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ESPN film highlights former professor’s involvement in 2006 Duke lacrosse trial

Dr. Brian Meehan was hired by ONU in 2012 as an Associate Professor of Forensic Biology. (Northern Review photo/ Grant Pepper)

Last Sunday night, ESPN aired the latest installment of their 30 for 30 documentary series, “Fantastic Lies.” The documentary detailed the 2006 Duke Lacrosse sexual assault scandal, and gave an in-depth account of the trial that occurred as a result.

The film highlighted a pivotal moment in the trial, in which the defense called Dr. Brian Meehan, then-director of DNA Security, Inc., to the stand. The prosecution had given Meehan the task of testing the DNA on the rape kit swabs and underwear of the alleged victim. In his summary report, which would be turned over to the defense, Meehan withheld crucial information concerning the testing results.

During cross-examination, the examiner admitted the D.A. told him not to report all DNA test results #FantasticLies pic.twitter.com/NLQCFZ8Nw9

— ESPN Films 30 for 30 (@30for30) March 14, 2016

Meehan’s summary report failed to mention that none of the collected DNA was from the three Duke players that were accused of the rape, or even of their teammates. In the cross-examination, Meehan admitted that he withheld these results, that the decision to do so was one agreed upon between him and the prosecutor, Michael B. Nifong, and that the incomplete report violated his own laboratory’s protocols.

ESPN’s documentary emphasized this scathing cross-examination, as it proved to be a turning point in the trial. And, in doing so, the film caught the attention of Ohio Northern students.

ONU hired Meehan as an Associate Professor of Forensic Biology in 2012, where he would teach until 2015. Students who had Meehan during that time period, and saw the documentary, were eager to express their opinions.

“I did have Dr. Meehan for my intro biology class,” Eric Dierkes, sophomore Pharmacy major, said. “Going into my first class, I had heard that he was directly tied to this case and had messed up the DNA sample, so I knew for the most part about his history.”

“I thought the documentary caught him in a light that I saw him in. Obviously, he was a knowledgeable man when talking about his biology notes. However, he was not a fantastic teacher. We had to learn on our own. He never seemed to be too loud of a person and when I came to him with questions about grading, he would get defensive, just as he was when he was on the stand in the documentary. I saw the same type of man on the stand, in how he was quiet [when he knew] he was in the wrong, as when we came to him with a question about information he taught incorrectly to us.”

Other students, such as fifth-year Pharmacy major Brett Wonders, questioned Ohio Northern’s decision to hire Meehan.

“I had a lab with Dr. Meehan during my sophomore year, back in 2013,” Wonders said. “At that time, I was made aware of his connection to the Duke Lacrosse case and was surprised that he was a professor of mine, to say the least.”

“Dr. Meehan clearly had the credentials and expertise to be teaching that class, but with the college pushing proper ethics to its students, it is hard to understand the hiring of someone who clearly acted unethically in the case. The hiring was either made with knowledge of the case, which would seem hypocritical, or there was gross ignorance of Dr. Meehan's past, which would be no better. I'm all for second chances, but I think the decisions that come from the top down should be consistent with the message you are giving your future professionals in the classroom.”

University administration declined to comment on Meehan’s time at ONU.

According to Meehan’s personal website, he had held two educational positions before coming to ONU (one at IntelliGenetics, LLC. and another at Technical College of the Low Country), as he was dismissed from DNA Security, Inc. following the trial.

In the 2006 trial, the defense’s cross-examination of Meehan completely changed the case. With the proven exclusion of vital DNA evidence against them, the prosecution had little ground to stand on. Kevin Hill, a Professor of Law at ONU with a focus in “Forensic Science in the Courtroom,” believes that DNA evidence (or a lack thereof) can carry substantial weight in the courtroom, especially in a criminal trial.

“Both prosecutors and juries take DNA evidence very seriously,” Hill said. “In this Duke case, the alleged victim had a rape-kit exam administered only hours after the end of the party, so the absence of DNA evidence linking any of the lacrosse players was very important.”

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