Prosecutors sought to downplay exculpatory evidence at trial of innocent Florida man
An article in today’s Florida Times-Union reveals questionable prosecutorial tactics in the case of Chad Heins, who was exonerated last month after serving 11 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Before Heins was wrongfully convicted in 1996, a Jacksonville prosecutor wrote a letter to the state crime lab asking an expert to downplay evidence indicating that another person may have committed the crime. Hairs found on the bed of the victim, Heins’ sister-in-law, were shown to come from an unknown person. The prosecutor wanted to “minimize” the effect of this evidence at Heins’ trial.
"I need to structure your testimony carefully so as to convince the jury that the unknown hairs are insignificant," Assistant State Attorney Stephen Bledsoe wrote in a letter recently obtained by the Times-Union.
Bledsoe's letter was among thousands of pages of documents examined by Heins' lawyers after a judge allowed re-testing of DNA in the case. Although the attorneys don't believe it affected the outcome of the case, the letter shows a "cavalier disregard for the actual evidence," said Jennifer Greenberg, policy director of the Innocence Project of Florida, which worked for Heins' release.
"It actually made my stomach turn," Greenberg said Tuesday. "This is not a game. This is justice. These are people's lives and they matter and the truth matters."
The analyst who received the letter told the Times Union yesterday that analysts never change their findings based on conversations with attorneys. And Robert Link, one of Heins’ attorneys, said the letter had little impact on Heins’ conviction. His exoneration was based on DNA tests proving that the hairs, as well as semen and fingernail scrapings collected from the victim’s body, came from the same unknown man.
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