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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.

Identical twins: can DNA tell them apart?

September 15th, 2015

Advancements in DNA technology has made DNA analysis a revolutionary tool in forensic investigations. Since its breakthrough in the 1980s, DNA is used for identification of individuals in crime scene evidence, unknown human remains, and biological relationships. However, one limitation has been the ability to distinguish between identical twins. Since identical twins present exactly the same DNA profile as each other, their DNA is indistinguishable from each other. Legal conundrums result because it is not possible to tell which of the twins was guilty or innocent of the crime. Rather than risk convicting the wrong person, prosecutors drop charges and a potential criminal is set free.

A new solution to this problem has developed by the Forensic Genetics Research Group at the University of Huddersfield. Led by Dr. Graham Williams, their findings have been published in the Analytical Biochemistry journal. The method is based on the concept of “DNA methylation,” which is effectively the molecular mechanism that turns various genes on and off. The research shows that as twins age, the degree of difference between them grows as each is subjected to different environmental conditions. For example, one twin may be a smoker, one may work outdoors, one may work at a desk. The methylation status of their DNA will thus evolve, making close inspection of the DNA able to reveal the difference between the two individuals. Heretofore the only method proposed for distinguishing the DNA of twins was “mutation analysis”, but this was considered too costly for use in police investigations. Dr. Graham and his team have developed a more cost-efffective method based on this concept, and he explains it this way: ” ‘High resolution melt curve analysis’ or “HRMA” subjects the DNA to increasingly high temperatures until the hydrogen bonds break. This melting temperature may vary between the twins, and therefore the more hydrogen bonds that are present in the DNA, the higher the temperature required to melt them. Consequently, if one DNA sequence is more methylated than the other, then the melting temperature of the two samples will differ-a difference that can be measured, and which will establish the difference between the two identical twins.” Dr. Graham further explains that there are limitations to this solution. First, the technique requires a high quantity sample that may not be present in crime scene evidence. Also, the younger the twins and those raised in highly similar environments, the less likely the development of the methylation differences.

This research demonstrates that scientific breakthroughs continue to offer society more and more tools to solve crime. A detailed summary of the science behind the breakthrough can be found at the blog-site The Conversation (http://theconversation.com/new-dna-technique-means-pointing-the-finger-at-the-right-identical-twin-just-got-easier-39332).

Are Mouth Swabs Effective for Collecting DNA?

September 1st, 2015

Yes! Mouth swabs are not only effective for collecting DNA, they are the standard for many applications, including paternity testing, forensic testing, and many kinds of DNA identification. The cells collected from the mouth, preferably cheek cells, slough off in great quantity, and can be stored very easily.

If you’re in your 40’s, you might remember when blood was the only way to collect and find DNA. If there was a crime scene, the detectives needed blood—and hopefully a lot of it—to get a DNA profile. In paternity testing, blood was collected from each party, even infants, in order to compare DNA profiles.

Today, that’s all changed. Technology has changed, from a system called “RFLP” to one called “PCR,” and with that change, a much smaller amount of DNA is needed for DNA testing. In the PCR process, DNA is duplicated millions of times, so a little DNA can turn into a lot of DNA! With this change, a few hundred cells from the inside of cheek can be plenty to establish a DNA profile.

Here are some examples of programs that have been established to collect DNA profiles that you may not know about:

Military personnel. Those that join the military will have their DNA collected right when they join. It can be used to identify bodies when necessary.
Prisoner Inmates. Those that enter prison will have their DNA collected, often to compare their DNA to federal databases to link them to other crimes. The federal DNA database is called CODIS, or Combined DNA Index System.
Paternity Testing. States programs collect thousands of DNA samples every month for paternity testing for child support. DNA can now be collected very easily with cheek swabs, rather than blood samples. The use of cheek swabs for DNA collection has made it possible to even collect DNA at home, creating a new kind of paternity test, where people can find out who the father is without going through the state.

Mouth swabs that collect cheek cells are a very effective way to collect DNA. When dry, these swabs can be stored for decades, and the DNA can still be tested. With simple instructions, anyone can rub a swab on the inside of a cheek and collect enough DNA for a paternity test or any other DNA test. The swabs are not only effective, but they are THE chosen method by most state and federal agencies that collect DNA.

DNA or Prenatal testing during pregnancy

April 21st, 2015

You’ve seen this plot on TV shows like Law & Order—a woman mysteriously dies, foul play is suspected, and the autopsy finds the woman is pregnant! A DNA test of the fetus is ordered to find out who the father is, and the results usually help solve the mystery and the crime.

