Maryland Case Highlights DNA Role In Exonerations

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The case of exonerated Maryland convict Kirk Bloodsworth is putting new attention on the use of DNA evidence in reviewing disputed cases, the Baltimore Sun reports. Bloodsworth spent eight years in prison for raping and murdering a nine-year old girl. Prosecutors identified a new suspect in the case last Friday.

The Sun says that as DNA technology becomes more sophisticated, defense attorneys and reform advocates pushing for guaranteed access to DNA testing. They find themselves more at odds with prosecutors, who want to limit it.

Congress may approve legislation this year that would guarantee inmates access to DNA testing and force police departments to preserve evidence. “This is fresh evidence for our drive to enact reforms to make post-conviction DNA testing more readily available,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, after learning of the new suspect in the Maryland case.

Some lawmakers prefer a law like Florida’s, which in 2001 put a two-year deadline on inmates’ post-conviction DNA requests. After Oct. 1, 2003, police departments will be able to destroy evidence that might be used for DNA testing.

Attorney Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, which helped exonerate Bloodsworth, said the case took too long: “Sometimes they’re much too slow because they’re worried about embarrassment. This took entirely too long. There’s no reason for it.”

Defense attorneys, who are trying to use DNA in more and older cases, said cases such as Bloodsworth’s show why evidence should be preserved indefinitely. Prosecutors, facing a slew of seemingly never-ending appeals, see it differently. Josh Marquis, district attorney in Astoria, Ore., and a board member of the National District Attorneys Association, said his organization opposed much of Leahy’s legislation, the “Innocence Protection Act.” “I don’t know of any prosecutor who, in good conscience, if presented with evidence that this person did not do it, would not want a DNA test,” Marquis said. But often, he said, DNA is a small part of a large picture of evidence.


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