Today, the Innocence Project announced that it has filed a petition asking the Florida Supreme Court to order a DNA database search that could prove beyond any doubt whether a Hernando County man on death row, Paul Hildwin, was wrongfully convicted. Hildwin was convicted of murdering Vronzettie Cox, a 42-year-old woman whose body was found in the trunk of her car 25 years ago.
The database search could not only provide proof that Hildwin is innocent, but also identify who actually committed the crime. But the Attorney General’s office has spent more than five years opposing the Innocence Project’s request for a search, even though they have never denied that a database hit to another offender could both prove the innocence of a man on death row and permit the state to prosecute the real killer. In 2003, DNA test results proved that Hildwin was not the man whose semen and saliva were found on key items of evidence in the vehicle of the woman he was convicted of murdering in 1986. The Innocence Project is now seeking to have that same DNA sample searched in the federal DNA databank, known as CODIS, and in Florida’s state database system. In a matter of days, such a search could determine whether the DNA in Hildwin’s case comes from another offender — potentially someone with a history of similar murders — whose profile is contained among the millions now stored in the system.
111 of the 254 DNA exonerations
to date, the real perpetrator has been identified. In many of those 111 cases, DNA evidence in state and federal databases helped investigators find the real perpetrator.