In the third day of Eric Frimpong’s evidentiary hearing, dental experts from both sides of the courtroom continued to debate the importance of a bite mark found on the rape victim’s cheek.
Frimpong, a former UCSB soccer player convicted in December of raping a fellow UCSB student, is currently sitting through an evidentiary hearing to determine if he was afforded a fair trial. Yesterday’s portion of the hearing saw the end of the defense’s dental expert Dr. Charles Bowers’ testimony, which first began last Thursday, and was followed by the expert testimony of two other forensic dentists whose professional opinions contradicted Bowers’.
At question is whether the bite mark the victim testified to receiving during the course of the rape could have come from a man other than Frimpong. If the defense can prove this point, Judge Brian Hill has said he will order a new trial.
In its motion for retrial, the defense has alleged the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence – evidence favorable to the defendant – thus leading to an unfair trial for Frimpong.
However, at the end of yesterday’s proceedings, Hill said he was still not convinced. Thus far, the prosecution has had three dental experts claiming the evidence is simply too inconclusive to rule out either Frimpong or Benjamin Randall – the victim’s former on-again off-again boyfriend.
Bowers said the bite mark is oriented with the upper teeth closer to the jaw, which would mean the rapist was facing the victim upside-down when he bit her. If this statement is proven true, it would contradict the testimony of the prosecution’s dental experts and that of the victim who testified that her attacker was facing her during the rape.
Dr. Gregory Golden, who has reviewed over 500 bite-mark cases, testified for the prosecution yesterday, stating that there was “no doubt in [his] mind whatsoever” as to the orientation of the bite mark. He, along with the two other experts present, said the bite mark is oriented with the upper teeth closer to the nose rather than to the chin.
He also said the quality of bite mark analysis is dependent upon the dentist analyzing the injury.
“It certainly is subjective,” Golden said. “There is a lot of interpretation by the forensic dentist and depending on their experience, a lot of things can happen.”
Dr. Duane Spencer also took the stand yesterday to give his opinions on the bite mark.
“My biggest problem was with the quality of the bite mark,” Spencer said. “The injury just didn’t have the quality to exclude anyone.”
Yet, Bowers said the curve of Frimpong’s upper tooth is too wide to match the bruise on the victim’s face. Golden countered this point by breaching the topic of bite mark distortion.
“Skin is a… terrible medium for bite marks due to the distortion,” Golden said.
According to Golden’s testimony, the curved surface of the face as well as the mechanics of the bite can cause the resulting bruise to either be bigger or smaller than the teeth that caused it. In addition, a crying, screaming, or even smiling face would result in a different bruise shape.
To demonstrate to the court, the dental experts created transparencies of the biting edge of both Frimpong’s and Randall’s teeth, which they then laid over correctly scaled photographs of the bruise. Using this technique allowed the experts to not only compare the relative curvature of the teeth to that of the bruise, but also to isolate characteristics of the bruise to individual teeth.
After several hours of hearing testimony and seeing the transparencies laid over the bruise, Hill said he felt the general configuration of Frimpong’s teeth matched the general configuration of the bite mark, including the protrusion of the two front teeth.
The hearing continues this Friday at 10 a.m. in Dept. 2 of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.