There are many similarities between TV cases and a real life murder mystery playing out in Austin, Texas. The difference here is, no autopsy was needed to reveal the twist of an unknown pregnancy–Samantha Dean was seven months pregnant when she was found dead in her car, shot in the head multiple times.

Ms. Dean was a police department Victim Services Advocate, and had been seeing an Austin police officer socially. He has been placed on restricted duty in connection to the investigation.

DNA testing is the key to solving the mystery of who fathered the baby Ms. Dean was carrying. Both Dr. Michael Baird of DDC and Dr. Vincent Di Maio of Bexar County were interviewed by KXAN of Austin, and each agree—DNA results will be very accurate, and “virtually foolproof.”

Here is where the next steps differ greatly from TV shows, where the DNA results seemingly come back the next day. In a case like this, the DNA will most likely be sent through the county or state DNA lab, and the samples will get in line behind dozens, or hundreds, of other cases. Dr. Vincent Di Maio said the tests could take a few weeks to produce results, if there is a backlog in testing. What can happen to a case while a few weeks goes by? Where is the swift justice for the grieving family?

Dr. Michael Baird of DDC, when interviewed, said, “The paternity DNA tests that we do [take] a matter of days. Our typical turnaround time for paternity testing is two days at DDC. DNA analysis of evidence samples can be completed in a few weeks time.” Private labs often can produce test results much faster than county labs. Counties invest in DNA labs for the right reasons, but when the backlogs create long wait times, law enforcement should have a back-up plan to contract with private labs to avoid lengthy delays and relieve time pressure, to promote timely justice for those in need of answers.

DNA Diagnostics Center, One of The World’s Largest DNA Testing Labs, Celebrates Their 20th Anniversary

March 3rd, 2015

CINCINNATI, March 3, 2015 /PRNewswire/ –DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC), one of the largest commercial DNA testing companies in the world, celebrates its 20th anniversary today. Headed by President and CEO, Peter Vitulli, DDC is a consumer services company that focuses on DNA testing across multiple channels and segments. It employs over 200 associates and generates a significant portion of sales across international markets via its distributors in over 120 countries.

Peter Vitulli acknowledges the anniversary of the company and its accomplishments, “A personal thanks to the staff and scientists for reaching this important milestone. DDC is the world’s largest paternity testing company and also provides Forensic, Cell Line Authentication, Ancestry, Immigration, and Veterinary-related DNA tests. Last year, DDC launched DDC Direct Connect, a valuable online portal for the company’s Government Contract customers. In late 2014, DDC also became the leading seller of Home Paternity tests in drug stores in the United States.

DDC has one of the largest DNA laboratories in the world with multiple accreditations, including ten individuals who hold Ph.D.’s. For the last decade, the company has been conducting DNA tests in 168 countries, and performs over 600,000 DNA tests annually with more than 4,500 collection sites globally. DDC services the public and private sectors and is the preeminent provider of DNA tests to the entertainment industry, including “Dr. Phil” and “Maury” TV shows, to name a few.

Dr. Michael Baird, Chief Science Officer, is considered the country’s foremost expert in DNA and paternity testing, and was the first person to testify in a criminal DNA case in the US. Since 1987, he has been involved in more than 300 court cases involving DNA and paternity. Dr. Baird is currently the Chair of the Relationship Testing Committee of the AABB responsible for developing standards for paternity testing. He has authored or coauthored over 50 peer reviewed scientific articles involving DNA identification analysis. He was an on-air consultant for NBC during the OJ Simpson trial and the DNA expert in the highly publicized paternity case of Dannielynn, the daughter of Anna Nicole Smith. Dr. Baird received his PhD in Genetics from the University of Chicago in 1978.

On the news of the 20th anniversary, Dr. Baird states, “I am honored to be a member of DDC since 2004. We are proud to help those who are in need of real answers that can change their lives and the lives of their loved ones.” Amongst many “firsts” in the industry, in 2011 DDC launched ‘DDC’s Non-Invasive Prenatal Paternity Test’, empowering customers to learn the paternity of an unborn child as early as 9 weeks in the pregnancy, using a safe, quick, and simple blood collection.

