The deposition of Dr. Brian Meehan is now available at Liestoppers. As in his testimony at Mike Nifong’s ethics hearing, Meehan was difficult to pin down and overly wordy. But in several key areas, he was damning for Nifong—perhaps even more so than he would be in the hearing itself.
“Mr. Obfuscation” in Action
Previewing the unclear and occasionally contradictory ethics hearing testimony that he would offer, Meehan struggled to give straight answers to even the simplest of questions. For instance, when Nifong attorney Dudley Witt asked him how many forensic cases DNA Security handled each month, Meehan couldn’t say; he could talk, however, about how many “specimens” the lab handles, which (he said) would be between 300 and 600 monthly.
It sounded, then, as if DSI was a significant figure in law enforcement —handling a minimum of 3600 specimens per year. Witt followed up: since 2005, then, in how many forensics cases had Meehan testified?
Meehan: “I would say that it’s probably less than half a dozen.”
According to the transcript, here’s how Meehan described the manner in which his lab was hired to conduct DNA tests in the highest-profile criminal case in North Carolina history:
There was phone calls being made between the detective and Nifong to determine if they would want us to do the work and if the price was right and dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, back and forth.
At one point, Meehan referred to Mark Gottlieb(!) and Ben Himan as “attorneys”; when Bar attorney Doug Brocker asked him if he meant to say “detectives,” Meehan admitted it was so, adding, “You all look alike to me.” At another point, he ordered Witt to “rephrase that question. That was kind of awkward”; he later lectured Witt that “you might want to think about being more specific” in the attorney’s interrogatories.
During the course of the deposition, Meehan:
- claimed to have done “depositions” in criminal cases (neither side’s lawyers inquired further into this bizarre assertion);
- said the first person who contacted him was Detective “Sorsey” (the officer’s name is Soucie);
- compared DNA to whole-wheat and white spaghetti or like having a house on “29 Main Street”;
- rebuked Witt for calling him “just a geneticist”; and
- told Brocker that he “will not, absolutely will not” testify in the trial if he wound up being called after noon on Friday.
In discussions about the December 15 hearing, Meehan rebuked Brad Bannon for having asked him “a series of questions that were directed and not easy to answer.”
Meehan struggled to recall exactly when and with whom he spoke to people from either Nifong’s office or the DPD about the case. His excuse? “We handle business like that all the time; there’s no need to make specific notes.”
Meanwhile, as he did on the stand, Meehan had a habit of meandering off into tangential matters, forcing both attorneys to try to steer him back on course.
Despite his odd behavior, in the deposition, just as in the trial, Meehan was damning to Nifong’s case. At the April 10, 2006 meeting—of which Nifong was later to claim no recollection—Meehan said that “we very carefully went over this data,” which included results that the DNA of multiple unidentified males was found on Mangum’s rape kit. Meehan recalled going over the profiles “in detail” with Gottlieb, Nifong, and Himan. Since he considered this information “critical,” he was “absolutely” certain that he discussed it with Nifong on April 10.
(Gottlieb, it’s worth remembering, said that during these meetings, he “wasn’t quite understanding it” and “was completely lost,” not exactly inspiring confidence in the DPD’s handling of events.)
Moreover—contrary to Nifong’s repeated assertions to the court that he and the police effectively sat mute during these meetings—Meehan remembered that “Mr. Nifong and the two police investigators asked questions.” Indeed, “there were some general questions, to more complex questions. We spent a lot of time talking about it.” Meehan stated that Nifong asked him to try to work on the specimens with the unidentified male DNA to see if better resolution could be obtained. Meehan said that he felt “it was important that [Nifong] understood—and I believe he understood” that there were unidentified male DNA profiles.
Meehan also said that he made clear that the fingernail DNA mixture was not a “match” to Dave Evans but simply a mixture from which Evans, and many other males, could not be excluded. Moreover, Meehan recalled Nifong asking him about the possibility of DNA transference in a trashcan (Mangum’s fingernails were, of course, found in Evans’ bathroom trash can). “Suppose I blew my nose and threw the tissue in a trash can, and it laid on this fingernail, could there be a transfer. That’s a highly likely transfer.” [emphasis added]
If this aspect of Meehan’s deposition is to be believed, Nifong knew from the start that the fingernail DNA was utterly useless in tying Evans to any “crime.”
Meehan denied that Nifong ever asked him to prepare a report modeled on the SBI style, and said that the “positive match” report seemed to be what Nifong desired based on conversations between the two. After some prodding from Brocker, Meehan confirmed that he had never produced a report that didn’t include all test results before.
Nifong’s Perjury Trap
Meehan was clear on two points: (1) on May 12, “we first reviewed the information in the case entirely . . . we then went over the report”; and (2) he had a “specific” conversation with Nifong that the May 12 report was not a final report.
Indeed, if these sections of Meehan’s deposition are to be believed, Nifong would seem to have committed perjury both in his unequivocal statement that between May 12 and December 13, he never read the report; and in his deposition claim that he considered the May 12 report a final report, if with the material on the unidentified male DNA included.
“I’m a geneticist,” concluded Meehan, “and legal jargon is probably something I need to stay away from.” On that point, probably everyone involved in the case would agree.