LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the death sentence of an eastern Kentucky man for two slayings even though the FBI has concluded that an analyst
"overstated the significance" of some evidence at his trial.
A 4-3 split court found that other evidence, besides a now-discredited method for matching bullets, linked Ronnie Lee Bowling, 39, to the slayings of two men in Laurel County in 1989.
Bowling was convicted in part based on testimony from an FBI analyst, Donald Havekost, that bullets found in Bowling's possession matches those that killed Ronald L. Smith, 28, and Marvin Hensley, 48.
The justices called the analyst's testimony corroborative of other evidence, including a witness who survived the attacks and other ballistics comparisons.
"Substantial evidence was presented linking Bowling to the recovered handgun, and likewise linking the recovered handgun to all three crime scenes," four justices wrote for the court's majority.
Three justices dissented, saying bullet analysis played such a large role in Bowling's trial that there was no way to know what the outcome would have been without that testimony.
Justice Wil Schroeder noted that prosecutors emphasized the analysis in both opening statements and closing arguments.
Bowling's case is one of 2,500 cases since 1983 involving a now-discredited practice called comparative bullet lead analysis.
A National Research Council panel found in 1995 that FBI examiners had repeatedly failed to tell juries bullet matches made on lead comparisons might be mere coincidence. The panel also said FBI analysts failed to fully disclose the possibility of a false match.
Havekost said at trial that lead in the bullets used in the two slayings matched cartridges found in Bowling's home. Havekost said that meant they originated from the same manufacturer's batch of bullet lead.
The issue first arose in the case of Shane Ragland of Lexington.
Ragland's 2002 murder conviction was overturned in 2006 because
bullet lead analysis played a significant role in his case. Ragland pleaded guilty last year to second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to time served and three days of home incarceration.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)