About DDC (DNA Diagnostics Center):
DDC is one of the largest DNA testing companies in the world. Founded 20 years ago, DDC offers comprehensive DNA testing services for paternity and other family relationships, forensics, cell line authentication, and ancestry. DDC receives more than 800,000 consumer calls each year, and will perform over 600,000 DNA tests in 2015. DDC’s unique Dual Process™ ensures all collected DNA samples are independently tested twice producing legal results of unmatched quality and reliability. DDC is recognized through a number of accreditations nationally and internationally including those performed by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) and the College of American Pathologists (CAP). DDC is also accredited by ACLASS to meet the standards of ISO 17025 and the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board International and follows the DNA Advisory Board (DAB) guidelines, which attests to DDC’s superior forensic testing service. For more information: http://www.dnacenter.com or 1-800-625-0874.

To learn more about DDC and to interview Peter Vitulli and/or Dr. Michael Baird, please contact Jan Strode, CEO Advisors 619-890-4040 or JanStrode@aol.com

Update on OH Innocence Project Exoneree Dewey Jones

December 11th, 2014

Dewey Jones, the Akron OH man who was exonerated of murder and kidnapping charges after serving 19 years in prison for the death of Neal Rankin, has filed a lawsuit against the city of Akron and at least 9 Akron City police officers. In January 2014, Mr. Jones was exonerated after DNA testing conducted by DNA Diagnostics Center helped the OH Innocence Project and Mr. Jones’ lawyers prove to the court that he was innocent of all charges.

Seeking unspecified damages, Jones lawsuit claims Akron Police Dept. investigators of misconduct, including manipulating witnesses and forcing them to identify Jones in photo lineups more than a year after the murder. The lawsuit also claims Akron police detectives used a jailhouse informant who provided false testimony in exchange for protection in that inmate’s criminal cases. Other claims of misconduct include Akron police failing to disclose witnesses identifying other suspects and failing to perform forensic analysis on a bloody handprint found on the victim’s door.

Jones maintained his innocence throughout the case and his 19 years in prison. Even though his trial attorneys argued that there was no physical evidence linking Jones to the murder, the jury sentenced him to life in prison. Ultimately, the efforts of the OH Innocence Project and DNA testing provided by the Forensics team at DNA Diagnostics Center were critical in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office request to vacate Dewey Jones’ conviction.

DDC Forensics is Honored by Ohio Innocence Project at Tenth Anniversary Gala

November 21st, 2014

DDC Forensics is Celebrated as Key Contributor to OIP’s Success
DNA Diagnostics Forensics, a Division of DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC), one of the world’s largest DNA testing companies, was honored at Ohio Innocence Project’s (OIP) tenth Anniversary Gala, celebrating freedom for those exonerated, and the organizations that have contributed to the effort. Approximately 400 supporters attended the event held Saturday, October 25, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency Cincinnati—raising over $150,000 to OIP’s cause. Cincinnati’s Mayor John Cranley, and co-founder of OIP, was the master of ceremonies and presided over the event; and exonerated citizen, Robert McClendon, awarded DDC’s President and CEO, Peter Vitulli with the honor on behalf of the company. To date, DDC’s testing for OIP includes more than 30 cases, resulting in the exonerations of Ohio residents, Robert Towler, Robert McClendon, Douglas Prade and Dewey Jones. Working with other Innocence Projects on post-conviction cases throughout the United States, DDC Forensics has provided DNA testing that resulted in the exonerations of Florida citizens James Bains, Derrick Williams and Cheydrick Britt, and Kentucky Innocence Project client, Kerry Porter.

During the event, Mayor Cranley lauded DDC as “an exceptional organization that has risen to the occasion in OIP’s fight for justice. In 2005, DDC offered pro bono DNA testing on all OIP casework, and today, that charitable donation of time, staffing, and resources is still in effect. No other lab in the country has extended this amount of good will to our organization, and for that we will be forever grateful to DDC.” In addition, each year DDC welcomes the University of Cincinnati College of Law professors, staff attorneys, and students to its Fairfield, Ohio laboratory and provides training in forensic DNA and legal applications in post-conviction cases.

After the ceremony, DDC’s Peter Vitulli looked back at the event and OIP’s history, stating “OIP’s tireless work to pass legislation to reduce wrongful convictions has made Ohio a national model for other states and countries to enact reforms to fight the problem of wrongful convictions. On behalf of my staff at DDC, it was an honor to receive this award from the OIP, and it was especially poignant that exonerated citizen, Robert McClendon, recited his poem, “Hello Truth” before presenting me with the award. Without a doubt every member of my team is proud to be working with the OIP, knowing that our efforts are helping to change people’s lives to secure justice. We look forward to continuing our work with the OIP for many years to come.”

