City scouring boxes to find missing evidence

Fingernail scrapings from '89 case

Inside the Riviera Beach Police Department, a single cardboard box is all that's left of case #88-7303.

It's the case, Defense Attorney David Molansky has been fighting 5 years to reopen.

"Without the nail scrapings my client's freedom and liberty is on the line," he told the Contact 5 Investigators.

Click here to see what evidence was used in the case.

In 1989, Ernest Byrd was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend, Helen James.  James was found strangled and wrapped in a bloody bed sheet in her bedroom closet.

At the time, 40 year old Byrd was a career criminal in and out jail since 1972.

The murder conviction put Byrd behind bars for life.

But in 2007, the courts granted Byrd's motion asking for DNA testing on nail scrapings found at the crime scene.

The only problem-, Riviera Beach police can't find them..

In a 2007 letter written to Molansky, the former chief of the Riviera Beach Department stated the evidence may, "have possibly been destroyed due to hurricane damage that was sustained to our storage facility."

Click here to read the letter.

According to Molansky, the city's evidence room had been flooded in 2005, forcing the city to move its evidence boxes.  Molansky believes the move caused problems.

"There were a number of us that observed that there was evidence from other cases mixed in with the evidence in the box from the Byrd case," he explained.

Pictures taken by Molansky's team show the Bryd's evidence box was labeled with other case numbers that had been crossed out.  Inside Byrd's box, pictures show a pink laundry basket and crumpled paper bags some filled with items, others empty.

"It seems to me that it was a case where it just wasn't handled properly.  There could be other cases that this has happened to and there could be other cases where their evidence was mixed in with our box, just in the way it was handled and kept, that raises concerns," said Molansky.

The Contact 5 Investigators contacted the Riviera Beach Police Department for comment on this story.  Spokeswoman Roseanne Brown said, "No one is available to talk about this issue."  

According to court documents, the city of Riviera Beach started logging its evidence electronically in 2006.  Evidence kept before 2006, was tracked by hand.

Bernice Byrd misses her son, Ernest.

"I think the system is all screwed up.  That's what I believe.   If a person commits a crime you're supposed to keep the evidence.  You're not supposed to destroy the evidence or lose the evidence," she said.

The courts have agreed to allow the city of Riviera Beach 90 days to conduct an internal audit and inventory of its evidence room in hopes of finding the missing bag of nail scrapings.  The city will use its own time, money and resources to log every piece of evidence in its custody.

Click here to see the motion by the defense to view the evidence.

"A man's liberty and life is hanging in the balance here. So they need to look for it until they find it," said Molansky.

Investigative Producer Lynn Walsh contributed to this story.

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