New England Exonerees have served a combined 515 years for crimes they did not commit.
|First Name||Last Name||State||Convicted||Exonerated|
Nobody benefits from a wrongful conviction – except the real perpetrator, who remains free to commit additional crimes.
A wrongful conviction not only devastates the innocent person and his or her loved ones; it also harms the criminal justice system and the public good. Police are led away from the real perpetrator, victims are often re-traumatized, public safety is put at risk, public confidence is undermined, and justice is not achieved.
The major causes of wrongful conviction include…
Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States. Over 75 percent of DNA exoneration cases have involved convictions based, at least in part, on mistaken identification evidence. A variety of factors can affect the reliability of an identification, including the circumstances of the witnessed event, individual characteristics of the witness, and the methods used by investigators to obtain the identification. Scientific research has shown that the risk of misidentification can be reduced by using specific identification procedures, such as double-blind, sequential lineups.
Research tells us that human memory is fallible and that simple changes to police procedure can help prevent eyewitness misidentification. While many police departments across New England, including Northampton, Wellesley, and Boston in Massachusetts, have implemented improved identification procedures, such procedures have not been universally adopted by the law enforcement community in the region.
Unvalidated Forensic Science
Although forensic science can be a useful tool, many forensic disciplines apply techniques and methods that have not been scientifically validated. Unvalidated forensic science, such as hair and fiber comparison and bite-mark analysis, has played a role in over 50 percent of convictions later overturned by the use of DNA evidence. Forensic testimony sometimes goes beyond what can be properly inferred from the results of scientific testing. There need to be standards for including forensic testimony at trial.
Exoneration cases in the United States have demonstrated that innocent individuals have confessed to crimes they did not commit. Innocent defendants have made incriminating statements, confessed or plead guilty in approximately 25 percent of DNA exonerations in the United States. Multiple factors can contribute to false confessions, including those affecting the psychology of a suspect (e.g., mental illness, intoxication, and age) and the use of coercive interrogation techniques (e.g., threats or promises of leniency). False confessions usually follow a suspect’s decision during an interrogation that confessing is somehow more beneficial to him than maintaining his innocence. Electronic recording of interrogations reduces the risk of false confessions and increases the reliability of confession evidence.
Video recording an entire interrogation provides the best evidence of all that occurred in the interrogation room. It can effectively resolve disputes about the substance and conditions of the interrogation and discourage false accusations of police misconduct. Although not required by law, many departments across the Commonwealth now record interrogations in cases involving serious offenses.
An informant or snitch testified against the defendant in over 15 percent of convictions later overturned using DNA evidence. Snitches often have incentives to lie on the stand in order to escape prosecution themselves or to receive shorter sentences. Snitch testimony is especially dangerous when such incentives are not disclosed to the jury. It is important to regulate the use of incentivized informants as to minimize the likelihood that these traditionally unreliable witnesses mislead judges and juries.
Police and Prosecutorial Misconduct
While most prosecutors and law enforcement officials are honest and have the best intentions to protect society, the pressure to secure a conviction at times may lead police and prosecutors to act in an inappropriate, unfair, or unlawful manner. This government misconduct can include withholding or fabricating evidence, coercive interrogations by investigators, or suggestive methods used by police to obtain an identification. While police and prosecutorial misconduct is not prevalent in all wrongful convictions, these actions are more likely in high profile cases with a great amount of press coverage. In the case of Kenneth Waters, for example, the Ayer police both fabricated and withheld critical evidence and threatened and coerced witnesses to implicate Kenny, leading to his wrongful conviction. DNA tests proved Kenny’s innocence, and he was exonerated in 2001 by his sister, Betty Anne Waters, with help from the Innocence Project.
Poor Defense Lawyering
Defendants are guaranteed a right to counsel but an ineffective defense attorney can lead to the wrongful conviction of a factually innocence person. Inadequate defense lawyering can include the overall failure to prepare for trial, and more specifically, the failure to investigate the crime and the defendant’s alibi, the failure to investigate identification procedures, the failure to challenge witnesses and experts, or the failure to come to court for hearings or even sleeping during trial. While poor defense lawyering is sometimes the result of lack of effort or incompetence, it can also be the result of an extremely overworked defense attorney.
