Investigation Finds More Apparent Deceptions By Toxicologist


UPDATED: Monday November 22, 2010 1:21 PM

In 2002, an Ashland County crash mangled a car and crushed three lives.

Adam Howell, 19, and Mike Roberts, 16, died in the crash.  Benjamin Uselton paid the price in prison.

"I lost two of my friends," Uselton said.  "I have (served) the last years in prison, from (age) 19 to 27."

The state convicted Uselton of manslaughter not because he was behind the wheel but because he sold his friends the anti-depressant drug Alprazolam, commonly known as Xanax.

SPECIAL SECTION: 10 Investigates

Selling nine Xanax pills was not necessarily the same as committing involuntary manslaughter, 10 Investigates' Paul Aker reported.

To prove it was in this case, prosecutors used the testimony of Franklin County's toxicologist at the time, James Ferguson.  They needed Ferguson to show Howell crashed because he was intoxicated by the drugs Uselton sold.

Ferguson seemed like a solid witness on paper.  He worked in the Franklin County lab for 26 years and claimed to have testified in 500 cases.  As 10 Investigates reported, he also helped put away at least five people for major crimes.

Ferguson, who was already convicted of a misdemeanor in the spring for lying at a trial, appears to have lied in Uselton's trial, Aker reported.

"I did misrepresent the year I graduated," Ferguson said.

In his testimony, Ferguson claimed that he received a biochemistry degree in 1972 from The Ohio State University.  His transcript showed that he received the degree in 1988.

After reviewing trial transcripts, Ferguson once again claimed that he earned his degree 16 years before he actually did, Aker reported.

Our findings were then shown to Uselton's attorney, Brian Halligan.

"It's clearly a lie," Halligan said.

We also found Ferguson claimed to have taken graduate courses in toxicology at Ohio State.  His transcript showed that he could not pass basic, undergraduate courses.  Ferguson failed key classes multiple times and two Ohio State professors said under oath that he missed at least six classes normally required to graduate.  Nobody at the university could determine how he earned a degree, Aker reported.

"I was put in prison basically on Ferguson's testimony," Uselton said.  "There's a chance he did not have the credentials to say what he said.  That means everything.  What else could he have lied about?"

Critics said that Ferguson was at least mistaken about several things.  He testified that he found Xanax in the blood, even though Amanda Jenkins, a bona fide PhD, could not.

Jenkins wrote a key article in a text book that Ferguson said he relied on to come up with his analysis. 

Ferguson also claimed that he had a more sensitive machine than Jenkins.  She called some of Ferguson's controversial methods "invalid."

Lab tests showed traces of marijuana and cocaine in the driver's system.

10 Investigates attempted to contact Ferguson but he declined to comment.

"I would like to have my chance to have my trial with the right person with the right credential," Uselton said.

His attorney is pushing Gov. Ted Strickland for clemency.

Stay with 10TV News and 10TV.com for continuing coverage.

Previous Stories:

November 17, 2010: Woman Says She Was Wrongly Convicted
September 30, 2010: College Degree By Former Expert Witness Comes Into Question
May 13, 2010:  Former Toxicologist Sentenced For Lying About Credentials
April 28, 2010:  Testimony Of Key Witness Calls Murder Conviction Into Question