OIP has been a role model to other innocence projects across the country, as the agency wrote and promoted Ohio Senate Bill 77, aimed at reducing wrongful convictions—with reforms in eyewitness identification procedures, police interrogation practices, expanded access to DNA testing and mandate crime scene DNA evidence preservation. SB 77 became law in July, 2010 and was called by the legislature ‘the most important piece of criminal justice legislation in Ohio in a century, thus becoming the model for national innocence reform.’

DNA Diagnostics Center Forensics Team Help to Prove Dewey Jones’ Innocence of 20-Year Murder Charge

November 21st, 2014

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office Dismisses Case Based on DNA Testing Conducted By DNA Diagnostics Center
According to Summit County Common Pleas Court, Case #1994-06-1409C on Thursday, January 30, 2014, Judge Mary Margaret Rowland dismissed aggravated murder and robbery charges against Dewey Jones, an Akron, OH man convicted in 1995 of the high-profile murder of Neil Rankin. A family friend and neighbor of Jones, 71-year old retired Mr. Rankin was robbed and shot inside his home on Feb. 13, 1993.

Evidence from the crime scene, an unknown sample of male blood on a piece of nylon rope used to tie Rankin’s wrists, a knife used to cut the rope and a section of Rankin’s shirt, were identified by the Forensics team at DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC) in Fairfield, Ohio, led by Dr. Julie Heinig, the Forensic Director and DNA Technical Leader. DDC utilized leading edge technology to identify DNA from these difficult, 20 year old samples. None of the DNA matched Dewey Jones, prompting Judge Rowlands to grant Jones a new trial and said the DNA of another suspect, “calls into question the state’s entire theory of the case.” Jones was then transferred to the Summit County Jail, released in December 2013 under house arrest pending a trial that will no longer happen. Finally last week, Mr. Jones was freed from his electronic monitoring device into the arms of his family. Carrie Wood, Mr. Jones’ attorney with the Ohio Innocence Project noted the importance of accessing the latest advancements in DNA technology saying, “Mr. Jones’ case demonstrates the importance of using leading edge platforms, like miniSTR (AmpFlSTR® MiniFiler™ PCR Amplification Kit ). DDC’s experience and knowledge with this methodology proved critical in obtaining exculpatory DNA results. Dr. Heinig and her team are a valuable resource to us and we are endlessly appreciative of her DNA expertise.” Mr. Jones is also represented by the law firm of Loevy & Loevy and the Exoneration Project. Staff attorney David Owens remarks, “DNA supports Dewey Jones’ claims of innocence and we hope that the case will be dismissed with prejudice, eliminating any fear that the state could review the case further and proceed with a second trial. The DNA evidence strongly supports his full exoneration.” The Ohio Attorney General is arguing that the case should be dismissed without prejudice. Attorneys for both sides will submit briefs by February 10, 2014 for the judge’s final decision.

Dewey Jones’ case was one of 30 cases selected in 2008 from more than 300 by the OH Innocence Project and The Columbus Dispatch initiative to identify cases most worthy of post-conviction DNA testing. DDC partnered with OIP to provide the laboratory testing, and to date, there are 5 Ohio men freed as a result. Nationwide, DDC Forensics has assisted in the exoneration of 8 men who have served between 9 and 35 years for crimes they did not commit. Guilt was confirmed in 13 of the post-conviction cases that DDC tested, and other cases continue to proceed through the justice system to long-awaited resolution.

Says Dr. Julie Heinig, “DNA testing proves over and over that it is a powerful tool to help uncover the truth. This exoneration is the 8th such case that DDC has proven an inmate’s innocence, and its value is especially evident in Innocence Project cases like this where it helps a wrongfully convicted man be set free.” Peter Vitulli, President and CEO of DDC said, “I am honored that Dr. Heinig and her forensics team were able to help change the outcome for Mr. Jones, reminding us all in the power in DNA testing. Since 2008, DDC has successfully assisted with eight exonerations, and provides DNA expertise across the country. Our world-class facility and testing methods allow the science to provide the impetus for freeing innocent people, and we celebrate with Mr. Jones and his family.”