In working to prevent wrongful convictions, all biological evidence should be preserved after trial and post-conviction DNA testing should be allowed when it might show innocence…
The nation’s DNA exonerations reveal the massive legal obstacles faced by the wrongly convicted trying to prove their innocence, and demonstrate that the traditional appeals process is insufficient. Further, DNA evidence available at the time of the defendant’s trial may never have been tested, or may have been tested with an older method, yielding inexact and unreliable results.
After the system fails and a person is wrongfully convicted, it is imperative to provide immediate services and compensation to the wrongfully convicted
Immediate services upon release and proper monetary compensation can enable a wrongfully convicted person to establish a successful life after prison. Although wrongfully convicted individuals can seek compensation under Massachusetts law by filing a civil suit, the Commonwealth does not provide immediate support funding or services upon release.
- Commonwealth v. Stanley Donald, Supreme Judicial Court No. 11348 (2013)
- United States v. Macdonald, United States Court of Appeals, Fourth District, No. 08-8525
- Commonwealth v. Patterson, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court No. 09478 (2005)
- Commonwealth v. Digiambattista, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court No. 9155 (2004)
- State of Connecticut v. Jveil Outing, Supreme Court of the State of Connecticut, S.C. 17707 (2008)
- Guzman v. Commonwealth, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court No. 10563 (2010)
- State v. Barros, Supreme Court of Rhode Island, No. SU-2008-0292 (2008)
- Commonwealth v. DiCicco, Massachusetts Appeals Court, Middlesex County, No: 2011-P-0699 (2013)
- You can learn more about wrongful convictions by browsing a selection of books and movies related to innocence issues in our NEIP Store.
- June 17th, 2011 Innocence Litigation Training Materials
- June 29th, 2012 Forensic Science/Innocence Litigation Training Materials
- July 12th, 2013 Innocence Training Materials
- Case Submission Guidelines
- DNA Testing
Postconviction DNA Testing: Recommendations for Handling Requests
In 1999, the Department of Justice issued these guidelines. The report was written by judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and victims’ advocates.
Touch DNA: Forensic Collection and Application to Investigations
Post-Conviction DNA Legislation: DNA Access Laws
Post-Conviction DNA Legislation: DNA Preservation Laws
Read more about DNA Testing
Access materials about DNA Testing from our June 17th, 2011 Innocence Litigation Training
Access materials about DNA Mixtures and Contamination from our June 29th, 2012 Forensic Science/Innocence Litigation training.
- Jailhouse Snitches
Report of the Kaufman Commission on Proceedings Involving Guy Paul Morin
Read more about Snitch Testimony
- Mistaken Eyewitness Identification
Sequential v. Simultaneous Photo Lineup Methods
Eyewitness Identification: Is Reform in Sight? A Massachusetts Perspective
1999 NIJ Report, Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide of Law Enforcement
NJ AG Guidelines for Preparing and Conducting Photo and Live Lineup Identification Procedures
Eyewitness ID article by Wellesley Deputy Chief Brooks
MMCC Best Practices
In 2010 the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs issued best practices for eyewitness identification procedures and the recording of suspect interviews.
Report of the Governor’s Commission on Capital Punishment
Issued in 2002 providing 85 specific recommendations, including recommendations to require videotaping of interrogations in capital cases, to review police procedures for obtaining eyewitness identifications, and to intensify the scrutiny of the testimony of in-custody informants.
Read more about Mistaken Eyewitness Identification
Access more materials about Mistaken Eyewitness Identification
- Improving the Criminal Justice System
Boston Bar Association-Getting It Right
A task force composed of prosecutors, defense attorneys, public safety officials and NEIP leaders issued this report in December of 2009 to address both the problems leading to wrongful convictions and recommendations for improving accuracy and reliability in Massachusetts’ criminal justice system.
Boston Magazine-The Apologist
New England Innocence Project Board Member David Meier was profiled by Boston Magazine for his work re-examining cases during his time as an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County and as the chief of the homicide unit in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.
