CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Private Lab Offers Free Testing to Persue Justice

from For 12 hours, they showed him photos from the bloody crime scene, screamed in his ears, threatened him with the death penalty, told him he failed a lie-detector test and even followed him into the bathroom, until Robert Caulley finally gave them what they wanted.

Told by detectives that if he confessed he could return home to his wife and young son to sort things out, Caulley buckled. On that day in December 1996, he told investigators that he had beaten his parents to death with a baseball bat nearly three years earlier in their Grove City home.

Convicted on little more than what he says was a false confession, Caulley wants a DNA test. Detectives originally had said Caulley's parents were killed when they interrupted a burglary.

"I loved my parents; I didn't kill them," said Caulley, 43, an Ohio State graduate who worked as an aeronautical engineer. He has served 10 years of his life sentence. "I just want the chance to prove my innocence."

Caulley's case is one of 30 that The Dispatch has identified as prime candidates for biological testing under a law passed in 2003 and revised in 2006. An accredited lab, which does work for the state crime lab, has agreed to conduct the tests free as a public service.

Gov. Ted Strickland called it a "terrific" opportunity to begin restoring credibility to a flawed system. He is urging prosecutors and judges to support the initiative.

"I can see no justification for any interference in the testing in those cases," Strickland said. "It's not going to cost the county. I don't know what the justification for trying to block that kind of testing would be."

The Dispatch, as part of a yearlong investigation, gathered public records and built files on the 313 cases in which Ohio prisoners applied for a DNA test under an old law, which stymied nearly everyone. Advocates hope that modest changes to the law in 2006 have created new opportunities for them.

Through consultation with the Ohio Innocence Project, a legal clinic based at the University of Cincinnati, The Dispatch identified prospects for testing.

The newspaper weighed several factors, including criminal histories, the evidence used to convict inmates and whether evidence remains available for testing. In several cases, judges had ordered tests but they hadn't been done more than two years later.

Many inmates who say they're innocent couldn't be included because evidence has been lost or destroyed.

In conjunction with The Dispatch investigation, lawyers representing the 30 inmates plan to seek approval from judges in 13 counties for DNA tests beginning today. The inmates are being represented individually either by the Ohio Innocence Project or the Ohio public defender. These cases will be among the first to be filed under the new law.

Prosecutors in Lucas and Marion counties already have agreed to tests in two cases after being questioned about the cases by Dispatch reporters. Other prosecutors said they would consider the requests after they are filed in court.

DNA tests could answer troubling questions looming over the convictions -- often with absolute finality.

The newspaper asked the Ohio Innocence Project for legal assistance in reviewing case files. Dispatch Editor Benjamin J. Marrison said the initiative is a test of Ohio's flawed system more than of any one conviction.

"There's no reason to not pursue the truth," Marrison said. "What motivated us was examining the system to find out if it's flawed and, where it is flawed, having the legislature and the governor craft fixes. The findings of this investigation should alarm every Ohioan, because the lack of evidence protocol means any one of us could be wrongly convicted."

The Ohio Innocence Project, a team of law students led by two professors, said the Dispatch investigation accelerated their review of innocence claims. Typically, the group has about five active cases, which can drag on for years and sometimes extend beyond DNA issues.

"Now that we've got the new (law) in place, we need to have a whole new round of examination on these cases and, of course, need to have a more open mind," said Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project.

"Each of these cases represents systematic flaws that suggest our justice system is not working the way we all would like," said Jenny Carroll, academic director. "I think the publicity The Dispatch can bring to those issues will bring about more systematic reforms than I can bring about as an individual lawyer."

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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