News 08.28.07

Critics say Virginia DNA testing project is moving slowly

Two years ago, Viriginia officials said they would begin to test crime scene evidence in hundreds of cases that may have been wrongful convictions, and now critics say the state’s crime lab is moving too slowly in completing the task.

The process has its roots in the 2002 exoneration of Innocence Project client

Marvin Anderson

. After officials declared that evidence in Anderson’s case had been destroyed, samples of evidence were found preserved in the notebook of a lab technician, along with samples from hundreds of other cases. After DNA testing on this evidence led to the exonerations of Anderson and two other men (

Julius Earl Ruffin

in 2003 and

Arthur Lee Whitfield

in 2004), the Innocence Project urged officials to conduct a broader review of cases. Then-Governor Mark Warner ordered a review of a 10 percent sample of the 300-plus cases in which the technician had saved evidence. Two more men (

Phillip Thurman

and

Willie Davidson

) were proven innocent by this review.

Based on these results, Warner ordered a systematic review of all Virginia convictions in which biological evidence led to convictions, and officials said the project would take two years. However, two years into the $1.4-million project, testing has not been completed on even the first 30 remaining cases. Critics have accused lab officials of dragging their feet:

Betty Layne DesPortes, an area defense lawyer and member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, isn't satisfied. "They didn't complete four cases, so we really don't know the magnitude of the problem. . . . They left over 10 percent of these cases incomplete."

"Why haven't they done it already? They have no sense of urgency or commitment to this project," she said.

But crime lab director Peter Marone said the undertaking has grown since inception. His department has searched over 500,000 files for potential evidence so far, he claimed.

"I do not see how this is foot-dragging," Marone wrote in an e-mail. "This is not an easy process on 20-to-30-year-old cases."


Read the full story here

. (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 08/28/2007)

Read more about the cases of

Anderson

,

Ruffin

,

Whitfield

,

Thurman

and

Davidson

.

Watch a

video interview with Marvin Anderson

.

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