- NAS Report
National Academy of Sciences Report by Judge Nancy Gertner (retired)
Using the NAS Report as a Criminal Defense Tool in FL
See page 33 under “Successful Appeal”, the only case is US v. Hebshie
- American Bar Association’s Pro Bono and Public Service Committee
- Centurion Ministries (CM)
- Death Penalty Information Center
- Justice Denied
- National Institute of Justice (NIJ)
- National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA)
- The Constitution Project
- National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)
- Truth In Justice Foundation
Boston Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service
16 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108
The Lawyer Referral Service will make referrals to lawyers through the Greater Boston area for both civil and criminal cases.
Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service
20 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
The Lawyer Referral Service will make referrals to lawyers throughout the state of Massachusetts for both criminal and civil cases.
Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP)
99 Chauncy Street
Boston, MA 02111
Through the volunteer lawyers project, private attorneys contribute their services to eligible clients at no cost.
Greater Boston Legal Services
197 Friend Street
Boston, MA 02114
This legal service program provides free legal services to low income people in civil cases only.
Legal Advocacy and Resource Center
Telephone assistance only. (617) 742-9179
Prisoners’ Legal Services
8 Winter Street
Boston, MA 02108
Prisoners’ Legal Services provides civil legal services to individuals in Massachusetts prisons. The four areas they focus on are: health and mental health care, guard-on-prisoner violence, physical conditions of confinement, and segregation and isolation.
Committee for Public Counsel Services
44 Bromfield Street
Boston, MA 02108
A fifteen-member body established by Chapter 211D of the Massachusetts General Laws to oversee the provision of legal representation to indigent persons in the Commonwealth. Most of the legal representation in nearly 300,000 cases annually is provided by approximately 2,400 private attorneys appointed by various courts.
Shelter Legal Services
885 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02459
Shelter Legal Services provides legal advice and representation to homeless and low-income members of the Boston community.
American Bar Association’s Pro Bono and Public Service Committee
Legal Help for the Poor and state by state listing of Pro Bono Programs
Centurion Ministries (CM)
CM is a non-profit organization headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey with a full-time paid staff of five employees, including an investigator in Seattle. The primary mission of Centurion Ministries is to vindicate and free from prison those who are completely innocent of the crimes for which they have been unjustly convicted and imprisoned for life or death.
The magazine for the wrongly convicted.
National Institute of Justice (NIJ)
NIJ is the research, development, and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice and is dedicated to researching crime control and justice issues. NIJ provides objective, independent, evidence-based knowledge and tools to meet the challenges of crime and justice, particularly at the State and local levels.
National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA)
NLADA is the nation’s leading advocate for front-line attorneys and other equal justice professionals – those who make a difference in the lives of low-income clients and their families and communities. Representing legal aid and defender programs, as well as individual advocates, NLADA is proud to be the oldest and largest national, nonprofit membership association devoting 100 percent of its resources to serving the broad equal justice community.
The Constitution Project
The Constitution Project is a bipartisan nonprofit organization that seeks consensus on controversial legal and constitutional issues through a unique combination of scholarship and activism.
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)
The (NACDL) is the preeminent organization in the United States advancing the mission of the nation’s criminal defense lawyers to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or other misconduct. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL’s more than 10,000 direct members — and 79 state and local affiliate organizations with another 28,000 members — include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, active U.S. military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness within America’s criminal justice system.
Truth In Justice Foundation
A non-profit organization working to free wholly innocent men and women convicted of crimes they did not commit, and to prevent wrongful convictions by educating the public regarding the vulnerabilities in the U. S. criminal justice system that make these miscarriages possible.
The use of genetic tests in forensics goes back a century to the discovery of blood typing. But it wasn’t until the development of the first DNA fingerprinting techniques by Alec Jeffreys in 1984, followed by the development of PCR based methods, that such testing began to show its full potential. As these techniques became more widespread, research in the 1990s and 2000s improved on them significantly, extending the boundaries of their application to situations unimaginable only a few decades earlier.
Click here to access reports and guides about DNA testing
Click here to access materials about DNA testing from the June 17, 2011 Innocence Litigation Training
Click here to access materials about DNA Mixtures and Contamination from the June 29, 2012 Forensic Science/Innocence Litigation Training.
The timeline below lists some of the most important technologies by the year of their first application in criminal forensics. For many of them, it was a number of years after their introduction before their use became widespread. Click on any item below to see a more detailed description.
