What is being done with DNA and its future?


Almost 20 years ago, there was a brutal attack on a high school young student who was raped and murdered in my small town. It seemed to take forever at that time for the police to make an arrest-almost two years. Since the knowledge of DNA and DNA testing was just in its infancy stages when the murder occurred, the investigators at the time did not realize just how easy it was to have their DNA contaminate evidence that they handled. The investigators collected evidence much differently back immediately were no policies or procedures in place to ensure that they did not put their own DNA on the evidence. At his trial, prosecutors found similar hair to that of the victim and dirt on his tires was "similar" to the dirt found at the crime scene. The purpose of DNA testing is to eliminate any genetic material found on the clothing or belongings that could have been left behind by anyone other than the person or persons responsible for her death. The evidence and testimony of "witnesses" was circumstantial, and everything "pointed" to this young man who was seen with the girl on occasion, had words with her but he maintained his innocence right until he was convicted of the charges and sent to prison. It was in 1993, when watching an episode of the Phil Donohue show, that The Innocence Project and DNA testing became very interesting to this man. He contacted his mother and friends to find more about DNA testing and the Innocence Project, who later contacted the County district attorney who further pursued it. They obtained DNA from the evidence and the young girl’s belongings that he mother reluctantly gave. From that, it was determined that he was not the murderer or did he have anything to do with it by the DNA that was tested. He was quickly released from prison. At the time that he had notified the Innocence Project-his was only the eighth case that the organization had taken. Since then, 235 people have been released from prison. This young man, now 43, works for the district attorney’s office, going from place to place, lecturing on the Innocence Project. He candidly speaks about many of his experiences in jail. He states he is not bitter, but gives his opinion of the justice system and discusses that "junk science" that dominated the courtrooms before DNA came to be. DNA testing definitely plays a huge role in today’s courtrooms across the nation. In the case of the 1985 murder and rape, and exoneration of this adult man, a task force has been established to re-investigate her death. The DA has had at least 300 leads he is now following up with. Two of the original investigators are back on the case full-time on the case. Forensic evidence is still being analyzed in laboratories and samples are continued to be collected from various people to eliminate them as potential people of interest. The DA wants to solve this crime as does the man who spent all of his young adult life in prison; it may not be this week, two months from now or even ten years-we will solve this case and a man has been freed.

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