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Grand Juries Investigate Houston Crime Lab


Two grand juries investigating reports of shoddiness and ineptitude in Houston’s police crime laboratory have widened their inquiry to include local prosecutors, asking about their potential criminal culpability for winning convictions with bad evidence.

Rejecting the cozy deference that grand juries typically show to district attorneys, the Houston grand jurors have shunned the guidance of the prosecutor’s office in Harris County, which includes Houston, people involved in the investigation say.

They say this reflects an awareness of a possible conflict of interest the prosecutors face in the scandal over the laboratory’s DNA unit, which was shut in January after a state audit found widespread flaws in its work, including sloppy record-keeping, misinterpreted data and evidence contaminated by water from a leaky roof.

Grand juries operate in secret, supervised by judges, though the indictments and occasional reports they issue are typically public. Ted Poe, a district judge in Harris County, who supervises one of the grand juries, said the precise scope of the inquiries is unknown.

“All we know is that two grand juries are investigating the DNA lab here,” he said. “Both are bringing in witnesses and both have not requested help from the district attorney and both have not said why. It’s very unusual.”

Witnesses who appear before Texas grand juries are forbidden to talk about their testimony. But the people called to testify so far, including journalists, scientists and lawyers, suggest that the inquiry is wide-ranging.

Two witnesses interviewed before they testified described what they understood to be scope of the inquiry and what they intended to say.

“In general,” said one witness, William C. Thompson, a professor of criminology at the University of California at Irvine who has studied the Houston police laboratory’s work, “they are looking into criminal misconduct in the crime lab and in the prosecution of cases relying on evidence from the crime lab.”

Chinese Dam Closes Gates Flooding 350-Mile Stretch


There’s an odd calm along this part of the Yangtze, no jubilation and no weeping, as the tawny waters lap several feet higher each day and a 350-mile stretch of this mightiest of rivers is finally transformed into a long narrow lake.

After decades of bitter debate, years of heavy construction and the uprooting so far of 400,000 people, the Three Gorges Dam has closed its gates.

On June 15, the reservoir will be filled to its interim level of 135 meters, or 443 feet above sea level. The next day, the first commercial ships will pass through the locks, heralding the eventual passage of ocean vessels hundreds of miles upstream to Chongqing, a booming metropolis in central China.

In August, two initial turbines from what will be the world’s most colossal array of generators are to start spinning electricity -- a down payment on the promised riches from a $25 billion megaproject with gains and perils that may be forever disputed.

“For the country as a whole, this project might be worthwhile,” said Yang Hongwen, who runs an ailing small business in Fengjie, a city some 150 miles upstream of the dam.

“But from the perspective of the ordinary people around here, it was a mistake,” he said, surveying what had been the lower half of a lively town of 100,000 and now resembles ground zero of an atomic blast, flattened for service as the lake bed and teeming with people slaving to scavenge every ounce of steel.