Before DNA: Blood Typing
In 1901, Karl Landsteiner discovered that blood from different people could be grouped into several types. When a blood transfusion was performed between people of different types, the red blood cells were quickly destroyed. But when a transfusion was performed between people of the same blood type, the donor cells would survive. The modern-day A-B-O blood typing system was born, enabling the first successful blood transfusions, and earning Landsteiner the Nobel Prize in 1930.
The discovery of blood typing had important implications in forensics as well as in medicine. In 1916, in the first case to rely on the new technology (see the section below), Leone Lattes applied a technique he had developed to identify the blood type of dried blood. For the first time, it was possible to know definitively that a given sample of blood could not have come from a specific person.
Blood typing was an extraordinarily useful forensic tool, and the technology underwent several improvements in the decades following its discovery. Additional typing methods besides the original A and B markers were discovered that allowed for further subtyping. Particularly important were the Rh factor (which most of us know as the + or – in our blood types) and the Barr body (present in females but not males – allowing for the determination of gender from a blood source). However, blood typing suffered from a number of shortcomings. (1) Many people share the same blood type, making high confidence matches difficult or impossible. (2) Blood typing required a bodily fluid or its residue, and so in cases with small amounts of material, non-fluid biological materials (such as hair or skin), or sample degradation, typing was impossible. Because of this, DNA based tests would come to replace blood typing as a forensic tool.
Case Example: A Bloody Nose or a Murderer?
When Leone Lattes, a professor at Italy’s University of Torino, developed a test for typing dried blood, he received immediate requests to apply his services. In one of the first cases, a man was accused of committing a murder. Among the evidence against him were a large number of blood stains found on his overcoat. The man claimed these stains were the result of a bloody nose, but the police suspected that they came from the victim. When Lattes tested the blood, he found that the victim had blood type O, while the blood on the overcoat was type A (the same as the suspect). This supported the suspect’s story and caused the police to change the focus of their investigation.
To read more about this case and others, consult Latte’s article: “Two Practical Cases of Individual Diagnosis of Human Blood,” which can be found in the following collection from the NCJRS (note: this is a very large PDF file).
RFLP: The First DNA Fingerprinting
In 1984, Alec Jeffreys developed the first DNA test capable of separating individuals, based on a technique called RFLP (Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism). Together with Peter Gill, who was developing techniques for recovering DNA from blood stains and from semen collected after a rape, he subsequently demonstrated that RFLP could be applied successfully in a forensic setting. The RFLP method would go on to become the nearly universal DNA forensic tool until it was eventually overtaken by STR based methods in the 1990s.
The RFLP technique begins by using molecules called Restriction Enzymes to cut up DNA into specific pieces. While different versions of the technique exist, the most common version relies on special regions in the genome, called VNTRs (Variable Number Tandem Repeats). These regions are parts of the genome that have short DNA sequences repeated different numbers of times in different people. The special property that makes them ideal for use in a DNA test is their high variability. While one person might have a region containing 10 copies of a repeated sequence, another person might have 20 copies of the repeat, and another might have 25 copies. A number of independent VNTR regions exist in the genome, and the RFLP technique provided a way to measure the length of many of these regions in the same experiment (important in a forensic situation where material is often scarce). While two individuals might share the same length profiles for some of these regions, the chance of them sharing the same lengths at all of them is exceptionally small.
RFLP was a significant improvement over blood typing. Unlike blood typing, the technique could produce very high-confidence matches (the chance of an accidental match was less than one in a billion, and was subsequently made even smaller). And it was also applicable to older samples that had undergone too much degradation for blood typing to work. However, there were still a number of limitations that would be improved upon by later techniques. (1) A large amount of starting material was required for the technique. (2) When DNA in a sample degrades, it breaks up into progressively smaller pieces. The sizes of the sections of DNA measured in RFLP were relatively large, so if DNA was too degraded, the test couldn’t be performed. (3) There was some subjective interpretation required in examining the results that could result in different labs reporting different answers. The STR based method that came to replace RFLP offered significant improvements over all of these shortcomings.
