CrimProf Blog

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Preserving DNA Evidence to Prove the Potential Innocence of a Man Scheduled for Death Today

Today the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) is filing a motion to preserve evidence in the case of Wayne Tompkins, who is scheduled to be executed at 6 PM EST by lethal injection. Tompkins was convicted of murdering Lisa DeCarr in 1983, though doubts persist as to the true identity of the victim. IPF believes a new round of DNA testing should be conducted in order to banish all doubt, and today's action represents the first step toward acquiring that testing.

"If the victim in this case wasn't Lisa DeCarr after all, that means Wayne Tompkins was convicted of a murder that never took place. It's pretty bizarre that the Governor is about to execute a person when these kinds of questions remain," said Seth Miller, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Florida. Several individuals have signed affidavits claiming to have seen DeCarr alive since the alleged murder.

"The Governor should remember two other cases, Frank Lee Smith and Ricky McGuinn," said Miller. Frank Lee Smith died on death row in Florida before DNA testing proved he was innocent. In Ricky McGuinn's case, his Texas execution was stayed, then DNA testing proved his guilt, and his execution was reset. In both cases, DNA testing proved vital to the establishment of culpability.

IPF is moving a court to notify the appropriate institutions that they have a statutory obligation to preserve all evidence pertaining to Tompkins' case for 60 days, even if he should be executed. IPF wants a robe, a sash, and samples of the victim's bones to be preserved, with confidence that a new round of DNA testing, using methods that have not been used in this case, will likely yield the identity of the victim.

Miller added, "There are serious doubts left in this case, and we fully intend to get to the bottom of what really happened. Tompkins shouldn't be executed when such important questions as the identity of the victim remain. Some day soon, we will make sure the truth comes out." Read More. . .
[Bobbi Madonna]

February 11, 2009 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

U.S. to collect DNA samples of arrested immigrants

Beginning today, the U.S. government will collect DNA samples from people arrested and detained for suspected immigration violations, despite concerns that the move violates their privacy rights.

The new Justice Department policy also will expand DNA collection to people arrested on suspicion of committing federal crimes. Previously, the government only obtained DNA from people convicted of certain crimes.

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January 10, 2009 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (2)

Friday, January 9, 2009

DNA Offers Two Hope

The DNA found on the electrical cord used to bind the hands of a shop owner slain 15 years ago doesn't belong to either of the two men convicted of killing him.

Fingerprints found on the door handle of the store's safe are not theirs, and the state's main witness now admits in a taped interview that she lied when she testified at their trial.

But Ronald Taylor and George Gould are still sitting in a Connecticut prison — serving 80 years for the July 4 murder of Eugenio Vega DeLeon in 1993.

The men are waiting for a Superior Court judge in Rockville to rule on their legal attempt for a new trial or for New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington's office to finish an investigation started two years ago, when questions about the case were first raised.

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January 9, 2009 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Controversy surrounds DNA evidence in Yogurt Shop Murders

New DNA evidence and the possible addition of two pro bono defense attorneys added controversy to the Yogurt Shop Murders pretrial Wednesday.

Four young women were found murdered at a North Austin I Can't Believe its Yogurt shop in 1991.

But 17 years later, the suspects accused of killing Amy Ayers, Eliza Thomas and Jennifer and Sarah Harbison are still fighting their convictions.

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January 9, 2009 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Kansas Man Granted Hearing on DNA Tests

Merrill Andrews was convicted of murder in 1977 and sentenced to life in prison. Having been granted parole in 1999, Andrews is now requesting DNA tests in order to prove his innocence. Although he is currently serving a 10-year sentence for an unrelated crime, Andrews maintains his innocence in the 1977 murder of Nola Babb, a 91-year-old retired businesswoman in Wichita.

Andrews’ request for DNA testing was denied by a Sedgewick County judge, who thought Andrews was misusing a 2001 DNA state law that grants anybody convicted of rape or murder a hearing regarding any forensic evidence relevant to the case. But the Kansas Court of Appeals overruled that decision and ordered the lower court to hold a hearing on Andrews’ request. The hearing will take place later this month.

