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CBI scientist altered, deleted data in DNA tests in at least 650 cases, internal investigation finds

A longtime Colorado Bureau of Investigation scientist cut corners in DNA testing and then covered up her shortcuts by altering, deleting and omitting data in her lab work, the agency said Friday as it for the first time offered some detail of the scientist’s alleged misconduct, which is expected to cost the state $7.5 million to remedy.

Yvonne “Missy” Woods, a 29-year CBI employee, retired in lieu of termination late last year after the agency discovered the problems and initiated an internal review.

Investigators found Woods omitted relevant facts from criminal justice records and tampered with DNA testing by omitting some results, the agency said in announcing the results of its internal investigation Friday.

“This discovery puts all of her work in question,” CBI officials said in a news release.

Investigators found Woods tampered with controls in lab work and failed to troubleshoot issues in the testing process, then deleted and altered data to conceal her inaction. She also failed to thoroughly document her work.

“The review did not find that Woods falsified DNA matches or otherwise fabricated DNA profiles,” CBI officials said. “She instead deviated from standard testing protocols and cut corners, calling into question the reliability of the testing she conducted.”

Ryan Brackley, an attorney representing Woods, said Friday that she is cooperating with the investigation and stands by her work, which he said resulted in “true and just criminal justice findings.”

“While the allegations resulting from the internal investigation point to Ms. Woods deviating from standard protocols and cutting corners in her work, she has long maintained that she’s never created or falsely reported any inculpatory DNA matches or exclusions, nor has she testified falsely in any hearing or trial resulting in a false conviction or unjust imprisonment,” he said in a statement.

The CBI this year asked state legislators for $3 million to retest some 3,000 DNA samples through a third-party laboratory, and another $4.4 million to pay out to district attorney’s offices across Colorado to address claims by people who say they were wrongly convicted of crimes because of Woods’ work.

So far, the CBI has found problems in 652 of Woods’ cases between 2008 and 2023, the news release said. Woods’ work between 1994 and 2008 is also being reviewed. The agency found Woods violated both CBI’s code of conduct and its laboratory policies for data retention and quality control.

CBI Director Chris Schaefer called Woods’ misconduct an “unprecedented breach of trust” and vowed to be transparent as the agency works to fix her errors. The agency on Friday declined to release the full internal investigation into Woods, citing a separate ongoing criminal investigation into her conduct.

CBI has shown “a lack of transparency” that is “extremely concerning,” the Office of State Public Defender said in a statement Friday.

“One of the most pressing questions is whether any person has been wrongfully convicted as a result of misconduct,” the statement said. “CBI and other law enforcement should be immediately forthcoming with the public and the people directly impacted by the misconduct and possible crimes committed by the DNA analysts they employed.”

The CBI is also conducting a “comprehensive audit” of all DNA analysts at the agency. During that process, the CBI discovered problems in a second Colorado analyst’s DNA testing.

Chiara Wuensch was fired from the Weld County Sheriff’s Office last week after the CBI discovered abnormalities in her work at the Northern Colorado Regional Forensic Laboratory, and she is also under criminal investigation.

The two labs are separate, but interconnected through case work and partnerships, Weld County spokesperson Melissa Chesmore said.

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