Case Example: DNA’s First Exoneration
The first application of DNA fingerprinting in a criminal case turned out to be a powerful portent of the revolutionary role DNA would play in exonerating the innocent. In 1986, police were investigating the rape and murder of two girls, Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth. The police had a 17-year-old man, Richard Buckland, in custody. Buckland, who suffered from learning disabilities, had confessed to the murder of Dawn Ashworth after police questioning. But he denied murdering Lynda Mann. The police hoped to use DNA to link Buckland to the Mann murder. They called in Jeffreys and Gill to perform a test to match semen from the crime scenes to Buckland.
When the test results came in, they revealed that the same man had murdered both girls, but this man was not Buckland. Buckland had given a false confession and the real killer was still at large. Out of leads, the police ran a DNA screen of 4,000 men – nearly every young adult male in the village. The guilty man still didn’t turn up in the screen and the case was about to run cold, when a man from the village revealed an interesting story. A friend of his named Colin Pitchfork had paid the villager to take the DNA test for him. Pitchfork was subsequently arrested and proven to be the killer of both girls. Jeffreys’ test had both freed an innocent man and found the real murderer.
A detailed description of this case can be found on Qiagen’s website here.
PCR, STRs and the Onset of Modern DNA Testing
In 1983, Kary Mullis developed what was to become one of the most transformational techniques in modern science. Named PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction), the technique would come to revolutionize the way biology, and along with it forensic DNA testing, was done. PCR allows any desired region of DNA to be amplified, turning trace amounts of starting DNA into amounts large enough for testing. At a basic level, PCR works by taking advantage of the DNA-copying machinery used by natural organisms. By using short DNA molecules that match a particular region, called PCR primers, a laboratory investigator can force this copying machinery to only copy that specific region. By repeating the procedure, the number of copies of the region can be repeatedly doubled, resulting in an exponential increase in copies of the desired DNA.
PCR was originally applied to DNA testing in the late 1980s, around the same time that Jeffreys’ RFLP technique was first developed. At first, PCR based testing involved examining a region of DNA called the HLA locus that is involved in immune function and is highly variable between people. However, this test couldn’t offer the level of specificity that the RFLP technique provided and, consequently, was only used in situations when RFLP didn’t work. A few years later, in the early 1990s, a technique was developed to use PCR on regions called STRs (Short Tandem Repeats). These are regions in the genome with repeated sequences, similar to the repeated regions used in the RFLP method, but significantly smaller. With this advance, PCR became superior to RFLP, and soon replaced it in most crime labs. Today, the use of PCR on STRs is the standard forensic DNA test in most countries, and data from this test forms the basis for CODIS, the FBI’s DNA database.
PCR has two main advantages over the earlier techniques. (1) PCR can be used to amplify even miniscule amounts of starting material, so even trace evidence left behind can often yield results. (2) The STR regions used in modern PCR testing are significantly shorter than those used in RFLP. Therefore, the PCR technique will frequently work even when the DNA is too degraded to be used in RFLP. Many of the modern advances in DNA testing have worked to push for even greater improvement in these two categories.
Case Example: Ronald Jones
In 1985, a woman was grabbed by a man known as “Bumpy,” who asked her for change to buy a drink. Later that day, she was found dead, and semen was found on her, indicating that she had been raped. Friends of the victim testified that Ronald Jones was “Bumpy,” the man who had grabbed the victim earlier that day. Both blood typing and DNA testing were attempted on the semen found on the victim. The blood typing results were presented as evidence of a possible match, though the test was flawed because the semen was mixed with the victim’s own cells, which prevented an accurate typing. An RFLP DNA test could not offer conclusive results. Jones was convicted in 1989 and sentenced to death. After years of appeals, in 1997 permission was granted to apply PCR based DNA testing to reanalyze the sample. This time the test was conclusive: there was no match between Jones and the semen found on the victim. Jones was finally freed in 1999 after 10 years in prison.
More information on Jones’ case can be found on the Innocence Project website.
