The exoneration of Cornelius DuPree Jr. after three decades in prison began in a cramped Dallas laboratory, where an unusual repository of biological evidence from thousands of crimes is liberating more wrongly convicted inmates than any in the U.S., reports USA Today. Crime-solving is the lab’s primary mission, but exonerations have emerged as a by-product of that mission. Since 2001, the lab’s DNA archive has secured freedom for 21 prisoners serving up to life in prison.
As more horrific mistakes of the past are exposed, the Institute of Forensic Sciences has become Exhibit A in a national push by some lawmakers, civil rights advocates, prosecutors, and the federal government for more uniform standards regulating how biological evidence should be retained in criminal cases. In Dallas County, wrongs are being righted because “the evidence — decades after it was collected — was there to test,” says District Attorney Craig Watkins. The county has been retaining evidence for decades, some samples since 1978. Only about half the states require the automatic preservation of DNA evidence after conviction, says the Innocence Project. Sixteen states have no preservation laws.