Welcome to The Forensic DNA Testing Blog
This forensic blog is our official forum where DDC staff and clients can post issues, concerns, answers, and questions regarding forensic DNA testing. Please note that all posts and comments are subject to approval by the moderator. Names may be changed to protect the writer's privacy.
March 30th, 2011
DDC Forensics is in the news again! Dr. Julie Heinig, PhD, Asst. Laboratory Director in charge of Forensics, testified last week on behalf of the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF), presenting DNA testing results in the evidentiary hearing of Derrick Williams, a Palmetto, FL man who was convicted of kidnapping and rape in 1993. Dr. Heinig, a post-conviction DNA expert with extensive experience and success with degraded or otherwise difficult samples, isolated DNA from the shirt worn and abandoned by the true perpetrator 19 years ago. DNA results excluded Williams as a contributor to DNA found on the shirt, which made it “highly likely that [Williams] did not wear the shirt,” Dr. Heinig testified. The court agreed with the IPF’s contentions that newly discovered DNA evidence undermined confidence in the previous guilty verdicts, which were largely based on challenged eyewitness identification.
Manatee County Circuit Court Judge Marc B. Gilner signed an order that vacated Williams’ convictions and granted him a new trial. Now Derrick Williams waits to learn if the state will retry him, appeal the ruling, or simply exonerate him altogether.
Mr. Williams’ case represents DDC’s third collaborative effort in the last 2 years with the Innocence Project of Florida. In December 2009, James Bains of Lake Wales, FL was exonerated based on DNA evidence that DDC processed in his post-conviction case. Last month DDC provided DNA testing in the case involving Jimmy Ates of Baker, FL. DDC continues to provide DNA expertise to Innocence Projects across the country, and thus far has assisted with 6 confirmed guilty and 3 exoneration cases.
April 19th, 2010
Earlier this month legislators in Ohio passed Senate Bill 77, a groundbreaking reform package that the Innocence Project calls a “National Model” for other states working on reforms to existing laws that govern lineup procedures, police interrogations, evidence preservation and methods for parolees to apply for DNA testing.
The Innocence Project, a national organization headquartered in New York City at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, worked closely with the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) for the last two years to help pass these critical reforms. Locally, lawyers and law students at the OIP worked diligently to research and draft the legislation that has now been signed into law by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. The impact of the law, which brings new protections for avoiding wrongful convictions and easier access to DNA testing to innocent prisoners, is summed up by the sponsor of the bill in the Ohio House, Rep. Tyrone Yates, D-Cincinnati. He declared, “This is one of the most important pieces of criminal justice legislation in this state in a century.”
A joint project between the Ohio Innocence Project and the Columbus Dispatch was integral to the reform’s momentum, and assured that the findings of the OIP research were well-documented. Dispatch reporters Mike Wagner and Geoff Dutton used their investigative reporting acumen to assist the OIP in researching case files, searching evidence facilities, and interviewing prisoners and victims alike in many of the nearly 300 applications for post-conviction DNA testing that the OIP received. The result was The Dispatch’s weeklong series, “Test of Convictions.” The articles outlined flaws in Ohio that could only be remedied by dramatic changes to law enforcement policies on evidence preservation, interrogations, suspect lineups and eyewitness photo identification, and access to post-conviction DNA testing. Mark Godsey, Director of the Ohio Innocence Project, provided the leadership and supervision to the group that built legislative support for the bill, including meeting with key legislators and providing information on the social science research and effectiveness of reforms in other states. DNA Diagnostics Center-Forensics provided pro bono DNA testing on many of the cases identified by the OIP as having legitimate claims of innocence, minimizing the state of Ohio’s cost for testing. Robert McClendon and Joseph Fears, both of Columbus, were exonerated as a result of the OIP/Dispatch joint project. McClendon and other Ohio exonerees served as a powerful spokespersons for the need for legislative reform.
The Senate Bill 77 changes to police practices are so comprehensive that Ohio has become a “model state” concerning reforms to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction. While states across the US are adopting some of these changes, none other than Ohio has implemented an omnibus bill of this magnitude.
December 18th, 2009
DNA tests performed by DNA Diagnostic Center’s Forensic Division led to the exoneration of James Bain, who will be celebrating his first Christmas with his family after 35 years of incarceration. DDC Forensics was approached by the Florida Innocence Project to work on the case, for the laboratory’s expertise in analyzing DNA from aged DNA samples typical of post-conviction cases. Mr. Bain’s DNA was compared with the perpetrator’s biological material obtained from the crime scene, and the analysis showed no match between his DNA profile and the evidence.
Of the 246 DNA exonerees to date, Bain has served the longest prison term as an innocent man. Dr. Ellen Moscovitz, President and CEO of DNA Diagnostics Center stated, ““This is a very profound moment for all of us at DNA Diagnostics Center. It underscores the importance and impact of the DNA testing we provide every day and reminds us that there is a precious human life attached to every specimen. We are so pleased to have been able to play a part in achieving justice and freedom for Mr. Bain.”
DDC’s Forensics Division serves as an independent DNA testing resource to defense lawyers and government prosecutors and works with many Innocence Projects across the country. Seth Miller, Director of the Innocence Project of Florida, commented, “We’ve worked with DNA Diagnostics Center on a number of cases now for over a year. Not only do their analysts do diligent work, but their customer service is top notch. There’s no other lab that we would have wanted to put this case in the hands of, especially with the age of the case and the type of sample that we had. We knew that DDC would take great care with it. We’re so thankful to DDC that they were able to help us find the truth and help with the release of Jamie Bain.”
December 18th, 2009
This past June, Ohio Senator David Goodman, R-New Albany, sponsored Ohio Senate Bill 77 which proposed changes to laws governing retention of DNA evidence and procedures for suspect lineups. The bill passed the Senate by a 32-1 vote, and now the House is close to passing the bill, after nearly a dozen amendments were adopted by the House Criminal Justice Committee.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, opposition to the bill comes from law-enforcement groups and prosecutors who are concerned about the bill’s requirements and the costs to implement them. Specifically, the legislation would require law enforcement to retain biological evidence for up to 30 years in cases of murder and sexual assault. Suspect lineups would now be blind: the officer conducting the lineup would not know the identity of the true suspect, or the officer would conduct a photo-lineup so that only the witness can see the pictures. Other changes to the law would make DNA testing open to parolees and require anyone charged with a felony to submit a DNA sample.
John Murphy, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, felt the amendments to the bill made “vast improvements.” A key change was giving law-enforcement agencies the ability to discard biological evidence after 5 years if a defendant pleads guilty or no contest.
“This is about not just being tough on crime, but being smart on crime,” said Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project. “These are recognized as best practices around the country, and Ohio hasn’t been doing them, by and large.”
If the bill passes after next week’s vote, Ohio residents can look forward to improved practices that should help assure justice.