Virginia pauses massive DNA review to wait for federal funds
The state of Virginia is seeking a $4.5 million federal grant to continue an unprecedented systematic review of DNA evidence in hundreds of convictions. The project, ordered over two years ago by then-Governor Mark Warner, has halted temporarily after spending $1.4 million in state funds.
The process has its roots in the 2002 exoneration of Innocence Project client
. After officials declared that evidence in Anderson’s case had been destroyed, samples of evidence were found preserved in the notebook of a lab technician, along with samples from hundreds of other cases. After DNA testing on this evidence led to the exonerations of Anderson and two other men (
Julius Earl Ruffin
in 2003 and
Arthur Lee Whitfield
in 2004), the Innocence Project urged officials to conduct a broader review of cases. Gov. Warner ordered a review of a 10 percent sample of the 300-plus cases in which the technician had saved evidence. Two more men (
) were proven innocent by this review and Gov. Warner ordered a systematic review of all convictions with biological evidence.
The review came under fire last year for not moving quickly enough because testing had not been completed on even 30 cases. The Washington Post now reports that lab workers have gone through 534,000 case files and sent thousands of relevant samples for testing.
The review has identified more than 2,100 files that contain forensic evidence with named suspects. The state has sent hundreds of samples to a private Fairfax County lab, Bode Technology Group, for testing.
Virginia’s lab director Peter. M. Marone said the testing will continue with state funds if the grant doesn’t come through.
"We're just trying to make sure we'll expend federal grant money rather than state money," he said.
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The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project is monitoring the case review and has raised questions about why the state is not notifying defendants when testing is being conducted in their cases. Read more on the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project blog (http://www.exonerate.org/category/blog)
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