HOUSTON -- A DNA expert who clashed with Texas prosecutors
before she opened her own forensics practice in California has been
hired by attorneys defending NBA star Kobe Bryant against a rape
Elizabeth Johnson worked in the DNA lab of the Harris County
medical examiner's office from 1992 until 1996. Bryant's attorneys
want her allowed to observe DNA testing in the high-profile case
and are expected to call her as an expert witness once the trial
Bryant, a Los Angeles Lakers star, has pleaded innocent to
sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman in a Colorado hotel room
last year, though he acknowledges having consensual sex with her.
If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to
life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.
Details of DNA testing in the case have not been disclosed. But
defense attorneys say the woman had other sexual partners in the
week during which she alleges that Bryant assaulted her.
Johnson frequently made news during her tenure as head of the
county DNA lab, which she helped establish in 1992.
She performed tests on evidence in a double murder in Pasadena,
Texas, contradicting the prosecution's theory about who committed
the crime. The suspect eventually was acquitted.
She also found herself at odds with prosecutors in February
1996. The district attorney's office subpoenaed her to appear --
along with her files in five criminal cases -- before a grand jury.
The files were subsequently turned over to another DNA expert
who reviewed Johnson's techniques. No problems with her methodology
Johnson said she always attempts to do quality work.
"And not because anybody in particular has some money," she
told the Houston Chronicle for Friday editions. "I try to do the
best job possible on every case. Most of my clients are represented
by public defenders, and I don't think I got to where I am by
giving them a slipshod job."
Johnson was fired from the medical examiner's office in December
1996. She was later awarded a judgment of more than $300,000 by a
Harris County jury for wrongful termination.
Johnson claimed she was fired because of the Pasadena case,
though Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said she was
let go because she wanted too much time off as compensation for
Johnson's role in another Texas murder case has also been called
into question by supporters of the defendant.
Rodney Reed, 35, was sentenced to die for the 1996 murder of a
19-year-old Bastrop County woman. His supporters say there is no
record Johnson tested certain DNA samples in the case; the Austin
Chronicle has reported that shipping labels the Texas Department of
Public Safety says were used to send evidence to Johnson's
laboratory in Ventura, Calif., do not match records kept by the
Johnson told the Austin paper she couldn't recall whether she
had tested the DNA samples, but that DPS sent everything the
defense had asked for.
A volunteer consultant for Reed, David Fisher, contends DNA
samples that could have provided exculpatory evidence to Reed's
attorneys were not tested. He said he has contacted prosecutors in
the Bryant case to point out Johnson's role in the Reed case.
"Elizabeth Johnson is stained by the Bastrop case," Fisher
told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month. "The Eagle County
prosecutors are very disturbed by what they have learned."