VA Case Raises Questions of Local Pursuit of DNA Exonerations


A recently surfaced case in Virginia raises news questions about whether local authorities there are aggressively pursuing potential exonerations after receiving new DNA evidence in old felony cases, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The Virginia Department of Forensic Science has issued reports that exclude at least 76 felons as the source of biological evidence in their cases. The reports have been tightly guarded in the ongoing, $5 million-plus groundbreaking project, which began in 2005.

The status of most of the 76 cases is unknown, and as of last month, 29 of the felons had not been notified that the new DNA reports existed. Among them is Bennett S. Barbour, who learned two weeks ago that authorities in Richmond and Williamsburg have had for 18 months a report excluding his DNA and identifying the DNA of a known offender. Barbour’s legal team and Williamsburg authorities believe the DNA report exonerates him in a 1978 rape. But officials said they could not find him to deliver the news, though he lives just 5 miles from where he was arrested 34 years ago. The Urban Institute said it has tentatively found 37 potential wrongful convictions among the cases included in the forensic science reports.

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