Y Chromosome Based Tests
While the traditional STR based methodology is still the most common technique in use today, there are situations when specialized techniques are needed. One such technique is Y chromosome testing. In forensics, the most common use of this method is in rape cases. The biological samples recovered after a rape are a complex mix of cells from both the victim and the rapist. In order to get a clean DNA profile from the perpetrator alone, it is necessary to separate this mix. A standard technique in these situations is to use a chemical that digests most cells but has no effect on sperm cells. However, in some cases, such as when the rapist has had a vasectomy, or when very little sperm can be recovered, this isn’t possible. In the case of a female rape victim, a Y chromosome test can then be used. Because women lack the Y chromosome, the results of the test will only reflect the male DNA in the sample.
Y Chromosome based tests are very similar to normal STR tests (again short regions with repeats that vary highly between individuals are used). However, the Y chromosome based tests offer a greater challenge in interpretation. This is because the DNA profile generated for a male by such a test will be identical to his father’s profile (except in the case of a mutation in a single generation, which is relatively rare). This is different from the traditional STR test, where 50% of the DNA tested comes from the mother and 50% from the father, producing a unique profile in every individual. Because of this, it can be difficult or impossible to differentiate between close male relatives. Therefore, Y chromosome tests are usually only used when DNA cannot be recovered using traditional STR methods.
Case Example: Exoneration from an Old Sample
In 1981, a woman was raped in her apartment in Dallas by an unknown man. The woman only saw part of the man’s face briefly during the attack, but when presented with a photo lineup, she identified Charles Chatman as her rapist. A blood type test revealed that the rapist had type O blood, the same as Chatman’s (as well as 40% of the African American population). Chatman was found guilty and sentenced to 99 years in prison. In 2004, after spending 23 years in jail, he was granted a DNA test. Unfortunately, the test was unsuccessful and couldn’t produce a conclusive result. The Innocence Project of Texas then requested that a Y-STR test be conducted. This test proved that Chatman wasn’t the rapist, and he was released from prison in 2008.
More information on Chatman’s case can be found on the Innocence Project website.
Mitochondrial Based Tests
Similar to Y chromosome based tests, testing based on mitochondrial DNA can be used in situations when traditional STR testing isn’t possible. Mitochondria are specialized compartments in our cells that produce the cells’ energy. They have their own DNA, separate from the 23 pairs of chromosomes in the nuclear genome. This DNA is passed directly from a mother to her children (both male and female) with no contribution from the father.
Mitochondrial based tests differ somewhat from the standard STR method, but are similar in principle. Typically, PCR is used to amplify two regions of the mitochondrial DNA that are highly variable between people. Samples are then matched by comparing the sequence in these two regions. The advantage of mitochondrial DNA is that it typically lasts longer than nuclear DNA. Most cells have hundreds or even thousands of copies of mitochondrial DNA (and only two copies of nuclear DNA), so the chance that some of the mitochondrial DNA will survive degradation is much higher.
The challenges of mitochondrial based tests are similar to those utilizing the Y chromosome. Because all of us get our mitochondrial DNA entirely from our mother, maternally related family members will have identical or nearly identical mitochondrial DNA. This makes distinguishing between individuals based on mitochondrial DNA more difficult and the level of certainty from a “match” far lower than under standard testing.
Case Example: A Hair but No Root
In 1996, there were a series of rapes in Indiana, and police suspected that a serial rapist was on the loose. Richard Alexander became a suspect and was arrested by the police. While one of the rape victims and her fiancé testified that Alexander was the woman’s rapist, there were a number of pieces of contradictory evidence. Even after Alexander was put in prison, a number of rapes occurred, in which Alexander could not possibly have been the perpetrator. However, in one of these rapes, Alexander’s photograph was accidentally shown in a photo array, and the victim identified him as her rapist.
Then in 2001, a man named Michael Murphy confessed to one of the rapes for which Alexander had been convicted. Hair samples had been collected from this rape, but it wasn’t possible to extract a DNA profile at the time. In the five years since Alexander’s conviction, the development of mitochondrial based tests had changed this. While a DNA profile cannot be recovered from hairs without roots using standard STR based methods, it can frequently be recovered using a mitochondrial based test. After Murphy’s confession, the hairs were tested. They were found to match Murphy and not Alexander. After five years in prison, Alexander was released at the end of 2001.
More information on Alexander’s case can be found on the Innocence Project website.
