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Ex-W.Va. Police Chemist Fred Zain Dies

December 3, 2002 GMT

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Fred Zain, a former West Virginia State Police chemist whose discredited work resulted in the payment of millions of dollars to wrongfully convicted defendants, has died at the age of 52.

Zain, head of the State Police chemistry lab during 1986-89, died Monday at his home in Ormond Beach, Fla., his lawyer, Tom Smith of Charleston, said Tuesday. Zain was suffering from colon cancer.

In addition to West Virginia, Zain’s work had come under fire in Texas.

Prosecutors said Zain lied on the witness stand and faked test results, and thus accepted his fees and salary under false pretenses.

Last year, a West Virginia jury was unable to reach a verdict on four counts of obtaining money under false pretenses. Three of the charges dealt with expert witness payments Zain received after he left the state in 1989. He was to have been retried in July, but the trial was delayed indefinitely because of his cancer.

Besides the expense of investigating and prosecuting Zain, and retrying cases related to him, West Virginia has paid at least $6.5 million to settle lawsuits by wrongfully convicted defendants.

No one knows precisely how many convictions resulted from Zain’s testimony, or how many people are still imprisoned in West Virginia, Texas and other states where he served as a consultant.

A West Virginia State Police investigation identified as many as 182 cases that might have been affected by Zain’s work.

In a 1997 interview in Texas, Zain said he had been made a ``scapegoat″ by powerful political forces in West Virginia and Texas.

Zain worked as a State Police chemist from 1979 until 1989, when he took a similar job in Bexar County, Texas. His work in West Virginia was discredited in 1993 by the state Supreme Court, which said Zain may have lied or fabricated evidence in dozens of rape and murder cases.

His work in Texas also was under fire and led to the payment of at least $850,000 to two men. In 1997, Zain avoided a perjury trial in Texas because the statute of limitations had expired.

Zain was fired by Bexar County after his work in West Virginia was discredited. He later moved to Florida where he worked for a state-run environmental laboratory.

After Zain left, West Virginia’s State Police lab continued to suffer from credibility problems. In May, a sergeant was fired because of discrepancies in a lab drug report. A former civilian lab worker pleaded guilty to mail fraud and was sentenced to three months after admitting he skipped a test that was required for marijuana evidence.

In 2000, the state crime lab was briefly taken over and investigated by the federal government.