Barry Laughman was wrongfully convicted of raping and murdering his neighbor in 1988. After serving 16 years of his sentence, DNA testing on vaginal swabs proved that Laughman had not committed the rape and murder. Though he was released in November 2003, he was finally exonerated on August 26, 2004.
On August 13, 1987, the victim was found dead in her home. She had been raped and suffocated with pills that had been forced down her throat. Police were initially looking for a stranger that was seen walking through back yards in the area that day. However, the police focused on 24-year-old Barry Laughman, a neighbor whose pinkie finger couldn’t bend properly. Police suspected that this injury could have been sustained during the commission of the crime.
Laughman had an IQ of 70 and was said to be functioning at the level of a 10-year-old. Several weeks after the crime, police told Laughman that his fingerprints were found at the scene. He then confessed to the police. There were numerous discrepancies between the crime scene and his confession, such as his explanation of his point of entry conflicting with a seemingly undisturbed window at the scene. He also stated that he had killed the victim on August 12, but a neighbor reported seeing her in her yard on the morning of August 13.
The Biological Evidence
The Pennsylvania State Police conducted serology testing on semen found on the victim’s vaginal swabs and found evidence of Type A blood, either from the victim or the perpetrator. The victim was a type A secretor and Laughman is a type B secretor. The police chemist testified correctly at trial that the victim’s profile could have masked Laughman’s profile. The analyst testified incorrectly, however, that bacterial degradation could have changed type A blood to type B or vice versa.
PCR/DQ Alpha DNA testing was attempted in 1993 by Cellmark Diagnostics on the vaginal swabs collected from the victim but results were inconclusive. David J. Foster, of Costopoulos, Foster & Fields, represented Laughman. By 2003, the samples were thought to have been lost, but were then discovered to be in the possession of a former Penn State professor residing in Germany. In November 2003, Orchid Cellmark performed Y-STR DNA testing and reported that Laughman had been excluded. He was released from prison under supervised house arrest, but the district attorney still planned to press charges. On August 26, 2004, however, Adams County District Attorney Shawn C. Wagner dropped all charges against Laughman.
Charge: Murder, Rape, Robbery, Burglary
Conviction: Murder, Rape, Robbery, Burglary
Incident Date: 08/12/1987
Conviction Date: 12/16/1988
Exoneration Date: 08/26/2004
Accused Pleaded Guilty: No
Contributing Causes of Conviction: False Confessions or Admissions, Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science
Death Penalty Case: No
Race of Defendant: Caucasian
Race of Victim: Caucasian
Status: Exonerated by DNA
Alternative Perpetrator Identified: No
Type of Crime: Homicide-related, Sex Crimes
Forensic Science at Issue: Flawed Serology