News 12.29.09

Four Years Free

In 1986, three New York men —

John Restivo

,

John Kogut

and

Dennis Halstead

— were wrongfully convicted of killing a 16-year-old girl on Long Island. Their convictions rested on a false confession and faulty scientific evidence, and the men would serve 17 years in prison before DNA testing proved their innocence. Four years ago this week they were finally exonerated.

At the men’s original trials, the prosecution relied heavily on testimony from a hair comparison expert who testified that hairs found in Restivo’s van came from the victim and could not have been deposited in the vehicle while she was alive. According to the analyst, the hairs found in the van displayed “advanced banding,” a condition caused by bacteria eating away at the interior of the hair shaft. This testimony was later discredited.

The Innocence Project and several other attorneys and organizations worked on the cases of the three men. Centurion Ministries, a nonprofit organization based in New Jersey, worked on their cases beginning in 1994. After years of appeals, DNA testing was finally conducted on evidence from the crime scene in 2003, excluding the three men as perpetrators. Their convictions were overturned, but prosecutors sought to retry Kogut. He was acquitted in December 2005, and it was four years ago today that prosecutors dropped charges against Halstead and Restivo.

Faulty forensics, like the hair testimony that contributed to these three wrongful convictions, have been a major cause of wrongful convictions for decades. More than half of DNA exonerations involved

unvalidated or improper forensic science

.

The Innocence Project supports federal forensic reform in the United States to ensure that scientific practices used in criminal cases are scientifically valid.

Learn more about these critical reforms and take action today

.



Other Exoneree Anniversaries This Week


Leonard McSherry

, California (Served 13 Years, Exonerated, 12/28/01)

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