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January 6, 2009 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (2)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Money for future Dallas DNA testing lost in Madoff scandal

Panic ensued at the Innocence Project of Texas when a powerful Wall Street investor was arrested this month and accused of swindling investors out of $50 billion.

One of the organizations that had invested with Bernard Madoff was the JEHT Foundation, which funds post-conviction DNA tests for Dallas County inmates who claim they are innocent. Without the funding, the Innocence Project would be faced with trying to raise capital in a bad economy and those seeking tests could face indefinite delays, if the testing could be done at all.

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December 26, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Showdown over DNA lab reflects national debate

In June, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas made a bold grab for a crown jewel of local law enforcement: the DNA unit of the sheriff's crime lab.

With the lab's director out of town and the sheriff recently deposed by corruption charges, Rackauckas submitted a brief agenda item to county supervisors two business days before their regular meeting.
"Our aim is to make significant changes in the way forensic DNA analysis is conducted," Rackauckas wrote. The D.A.'s office is "the only organization capable of harnessing the vast potential of forensic DNA technology."

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December 18, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

DNA search fails to find relatives of unknown serial killer

The Los Angeles Police Department's hunt for an elusive serial killer who has stalked women in South L.A. for more than two decades was dealt a setback Tuesday when a controversial search of DNA databases for the killer's family members came up empty.

"We were hoping," said LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, who is overseeing a task force of detectives working to solve the case. "Police work is very much about exploring every avenue. We went down this one and it didn't turn out to be fruitful."

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December 3, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Can swabbing for DNA go too far?

In the settlement around Cove Run Creek, nobody said no when police came asking for their DNA.

A dead baby, wrapped in a flannel shirt and plastic bag, then stuffed into a knapsack, had been abandoned in the woods in North Union, Fayette County, sometime in 2000. As police tell it, the dozen or so girls questioned were perfectly willing to allow a trooper to take a saliva swab from their mouths so a lab could trace the DNA.

"Usually if they have nothing to do with it they have no problem giving up the swab, the sample," explained James A. Pierce, the trooper who cracked the case earlier this month.

Sarah S. Hawk, a 25-year-old woman from the area, was found by that process of elimination. Her DNA was obtained by a search warrant after one of her sisters voluntarily gave a swab this spring.

When the lab identified the sister's DNA as belonging to a relative of the baby, police got search warrants so that they could get swabs from the other sisters. Miss Hawk's came back a match, and she later confessed.

Case closed?

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December 2, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tracing a crime suspect through a relative

Over nearly two decades, a serial killer has shot and strangled at least 11 people, often dumping their battered bodies in alleyways of Inglewood and Los Angeles.

Most were black women or girls, the youngest just 14. The latest was found last year, shrouded in a garbage bag.

Police have determined through DNA and other evidence that the killings were the work of a single person. But the DNA does not match any of the millions of genetic profiles of convicted criminals in law enforcement databases, and detectives have few other clues.

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November 25, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Charlotte's DNA backlog slows effort to solve crimes

Evidence with the potential to solve or provide leads on hundreds of burglary and robbery cases awaits DNA testing as Charlotte-Mecklenburg police grapple with a backlog.

Testing is still a top priority for murder, rape and habitual offender cases. And police do have a plan to clear the backlog, but it may take until late next year.

Charlotte police blame a staffing shortage for the problem.

Crime scene evidence in 138 robbery and 443 burglary investigations was awaiting DNA analysis as of Oct. 10, the latest police data available.

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November 19, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An upcoming local Michigan talk "Bad to the Bone: Horrors!--Can Our Genes Help Make Us Act Badly?"

Talk located at at Schuler Books, 2820 Towne Centre Blvd Lansing, MI 48912, Tuesday, November 18, 7:30 PM.  More information about the bok the lecture is based on is below. 

Praise for the tongue-in-cheek titled, best-selling, meticulously researched book the lecture is based on: Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend, by Barbara Oakley, Prometheus Books, October, 2007.

