PA Stories Show Difficulties Of Using DNA In Old Cases


From the time he was implicated in a 1988 murder Drew Whitley of Pittsburgh has professed his innocence. Now, he says, DNA analysis of hair found at the scene would prove it, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. John Dolenc claims he didn’t kill his estranged wife in 1977. DNA tests of blood splatters found near her body could exonerate him, too, he says. The Allegheny County district attorney’s office agreed to DNA tests in Whitley’s case after a protracted legal battle, but it continues to fight Dolenc’s request, now before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The two cases are among 15 filed in Allegheny County under a 2002 law aimed at making it easier for people sentenced to life in prison or death to test their DNA against physical evidence, using techniques not available when their cases were tried. The law says all they have to do is to show a judge that DNA tests could prove their “actual innocence.” Even though the law has produced one celebrated exoneration in Allegheny County and DNA tests have freed more than 160 wrongly convicted people across the country, the two Pittsburgh cases show how difficult it remains for inmates to persuade prosecutors and judges to conduct DNA tests on past crimes in Pennsylvania. The difficulty hinges on whether a DNA test definitely “would” or just “could” prove innocence. An investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Innocence Institute of Point Park University found that forensic evidence was critical in the trials of both Whitley and Dolenc and that flaws in both trials raised additional questions about their convictions.


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