[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----VIRGINIA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Sep 17 00:04:38 CDT 2005
Va. DNA Review Finds No Pattern of Problems----Panel Urges Lab to Clarify
A long-awaited review of DNA analysis of 123 Virginia criminal cases found
no pattern of procedural problems at the state's forensic laboratory, the
governor's office announced Friday.
A panel of 5 scientists found an analytical error by a lab technician in 1
death row case but concluded that the technician's other DNA analysis in
that case and all other cases was sound. State officials said the error
had no bearing on the case's outcome.
The review was prompted by an audit made public in May that concluded that
political pressure from then-Gov. James S. Gilmore III had resulted in
flawed results in the case of former death row inmate Earl Washington Jr.,
who eventually was cleared.
The audit, by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, had
raised the possibility that other mistakes could have been made and urged
Virginia to conduct an independent review of the Washington case and at
least 50 others in which trace amounts of low-level DNA were used to
obtain a conviction.
Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) appointed Robert J. Humphreys, a Virginia Court of
Appeals judge, to lead the review, which was conducted by 5 DNA experts
from outside Virginia.
The report says there are "no endemic deficiencies that may have
substantially affected the results of low-level DNA cases analyzed by the
laboratory in the past, or that may substantially affect the results of
low-level DNA cases to be analyzed in the future."
The scientists recommended that the lab revamp its written policies in 4
areas to make it clearer what technicians should do in cases similar to
the one in which they found an error.
In a statement, Warner said he will direct the lab to adopt the new
"DNA technology remains a powerful tool for certainty in the world of
criminal justice," Warner said. "This lab has an international reputation
as a leader in fighting crime with this technology, and I think this
review bolsters that reputation."
The scientific review of the lab's procedures did not involve any
retesting of DNA. Rather, the scientists evaluated the data collected by
scientists in the 123 cases and the conclusions the lab's technicians drew
from those data.
The data included all 28 capital cases involving low-level DNA, all 33
cases involving the technician, Jeffrey Ban, who worked on the Washington
case, and 63 other randomly selected cases.
Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N.
Cardozo School of Law, criticized the review as "meaningless" and "nothing
more than a paper shuffle."
Neufeld contended that the audit was flawed because the reviewers relied
on the notes and reports from examiners but didn't conduct new
examinations of evidence. He noted that in Washington's case, an
independent scientist found evidence of another man's involvement.
"In not a single one of these 120 cases did they re-examine a piece of
evidence under a microscope to determine whether the conclusion reached
was the correct result," Neufeld said. "Unless you look at evidence again
. . . how would you know there aren't all sorts of things wrong?"
Neufeld also criticized the auditors for failing to review the court
testimony of examiners to ensure that it was consistent with laboratory
A separate examination of biological samples from criminal cases ordered
by Warner last fall is ongoing, said Ellen Qualls, Warner's spokeswoman.
Evidence from about 30 cases from the 1970s and 1980s is being tested
using current technology.
Friday's report noted concerns with the testing done in a case involving
Leon Winston, who was convicted of killing a husband and wife in Lynchburg
in April 2002. The review found that the technician, who is not named in
the report, drew inappropriate conclusions about whether Winston could be
excluded from the people whose DNA was found on a glove.
But the prosecutor in the case, Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney Bill
Petty, said in an interview that the DNA from the glove was just a small
piece of Winston's conviction. DNA also was found on the grip of the
pistol used in the crime. The review found no problems with that analysis.
"This is the 3rd group of scientists that have agreed that the DNA on the
pistol grip belonged to Leon Winston and nobody else," Petty said. "This
should not have any bearing on the guilt or innocence of Winston. He is
not an innocent person."
Winston remains on death row.
(source: Washington Post)
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