Testing at DDC Proved Florida Man’s Innocence

November 26th, 2013

According to Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Case #02-CF-15542, and Florida Dept of Law Enforcement, Case # 20030300771, on Wednesday, November 20, 2013, the Florida State Attorney’s Office for the 13th Judicial Circuit dropped all charges against Cheydrick Britt related to a 2002 sexual battery charge based on new DNA test results conducted by the Forensics team at DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC) in Fairfield, Ohio, led by Dr. Julie Heinig, the Forensic Director and DNA Technical Leader. DDC is the world’s largest provider of private DNA tests in the country, and Mr. Britt—who spent over 9 years wrongfully convicted and incarcerated—is the 7th such case that DDC has proved an inmate’s innocence.

Dr. Heinig and Mr. Britt’s legal team, lead by Charles A. Murray, lead counsel from Charles A. Murray P.A., Melissa Montle and Seth Miller, attorneys with the Innocence Project of Florida (“IPF”) meticulously worked through the original testing files. DNA tests conducted by Dr. Heinig and her team at DDC identified a DNA profile from the victim’s underwear that excluded Mr. Britt. Those findings resulted in his release from prison on September 24, 2013; however, it was not until November 20, 2013 that 13th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Chet Tharpe signed an order vacating the conviction.

Says Dr. Heinig, “DNA testing is a powerful tool to help uncover the truth, and its value is especially evident in cases like this where it helps a wrongfully convicted man be set free.” Charles Murray, Esq. reiterates, “Clearly the DNA testing results carried the day. Without DDC’s efforts, Mr. Britt would still be wrongfully imprisoned. I was extremely pleased with the professionalism of Dr. Heinig and her staff. They were terrific—professional and timely throughout this case. I recommend DDC unequivocally.” Melissa Montel echoed the excitement of Mr. Britt’s full exoneration, saying, “I am thrilled to reunite Cheydrick with his family before the holidays. This day simply would not have come without DDC’s efforts. It was, and always is, a pleasure to work with Dr. Heinig and her dedicated staff, and local counsel, Charles Murray.” Mr. Britt further rejoices, “I would like to thank Dr. Heinig and her entire staff for the tireless efforts in pursuing justice. My family and I greatly appreciate their services and patience that they have showed in this case, and I am very proud of their work in my case.” On the subject of his exoneration, Mr. Britt further acknowledges, “I have been waiting for this moment for almost a decade. I always maintained my innocence and now DNA testing has proven what I always knew to be true. Thank God for DNA.”

Peter Vitulli, President and CEO of DDC said, “I am proud of Dr. Heinig and her forensics team, further proving the power of DNA testing. DDC has successfully assisted with seven exonerations since 2008 and provides DNA expertise to Innocence Projects across the country. The science speaks for itself; however, our world-class facility and testing methods allow the science to provide the impetus for freeing innocent people like Mr. Britt. We appreciate Mr. Britt and his family for instilling their trust in us.”

About DDC Forensics
A Division of DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC): DDC Forensics is a fully accredited forensic laboratory providing unbiased, independent forensic DNA testing and consultation services to legal and law enforcement professionals. It utilizes leading-edge technology systems (Identifiler™, GlobalFiler™, Yfiler ™ and MiniFiler™) and offers full expert consultation services, including case review of other laboratory’s findings, expert testimony at trial, and observation at other laboratory facilities. It is a division of DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC) (www.dnacenter.com) of Fairfield OH, which is the largest provider of private DNA paternity and other DNA tests in the U.S. and worldwide for more than 18 years. DDC offers comprehensive DNA testing services for paternity and other biological relationships, forensics, ancestry and veterinary animal DNA testing. DDC receives more than 800,000 consumer calls each year, and has performed over 2 million DNA tests since its inception. DDC is recognized through a number of accreditations, nationally and internationally, achieving perfect ratings in its past 16 inspections, including those performed by the AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks) and the College of American Pathologists (CAP). DDC is also accredited by ACLASS to meet the standards of ISO 17025:2005 and the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board International and follows the DNA Advisory Board (DAB) guidelines, which attests to DDC’s superior forensic testing service.

An Update on the Ohio IP and Columbus Dispatch Project, 5 Years Later…

February 14th, 2013

From the Ohio Dispatch:

The five men who were caged in prison cells for a combined 99 years for rapes and murders they didn’t commit stepped into the cramped elevator.

They were meeting for the first time.

As the doors closed, these members of an exclusive club smiled at one another and remembered when their lives were confined to cells only a little bigger than the elevator.

DNA testing has given Robert McClendon, Joseph Fears, Ray Towler, David Ayers and Doug Prade their freedom, but not the time they lost.

