G. Michele Yezzo, former forensic analyst with Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (“BCI”), provided the crucial link between Kevin Keith and the crime. Yezzo linked the “043” license plate on Kevin’s girlfriend’s car with the “043” license plate indentation left by the getaway car in the snow at the crime scene.
Yezzo also determined that the tires on Kevin’s girlfriend’s grandfather’s car at the time the car was impounded had a different tread design than the tire impressions at the scene. But Yezzo found that the tires formerly on the car were, in fact, “similar in tread design” to the tire impressions left at the scene by the getaway car.
This allowed the State to conclude that Kevin used his girlfriend’s grandfather’s car when he committed the crime and then changed the tires (but not the license plate). Yezzo’s testimony was the only forensic evidence the jury heard.
Over 16 years later, Kevin discovered that Yezzo’s testimony was wrong.
Yezzo’s personnel file reveals concerning patterns.
Michele Yezzo’s personnel file reveals a decades-long history of fabricating results for law enforcement, mental instability, and verbal and physical abuse.
In January 2009, Yezzo received the last of many verbal reprimands of her career as a forensic scientist with BCI. It referred to her “interpretational and observational errors” as “failures that could lead to a substantial miscarriage of justice.” Yezzo resigned the next month.
2009 was not the first time Yezzo’s forensic conclusions were questioned by her superiors and peers. One example came as early as May 1989: a memorandum from the Assistant Superintendent to the Superintendent documented that the “consensus” was that Yezzo’s “findings and conclusions regarding evidence may be suspect. She will stretch the truth to satisfy a department.”
Yet another example occurred in August 1993. In the notes detailing the investigation of Yezzo for “threatening co‐workers and failure of good behavior,” it was noted that Yezzo had a “reputation of giving dept. answer wants if stroke her.” In the same notes, it was recorded that the analysts reworking Yezzo’s cases questioned her conclusions on a blood analysis and a partial footprint analysis.
Other documents indicate that Yezzo did not respond well to “peer review.” Yezzo demonstrated hostile behavior on more than one occasion with more than one co‐worker, and at least one of those occasions came about during discussions of a peer review.
She was verbally and physically abusive to her co‐workers – she even attempted to physically assault at least two of her colleagues. She used racial slurs when addressing a Black colleague.
By 1989, it was the “consensus of opinion” in her section at BCI that Yezzo “suffers a severe mental imbalance and needs immediate assistance.” Then in 1993, less than a year before Yezzo testified against Kevin, she was placed on Administrative Leave for “threatening co‐workers and failure of good behavior.” Yezzo had threatened that she was going to “kill some co‐workers” on multiple occasions, which led to her suspension. A hearing to determine the extent of Yezzo’s suspension was postponed until May 26, 1994.
In the meantime, Kevin’s trial came up.
The police worked with Yezzo to ensure Kevin was implicated by any means necessary.
On May 12, 1994, Yezzo provided the critical testimony against Kevin. There was no peer review of her findings. Yezzo had rendered her conclusion two months earlier, linking Kevin’s girlfriend’s grandfather’s (Alton Davison) car to the crime scene after receiving input from Bucyrus Police Captain Michael Corwin.
On March 9, 1994, Captain Corwin faxed Yezzo a receipt for the type of tires purchased the previous year and put on Kevin’s girlfriend’s grandfather’s car. Corwin also sent Yezzo a picture of tires from a brochure. Corwin specifically pointed out to her which tire picture was the tire previously put on the car. On March 11, 1994, Captain Corwin wrote a note to Yezzo – “Michelle, hope this will do the trick for us.”
On March 14, 1994, Yezzo concluded that the tires formerly on Kevin’s girlfriend’s grandfather’s car were “similar in tread design” to the tire tracks at the scene. She relied upon the brochure pictures of tires to make that determination.
On May 12, 1994, Yezzo testified against Kevin in his trial for capital murder.
The State argued that Kevin’s girlfriend’s grandfather’s car was the getaway car and linked Kevin to the crime scene. The defense had no persuasive answer.
Nancy Smathers, the eyewitness to the getaway car, testified that the car she saw was white, cream, or light yellow. That eyewitness was never shown a picture of Kevin’s girlfriend’s grandfather’s car and never identified it as the car she saw. Davison’s car was a dark color. It was not white, cream‐colored, or light yellow. But the alternate suspect had a car with a “new yellow paint job” that he insisted on using in his criminal endeavors. That yellow car had two license plates linked to it: JKL218 and 043LIJ. But the police ruled him out as a suspect in the Bucyrus Estates murders because they had already decided that Kevin was the perpetrator.
Relying on Yezzo’s conclusions, Captain Corwin determined that the alternate suspect’s license plate was ruled out. Corwin testified that on the alternate suspect’s plates, “the numbers were where the letters were” in the snow impression at the scene.
The jury convicted Kevin on May 26, 1994. He was sentenced to death on May 31, 1994.
Yezzo’s reports and “expert” opinion was wrong. Thus, Kevin never got a fair trial.
In July 2010, analyst William J. Bodziak provided his expert opinion after reviewing BCI’s file pertaining to Kevin. Bodziak is a retired FBI agent and a nationally‐recognized expert in tire track evidence. Bodziak has not only authored world known books about tire tread/track evidence and footwear impressions, but he was one of the people from whom Yezzo obtained her training.
Bodziak reviewed the evidence and determined that, had Kevin’s girlfriend’s car left the “043” impression in the snow, it would have also produced impressions of the remainder of the bumper. “Instead, the snow appears to be undisturbed in those areas.”
Bodziak also determined that “a distinction could not be made between a license plate that reads ‘MVR043’ versus others that have the numerals ‘04’ somewhere on the plate.” In other words, the snow impression did not rule out the alternate suspect’s 043LIJ plate – contrary to Yezzo’s trial testimony.
Bodziak further criticized Yezzo’s conclusions regarding the tires and the tire impressions. He noted that she did not do the required tasks to conduct a proper evaluation. And he opined that no one could conclude whether the tire tracks and the license plate impression were even made from the same car.