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Archive for April, 2011

DDC Names DNA Instrument, “Hello Truth” in honor of Robert McClendon

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

“Hello Truth” has meaning for Robert McClendon, DDC’s (DNA Diagnostics Center) first Innocence Network exoneree who was freed through forensic DNA testing in 2008. Even more so after the April 10, 2011, DDC Forensics unveiling of DDC’s newly named DNA analyzer, “Hello Truth,” in honor of McClendon and his poem by the same name. Just prior to the surprise unveiling, McClendon recounted his first-person story to the many guests attending the tour of DDC Forensics as part of the 2011 Innocence Network Conference held in Cincinnati, Ohio, the first gathering of international delegates and exonerees from around the United States.

Japan, Norway, Chile, India, Ireland, Australia, Pakistan, Canada, Poland, South Africa, Nigeria, China, Switzerland, The Netherlands, England and Singapore were among the countries represented on the tour that included DDC’s laboratory and a workshop on forensic DNA evidence. The workshop focused on DNA evidence when used in post-conviction cases and how it will eventually be reviewed based on the law. Attendees were interested in learning how to partner with a laboratory, how to ensure DNA evidence presented in court meets legal requirements and what unique testing DDC has to offer.

“For many attendees this was the first time they have toured an actual DNA testing lab,” Mark Godsey, director, Rosenthal Institute for Justice/Ohio Innocence Project, said. “DDC has two of the top DNA Experts in the world in Dr. Michael Baird and Dr. Julie Heinig and it’s unique to have DNA experts, legal experts with the Ohio Innocence Project and someone actually freed all in one place. To hear first-hand Robert’s experience and how he continues to fight to raise awareness was very moving for everyone.”

According to Dr. Michael Baird, DDC’s chief scientific officer, “It was remarkable to see how riveted the attendees were to hear Mr. McClendon’s story first-hand through his poem, ‘Hello Truth,’ and to see the surprise on his face as the white veil was pulled away to show that we’ve named the DNA analyzer in his honor. He even asked to kiss the machine. Most of the attendees were quite knowledgeable about DNA and were interested in techniques that we perform that are not yet available in other countries, while others were discussing starting up programs for the first time in their own countries. It puts into perspective how important the work we do here at DDC truly is.”

McClendon gave credit to the legal staff at the University of Cincinnati, the Ohio Innocence Project and the DDC experts who worked his case to find the evidence that proved he was innocent. BET (Black Entertainment Television) is currently filming a documentary on McClendon and was present for the unveiling and naming.

“It was a privilege to host such a distinguished group of international representatives who are fighting for those who are wrongfully incarcerated around the world,” Dr. Julie Heinig, assistant laboratory director, said. “Approximately 70 percent of the Innocence Network Organization’s successful exonerations are due to DNA evidence. To witness Mr. McClendon’s emotional recount of his journey, and for him to unveil the newly named DNA analyzer provided an incredible opportunity for these Innocence Network leaders to know this kind of experience is possible for their countries. It was very rewarding.”

DDC’s DNA testing has resulted in four high-profile exonerations connected to the Innocence Network Organization since 2008. The most recent being that of Derrick Williams, freed in a ruling on April 4, 2011 after being wrongfully incarcerated in a Florida prison for 18 years.

Derrick Williams is Exonerated

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

After serving 18 years for kidnapping and rape, crimes that recent DNA testing proved he did not commit, Derrick Williams of Florida was released from prison Tuesday evening into the embrace of his family. The past few months have been full of activity as Williams’ defense team at the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) prepared to present evidence to the courts that proved his innocence. Seth Miller, the Executive Director of the IPF and Melissa Montle, the lead attorney on the post-conviction case, argued that not only had Williams’ due process rights had been violated because evidence (rape kit, hairs and vacuum samples from the victim’s car) that may have cleared Williams had been destroyed by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, but other physical evidence demonstrated his innocence. The most compelling evidence was the DNA results provided by the forensic DNA experts at DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC) of the t-shirt worn by the actual assailant. This new DNA evidence showed that other people-and not Derrick Williams-wore the gray t-shirt that the victim kept from her attacker. Mr. Williams’ conviction was vacated and was granted a new trial last week. When the State Attorney’s Office first stated they would appeal the case, Williams and his legal team expected his ordeal to drag out even longer. Instead, on the following Monday, he learned he would go home that evening and spend his first night of freedom home with his family.

“DDC provides DNA expertise to Innocence Projects across the country and, including this most recent ruling, has successfully assisted with four exonerations since 2008,” Peter Vitulli, president and CEO of DDC, said. “The Williams case represents DDC’s third collaborative effort in the last two years with the Innocence Project of Florida. Our world-class facility and testing methods allow the science to speak for itself, and the expert testimony we provide clearly explains what can be complicated issues. The freedom this has given to Mr. Williams proves the power of DNA testing and proves the process works.”

According to Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida, “In the Williams case, Dr. Heinig testified about the DNA results and clearly explained the science, giving Judge Marc Gilner the necessary clarity in a complicated scientific case. Without Dr. Heinig’s testimony, the evidentiary hearing would not have ended so well. Dr. Heinig and the DDC experts were able to compile results from a most difficult and degraded sample and then explain and defend the findings in a comprehensive and easy to understand manner for Judge Gilner. Without the DNA testimony provided by DDC, even the most compelling scientific evidence could have been lost on the court and justice would have suffered.”

“Working with Dr. Heinig and DDC has been an incredible collaboration for the Innocence Project of Florida,” Melissa Montle, lead attorney for the Innocence Project of Florida, said. “As we work more and more post-conviction cases, we are finding that the evidence available to us for testing has become complicated and challenging from a scientific standpoint. Dr. Heinig’s expertise and success with degraded or otherwise difficult samples has a proven track record we can rely on. Due to this expertise, we’re able to do a better legal job for our clients. Dr. Heinig doesn’t just deliver the findings, she defends them. We look forward to continuing to work with DDC and Dr. Heinig on future cases and can’t express enough how important their DNA testing has been in this case and our prior exonerations. It’s been invaluable.”

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