Non-Human DNA Forensics
The use of DNA testing is not limited to humans, and in recent years many of the forensic tests developed for people have been adapted to a number of other animals and even plants. These techniques have been applied in a number of criminal cases, particularly where pet material has been left behind at a crime scene. While most of the techniques are similar to those used for humans, the methodologies are less developed in most cases. Commercial tests are only available for a small number of animal species, and largely haven’t been standardized as they have for humans.
Case Example: Snowball
In 1994, in Prince Edward Island, Canada, a 32-year-old woman disappeared from her home. Weeks later, a man’s jacket was found in the woods near her house. The jacket contained stains of the woman’s blood along with hairs identified to be from a domestic cat. By 1995, the woman’s body had been found and a suspect in the case had emerged: the woman’s estranged husband. The man lived with a pet cat, Snowball, whose hair color matched the cat hairs found in the bloody jacket. An STR based DNA test was performed on the cat hairs from the jacket and on a sample taken from Snowball, and was found to be a match. This evidence helped link the husband to the crime, and he was convicted in 1996 of second degree murder.
A more detailed description of this case can be found in the follow article: Marilyn A. Menotti-Raymond, Victor A. David & Stephen J. O’Brien, Pet cat hair implicates murder suspect, 386 Nature 774 (1997). The following is a link to the article (note: may require a subscription to access).
Modern DNA Testing and the Future of DNA Forensics
While many of the techniques used today were developed in the 1990s, some (such as Y chromosome tests) weren’t in widespread use until well into the 2000s. More recent developments in DNA testing have focused on a number of areas. These include: (1) The recovery of DNA from increasingly trace amounts of biological evidence. For example, DNA can now frequently be recovered from a small number of skin cells left behind when someone touches an object. (2) Recovery of DNA from degraded samples. Tests based on alternative regions, such as Mini-STRs, have been developed and are starting to gain use. In these tests, the DNA examined is smaller than that used in standard STR tests, allowing for the use of more highly degraded DNA.
One of the critical lessons that has emerged over the history of DNA testing is the importance of retaining biological samples, even when they don’t provide useful results at the time of the investigation. In many cases, a conviction was overturned only when a new technique was developed that allowed for testing of a saved sample. In untold numbers of other cases, an innocent person has remained in prison because potentially exculpatory evidence was lost.
The future is likely to bring a number of important developments in DNA testing. Improvements are likely to continue in the recovery of trace and degraded evidence. Additionally, there will be a continued extension of forensic tests to non-human DNA evidence, including animal, plant, and microbial DNA. The future will also bring about new possibilities fraught with important legal and societal implications. Among these will be the use of DNA from a crime scene to create a physical profile of a suspect. Currently, this is far too difficult for all but the broadest of characteristics, but in the coming decades it will likely become increasingly practical.
Alaska Innocence Project
P.O. Box 201656
Anchorage, AK 99520-1656
Arizona Justice Project
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
PO BOX 877906
Tempe, AZ 99520-1656
Northern Arizona Justice Project
Robert Schehr, Chair
Department of Criminal Justice
Northern Arizona University
P.O. Box 15005
Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5005
Innocence Project Arkansas
School of Law Legal Clinic
Robert A. Leflar Law Center
1 University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701
California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University
500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95053-0422
University of California – Irvine
(not a project, but a resource)
