December 17, 2008
Today, pursuant to an agreement between the State and defense, First Judicial Circuit Judge William Stone vacated the conviction of Jimmy Ates. Mr. Ates will walk out of the Okaloosa County Jail later today after serving ten years in prison for the 1991 murder of his wife, Norma Jean Ates, in Baker, Florida. He is the first person in the nation to have a conviction overturned based on the FBI’s disavowal of Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis (CBLA).
“We’re thrilled that the State is finally recognizing the mistake that it made and taking this first step towards justice for Jimmy Ates,” said Bobbi Madonna, Staff Attorney for the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF).
Jimmy Ates is just one of roughly 1500 individuals nationwide whose cases were tainted by CBLA, which the FBI now concedes is a junk science. An FBI review of about 115 of those cases has found that CBLA testimony compromised the integrity of at least 80 trials—16 in Florida alone.
CBLA is a procedure by which scientists claim to be able to link bullets to a particular batch or box on the basis of their chemical composition. In Ates’ trial, FBI Analyst Kathleen Lundy testified that the bullets retrieved from the victim’s body matched the bullets found in the Ates’ family utility room, and therefore they came from the same batch. This testimony had no scientific basis. “Lundy was a fraud peddling a junk science and without that testimony, Jimmy Ates would never have been convicted,” said David Menschel, Legal Director of IPF. Lundy testified about CBLA in at least six other Florida cases.
The State’s case against Jimmy Ates has been suspect from the beginning. Initially, Okaloosa County State Attorney, Curtis Golden, refused to prosecute because the case lacked sufficient evidence. In a highly unusual move, Gov. Lawton Chiles assigned the high-profile case to Duval County State Attorney Harry Shorstein, who also refused to prosecute. Six years after the murder, armed with the FBI’s new CBLA analysis, a third State Attorney prosecuted Jimmy Ates.
Based on the new evidence that has emerged since trial, William Cervone, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, conceded that Ates’ conviction cannot stand. “Bill Cervone deserves praise for righting this wrong, and we hope and expect that other Florida prosecutors will follow his example in other CBLA cases,” said Seth Miller, Executive Director of IPF.