“You can’t reclaim the life you had; you just try to fit into the new one as best you can,” McClendon said. “When people hear about our cases, I hope they don’t think of us. I hope they think of the other innocent people locked up in prison. DNA testing has helped a lot, but there is a lot more that can be done in the future to help the criminal-justice system.”

The five men were freed following The Dispatch series “Test of Convictions,” which exposed Ohio’s flawed evidence-retention and DNA-testing systems.

The series’ five-year anniversary this past week took on greater significance when a Summit County judge declared that Prade, a former Akron police captain, is innocent of murdering his ex-wife. Prade’s DNA didn’t match the DNA on a bite mark left by the killer.

Prade’s case was one of more than 300 The Dispatch reviewed with the Ohio Innocence Project. The project highlighted the cases of 30 prime candidates for testing and arranged for free testing with the DDC DNA Diagnostics Center in Cincinnati. Immediately after its publication, attorneys for the Innocence Project filed applications for testing on behalf of the inmates.

McClendon, 56, of Columbus, was the first to be exonerated, in August 2008. Fears, 65, of Columbus, was freed in March 2009. Towler, 55, of Cleveland, was exonerated in May 2010. Ayers, 56, was released in September 2011, and then Prade, 66, followed last week.

Four men also have been proved guilty, seven were denied testing and in 10 cases, the testing was inconclusive.

For a few others, the testing and slow legal process continue.

One of those inmates is Akron native Dewey Jones, who had his 1995 murder conviction overturned last year after DNA testing results excluded him. Jones is still in prison pending appeals, awaiting word on whether he will receive a new trial.

Another is Robert Caulley of Columbus, who was convicted in 1997 of killing his parents but granted a new trial last year after it was learned that his trial attorney had a sexual affair with his then-wife before, during and after his trial. The Ohio Supreme Court is now considering an appeal by the Franklin County prosecutor’s office in Caulley’s case.

DNA testing has helped set free 303 wrongly convicted inmates across the country, and more states continue to embrace laws that make it easier for inmates to receive a test.

After the Dispatch project, Ohio passed what is considered to be among the strongest laws in the nation to protect against future wrongful convictions.

Experts in the system say the law has had great impact in preserving and accessing evidence in felony cases that often was discarded or lost in cases of the past.

It also continues to eliminate the use of traditional police lineups that could have biased witnesses identifying suspects in previous criminal cases. Some prosecutors and judges are also more open to DNA testing post-conviction; in the past, the overwhelming majority of testing applications were systematically opposed or denied.

But those in Ohio who represent about 400 inmates who have filed innocence claims say the criminal-justice system is still weighted against them. Among the biggest complaints is the time it takes the post-conviction cases to drag through the system. Even after being granted testing, some inmates wait years for the actual testing, results, follow-up testing and legal rulings.

“There has been an upward shift in favor of DNA testing, but it’s still not complete or where it needs to be,” said Mark Godsey, director of the Cincinnati-based Ohio Innocence Project.

“DNA has been an incredible gift to our criminal-justice system. It’s like a crystal ball, letting us gaze inside and travel back in time to find out what really happened. Why some of the judges and prosecutors are hesitant to look inside and learn, I’ll never understand.”

The first four freed Ohioans gathered at The Dispatch to commemorate the project and meet Prade, who, coincidentally, was released on the fifth anniversary of the Dispatch series.

While sharing plates of spaghetti and lasagna at a local restaurant, which Prade called the best meal he had eaten in 15 years, the men swapped stories about life on the inside and just how much the world had changed on the outside.

They talked of how hard it was to visit grave sites of loved ones they lost while they were stuck in prison.

How they had to ask strangers for instructions to flush toilets or wash their hands in public bathrooms because they found no handles.

How shocked they were when they heard a car talk or used the Internet for the first time.

How difficult it was to see that their children were no longer young and to meet grandchildren for the first time.

Prade’s journey back into society is only days old. He started with only a suit that he last wore 15 years ago. He bought a winter coat, applied for a driver’s license and his birth certificate, and cherished reuniting with his siblings, children and grandchildren.

“People keep asking me what it’s like to be out, and I don’t really know, because it’s been less than a day,” Prade said. “But these other guys have been out there going through all kinds of things. I know it will be a long road.”
The bright side

Water was dripping from the ceiling, and heat wasn’t flowing from the furnace when David Ayers moved into his one-bedroom apartment on Cleveland’s east side. It took weeks for the landlord to make the repairs.

