DNA analysis comes under fire
Prosecutors worry criminals are going freeSeptember 2, 1997
Web posted at: 3:21 a.m. EST (0821 GMT)
From Correspondent Don Knapp
SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- DNA testing has helped more than 40 men convicted of violent crimes walk out of prison as free men. But now some prosecutors have begun to protest, claiming these high-tech tests may sometimes free guilty men.
That hasn't stopped Timothy Durham from placing his hopes in the genetic fingerprinting technology.
Convicted of raping an 11-year-old girl, Durham was serving more than 3,000 years in prison sentences. His attorneys got him a new trial, however, after claiming DNA tests showed sperm found on the child's swimming suit could not have come from Durham.
Judge Bill Beasley of the Tulsa County District Court is inclined to believe the new evidence.
"It leaves a very strong possibility that we have a defendant who may not be guilty of these offenses," Beasley said.
Prosecutor Bill LaFortune isn't so sure.
"We have very strong, independent evidence of his guilt in the eyewitness testimony of the young girl, as well as some hair evidence of our own," he said.
'The real perpetrator'
But Attorney Barry Scheck, whose "Innocence Project" has used DNA analysis to free men convicted of violent crimes, says prosecutors should be happy to have DNA analysis.
"The real trend is that we're going to be able to use DNA evidence not just to exonerate individuals, but to catch the real perpetrator. That is the coming trend in these cases," he said.
Scheck's group used DNA to help Ronald Jones get a new trial. Jones had served a decade in prison for the rape and murder of a Chicago woman.
"It's clear now the sperm found in this victim did not come from Mr. Jones," Scheck said.
But can DNA analysis alone determine the innocence or guilt of a person? Bill O'Brien, a former prosecutor for the Cook County State's Attorney Office, doesn't think so.
"It is not the magic bullet that many people might think," O'Brien says. "You have to evaluate it in connection with the whole package you're going for."
In the case of a rape victim, there may be other explanations for why DNA comparisons of sperm samples don't always tie the accused to the crime.
"Let's say the woman had consensual sex with her husband the night before, and we match the DNA to her husband. We then realize why the DNA comes back to someone other than the defendant," Chris Asplen of the American Prosecutors Research Institute explained. "And also, a lot of times, defendants in rape cases are what we call non-ejaculators. That's not an uncommon scenario at all."
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