Death of Lying Chemist Fred Zain

Very little has been written this week about the death of former West Virginia chemist and expert witness Fred Zain whose perjured testimony was responsible for putting hundreds in jail and even on death row. When Experts Lie tells his story well and links to the official investigative report on his despicable actions.

Finally indicted, his trial was postponed indefinitely due to his having been diagnosed with cancer. He died last week at the age of 52.

He got to spend his final days at liberty. His victims, wrongfully accused defendants, spent years in jail because of his fraud upon the courts.

Goodbye, Mr. Zain.

Update: We found this December 4th obituary in Newsday (Associated Press). We don't have a live link to it, but it is also available on Lexis ($).

"OBITUARIES / Fred Zain, 52, Discredited W.Va. Police Chemist

Charleston, W.Va. - Fred Zain, a former West Virginia State Police chemist whose discredited work resulted in the payment of millions of dollars to wrongfully convicted defendants, has died at age 52.

Zain, head of the state police chemistry lab from 1986-89, died Monday at his home in Ormond Beach, Fla., his lawyer, Tom Smith of Charleston, said yesterday. Zain was suffering from colon cancer.

Prosecutors said Zain lied on the witness stand and faked test results, and thus accepted his fees and salary under false pretenses.

Last year, a West Virginia jury was unable to reach a verdict on four counts of obtaining money under false pretenses. Three of the charges dealt with expert witness payments Zain received after he left the state in 1989. He was to have been retried in July, but the trial was delayed indefinitely because of his cancer.

Besides the expense of investigating and prosecuting Zain, and retrying cases related to him, West Virginia has paid at least $6.5 million to settle lawsuits by wrongfully convicted defendants.

No one knows precisely how many convictions resulted from Zain's testimony, or how many people are still imprisoned in West Virginia, Texas and other states where he served as a consultant.

A West Virginia State Police investigation identified as many as 182 cases that might have been affected by Zain's work.

In a 1997 interview in Texas, Zain said he had been made a "scapegoat" by political forces in West Virginia and Texas.

Zain worked as a state police chemist from 1979 until 1989, when he took a similar job in Bexar County, Texas. His work in West Virginia was discredited in 1993 by the state Supreme Court, which said Zain may have lied or fabricated evidence in dozens of rape and murder cases.

His work in Texas also was under fire and led to the payment of at least $850,000 to two men. In 1997, Zain avoided a perjury trial in Texas because the statute of limitations had expired.

Zain was fired by Bexar County after his work in West Virginia was discredited. He later moved to Florida where he worked for a state-run environmental laboratory."

The West Virginia Supreme Court report on Fred Zain's misconduct is here. We got to know one of Mr. Zain's victims, William Harris, several years ago--he was able to get a fair award (about one million dollars) from the state, but how do you repay someone who is yanked from their promising life at 17 and forced to spend 7 years (on a 20 year sentence) in one of the worst adult prisons in the country after being wrongfully convicted of rape based upon a lying chemist's testimony?

William's story is one of the 28 told in the Government publication, Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science, available here.

A detective in William's case was later convicted of perjury. DNA testing proved William was not the donor of the semen involved in the rape. Zain lied and told the jury that the genetic markers in the semen left by the assailant matched those of Harris and only 5.9 percent of the population.

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