Microscopic Hair Comparison (MHC)
MHC compares hair found on an item related to a crime scene with known hair.
In 2015, the FBI issued a statement reporting that the FBI has concluded that the examiners’ testimony in at least 90 percent of trial transcripts the Bureau analyzed as part of its Microscopic Hair Comparison Analysis Review contained erroneous statements.
In 2016, former FBI Director Comey sent a letter to State Governors regarding the possibility of erroneous testimony in MHC cases. He said, “In addition, we want to make sure our approach in the 1990s and before didn’t introduce error into your state and local lab work. Over the last 40 years, the FBI offered introductory training on hair comparison to state and local labs. The FBI has notified the labs which sent employees to this training. I encourage you to ask your state and local labs to ensure their examiners were staying within the bounds of science and, if they weren’t, to take appropriate corrective action… Like you, we care deeply about justice, which is both about obtaining convictions and making sure that mistakes are fixed.”
CA innocence organizations inquired and found out that the state was not doing anything, so a project was initiated and a coalition formed between NCIP, the California Innocence Project, and Loyola Project for the Innocent.
As of 2015:
- The FBI has identified over 3,000 cases involving MHC.
- The Innocence Project in New York has identified 75 of 354 DNA Exonerations that relied on MHC.
- There have been 8 exonerations and 5 vacated sentences in FBI Hair Examiner Cases.
- 3 of the exonerations were in cases where the state examiner relied on erroneous testing.
NCIP did an internal review and found 203 potential cases, of which 34 contained MHC and 15 warranted further review based on evidence.
Jack Sagin’s Story
Jack Sagin turns from his seat in Monterey County Superior Court to look at family members in the audience before a bailiff forbade them from communicating.
In July 1985, Paula Durocher was found murdered in her Monterey apartment. A few months later, Jack Sagin was arrested on unrelated charges. Later in 1985, two known snitches housed next to Sagin told police that he confessed to the Durocher murder. In October 1986, Sagin was sentenced to life in prison.
This is the timeline of Sagin’s case since he first contacted NCIP in 2001:
1/1/01 – California enacts its first post-conviction DNA testing law.
1/16/01 – Sagin contacts NCIP for assistance with obtaining DNA testing.
2/01 – 6/03 – NCIP reviews the transcript of Sagin’s trial, collects documents associated with his prosecution and defense, and begins working with a private investigator to interview potential witnesses.
7/11/03 – Monterey County Police Department retains crime scene evidence in the case against Sagin.
7/17/03 – The Monterey Superior Court appoints NCIP to represent Sagin under Penal Code section 1405.
7/26/04 – Sagin’s brother Rick passes away.
11/23/04 – NCIP continues evaluating the case and begins working with a volunteer scientist to determine whether there was relevant crime scene evidence to subject to DNA testing.
11/10/06 – NCIP asks the Serological Research Institute (SERI) to assist with the case.
11/13/06 – A former FBI profiler reviews the case and determines that the murder was likely, “a violent sexually-motivated assault” and that there is no evidence that the murder occurred as the result of a botched burglary, as theorized by the prosecution at Sagin’s trial.
9/5/07 – Forensic DNA Consultant Norah Rudin, Ph.D., begins consulting with NCIP regarding the DNA issues in this case.
9/4/08: NCIP consults with a former FBI polygrapher regarding law enforcement’s use of polygraphs in this case.
1/28/08 – NCIP files a motion for DNA testing in the Monterey Superior Court.
2/2/09 – The Monterey Superior Court grants NCIP’s motion for DNA testing.
9/21/09 – DNA testing done by SERI excludes Sagin as a contributor of male DNA discovered on five items collected from the victim and crime scene.
4/14/10 – Additional DNA testing excludes Sagin as a contributor of male DNA discovered on twelve additional items collected from the victim and the crime scene.
2/17/11 – Sagin’s sister Roxanne passes away.
3/4/11 – The California Department of Justice Lab confirms that Sagin is eliminated as a contributor to the male DNA found on crime scene evidence.
3/29/2012 – NCIP files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in Monterey County Superior Court.
11/19/12 – Further DNA testing conducted by SERI provides further evidence of Sagin’s exclusion from evidence collected from the crime scene.
10/1/12 – Monterey County Superior Court denies Sagin’s petition for writ of habeas corpus.
12/28/12 – NCIP files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Sixth District Court of Appeal.
5/12/13 –The 6th District issues an order to show cause. Sagin’s case is remanded to the Monterey Superior Court.
7/15/15 – The Monterey Superior Court denies Sagin’s petition for writ of habeas corpus.
10/2/15 – NCIP files a second petition for writ of habeas corpus in the 6th District Court of Appeal.
8/5/16 – The 6th District issues an order to show cause. Sagin’s case is remanded to the Monterey Superior Court.
1/1/17 – Penal Code section 1473 (b)(3) amends California’s post-conviction legal standard for the presentation of newly discovered evidence.
4/5-6/17 – An evidentiary hearing on the petition for writ of habeas corpus is held in the Monterey Superior Court.
5/2/17 – Monterey Superior Court denies Sagin’s petition for writ of habeas corpus.
6/28/17 – NCIP files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the 6th District Court of Appeal.
Current Casework Map
NCIP staff members frequently travel to areas far from their offices and homes to investigate cases and engage in litigation. The 34 adult prisons in California are located throughout the state, and staff attorneys are often pulled away for days at a time to meet with clients, witnesses and experts.