DA's Office to Appeal Judge's Order Unsealing DNA Lab Memo

George Gascón
Prosecutors in the office of District Attorney George Gascón have decided to appeal a judge's order that they release an internal memo detailing problems with DNA analysis in the San Francisco Police Department crime lab.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Saturday that the DA's office plans to appeal San Francisco Superior Court Judge Charles Haines' ruling last week that the memo constitutes exculpatory evidence in a murder case, and thus must be handed over to defense lawyers.

DA's office spokeswoman Stephanie Ong Stillman said today that the appeal -- which will be made in the form of a writ before the state appeals court -- has not yet been filed. Haines stayed his order until Oct. 4 to allow prosecutors time to appeal his decision if they chose.

The memo has come to dominate proceedings in the case of James Mayfield, a 65-year-old Bayview church deacon charged with the brutal rape and murder of 29-year-old sculptor Jenny Read in 1976. The case against Mayfield rests primarily on DNA found at the crime scene and tested by SFPD forensics analyst Cherisse Boland, who is reportedly criticized in the internal memo.

The suppression of the memo has also become an issue in the district attorney's race, with Gascón's opponents criticizing him for a lack of transparency because of his refusal to release the document to the defense bar or public.

Haines had initially ruled that the memo did not constitute exculpatory evidence, but changed his mind after an extensive interview in chambers with its author, Rockne Harmon. A former Alameda County prosecutor renowned for his experience in cases involving DNA evidence, Harmon worked as a consultant at the San Francisco DA's office until summer 2010.

SF Weekly first reported on the memo based on interviews with Harmon, even as the DA's office initially denied the document existed. Last month we reported that it had been circulated among top officials at the DA's office and SFPD, and withheld from auditors from the California Department of Justice and the American Society of Crime Lab Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board.

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