Thomas Clyde Bowling was sentenced to death in January 1991 for the killings of a husband and wife in Lexington Kentucky. He admitted that his car was used in the shooting deaths but always maintained his innocence saying he was too drunk to carry out the crime and that another man wore his jacket and drove his car to commit the murders. Bowling said that a local family killed the couple after an argument.
Yesterday, the Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments about the extent of the State’s law allowing for post-conviction DNA testing on evidence and if the statute permits multiple tests on one case. Brett Barrouquere wrote in the Lexington Herald-Leader that Bowling’s case at the Supreme Court is the first time Kentucky’s post-conviction DNA testing law has been questioned since the law passed seven years ago.
DNA testing in Bowling’s case found genetic material from multiple people on a jacket identified as having been worn by the shooter. A circuit judge turned away a call for further testing on the jacket and his car, saying the evidence was contaminated and the law didn’t allow for more tests.
Bowling’s attorney, public defender Jamesa Drake, said further testing would probably produce results that would have affected the outcome of Bowling’s trial. The evidence linking Bowling to the shootings is circumstantial, so DNA pointing to someone else is valuable and could warrant a new trial, Drake said.
“To this day, the commonwealth has never proven Mr. Bowling even knew the victims, much less killed them,” Drake said.
Justice Wil Schroeder seemed skeptical of Drake’s claims, noting that Bowling lived with the people he’s citing as alternate suspects. That relationship makes it likely the DNA of those people is on his jacket and in his car, which has never been DNA tested.
“What’s this going to show?” Schroeder asked. “It’s highly possible somebody else picked up the jacket and wore it.”
Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson noted that DNA testing produced a three-point match, while a five-point match is generally considered acceptable. The low number of matches is likely to make any test results useless, Abramson said.
“I don’t see why in the world additional testing is going to matter,” Abramson said. “There’s no reason to go any further.”
While it is yet to be determined if the outcome of the case would be different if this testing is granted, the law states that a person convicted and sentenced to death for a capital offense is permitted to petition the court for post-conviction DNA testing at any time.
Bowling is not the first man on death row to request post-conviction testing, but no one before him has had their conviction overturned.