On August 4, 1991, 52-year-old Louise Keko was found shot and beaten to death in her home in Buras, Louisiana. She appeared to have been pistol-whipped before being shot and was found half-submerged in a bathtub covered with a blanket.
Although police developed several possible suspects, the primary target of their investigation was Keko’s 62-year-old husband, Anthony, whom she had sued for divorce two weeks before she was killed. Anthony had begun dating a good friend of Louise prior to the murder.
The Kekos harvested oysters for a living and both had reputations as hard-nosed individuals with quick tempers. Anthony Keko, a former Marine, had been convicted of several misdemeanors, some involving confrontations with other oystermen, and had been acquitted of manslaughter in the shooting of a man Keko said had insulted his wife.
The case went unsolved for more than a year, until a new Plaquemines Parish Sheriff was elected and decided to call in Dr. Michael West, a dentist who worked as a forensic scientist in Forest County, Mississippi.
West claimed to have developed a process by which he could find bite marks on the bodies of victims and match them to suspects. Louise Keko’s body was exhumed and after conducting and examination, West claimed that he identified bite marks on the body that matched the bite mark of Anthony Keko.
Anthony Keko was arrested on October 26, 1992 and charged with capital murder. He went on trial in September 1993. The most powerful evidence against him was West’s bite-mark testimony.
One Buras resident said that Keko had complained that he would lose tens of thousands of dollars in the divorce (his oyster leases were valued at between $500,000 and $1 million) and that he was looking for someone to kill his wife for $25,000. Other witnesses claimed they heard Keko bragging that he had killed his wife.
Other than the bite mark testimony, no physical evidence linked Keko to the murder. Police testified that a gun they recovered from a trailer where Keko had been living had been used to pistol-whip the victim, but the defense attacked this testimony by pointing out that this particular weapon could not have fired the bullets that killed Louise Keko.
On October 10, 1993, Keko was convicted of murder. The jury declined to impose the death penalty and Keko was sentenced to life in prison.
In 1994, the trial judge set aside the conviction and ordered a new trial after Keko’s defense attorney learned that when West was called into the case, he was under investigation by the American Academy of Forensic Science and the American Board of Forensic Odontology for overstating his findings, but failed to disclose this at trial. West was suspended by the Board of Odontology for a year and stepped down. The judge noted that West had testified falsely when he “did not reveal that these important investigations were pending.”
In November 1994, Keko was released on bond pending a retrial.
In 1996, the trial judge barred West from testifying at a retrial due to the unreliability of his bite mark identification technique. In January 1998, the judge dismissed the case because the prosecution had not moved to bring the case to trial a second time.
Keko filed a wrongful conviction lawsuit against West that was settled for an undisclosed amount.
Four other convictions, all in Mississippi, that were obtained through West’s bite mark testimony that was later discredited have been overturned. The cases against Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer were dismissed and both have filed wrongful conviction lawsuits against West. Leigh Stubbs and Tami Vance were granted a new trial in 2012 and were awaiting a retrial in 2013.
– Maurice Possley