Old cases reviewed in DNA project

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Old cases reviewed in DNA project

Post  Jennie on Thu Jun 19, 2008 11:47 am


Old cases reviewed in DNA project

By Jola Szubielski

The Virginia Forensic Science Board is calling on lawyers statewide to volunteer time and research.

They need help locating thousands of felons who may have been wrongly convicted. The discovery of DNA evidence from decades ago is making that a real possibility.

You have to remember that most of these cases date back to the 70's and 80's when DNA testing was in the very early stages.

Now, that the science has advanced, the process could very well exonerate convicted felons, much like in the case of Hanover County's Marvin anderson who served 15 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

Steven Benjamin says, "The idea that somebody could have been languishing in a Virginia prison for over 25 years innocent, but unable to prove his innocence, is just a shocking notion."

But over the last several years, five separate cases have proved just that -- innocent men convicted and sent to jail for a crime they didn't commit.

Marvin Anderson was the first. He was convicted of rape in Hanover County back in the 80's. Almost two decades later, his case was finally revisited and the retesting of forensic DNA evidence found he was in fact innocent.

"When you're convicted but innocent, no one believes you as in the Marvin Anderson case," says Benjamin. "No one will believe you unless you have that DNA."

Other cases followed and it was enough for then Governor Mark Warner to call for a random review of old cases. Out of 31, two more men who had already served their sentence were cleared. Since then, half a million cases have been reviewed. Thousands are qualified to be retested for DNA.

Benjamin says, "Virginia has taken the forefront in fairness in protecting people's innocence and in accuracy in going through all old case files, looking for old DNA and then looking for people who may be affected are notified."

Just this year the general assembly made notification a requirement. Now faced with the burden of finding and notifying the thousands of convicted felons possibly affected, the Forensic Science Board is calling on lawyers statewide to help.

Benjamin says, "And that's because of the commitment of Virginia attorneys to do volunteer work in the name of justice. This is a probono project that every attorney in the state is going to want to be a part of."

Benjamin says all of this will be done at no expense to taxpayers. The board has already had several calls from attorneys across the state volunteering.

Benjamin says State Police, the Department of Corrections, and the chief medical examiner will also assist in the locating these felons.

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