Gilbert Alejandro

Perjured forensic testimony led to conviction

In 1990, Gilbert Alejandro, who had been a star of the Texas state championship high school football team eighteen years earlier, was convicted by a jury and sentenced to twelve years in prison for a sexual assault in Udvale, Texas.

The conviction rested in part on false testimony by Fred Zain, chief forensic serologist of Bexar County. Zain had told the jury that DNA testing tied Alejandro to the crime when, in fact, the testing showed that he was innocent. A second factor in the wrongful conviction was an in-court identification by the victim, who had failed to identify Alejandro in a series of photo lineups.

Zain was fired in 1993 after it was disclosed that he had fabricated forensic results in a number of murder and rape cases in West Virginia, where he had been a state forensic chemist before he was hired by Bexar County in 1989.

In 1994, after a new round of DNA testing, Alejandro was released on electronic home monitoring. Fifteen days later, a Bexar County grand jury indicted Zain for perjury and falsification of evidence in the case and Texas District Judge Mickey Pennington ordered Alejandro's release from court supervision. The following year, Bexar County paid Alejandro $250,000 to settle a civil rights claim arising from Zain's false testimony.

In 1997, the perjury and falsification of evidence charges that had been brought against Zain in 1994 were dropped after a Texas appellate court held that, because the testimony in question had been given in 1990, the charges were barred by a two-year statute of limitations. In 2002, Zain died of colon cancer at age fifty-two in Daytona Beach, Florida.

— Rob Warden