“It was no big deal,” Ayers said with a genuine smile. “I survived.”

When he needs to go anywhere, Ayers has to take the city bus because he can’t afford a car or much else on his fixed income.

“Walking is good for me, and I don’t have to pay for parking,” Ayers said, again smiling.

Ayers, who served 11 years in prison, can find the bright side in just about anything — except for the thought of other innocent people being locked in prison.

And that’s what prompted him to enroll in criminal-justice classes at a small, private college about a year after his release from prison. He has maintained a B average in the two-year program and hopes to work within the legal system fighting in some way for men who can’t fight for themselves.

“I want to help others that are in my situation,” Ayers said.

Ayers’ situation is complicated. Prosecutors dismissed his 2000 murder conviction for killing an elderly woman after DNA collected from the crime scene didn’t match his. But they didn’t declare him wrongly convicted. That means he isn’t yet eligible to collect compensation from the state. His attorneys have filed both federal and state civil suits.

He realizes it was a gamble to borrow about $30,000 for his college classes without knowing his financial future, but Ayers didn’t want to put his life on hold during the legal wrangling.

As usual, Ayers just smiles when asked whether he is angry or upset at the criminal-justice system.

“I’m just glad I have heat now,” he said. “And the bus isn’t so bad.”
The hustler

The day Joseph Fears was freed from prison after 26 years, there were about a dozen excited people outside the Franklin County jail waiting for his release. They described themselves as Fears’ family and friends. They vowed to help Fears, who suffers from mental illness, adjust to his new life.

Shortly after that day and now almost four years later, Fears has barely seen any of them. The only one Fears knows was sincere about helping him was his brother Kenneth , who died of cancer about two years ago in California. The rest wanted money, believing Fears would reap millions for being locked up for so long.

“It showed me just how insincere and fake most people are out here,” Fears said. “The people I was in prison with have more character. There is more of an honor code in there.”

Fears proudly admits to being a product of the streets and has struggled with wild mood swings that are generated by bipolar disorder. He takes medication to control depression and anger, but it’s not always enough. And at times he has associated with the kind of people who could potentially lead him back into prison.

He blew through $239,000 in compensation for being wrongly convicted in about four months. He admits to partying some of it away and was robbed of tens of thousands. All that remains is his home on Columbus’ North Side which he bought with cash. It’s now for sale because he wants the money to start some type of small business.

Fears didn’t receive millions for being wrongly convicted like some others. DNA testing exonerated him on one rape charge, but prosecutors couldn’t find the evidence needed for testing in a second conviction. Fears says his attorney is still trying to clear him of that conviction and is planning on filing a civil suit.

In the meantime, he continues doing good deeds through his Baptist church — for children and for those who have spent time in prison. But he admits to still roaming the streets at times.

He says it’s a mix of interests he received from his parents.

“My mama raised a Christian gentleman,” he said. “My daddy raised a hustler.”
Mom’s wish

The suburban police officer pulled over Robert McClendon mainly because the tinted windows on his luxury car were too dark.

McClendon agreed the windows were a problem and only received a warning.

But during the traffic stop last summer, McClendon had taken off his seat belt to reach for his registration and was eventually cited for not wearing the safety belt.

McClendon, who served 18 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, felt like he was again being falsely accused.

So the man who has received about $1.5 million in compensation for being wrongly convicted appeared in court four separate times to fight a $60 ticket. He lost at trial but appealed the ticket in Franklin County, where it was finally dismissed.

“The officer was nice about everything, but I was wearing that seat belt,” he said. “I would have paid a fine for the windows because they are dark, but I wasn’t going to admit to doing something I didn’t do.”

Since being released from prison 41/2 years ago, McClendon has tried to balance his life by supporting his children and grandchildren, treating himself to a few nice things like his Acura NSX and raising public awareness of wrongful convictions.

But in the past year, he has focused on fulfilling a promise made to his mother just before she died in December 2006 — to reunite with his two brothers.

The three men have had their differences over the years, and at times had lost contact with one another. But whether it’s playing basketball, having dinner or just hanging out at McClendon’s spacious home on the city’s East Side, the brothers are now giving their mother what she desired.

McClendon purchased three cremation urns containing his mother’s ashes. He and his brothers are planning to hold a memorial service in her memory this coming week.

