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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Investigation Reveals Fatal Flaws in Ohio Inmate DNA Testing Program

From dispatch.com: A man on Ohio's Death Row held faint hope that a DNA test might keep him from his grave. But no one could find the evidence in the Cleveland man's murder case.

Another man was changing a flat tire when a 5-year-old girl pointed to him as the man who had raped her 11 weeks earlier. The Toledo man was convicted on little more than her word. A DNA test could end all doubts, but swabs from the girl's medical exam are lost in an evidence room the manager describes as a disaster.

A judge ordered a DNA test for a Cleveland man, but the evidence remains untested more than two years later. When his father died, the prisoner stood alone over the casket, in shackles and unable to prove his innocence.

These cases reflect the empty promises and missed opportunities typical of Ohio's inmate DNA testing program.

A yearlong Dispatch investigation revealed a system in which prosecutors ignore court orders for testing, judges reject inmates without following the law, and evidence is routinely lost or destroyed before it can be tested.

The flaws have ruinous consequences for inmates, victims and society at large.

Presented with The Dispatch's findings, Gov. Ted Strickland immediately called for a compete overhaul that would speed up the review process, open up testing to more inmates and establish statewide standards for preserving evidence.

"It's not honoring the victim to take the chance that an innocent person is paying the price for victimizing them, because the flip side of the coin is that means the guilty party has escaped justice," Strickland said.

"It's just a matter of trying to do everything we can to be as careful and as accurate as we possibly can be."

The Dispatch reviewed the 313 cases of inmates who requested DNA testing and found:

• Evidence had been lost or destroyed nearly two-thirds of the time when prosecutors agreed to search for it. Ohio does not require evidence to be catalogued and saved, as 22 states do.

• Even when evidence was available, the applications for testing typically went nowhere. Judges didn't bother rejecting the requests in 53 cases; they simply ignored them.

• Ohio law requires judges to cite a reason when they reject a DNA test. Nearly a third of the time, they didn't. Many rulings were one-sentence denials.

• Even in cases in which a judge granted testing, the inmate's odds of actually receiving a test still were no better than a coin toss. The Dispatch discovered 13 cases in which testing hadn't been done more than a year after a judge approved it -- in some cases, more than two years.

• Tests have been done in only 14 cases since a 2003 law allowed inmates to apply. Two resulted in exonerations. Seven confirmed guilt. The others were inconclusive. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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