The American Bar Association has announced the winners of its 2010 Silver Gavel Awards, which honor pieces of journalism “that have been exemplary in helping to foster the American public’s understanding of the law and the legal system.” I would urge you to read the series that won in the newspaper category.
“Presumed Guilty,” from the Lincoln Journal Star, tells the story of how six people–count ‘em, six–were imprisoned, some for almost two decades, in connection with a rape and murder they didn’t commit. In 2008, DNA evidence excluded two of them from DNA left at the crime scene, and after that the whole case fell apart. Authorities concluded that a seventh person, unrelated to the original six, was solely responsible for the crime. Remarkably, the prosecutor who won the convictions and the police investigator who pieced together the faulty case still insist large parts of it were true.
This is an excellent piece of journalism, and I’d highly recommend it.
Incidentally, the winner in the magazine category is “Trial by Fire” from The New Yorker, another story involving a (purported) wrongful conviction. Unlike in the Nebraska case, though, no officials in the case profiled by The New Yorker have stated that the convicted–and executed–man was innocent.
* Big firm layoffs, both public and “stealth,” are up since the summer, associates tell Above the Law.
* “DNA evidence has been widely embraced over the last two decades as a powerful forensic tool to prove a defendant’s guilt or innocence,” writes the Chicago Tribune. “But in Lake County, authorities have sometimes pressed for convictions even when the DNA doesn’t match a suspect.” HT: How Appealing.
* From the “thanks, Captain Obvious” file comes this advice for 1Ls navigating a troubled economy. Gee whiz, 1Ls should try to get good grades?
My story in today’s paper, “Raising Doubt on DNA,” deals with the practice of using DNA databases and DNA found at a crime scene to identify the perpetrator. It was sparked by an ongoing series in the Los Angeles Times, especially last Sunday’s piece.
State crime lab analyst Kathryn Troyer was running tests on Arizona’s DNA database when she stumbled across two felons with remarkably similar genetic profiles.
The men matched at nine of the 13 locations on chromosomes, or loci, commonly used to distinguish people.
The FBI estimated the odds of unrelated people sharing those genetic markers to be as remote as 1 in 113 billion. But the mug shots of the two felons suggested that they were not related: One was black, the other white.
According to the Times, “Arizona searches” in that state, Illinois and Maryland have yielded more than a thousand instances in which at least two samples match at nine or more loci. The FBI says the way the searches are conducted skews the result, and points out that it now looks for matches at 13 loci.
To read last Sunday’s story, click here; for other stories in the Times’ series, click here.
Gov. Martin O’Malley wants to expand how Maryland uses DNA to fight crime. As of now, the state only takes samples from convicted felons. O’Malley would like to see that expanded to people arrested for violent crimes and burglary. All of this makes sense, of course, but I couldn’t help but notice one of the crimes listed that the governor wants to require DNA samples for.
Sandwiched in between manslaughter and maiming (two clear-cut offenses) is the crime of all crimes: mayhem. That’s right, folks, mayhem.
In my days as a hellion teenager (you can see the demon seed beginning to sprout in my childhood picture posted on reporter Robbie Whelan’s K-9 blog) I committed many offenses that now, apparently, are DNA-worthy. I mean, instigating anarchy, chaos and, yes, mayhem kept me going through those difficult years. Sorry, Afterschool Special, but you just didn’t get through to me.
So here’s a warning to any wayward youth out there: I know how you feel, but mayhem isn’t the answer.
Francis Smith, Special Publications Assistant Editor