George Perrot has spent almost 30 years in prison thanks to a single hair. It was discovered by an FBI agent on the bedsheet of a 78-year-old woman who had been raped by a burglar in her home in Springfield,Massachusetts, in 1985.
Perrot, then 17, was put on trial, despite the absence of physical evidence tying him to the crime scene. There was no semen. There was no blood. And so there was no way to conduct a conclusive DNA test.
Even the victim testified that the defendant looked nothing like her attacker: he had a short haircut and was clean-shaven, while Perrot had a long shaggy mop, a moustache and a goatee beard.
But there was that strand of hair. At a key stage in the 1992 rape and burglary trial, an FBI agent named Wayne Oakes took the witness stand, describing himself to the jury as an expert in hair and textile fibers – as would so many of the agency’s trial witnesses, in condemning hundreds of people to long prison sentences.