SECTION H3: MELISSA BRANNEN

 

I. Introduction

 

This case concerns a young girl who disappeared from a Christmas party in Fairfax County, Virginia in 1989 and who is believed to have been murdered. Her body has never been found. In December 1989, the FBI examined blood and fiber evidence found in the defendant's car.

 

Whitehurst alleges that Alan T. Robillard, as acting unit chief of the Hairs and Fibers Unit, pressured serology examiner Robert Grispino to change his results to agree with those of DNA examiner Dwight Adams. In a November 27, 1994, letter to the OIG, Whitehurst wrote:

 

Bob [Grispino] told me that his serology exams did not give enough information to go as far as Adams' opinion went and that had caused an embarrassment for someone in the chain. Then Bob found himself being pressured by Robillard to change his results to agree with Adams because of Adams' data and Bob refused and he then was taken before Hicks.

 

We investigated this allegation by interviewing Whitehurst, Grispino, Adams, Robillard, and Douglas Deedrick and reviewing the pertinent Laboratory reports and related documents from the case files.

 

We conclude that neither Robillard nor anyone else improperly pressured Grispino to change his results in this case.

 

II. Factual Background

 

After Melissa Brannen disappeared, a man named Caleb Daniel Hughes who worked as a groundskeeper in her apartment complex was identified as a suspect. When the FBI Laboratory was asked to collect evidence, Grispino was working as an examiner in the Serology Unit. Grispino participated in searches of Hughes' house and car and collected evidence to analyze for the presence of body fluids. After examining some paper tissues found in the car, Grispino concluded that they contained blood stains and that Melissa Brannen was a possible source. He noted that 40% of the population could also be a possible source. Grispino's findings were included in a Laboratory report dated January 18, 1990. The principal examiner on this case was Douglas Deedrick of the Hairs and Fibers Unit.

 

Dwight Adams, an examiner in the DNA Unit, performed DNA tests that excluded Melissa Brannen as a source of the blood stains on the paper tissues found in the car. These results were reported to the prosecutor, who supplied them to the defense in the case before the trial. Grispino recalls that he learned of the DNA test results the day before he was to testify at trial.

 

The Commonwealth of Virginia charged Hughes with abduction with the intent to defile, and the case was tried in 1991. The Virginia prosecutor, Robert Horan, called Grispino to testify about his serology findings. Consistent with his results, Grispino testified that he could not exclude Brannen as a possible source of the blood stains.

 

The prosecutor did not call Adams as a witness. Instead, the prosecutor argued to the court that [t]he D.N.A. man generally didn't have enough material to really do any type -- I mean, that was the conclusion of the D.N.A., he just didn't have enough to do it. Adams later testified as a witness for the defense. Consistent with his analyses, Adams testified that he could exclude Brannen as a possible source of the blood. After the conclusion of the evidence, the jury convicted Hughes.

 

The Brannen case received substantial publicity at the time of trial. Grispino and others said there was a media uproar based on the seemingly contradictory results from the DNA and serology tests and the fact that Adams testified for the defense. One newspaper article contained the headline, Two FBI experts' testimony at odds.

 

An April 14, 1991, article in The Washington Post noted that some attorneys thought that Horan tried to mislead the jury by presenting testimony that suggested Melissa's blood could have been on the tissues found in Hughes' car when Horan knew a more specific DNA test showed the blood samples could not have been from the girl. The same article quoted Horan as saying that the blood in this case was a non-issue and that he did not believe the DNA specialist because the agent had limited experience.

 

In his interview with the OIG, Adams said that his results were accurate, that Horan knew about the DNA results before trial and never asked Adams to explain them, and that he thought that Horan should have called him to testify. Horan's conduct is beyond the scope of our investigation, and we have not attempted to review its propriety.

 

III. Analysis of Whitehurst's Allegations

 

In an interview with the OIG, Grispino emphatically stated that he was never pressured to change, alter, or slant his report in any manner by anyone in this case or in any other case. With regard to the Brannen case, Grispino explained that his results did not in fact conflict with the conclusions reached by Adams, because the serology tests he performed were only a screening method and the DNA tests were far more specific.

 

Grispino recalled that Alan Robillard, who was then the acting chief of the Hairs and Fibers Unit, did not understand the difference in the level of specificity between the two examinations. According to Grispino, Robillard and other supervisors in the Laboratory were concerned about the seeming contradiction in testimony by Adams and Grispino and the related media reports. Grispino said that both Robillard and Hicks called him into their offices to discuss their concerns, but these were resolved once he explained the science to them.

 

In his interview with the OIG, Grispino denied telling Whitehurst that he had been pressured to slant reports or, specifically, that Robillard had pressured Grispino in the Brannen case. Whitehurst acknowledged in an OIG interview that he had not worked on the case and that he might have misunderstood Grispino. Adams also stated that he was never, under any circumstances, asked, pressured, or instructed to change any of his results in this case or any other case.

 

Robillard addressed the Brannen case in an interview with the OIG. He denied that he had pressured either Adams or Grispino to conform their results. Robillard also acknowledged that the serology tests in this case were less specific than the DNA tests, and that the latter should have superseded the serology results. He said the case prompted the Laboratory to combine the Serology and DNA Units into one unit and to decide not to issue preliminary serology reports before DNA testing was completed.

 

IV. Conclusion

 

We conclude that neither Robillard nor anyone else pressured Grispino to conform his opinions to those of Adams in this case.

 

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