Department of Criminology, Law & Society
University of California
Irvine, CA 92697-7080
Colorado Innocence Project
370 17th Street
Denver, CO 80202
Connecticut Innocence Project
c/o McCarter & English
185 Asylum Street, 36th Floor
Hartford, CT 06103
Office of the Public Defender
Carvel State Building
820 French Street, 3rd Floor
Wilimington, DE 19801
Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project
4801 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
Innocence Project of Florida
1100 E. Park Ave.
Tallahassee, FL 32301
Georgia Innocence Project
752 1/2 North Highland Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30306
Hawaii Innocence Project
Hawaii Innocence Project
Attention: Prof. Hench
Univesity of Hawaii School of Law
2515 Dole Street
Honolulu, HI 96822
Idaho Innocence Project
Mail Stop 1515
Boise State University
1910 University Drive
Boise, ID 83725-1515
Center on Wrongful Convictions
Northwestern University School of Law
357 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
Medill Innocence Project
1845 N. Sheridan Ave.
Evanston, IL 60208
Illinois Innocence Project
Institute for Legal and Policy Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield
One University Plaza
MS Public Affairs Center 451
Springfield, IL 62703-5407
Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis
Clinic, Wrongful Convictions Component
735 West New York Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202
Innocence Project of Iowa
19 S. 7th St.
Estherville, Iowa 51334
University of Kentucky Innocence Project
630 College of Law
Lexington, KY 40506-0048
Kentucky Innocence Project
100 Fair Oaks Lane
Frankfort, KY 40601
Innocence Project New Orleans
3301 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70117
Phone: (504) 943-1902
Maryland Office of the Public Defender Innocence Project
Office of the Public Defender for the State of Maryland
201 East Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
New England Innocence Project
160 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02116
Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program
44 Bromfield Street
Boston, MA 02108
Thomas M. Cooley Innocence Project
300 S. Capitol Ave. P.O. Box 13038
Lansing, MI 48901
Michigan Innocence Clinic
1029 Legal Research Building
625 State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Innocence Project of Minnesota
Hamline University School of Law
1536 Hewitt Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55104
Mississippi Innocence Project
University of Mississippi School of Law
P.O. Box 1848
University, MS 38677
Midwestern Innocence Project
6320 Brookside Plaza #1500
Kansas City, MO 64113
Montana Innocence Project
P.O. Box 8484
Missoula, MT 59802
Nebraska Innocence Project
P.O. Box 24183
Omaha, NE 68124-0183
221 Witherspoon Street
Princeton, NJ 08542
New Mexico Innocence and Justice Project
University of New Mexico School of Law
1117 Stanford NE
Albuquerque, NM 87131
Innocence Project at Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School – Yeshiva University
40 Worth St., Suite 701
New York, NY 10013
Second Look Program
Brooklyn Law School
250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Pace Post-Conviction Project
Barbara C. Salken Criminal Justice Clinic
78 North Broadway, Room G210
White Plains, NY 10603
Office of the Appellate Defender
11 Park Place, Suite 1601
New York, NY 10007
The Exoneration Initiative
350 Broadway, Suite 1207
New York, NY 10013
The Duke Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility
Duke University School of Law
210 Science Drive
P.O. Box 90360
Durham, NC 27708
North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence
PO Box 52446
Shannon Plaza Station
Durham, NC 27717
Wake Forest University Law School and Innocence and Justice Clinic
1834 Wake Forest Road
Winston-Salem, NC 27109
Ohio Innocence Project
University of Cincinnati College of Law
P.O. Box 210040
Cincinnatti, OH 45221
Office of the Ohio Public Defender, Wrongful Conviction Project
250 East Broad Street
Columbus, OH 43215
Oklahoma Indigent Defense System – DNA Forensic Testing Program
P.O. Box 926
Norman, OK 73070
Oklahoma Innocence Project
Oklahoma City University School of Law
2501 N. Blackwelder
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73106
Duquesne Law Post-Conviction DNA Project
600 Forbes Avenue, 632 Fisher Hall
Pittsburgh, PA 15282
The Innocence Institute of Western Pennsylvania
c/o Point Park College Department of Journalism and Mass Communications
201 Wood Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222-1984
Pennsylvania Innocence Project
Temple University Beasley School of Law
1719 North Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
Palmetto Innocence Project
P.O. Box 11623
Columbia, SC 29211
Innocence Project of Texas
1511 Texas Avenue
Lubbock, TX 79401
Texas Center for Actual Innocence
University of Texas School of Law
727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
Thurgood Marshall School of Law Innocence Project
3100 Cleburne Street
Houston, TX 77004
Wesleyan Innocence Project
Texas Wesleyan Univesity School of Law
1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX 76102
Rocky Mountain Innocence Center
358 South 700 East, B235
Salt Lake City, UT 84103
Innocence Project Northwest
University of Washington
William H. Gates Hall, Suite 265
P.O. Box 85110
Seattle, WA 98145-1110
West Virginia Innocence Project
West Virginia University College of Law
P.O. Box 6130
Morgantown, WV 26506
Wisconsin Innocence Project
University of Wisconsin Law School
Madison, WI 53706