HOUSTON — Questions about whether a toxicologist misrepresented her credentials have prompted prosecutors to review Houston-area DWI cases featuring her expert testimony, officials said Thursday.
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office notified area defense attorneys this week that Dr. Fessessework Guale might have incorrectly testified in cases about the type of degree that she earned. Guale, who has worked since 2006 for the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, which is the county’s medical examiner’s office, might have said she received a master’s degree in toxicology instead of physiological sciences, the notice said.
Jeff McShan, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said prosecutors are still trying to determine in how many cases Guale testified as an expert.
“All we’re doing is asking people to let us know as soon as possible,” he said.
In an email Thursday, the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences said its records show that since December 2011, Guale has testified in 33 DWI cases.
One of the attorneys who already submitted a request for review, Tyler Flood, said he questioned Guale in a recent DWI case about her qualifications after finding out she earned a doctor of veterinary medicine degree in Ethiopia and that her master’s degree from Oklahoma State University was in physiological sciences from the school’s college of veterinary medicine.
“It’s very disturbing because there are people who are charged with felony offenses … and they can be convicted and go to jail or prison based on her testimony. And she’s not qualified to be talking about this subject,” said Flood, who is also president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.
But the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences stood behind Guale, saying in a statement she has taken part in continuing education in forensic toxicology and “has earned certification by the American Board of Forensic Toxicology reflecting her knowledge, training, and experience in forensic toxicology.”
“Dr. Fessessework Guale is fully qualified to hold her current position … and to provide expert testimony in court,” the institute said.
In its email, the institute said while Guale’s formal education was in veterinary medicine, her master’s degree “provided the foundation for further training in human forensic toxicology.” The institute also said it is reviewing Guale’s previous testimony and that her duties have been reassigned pending courtroom testimony re-training.
Guale did not immediately return The Associated Press’ phone call seeking comment Thursday, but in an interview with KPRC-TV said she didn’t do anything wrong, explaining her training is in toxicology but her degree says physiological sciences.
“I did not lie. It’s just a misunderstanding,” she said.
The district attorney’s office is already in the midst of separate review of cases tied to the destruction by a deputy constable of possibly up to more than 20,000 pieces of evidence in Houston-area cases. Flood called the timing of the two separate reviews “coincidental” and credited the office with informing defense attorneys about the situation with Guale as soon as it learned about the situation.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70