|About Dr. Michael H. West
|September 11, 1952
|Louisiana State University
The Innocence Files is Netflix’s latest gripping true crime offering. The docuseries highlights cases of wrongful convictions for various reasons, including flawed forensic science. One form of discredited forensic science is the bite-mark analysis propagated by Dr. Michael West. The Innocence Project, which is behind this docuseries, has been critical of Dr. West’s former status as an expert witness. Some of his testimony based on a flawed science led to innocent people getting convicted. He’s been disparaged in the media and lost most of his credibility. Our Dr. Michael West wiki elaborates more on his cases and where he is now.
Who Is Dr. Michael West?
Michael H. West, born on September 11, 1952, is a dentist and a self-described forensic odontologist. He graduated from Louisiana State University with a DDS in 1977.
Forensic odontology first made its presence known publicly during the infamous Ted Bundy trials. But this specific subject has drawn heavy scrutiny and criticism about its validity, as it’s imprecise.
Nonetheless, Dr. West made a name for himself with his bite-mark evidence analysis.
His analysis involves taking teeth impressions, making models, and then seeing if they match the bite marks found in evidence.
Many sexual assault cases and murder cases involve bite-marks found on victims, made by the assailant. And some police procedural shows might make us believe that matching bite marks is an accurate science. However, this science is actually disputed widely.
In fact, Dr. West’s theory was discredited as a means of identifying a perpetrator in 2009 by the National Academy of Sciences. It was disputed long before that, but he still gained notoriety as an expert witness throughout the ‘80s.
His inaccurate science allegedly led to many wrongful convictions. But it was the cases of Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer that threw Dr. West into disrepute.
Dr. West’s Testimony Led to the Conviction of Levon Brooks
Levon Brooks was arrested in 1992 in Mississippi for the 1990 rape and murder of his then-girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter. Once convicted, he spent 16 years in prison, despite proclaiming his innocence.
The child victim was abducted from her house and killed. The medical examiner found evidence of sexual assault and bite marks, which prompted him to refer the case to Michael West.
Dr. West determined that the bite marks on the child were from a human. He collected dental impressions from 12 possible suspects, not including Levon Brooks.
When the victim’s six-year-old sister was questioned by investigators, she identified Brooks as the perpetrator. Brooks was arrested, and West collected his dental impressions after that.
At Brooks’ trial, Dr. West took the stand as an expert witness. He testified that two of Brooks’ teeth matched the marks on the victim’s body. The victim’s sister also identified him as the abductor, though the child’s testimony was full of contradictions.
Brooks’ defense presented his alibi that he was working at a club at the time of the murder. His attorneys even challenged West’s credibility.
Despite that and the weak testimonies, Brooks was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Kennedy Brewer Was Also Convicted Because of Dr. West
In 2008, another man from Levon Brooks’ hometown, Kennedy Brewer, was exonerated with the help of DNA evidence. There were similarities in Brewer’s and Brooks’ cases, which shifted focus to Brooks’ possible innocence.
Another three-year-old girl was abducted, raped, and brutally murdered in the same town only four months after Brooks was convicted. Again, the victim’s mother’s boyfriend was zeroed in on as a suspect. That man was Kennedy Brewer.
The medical examiner once again called Dr. West to examine the bite marks found on the victim’s body. West concluded that the bite marks matched Brewer’s teeth.
Before he testified in Brewer’s trial, West had already been discredited as the first member ever to be suspended from the American Board of Forensic Odontology. He still maintained that his implausible bite-mark theory was valid.
Dr. West’s testimony led to the conviction of Kennedy Brewer in 1995. Sentenced to death, he stayed on death row for 13 years.
The Innocence Project, which works towards overturning wrongful convictions, took up Brewer’s case in 2001. Thanks to their efforts, more conclusive evidence was found.
DNA testing on the semen found in the victim’s body ruled out Brewer as the perpetrator. The revelation led to Brewer’s conviction getting vacated, so he was moved from death row to pre-trial detention.
Kennedy Brewer remained in prison for six more years…until further DNA testing uncovered Justin Albert Johnson as the real assailant. Johnson was a suspect in Brooks’ case, too, before the victim’s sister pointed to Brooks as the attacker.
When interviewed by law enforcement officials, Johnson admitted to committing both crimes. However, he denied biting his victims.
His confessions led to Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks being freed in 2008.
Where Is Michael West Now?
Following the exoneration of Brewer and Brooks, the Innocence Project raised concerns about the handling of the cases by forensic experts, including Michael West.
It turned out that the marks on both victims’ bodies were from not from Brewer, Brooks, or Johnson. They were not even human bites. The marks were made by crawfish and insects.
West stood by his claims that the marks on the victims were bites made by the attackers when the girls were alive. However, he defended himself against allegations of tort that he never said they were the ones who raped the two children.
There are several other cases where his tactics to match bite marks were questionable. He was famous not only for the bite-mark analysis, but also for trace metal detection, wound pattern identification, tool mark analysis, fingernail scratch analysis, gunshot reconstruction, and a lot more, which could make him the star of a one-man army version of CSI.
Despite his junk science, West was still called upon as an expert witness, even while defense attorneys and advocacy groups disparaged him. Other experts also testified repeatedly that his bite-mark analysis was not as accurate as DNA and fingerprints, and was maybe even worthless as evidence. Other forensic odontologists have also discredited his theory.
West’s theories had been disproved beyond doubt. However, he continued to contend they were valid. He brushed off the criticism as “jealousy” and “ignorance” and said he’d helped exonerate more people than he convicted.
But West changed his tune, according to a 2011 disposition. He disclaimed the bite-mark analysis and said that DNA evidence should be used.
West is no longer the credible expert witness prosecutors once called upon. In fact, he’s proven to be an embarrassment to Mississippi law enforcement after at least six cases he testified in were wrongful convictions.
Once proud of his appearances on 60 Minutes and The Phil Donahue Show (even though they criticized him), he now turns away media. He also seems to have given up on forensic odontology.
Dr. West instead put his DDS to use as a regular dentist in his hometown of Hattiesburg in Mississippi. His license expired in October 2019. But, even before that, he was getting poor reviews online.
Meanwhile, two of the people who lost years of their lives moved on after their 2008 exoneration, but life hasn’t been too kind. Levon Brooks died in 2018 of cancer. Kennedy Brewer is recovering from a stroke he suffered in March.