“I wish she had been here to see me set free,” he said. “But I know it would give her peace to know her sons are family.”
Prison family

Ray Towler stood outside the prison where he served most of 29 years as a wrongly convicted man and gazed through the barbed-wire fence to see if he recognized anyone.

He was anxiously waiting outside of the Grafton Correctional Institution in northeastern Ohio last month for one of his friends to be released on parole.

Finally, when William Harris, a convicted murderer, walked through the last steel door, Towler was there to embrace him.

“Come on out of there, man,” Towler said to Harris, who had served a 25-year sentence. “Don’t worry; we will take care of you and get you all set up.”

Even though the prison is where the majority of his life was stripped away, Towler considers it his former home.

Since his release almost three years ago, Towler has been back to Grafton numerous times to visit and counsel his friends.

Two years ago, he sent about 20 inmates $50 to $100 each, just to show them he hadn’t forgotten them and so they could buy a little extra food at the prison commissary.

Towler received a record $2.57 million from the state for being wrongly convicted, and even more money from a civil suit, but you wouldn’t know it by the clothes he wears, the Toyota Prius he drives or his nice but modest home in Elyria.

Towler, who was wrongly convicted of rape in 1981, said he attempts to help the men he believes are regretful about their crimes, have found faith and want to do the right thing when they are released.

“I don’t judge people based on their circumstances,” Towler said. “I would try to measure up guys inside, and you get a feel for who wants to do good. And it’s those guys I want to help get a foundation in life when they are released.”

Towler is taking that help even further for Harris. Upon Harris’ release, Towler and his girlfriend, Brenda Moore-Nichols, drove Harris to their home and showed him his new bedroom.

“I made a mistake a long time ago, but Ray doesn’t hold that against me,” Harris said. “He kept his word and didn’t forget his friends in here.”

Former Ohio Police Captain Exonerated After 15 Years in Prison Based on DNA Forensics Tests

February 5th, 2013

Douglas Prade, a former Akron, Ohio Police Captain has been exonerated for the murder of his ex-wife after spending almost 15 years in prison. According to case number CR 1998-02-0463 (State V. Prade) at Summit County Court, DNA testing performed by the DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC), one of the largest DNA testing companies in the world, was a key factor in the court’s decision to overturn the conviction of Prade. DDC performed the DNA testing on behalf of the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), an organization working on wrongful convictions.

“DNA evidence is a powerful tool to seek the truth and justice, and in this case, it spoke the truth, that Douglas Prade is innocent,” said Carrie Wood, the Ohio Innocence Project attorney working on the Prade case. “The Ohio Innocence Project is so grateful to DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC) for its commitment of time, energy and resources in this case. Because DDC was able to extract and analyze the DNA from the key piece of evidence, we were able to present the proof of Captain Prade’s innocence to the court.”

According to court documents Mr. Prade was convicted in 1998 of murdering his ex-wife, Dr. Margo Prade, based largely on a bite mark match found on the victim’s lab coat. Douglas Prade has maintained his innocence since the time of his arrest.

DDC took on Douglas Prade’s case as a neutral third-party in cooperation with the OIP as one of their thirty pro bono cases. Jessica York, of DDC, was the lead DNA analyst on the case. She obtained a Y-STR DNA profile from a bite mark on Dr. Margo Prade’s lab coat that did not match the former police captain. That DNA evidence was central to the court’s overturning Prade’s conviction.

While the unrelenting work of the legal team of OIP and Jones Day led to the overturned conviction, the science of DNA analysis may ultimately be the hero in this and similar cases.

OIP’s Wood noted that, “Dr. Heinig spent the time needed to carefully review the case and logically present the findings based on impartial scientific results.”

Peter Vitulli, President and CEO of DDC said, “I am proud to be part of a company that profoundly touches people’s lives in such a dramatic way. DDC has successfully assisted with six exonerations since 2008 and provides DNA expertise to Innocence Projects across the country. Our world-class facility and testing methods allow the science to speak for itself, and the expert testimony we provide clearly explains complicated issues. The freedom this has given to Captain Prade proves the power of DNA testing and proves the process works.”

Working pro bono with OIP lawyers were a team of attorneys from the Cleveland office of the widely recognized law firm of Jones Day, who served as lead counsel with OIP.

Commenting on the DDC scientific experts in the case, Jones Day attorney David Alden noted that Dr. Julie Heinig provided “invaluable assistance” and was “extremely informative, gracious and accommodating” in every phase if the defense and “did a great job on the stand…it was clear the court was favorably impressed.”



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