Takeoff shooting: Forensic issues could plague shooting trial

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Forensic issues could plague Takeoff murder trial

Based on court documents, 392 criminal cases could be in jeopardy including the 2022 murder of rapper Takeoff due to a fired Forensic Science Center analyst! FOX 26's Randy Wallace spoke to Legal Analyst Chris Tritico for more details.

A new court document is revealing some potential problems in connection to the shooting case of Migos rapper, Takeoff. 

In the "Brady Notice", the case of the shooting has revealed some possible forensic issues. A "Brady Notice" requires prosecutors to disclose any and all material information in the prosecution's possession to the defense.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office stated, "We go out of our way to file Brady notifications when necessary. This case is one of 392 pending Houston Forensic Science Center Cases in which we are issuing such notices."

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According to the document, a Houston Forensic Science Center Forensic Analyst by the name of Rochelle Austen was hired back on June 29, 2019, and was terminated by the company on March 25. 

The document stated Austen was terminated for inability to produce quality work, meet production goals, and lack of attention to detail.

Patrick Xavier Clark, left, charged with the murder of Migos rapper Takeoff, right. (Harris County Sheriff's Office/Erika Goldring/Getty Images)

In the report, it says on March 5, a forensic biology staff member identified a chain of custody mix-up on a proficiency test sample that was in Austen's custody. It was determined Austen had processed the wrong sample after neglecting to carry out a thorough initial sample verification. That's a step required by HFSC in order to prevent the processing of incorrect samples, the document stated. Also, Austin was found to have violated HFSC's Chain of Custody transfer verification procedure. 

"In a science case, when you can't prove chain of custody, then the science is no longer good," said FOX 26 Legal Analyst Chris Tritico. 

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Also, according to the document, on April 12, 2023, Austen noticed quantification results regarding male DNA were not as expected and noted a possible switch had occurred. Once the samples were re-processed, it was confirmed that the samples had been switched at some point during Austen's testing.

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"A DNA sample was switched before it was tested, so they can not show that the DNA samples the state is relying on is the actual person they were testing," Tritico added. 

It is unclear what involvement the terminated analyst had in connection to Patrick Clark, who has been indicted in connection with Takeoff's death. Clark is expected back in court on May 29. Clark is currently out on a $1 million bond he posted in January 2023.

In a statement, the Houston Forensic Science Center said, "We can confirm that the named individual is a former HFSC employee who was employed as a forensic biology analyst.  The analyst was terminated, in part, due to errors in handling proficiency test materials. Proficiency tests do not involve actual cases or evidence, they are administered to test a forensic expert's skills and understanding of HFSC's processes.  Even though this error did not occur in a case, by law, HFSC is required to disclose to the District Attorney's Office, any potential issues with a forensic employee’s proficiency.  Because forensic analysts can be called to testify about their work, attorneys have a right to know this type of information.  

The 392 cases do not represent cases where HFSC has identified errors, instead, it represents all the cases this analyst has worked and where the analyst could be called to testify.  Of note, HFSC processes approximately 30,000 requests annually and our forensic biology section primarily performs works in cases involving death, sexual offenses, and aggravated offenses.  At this time, our review has not revealed any evidence suggesting that the analyst's proficiency test errors have compromised the validity of any casework. 

HFSC has disclosed the situation to our accrediting bodies as well as the Harris County District Attorney's Office, who has in turn drafted "Brady notices" for attorneys handling cases where this analyst performed work. HFSC has not seen any indications of technical errors in casework, however, individual cases will be addressed with the attorneys of record, to determine the specific circumstances.  Because of the intermediate steps in our analytical processes, we anticipate our initial findings will remain true.

HFSC takes these situations seriously and we will continue to work with the criminal justice system to address any potential impacts to cases."