Judge Orders DNA Testing in Case of Ohio Death Row Inmate
On Thursday, the
Akron Beacon Journal
reported that Portage County Common Pleas Judge John Enlow ruled that evidence should be re-tested for DNA in the case of Tyrone Noling, who is on death row for the double murder of an elderly Ohio couple. Noling’s attorneys argue that DNA testing of a cigarette butt found near the crime scene could point to the actual perpetrator, proving that Noling was wrongfully convicted more than 15 years ago. Two previous requests for a new round of testing were denied by the Portage County Common Pleas Court.
In 1990, Bearnhardt and Cora Hartig were found dead on the kitchen floor of their home in Atwater Township, Ohio. They were both shot in the head. Although no physical evidence or witnesses linked Noling to the crime, he was convicted and sentenced to death in prison in 1996. The conviction was based partially on Noling’s minor criminal history and also on the false confessions of three co-defendants who implicated him in the murders. Those men have since recanted their confessions.
A cigarette found near the Hartig home after the double-murder was tested for DNA in 1996. While results excluded Noling and his co-defendants, new technology would have the capacity to point to an actual perpetrator, assuming that the guilty individual’s DNA is in the CODIS database.
Given these new developments, in January of this year, Carrie Wood of the Ohio Innocence Project requested advanced DNA testing of the cigarette butt based on a 2010 law enacted in Ohio that allows for retesting of biological evidence if defendants can show that advances in DNA testing could disclose new evidence. Judge Enlow’s ruling earlier this week is a slight victory for Noling. It says that the cigarette butt must be re-tested. On the judge’s orders, however, tests will be performed by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, a concern for Noling’s attorneys. They had requested that the tests be performed by Orchid Cellmark, described by the Journal as “one of the oldest and most experienced DNA labs in the nation,” and “the lab used in the process that led to Clarence Elkins winning his freedom after he was wrongly convicted in a 1998 Summit County murder case.”
According to the
: “Wood told Enlow that Cellmark has the most sophisticated equipment in the nation, and that if the defense has only one chance to test the cigarette butt, ‘we should do it thoroughly and we should do it correctly.’ ” Wood is concerned that Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation may find only a trace amount of DNA on the cigarette butt.
“What we want is the best chance to get a result and find the perpetrator’s DNA,” Wood told the Journal. “Unfortunately, the court’s order today doesn’t do that. While it moves the case forward, it doesn’t get the most advanced information.
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