Sunday, August 17, 2008
Nevada is once again in the bottom tier of progressive thinking.
A recent USA Today story identified the Silver State as among 25 in the country that lack requirements to preserve DNA evidence. This, despite a number of dramatic exonerations based on the critical biological material, the story said.
The Innocence Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to freeing wrongly convicted people through DNA testing, claims that since 1991, 218 defendants convicted of serious crimes of violence such as some form of sexual assault or involvement in a murder, were exonerated by DNA. Some had been on death row.
DNA evidence, however, can be a double-edged sword, assuring the convictions of those who have committed heinous offenses.
In Carson City, DNA evidence cinched the arrest and the conviction 25 years later in the sexual assault and murder of Shelia Jo Harris whose body was found in her Lompa Lane apartment.
The 18-year-old reining Miss Douglas County had been beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled in 1982.
David Winfield Mitchell, a citizen of Trinidad and maintenance man at Harris' apartment complex, was arrested as a suspect but released because of a lack of physical evidence.
Later, at the behest of investigators who had tracked Mitchell to New York where he had moved with his family, then-District Attorney Bill Maddox and now a District Court judge, prepared an affidavit for a search warrant for blood and other samples from Mitchell, and the evidence was obtained.
The hitch, however, was that DNA testing was unavailable at the time, and when Maddox's successor, District Attorney Noel Waters charged Mitchell with the crime, the charges were dismissed, again for lack of evidence.
By the year 2000, genetic fingerprinting, as DNA testing is often referred to, was in common use, and Harris' clothing, still preserved by the Sheriff's Department, was tested for physical evidence. Bingo. Compared to the hair and bodily fluids obtained earlier from Mitchell, a match was made.
He was extradited from Trinidad, tried and convicted of the Harris crime.
"The physical evidence" in the case "was around for a long time," said Maddox, "so we must be preserving evidence" in Carson City. [Mark Godsey]