February 20, 2008
Vittorio Hernandez- AHN News Writer
Carrollton, TX (AHN) - DNA testing is proving to be a potent tool to free innocent prisoners. Across the U.S., lawyers, prosecutors and law students are going through old files in an attempt to uncover wrongful convictions that could still be overturned by DNA tests.
Texas, New York and Illinois lead the states in exonerating convicts through the aid of modern technology. Dallas County has the highest number of exonerations with its 15th on Jan. 3. That day Charles Chatman was released from a 99-year sentence for sexual assault. He had spent the last 27 years behind bars.
Chatman was under a 4-year probation for a 1978 burglary when he was identified in a police lineup as the rapist of a woman from the same neighborhood. Since the first try at DNA testing did not yield any result, further DNA testing was suspended until 2004 when a new DNA analysis tool was available. The new test proved Chatman did not commit the crime.
Since 1989, there had been 213 post-conviction exonerations through DNA tests. The bulk of these new freedom were done with the assistance of Innocence Project, an umbrella organization that helps inmates to gain access to DNA testing to prove they did not committed the crimes they have been incarcerated.
In Virginia, over 534,000 files had been reviewed the past three years. Around 2,215 cases had been tagged for further scrutiny, which may eventually lead to DNA testing and freedom for the convict.
DNA testing was used to confirm that it was the blood of a 7-year old girl found on the clothes and fingernail clipping taken from her stepfather in the ongoing Nixzmary Brown investigation.
The long process and high cost of DNA testing notwithstanding, Pete Marone, director of Virginia's Department of Forensic Medicine, said, "If we identified (only) one guy who shouldn't be in prison, would it be worth it? I say yes."