Va. May Test DNA Evidence Randomly To Check System

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Virginia Gov. Mark Warner may test DNA evidence from a random sample of criminal cases after a third man was exonerated based on evidence found in the files of a state lab analyst, reports the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. Warner asked the state lab for a DNA testing plan on Aug. 25, two days after Arthur Lee Whitfield was freed from prison, said Paul Ferrara, director of the state Division of Forensic Science. DNA tests showed that Whitfield, who served nearly 22 years, did not commit the two rapes he was convicted of in Norfolk in 1982.

Whitfield's exoneration has raised questions about what's inside the files of the forensic science division, which runs four labs that conduct DNA testing and other lab work in criminal cases. Warner asked Ferrara to outline how a random sample could be undertaken, and how much it would cost. It is not clear how long the research would last or how many files would be searched. Andrew Sacks, a vice president of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, has arranged a conference call for tomorrow to discuss DNA testing in light of Whitfield's release. Since the law changed in 2001 to allow requests for post-conviction DNA testing, the petitions of most Virginia inmates who have sought the tests have been denied.

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