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November 18, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Editorial: DNA Testing Beyond a shadow of a doubt

It's hard to believe that someone would plead guilty to a crime he didn't commit.

But it happens, more often than anyone likes to admit.

More than 200 people have been exonerated in recent years thanks to advances in DNA testing. In about 25 percent of those cases, the wrongfully convicted person either pleaded guilty, confessed to the crime, or made self-incriminating statements.

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November 16, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 14, 2008

L.A. County sheriff's officials acknowledge that genetic evidence in 5,635 rape cases may be untested

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, under pressure from county supervisors and watchdog groups to account for its handling of DNA evidence from sexual assault cases, acknowledged Wednesday it did not know whether genetic evidence from more than 5,600 rape cases had been examined.

In response to an inquiry by the Board of Supervisors last month, Sheriff's Department officials tallied 5,635 sexual assault evidence kits -- semen and other DNA samples collected by authorities from victims -- sitting in freezer storage facilities, Cmdr. Earl Shields said. The department must now manually compare that inventory with records from its crime laboratory to determine which kits remain unexamined, Shields told the board Wednesday.

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November 14, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

NYPD Starts Collecting DNA from ... the Police

Dna_rgbThe NYPD has started taking DNA samples from CSI detectives to look for cross-contamination at crime scenes, sources said last night.

Police brass have been pushing for the samples for at least three years. The need was highlighted when a cop's blood turned up, unexplained, on a sink of the blood-soaked apartment of "Realtor to the Stars" Linda Stein.

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November 11, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law, DNA , Search and Seizure | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

L.A. announces plan to reduce backlog of unexamined DNA evidence from violent crimes

Top city officials Tuesday unveiled a plan to help the Los Angeles Police Department's crime lab reduce its massive backlog of unexamined DNA evidence from violent crimes, but they acknowledged that the funding for the proposal was less than certain.

Under the terms of the plan, which the City Council is expected to vote on today, the LAPD would allocate $700,000 to hire 16 more DNA analysts and support staff -- a boost of about 33% over current staffing. The city would also increase by $250,000 the funds earmarked to pay private laboratories that the LAPD hires to help with the daunting workload.

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October 30, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Progress Is Minimal in Clearing DNA Cases

LOS ANGELES — Local and state law enforcement agencies have made uneven progress in reducing a nationwide backlog of cases awaiting DNA analysis over the past four years, according to reports filed by more than 100 agencies with the National Institute of Justice.

The patchy results came despite stepped-up efforts by the federal government, including nearly $500 million in grants since 2004, to help crime laboratories reduce the backlog.

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October 28, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Controversial DNA plan uncertain

Immigrant advocacy organizations are decrying a proposal by the Bush administration to collect DNA samples from federal detainees, including illegal immigrants.

Under the plan, the DNA samples would be added to the FBI's national database, which contains the genetic codes of millions of felons, the Houston Chronicle reported Sunday.

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October 27, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (2)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Justice system discourages DNA testing

Recently, The Dispatch reported the story of Robert McClendon, an inmate freed after spending 18 years
in prison for a crime he didn't commit ("Ex-prisoner now officially innocent," Aug. 27).

He was exonerated after DNA testing showed that he wasn't the assailant in the rape for which he was convicted.
This story also brought to light that


has no law requiring that DNA evidence be retained or preserved. This has prompted a call for the legislature to rectify this shortcoming in the law.

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September 9, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Groups protest DNA collection law

The Legislative Black Caucus and civil rights activists criticized yesterday Gov. Martin O'Malley's plan for implementing a new program for collecting DNA samples from crime suspects, accusing the administration of turning its back on hard-fought compromises for safeguards and oversight.

O'Malley made the DNA bill one of his priorities this year and worked hard to win passage of the legislation in the Maryland General Assembly - but only after significant changes during lengthy negotiations, particularly with the Black Caucus. The law calls for DNA samples to be taken from those charged with violent crimes and burglary; previously, samples were taken only after a conviction.

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September 7, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)