory, had asked the Supreme Court to review an Alabama court's decision denying his request for a new trial. Justices turned down the petition mostly without comment.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a statement that the case raises “difficult questions about the adequacy of current postconviction remedies to correct a conviction secured by what we now know was faulty science.”

“One in four people exonerated since 1989 were wrongfully convicted based on false or misleading forensic evidence introduced at their trials. Hundreds if not thousands of innocent people may currently be incarcerated despite a modern consensus that the central piece of evidence at their trials lacked any scientific basis,” Sotomayor wrote.

Sotomayor wrote that she voted against reviewing the case because the constitutional question raised by McCrory has not “percolated sufficiently in the lower courts.” But she urged state and federal lawmakers to establish paths for inmates to challenge “wrongful convictions that rest on repudiated forensic testimony.”

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, in rejecting his bid for a new trial, ruled that McCrory had failed to show that result of his 1985 trial “probably would have been different” if the new forensic guidelines regarding bite marks had been used.

The Innocence Project says that least 36 people have been wrongfully convicted through the use of bite mark evidence. A Florida man was freed in 2020 after spending 37 years in a Florida prison for a 1983 rape and murder he did not commit. The conviction was based partly on faulty bite mark analysis.

Bonds was found beaten to death May 31, 1985, in the home she shared with her toddler son. The couple were divorcing and lived separately at the time. McCrory has maintained his innocence. He told police that he had been at the home the night before to do laundry and say goodnight to his son. His attorneys argued that there was no physical evidence linking McCrory to the crime and that hair found clutched in the decedent’s hand did not belong to McCrory.

Bonds’ family, who believed McCrory was responsible, hired private prosecutors for the case against McCrory. They hired Florida forensic dentist Dr. Richard Souviron, who gained fame as an expert after testifying in the trial of serial killer Ted Bundy. McCrory was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Souviron later recanted his testimony. McCrory's attorneys said two other forensic experts disputed that the marks were bite marks at all.

McCrory’s attorneys wrote in their petition that that the current district attorney had offered to resentence Mr. McCrory to time served, which would allow him to immediately leave prison, in exchange for a guilty plea.

“Mr. McCrory declined, unwilling to admit to a crime he did not commit,” his attorneys wrote.

McCrory was denied parole in 2023. He will be eligible again in 2028.