Evidence preservation in Alabama raises more questions about death row case
After years of denying DNA testing to Thomas Arthur, who faces execution for a murder he says he didn’t commit, Alabama’s Attorney General now claims that the evidence in the case is missing. Last week the Innocence Project wrote a letter to Gov. Bob Riley calling on him to intervene with a thorough search and inventory of all the agencies that may have been in possession of the evidence at some time.
The Tuscaloosa News reports that there are individual agencies in Alabama that have procedures and protocols for preserving evidence, filling the gap left by lack of a state law and providing plenty of places to look for evidence in Arthur’s case.
Although Alabama has no criminal statute that specifically addresses the issue, Rules of Appellate Procedure authorized by the state Supreme Court require circuit clerks to keep all evidence used during a trial and an index in the court file indicating where the evidence is stored.
Individual law enforcement agencies also have taken matters into their own hands.
Investigators with the Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit document any pieces of evidence they collect, and document what it is and where it was collected before handing it over to the department's evidence custodian. The custodian enters the evidence into a computer, then prints a bar code and uses it to tag the evidence. Using this system, the custodian is able to find out where a piece of evidence is stored, when it is moved and when it is turned over to the court system.
The Innocence Project maintains that the state Attorney General’s office has not conducted a thorough search for evidence in Arthur’s case. In an affidavit filed several weeks ago, the Attorney General’s office said it started looking for the evidence just six months ago – even though Arthur first requested DNA testing six years ago. The Attorney General’s office made a couple of phone calls to ask agencies if they had the evidence, then deemed it “missing” based on those phone calls. Apparently, no attempt has been made to find documentation of the evidence whereabouts or to access the index described in the Tuscaloosa News’ reporting.
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