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Update on Property Room Matters and Evidence Handling

August 16, 2005 -- The Houston Police Department is continuing in its efforts to better manage all aspects and processes of its operations. All sections of the crime lab, with the exception of the DNA unit, are now accredited; audits have been conducted and some are still underway; the Department has hired outside experts; and it is reviewing all of the infrastructure needs and the processes used to manage it.

Over the past several years, the Houston Police Department has been engaged in a process of converting from a manual property/evidence system to a bar-coded computer database. This effort was undertaken as a result of the inherent flaws and potential for human error associated with a manual system. As this process is nearing completion, it was discovered that some evidence did not have the accompanying documentation to facilitate its retrieval in response to any request to produce the evidence. At this point, we have identified approximately 150 instances in which the original record could not be located due to it being misfiled or lost. It should be noted that there is no lost evidence, just part of the documentation necessary to assist investigators in locating the item. To put this in perspective, more than 700,000 items have already been bar-coded (approximately 99% complete) with approximately 5000 items remaining. The Houston Police Department is expediting the reconciliation process to determine if any other cases might be affected.

Because of the complexities involved in reconciling property with prior cases, Chief Harold Hurtt assigned a group of investigators to review previous requests related to capital murder cases and chapter 64 requests (this is a request by any defendant incarcerated on a capital offense to have DNA evidence tested or re-tested). Thus far, we have found three cases involving capital murder. This information was ascertained on August 11, 2005.

The three capital cases affected by this review are:

Ponchai Wilkerson & Wilton Bethany * Evidence (baby seat).
Wilkerson's DOB 07-15-1971
Wilkerson's date of Offense was 11-28-1990
Wilkerson was executed May 14, 2000 * No chapter 64 request was made.
Bethany's DOB 11-03-1973
Bethany received a death sentence, but it was commuted to life.
Warren Rivers * Evidence included clothes, towels, and a knife.
DOB 03-31-1967
Date of Offense was 05-03-1987
Death sentence case * No chapter 64 request was made.
Robert Campbell & Leroy Lewis * Evidence (cigarette butt).
Campbell's DOB 09-10-1972
Campbell's date of offense was 01-03-1991
Death sentence case
Lewis' DOB 10-12-1972
Lewis was given a 35-year sentence.
The significance of the Campbell/Lewis case is that the defendants' attorneys made a chapter 64 request through the District Attorney's office and the department provided everything it knew about. But, through the process of reconciliation, one additional piece of evidence (cigarette butt) was located.

The District Attorney's office was provided this information today, and our investigators are working with that office to determine if any further action is necessary. At this point, it appears that none of the evidence in these cases was presented at trial, which means the evidence was not part of their convictions. "Our challenge in making the Houston Police Department the best in the nation lies in detecting and rectifying past practices that cause us to stumble and we are working tirelessly toward that goal," said Chief Hurtt.

Plans to curb similar problems in the future include merging the bar-coding process with the Electronic Management and Property System known as EMAPS later this year. This system will be an internal accounting system for the Department's property room. EMAPS will then merge with the Laboratory Information Management System known as LIMS approximately one year later. LIMS will coordinate evidence handling between the investigator, property room, crime lab, and possibly the District Attorneys office shortly thereafter.

In short, we are computerizing what was once a manual procedure with the goal of establishing greater accountability throughout the evidence handling process. In addition, the Houston Police Department is in the process of securing a new property room facility to provide space and resources commensurate with its operations. We have identified a consultant, and the facility is currently in the design phase. The projected completion date is 2008, and the location will be 1201 Washington.

Chief Hurtt toured the Property Room with the Mayor and council members upon his arrival in Houston. At that time, the Mayor and council authorized $10 million dollars to build a new facility.


For additional information, please contact the HPD Public Affairs Division at 713-308-3200.